Close Encounters with Jesus – John 2 – 9.16.18
We’re continuing the series we started last week entitled-Close Encounters with Jesus. And before we get too far in I want us to think about that word encounter. Now last week I started off by talking about close encounters with aliens-an awesome topic in its own right! But the dictionary defines the word encounter as coming upon someone face to face. You might say you encountered an old friend at the grocery store, or encountered a celebrity on the street. But the other part of the definition is to experience something unexpected. Maybe you’ve encountered unexpected delays at the airport-although flight delays are hardly unexpected. But I love the dual meaning of the word encounter-the idea of face to face and something unexpected. Maybe you’ve recently encountered someone face to face that did something unexpected. But that’s what we’re seeing in John’s gospel-we’re coming face to face with who Jesus is-and yet He’s doing very unexpected things. And that’s what a true encounter with Him is all about-because Jesus never does things the way we might assume. Jesus is anything but predictable. Just when we think we have Him figured out He does something surprising and new. He does something that stretches our thinking and amazes our hearts. So today as we jump back into John’s gospel we’re going to see the unexpected as we encounter Jesus face to face.
So open up your Bibles to John 2. This is the next event that happens after Jesus called Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael to be His disciples. So as they’re starting to follow Jesus right away they encounter the unexpected-and look at where it happens-2:1-2. So there’s that phrase-the road trip with Jesus takes the disciples west to Cana in order to attend an event we can all relate to-a wedding. Who hasn’t gotten dressed up and gone with their family and friends to a wedding lately? Or maybe you have a wedding coming up on the horizon.
It’s a funny story-but shortly after Monica and I answered the Lord’s call to come here to Dix Hills Church, we started telling family and friends that we were moving to Long Island-which is obviously a long ways from where we were in IA. So we explained where on the island it was, how close to the city, etc. But one group I shared the news with was the pastor’s group I was a part of. Once a month our church hosted the regional EFC pastors from our area-we were a solid, tightly knit group of pastors who encouraged and prayed for each other. I was sad to say goodbye to this group-so as I shared the news that I was moving to an EFC church on Long Island one of the pastors said-Is that Dix Hills Church? They really do good weddings there! I was so surprised he knew it-this pastor in IA-but of all things-his dad was Pastor Bud Smith’s cousin-they grew up in Chicago together and were really close. So his Dad and Mom came here for the wedding of Bud and Peggy’s daughter Molly. And he remembered his parents saying that it was a fabulous wedding-one of the fanciest they’d been to-and he said his Dad remembered having the best steak and lobster he’d ever had! So that’s great! Weddings around here sound like fun events!
But that’s what the Son of God is doing-off to enjoy Himself and have fun at a wedding. Now Jesus is around the age of 30 at this point and His mother, Mary, is at the wedding but there’s no mention of Joseph which makes many historians conclude that he’s no longer living. So Jesus is being a good boy by escorting His mom to this wedding-but He’s also with the disciples. As we said, Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel and of course, John, the writer of this gospel who’s giving us a firsthand account of what happened. It’s as though John is saying-So we were all at this wedding with Jesus, having a great time-the steak and lobster were delicious, when all of a sudden the unthinkable happened. What? Somebody got hurt? The bride ran away? The groom got stood up? The best man’s speech was really awkward? And John would say-Nope worse–v.3.
And to the first century reader this was not good. What? There was nothing left to drink? No wine? Oh no-this is bad. And it was bad for a variety of reasons. First of all, this was a culture that really honored and valued hospitality-weddings could often last up to a week! Imagine that the next time you have to get dressed up for an afternoon-this is multiple days of celebration. So to run out of refreshments-particularly the beverages in a warm climate with no a/c was terrible-a social train wreck. Secondly, as it regarded weddings back then, the groom’s family was held responsible so if the wedding was a disaster, the groom was at fault. One historian said the groom could even be open to a potential lawsuit from the bride’s relatives for this kind of shameful mistake. What if people did that today? One half of the bridal party suing the other half for a disastrous wedding! Your wife’s parents take all your money after you served bad chicken at the reception and made all the guests sick! That would be intense-but weddings and hospitality, in general, was a serious affair back then. It isn’t like today where you might think-Well, we’re out of wine-how about some lemonade or more punch or soda instead? It was wine or nothing. In fact, some Bible commentators say that in a time which had limited water purification processes, wine was often mixed with water for something safe to drink. So thirdly, if they had no wine, they could be in danger of drinking contaminated water. And they couldn’t just run out to the store and replace the wine with a few extra bottles or cases. Once they were out, they were out!
