Monday, June 04, 2012

Glory Revealed (John 2:1-11)

One of Jimmy Stewart’s most beloved characters was Mr. Elwood P. Dowd from the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play Harvey. In this story, Mr. Dowd has an unusual friend: a six-foot tall pooka, a rabbit-like creature, that only Dowd can see. Most people think that Dowd has lost his mind and that he’s resorted to playing with imaginary friends. In one scene, someone asks Mr. Dowd how he met Harvey. As he recounts the story, he says, “One night several years ago, I was walking early in the evening down along Fairfax Street in between 18th and 19th. … and I heard a voice saying: ‘Good evening, Mr. Dowd.’ Well, I turned around, and here was this big, six-foot rabbit leaning up against a lamp-post. Well, I thought nothing of that, because when you’ve lived in a town as long as I’ve lived in this one, you get used to the fact that everybody knows your name.” It seems that Elwood Dowd is a good case study in the comic adventures of missing the point.  

If you would like to find other examples in missing the point, then you could study how the text before us today has been handled and mishandled over the centuries by Christians and non-Christians alike. Perhaps the most common comment made about this passage has something to do with the Christian’s attitude toward alcohol. If that is all we have understood this passage to teach, then there has never been a greater exercise in missing the point! I am not going to say that this passage teaches or supports the view that I hold, that Christians are wise to abstain from alcohol. It is obvious that this point cannot be made from the text. But what is not so obvious is that neither can the opposite case be supported or upheld on the basis of this case. One cannot point to this text and draw from it an endorsement of Christians drinking alcohol. Several factors need to be understood:

  1. The Greek word that is translated wine in this text is the most common one, oinos. This word can, and often does, refer to fermented, alcoholic wine. But the same word is also used often to refer to unfermented wine (grape juice). So, it is not obvious that this word always and only means “fermented wine.” Rather it is obvious that the word alone does not give us a conclusive answer.
  2. You have to understand something about the custom of wine-drinking in ancient society. It is a well-documented fact that seldom was fermented wine consumed “unmixed” or “undiluted.” It was common to mix water with wine in order to dilute it to somewhere between one-third and one-tenth of its fermented strength.[1] Diluted in this way, it was common and acceptable even for children to partake of it. Additionally, some drank wine “in which, by boiling the unfermented grape juice, the process of fermentation had been stopped and the formation of alcohol prevented.”[2] At plenty of other times, the wine was drunk unfermented, and we have to be content to remain ignorant of which usage of wine is in view unless the context of a passage makes it clear. Here, it does not.
  3. Whatever kind of wine Jesus miraculously made, we have no basis for looking at this text and saying, “Since Jesus drank wine, then we can drink it too.” The reason is simple: nowhere in this text does it say that Jesus or his disciples drank it. Maybe they did. I am not going to say that they didn’t. But neither can we assume that they did when the text is silent. Furthermore, when someone says (mistakenly) that this text implies that Jesus drank wine and therefore we can follow His example in so doing, I am tempted to respond as Warren Wiersbe does in his excellent discussion on this text. Wiersbe says, “If you use Jesus as your example for drinking, why don’t you follow His example in everything else?”[3] And Wiersbe notes that in Luke 22:18, Jesus says that He will not drink of the fruit of the vine again until the Kingdom of God comes. So, if we are going to follow Jesus’ example on drinking, we have far more to go on choosing to abstain until we are reunited with Him in glory than we do on choosing to partake because He made the wine at this wedding.

Now, I say all of that about alcohol to say at some length that this text is NOT about alcohol. I am not going to preach to you today about abstaining (you say, well, you just did! OK, fine, but I’m moving on now, and you need to as well). But you must not look at this passage and say that you find license for drinking alcohol here in this text, because that license isn’t there. So we’ll have to look at other texts to decide the issue of alcohol, and I would recommend 1 Corinthians 8:9, 10:23, and 10:31. To camp out on the issue here is to miss the point.

