The Rules



Back to the story at hand.   Let’s not miss that after the healing narrative in this story of healing the man at the pool of Bethesda, the story says Now that day was the Sabbath.   It was the Sabbath.   “So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.””  ‭‭John‬ ‭5:10-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  In this story, it says So the Jews said to the man who had been healed…  We need to recognize that when John says Jews here, everyone in the story was Jewish.   But when John uses the Jew, he almost always means the Judeans, or Jerusalem-ites.    These were a bit more austere and rigid in their various religious observations, and they were constantly clashing with Jesus.  This is who John is referring to when he says “the Jews”, because, again, everybody in the story is Jewish.  But he is referring here to those who were a little more religious, fanatical, and austere in their Judaism.  

The Pharisees had 39 activities considered as work and therefore prohibited on the sabbath.  The Torah has instructed the Jewish people that they were not to labor in the sabbath.  But what does that mean?   They came up with a list of 39 activities that were prohibited.  Among these was moving from one domain to another.   Changing addresses is prohibited on the sabbath.  We can’t move from Main Street to Park Avenue on the sabbath.  That is work for sure, isn’t it?  And that’s exactly what this man whom Jesus has healed is doing.   He has rolled up his mat and is moving on up!   He’s moving from one domain to another.  So the Pharisees see this man walking down the road carrying his mat, and all of a sudden it’s “ Citizens arrest!  It’s against the law!  You can’t do that!”   But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’   And go figure, he thought it was a good idea…

Isn’t this reaction from the Pharisees strange?   Shouldn’t they be struck by the miracle, by the healing that was done in this man?   Shouldn’t they be looking for the man who could simply by his word heal a man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years?    But that is not the reaction we see.

Instead, in the face of a great healing miracle, all the Pharisees could hear was that some guy on the sabbath had told someone else to take up his bed and move.  “We need to find out who this guy is.”    They weren’t looking for a miracle worker, they were looking for a sabbath breaker.   And so they missed the sign that something big was going on.  Something big was happening here, but there was nothing bigger to these Judeans than the rules.  Nothing was more important that keeping the rules.   So they missed the sign that God was at work healing the sick in marvelous ways.  All they knew was somebody out there is breaking the sabbath.  Somebody ain’t keeping the rules.  We need to find this man and prosecute him.  Which should show us just how crazy religion can be.

Maybe the lesson to be learned is something like this – if we are focused on the rules, we will likely miss what the spirit is doing.   Now, yes, we need rules.  I do understand rules are important to our lives.  We need rules in a family, in school, in civil society, you need rules in church.  But I will stand by the statement that if we are focused on the rules, if we think that what the Christian life is about is keeping the Christian rules (now you’re a Christian, here are the rules.  We don’t do this, we don’t do that, we don’t, we don’t we don’t…), if that is your focus, then you are mostly going to miss what the spirit is doing.  That’s what these Judeans missed.  They couldn’t see Jesus as a miracle worker, and that would be a sign, they could only see him as a sabbath breaker.   

The Spirit of God is a little bit wild.  We can’t tame the Sprit of God.   We can’t corral the spirit of God.  The Spirit of God seems to have little regard for petty rules.  The Spirit of God blows where the spirit of God wills.  Think about how the wind blows across borders.  Our national borders, political borders.  If we try to cross borders, there are LOTS of rules.  We stand in lines, have proper documentation, have your passport, your visa, stand behind the line until you are called, wait as they look at your documents, pass them through a scanner, finally out come the rubber stamps and you can pass through.  

But the wind, it starts up in Canada, blows down into the United States, down to Mexico, into Guatemala.  Or it’s up in Siberia, Russia, goes down into China, then down into India.  It never obtained a passport, got a visa, stood behind the yellow line or waited to talk to an immigration officer.  The wind just blows where it wills.  That’s very much like the Spirit of God.

