It seems providential to me that we would be diving into a series on the miracles of Jesus in the gospel of John during this season that we find ourselves in here in America.
Regardless of where you land on the spectrum between cynicism or conspiracy theory or outright panic, I think we would all agree that we really are living in unprecedented times. Our nation appears to be divided along some really polarizing political lines. Rumors of war across the globe keep filtering in. A worldwide pandemic has quarantined a large part of the world’s population for the foreseeable future. And on top of all of that the economy appears to be an absolute wreck.
Now regardless of where you land on the spectrum of cynicism or conspiracy theory or outright panic, one of the most common responses to what’s happening in the world around us right now is a deep longing for and a prayer for the Lord to step in and do something. This is a natural response mechanism that has been built into the very fabric of our beings. When the world goes on tilt, our hearts long to be set free. To be rescued. To be given a way of escape.
We literally begin dreaming of all the possible ways that the circumstances around us could change. We ask the Lord to step in and change things in our moments of deepest desperation, fear and anxiety. And we experience the frustration, the doubt and the despair of waking up the next morning and finding out that things either haven’t changed or have maybe even gotten a little worse than they were the day before.
This kind of longing for hope, this desire for rescue, is kind of what it was like to be alive when Jesus shows up in our passages today. The nation of Israel was in ruins. They were living in a highly politicized religious atmosphere and for the most part they lived at the bottom of the barrel in terms of social-economic status.
Gone were the days of Joshua when the nation experienced great victory in the Promised Land. As a people, the nation of Israel had rebelled against the Lord and had tasted the consequences of that rebellion for many years as one super-nation after the next waged war against them and left them nearly decimated.
And let’s not forget the key players in our texts today. A young couple is getting married and the entire day nearly falls apart when they run out wine. A father whose young son is on his death bed finds Jesus in his moment of desperation. Take a look at the passages real quick…
JOHN 2:1 – 11
1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
JOHN 4:46 – 54
46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
Can you relate with where these people are at? Can you relate with the deep desire for things to change? Can you relate maybe with their longing for a brighter future? Maybe you know what’s it’s like to live in the gloom and the despair and the fear and the doubt and the worry of what’s going to happen next.
If you can relate a little with some of those emotions then I think we are ready to dive into the text and ask what’s going on here because both of these stories are powerful reminders of what it means to really believe in Jesus in our darkest hours. So what’s happening in our text?
1: JESUS ATTENDS A WEDDING (2:1 – 11)
Now at first glance this story may appear to be a great story for arguing your position for or against the use of alcohol. And to be sure, the church has done a great job over the years at using this text to support either side of the argument. One side claims that the wine was simply glorified grape juice. And the other side sometimes makes Jesus out to be their accomplice in their drunkenness. And while I do believe that Jesus definitely made some really great wine that wasn’t a watered down version of glorified grape juice (and while I loath drunkenness because I’ve personally witnessed and experienced its horrifying effects) this text is not primarily about arguing for or against the consumption of alcohol. This passage is about the miraculous power of Jesus over a created substance and at a deeper level it’s about where we find our true joy.
Now you have to get your head into a first-century Jewish wedding if you are going to get at the heart of what’s happening here. Much like a wedding in our day, this would most likely be the biggest day of a young couple’s lives. The celebration would have lasted for days and it would have been very costly for a typically very poor family. And on this day, Jesus with his disciples and his mother are present for the festivities when Jesus’ mother informs him that they had run out of wine. This isn’t like the local store running low on your favorite beverage so you have to choose a different flavor. Wine was a symbol of joy in the Jewish culture (Ps. 104:15; Isa. 55:1) and it was also the main beverage being served for guests to enjoy together. So running out of wine meant that the joyful festivities would come to an end prematurely.
So despite the fact that Jesus wasn’t quite ready to let the whole world know that the Messiah was on the scene, his mother knew that Jesus possessed the power to reinstate the joy of the festivities so she told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. The fascinating thing is that Jesus tells the servants to fill up six massive jugs with water and then give some of that water to the wedding planner to taste-test. Don’t miss the fact that Jesus just turned about 120 – 180 gallons of water into 120 – 180 gallons of sweet wine. Talk about a wedding gift!
Once the wedding planner tasted some of this new wine he ran over to the bridegroom and excitedly commended him for saving the best for last rather than serving the best first. The common thought here is that most bridegrooms would serve the best wine first because their guests would get a little tipsy and wouldn’t notice how the remaining wine is lesser quality. So in effect, a bridegroom would buy less of the expensive wine and therefore spend less.
But the picture we get here is that (because of Jesus’ miracle) people believed that the bridegroom went all out and served expensive wine all the way through until the last batch, which was even more costly then the previous batch. So the bridegroom is painted as someone who isn’t afraid to save the best for last; he isn’t opposed to spending more for the sake of the joy of his guests. The result is that Jesus’ “disciples believed in him” (vs. 11). So the big take away from this first story is that Jesus is willing and able to spend himself on behalf of your eternal joy. And the question is: do you believe? Let’s take a look at our second text…
2: JESUS MEETS A WEALTHY MAN (4:46 – 54)
Right after Jesus turns the water into wine he has a showdown in the temple with some religious leaders (2:13 – 22), he has an awesome conversation with another religious leader named Nicodemus (3:1 – 21), he stirs up John the Baptist’s disciples (3:22 – 36), John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the bridegroom (3:29) and then Jesus has the infamous conversation with a prostitute at the well (4:1 – 45 [a story we’re going to come back to in about five weeks]). And right on the other side of that conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus comes back to Cana in Galilee where he had turned the water into wine (the bridegroom returns? [4:46]).