So what is the point? The point is plainly stated in verse 11. This is the first of the many signs that Jesus did. And when Jesus did it, He manifested His glory. Jesus did not turn water into wine to make a statement about the use of alcohol. He did it to reveal, to display, to demonstrate, to manifest His glory. And the manifestation of His glory was sufficient for His disciples to believe in Him. In a sense, that is what the whole Gospel of John is about. In the beginning of it, John points to a miracle that demonstrated His glory: “The Word was made flesh, and we beheld His glory!” (John 1:14). It ends with how the signs that Jesus performed manifested His glory, and His glory leads to belief: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” The miracles of Jesus are not nifty party tricks, and they are not raw demonstrations of supernatural power. They are signs that point to a reality beyond themselves: namely to the glory of Jesus Christ. And as we behold that glory, we are drawn into belief and worship. So, the question for us is, “How does this sign, the turning of water into wine, demonstrate His glory in such an awesome and faith-inducing way?”

I. We see glory revealed in the complete devotion of Christ to the will of His Father (vv1-5)

It is pretty interesting that we know the names of the guests at the wedding, but not the names of the bride and groom. We know that Mary was there. We know that the disciples were there, and that would include at this point at least John, Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. But most importantly, we know that Jesus was there, and he was an invited guest. Verse 2 says that Jesus and His disciples were “invited to the wedding.” That’s always a good idea. Invite Jesus and His disciples to your wedding, and into your marriage, and into your daily lives.

These weddings were not like ours. I had a couple tell me once, “We just want a simple wedding – just exchange the vows, say ‘I do,’ and be done. No music or anything else.” We were done in just under 14 minutes. These weddings in Jesus’ day lasted a week! And unlike our weddings today, where the family of the bride customarily foots the bill, in that day it was the groom and his family who were responsible for it. One of the matters that needed to be taken care of was to make sure that there was enough food and drink for all the guests for the entire week. This was an expensive undertaking. And these were probably not wealthy people. They might have been relatives or close friends of Jesus and His family. The wedding took place in Cana of Galilee, not far from Nazareth. Mary doesn’t seem to be just an attender; it seems that she feels some sense of responsibility for the event. We notice that in her sense of alarm over the fact that the wine has run out. In an honor and shame culture such as this was, it would be a very big deal to protect the groom and his family from such dishonor. Not only would it be a grand social embarrassment for the groom and his family, there is some evidence that the family of the bride could actually sue the groom and his family over this.[4] So Mary feels the need to report the situation to Jesus. She tells Him, “They have no wine.”

Now it isn’t really clear here what she expected Him to do about this. Some will say that she was expecting Him to perform a miracle. That simply cannot be. There are stories in some apocryphal writings about Jesus performing miracles as a child, but the Bible is clear that this was the first of His miracles. So it isn’t like she’s thinking, “Can’t you make this water into wine?” She wants Him to do something, but we aren’t sure what. We are sure that she could have never expected a response like the one she received. Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us?” He called her, “Woman”! There’s been a lot of ink spilled over whether or not this is an appropriate way to address one’s mother, but suffice to say that it is not customary, nor is it particularly affectionate or endearing. There’s an abrupt sense of distance here between Him and her. And not only does He refer to her as, “Woman,” He says, “what does that have to do with us?” Now, this statement is a common one in the ancient world and even in the Bible. We find it written several times in the Gospels, usually translated, “What business do we have with each other?”[5] And every time it is used, do you know who is saying it? Demons! And they are saying it to Jesus. They are saying to Him, “Leave us alone! Go away!” Jesus just said that to His mother! But why did He say this so abruptly? He’s saying, “What business do we have with each other?”, as if to say, “Woman, the things that concern you most right now are not the things that concern Me most.” She’s trying to get Jesus to operate on her agenda, and He is completely devoted to the will of His Father in Heaven. No one co-opts Jesus into their own agenda; not even His mother! He is on a mission to rescue humanity from sin, not to rescue parties from poor planning or to save people from social awkwardness!