Someone says it’s against the rules, you can’t heal on the sabbath!  The spirit of God says I just do what I want!   I blow where I want to go.  I don’t check with the men with the boots and the badges.  I just blow right by.   Don’t be so caught up in the rules that you miss the Spirit of God as it just blows right by you.   Or you just may be the one being left behind…

 

John Lewis
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Hope For the Hopeless


Where the sick and the suffering silently endure their pain.  Where the bruised and battered wait for help that never seems to come.  Where the failures and the forgotten lead lives of quiet desperation, there is where we find Jesus at work.

This is now the third of the seven signs that John gives us to help form our faith in Jesus.   This third sign is the story of a healing of a man who has been paralyzed for thirty eight years.  Jesus heals this man at the pool of Bethesda.  What is the pool of Bethesda all about?  

It was on the northern side of the city by the sheep gate, called the sheep gate because that’s where they brought the sheep in for the sacrifices in the temple.  There was a very large pool there, and around this was built five porticos, five porches, a five sided structure with a roof covering the top and steps going down into the pool.   The pool of Bethesda has been identified and excavated, you can actually visit this excavated site if you visit Jerusalem.

It was fed by a natural spring, and as such the pool would occasionally bubble up.  The legend, superstition, grew up around the pool that when the water bubbled like this, it was an angel come down from heaven doing the stirring.  The idea was that whoever gets in first is healed.  People came, not just because of the legend, but because it was a mineral bath.   We can imagine that those who suffered with skin diseases probably were helped, and some did recover and get better as a result of getting in these baths.  But I don’t know how much help a mineral bath has for a paralytic.

So this was a popular place for people to come in search of getting well, not only Jews but also Gentiles.  This was an unusual thing, Jess and Gentiles both congregating in the same place.   But human sickness and disease crosses all borders and boundaries.  If there’s any kind of hope for people to get well, they will flock to it.  So we know the Jews came here, but so did the Gentiles.  In fact, right by the pool just outside the northern gate of the ancient city of Jerusalem, there has been discovered an Ancient Greek temple to the god Asclepius, the Greek god of healing.  If you see a statue of Asclepius, he carries a rod with a serpent wrapped around, which to this day is our symbol for the medical profession.  And there was a temple to this Greek god of healing right next to the pools.  People (Gentiles) would take the baths then go to the temple and offer sacrifices to this Greek god of healing in hopes of getting better.

So this is where Jesus shows up one day, because Jesus is not just the hope of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the hope of the Jews and Israel.  He’s also the hope of all the Pagans who are looking for something to heal their lives.  That’s who Jesus is.   He is the Great Physician, and he shows up at this pool on the edge of town.  He’s got a whole city full of the sheep if Israel, but he shows up on the edge of town, to love even those unlovables, those who are hurting and know they are hurting.   He’s there to give hope to the hopeless, Jew and Gentile alike.  The souls around this pool are weary, weary of waiting, weary of begging, asking for help from those who pass by, those who are on their way to the temple and don’t have time to stop and help.  Jesus comes here to give rest to these weary souls, crying into a world that passes them by, because to stop and help might in and of itself make them “unclean.”  Yet somehow Jesus never gets made “unclean”, those who touch him are made clean by him.   “…”If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”” John‬ ‭13:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 
“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.
 
One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.”
‭‭John‬ ‭5:1-3, 5-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬


http://bible.com/59/jhn.5.1-3,5-9.esv

John Lewis

The Living Word

The Living Word
So what do we mean when we say that Jesus is the word of life, the wisdom of life, the logos of life, God’s divine logic of life?  We mean that Jesus is the translation of God’s love logic, his divine logic, into human form so that we can understand him.  This is what the second sign in John’s gospel points to.      That this divine logic, this love logic, this eternal word made flesh, has become a person in Jesus Christ.   And that to believe in Jesus is to believe that Jesus is the revelation of what God is like.   
 
So the sign is not just that Jesus can do miracles.  The sign is going “Right there!  Right there!  Right there!  Right there he is!  Jesus!  That is the word of life!”  That is the word that God has spoken into a sin-sick world to make everyone that believes in him well.   God has sent his word to heal us, and that word is Jesus, because Jesus is what God has to say.  Learn that, that Jesus is what God has to say.