Now still we might think they were crazy for getting so bent out of shape over no wine-oh well, what’s the big deal but as we said-hospitality was held in high esteem. This was the one time in your life-your wedding-when you would provide a grand celebration to the people you loved most. Invitations were sent out months before, it was highly anticipated, so not fulfilling that promise of a great feast was like telling your loved ones you didn’t love them very much; that you didn’t make the effort to prepare for them or care enough to want the best for them. Like inviting people over for a birthday party and there’s no cake, or hosting a bbq but not actually having any bbq to eat, everyone just stares at an empty grill. We ran out of burgers and hot dogs-but this is fun just standing here! So this situation would have been something the groom could have never lived down. It would have been extremely humiliating, destroying his family’s reputation. They would have been the talk of the town for miles around. Can you believe that wedding? No wine! Yeah-I was there-and we don’t speak of it.
So did you have any disasters at your wedding? Did run out of anything? Or have something go wrong? Biggest disaster at our wedding was that the candles weren’t pre-lit. So a good college buddy of mine was up there trying to light all these candles at the start of the ceremony and he was up there forever, sweating profusely to light them while we all starred at him. C’mon, Brett, get the candles lit! But that’s not the case here-they would have welcomed unlit candles in the face of this dilemma. The groom and his family are in big trouble-on the verge of being known as the most inhospitable people around. And some of the guests are aware of it.
Look back again at Mary’s response-v.3. And again, we read this and really struggle to understand the urgency but in the first century they would have immediately realized how bad it was-which is exactly Mary’s thinking. Maybe this was a family wedding and Mary was helping with the food-or maybe she just head the rumblings before it spread to all the guests. But notice how she immediately turns to Jesus. Now it’s hard to tell from the text whether she’s actually asking Jesus to do something miraculous-but at the least it seems she’s hoping He can be resourceful in the situation and save the groom from utter humiliation. I love Jesus’ response-v.4a. Jesus is saying-I’m not the groom-this isn’t My wedding-how is this My problem? But underneath you can hear Him addressing the real issue-Okay Mom, what are you asking Me to do? And Jesus calls her on it-v.4b. Jesus knows that Mary knows what He’s capable of-but He’s saying-This wedding isn’t the time to reveal My true identity yet. This isn’t the place to show My power to the world. As though Clark Kent would say at the Daily Planet, “This isn’t the time to peel off my suit and show everybody that I’m Superman.” When Jesus is speaking about His hour that’s a very important term because He’s referring to His suffering and death on the cross, the very reason He’s come to earth. And since that moment is still 3 years away, He’s hesitant to reveal His identity now-and His mother can’t force it-yet Mom’s have a way with things, don’t they? Especially with their boys-v.4-5. It’s like Mary sort of pats Jesus on the back and says-I know, Son, I know but you’re a good boy, you’ll come up with something. So turning to the servants she says-Hey, listen to my Son, He’ll have an idea or two. And I get the impression that Mary smiles back at Jesus, whispering-Thanks; while He’s giving her the stare down-Really Mom? And at this juncture, Jesus has just become the Wedding Fixer.
Now we’ve all heard of wedding crashers-but have you known any Wedding Fixers? Once when we were in Dallas for a wedding of a college friend of mine, Monica was a Wedding Fixer. I and the other groomsmen were picking up our tuxes the day before the wedding and one of the guys accidentally had tails on his tux. They had messed up the order and the person at the tux store said-Oops-there’s nothing we can do now. As groomsmen we thought it was kind of funny-Well, Ryan looks like you’ll stick out in your tails-bummer for you. But Monica refused to accept it, she told the store employee that they needed to fix their mistake-and so we ended up driving across Dallas to the warehouse where he got a non-tailed tux and everybody matched. Wedding disaster averted-and the bride was none the wiser. But as we’ve said, here it’s not just a simple fix. They need wine and there’s none to be had. They can’t run to the warehouse or the store. So what’s Jesus going to do?-v.6. These jars were there for the Jewish guests to wash their hands and be clean according to the Law-it was part of the purification rites. So they were big jars holding 20-30 gallons of water but that’s all it was-v. 7. So now Jesus has jars of water. Here’s a glass of water. Can any of us as it sits here do anything to it? Not really all we’ve got is water. We can stare at it, we can hope and wish it could become something different, or concentrate really hard-but it’s still water. And that’s all that Jesus has-just several gallons of water. So as we read what happens, see if you can spot the miracle-v.8-10.
