Jesus is the Life of Party
September 30th, 2018 Sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
As we work our way through John’s Gospel in this sermon series, we see a new depiction of Jesus as the provider of fine wine for a party – a wedding in Cana in John 2:1-11. On one level this is Jesus’ first miracle, changing water to wine for the relief of his mother’s frustration and the pleasure of the wedding guests. On a deeper level, however, this event points us to the top priority of Jesus’ heart, drawing people to God (John 2:11) and saving humanity from sin, which ultimately “revealed His glory” for all eternity (Jn.2:11).
In the midst of a Jewish wedding traditionally lasting seven days, the wine was gone and Mary notified her son, Jesus, that “they have no more wine” (Jn.2:3). Mary knew Jesus was special as God’s only Son. Yet Jesus surprisingly rebuked her, saying, “My hour has not yet come.” (Jn.2:4) Unlike Mary in angst about the current wine problem, Jesus had an overall higher priority of resolving the division of sin between God and man. His life was focused on His eternal purpose: the “hour” of the glory of His sacrifice, when He is unjustly tried and hung on a Roman cross, to die and be raised for the forgiveness of sin for all people of all ages. Jesus chose to love and trust God even though it caused suffering and pain for Himself.
While Jesus first focused on His priority, the Father’s eternal plan of salvation for all people, He did not ultimately neglect the immediate needs of those around Him at the wedding feast, and used this opportunity as “the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory” (Jn. 2:11). He stepped in and showed His caring through a “behind the scenes” miracle (known only to Himself, his disciples, Mary, and the servants) of changing 20-30 gallons of water into high quality wine (Jn.2:6-10).
As with all His signs and future miracles, Jesus shows that He cares about the details/circumstances of our lives and is Lord over everything. In the midst of the crises/the challenges/the pain/the suffering of life, Jesus shows generosity (Rom.8:31,32), compassion, and even weeps (Jn.11:35). God really loves us. Yet Jesus’s top priority is not simply our comfort, but our character (building us into His image – II.Cor.3:18). Jesus came to forgive us for eternity in the midst of our circumstances, giving us a personal, loving relationship with God. He did not come just to fix all our problems in the here and now. In fact, learning perseverance in the testing of our faith is necessary for maturity (James 1:2-4).
May we keep bringing it all to Him…praying, asking about everything, as Mary did with the wine. Jesus’s Spirit will listen and move in love and generosity, in His wise priorities for you and me.
- Have you ever truly known that God loves you and cares for you, or is it simply a belief?
- When you became a Christian as a child or an adult, did all your problems disappear? Does God not protect us? What is this all about???
- Have you experienced God WITH YOU in crises? Have you ever experienced God working THROUGH you in problematic circumstances?
- To whom do you take your problems first? God, friends, professionals, reading/Internet…? Do you feel your problems are too small to take to God, or so large that you feel selfish in asking?
- How has God through the years shown His priorities in and for your life?
- Do you have any idea what is your “hour” of glory, when you choose to love and trust God even when it hurts. We are not Jesus, but we can catch glimpses of glory here on earth.
- Is your service to others focused on temporary relief or eternal salvation for others?
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles, if you have them, to John 2:1-11. If you don’t have a Bible, that’s fine. The words will be on the screen. We are continuing today in our series called “More than just a nice guy.” This is a series where we are working our way through John’s gospel. As we do that, we are kind of zooming in on some of the many images that John uses to depict Jesus. Some of these images might fit our stereotype of Jesus as a nice guy: the Good Shepherd, the Bread of life, the True Vine. These are comfortable images, but some of these images go way beyond Jesus as just a nice guy. Some of the images of Jesus in John may make us stop and think a little more. Two weeks ago we look at Jesus as “the Word of God” and learned that he was fully divine. That’s more than just a nice guy. It makes us stop and think. Next week, Jesus will be “the Judge” and “the Temple.” He’s going to make us really think about who he is.
Today we are going to look at an image of Jesus that, at least for me growing up, made me downright uncomfortable. It’s an image that went beyond just calling me to think. It flat out confused me, because I grew up as an Independent Baptist. Today Jesus is going to be “the Party Guy, the life of the Party!” By that, I mean not so much the guy who shows up in the Hawaiian shirt. Rather, I mean Jesus is the guy who is going to bring the wine for a wedding party.
Growing up as an Independent Baptist, this story about Jesus was confusing, because we didn’t drink alcohol! The Catholics drank. You’ve probably heard me say that where you find four Catholics, you’ll usually find a fifth, so they were fine with it. The Presbyterians drank. You know the difference between Presbyterians and Baptists? Presbyterians say “Hi” to each other in the liquor store. Just kidding. The Presbyterians drank, so they were fine with it! But we didn’t drink! And it wasn’t that we said we didn’t drink, but we really did. We really didn’t drink. We were taught that Christians shouldn’t do that!
So this miracle of turning the water to wine was confusing to me! Actually, as I grew up and read the story over the years. The more I looked at it the more confusing it became. I mean not only is Jesus making wine, which completely blew my stereotypes of him and seems like a strange first miracle anyway, but in the story Jesus seems to treat his mom in a way that we don’t expect Jesus to treat her! She asks him to do something, and he says “no.” He doesn’t seem like such a nice guy! But even stranger, after he says “no” he does what she asked!
This is a confusing depiction of Jesus! But as I’ve studied it over the last few weeks and come to understand the story better, I’ve realized that it’s an important depiction of Jesus. It’s very important, because it teaches us a lot about Jesus’ priorities. His priorities for himself, his priorities for his disciples and his priorities for us for you and me, as we live our lives and wonder when Jesus is going to intervene and when he isn’t. This is actually the perfect first miracle to introduce us to Jesus, because it shows us what his priorities were, and it also shows us his heart.