This helps us to understand what the Bible really is.  The Bible is the spirit inspired, ultimate true sign that points us true to the true word of God who is Jesus.  The Bible is not an end in itself.    There is a sense in which you don’t put your faith in the Bible, you put your faith in what the Bible points yout to.  You put your faith in Jesus.  

Is there a difference?  Yes.  A huge difference.   Isn’t it six in one, half dozen in the other?  No.  It’s twelve in one, zero in the other.   Because the Bible can’t save you.   The eternal word of God that saves us is not a theory.  It’s not an idea.  It’s not even a book.  It’s a flesh and blood person named Jesus Christ. What the Bible does, it’s the ultimate spirit inspired sign pointing to Jesus.  If you’ve missed that, you’ve missed  a whole lot.  Kind of like everything…

Let’s look at what Jesus himself says about this, talking to people who know their bibles quite well.  They have bible studies, study aids, everything.   “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭5:39-40‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   I’m about to get some people upset here.  But get this – the Bible can actually be the cleverest way for us to avoid the Word of God.   You’ve got the book, you read the book, your nose is in the book, studying the book, memorizing the book, the book, the book, the book, and you haven’t figured out  the book is a sign pointing to me.   Imagine Jesus, he can stand right in front of me, and I can keep my nose buried in my Bible, and I can avoid Jesus.   

The Bible is a true witness pointing to Jesus.   But here’s the problem with the Bible – it’s still a book.  And you can make the Bible say whatever you want to say.  You can make the Bible stand on its hind legs and dance a jig.   Go back 150 years, when of the Bible believing Christians of America,  most of them believed that God endorsed slavery.  Because if you’re just going to use your Bible, it’s “There is it is right there!  In the Old Testament and the New Testament too!  Slaves obey your masters!  Uh-huh!!   The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!”

So, how many of you believe that the living God, the living Christ, has something to say about slavery other than Slaves obey your masters?   Hello!!??   If we want, we can just use the Bible, make it stand on its hind legs and dance a jig.   We can do that with the Bible, but we can’t do that with the living Christ.   You stand before the living Christ and tell him to roll over and dance a jig for you, he just looks at you with His eyes of fire and says no!

This is what writer of Hebrews is talking about when he says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”   ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   In talking about  the word of God that is living and active and able to judge and reach down and penetrate into the deepest parts of us, and the word to whom we must give an account, the writer of Hebrews is not talking about the Bible.  It’s in the Bible, these words are in the Bible.  But it’s not talking about the Bible, it’s talking about Jesus.

This may be new stuff to you.  It’s new stuff you need.  Again go back 150 years.  The majority of the devout, religious, bible believing, amen, hallelujah, my sins are forgiven, church going, love Jesus, dying and going to heaven, people of the time supported, aggressively, slavery and defended it with the Bible.  They were willing to go to war defending slavery, believing God was on their side, because they had been able to use the Bible.  If they had been engaging with the living Christ they would have known better.  What they did was use the Bible to hide from Jesus.

That’s history, but here’s a modern example.   An extensive Gallup survey from a few years ago was done.  Should the United States government use torture in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.  Of course, torture is against the law of our land.  So now we call it “enhanced interrogation?”   Exactly how are we enhancing it???

So the question is, should the United States break its own laws and torture suspected terrorists.  A majority of Americans said.  A majority of Catholics said no.  A majority of Lutherans said no.  A majority of mainline Protestants said no.  Majorly of Jews said no.  Majority of non religious said no.  Majority of atheists said no.

