Today is our fourth week of dialogue on our way through the book of John.
The purpose of this letter is stated clearly at the end:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Life is full of an infinite number of things that we know to be true. But of those things, how many of them are impossible to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, to be true?
Maybe some of you have had jury duty, where lawyers will quickly bring out the definition of “reasonable doubt.” In our court system the burden of truth is not to prove things beyond any doubt, but to prove things to a reasonable doubt.
What are some commonly / universally believed things that are very difficult or even impossible to prove to be true?
John is written to walk us towards his objective. But the burden is not to prove, but to invite into process.
John puts his thesis on the table in Chapter 1:
God is and always has been.
Jesus is and always has been.
Jesus is God and is also distinct in God.
Jesus is the Messiah.
There is life / light in relationship with Him.
Jesus is God here with us.
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes aways the sins of the world.
The covenant relationship with God is for you in your best and in your worst.
What are some common sticking points for people as they process being a follower of Jesus or not?
As we move into chapter two, John moves deeper into stories of Jesus.
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. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then 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.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.
John is written with radical intention. If John were writing and posting his text on a website, almost every word would have a hyperlink. As you would hold your cursor over it, almost every word would be blue and would bring you to other writings.
And here at a celebration, a wedding, Jesus is the over-the-top provider. And the subject of the over-the-top provision is wine. And as you move your cursor over the words, “They have no more wine,” so many hyperlinks would appear. Put your cursor over “water” and hundreds of hyperlinks also appear. You move your cursor over “wine” and it explodes!
Vines are commonly used as a metaphor for children of God, the peoples of God; they are blessed and they grow and progress, just as vines ‘climb’ in the vineyard.
In the Old Testament, grapes symbolize God’s relationship with the people of Israel. In Isaiah 5, Jerusalem is represented as a corrupted vineyard, where only sour grapes grow. Grapes are also a common metaphor for something blessed, good and prosperous, which can be found in many of the Old Testament’s passages.
In the Bible, grapes symbolize wealth, abundance, prosperity and fertility. Hebrew traditions have always had a special place for this fruit; grapes were part of various ritual practices and ceremonies and represented happiness and joy for Hebrew people.
And at the last Supper, Jesus gave the cup and said that this cup is a new covenant.
And not only would the hyperlinks point to concepts and parallels, they would also link to specific stories. Some of the keywords that would focus the hyperlink would be grapes, wine, abundance, blessing, provision, opportunity, obedience, acceptance, faith, and follow through. There would be specific links to stories in Numbers 13 and 14.
As we move from just trying to get all the answers from John into processing as John opens the doors, think about this:
What are some of the complexities in accepting and/or receiving God’s blessings?
This first part of John 2 really shows this amazing picture of the character of God.
Some really dramatic stuff is going on here.
The bridegroom was supposed to provide enough wine for guests to celebrate. But Jesus stepped in. And he doesn’t use fancy wineskins. He uses ceremonial jars used for washing dirt off people’s feet and hands. And SO MUCH WINE. Nearly 1,000 bottles worth. There is so much extravagance on display here.
Weddings had a lot of symbolism to them and lots of steps. This is a marriage supper, part of the traditional celebration of weddings of the time, and John references this heavenly marriage supper in Revelation.
Culturally, we’re used to things like big surprise engagements, expensive weddings, and expensive honeymoons. Jewish culture was (and is) a bit different in some ways.
There was a large family component. Parents of the bride and groom would sign a contract and the two people would be betrothed to each other. Then usually a year later the groom would bring his wedding party to the house of the bride at midnight in a parade of sorts. The bride would know in advance and she would get ready with her bridesmaids and they would all parade together to the groom’s home. This is actually the basis for the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.
The third phase was the marriage supper and that’s where the party and celebration took place. It would often go on for days, and then the couple would honeymoon after about a week of celebrating together with family.
John references this kind of celebration in Revelation 19:6-9.
It’s incredible how Jesus comes along and gives something excessive, something almost completely outside of need. This is the character of God, that even though you’ve run out I’m going to make up for your shortcoming, and I’m not just giving you what you had before but I’m going to give you something so much better and so much more than you expect.
One of the complexities I encounter is that I can automatically disqualify myself from God’s blessing even when He has said it’s for me.
