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"The Wedding Saver: Rewarding the Faithful - on the Q.T."

Feb.8, 2015 Jn.2:1-11


Do you struggle to hold onto your faith? Are you going through a dry time in your life, perhaps a "dark night of the soul" in which your spiritual life seems kind of flat? Do your prayers seem to be hitting the ceiling? Do you find yourself doubting your beliefs as much as you are delighting in God?

We all go through difficult stretches in life. For some people, the middle of winter is a tough time of the year. Days are short, weather's bad, driving is awful, health is threatened. We've passed Christmas and the Superbowl, and nowhere near even St.Patrick's Day. Some (like one of my daughters) suffer from Seasonally Affective Disorder (SAD for short) - winter depression / winter blues. One of my fellow clergy this week shared that February is always the worst month for him, so he tries to go away! Maybe you can do that - or maybe you have to hang tough closer to home. Whatever the cause, it can be hard to trust God when prospects are bleak. But that's exactly where faith comes in - trusting Him even when His grace isn't currently that evident.

As Jesus started out the training of His disciples, the first object lesson He gave them happened at a wedding. It's so fitting He chose a wedding as the occasion to strengthen their faith! The Old Testament prophets portrayed the intimate relation between Yahweh and His people over and over again using the imagery of a marriage. Hosea 2:7 "She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them.Then she will say, 'I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.'" Isaiah spoke of the fullness of the messianic age using it as a symbol: Is 62:5 "As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." And the book of Revelation tells us the consummation of all history will be celebrated in the marriage of the Lamb and His bride: Rev 19:7 "Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready."

Yvonne and I chose a passage from Ephesians 5 to be read at our wedding; it sees marriage as a reflection of the closeness and sacrificial love Jesus shares with the Church: Eph 5:29-32 "After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church - for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." [Paul adds] This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church."

A little side note here: Jesus' chose His very first miracle, His "grand opener" if you will, to take place at a wedding...God celebrates marriage, and sees it as a GOOD thing! God was the original matchmaker, bringing Eve to Adam back in the Garden of Eden BEFORE the fall (Gen 2:22). Unfortunately this week in conjunction with Valentines Day (!), a movie is being released which rejects so much of what should characterize a good marriage. Fifty Shades of Grey is based on a book series laced with perverted sex (extramarital sex / bondage / S&M). Adam Holz of PluggedInOnline.com notes a Michigan State University study which found correlation between reading the series and negative behaviours: women were more likely to have a verbally abusive partner, to exhibit signs of an eating disorder, more likely to have had multiple sexual partners and to have participated in binge drinking.

By contrast, in today's passage we see Jesus showing up to actively bless a traditional monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. Don't overlook the fact that this is the setting He chose to showcase His first big miracle!

Jewish culture of the day made a big thing of celebrating weddings. The ceremony usually took place late in the evening after a feast - Wednesday if the girl was a virgin and Thursday if she was a widow. Then there was a procession to the home of the groom, a joyous, noisy parade, with an open house and entertainment that went on for at least a week (Roger Frederikson, The Communicator's Commentary).

John 2:1f "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." It seems Mary was the main guest, perhaps a family member or very close friend; she seems to have some authority in the setting because she gives an order to the servants in v5. John seems to distinguish between Mary's being invited, and Jesus' and the disciples' being there: perhaps she suggested they be invited.

Now, here we come to one of the toughest parts of wedding planning...I've had 3 daughters get married so we've been down this road. The challenge is, how do you invite everybody you want without costs getting out of hand? Which leads to the real dilemma - how do you know where to "draw the line" when it comes to the guest list?! Perhaps the bride is best buddies with cousin Samantha, but does that mean you have to invite all the other cousins too?

At this point, Jesus seems to be accompanied by the 5 other disciples John has already told us about in chapter 1: Andrew, John, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. Remember Jesus is an "unknown" at this point: just starting His ministry. Suppose you're one of the bride's parents. Do you invite this starting-up Rabbi and his 5 rag-tag fisherman friends? Will there be enough food? And what about the wine?

At some point one of the parents must have looked at the other and said, "I don't care about the costs! They're the son of Mary and the son's friends - we'll just have to chance it that there'll be enough!"