A majority of evangelicals said “yes”.    There’s a problem here.  The people who most self identify as being all about the Bible, bible, bible, “What does the Bible say about the use of torture?”   Nothing.   So it must be ok, praise God!   “So it’s ok with me!”   The Bible says nothing about the use of torture.  But the living Christ has much to say, if you have ears to hear.   Even the agnostic, or the “non”, may not spend time studying the Bible, but they   have heard enough of Jesus that they have an idea of what Jesus is like.  The word of God has been spoken into the world, and they can not imagine Jesus standing in a room torturing somebody say “Talk, you filthy scum, talk!  Or I’ll waterboard you again!”    Maybe that’s not what we ought to do either.  But if we hide behind the Bible, we can imagine this is right…

Don’t be a modern version of a confederate Christian from 150 years ago, using the Bible to prevent yourself from hearing what God has to say.  What would Jesus do?   You can’t always know what Jesus would do, but sometimes it’s clear what Jesus wouldn’t do, isn’t it?   The Bible can’t say everything, or it would be bigger than this house I’m sitting in right now.  But the living Christ can speak constantly into our lives and world, if we will engage with him.  He is the living word, sharper than a two edged sword.  He is the one with eyes like fire.  He is the one to whom we have to give an account.   

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, the living word breathes out.   Sometimes we just have to work that out…

“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”
‭‭John‬ ‭4:46-54‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

John Lewis

In the Beginning

John has an agenda, and his agenda is that you would believe in Jesus.   That’s why he writes.  He wants to initiate faith in Jesus in all who would read or hear his gospel.  Toward this end, he structures the narrative of his gospel around seven signs.  They are miracles, but John calls them signs.  He uses seven miracles he calls signs to structure the narrative flow of his gospel.   This is in stark contrast to Matthew, Luke and Mark.  They have many miracles.  Mark in particular just backs up his truck and unloads every miracle he can think of and throws them at you.   And we can be overwhelmed by the wonder worker who is Christ.

For John, he sees that that’s been done.  That’s not his agenda or what he’s trying to do.  He doesn’t want to just impress us that Jesus can do miraculous works.  He wants to use an economical number of miracles to point people to how we should believe in Jesus.   Because John isn’t so much interested that we believe that Jesus can do miracles, but John wants us to believe in Jesus.   Hello!   And there is a difference between believing what Jesus can do and believing in who Jesus is.

So John uses seven signs.  He told us the first one was the first one, at the wedding in Cana where he turns the water into wine.  Now we are going to look at the second miracle, and again he tells us it’s the second sign.  He’s not going to keep doing this, he’s an artist.  He’s not going clutter up his artistic gospel with a bunch of numbers.  But he’s got to start it, here’s the first, here’s  the second.   And he hopes we catch the clue, after this we are just going to have to figure it out for ourselves.  Which we do, and we find there are seven signs John places in his gospel to point and direct our faith in Jesus.

The first two happen in the same place, Cana of Galilee.  A few weeks apart, maybe a couple of months.  This second one is a far more serious kind of miracle.  A young boy in Capernaum, 25 miles from Cana, is going to be healed as Jesus speaks a word in Cana.   It’s healing at a distance.  All of this is not merely an account of a miracle, but John uses it as a sign to direct your faith, because John says that if you can believe in Jesus, in his identity, in his name in the right way, it will give you life.  John wants  you to have life, but he knows that you have to believe in Jesus in a certain way to have that life, and he’s using these signs to direct your faith toward Jesus.

But before we look to this sign, lets lay some groundwork.  Centuries before Jesus, maybe as much as a thousand years before, an anonymous psalmist was meditating on the history of Israel in God’s care, god’s provision for israel, especially during their wilderness wandering.  He writes psalm 107, and in this psalm is this lyric – He sent out his word and healed them…”  Psalms 107:20 ESV.  The psalmist is meditating upon a particular time in the wilderness wandering when a great plague had come upon the Israelites.  The psalmist says God spoke a word from heaven to Israel as they wandered in the wilderness and it brought healing to those who were ailing and sick.  So we have a picture of God’s word as a healing agent, a word spoken.  He sent his word and healed them.

