|When Jesus Is Your Guest (John 2:1-12)
Please imagine for a moment that you are the editor of a newspaper — perhaps the Tennessean, The New York Times, or USA Today. If you prefer radio or television to newsprint, it is perfectly acceptable for this experiment to visualize yourself as the head of the news division at NBC, Fox, or CNN. Then, once you've settled into that image of yourself, I have a question to ask: How would you cover the most important news story of your career in journalism? No, let me change the question a bit to this: How do you propose to cover the most important story in the history of the world?
They weren't journalists in the sense that we use that term today, but Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were faced with the question I've just posed to you. They certainly had no equivalent to the Chicago Tribune, CBS Radio, or The (London) Times.But they did have a sense of history and the significance of its key events. They had been expecting God to act in history on behalf of the kingdom of God through a figure they called Messiah. They believed that they had been witnesses to people and events surrounding the fulfillment of those expectations — and had a sense of obligation to "report" that story to others because of its profound significance. So they wrote our Four Gospels.
On the view of those of us who believe the Bible to be inspired, the Gospels were written under the superintending power and control of the Holy Spirit. Yet I'm not sure anybody thinks the Spirit of God woke up John or Matthew one morning and told him to sit down and write out an account of Jesus' life and ministry, death and resurrection. I think they were responding to time and place by writing what they wrote. They had their own personal, theological, pastoral, and evangelistic purposes in mind when they planned and wrote these documents that survive to us in the New Testament.
In the interplay of their free wills and the direction of the Holy Spirit, they came up with an answer to their version of the question to put to you a few minutes ago: How would you tell the most important story ever told in human history? The decision was not to write a huge tome of abstract theory and theological principles but to record anecdotal information about the One who ushered in the kingdom of heaven and founded the Christian religion. Their strategy was to tell the big story through the little stories.
This method may have been as inspired as its execution. I'm not sure that purely human effort would not have attempted to tell the story of God in the flesh by some means that would have obscured the message for all of us. Indeed, when heretics like the Gnostics or Marcionites took the message of Jesus in hand to redefine its essential content, their project suffered for the sake of its complexity. They had to strain the story of Jesus through philosophical sieves. They had to create and clarify special terms. They made entrance into their circles a matter of "enlightenment" as reflected in peculiar vocabulary and interpretations. In the meanwhile, the core gospel has survived two millennia now in its narrative form of telling the big story through collections of little ones about Jesus.
A Modern Parallel
You and I are living through a big story in American history right now. People are going to look back on Sept.11, 2001, as long as the history of the United States is told. It is another of those days that will "live in infamy" for citizens of this nation. But the vast majority of us will not remember it in terms of global terrorism, international coalitions, particular military battles, or speeches. We will remember by means of the personal stories and anecdotes that will survive in their retelling.
Yes, engineers will write detailed studies of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. They will calculate the stresses that toppled them — the mass of two commercial airlines, quantities of fuel onboard them, temperature effects on steel, etc. But you and I still stop and hang on details as people who survived that experience tell their very personal stories of escape or rescue. Carol Marin will always tell of the fireball that was approaching her from the collapse of the first tower when a firefighter threw her against a wall and shielded her with his body.
Yes, firefighters and rescue teams will study, evaluate methods of response, and train recruits differently in light of what they experienced that day in New York City. But you and I will continue to think in terms of dead heroes, grieving mates and children, and memorial services where a hat or uniform was all that remained for memory. We won't read the new training manuals. We will remember and honor the people who died trying to do their noble task of saving others.
Yes, the government will rebuild the demolished section of the Pentagon. In ten or forty or seventy-five years, visitors to that famous national structure will be shown a marker commemorating what happened on 9/11. But the real story of the tragedy is he story of a six-year-old daughter of a single mother who doesn't have anyone to be her family now. The big story is wrapped up in the little stories — and no story involving a real person in God's own image is "little" in its significance.
Yes, people react to passengers who threaten mayhem aboard planes now. They do so not in accordance with airline or government policy. They do so in imitation of Tom Burnett, Jeremy Glick, and Todd Beamer — the three men who led the charge to fight back against terrorists who had hijacked a fourth plane that day and apparently had pointed it toward either the White House or Capitol Building.
Here is what the editors of The New York Times and Chicago Tribune decided about telling the big story of more than 5,000 people dying in New York City, Washington, D.C., and on United Airlines Flight 93. The story is too massive to get one's head around, so the best way to tell it is by recording profiles and photos of the men and women whose lives were snuffed out. Those stories are summaries of the human toll of an inhuman act. "The idea was to convey the scale of what happened but also the humanity," said Jonathan Landman, metro editor for The New York Times. "You can show the scale of it by giving it a full page, and you reflect the humanity of it by writing the profiles of the individual people."