Look at the next thing He says to her: “My hour has not yet come.” You can track the use of this phrase through the entire Gospel of John. In fact, you could divide the book almost in half with this. Chapters 1-12 might be called, “The hour has not yet come.” And from Chapter 12 to the end, we could say, “The hour has come.” What is this hour He is talking about? Every time Jesus speaks of His hour, He is referring to something relevant to His suffering and death on the cross, and to His resurrection and exaltation.[6] Here He says that His hour has not yet come. In chapter 7, a mob tries to seize Him but they couldn’t, because His hour had not yet come. Neither could they seize Him in chapter 8, because His hour had not come. But in Chapter 12, we read of some Gentiles who came to Him by faith, and after that, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He says this concerning the glorification that will occur through His suffering and death and resurrection. And He says, in 12:27, “What shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour.” At the final Passover in John 13, John says that Jesus knew that His hour had come. And then in John 17:1, He prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your son, that the Son may glorify You.” So Jesus knew that He was born for a particular hour in which He would both glorify and be glorified by His Father, and that glory would be manifested through His unspeakable suffering, through His substitutionary sacrifices on the cross, and through His victorious resurrection. But that hour had not yet come. So He protests His mother’s prodding for Him to get involved in this situation. Nothing will distract, dissuade, or deter Him from His Father’s will and from that hour for which He was born: not even His own mother. He is completely devoted to His Father’s will, and that is in itself a demonstration of His glory.

Now notice what Mary says in verse 5: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” That’s good advice. It’s always a great idea to do whatever Jesus says to you. But Mary doesn’t know what He is going to say or do. And she doesn’t need to know. What she needs to know is what she seems to know. He told her when He was twelve years old that He was always about His Father’s business, and she knows that nothing has changed. And because she knows that He is completely devoted to the will of His Father, then whatever He chooses to say or do is going to be sufficient, and it is going to be glorious. Her faith in Him is exemplary here. Are we satisfied in knowing that Jesus is always about the business of the Father’s will? Are we content to know that whatever He says and whatever He does is good and glorious? Are we able to say, even when we do not know what He will do next, that whatever it may be, it is pleasing and acceptable to us? There is a peace and a joy and an all-satisfying contentment in that kind of trust – one that sees the glory revealed through a Christ who is always devoted to the perfect will of His Father in Heaven. Like the guests in this wedding, every single one of us is going to come to the point when we realize that the thing we have been looking for to satisfy us has expired, run out, and left us still thirsty. In those moments we will come to Jesus and complain to Him about that, but He will have nothing to do with it unless we are willing to say to Him, “Lord, whatever You say and what You do about this is enough for me. It is glorious, because You are glorious. And if You would have me be without it, I will exalt You and trust You; and if You would grant me a replenished supply, I will exalt You and trust You.” And whatever He does, and whatever He says, will reveal His glory because He is completely devoted to the perfect will of His Father.

Now, from this we move to the next block of text, verses 6-10, and …

II. We see glory revealed in the incomparable reality of His cleansing power (vv6-10).

Now, there are two things going on here as Jesus turns the water into wine. There is the act itself. But that act is referred to here as a sign, meaning that it points to a reality beyond itself. It signifies something. So we need to take note of both: the sign itself and the reality beyond it.

First, note the act itself, the sign. Jesus turned water into wine. He made wine without the use of grapes, tannins, leaven, or anything else. He made it from water. Just as in creation, God could call forth things to exist from nothing or make one thing to come from another, so God in Christ could take that which is not wine, namely water, and transform it’s very nature, so that it becomes wine. It is worth noting that the Gospel of John, which begins so similarly to Genesis, with its “In the beginning” in 1:1 and its emphasis on the creative work of Christ in 1:3, also marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry by chronicling the events of a week, corresponding to some degree the week of Creation in Genesis 1. Beginning in John 1:19, we read of one thing happening, and then a series of events that are described as occurring, “on the next day.” Now we come to this one, which occurs “on the third day,” that is, the third day after the encounter with Nathanael, making this the end of one week. As the Genesis account captures the glory of God in His creative power, so John here depicts Christ as co-equal, co-divine, and equal in glory through His limitless creative power to make water into wine. But there is so much more going on here than just a raw demonstration of power and glory. Jesus’ miracles have a didactic purpose – they serve to teach something about Himself. As signs, their greatest value is in what they signify, and to that we turn our attention now.

One of the remarkable elements of the New Testament Gospels is their clear eyewitness detail. Notice in verse six that John does not simply tell us that there were some pots of water nearby. He says there were six of them, they were stone waterpots, they were large (each one having a 20-30 gallon capacity), and they were set there for the purpose of the Jewish custom of purification. It is important to recognize that Jesus could have made wine from anything, it didn’t have to be water. And, He could have used any water: He could have transformed the whole well, a nearby stream, or the entire Sea of Galilee, had He so chosen. But He didn’t. He chose to make use of “six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification.”