Well - there wasn't. Perhaps those fishermen had thirsty palates. There's a conspicuous closeness between the end of v2 ("Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding") and v3: "When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine.""

Now, don't overlook the significance of this social gaff. One commentary describes it as a "great embarrassment": "What a shocking thing for the bridegroom and his family, for it was their sacred duty to provide ample refreshments for all the guests.They might even be liable to a lawsuit if the wine failed." Now there's a way to get a marriage off on the wrong foot - getting sued by the inlaws!

Is this the pickle you're in right now in your life? Has the "wine run out"? Are you short on your resources? You've been trying to follow God's priorities, but there's too much month and not enough money? Are you stretched tight and it's starting to wear on your nerves, maybe your relationships? So many marriages fail because finances become a sore point. It's at the end of our rope that our faith is tested.


But wait - Mary knows someone who might be able to do something about this serious social nightmare. She has faith in her son. V3 She tells Him there's no more wine. Jesus' response in v4 is a little abrupt: "Woman" (literally) He says - perhaps like "ma'am" today. Not "mother". If Mary is trying to exercise her maternal authority, it's not going to work. She has to let Him go, release Him to His Messianic mandate, His Father's orders and timing, not hers. V4 ""Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come."" Literally, "What's it to me and to you?" Perhaps a hint of, "Don't assume it's my problem" or "Be careful not to pressure this." Jesus is maintaining His authority to act on His own timing; "His time" in terms of His crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation is still a long ways off. God is independent, free, sovereign, all-wise, and does not act at our behest. He's not a genie whose bottle we rub in order to get miracles-on-demand. Faith isn't like that; faith learns to wait and allow God the freedom and sovereignty to decide the best response to our need, according to His higher purposes.

How does Mary respond? She doesn't take offense to His brusqueness. She knows her son; she trusts that Jesus will deal with the need, even when there's no obvious assurance of this. That's faith. So v5 "His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you.""

This from a woman who responded to the news she'd been selected to have a virgin birth, Lk 1:38 "I am the Lord's servant.May it be to me as you have said." Mary understood all about obedience, submitting to God's will.

"Do whatever He tells you." Can the Christian life really be that simple? Evangelicals extol the benefits of faith, but James reminds us true faith ACTS: Jas 2:17,26 "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead...As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." Even Paul perceived his apostleship was, Rom 1:5 "to call people...to the OBEDIENCE that comes from faith"; Rom 16:26 "so that all nations might believe AND OBEY Him..." Are you obeying what you hear God commanding you?

Others become instrumental in putting Jesus' words into action. Vv6-8 "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..." Did you catch the obedience implicit in the servants' compliance? He said, "Fill the jars," so they filled them; He told them, "Now draw some out," and they did so. They just followed the Master's orders.

Note that's no small task to fill 6 stone jars with upwards of 150 gallons of water, 1500 pounds, 3/4 of a ton! Did the servants grumble, "Why's He asking us to tote all this water? It's WINE they're short on, not water! Can we be sure He knows what He's doing? This plan is all wrong!" If they grumbled, we're not told about it. We're just told they obeyed.

What about when they drew some water out - still water, mind you, no miracle yet! - when they drew some water out and took it to the chief steward who was responsible for making sure the food was served, tables arranged, etc? Were they thinking, "This guy's NUTS - the steward's going to flip his lid when we try to serve him just water!" Did they pause with the pitcher halfway across the floor and scratch their head? No, they did as they were told by Jesus. And somewhere between the drawing and the steward's tasting, the water turned into wine!

Faith - Obedience - Reward: that's the Biblical pattern. Faith may not understand all the details, but follows through obeying what has been revealed, and gets rewarded in the process. Heb 11:6 "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." God rewards faith. As He told Abram back in Gen 15:1 "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." Jesus commanded and promised: Lk 6:35 "But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked." Loving your enemies - is that easy? No! That takes faith, and obedience - but there will be "great reward".


Did you think God is always all stern and serious? Jesus' "opener" miracle has some real comedy, and suggests strongly God has a highly developed sense of humour (of course He would - He invented it!). There is delightful irony in vv9-10: "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."" See the irony? The "joke"? The chief steward doesn't know - but the servants know. The obedient ones, the dust-scuttlers, the 'deacons'. Now it's apparent that it's the bridegroom's family's responsibility to provide the refreshments; but what would be the bridegroom's reaction when the steward calls out, "You've saved the best till now!" I can just imagine the groom looking completely perplexed, his face shouting a huge, "HUH?!"

