2020-6-14 The First of His Signs

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          June 14, 2020

“The First of His Signs”
John 2:1-11

Sometimes we struggle to know the purpose of a Scripture portion; that is, we wonder why the Holy Spirit led His inspired penmen to write what they did.  Examples of such place include certain genealogies, certain obscure—or apparently dated—prophetic references, and the like.  Granted, the Lord has His purposes in every line of His Word, but sometimes we learn these purposes only after much prayer and study.

This is not the case for the Gospel of John considered as a whole.  The Apostle John, in John 20:30-31, provides us perhaps the clearest purpose statement of any book of the Bible: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that 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.”  John, to my mind, is the most evangelistic of the four Evangelists.  Everything in John’s Spirit-led Gospel conforms to the end expressed in John 20:30-31.  We see this unmistakably in the seven chief signs recorded in John’s Gospel.  Today we treat the first of His signs, Jesus’ first miracle, which He wrought in Cana of Galilee.  Let us hear, either for the first time or once again, this portion of God’s holy Word.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

We have before us today a wonderful example of Scriptural narrative.  Let us proceed through the usual stages of plot development as applied to this text.[1]  The setting is a wedding at Cana of Galilee.  Cana is in the northern third of the Holy Land, about twelve miles west of the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.[2]  The day of the wedding is two to three days since Jesus called His first disciples—and less than a week since John the Baptist bore public, vocal witness to Jesus’ Messiahship and divinity (John 1:29-34).  Among the guests at this wedding are Jesus Himself, Jesus’ mother, Mary, and His disciples.  Now we have the setting, and immediately we have a problem.

We learn the problem, which many a scholar of narrative will call the conflict, when Mary announces to Jesus, “They have no wine.”  This doesn’t sound terrible to our ears: we either think they should abstain from the wine in the first place or we think they simply should obtain more from some easily accessed source.  It does sound terrible, however, to those who lived at the place and time of this text.[3]  Running out of wine was a serious social blunder.  It indicated failure to show sufficient hospitality, whether due to poverty, negligence, or gluttony, and it could be actionable at law—for the bridegroom’s family stood at risk of lawsuit for such a failure.  This failure, relatively trivial in our society, is a significant social and legal problem in first-century Palestinian Jewish society.

Now the action rises: What is to be done?  Jesus appears to demur, addressing His mother respectfully, “Woman,” and then asking, “What (is [that]) to Me and to you?”[4]  He then declares, “My hour has not yet come.”  True, the hour has not come for a grand public manifestation of Jesus’ Person and work, yet something understated, something sotto voce, may occur.  Mary, who has known from before Jesus’ Incarnation that He is no ordinary Child, may sense this, for she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus may tell them.

Now we arrive at what was done.  Jesus issues orders.  First, He commands the servants to fill the large stone jars used for Jewish purification with water.  Each jar contains twenty to thirty gallons.  Second, after the servants filled the jars to the brim with water, He commands them, “Draw some out and take it to the head steward.”  They comply with Jesus’ command—and, miraculously, at some instant between the drawing of the water and the presentation of it to the head steward, Jesus changed the water into wine.  None present knew of the change—save the servants who drew the water and Jesus’ disciples.

Notice two things about Jesus’ first miracle.  First, He made an abundant provision.  After Jesus’ miracle, the party now has as much as one hundred eighty gallons of wine—or, by my calculation, enough for over six thousand five hundred individual servings.  I’m not sure there were sixty-five hundred persons in all of Galilee at the time.  Second, His provision is of high quality, as we presently shall hear testimony.

John calls this miracle a sign just a few verses later.  I define sign (Greek semeion [shmeion]) as a miracle to a purpose.  In other words, Jesus is not just showing off with this miracle—in fact, He operates quite the contrary here.  Jesus performs this miracle for His, Godly, purposes—purposes we’ll note when we arrive at verse eleven.

We come now to the climactic moment in the narrative, where the head steward honors the groom.  The head steward says to the groom, “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.”  Note again the usual pattern: the host serves the good wine first, and later, when guests are drunk (this literally from the Greek), he serves the inferior wine.  In this case, the groom can serve good wine thanks to Jesus’ miraculous work—and, hopefully, no one intoxicates himself.

The narrative, once past the climactic point, resolves quickly.  Jesus evidently did these people at the wedding, especially the groom, a great deal of good.  He spared the guests from lack, and He spared the groom from social and legal woe, by making lavish, high-quality provision for them all.  In this, Jesus manifested—or made known—His glory.  He showed both His divine power and His divine goodness to the ones given eyes to see.  I continue to marvel how He did this in such an understated way.  Finally, because of this work, Jesus’ disciples believe in Him.  They begin to see that He is no ordinary Man.  They begin to see He is a very powerful Man—doing things none else can do.  In time, they will see that He is God incarnate, and that He wins over all, and that all authority everywhere is committed unto Him.

Jesus, via His signs, displays His infinite glory.  We learn from God’s Word today that He does this to elicit faith in Himself, to motivate worship for Himself, and to do people, especially His redeemed people, much good—and that in lavish measure of exquisite quality, particularly at their points of need.  Now let’s apply what we’ve heard today.  Let the Lord bring this Word, read and proclaimed, home to our souls today.  Where do you need the triune Lord to manifest His glory in your life?

Perhaps you need this day material provision for your life, and you cannot make that provision appear at all, let alone make it ample enough.  Cry out to the Lord God of all for what you need, for He will supply all your need according to His riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:18).  Perhaps you need protection from the blows of this world—and perhaps from the blows figurative and literal from malicious ones.  Cry out to Him Who suffered at the hands of sinful men, for He is our refuge and fortress (Psalm 46:7, 11).  Perhaps you need guidance concerning which providential path, great or small, is God’s highest and best for you.  Cry out to the LORD, for He will cause your ears to hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left (Isaiah 30:21).

Perhaps you find yourself in grief, either acute or chronic, and you can’t break grief’s strong grip.  Cry out to the Lord for His miracle power against your grief, for He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).  Perhaps your body or soul needs healing, for it is sick, broken, or weak—and no earthly remedies avail.  Cry out to the Lord Himself, for He declares that He, the Lord, is our Healer (Exodus 15:26).  Perhaps your need today is deliverance: from unbelief to belief, or from sinful bonds unto righteous life, or from secret scars to wholeness in Christ.  Cry out to our three-in-one God, Who is your Rock, your Fortress, and your Deliverer (2 Samuel 22:2, Psalm 18:2).  In all these troubles, and in any other that present themselves to your life in God’s good providence, call upon Him—yea, cry out to Him—that He may glorify Himself in meeting your need lavishly and exquisitely.

May our God manifest His glory in your life—particularly in your moments of need—and may you believe in Him, or believe in Him more deeply.

AMEN.

[1] For the stages of plot development in narrative, especially Biblical narrative, see, et al., Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching with Variety: How to Re-Create the Dynamics of Biblical Genres (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2007), 70.

 

[2] Herbert G. May, ed., Oxford Bible Atlas, 3d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 86.

 

[3] For the ensuing difficulties I am indebted to Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John.  The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 179.

[4] My translation of Jesus’ question in John 2:4 in the Greek New Testament.  See Novum Testamentum Graece (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979).