One last thought on Jesus’s first miracle, turning water into wine. Short and sweet, I promise.
Jesus doesn’t just turn any old water into wine. Jesus turned water for ritual purification into wedding wine, and this too is a sign. The sign is that there is about to be a huge shift in how we understand our relationship with God. Instead of always washing, washing, washing, mikvah, mikvah, mikvah, ceremonial cleansing, over and over, repeatedly, several times a week, instead of always washing and never really feeling clean, now the Kingdom of God is going to be more like eating and drinking with close friends with nothing to prove. Because you know you belong and you know you are welcome there.
To be involved with God, Jesus says is not going to be like always bathing but never getting clean. It’s going to be like sitting at a table with your best friends, enjoying good food and drink, with nothing to prove. Things are about to shift from purity rites to shared table delights.
Instead of are you clean enough, are you pure enough, are you holy enough, are you kosher enough, the question is now going to be will you come to the table? Want to come to God? The question has changed. It used to be that the question was are Holy enough, pure enough, kosher enough, clean enough??? But Jesus says that’s not the question any more. The question isn’t are you holy, clean, or pure enough, the question is will you come to the table??
That’s the standing invitation Jesus gives to you. He invites you to his table. And he says I’m not asking you if you’re clean enough. I’m not asking you if you Holy enough. I’m not asking you if you’re good enough. I’m not asking you if you’re pure enough. I’m not asking you if you’re religious enough. I’m not asking you if you’re kosher enough. I’m just asking, will you come?
That’s all Jesus asks of you, is that you come. Just come. Just come to the table and then things will happen. But know that you are welcome here. You are loved here. You are accepted here. Just come as you are.
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.
I’m starting to get into the Gospel of John. Not that I’ve never looked at it before, but now I’m really beginning to get into it more deeply. John’s gospel is different than Matthew, Luke and Mark, the synoptic gospels, in that they were written more as histories of the life of Jesus, with an assumption being made that the readers would be those who already had come to believe in Christ as Messiah. But John’s gospel is something very different altogether. It’s not that there is no history in John, there is plenty of the history of the life of Jesus in the Gospel of John. But John is writing not to those who already believe, but to those who do not believe, both then and now. John’s is very much an evangelistic gospel. John is writing with a purpose, and he’s as much an artist as he is an evangelist.
I’m going to begin to journey through the Gospel of John, guided by the signs he places in within his gospel account. John’s gospel originally ended in chapter 20. He added chapter 21 as an epilogue later on because of some things that had come up. But originally, John ended his gospel like this.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31 ESV.
So John tells us at the end of his gospel what he’s been doing throughout. John places seven signs, seven miracles of Jesus within his gospel, which is in fact very few. Matthew, especially Mark, and Luke all have far more accounts of Jesus’ miracles than John. John restricts the number of miracles to seven, which is in itself significant and not accidental, because John knows what he is doing. He restricts his gospel to seven miracles, but he never uses that word. He calls them “signs”. But each of these miracles, which John calls signs, is significant. Even that word, significant, starts off with the root ‘sign’. It’s sign-ificant. John uses seven miracles as signs. They are important, but not in their own self. It’s not just telling us Jesus can do stuff. It’s not just that Jesus can walk in water, Jesus can multiply loaves, Jesus can raise the dead. John very carefully and artistically selects seven miracles that he calls signs to point us to something. John uses the seven miracles as signs to guide our faith toward Jesus. A sign is not significant in itself, but it’s significant because of what it points to. The sign is not the thing, but it’s what the sign is pointing to or locating or identifying. For instance, if you see a sign for Yellowstone National Park, or the Grand Canyon, you did not come to see that sign, but you came to find what that sign is directing you to. The sign itself is not important, but instead the breathtaking beauty you came to see. But the sign let’s you know you are on the right track, in the right place, and where you need to be. That’s the value of a sign.
So the important thing, for John, isn’t that Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, or multiplied the loaves and fishes. The important thing is, what do the signs tell us about Jesus??? How do they form and inform our faith? John gave us seven signs not just to wow us and show off all these things Jesus could do. John gave us these signs to point us to Jesus in a right way, so that you will look at Jesus right, so that you will perceive Jesus right. So that you will believe Jesus in a right way and have life in his name. Want to have more of the life of Jesus in your life?? Then we need to believe on him in a certain way, and John gives us seven signs to direct our faith to believe right so we can have life in Jesus’ name.