When Jesus returns, he is approached by an official (literally: a nobleman, king’s man or influential, powerful, wealthy man) whose son was on his deathbed. In other words, the man who had it all (from a power, influence and financial perspective) realized that he had nothing (from an eternal perspective). There are many things that money cannot buy. Money can buy a king sized bed, but it cannot buy sleep. Money can buy a great house, but it cannot buy a home. Money can buy a companion, but it cannot buy a close friend. Money can buy books, but it cannot buy brains. Money can buy a church building, but it cannot buy salvation. Money cannot buy life, health or healing for a loved one (Hughes 1999, 142). This is exactly where this official found himself when he found Jesus. He could buy just about any earthly thing his heart desired but he couldn’t buy his son’s life.
So he asked Jesus to heal his son. Maybe he had heard of the miracle where Jesus turned water into wine. So Jesus responds with a little bit of harshness when he makes an offhanded statement about how a desire for entertainment won’t produce saving faith (vs. 48). This isn’t Jesus being mean. This is Jesus speaking harsh truth to ensure that this man doesn’t come to a place of faith based only upon what he sees with his eyes. In the Christian faith, we don’t see before we believe; we see because we believe (Heb. 11:1; 13; 27). Previous to faith we are spiritually blind so Jesus wants to ensure that this man’s faith is real.
So how does the man respond to Jesus when he presses him about the fakeness of entertainment based faith? He holds his ground and he asks Jesus to heal his son again to which Jesus says “Go; your son will live” (vs. 50) and then John records that the man believed every word that Jesus spoke to him and then he went on his way. Later, (roughly 24 hours later) the man returned home to find his son recovering well and John records again that the man believed along with his entire household (vs. 53). Now it’s important to note here that many scholars point out that the man returned home roughly 24 hours later. His journey should have only taken a few hours at most. So why the delay? Could it be that true belief helps us not to rush things?
At the end of the day this story teaches us that believing in Jesus is not about being entertained or getting a weekly fix. Believing in Jesus is about being transformed in his presence. Believing in Jesus isn’t about a transaction where we do this so that Jesus will do that. Believing in Jesus is about transformation whereby we are changed by God’s grace through our faith in Christ. This man was transformed into a real believer. He came to Jesus as man who believed he had it all (earthly) and then he was transformed into a man who gained it all (eternally).
In conclusion we have to ask the question we always ask after doing a deep dive into a passage of Scripture. Why does this matter? What difference will this make? How do these passages speak into our current circumstances?
The reality of the first text we looked at is that Jesus is the best wine who fills us with lasting joy amidst any circumstance. The gift of daily pleasures like a glass of wine, or a good conversation with a friend, or a good book or a good movie is that those things are only momentary. I don’t know about you but when I watch a great movie I experience a kind of exhilarating high that leaves me wondering if any other movie will suffice. Daily pleasures in the right context aren’t bad until we make those daily pleasures the goal of living. The purpose of any momentary pleasure is to point us to the everlasting joy that can be found in Christ.
This everlasting joy in Christ is what led James to say “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas. 1:2 – 4).
We must also remember that the author of Hebrews says that we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). In the midst of any and every circumstance, Jesus is our joy.
What about the second text? The man who thought he had it all came face-to-face with his own limitations and realization that death was coming for his son and he was helpless to do anything about it. The reality is that in the history of mankind, the first grave was dug for a young man (named Abel [Hughes 1999, 142]).
Sickness and disease is no respecter of person, race, ethnicity or age; sickness and disease do not discriminate or play favorites (Job is a testament of this truth). This is the ugly truth of the effects of sin upon the world we live in and therefore upon ourselves. Every one of us is going to experience the horrors of sickness and disease and death.
But the flip side of the coin is that while death and decay come for every one of us, there is one person with whom we can place our trust in. One person whom we believe in just like the disciples in the first story and the wealthy man in the second story. There is one person who has laid claim over Satan, sin and death and his name is Jesus. Jesus is our healer who gives us what we cannot buy, cannot work for and therefore cannot earn. Jesus gives us what we do not deserve (the gift of everlasting life) and he withholds what we really deserve (everlasting death).
The question this text begs of us and will continue to beg of us as we study this book in the coming weeks is do we really believe? The whole purpose of the gospel of John can be found in chapter 20 where John says that he wrote this book “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31). The two miracles we’ve studied today were written so that we may believe in Christ as our Savior from the penalty of our sin so that we may have everlasting life.
In the midst of the grief and the fear and the loneliness and the brokenness of sin in this life we can believe in Christ and therefore we can have joy everlasting amidst the worst of circumstances because Jesus is our healer who gives us eternal rest, eternal peace and eternal wholeness through his work at the cross. And the question remains: Do you believe in this Jesus?