So now we go to how John begins his gospel in his poetic prologue.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”   John 1:1, 14 ESV.   In the beginning was the Word…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.   In the beginning was the word, or the logos.  The logos was with God, and the logos was God, and logos became flesh and dwelt among us.   Logos is a Greek word, it can be translated word, it means that.  But logos is bigger, more robust than just word.   It could also be translated wisdom, we could say that in the beginning was wisdomwisdom was with God, wisdom was God, wisdom came and dwelt among us.

In proverbs 8, wisdom is commending itself.  Wisdom is speaking.   Wisdom towards the end of Proverbs 8 says to us ““The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”  Proverbs 8:22-31 NIV.  Wisdom was with the Lord before anything, wisdom was daily his delight, wisdom worked with God as a son with his father, worked with God in the creation of all things…

This sounds very much like the beginning of Johns gospel, does it not?   In the beginning was the logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.   The logos is the wisdom of God, you might even say the logic of God.  In the beginning was the [logic], and the [logic] was with God, and the [logic] was God.   But this is not any logic.  There is human logic.  But this is divine logic.  The longer we spend studying scripture, one of the themes that is recurrent is that there is a difference between human logic and divine logic.  Human logic, as James will tell us, skews toward the demonic.   Towards scapegoating, blame, self preservation, economic self interest.   The divine logic moves all the time, steadfastly toward love, love, love.

John says that in the beginning was the logos, the logic, the wisdom of God.  He was with God, he was God, he became human flesh.  The theme John wants us to catch is that Jesus is what God has to say.  Jesus is the word that God speaks into his own creation that we at long last might know what God is really like.  Jesus is the word of God translated into human flesh so we can understand it, so that it doesn’t remain, abstract, ethereal, theoretical, distant.  Jesus is the word, the logos, the wisdom of God translated into a human being so we can understand him.

Amen.

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

John 4:46-54 ESV

John Lewis

The Wine will Flow

The Wine will Flow

Still turning water into wine here…

Mary, despite not actually asking her son to fix the problem of the wine running out, clearly shows a trust in him to be able to do something.   So when Jesus says to her “What’s that for us?”, “His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”   So Jesus looks around and notices there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. He notices these six stone jars, or water pots.   These water pots are empty, they are for the mikvahs.  They use these water pots to fill the mikvahs.  If we ever were to visit Jerusalem, you will see these around.  Mikvahs are dug into the ground, into the stone, with steps leading into him.  What they are is baptistries.   They are not bathtubs, they are not ancient hot tubs.  They are used for ritual purification.  Several times a week. an observant Jew would properly fill his mikvah with the proper kind of water blessed, by the rabbi.  Then he would go down into the water, repeat the prayers, dunk himself seven times, and observe the rituals that he might be ceremonially pure.

So at this wedding we had some of these stone water pots used for filling the mikvah.  They are empty.   Each one has between 20-30 gallons of capacity.  If you fill six of them it’s between 120 to 180 gallons of water, so let’s call it 150 gallons here.  So Jesus tells says to the servants Fill the jars with water.”    To which I can imagine these servants rolling their eyes.  “Oh brother.  Another super religious guy.  Instead of partying all night we’re all going to have to go down to the mikvah and get baptized again.”   But they do it.  It’s going to take a while.  Remember, they don’t have hoses or spigots to use and easily fill these things up.  This required drawing the water out of the well, it takes a lot of time and effort to draw 150 gallons of water.

“And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”   Ok Jesus.  Sounds a little strange.  But they do it anyway.  They take water out of the stone jar for ritual purification.  They put it in a wine cup and take it to the chief steward, but somewhere in transit, somewhere along the way, a miracle happens.  The water has turned to wine.

The steward doesn’t know anything that’s been going on.  He just knows the wine has run out.  But the servants come to him, “Here you go, try this out.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”    Think about the baffled bridegroom.  He has no idea what the steward is talking about.  All he knows is that he’s heard rumors that they are running out of wine, and all of a sudden now there’s tons of it.   The master of the feast is poking him in the side, grinning – “Oh, you’ve really fooled us!   You kept the very best wine until now!”   To which the bridegroom said what?   “Praise the Lord!!??