Did you spot the miracle? It happened fast. The servants had these jars of water, they drew some water out, then transported it to the master of the feast-the emcee-and somehow by the time he drinks it, it’s wine-and really good wine! Now there is no way that’s ever going to happen to this water. Because first of all to make wine you need grapes. And that’s the thing-nowhere does it say Jesus and His disciples rushed out and picked some grapes, at no point did anyone even bring them some grapes. So I’ve got some grapes here-but again will these grapes and this water makes wine? Not at all! It’s not like I drop them in and stir it up this isn’t like making Kool-Aid. I’ve never personally made wine-but I know that you have to first of all stomp on the grapes-squash them to get all the juice out, then you have to let the sugary juice ferment which takes upwards of a week-then to actually make it taste good-it has to age for a while. No one enjoys a brand new wine-it has to age for three to six to twelve months to even several years. The best wines are the ones that have aged even two to three to five years or more and according to the emcee, Jesus didn’t make the cheap stuff but the good, aged, rich wine. Wow-he says-this is excellent! He thinks the groom has been holding out on Him. You bring out the best wine last-what a surprise! So Jesus has taken a five-year process in wine-making and done it instantaneously. And that’s the first point to understand this morning-What Did Jesus Do? He made something out of nothing. Jesus went from plain, ordinary water to perfectly aged, award-winning wine.
And there’s no process we can examine, there is no method to His miracle. We can’t view this miracle with a microscope as a scientist. How did Jesus do that? Let me see… Almost as if He’s a magician and if we just learn the trick we’ll figure it out to replicate it. But Jesus didn’t use any trick, He didn’t have some special science or technology up His sleeve that we’ll one day figure out. This miracle isn’t repeatable under the right conditions. Jesus is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, He can do whatever He wants because He’s completely sovereign and holds all power. What did we read last week about Jesus-1:1-2 and notice v. 3. Jesus is the One who spoke creation into being. First, there was nothing then there was something, a whole new world, an entire universe. So if He can do that-then creating wine out of nothing but water is easy. He says it-boom-it happens. It’s not science, it’s sovereignty!
So What did the Disciples See? A glimpse of Jesus’ glory. They caught a snapshot, however brief, of who He is and what He’s capable of. This is the whole point of John’s gospel. For us to understand the infinite greatness and magnitude of who the Son of God is from chapter 1-and yet to realize that in all His grandeur He took on human flesh and went to weddings! Look at v. 11a. And I love that word manifested because it means to make something easily perceived or understood. Jesus’ glory was easily perceived by turning ordinary plan water into amazing wine. And what was the result. I’m sure Peter or Andrew did a double-take, wondering if they saw that right. Water to wine-how in the world did that happen?! Maybe Nathanael’s hoping that Jesus will turn the bland appetizers into some spicy hot wings! But whatever they were thinking, what’s most evident from the passage is that Jesus wasn’t out to impress people or do fancy parlor tricks and say-Hey everybody look at me and what I can do. Jesus doesn’t take any of the credit for Himself. He doesn’t go up to the emcee and say-I made that wine just so you know-I’m thinking about bottling this stuff. What the disciples saw was a glimpse of His glory because of what He did-but a glimpse of Jesus’ glory also reveals a glimpse of His compassion. Here was this poor groom destined for complete humiliation and shame, for having the reputation of the worst wedding ever, this guy was on a crash course with disaster-and Jesus reverses it all. Instead of being humiliated, the groom is now honored. His wedding doesn’t end in condemnation from the guests saying it was awful, it ends in celebration as the best wine is served last. People probably remembered this wedding for years afterward because it ended so great. This groom is saved because Jesus compassionately turned his failure into a blessing; his sorrow into joy.
And that’s the third point. What Do We Learn? Jesus turns our failure into a blessing, our sorrow into joy. Maybe you’ve never thought about it before but our lives are a lot like this doomed wedding. Because of our sin we’re headed for disaster. And we don’t have a shortage of red wine; we have a shortage of righteousness. Because of our disobedience, the mistakes we’ve made, the selfishness in our hearts, the bitterness towards others, we’ve fallen miserably short of God’s standard. And just as much as that groom could try all he wanted and still not create the wine to save the wedding, you can try all you want but your good deeds will never be enough to save you. Your life will end in ruin and despair, facing the punishment your sins deserve, unless Jesus intervenes-like He did at this wedding. Unless Jesus steps in and does something miraculous, you’re headed for disaster. But that’s exactly the good news that this story proclaims; that’s the good news of the gospel. The disciples saw a glimpse of it at this wedding, but we get to fully see it and understand it-that Jesus has intervened and saved us from the failure and doom of our sins. Look at what it says in Rom 5:6 NIV. Jesus didn’t die for you when you were at your best. He didn’t die for you after you tried really hard or started to do a lot of good deeds and live better. He died for you when you what? Ungodly. We cannot forget that because it means when we were helpless and powerless when we were empty and broken and had nothing to offer Him, Jesus still died for us. You and I were like this groom having no resources of our own and yet Jesus still decided to intervene. This is an incredible truth because He didn’t have to. Jesus wasn’t required to save us, just as He didn’t have to save this groom. He could have told Mary no and let the wedding take its disastrous course. Because if you think about it, who was the irresponsible one who didn’t properly plan for the wedding? The groom. For whatever reason, he didn’t purchase enough wine, maybe he ran out of money or wanted to be cheap, we don’t know but he should have seen this situation coming. He knew how many guests would be there, it’s his own fault for what happened. Jesus could have easily let his irresponsibility get what it deserved, let the guy suffer the consequences of his actions-but He didn’t. And He doesn’t do that with us either-Jesus died for the ungodly! He doesn’t let our irresponsibility or our rebelliousness get what it deserves. Instead, He graciously turns our failure into a blessing. He takes our death and gives us new life, He turns the sorrow of our sin into the joy of our salvation. And that means we no longer need to fear the condemnation for what we’ve done but can experience the celebration of being forgiven and set free from those things. Just as Jesus is the guy who saves a doomed wedding, so He’s the one who saves your soul. How good is that!
