March 10, 2019
Faith and Glory
We are now in the season of Lent, a forty day spiritual journey reflective of when Jesus was in the wilderness facing temptation. This is a more solemn season of the church year, a time of being recommitted in one’s relationship with the Lord. For those of you who are choosing to read through John’s gospel during Lent, you will notice that my message today follows a scripture passage you read this week. So far, we have read two chapters, so no big deal if you want to catch up. If you look on our website under devotions, you will see the suggested readings for each day.
Last week we talked about how John’s gospel is arranged differently from the other three gospels. Whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke tend to arrange material chronologically, John arranges the information to convey a particular spiritual truth about Jesus. If we learn from the other gospels what Jesus did, John’s purpose in his gospel is for us to discover who Jesus is. John uses symbols to help us better understand Jesus’ identity and how putting faith in him changes our lives.
John presents seven miracle stories about Jesus in the first twelve chapters of his gospel. Certainly we know Jesus performed many more miracles than these, but for John, these were enough. In the Bible, seven is a number of completion, like the seven days in which God created the heavens and the earth. Our scripture passage for this morning is the first miracle in John’s gospel, of turning water into wine. That’s one. John records how Jesus healed an official’s son. Jesus healed a man by the pool at Bethesda. He fed the five thousand – the only miracle found in every gospel. He walked on water. He healed a man born blind, and he raised Lazarus from death.
John’s gospel also gives us seven statements that are called “I am” statements, in which Jesus reveals aspects of his identity. Jesus says of himself: I am the bread of life. I am the Light of the world. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the vine, you are the branches.
Except for the last two “I am” statements, the rest of them, along with the accounts of Jesus’ miracles, take place in the first eleven chapters. Beginning with chapter 12, John writes nine chapters about events from the last week of Jesus’ life, and one third of those verses describe his last twenty-four hours.
This first miracle of Jesus here in John’s gospel is not one we would likely put at the top of a list of miracles. It is often misunderstood, even though it results in the disciples putting their faith in Jesus. John notes at the beginning of the passage that this wedding took place on the third day, which means a Tuesday. Jewish weddings traditionally do not take place on a Friday, the beginning of the Sabbath. These days apparently in Israel weddings often take place on a Thursday, to give a new couple a three day weekend together. The significance of a Tuesday is that in Genesis, it was on the third day that God pronounced creation good – not just once, but two times. This was the day that God brought forth dry land from the seas, along with vegetation, trees and seeds. Only on this day did God say it was good twice, so the third day is known as the day of double blessing and the best day of the week to begin a new life as a married couple. I understand many Amish weddings are on a Tuesday or Thursday.
One might conclude that this miracle is insignificant, compared to healing a man born blind or casting out demons. But John arranges his material for a particular purpose. Immediately after this miracle at the wedding is the account of Jesus cleansing the temple. John wants us to link these two events together. A wedding celebrates two persons who make vows to be committed to one another in love. The traditional wedding ceremony begins by reminding us of this wedding Jesus attended in Cana, signifying the relationship Christ has with his church. Jesus wants to have this same deeply personal love relationship with us.
Now consider what John wants to convey by placing the account of the cleansing of the temple right after this wedding. The temple was broken in a real sense, through those who used it as a marketplace and means of raking in more money. You want to sacrifice a lamb? Then you have to buy it on our terms and pay the price we name. Jesus did not come to fix a broken religion, symbolized by the temple. Jesus came to begin a new relationship with us, we in this church who are as the bride of Christ.
It was no coincidence that John included this miracle from a wedding, for weddings were then as they are many times now, large events that involved many relatives, friends and neighbors in a community. No doubt John was recalling a prophecy of Isaiah from chapter 25: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.” The wedding was symbolic for life in heaven at a wedding feast.
The problem arises when the wine runs out, which was a huge embarrassment for the host. Mary asks Jesus to help. Maybe Mary thought Jesus might run to the store for some more wine. It hardly seems like material for a miracle, helping with a beverage problem. Jesus spies large stone water jars used for ceremonial cleansing, and tells the servants to fill the jars with water. This they did, not knowing why. When Jesus tells them to draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet, they were the only ones who knew where the wine came from.
It was an important detail to note that they were stone jars, like the stone hearts described in Ezekiel chapter 36. God said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” These stone jars were a symbol of Old Covenant law since they were used for ceremonial cleansing. Jesus turned them into a symbol of the New Covenant, the cup of communion given to us through the shedding of his blood. The wedding master declared the wine was far superior to the wine guests had enjoyed before, reminding us that the New Covenant in Jesus is better than the Old Covenant of the law. Six twenty-gallon jars makes a lot of wine for a lot of people, and in the same way, God’s provision for our new life in Christ is also abundant.
But what I want to focus on for the remainder of our time together is the last verse of this passage. John says this was the first of his miraculous signs. The result was that Jesus revealed his identity, his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. Jesus initiated the action through this miracle on behalf of the wedding guests. He did not make it public on how the miracle took place, but the servants knew it and the disciples witnessed it.
Jesus does not flash neon signs by the roadside to get us to believe in him. Miracles can be huge, but in all instances, Jesus gives us the choice whether to see them or not, whether to believe or not. A baby is born safely. A person’s cancer goes into remission. An estranged husband returns home, committed to trying to salvage the marriage. Miracles happen as we are prepared to perceive them and receive them by faith.
Jesus initiated this miracle. Jesus chose to help in a really big way. He chose to reveal his glory – his divine nature. This is our God, who reveals himself, who goes first on our behalf. God sent Jesus. God decided the cross was sufficient to erase our faults and failures and bring us back into relationship with God. God chose to bless us with his Holy Spirit, so we would have a piece of God within us to guide us day by day. God has a plan for our lives and it is good. God gives us particular skills and strengths to serve our neighbor in love. All this and more.
Like sheep who go missing or a coin that gets lost, Jesus decides to go looking for us. Jesus initiates out of a problem inherent within humanity, the problem of having gone astray. Jesus reveals himself in caring about our problems, both large and small. He cared enough to rescue a family from an embarrassing situation at a wedding – nothing as big as a healing, to be sure, but significant to them. Doesn’t that say something important, that Jesus would care to help with an everyday problem too? John tells us his disciples put their faith in Jesus. So let me close by asking – can you trust in Jesus to be there for you? Whether your problems are big or small, can you put your faith in him, and know that he helps you every day? Jesus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.