So that’s the plan for the next few weeks. To let John show us signs that lead us to Jesus so that we can believe and have life in his name. And so we will start with a wedding in Cana of Galilee…
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31 ESV
Question for you. What does it mean to be a Christian? Does it mean to believe something about Jesus? Yes it does, but only as a starting point. Because we believe something about Jesus, we begin to follow him. But ultimately, to be a Christian means to embark on a life of imitating Jesus. But I’m afraid that we have defined being a Christian as only something we believe about Jesus. We believe something about Jesus, this alters our afterlife expectation so that now we are going to heaven and not hell when we die, and therefore we are a Christian. Right?
NO!!! To be a Christian means you have intentionally embarked upon a life of imitating Jesus. He has become your mentor, your teacher, your rabbi, your professor, you master. You are the disciple. You are the student, the learner, you are the pupil, you are the one who is following his way of life. That’s what it means to be a Christian.
Anything short of that is short of being a Christian. Just saying I believe something about Jesus that changes my afterlife, this does not make you a Christian. What makes you a Christian is deliberately, intentionally embarking upon a life of imitating the way Jesus lived his life. This makes you a Christ-like one, a Christ-ian, a disciple of Jesus.
Human beings have lost our way. I am serious. We don’t know how to be human. Cats know how to be cats, dogs know how to be dogs, but humans have lost the way of being human. We think that the way to be human is to fight, kill, keep score, get even, and paybacks. This is what Cain did when he refused to see his brother as his brother. He kills his brother, lies to himself and God about it, and goes off and starts civilization. That’s the beginning of Genesis chapter 4. At the end of Genesis 4, seven generations later, we come to Lamech, who says “…I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”” Genesis 4:23-24 ESV. What does this do? It puts the world on a completely destructive course leading to the deadly days of Noah and the flood that nearly destroys humanity. What happens is that Christ has to come much later and give us a whole new meaning of seventy times seven.
Cain says “If my brother is in my way I’m going to kill him. My vengeance will be seven-fold.” Lamech says “it’s going to be seventy times seven for me.” And the world is out of control, baptized in violence, under the flood of judgement nearly destroying the human race.
When Jesus comes, he comes as the word, the logos, the logic of God made human flesh. You want to know what God thinks? Want to know what God’s opinion is? Want to know how God looks at things? Up until Christ we have hints, we have prophets, we have guesses, ideas, psalms, we have stories, but when we get to Christ we have the logic of God made flesh so that we can actually look at him and say “that’s what God is like.” The apostle Paul tells us “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God…” Colossians 1:15 NLT. He is the image, greek word icon, of the invisible God. God is invisible so that we are guessing, we are wondering, we are speculating what God is like. Some get it right, some get it kinda right, some get it wrong, some get it a lot wrong.
But when Jesus comes the mystery begins to be solved. We can look at the icon of Christ, who is the flesh and blood manifestation of the logic of God. We begin to know what God is like when we look at Jesus.
But Jesus is not just the icon of God, but also the icon of what the apostle Paul calls in Ephesians 2:15 the new humanity. Things go wrong with Adam and Eve. Things go wrong with Cain and Abel. Things go very wrong with Lamech. We’ve lost our way. We don’t know how to be human. Jesus comes not only as the icon of the invisible God, but also the icon of what human beings are to be like. Jesus gives us a new way to be human.
Jesus doesn’t just do things for us that requires only a response of passive faith. Jesus blazes a trail for us to follow. Too often we think “Jesus came, did all this for us, and I just believe, so everything is good.” No. Jesus came, blazed a trail, then said come on, follow me! When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John on the Sea of Galilee, follow me, it’s a call to all of humanity. It’s a call to you, too. Jesus is not just doing something for us so that we can sit by passively. “Yes I believe Jesus did that. Hallelujah. It’s going to be a great afterlife. Let’s sing a hymn and go home.”
No. Jesus comes, blazes a trail, and calls to the human race, this way! Follow me. Do it the way I do. I’m going to show you how to live life right. You have forgotten how to be human. You have forgotten how to bear the image of God. You have forgotten to be what you were supposed to be. I’m going to show you again. Follow me.