And yet it’s only the beginning for it’s not as if Jesus just made more wine so the wedding could continue, He made the good wine to be served last. I love the emcee’s statement-it’s so full of surprise and wonder-and yet it’s so deep and profound-v. 10b That’s what Jesus does-and that’s the overarching truth we learn from this passage-What Do We Learn? In Jesus, the best is yet to come. Obviously, that’s true of our salvation. We couldn’t be saved under the Old Covenant by trying to keep the Law, we needed the New Covenant of grace that’s found in Jesus. That’s what Jesus said about Himself in Luke 5:37-38. Jesus is the one who brings the new wine of God’s kingdom-that new wine of being saved by His grace-so it’s no accident that His very first miracle highlights this truth. That Jesus is foreshadowing that reality. He saves this wedding here to tell us that there’s even greater wedding we can one day attend as we’re saved by His grace. Look at Rev 19:7, 9. This is describing eternity as a giant marriage feast, the grand celebration of the ages that you don’t want to miss. God has chosen a party to best visualize for us what’s to come and that’s very intentional. He wants the ideas of joy and celebration resounding in our hearts. Look at the description of God’s kingdom in Isa 25:6 NIV. What a great wedding banquet! I’m imagining really good steak and lobster! But Jesus bringing out the good wine last points forward to what’s in store for us. Back to Pt4.
It’s so easy to get all worked up and worried about things right now, wanting everything to be perfect, for this life to be exactly as you want it to be, smooth sailing-no hiccups or obstacles along the way-but Jesus doesn’t promise us perfection now, instead He’s saved the best for last. Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you-it’s not here yet-but one day at the end of this world-I will come back and take you there and you will be with me forever.” The best is yet to come and if you’ve trusted in Jesus that’s where your hope is centered. That you don’t put all your eggs into the basket of this life-but instead you’ve set your sights on all that He has in store. Way too often we think this life is what matters most. Let me experience everything I can here, let me have all my fun now, this is what counts, this is what matters-and it better be good. And so we relegate eternity as some sort of boring, spiritual existence that won’t be any fun at all. We somehow think that eternity is subpar to earth on the fun-meter. But that’s not what God’s Word says at all. Look at this description of eternity in Eph 2:5-7 NIV. Now we know the famous part-by grace you have been saved-but here’s the purpose for why Jesus has come to save us-that in the coming ages of eternity He will show us the incomparable riches of His grace. This is saying that God’s grace is so valuable, so mighty, so bottomless and incredible and exciting and never-ending that it will take Him forever to display it to us. Future Grace, 81. The best is yet to come!
There’s the famous story that you’ve probably heard before of the dear Christian woman who near the end of her life gave specific instructions that at her funeral she wanted to be buried with a fork in her right hand. Her pastor and her family questioned this, thinking it was a bit odd-but she responded by saying that in all her years of life, when the dishes were cleared from the table, someone would always say, “Keep your fork, desserts coming” and of course that’s the best part. So this woman said-I want people to remember to keep their forks because when this life is over the best is yet to come. She’s right! I shared that story once at our church in England-and one guy said to me afterward, “We don’t use forks for dessert, we use spoons.” Clearly, He missed the analogy, but I pray you don’t. That’s exactly what Jesus is showing us here at this wedding in Cana-In Him the best is yet to come! So like the disciples in v. 11 who believed in Him, have you? That’s what it comes down to you. Having seen a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, having seen how He turns our failures into a blessing and our sorrow into joy, having seen how He saved a doomed wedding, will you be at the great wedding one day where the best is yet to come?