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Week 6: John 2:1-11. Jesus offers a better drink

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Week 6: John 2:1ff Our story continues this week in John 2. In the series of days we've seen so far in the gospel of John, this is day 7. Now, before I do anything else, I want to say this up front: I'm not sure I've ever studied a passage before, and seen so many gifted scholars come to so many different ideas about it. Almost every verse is understood a half dozen ways. How is that possible? I think the main reason for this is that AJ (Author of John) has told this story in a way that leaves a lot of holes. We find ourselves with questions, not understanding why some of the people say or do certain things. And there are things we'd like to know that would help fill out the mental picture we have of this story. We want to take this story, and make it into a movie showing all the details, in HD. But AJ very deliberately refuses to tell the story this way. He has one main purpose in telling this story, and everything else in the story-- what people say, and do, and how it's described-- pushes toward this purpose. When something isn't important for the point he's making, he writes about it using the bare minimum. And when he does this, he shows us a great kindness, because he draws attention to the details that actually matter. Our story begins like this, in verse 1: (2:1) And on the third day, a wedding, there was in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. AJ starts by giving us two pieces of background information. First, there's a wedding in Cana in Galilee. Second, the mother of Jesus was there. Why does AJ start by talking about the mother of Jesus, and not Jesus? That's a signal to us that the mother of Jesus will be important in this story. Verses 2-4: (2) Now, Jesus was also invited, with his disciples, to the wedding, (3) and when the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus says to him, "Wine they don't have," (4) and Jesus says to her, "What do you want, woman? My hour has not yet come." Scholars disagree here in how they answer three related questions in these verses: (1) Why does the mother of Jesus come to Jesus? (2) How are we supposed to hear her words? Is she criticizing Jesus, maybe for not bringing an adequate gift of wine to cover the drinking of him, and his disciples? Or is she simply appealing to Jesus to help, in order to protect the honor of the bridegroom? (3) What exactly does she expect from Jesus? Does she expect a miracle? Or does she expect him to simply come up with wine some other way? It's possible to answer these questions different ways. The text is open at this point. And the reason it's open, I think, is because AJ didn't care enough to answer these questions. They don't matter to him. What does matter? 2 things: (1) They ran out of wine at the wedding. And that is a shameful, terrible thing-- especially at a first century wedding. (2) The mother of Jesus goes to Jesus, assuming that, one way or another, Jesus can or should do something about it. Notice-- she doesn't actually ask Jesus to do anything here. She simply states the need (Westcott). And she hopes that Jesus, upon hearing these words, will be moved to do something. But this is how Jesus responds: "What do you want, woman?" This sounds brutal, right? But when Jesus calls people "woman" in the gospel of John, it's not supposed to sound sexist, or belittling, or demeaning. Let's turn to John 19:25 (also, John 4:21). Here, Jesus is dying on the cross, and we read what are, very nearly, his last words: 25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!" 27 Then He said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. As Jesus is dying, he thinks about his mother. He wants to make sure that she's taken care of. Here again, he calls her "woman." But there's no way that this is supposed to sound harsh. Jesus is a good son, to the end. Now, even if "woman" isn't supposed to sound brutal, Jesus' overall response is still shocking. In the Greek, it sounds like this: "What to me and to you?" The sense of these words is that there is this gulf between Jesus and his mother (compare Mark 1:24; 5:7). There is a gap. The mother of Jesus may be concerned about a wedding running out of wine. But Jesus has other priorities-- other things that are more important to him. So Jesus hears her words, and her unspoken request, and does nothing with it.1 And then Jesus gives a reason why he resists helping. He says, "My hour has not yet come." What does Jesus mean? At this point in the gospel of John, this is supposed to confuse us.2 But Jesus doesn't plan to help. ------------------------------------------------------ Osbourne: The reason is found in "My hour has not yet come." In John the "hour" refers to the time of destiny, the passion events (7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 17:1). Jesus is reluctant to begin at this time the series of events that would culminate in the cross. He had hoped for a brief hiatus and to enjoy the wedding with his disciples. He didn't want to initiate the tumultuous road that God willed for him quite yet. The much greater wedding feast (the wedding supper of the Lamb) was awaiting, but he did not want a public declaration via a messianic miracle to take place at this time.3 (This is close. But I think it's not that Jesus didn't want to do this yet; it's that Jesus acts in response to his Father's desires (John 5:30; 8:28-29; 15:10), and not based on what humans want (John 7). Jesus will turn water into wine, but not because his mother asked. Even though that's sort of also true??) ----------------------------------------------------------------- How will Jesus' mother respond? Verse 5: (5) His mother says to the servants, "Whatever he may say to you, do [it]." Jesus' mother assumes, despite his response, that Jesus will do something about this. She is open to any possibility-- "whatever he may say to you." And so she tells the servants to obey whatever Jesus says. Verse 6: (6) Now, six stone water jars were there, in accordance with the cleansing/purification of the Judeans being set, each one holding 18 to 27 gallons. Up until now, AJ has given us less details