Jesus did not live and die and rise again just to save us from afterlife consequences. Jesus lived his life to show us as human beings how to live our lives. He did not just die on the cross for you, he calls out pick up your cross and follow me!!
What Jesus did on the cross is the defining moment of his life. It was inevitable and right that the Roman cross would become the symbol of the Christian faith. If we want to pick a single moment, from his birth, his miracles, his life, his teaching, and message, if we want to pick a defining moment from the life of Jesus Christ, you will find none better than Christ upon the cross, arms outstretched in offered embrace, saying father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
In that moment, we find the clearest picture of what God is like. We also find the new picture of who we are to be like. We see our model. We find the cruciform standard for true beauty. Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the truest revelation of who God is.
Another question. Does the dominant expression of public Christianity in America look like Christ on the cross loving and forgiving his enemies. What if we surveyed the “man on the street”, asking them if the dominant form of Christianity in America, expressed as modern evangelicalism, publicly expressed in this land, does it remind you of Christ upon the cross forgiving his enemies? How is the dominant form of public Christianity in America identified? Does it remind you of Christ upon the cross forgiving his enemies?
If the answer is no, then we should be alarmed. We should be deeply troubled. We should be seeking to repent and change things. But enough of the small talk. I’ll get to the point. If we have to express public contempt and thinly veiled hate for liberals, gays and Muslims in order to prove what good Christians we are, we have invented a false religion that takes the name of Christ in vain. I understand it feels right, but it’s wrong. It looks nothing like Jesus.
I don’t want those dark eyes anymore. I don’t want a dark soul. I don’t want a soul made dark because I spend my life looking at others through the squinty eyes of judgement. I want to look at others with the wide eyes of love and wonder knowing that they, too, are loved by God. I will not play the us vs them game.
We have a public expression of Christian faith that has been almost entirely defined by a quest for power. As Dr Russell Moore, a leading theologian among the southern baptists, said a few years ago “For far too long, American Christianity has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.” What a disaster.
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,”. Colossians 1:15 NLT
“by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,” Ephesians 2:15 NIV
Last time I wrote, I finished by saying that Jesus had to react so strongly to Peter’s rebuke (accusation?) at Jesus’s telling to the disciples that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again because this rebuke/accusation from Peter (You’ve got the wrong idea of what it means to be Messiah Jesus!) had the potential to put self-doubt in the mind of Jesus. And yes, Jesus could suffer from the temptation to self-doubt. To doubt oneself is a very human thing to do, and Jesus was very human of very human….and therefore subject to all the temptations we humans suffer with.
Was Jesus tempted with self doubt? I don’t know the answer to that question for sure, but it’s certainly possible. And I do know this – everybody doubted Jesus. And I do mean everybody. Think about the struggle this would cause for you and I.
Think about the struggle Jesus must have had with this. He was doubted by the chief priests, the scribes and the elders. Did this affect him? I don’t know, but they were the authorities, the scholars, the theologians, and they were saying Jesus, you’re vision is wrong. Did this induce any self doubt? I don’t know, maybe not. We’ll say that no, it didn’t.
Jesus was doubted by his own disciples. That’s got to hurt. He was doubted by his own brothers – “For not even his brothers believed in him.” John 7:5 ESV. Even worse than that, Jesus’ own mother doubted him. “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”” Mark 3:21 ESV. We read this and chuckle, but there’s nothing funny going on. This is a family intervention. Mary gets James and Joses and Judas and Simon, Jesus’ four brothers, maybe some of his sisters, and says to them “Jesus is mentally unstable. Your older brother is mentally unstable. He’s got these ideas and they’re just going to get him killed. We’ve got to intervene.” And they go to seize him because they think Jesus is suffering a mental breakdown.
Think I’m reading too much into this? Maybe. But let’s skip 10 verses later, and what does it say? “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.“” Mark 3:31-35 ESV. We like to spiritualize this, I would say we over-spiritualize it. This is a serious family situation. Jesus is with a group of disciples, they had just tried a family intervention and they are coming to try again. Mom and the brothers send word in to Jesus that they are looking for him, and Jesus says what? “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Hmmmmpht. My brothers and my mother??!! These people that are hearing the word of God and doing it, these are my mother and brothers! Ok, when your mom calls you, just say “Who is my mother”, and let me know how that works out for you. This is a very tense family situation.
