Wednesday, 18 November 2015

‘More than the Saviour of a Wedding’ (John 2:1-11)

One evening in 1991, on BBC 1’s Wogan show, a former Coventry City goalkeeper made an amazing claim.  David Icke said that he was the Son of God.  The packed studio audience responded with laughter and ridicule.  The press said that he was mentally ill.  Icke later had to qualify the sense in which he had used the term.
John makes the same declaration about Jesus.  He says that Jesus is the Son of God.  He records a number of miracles (or ‘signs’) of Jesus to demonstrate this.  But what do we make about John’s testimony and his claims about Jesus.  Do we dismiss them with the new atheists, or ignore them like so many people who refuse to make up their mind about Christ?
With regards to John’s testimony, he is adamant that he was an eye-witness to these things and that he can be trusted.  Personally, I see no reason to doubt his credibility as a witness.  After all his claims about Jesus resulted in his spending time imprisoned on the island of Patmos, and his own brother died for being a Christ-follower.  Do people allow themselves be imprisoned or are they willing to die for something that they made up?
With regards to the miracles (or ‘signs’), we will see that what we have here is more than a simple party-trick designed to get someone out of a tight corner.  What Jesus does at Cana is a massive pointer as to who he really is and what he came down from heaven to do.
The Cross is the hour when Jesus fully reveals his identity (1-3)
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee, Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  It was the end of the first week of Jesus’ public ministry.  It is two days after his encounter with Nathaniel (at the end of the last chapter) and the disciples are about to witness one of the ‘greater works’ that Jesus had spoken of.  At this stage he has called just five of the twelve disciples and has not yet preformed any miracles.
Jesus is at a wedding.  He was no killjoy.  He attended parties.  But he never forgot his mission in life.  He was a very purposeful person.  In everything he sought to bring glory to God.  When we are at parties we must not forget who we are to God, and we should always act in a way that seeks to bring God glory.
But there was a problem at this wedding.  The bridegroom had one major responsibility—to get the wine sorted!  Not only was his bride going to give him an earful about his organisational skills or lack of generosity, in that shame-culture he is going to lose credibility. In that culture there were certain obligations to the guests, and it was not unheard of for the groom’s family to end up facing legal proceedings in such a situation.
So Mary approaches her son and said to him, “They have no more wine.”
Jesus’ response is sounds surprising to our ears.  ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me? . . . My time [literally ‘my hour’] has not yet come.’
This is the first of many references in John’s Gospel to Jesus’s ‘hour’.  In John the term ‘hour’ almost always refers to the events that surround the cross.  Jesus is cautious about revealing his identity as Messiah until that hour because there were so many false-expectations about what the promised Messiah would be like.  Indeed, there is something quite private in how Jesus preforms this sign.
Christianity makes no sense without the events surrounding the cross.  Jesus knew that you could not understand his mission until you saw the events of his hour.  But not everyone understands this.  I heard a mission leader explain that his organisation did not include the cross in their logo because he felt that the cross was bad public relations in our age. 
But what do you get if you take the cross out of Christianity?  You get ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’.  ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’ is a term that was coined after a study of the beliefs of three thousand American young people.  It is the belief that being a good and moral person is central to a happy life; religion is mainly concerned with feeling good or being at peace with oneself; and that God exists to take care of human needs.  Beware that you don’t swallow a false-gospel of a God without wrath who brings a people without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministry of a Christ without a cross (H. Richard Niebuhr).
Only Jesus can give us the life that we were made for (4-10)
Before the wedding meal the servants would have poured water on the hands of every guest. This was not about hygiene, it was a religious ritual.  It was a part of the ritual associated with the Covenant made in the Old Testament.  This washing served as a reminder of the fact that we have been unclean in God’s sight and need his cleansing.
Jesus sees six stone jars—the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing—and tells the servants to fill them to the brim with water.  Then the servants draw the water and take it to the master of the banquet—who was apparently one of the guests charged with presiding over the commencements.  The master of the banquet doesn’t realise where it had come from—only the disciples, Mary and the servants know!  He is impressed with the quality of this wine.  So he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
It is surely significant that Jesus uses the jars that were for ritual purification.  The old covenant, with its ritual cleansings, was a gift from God.  However, it pointed forward to something better.  The old water would be replaced with new wine.  The ritual washings could not provide permanent relief for a conscience troubled by failure.  But the cross shows us how all our sin has been dealt with.  The old covenant had a law that should people how they should live, but didn’t enable them to do so.  The new covenant that Jesus inaugurates promises a law written on our hearts and the strength to obey.
The abundance of this wine is also significant—Jesus gave far more than was needed.  The prophet Amos had looked forward to a time of blessing when wine would flow from the mountains and hills (Amos 9:13).  Now God, in the person of God the Son, is bringing about such blessing.  Jesus’ presence saved the party and made it a much better wedding to be at and what Jesus did at that party he offers to do in our lives!  C. S. Lewis wrote, ‘… most people, if they really had learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.  There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise’ (Mere Christianity).  We end up empty when we try to find our satisfaction in the latest purchase.  Many you people thing that the ache in their soul would disappear if they found the right partner (it won’t).  Many people put an intolerable strain on their marriages by expecting that their spouse can make them truly whole.  The truth is, we search in vain for meaning and purpose if our search does not lead us to Jesus.   
One person who grasped the cleansing, transformation and satisfaction that comes through the wine of the new covenant was a convict called Harold Morris.  He later wrote, ‘… a person in Christ becomes a new creature.  Old habits and attitudes were replaced as the Spirit of God worked in my life.  The vengeance that I had nourished for five years and the rebellious spirit that had been a driving force in my life relaxed their grip when Christ took control.  Little by little he replaced my hatred with his love.  Sometimes I lay in the prison-yard looking at the sky and relishing the joy and peace I had found in Christ.  The bars and fences were still there, as were the guards with their high-powered rifles.  But I had an inner strength I’d never known before – the very presence of Christ.’
Conclusion: This sign shows us who Jesus is so that we may believe in him and have life in all its fullness.
This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee.  He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
When David Icke claimed, on the Wogan show, that he was the Son of God people responded with laughter and ridicule, and the press claimed that he must be mentally ill.  What’s your verdict on this man who claims to be God the Son?
John recorded this sign, which is loaded with meaning, so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (the verb can be translated ‘go on believing’, and reminding ourselves of these signs is one of the ways God keeps us going in the faith).  Jesus did this so that we would do what the disciples did—put our faith in him.  For it is only through faith in Jesus that we can know life that is rescued from the pain of guilt, that is free from the voice of condemnation, that experiences the transforming power of Christ’s presence within us and has the hope of a greater banquet that awaits us when this life is through.
Finally, one Bible-commentator writes, ‘this miracle can happen again as the water of guilt, habitual failure and legalism, is transformed by the word of the risen Jesus into the wine of forgiveness, victory and joyful obedience.’

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