than we'd like. We want to know how Jesus' mother sounded. We want to know why she came to Jesus in the first place. We want to know why Jesus was initially reluctant. And we don't have clear answers, for any of this. What we would never have asked, in a million years, is what six stone water jars were doing at this house. But AJ slows the story down here, and gives us two more pieces of information than we need to understand his point. The first thing we need to know is that these stone jars are used by "Judeans" for ritual cleansing. And the second thing we need to know is that these stone jars were enormous. When we hear these details, we are supposed realize AJ is up to something. We're being given a clue, that will help us understand the story. Verses 7-8: (7) Jesus says to them, "Fill the water jars with water," and they filled them up to the brim, (8) and he says to them, "Draw some out, and bring [it] to the head steward." Now, they brought [it]. Here, we find a rhythm of command-obedience. Jesus says, "Fill," and they filled. Jesus says "bring," and they brought. His mother had told them, "Whatever he says, do." And that's exactly what happens. They obey the word of Jesus perfectly. So what do we see, so far in the story? We see the mother of Jesus, showing faith in her son. And we see people, acting out of faith, obeying Jesus' word. We see faith and obedience working together. And note, that there's one more detail in these verses that wasn't necessary. They filled them "up to the brim." So we have this picture of six huge stone jars, completely filled with water. Verse 9-10: (9) Now, when the head steward tasted the water, wine having become, and he didn't know from where it is-- now, the servants knew-- the ones having drawn the water-- the head steward calls the bridegroom, and he says to him, "Every man first the good wine sets out, and whenever they are drunk, the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now." We maybe find ourselves dying to know more about the mechanics of the miracle. Did Jesus pray? Did he command the water to become wine? At what point did the water become wine? But AJ doesn't tell us any of these things. They aren't important. What is important? AJ thinks there are two qualities about the wine that are important: (1) It's good wine. (2) It's better than what came before. And where had the wine come from? From the stone water jars, used by "Judeans" for ritual cleansing. So, what do we make of the story so far? We can read this story at a lower level, and understand that this is the miraculous story of how Jesus saved a wedding. We can marvel that Jesus can turn water into wine. Or, we can read this story with understanding, and catch the higher level of meaning that AJ has half-hidden throughout this story. What is this higher level? When we read about what Jesus did, we are supposed to see that what Jesus brings is better, and comes in greater measure, than what precedes. And what preceded in this story? AJ went out of his way to give us this answer: "Judean" ritual water cleansing. At this point in the gospel of John, we are supposed to connect this back to John 1:15-17 (so most scholars): (15) John witnessed about him, and he has cried out, saying, "This one is whom I said, "The one after me coming, before me has come, because earlier than me he was," (16) because from his fullness we all received, even grace in place of grace, (17) because the law through Moses was given. The gift and truth through Jesus Christ happened. Jesus gives richly. He gives out of his own fullness. And what he gives-- his grace, his favor, his help-- is far superior to what came before. And what came before? The Mosaic law. These verses give us a framework for understanding chapter 2. There was a time in Israelite history when ritual purification was a good thing-- it was a sign of God's grace-- of his favor and kindness. It was good that God made a way for you to be cleansed so that you could come into his presence, and worship Him. This was grace, on God's part. But what Jesus offers is superior. And this story is proof of that. When people see, and taste, the favor and help (=grace) that Jesus brings, they marvel at its quality. No one who drinks the wine Jesus offers is going to miss the old water. And who would settle for water at a wedding, when you can have an excellent wine (and as much as you could ask for)? Verse 11: (11) This, [the] beginning/first of the signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and he revealed his glory, and his disciples gave allegiance to him. Here for the first time in the gospel of John, we read about "signs." When Jesus does miracles, they are more than a spectacular action. They are signs that point to higher truths. How does this sign do that? This sign reveals Jesus' "glory." What is glory? Let's turn to Exodus 24:15-18: 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. In the OT, God's glory was the visible evidence of God's presence among his people. No one who saw the cloud, and devouring fire, could doubt that God... The Divine One was among them. So when we turn back to John 2, what did we read? (11) This, [the] beginning/first of the signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and he revealed his glory, and his disciples "gave allegiance" to him. AJ tells us that Jesus, in turning water into wine, revealed HIS glory. Jesus revealed his divine nature. The Word was toward/with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the unique Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (1:1, 14). AJ testifies in John 1:14 that "we" have seen Jesus' glory-- glory as of the unique Son from the Father. When did "we" see that? One of the times, was in chapter 2. Most of the time, the world can be understood scientifically, apart from God-- as long as you are careful to not look up at the heavens, or leave the city you live in. The world moves in regular, ordered, predictable ways. It seems to follow "scientific" laws. But miracles, and signs, shatter our carefully constructed views of reality. If you were one of Jesus' disciples, and you saw him turn water into wine, in all seriousness, what would you do? We read these stories with a sense of superiority. We've had 2,000 