It was Plato who said once that the idea of God is just too big for the human mind to get around it. But what about the story of a baby? What about the story of a man talking with his friends and replying to his critics? What about a story of betrayal? What about a whole series of "little stories" from the life of God who is tabernacled in flesh?
A Wedding in Cana
I've long thought it curious that John begins his telling of the little stories with Jesus at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. No sooner has he written that majestic Prologue (1:1-18) and introduced some of the key players in the drama (1:19-51) than he zeroes in on an otherwise obscure event in the life of an unnamed family in a little town whose name I suspect we would have never known otherwise. Maybe now I have a glimpse into why John thought telling this story was significant. It was God's chosen littleness showing itself in the context of our vulnerabilities, needs, and embarrassments.
God lacked nothing. God needed nothing. But there was something he was willing to experience for the very first time because he wanted us to be saved — boundedness, littleness, weakness. In that self-imposed poverty, he showed us the nature of a right relationship between creature and Creator. And the best way to tell that big, big story was for John to provide a representative collection of little stories from Jesus' life that would communicate his central message of heaven's redemptive love for humanity.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.The questions we have tended to ask of this story are not critical. Did Jesus make real wine here or just grape juice? Oh, please! Wine was a common beverage in his world. He drank it. He served it. He produced well over 100 gallons of it for this event. The issues of drunkenness and alcoholism are not addressed here, and it is a phony use of this text to try to force it to address it. Why did Jesus speak disrespectfully to Mary, his mother? He didn't! "Woman" is the same formal and respectful form of address he uses for his mother at the cross (19:26) and for Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb (20:15). It is in no way disrespectful. To the contrary, he points out with some emphasis that she understands at least something of a divine timetable for his life that he knows. "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?" he asked Mark. "My hour has not yet come."
After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days (2:1-12).
What is happening here is that God is showing his interest in and involvement with any part of a person's life into which he is invited. Jesus was just one more guest at one more wedding — until he was asked to do something. And when he did something, it was something the likes of which nobody had ever seen before.
Jesus Christ is divine and possesses every attribute of God. He is present everywhere and always. But he does not force himself forward on anyone. He will save. He will empower. He can restore sobriety, supply strength for purity, and provide a way to escape Satan's temptations. But he does so only when asked. He supplies wisdom — to those who ask for it! On and on the list of spiritual benefits could go. But the key in each case is the same. When we desire it and ask for it, he acts.
At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, things would have followed a naturalsequence of events from insufficiency to embarrassment to catastrophe except for an appeal to Jesus. On account of that appeal and his supernatural response, insufficiency became fullness became triumph. And that, wrote John, was "the first of his signs . . . and revealed his glory."
A sign is something that points beyond itself to something vastly superior and more important. So what did this sign have in view? Some suggest that his miracle at this wedding pointed people to the messianic banquet. Others suggest the dearth of wine pointed to the emptiness of Judaism and its supply of divine fullness through Jesus' presence. And still others see his use of the "six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification" as a promise of true purification through his death and resurrection. Perhaps all these are in view for John, and perhaps not. Is it necessary to see anything more than the obvious that has already been stated? This "sign" points to the willingness of the Lord Jesus to sanctify the routine and commonplace things of our lives as means for revealing his glory — whenever we ask for it to be so.
Ann Beck tells how she and her husband used to teach two- and three-year-olds in Sunday School. A Bible verse they taught the children was this: "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you" (Psa.56:3). Their own son, Mark, was one of the pupils.
As lightning flashed and thunder boomed one stormy night, the power went off at their house. "I'm not afraid!" Mark assured his parents, as they groped for candles and matches. Pleased with themselves and expecting him to quote the Bible verse they had taught him so recently, she asked, "And tell us why you aren't afraid." Came the answer through the darkness: "'Cause I've got my flashlight!"
When we give the "right answers" in our crisis moments, we are too often relying on our own intellects, our own practical reasons, our own self-serving fears — rather than divine power. But Jesus is present and available to you. And the more often you learn to rely on him rather than yourself, the more likely you are to see his glory revealed and to experience his power in your weakness. On those days, you are spiritual. On those days, you are realizing God's purpose for your life. On those days, your guest has become your salvation.
John believes he has a big story to tell, but you will not have grasped its real point until you are willing to put everything under his control in the everyday, ordinary events of your life. When Jesus is your guest, everything is different. All things are sacred. You have entered into the experience of eternal life.
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