Isn't this a HOOT? Can you imagine Jesus and the disciples chuckling to themselves, because neither of the two people most responsible for the supply had a clue where the delicious wine was miraculously appearing from?

God works "on the Q.T." - on the quiet - without disclosing all the details of what He's about. Another reason faith trusts God even when it doesn't make sense to us. When Ben had a terrible car accident and we weren't sure he was going to make it - did we have a clue he'd have such a wonderful recovery, and over 1500 people would follow God's hand at work and witness a mother's faith through the group webpage? When our loved ones or neighbours get a poor diagnosis, can we not also trust that God knows what He's doing, and will ultimately reward those who follow Him?

Now, Jesus could have orchestrated this miracle completely differently. He could have called an "orders group" or press conference ahead of time and said, "Now, this is how it's going to go down. I know you'll run out of wine. Servants, you'll have to fill those jars, but don't worry, I'm going to miraculously transform it. Head steward, I want you to break out into Psalm 23 at the appropriate time: 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.' Bridegroom, you're to shout out 'Hallelujah!' three times in quick succession. Oh, and I've arranged for the CTV media van so it'll be just in time for the 6 o'clock news. Now, does everybody know your part, or do we need to walk through this one more time?"

But God chose NOT to do it that way! God sees in secret, and rewards what we do in secret (Mt 6:4,7). God works miracles quietly, humbly, not pompously or with a lot of fanfare. We're not told if the bridegroom ever found out how crisis was averted. So faith trusts God to be in control, and keeps on obeying even when the divine plan isn't apparent.


In closing, note a couple of purposes John identifies at the end of this account. V11 "This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him." Two things: Jesus revealed His glory; disciples trusted in Him. He was glorified, they were fortified, strengthened in their faith.

This was an awesome miracle! Magicians through the centuries have hunted for the secret of alchemy, turning one substance into another - Jesus here shows He has that power, transforming water into wine. Jesus was glorified by the quantity, quality, and quietness of the miracle. Quantity - an endless supply, more than they all could drink; Quality - the chief steward called it "choice" wine, "the best". And Quietness - He did it secretly, humbly, so only a few - Mary, the disciples, and the servants who carried out His instructions - knew what had really gone on.

And "His disciples put their faith in Him." Signs aren't for our amusement and entertainment: they invite us to trust God yet further, to commit ourselves totally to Him, as we see increasingly He's capable of looking after us into eternity; even if that means persecution in this life (Mk 10:30). How have you seen God working in your life? Can you point to some miracles, some wonderful recoveries? Even just the fact that Jesus died for me is a wonder that encourages my faith in Him!

Are you prepared to trust and obey, to follow the Master's orders even if you don't fully understand the plan? Would you fill those huge water jars without grumbling? God may be preparing you to be part of His wondrous work.

In the movie 'Karate Kid', young Daniel asks Mister Miagi to teach him karate. Miagi agrees under one condition: Daniel must submit totally to his instruction and never question his methods - in short, be obedient and trust him. Daniel shows up the next day eager to learn. To his chagrin, Mister Miagi has him paint a fence. Miagi demonstrates the precise motion for the job: up and down, up and down. Daniel takes days to finish the job. Next, Miagi has him scrub the deck using a prescribed stroke. Again the job takes days. Daniel wonders, What does this have to do with karate? but he says nothing. Next, Miagi tells Daniel to wash and wax three weather-beaten cars and again prescribes the motion. Finally, Daniel reaches his limit: "I thought you were going to teach me karate, but all you have done is have me do your unwanted chores!" Daniel has broken Miagi's one condition, and the old man's face pulses with anger. "I have been teaching you karate! Defend yourself!" Miagi thrusts his arm at Daniel, who instinctively defends himself with an arm motion exactly like that used in one of his chores. Miagi unleashes a vicious kick, and again Daniel averts the blow with a motion used in his chores. After Daniel successfully defends himself from several more blows, Miagi simply walks away, leaving Daniel to discover what the master had known all along: skill comes from repeating the correct but seemingly mundane actions. Let's pray.