The Jewish custom of purification was an important one. In Mark 7, we learn a little of the background of this as Mark tells us, “the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots” (Mark 7:3-4). In a weeklong feast, such as this wedding would have been,” the guests would have been expected to wash their hands repeatedly every time they ate, and there would have been no end to the washing of the cups and pitchers and pots. It was for this reason that plenty of water was kept on hand, and that it was stored in stone pots, for stone was not susceptible to uncleanness like earthenware was.[7] The ritual of external washing was believed to make one clean, both inside and out. It would have been necessary to keep that water pure and on hand until the feast was over.

Now, Jesus tells the servants to fill those pots, and they filled them to the brim. And then He says something alarming. He tells them to draw some out and take it to the headwaiter for him to drink. The servants must be thinking, “Jesus has lost his mind! Here we are, out of wine, and He wants us to serve bathwater!” But when they drew it out, it had become wine, and not just any wine. The headwaiter exclaims that this wine is the best they’ve had so far! But what about the waterpots? What about the water that is supposed to be used for cleansing? The bath jars are now full of wine, thanks to Jesus, and we have nothing left to cleanse ourselves with! Oh, no. That would be a mistaken conclusion.

What this miracle signifies is that the custom of external washing was never sufficient to cleanse the soul from sin and make one righteous before God. It might wash the hands and remove the cooties from the skin, but it never had any effect on the heart and soul which were stained by sin. For that, Jesus must provide something greater than they had ever experienced. In exchange for the wash-water, Jesus made wine. His hour had not yet come, but when it comes, Jesus will take a cup of wine and give it to His disciples and say, “"Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:27-28). The wine that Jesus made at the wedding, before His hour had come, foreshadowed the wine that would be shared when His hour came, which signified His blood. What the law could not do, with all of its regulations for cleanliness and washings, Jesus did in His blood! He is who John the Baptist said He is – “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And He does this by His blood, as John says in 1 John 1:7 – “the blood of Jesus His Son purifies us from all sin.”

The wine was to be provided by the groom. That was the custom. And when the headwaiter tasted of this wine, he went running off to the groom to compliment him on saving the best wine for last. And that guy, who totally blew it by not providing enough wine, blew it again by allowing the credit to come to him. Truth of the matter is that the groom didn’t have a clue where that wine came from! But in reality, the wine was provided by the Groom. No, not by the guy in the tuxedo (or whatever they wore back then), but by the ultimate Bridegroom. The Bible tells us, as the end of it draws near, in the Book of Revelation, that there is coming a great wedding feast. Revelation 19:7 says, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” But, we have no righteous acts to clothe ourselves in. No, that is why that bright and clean garment was given to us. It was given to us by the one who cleansed us. Revelation 7:14 says of those in heaven that they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” How do you remove the stain of sin from your life? It has to be washed His blood.

The water that people looked to for cleansing in that day was powerless to make them clean before God. If you want to be clean before God, there must be blood. And the wine that Jesus made from that water at that wedding points us forward to the blood that flowed from His body on the cross like wine poured out, which cleanses us from all sin. The hour for that had not yet come, but it would, and it has. But in this premature hour, the Lord Jesus gave a glimpse of what was to come by this sign. And by this sign, His glory was revealed. Not everyone who drank of the wine knew of the source. Not everyone who knew of the source beheld His glory or believed in Him. But those who beheld the glory of Christ put their faith in Him on that day. And so many of you have as well. Others of you perhaps have never considered that He alone can save and cleanse you of sin. Some perhaps have considered it and rejected the offer. My prayer today is that you would behold the glory of Him who was completely devoted to the will of His Father, and whose blood alone can cleanse of the stain of our sins. Beholding His glory, cast yourself upon His mercy and grace by faith. Believe in Him. And whatever He says to you, do it.

Would you be free from your burden of sin? There’s power in the blood, power in the blood!
Would you over evil a victory win? There’s wonderful power in the blood!
There is power, power, wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb!
There is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb!

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 169.
[2] Andreas Kostenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Tesatment; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 93.
[3] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1989), 292.
[4] Carson, 169.
[5] Matt 8:29; Mk 1:24; 5:7; Lk 4:34; 8:28.
[6] Carson, 171.
[7] Carson, 173.

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