years as a church to grow used to them. And we've read the prologue. But the disciples don't have any of these things. What they've had is a tiny bit of early evidence that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Until here. Up to this point in John 2, the disciples have been present, but silent. AJ made sure in verse 1 that we knew that the disciples were here. We know that they saw all of this. But they haven't participated at all. Here, though, they come into focus. Here, they saw Jesus' glory. Or, at least, they saw something of his glory. (11) This, [the] beginning/first of the signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and he revealed his glory, and his disciples "gave allegiance" to him. In the gospel of John, the disciples have already committed to following Jesus, and abiding with Jesus. They've already given their allegiance ("believed") to Jesus (1:50). They've already come a long way toward understanding who Jesus is. But something changes in chapter 2. Let's turn back to John 1:49-51: 49 Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 50 Jesus answered him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe? You will see greater things than these." 51 And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." 4 We've already been told that Nathaniel, in particular, "believes." But now, seeing this sign-- seeing Jesus' glory-- results in his disciples giving their allegiance to Jesus more deeply than they had before. Their faith is deepened, and strengthened. We tend to think of "faith" and "believing" as something that doesn't change. But when you commit to Jesus, that commitment should deepen over time. It should mature. And this should happen, at least in part, as you better understand who Jesus really is-- and as you come to see Jesus' glory. So when you read this story, read it with eyes of faith. Understand what you are really seeing. Understand who you are really seeing. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I started this series off by saying that everything in life for humans depends on getting Jesus right. We have to understand who Jesus is-- truly. We have to understand what Jesus offers. And what we have to understand what he wants. Many of you, when you were first told the good news about Jesus, had it described to you in terms of heaven and hell. You were told that what Jesus offers, primarily, has to do with the afterlife-- with "eternal life." And you go through life, maybe, assuming that Jesus' favor, and help, aren't so much about today. Let's reread John 1:16. And of His fullness we have all received, and grace in place of grace. AJ says, we have already all received out of Jesus' fullness. We have already received grace-- Jesus' favor, and kindness. And this grace is remarkable both for its quality, and its quantity. Let me pause here, and say that I don't like wine at all. I think it's gross. I think red wine is less gross than white, but that's the extent of my knowledge. And many of you probably drink very little alcohol. Which isn't a bad thing. But those of us who don't really drink struggle to appreciate this story. So let me try to help us, first by talking about wine in its OT context. Let's turn to Psalm 104:14-15: 14 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart. Ecclesiastes 10:19 (this is the kind of verse my brother memorized as a teenager): 19 Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything. So what is wine? Wine is God's gift. Wine gladdens your heart. It gladdens your life. But it's more than this. It's part of how God blesses his people, when they live faithfully in covenant with him. Let's turn to Deuteronomy 7:1-16: 7 "When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, 2 and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. 3 You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4 for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. 5 But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire. 6 "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. 11 You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. 12 "And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. 13 He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you. 14 You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock. 15 And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you. 16 And you shall consume all the peoples that the LORD your God will give over to you. Your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. When God entered into a covenant with Israel, one of the blessings God promised was an abundance of wine. It's a sign of God's favor, and of God's commitment to his people. And this promise-- that there would be an abundance of wine-- is something that's important throughout the OT. The OT as a whole constantly looks forward, in anticipation of the day when God would fully bless his people. When they would see everything God wanted to give. And this hope, and longing, became tied to the coming Messianic age: Amos 9:13-15 (ESV): 13 "Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. 14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. 15 I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them," says the LORD your God. Isaiah 26:6-12 (ESV): 6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation." 10 For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain, and Moab shall be trampled down in his place, as straw is trampled down in a dunghill. 11 And he will spread out his hands in the midst of it as a swimmer spreads his hands out to swim, but the LORD will lay low his pompous pride together with the skill of his hands. 12 And the high fortifications of his walls he will bring down, lay low, and cast to the ground, to the dust. Joel 3:17-21: 17 "So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it. 18 "And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Shittim. 19 "Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. 20 But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. 