What is the effect of disqualifying or over-qualifying ourselves in regards to God’s blessings?
See, this celebration was supposed to last for a week. When the wine would run out, that would be the end of the celebration. People had probably been at celebrations where the wine had run out. Everyone was expecting something they had already seen before. Then Jesus did something completely outside of expectations, blowing peoples’ minds and actually giving them unexpected blessings and favor in a moment it was undeserved.
This is the picture of extravagance we see God perform all the time.
In Luke 15 we see parables of a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. They show this picture that God has placed immense importance on our value, and is extravagant in getting us back when we’re lost.
We also see his extravagance in Psalm 23:5 and John 7:38.
All of these amazing words from God can be things we think we don’t deserve or we think we don’t need.
What is the response of the people at this wedding at Cana? They would have been enjoying the celebration and maybe noticing that the wine was running out. But then more wine comes out, and it’s waaaaaaaay better than what they already had.
But why did Jesus do this, and why was it his first miracle recorded in the Gospels?
What does Jesus’ turning water into wine say about the nature and character of God?
Jesus didn’t turn water into wine so that he could give all the good people something they earned. He wouldn’t have encouraged people in their over- or under- qualifying of themselves. He did this to show himself off, to make up for shortcoming and give people so much more than they expected or deserved.
Jesus is the lamb in Revelation, and here in John he shows up as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and does something amazing that only he can do right in the cultural moment where it would have made the most sense. But everyone seems to miss it.
What was Jesus’ purpose in doing this?
Our focus verse last week was, “Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s the first step. But He didn’t stop there. He decided to heap extravagant impossible blessings on us even though we didn’t deserve any of them.
Jesus took water and changed the molecular structure of it into wine. He literally did something impossible. And when I look at my own heart I can think it’s impossible for me to change. But God shows that nothing is impossible for him.
I don’t want to miss what he’s done and what he’s doing. I don’t want to be over or under qualifying myself. I don’t want to be like the people on Palm Sunday shouting “hosanna to God'' as Jesus enters Jerusalem but then shouting “crucify Him” when He hasn’t met my expectations. Not out of fear but out of realization that Jesus has already extended extravagance toward me.
How can we not miss what God has done and is doing right in front of us?
So here are some of the themes we have talked through today:
First was reasonable doubt and how we can struggle with the need for proof, especially in today’s science- and reason-led world. It is worth noting that this is not how people would have approached belief in Jesus’ or John’s time. I think it's important to keep that in mind when we are working through these stories.
That conversation led us directly to a conversation about the sticking points people face when confronted with Jesus. Both Biblical and ancient miracles can often be viewed skeptically, and in the same way we can often look at God’s blessing skeptically. Was that an answered prayer or would it have happened anyway? Was it coincidence or the hand of God?
Then we moved to what God’s blessing says about his character, both in this story about the wedding and the wine, but also in my life and your life.
How does it feel to not be recognized by someone who should recognize you?
I really like and appreciate being recognized. Not only just as myself, but especially for the work and things that I do. Words of affirmation are pretty important to me. In fact it’s very easy for me to drop a project or task if I feel like other people don't or won’t appreciate it. But if I do something new and get positive feedback on it, it really energizes me to continue.
Jesus has this moment of creating the best wine. It was so good that people stopped partying and were confused why it took so long to get to the good stuff.
When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!”
What does it say about someone when they are unable to recognize the work or efforts of someone they care about?
What does it say about someone when they are unable to recognize the work or efforts of God?
While in this story Jesus was not recognized as the person who created the wine, His work was recognized.
I wonder how our perspective of life would change if we practiced calling out the good things in life. Maybe hope starts from a belief that God is at work, and maybe this belief is the first step toward recognizing God at work.
God’s promises are real and good.
Finding these promises to be true starts with recognizing the work God is doing in you and through you.
Where have you seen God at work?
Take It Deeper Questions
Read John 2:1-11
What memorable things have you seen or experienced at a wedding?
Where is the wine level (zest for life) in your life right now? Full? Half full? Empty? Why?
What is filing you? What is draining you?
What area seems like stale water in an old jug?
How could Jesus bring more celebration into your life?
Bible Reading Plan