But Jesus has done it!!  The little wedding in Cana of Galilee, on the verge of catastrophe, suddenly is supplied with 1000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon.  And Jesus gives a wink to his mom.   “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:11 NLT.  And John says Jesus revealed his glory.  Jesus revealed his glory, which means his beauty.    Imagine being one his 6 disciples there.   Imagine following this rabbi, just starting to follow, then you see the sign, you see the water turned to water.

And Jesus revealed his beauty.   This is a beautiful story.  There is something fun, something whimsical about this story.  Later, most of Jesus’ miracles are framed in a life and death scenario.  A leper, his life ebbing away.  Disciples in a boat, threatened with imminent death from a storm.   Here’s a little girl who’s in fact already died.  There’s a deep, dark frame around a lot of Jesus’ miracles.  But this one, there’s none of that.  Yes, we might want to save the family from social embarrassment, but there is no way this is crucial to anything.  This is just a whimsical miracle, where Jesus, in order to keep the wedding going, gives a sign.  It’s not just a party trick, it’s a sign.

What’s the sign pointing to?   In the Old Testament, the abundance of wine was often symbolic of God’s favor and blessing.  Likewise, ruined vineyards and a scarcity of wine was symbolic of the absence of God.  So as the prophets began to imagine the time when God would come through his Messiah, anticipating the day when messiah would come and bring the righteous reign of God with all of its blessing and abundance, they use language like this  – “…the vats shall overflow with wine…” Joel 2:24 ESV, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”  Amos 9:13 ESV, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine…” Isaiah 25:6 ESV.  It’s as if they are saying Oh, and the rivers will flow with wine…

That’s the anticipation, the prophetic vision.  So, in a beautiful and artistic way, Jesus, in turning the water to wine and providing an abundance of it, has announced that the reign of God at last has arrived.   Remember, in the story, the steward says to the bridegroom But you have kept the good wine until now.   John’s gospel is very sophisticated.  It’s as if he knows and trusts his readers will read this over and over in a thoughtful way, and he hides all these gems in it.  So, Jesus is also the bridegroom, is he not?   Jesus is the bridegroom…

So think of it like this – in previous days, in earlier times Israel had had some good wine.  In the days of Moses, when they are brought out of Egypt, and God is present in a cloud by day and fire by night, giving them the Torah, they had some good wine.  In the days of David, when the kingdom was coming and the sweet psalmist of Israel was reigning and ruling, they had some good wine.  But then, the exile.  For about 500 years, all you could say is, they have no wine.  The wine has run out.  The good days are gone, they have no wine.

But now…JESUS IS ON THE SCENE!!!   Not only is there wine, it’s the best wine!!!   We can say, We had some good times with Moses, we had some good times with David, but the BEST has been saved for now!!   AMEN!

When Jesus is on the scene, good things are about to happen.  Why was Jesus at this wedding?  Because he was invited!   Hey, remember that carpenter guy over in Nazareth?  He did some work for us, he’s a cool guy.  What’s his name?   Oh yeah, Yeshua of Nazareth, 101 Olive Street, Nazareth.   And just because they invited Jesus, they got the miracle.  So when you’re going through your struggle, your thing, your situation, your problem, and you’re going through it, invite Jesus.  JESUS, want to come to my party, my mess, my marriage, my addiction, my life, my business, my thing?   I got this thing going on Jesus, want to come?   And don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him.  Because you never know what Jesus is going to do.  Think about it, nobody would have thought I know what to do, we’ll invite Jesus and he’ll perform a miracle and turn all this water into wine.  Nobody would have ever dreamed that up.  Only Jesus.  So don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him to your thing.  Because where Jesus shows up good things are about to happen.  But Jesus tends to show up where he’s invited.

So invite him.

John Lewis

What’s That For Us?

