If you haven’t heard it from me already, welcome to the first Sunday of 2013! I’m excited for whatever the Lord might hold for us this year.
And yet, all at the same time, I still somewhat miss our services during the Christmas season. I enjoy the way we explore Advent.
I love looking at the Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming Savior. I love exploring the plight of Mary and Joseph.
I enjoy hearing how our Savior entered the world and what His first days were like.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much to go on after those first few days, until the time when Jesus became an adult and began His public ministry.
We have that one enigmatic passage about Jesus as a young boy—perhaps twelve years old—going to Jerusalem with His parents.
When the family left to return home, He remained behind in the Temple, unbeknownst to His parents. He was listening to the religious teachers.
And that’s the only story we really have from the first few days after birth until age thirty or so. But maybe there’s a reason that’s all we have.
I’m a big believer in the idea that God left us everything we need to know in His word. So we should spend time looking into it.
We should spend more time studying what’s there than wondering why certain things aren’t in there.
And what we have are four pretty detailed accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
This year, we’re going to follow—in a somewhat roundabout fashion—Jesus’ earthly ministry, from start to finish.
That means that, in the next several weeks, we’ll be camping out in the Gospels on Sunday mornings. Of course, we have to take Easter into account.
We’ll be wrapping up Jesus’ time on earth right around Easter time, as we take a good look at Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
But, since we are pretty much immediately following Christmas this morning, we’re going to be in the earliest stages of His ministry.
John the Baptist got things started. He was, in a sense, the forerunner in the character of the Old Testament prophet, Elijah.
He paved the way for Jesus, making the people ready for kingdom come. John baptized Jesus, inaugurating His ministry.
As Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, in the form of a dove alighting on a branch.
At this point, it was time for Jesus to get a move on with regards to His mission here on earth. Now, what exactly was this mission?
To answer that question, we have to look at it in a couple of different ways. There’s the primary answer—or the main reason that Jesus came.
He came to die for His people. He came to pay the price for humanity’s sin, dying a brutal death on the cross, as a human.
But Jesus had other, secondary aspects to His earthly mission. These actually served to enhance and draw attention to His primary goal.
Should we read through the gospels, we will find that Jesus did two other things on a regular basis. First of all, He healed—and miraculously so.
He gave sight to the blind and strength to the lame. He opened deaf ears and mute mouths. Leprosy and dropsy and even death were no match for Him.
He did other supernatural deeds as well—deeds that weren’t related to healing.
He calmed storms and cast demons into pigs. All this proved to the people that God was in their midst.
Secondly, He came to teach and preach. He taught His disciples and others among the crowds that followed Him. He preached often about the coming kingdom of God.
He was known to many as Teacher or Rabbi. He showed the people a better way to live and the path to the real and true God.
We will take a look at this teaching and preaching next week. For now, we will take a look at this notion of the supernatural—the miraculous.
Many of you may be familiar with our passage this morning, from the second chapter of the Gospel of John. I invite you to join me there.
This is actually Jesus’ first recorded miracle. It has nothing to do with healing, but it is quite supernatural and quite revealing.
So let’s see what we can glean from this account. I’ll begin our reading with the first verse of the chapter. (Read John 2:1-12.)
So He turned water into wine. You might be familiar with this story. You might even consider it to be a pretty good idea for a prank.
But why would Jesus do such a thing? What’s the point? Well, let’s set the stage a little bit. First of all, we are essentially at a wedding reception.
Let’s take a crash course on weddings in that time and community. Actually, let’s take a crash course on wedding etiquette and protocol.
The wedding banquet after the ceremony was basically a community-wide affair.
What’s more, it often lasted for upwards of a week. These folks knew how to party when it came to weddings.
Furthermore, there were certain standards of status attached to these events. Throwing a wedding could make or break you, to a degree. You didn’t want to face the ridicule of throwing a less-than-impressive wedding.
So here we are in Cana of Galilee. This is the region where Jesus was raised, so it stands to reason that He, His mother, and His friends were invited.
We don’t know what the wedding looked like. We don’t know the theme of the reception. We only know this. At some point, the wine ran out.
This is a social no-no. Today, no host would dare have a dinner party and risk running out of food. In that day and place, the same would be true of the wine.
And Mary comes over to her son, dropping a hint. “They’ve run out of wine,” she says. Apparently, moms have been good at dropping hints for a long, long time.
It doesn’t even matter if it’s the mother of Jesus, moms are good at dropping hints.
She knows a good bit—though certainly not all—regarding who her son is and what He is capable of. She knows this is a humiliating situation.
We’re not talking about life or death here, but we are talking about the future of this party and, perhaps, a family’s reputation.
Jesus’ response seems, at first, quite abrasive. “Woman, why do you involve me?”
I’m trying to picture any mother I know—even ones who are parents of adults—who would allow their sons to refer to them as “woman!”
But we have to remember, in that day and time, this was no sort of disrespectful address. This would be more akin to saying, “Dear lady.”
But make no mistake about it. Jesus is very hesitant to do anything about this situation. The reason is made clear in verse four.
“My hour has not yet come,” He states. Well, to what hour is He referring?
There’s no doubt as to what’s being asked of Jesus. His family wasn’t exactly rich, by earthly means. Nor were there any convenient liquor stores around.
Mary is kindly suggesting that Jesus might want to help this family out, which would mean essentially creating wine that wasn’t there.
This will require a miracle. This will require a supernatural act on Jesus’ behalf. This would draw the attention of the people and hint at something of the divine sort.
People will begin to talk about Jesus should He decide to do something about this.
Therefore, He is cautious. This is a man who always operated on His Father’s timetable. So the question before Him was this: is now the time?
Is it really now time to begin revealing Himself? Is it time to begin that journey that will ultimately lead to His rejection, arrest, torture, and execution?