They don’t believe in him. They love him, but they don’t believe in him. They don’t believe he can go about being Messiah and live the Sermon on the Mount at the same time. He has this idea, somehow, that he’s going to liberate Israel and bring about the kingdom of God, yet not kill anybody!! Turn the other cheek and bring the kingdom of God? That’ll never work. That’ll just get you killed Jesus….and that’ll be the end of that.
Know what’s really heartbreaking, when you think about it?? Jesus went to the cross with NOBODY believing in him. They loved him, yes, but they did not believe in him. James loved him, John loved him, Peter loved him. Other disciples loved him. Judas, maybe not. Mary Magdalene loved him, his mother loved him. Yes they loved him. But they did not believe in him. They believed Jesus had missed it. He’d had the potential to be Messiah, he coulda been Messiah. But he clung to his lofty ideals, and now the whole thing is falling apart, and just like they said he went and got himself killed. And in the eyes of those whom Jesus most cared about, he was dying as a failure. Please try to imagine how hard that must have been…to go through all that with nobody believing in him. That’s why in the Garden of Gethsemane an angel had to come and strengthen him. He had to have a direct message from the father. You’re doing the right thing. Don’t give way to self doubt now. Don’t let those negative people and comments get through to your psyche and cripple you. Stay the course.
When people get into their head that messiah, Christ, is to be a certain way, it’s almost impossible to change it. If you try to change their idea of Christ, you will be subject to accusation. Even Jesus did not succeed in changing people’s understanding of what it means to be Christ until after his resurrection. They just could not accept, and their response was to do what Peter did, and accuse him of making a mistake.
When we begin to discover Christ in a deeper way, when we begin talk about Jesus in a different way, when we take the American varnish off of Jesus and show people that Jesus is not an American committed to the American dream and our superpower status, and that in fact the American way and the Jesus way are not the same way but are often at odds with one another, people might say all kinds of things about you. Just like his own countrymen said all kinds of thing about Jesus for showing that God was not just God for the Jews, but for Gentiles and the whole world as well.
But it was true. It’s still true. We need to come to see Jesus as he is, Christ for all, not just a nationalized Christ, the American Jesus. But this messes with peoples understanding of Christ and who Christ is. When we begin to rub that red white and blue varnish off of Jesus, people will not like it. People are very comfortable with that red white and blue varnish, start rubbing that off and people will accuse you of all kinds of things. Start rubbing that off, there will be star spangled trouble.
If you get accused, though, you can’t lash out. If you lash out, it just fuels the Satan, It gets worse and worse and turns into a hurricane. You forgive. You absorb the blow and forgive. Father forgive them because they don’t know what they do. If possible, you try to help them see what they are doing. But what you cannot do is let the accusation get into your head and become self doubt. Because what happens is you take the accusation up and begin to practice self accusation. You become your own Satan in your own head, and you go to hell inside your own head. Anybody else know about this? You become subject to unjust accusation, but you begin to take it up against yourself. You begin to accuse yourself. You idiot, you’re stupid. What in the world are you doing? Am I the only one?
It will begin to flood you with self doubt, you will be paralyzed, things will spiral out of control. We can’t lash out, but we also cannot afford to allow these accusations to lodge in our head and fill us with self doubt. How many if you have ever been the victim of unjust accusation? Might go all the way back to when you were five years old. Maybe your dad or your mom told you you idiot. You’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything. That was unjust. Nobody should ever say that to anybody, especially a child. Rationally you know it was unjust, not right, yet forty years later it’s still lodged in you. So now you take up against yourself. You say to yourself, you’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything. Maybe it was a parent, a brother, a friend, maybe it was an enemy. Maybe a boss, could be anybody. You’ve begun to be victimized by unjust accusation but it’s gotten into your head. And you need to pray like this – “Lord, give me the strength to be strong and true, because lord when the devil gets in my head I’m so blue…”. (From an Irish folk song…)
Never forget that the spirit of accusation is the spirit of Satan. It’s the un-holy spirit. The opposite of this is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of advocacy. God says “I love you. I’m for you. I’m on your side. You’re going to make it.” You’re ok, and when you’re not ok it’s ok not to be ok. Bring it to the Holy Spirit, to your brothers and sisters who do the will of God and lift you up.