Back in John’s telling of the first recorded miracle of Jesus, turning water into wine…

So yes, On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.   The third day as in Tuesday, as in Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…also as in the doubly blessed third day from Genesis, a doubly blessed day that must be the day the Jews in Israel would have to be married on.   But never forget…and John will not let you forget, the third day is also the day Christ himself rose from the dead…

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.   Cana of Galilee.   Funny thing about Cana of Galilee is, we know exactly where this is.  You can still visit Cana today.   It’s only 5 miles from Nazareth.  Which probably tells us exactly why Jesus was invited to this wedding.  Because he was known in the community, he was local.  Yes, let’s invite Yeshua, the carpenter, remember him, he fixed our steps and built the gazebo a couple years ago.  Let’s invite him.    Jesus was invited, his mom was invited, his disciples were invited.   Not because they were Jesus’s disciples but also because they, too, were known.

But Jesus only has six disciples at this point.   This is the very beginning of his ministry.   He’s got Andrew, Peter, James, John, Phillip, and Nathanael.  Nathanael specifically has just joined the day before.   He has just become a disciple of Jesus, and Jesus had told him You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” John 1:50 NIV.   Better hold onto your hat, you’re going to see some awesome things.   And sure enough, the next day they are at the wedding in Cana, and Nathanael will something truly amazing.

It’s a Jewish wedding of the first century.  And we need to understand about Jewish weddings, or we might be confused.    When we think of a wedding, we think of a quick ceremony followed by a wedding reception.   But this is not a reception with mints and nuts and cake and punch in a plastic cup.  This is a feast that will go for days.  This is not a 20 minute ceremony followed by an hour long reception.    You would have the ceremony, the bride and groom would disappear for a short time (not for pictures), the happy, blushing couple would return and the feast would begin!

It sounds crazy, but that’s how it was done.  Jesus is at one of these first century weddings.   They’ve had the vows, the happy couple has disappeared into the tent, now they’ve come back, and now it’s time to start several days of feasting.  But no sooner had they got started, a real catastrophe happened.  In a shame and honor based culture, which is typical of the east, including first century Israel, things like weddings have to come off right or it brings great shame upon the family.   What happened here was, they ran out of wine.   If you run out of wine, it is a catastrophe.  Because when you have a feast that’s supposed to run for three days, if you run out of wine, people go home.   Well, that’s that!!  People begin to drift away, and what’s supposed to be a several day feast is over by the afternoon.   It’s very embarrassing, the shame could linger within the family for generations – “That’s that family that tried to have a wedding!   That didn’t work out, they ran out of wine and everybody left!!  LOL

So they ran out of wine and are the verge of a social catastrophe.  Jesus’s mother is there with Jesus, her eldest son, and simply observes They have no wine.   Notice that she’s not requesting for Jesus to do anything.  This is not a request.  Mary is not saying “Jesus fix this.”   She’s simply making a whispered observation laden with pity.  “Oh my goodness. They’ve ran out of wine, I feel so sorry for them.  How embarrassing.  How did they let this happen?  They have no wine.”   In our English translations Jesus’ response is rendered like this – Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.   What is actually said here in the Greek is apparently at least a little enigmatic, obscure, and difficult to understand.  This comes across in our translations as a rebuff, but I don’t think that’s what happening at all.  It doesn’t fit, Mary has not asked Jesus to do anything, she has just observed that they were, in fact, out of wine.  NT Wright says we would benefit greatly from a simple punctuation change –  Woman? What! Has this to do with me?   Or how about this.  Jesus response is really, if we could understand, more like this – “What’s that for us?  I’ve got time.  I can take care of that.

Jesus says  My hour has not yet come.  Jesus knows that an hour will come when he can not work.  The hour of darkness.  The hour that he’s betrayed and turned over to the Romans.   The hour that he’s crucified.  But Jesus knows that’s a ways off.  So Mary says oh no They have no wineJesus responds and says “What’s that for us?   We can take care of that.  I’ve got the tine.  I’m not in a rush.  I can handle this.