21 I will avenge their blood, blood I have not avenged, for the LORD dwells in Zion." In these OT prophecies, an abundance of wine is linked to other promises. God promises that a day is coming when Jerusalem will be safe forever, freed forever from her enemies. She will be a people holy to God. And she would receive the prosperity God promised in Deuteronomy, forever. There will be no more tears. No more death. Just blessings. Including lots and lots of wine. So when Jesus turns water into wine, those with eyes of faith understand they are seeing the fulfillment of Scripture. They are seeing a sign that God's blessings are here, now. They understand that they are seeing the greater grace God had promised. This maybe still isn't grabbing you quite the way it should. So let me contextualize this, and talk about coffee. When my second child was a baby, she had a lot of stomach problems. She was in constant pain. She was up 5...6...7 times a night, well past her first birthday. In many ways, Miah became my baby. She slept on me every night in a blue recliner. And the two of us just did what we could to get through the night. (And in none of that, did it ever occur me that God would help if I prayed in faith, actually trusting Him to do something). It was at that point that I started drinking coffee. We lived with my in-laws at the time (because we were broke), and my mother-in-law always bought Folgers. So that's what I started drinking. And I was grateful for it. Folgers coffee was grace-- it was kindness, and help. At some point, I was introduced to a greater grace. Folgers makes a breakfast blend, that's more mild and less acidic. It agreed with my stomach better. It tasted better. And so I switched. And, like many coffee drinkers, that first switch sparked something deep inside of me-- a longing for a truly exceptional cup of coffee. A living in anticipation of finding that truly great grace, that you know is out there. And once you find "your" coffee, life is good. No one who ever finds's Breakfast Blend coffee ever goes back to Folgers. I was grateful for that initial grace when I had it. But now I've found a greater grace. That's how we are supposed to hear this story. Jesus offers a superior grace to Moses. It's superior both in quantity, and quality. And no one who has seen the grace Jesus offers, and sampled it, should ever miss what they used to have. The Mosaic law was grace, at the time. The ritual cleansing was a good thing, at the time. But we are supposed to look back on these old things, not with a sense of regret, or with a pang of loss. We look back on these things, and we find ourselves praising Jesus that he has brought something so much better now. We are living, now, in the Messianic age. That is how AJ's first readers were supposed to hear this. What Jesus offers is superior to Judaism. So praise God for his blessings, and give your allegiance to Jesus. Realize that Judaism offers you nothing that hasn't been surpassed. Accept that being kicked out of the synagogues (John 12:42-43; 16:1-2) is no big deal; you aren't missing out on anything. Now, how should we hear this, as Gentiles? Our natural tendency in life is to slowly take God's grace more, and more, for granted. Like with coffee-- when I first found "my" coffee, it was amazing. But after a while, the tendency is to stop appreciating it like you should. You just drink it, without even tasting it. You just live, without thinking about what God has done for you. This passage is designed to make us stop, and think, about how richly God has blessed us through Jesus. Through Jesus, God has given you a grace that's extraordinary both in its quantity, and its quality. And if you truly understand this, your life should be filled with joy. Your heart should be gladdened. You should live in celebration. The rest of the world may struggle with unhappiness, and depression, and loneliness, and fear. But not you. Jesus gives you an abundant life-- a life that can be enjoyed-- and is meant to be enjoyed-- now. So don't forget God's benefits. Don't take them for granted. Praise God for what He's done for you. And give your allegiance (more deeply) to Jesus -- to the One through whom all of God's blessings come. Translation: (2:1) And on the third day, a wedding, there was in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. (2) Now, Jesus was also invited, with his disciples, to the wedding, (3) and when the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus says to him, "Wine we don't have," (4) and Jesus says to her, "What do you want? My hour has not yet come." (5) His mother says to the servants, "Whatever he may say to you, do [it]." (6) Now, six stone water jars were there, in accordance with the cleansing/purification of the Judeans being set, each one holding 18 to 27 gallons. (7) Jesus says to them, "Fill the water jars with water," and they filled them up to the brim, (8) and he says to them, "Draw some out, and bring [it] to the head steward." Now, they brought [it]. (9) Now, when the head steward tasted the water, wine having become, and he didn't know from where it is-- now, the servants knew-- the ones having drawn the water-- the head steward calls the bridegroom, and he says to him, "Every man first the good wine sets out, and whenever they are drunk, the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now." (11) This, [the] beginning/first of the signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and he revealed his glory, and his disciples gave allegiance to him. 1 Just because you're Jesus' blood family, doesn't mean he has to say "yes" (John 7:1-10). He obeys his Father. 2 and so the question is, should I leave it that way, and let John tell the story at his own pace? Or should I cheat ahead to John 13:1? Keener: Jesus' mother doesn't realize that her request, is really asking Jesus to start down the path toward his hour of death. Or, maybe, Jesus' mother is asking Jesus to inaugurate the Messianic age, but Jesus' Father hasn't yet told him it's time. 3 Osborne, G. R. (2018). John: Verse by Verse. (J. Reimer, E. Ritzema, D. Thevenaz, & R. Brant, Eds.) (p. 64). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. 4 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 1:49-51). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles. --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------ --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------
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