“So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.””
(John 4:48 ESV)
Here is a guy whose son is literally on his deathbed and he is desperate and he comes to Jesus because Jesus is his last, best hope and what does he get? The above statement! Ouch. I’d like to say that this was an outlier from Jesus, but it wasn’t. Here he is with the Samaritan woman: “The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.””
(John 4:17–18 ESV) Harsh.
How about with the Syrophoenician woman? “Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:26–27 ESV) Dogs? Seriously?
Why did Jesus say stuff like this?
First let’s dispense with the notion that saying something unusual is necessarily harsh. How many of you
two thousands of readers have children? Have you ever allowed a stranger to stick a needle in them? I thought so. How much harsher does it get than allowing a complete stranger to stick a needle in your baby! You do something that appears harsh for your baby’s good.
G. Campbell Morgan makes this comment about Christ and the royal official [and as you will see it applies to all of these strident statements from Christ]:
Let me run ahead of my story, and say that our Lord meant to answer the cry of that agony. He could not refuse, being Who He was. But He had purposes deeper than the comfort of sorrow, even of such sorrow as that. He was dealing with a man in the actuality of the deep necessity of his individuality. And so as a surgeon plunges a knife, He said in effect, You have come to Me in your agony; but you are only one of a crowd. “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.” That is the truth about you in common with others…He lay bare the underlying truth about him as He classified him with the crowd. Agony had driven him to Jesus. He will deal with that presently; He will deal with the boy; but He will first deal with the man.
The result? The little spark of faith in the breast of this nobleman is by Him lit up into a clear and enduring flame for the light and comfort of himself and his house. [Henry Alford]