Here’s an example so we can better understand.  Imagine you’re in the grocery store, heading home after church to get your true worship on and watch some football, and at the front of the line is a young mother buying groceries, formula and diapers for her baby.  Except she is coming up a couple of dollars short of being able to pay for what she has.  And now she’s embarrassed, because there is a line of people in line behind her.   She’s slowing the line down, and I mean, kickoff is in fifteen minutes!   The back of her neck is white hot from the glowering stares behind her.  This young mother is both embarrassed and a little desperate, because she needs those groceries.  At which point your spouse whispers “She has no money.”  So you  grab a couple of bucks out of your wallet, discreetly head to the front of the line and give it to the cashier.  “Here’s the rest of the money.  I’ve got this covered.”   Because, after all, what’s a couple of dollars?  What’s that for us?   We can take care of it.

That’s what’s happening here.  That’s exactly what Jesus is doing.  Mary says They have no wine.  Jesus says No big deal.  What’s that for us?   He’s not saying “That’s not my problem.”   What Jesus is saying here is “That’s no problem.”   It’s all in how you hear the idiom, and there’s all the difference in the world.

How many times do we see others in certain situations and walk away without helping, telling ourselves “That’s not my problem.  What’s that got to do with me?”   But really, “Whats that for us?”   It’s so easy for us to turn our backs and walk away.  I do it everyday.   But, again, “What’s that for us?  We can handle that.”    Can’t we?

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:1-11 ESV

John Lewis

On the Third Day

Starting to look at “signs” in the Gospel of John, seven signs that John has chosen and arranged in such a way to point us to Jesus as Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, that we might believe on him in a right way and have the life to the fullest which He promises.   And, so we will start with the first sign along the way, which appears at a wedding in Cana.

This is the first sign in John, but it’s even the first miracle.  Of all of Jesus’s miracles, the first one is turning water into wine.   It’s not raising the dead, not healing the blind, walking on water, or casting out a demon.   The first miracle Jesus does is turning the water to wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.   So yes, it’s a wedding party, but we can also say it’s Jesus’s coming out party.   Jesus is going public now.  He’s going to start doing the stuff here in Cana of Galilee, and the way he starts is very intriguing.   I hope you like this story as much as I do, because I might be here for a while…

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:1-11 ESV

What a great story!!   It begins like this – On the third dayit’s the third day. What does it mean that it’s the third day?   It means it’s Tuesday.  Sunday’s the first day, Monday’s the second day, Tuesday is the third day.   In ancient Israel, Tuesday was the day to get married.  It’s wedding day.  In modern America, Saturday is the day to get married.   But in ancient Israel, as well as Israel to this day, Tuesday is the day to get married.

Why do they get married on Tuesday?  This is scriptural.  In the ancient creation account in Genesis 1, we go through the six days of creation, God goes through each day and declares it good.   We see the phrase and God saw that it was good repeated over and over again.  He blesses every day and calls it good.   But on the third day, God calls it good twice.  Twice during the creation episode of the third day, God pronounces it good.  He says good twice about the third day, “Aah, that’s an auspicious day, it’s doubly blessed from God, we might as well get married on a Tuesday.”   That’s how that got started.

So on the third day, there was a wedding.   Because of course that’s when you do the weddings, on the third day.   On the other hand, John knows very well that his readers, reading a gospel of Jesus Christ, won’t associate the phrase on the third day with the Jewish wedding day.   No, John knows his readers, and he knows that his readers will associate the phrase on the third day with something else altogether.    When you read a gospel of Jesus Christ and see the phrase on the third day, you’re not thinking “Hey, that’s the day the Jews get married.”   That’s not what you’re thinking.  When you (we) read that phrase, on the third day, we are thinking that’s the day Jesus rose from the dead!!   And that’s exactly what John wants you to think.  He is an artist.  He’s not just a theologian, but he’s an artist.  He’s an artistic theologian, and he wants you to get that.  He wants you to connect what’s about to happen at this wedding in Cana with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Five paragraphs in, I’m not out of the first phrase yet.  Told you I would be here for a while…

John Lewis