Jesus seems unsure at this point, but Mary knows to leave it in His hands. She instructs the servants on hand to simply do whatever He commands.
Incidentally, that’s good advice for your own every day lives. Just do whatever Jesus tells you to do. And so they wait for His word.
And His word is that they should fill with water half a dozen large stone pots. Then they are to draw out some of the water and take it to the emcee.
Ok, scripture refers to him as the master of the banquet, but you get the picture. I would imagine there might be some confusion on the part of the servants.
Perhaps there was even a little bit of snickering. Maybe they assumed Jesus was playing a joke on the groom’s family, mocking their plight. But they do it.
As they take it up to the emcee, they can tell something has happened. This is either the nastiest water imaginable, or it has been fundamentally changed.
The emcee gulps down a taste and exclaims, “Most folks serve the fine wine at the beginning, saving the cheap stuff for after everyone’s warm and toasty.”
“But here, you have saved the best for last!” He didn’t know what had happened.
Most everyone else at the party had no idea what had happened. But those servants knew. And, according to our passage, Jesus’ disciples were witnesses as well.
They believed in Him. It might be better put that they grew in their faith. We all know that each of them wavered and faltered.
But, at this moment, they knew they were experiencing something awe-inspiring.
So what are we to make of this? Jesus hadn’t really revealed Himself on any large scale at this point in the Gospel of John.
A few disciples, along with John the Baptist and his followers, knew a bit about Him.
But now, all that was about to change. Jesus had done something public. It was a divine act, one that caused heads to turn and whispers to permeate the community.
But it was no healing of failing health or malfunctioning organs. It was no resurrection of the dead or casting out of demons.
He spared a family the scorn of the community—scorn that we might likely consider unjustified, when you consider what really matters in this life.
He changed a liquid into a different liquid. He created the tastiest wine out of that which wasn’t wine, making a wedding banquet more enjoyable for the guests.
So what’s the big deal? Why do we kick it all off like that? Author Tim Keller, in his book Prodigal God, explores this question.
Isn’t it fascinating that the kickoff to Jesus’ ministry and mission happened at a feast? That it happened at a party, to be exact?
We have to wonder whether or not Jesus is sending a message here. Of course, you may well know that Jesus did that quite frequently.
Though not always explicit, He was always sending a message or teaching a lesson to the gathering crowds, the religious leaders, or His disciples.
This notion of a large party, a wedding banquet, or—more specifically—a feast finds a home quite frequently in scripture.
Isaiah prophesied about the Lord’s mountain. There, Isaiah says, God will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples.
It will be a banquet of the best meats and the finest wines. There on that mountain, God will destroy the shroud that covers humanity.
Isaiah says God will swallow up death forever, will wipe away the tears of His people, and will remove their disgrace.
That sounds like salvation to me. That sounds like a picture of heaven to me. I don’t know about you, but I’m delighted to see salvation connected with feasting.
Jesus Himself talked about such a feast. He marveled at the faith of the Roman centurion, amazed that a foreigner had such a faith.
He told the crowds that many such as this man would one day take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
He especially spoke about this notion of the feast in His parable of the Prodigal Son, as it is commonly known.
Incidentally, if you don’t remember, we will be starting our Bible Study on the parables of Jesus tonight.
Eventually, I can promise you we will be looking at the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke.
It’s a parable that is, quite honestly, misnamed. The whole story starts with this sentence: a man had two sons. Both sons play an equal role in the story.
And yet both pale in comparison to the father, who is the central character.
But, nonetheless, that parable ends with a feast. The father, who represents God in the parable, is holding a huge party and has invited both sons.
The wayward son who left home has entered into the feast. We are left to wonder whether or not the elder brother—the so-called “good son”—will enter as well.
But it’s hard to argue that the feast doesn’t represent heaven. God invites people to that feast on His mountain.
A feast, it would seem, is the way everything is going to wrap up for followers of Jesus Christ. There’s a huge heavenly party that awaits.
So maybe Jesus knew what He was doing with that first miracle. Maybe He was giving folks a taste of what was to come.
Sure, it might not have been as dramatic as healing a blind man or raising the dead, but Jesus did come to fulfill all things.
This party He was attending was lacking. It was incomplete. Jesus filled up what was lacking—like none other could ever do.
And He is also inviting these folks in the gospel of John—and us as well—to an even greater party. It’s one where the wine will never run out.
Oh, sorry. I forgot. It’s one where the grape juice will never run out. It’s a party with better food to offer than Friendship Baptist Church on a Wednesday night.
In truth, it’s a celebration. Too often, our faith gets categorized as boring, mundane, and devoid of fun. To be sure, that’s sometimes an unfair stereotype.
Certain folks might project that image on us without even checking us out. But more times than not, people have that perception because we give them that perception.
Instead of demonstrating joy and freedom and celebration, we offer complaining and worrying and obligatory burdens.
The truth is, every time we gather here, we have an opportunity to get a little glimpse of that heavenly celebration.
We come here, I hope, to meet with God. We come to celebrate in His presence, through the person of the Holy Spirit.
We come to celebrate what He has done. We come to celebrate Who He is—our magnificent, holy, all-powerful and all-knowing Creator, Master, and Savior.
This is not a place to muddle through so you can get to the real fun—be that family, football, food, or whatever else floats your boat.
This is a place to rejoice and celebrate as we look forward to that wonderful feast that awaits those who are in Christ.
So there are two questions that await you this morning. First, has the celebration been sucked from your life? Are you a joyless Christian? Is there even such a thing?
Second, do you desire that celebration—but fear that you do not know Jesus? Have you neglected to surrender your life to His lordship?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, now might be the time to something about it. We prepare to sing, and you prepare your heart to meet with your God.