So we’re going to look at this today. As we do, we’re just going to see two things about Jesus –
one about his priorities and one about his heart. Then we’ll talk about how this plugs into our lives. Here’s what I want you to understand from this story today. Jesus cares about you. No matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’re facing, whether you can see him taking action or whether he is refraining from taking action, He loves you.
So let’s read this story from John 2:1-11. This happens right after Jesus has called his first disciples. John tells us Jesus chose this as the first miracle through which he revealed his glory. The story goes like this:
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 came to him and said, “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.”
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.
– John 2:1-11
This is an amazing and unexpected story that John shares about Jesus. It tells us something about Jesus’ priorities and about Jesus’ heart. So let’s just start with Jesus priorities:
Jesus’ Main Priority Is Not to Fix Our Party
Jesus’ main priority, the main thing that he is about, the main thing he is trying to accomplish, is not fixing all the little crises, all the problems, all the discomfort that we face in the here and now. Jesus has other priorities. His main priority is not to fix our party.
This is the whole point of this sort of confusing first part of our story. Let’s just walk through the story, and I think you’ll see what I mean. John starts the story in verse 1, where he says this:
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.
– John 2:1-2
So John tells us that on the third day after Jesus had talked to Nathaniel and called him as a disciple, which is how the first chapter of John ended, that a wedding was taking place in Galilee, the northern part of Israel in a little village called Cana that was on the west side of the Sea of Galilee.
So there was a wedding. Now based on the amount of wine Jesus made and based on the fact that Mary and Jesus and Jesus’ disciples were all invited to the wedding, this must have been a sizeable wedding. It was a big deal. Weddings in Israel were big cultural affairs.
When Kelley and I got married in 1989, we had a 30 minute ceremony. Then we went to the church gym and had cake and mints. Then Kelley and I drove away and stopped at a drive-through for tacos. It was a fairly simple affair.
Since then, maybe it’s just me, but weddings seem to have gotten bigger. Kelley and I have done some fairly big weddings. We actually did one big wedding that ended up being in a Bride’s magazine. It was a big wedding. It was at an out of town venue in this perfect pastoral setting. Everything in the ceremony had to be just right. I’m pretty sure the bride thought she could control the weather through her sheer willpower, and she might have been right! That girl was tightly wound! The reception was in this huge hall with four stations in the four corners for food. You could get filet mignon or giant shrimp or pasta or southern food and anything you wanted to drink. That was a big wedding!
This wedding was bigger. Jewish weddings lasted seven days. As with any big party, shirt-tail relatives, and long lost friends, and friends of friends, and some who aren’t really friends, probably weaseled their way onto the guest list. In this little village of Cana, this would have been a big doing! So they were all at this big wedding. Many scholars suspect that Mary was probably a very close friend of the family, because she seems to be working behind the scenes when this big wedding runs into a big problem:
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
– John 2:3
Now they have a problem. They have completely run out of wine. Now we don’t know which day of the seven day feast they were on, but running out of wine was a big deal. Not only was it a big deal because wine the main beverage you drank at a wedding, but it was also a big deal because running out meant you had failed to provide for your family and friends and the family and friends of your in-laws! In fact, it was the groom’s responsibility to provide everything for the feast. If he didn’t do it, he could actually be sued by the family of the bride. So this is a big deal! It’s a crisis that’s going to ruin the party.
So Mary does the one thing that makes sense at the moment. She takes the situation to Jesus. This makes perfect sense. John says this was Jesus’ first miracle, at least his first public miracle, so it’s not like Jesus had done a lot of miracles around the house. Jesus was Mary’s firstborn son (Joseph had died already) and she was probably used to depending on him. Mary knew that Jesus was the Son of the Most High. She knew he was special. So Mary does what you and I probably would have done, what I would have told her to do, what we encourage each other to do. She brings her crisis to Jesus.
Jesus’ response is not what we would expect. In fact, it’s kind of shocking:
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
– John 2:4
That’s a shocking response, so shocking that the New International Version has tried to tone it down. They have translated it “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.”
That’s not exactly what Jesus says here. In the Greek, there is no “Dear” there at all. In fact, what Jesus literally says is “Woman, what is it to me and to you?” That’s not the way we would expect Jesus to talk to his Mom. In fact in Jesus’ day, that’s what you said when you were trying to get rid of someone. That’s what the demons say to Jesus in Mark’s gospel: “What have we to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High?”
We should know that calling Mary “woman” is a little gentler than it would be in our culture, but still this is a rebuke! Jesus is rebuking Mary for assuming that he’s there to fix the party. This is a reprimand.
Now why on earth would Jesus do this? Why would he rebuke his own mother for taking a problem to him? Look at the end of verse 4: “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus is doing this. He is rebuking Mary, because he has other priorities. Jesus had a special hour, a special time, that was coming. We’ll look at what Jesus hour was in just a minute, but that was his priority. The main reason he came to earth was not to make wine and fix people’s parties. He wants Mary to know that.
Jesus’ first priority is not to fix our parties. As followers of Jesus, it’s important that we know this. We have to remember this, because if we’re not careful we can develop a view of Jesus that says what he’s really here to do is to fix our party, to solve our problems, and make us comfortable in the here and now.
There are whole ministries based on this. There are guys on TV and radio that would tell you that pretty much all Jesus wants is for you to prosper in the here and now, that all he wants is for you to be healthy, and wealthy and wise..
It’s understandable that we would be tempted to focus on that. Nobody wants to suffer. Nobody wants to experience pain. No one wants to be shamed by circumstances like the one in our story. We want our circumstances to work like they should. We want our life to be easy or at least manageable. So we take our crises and problems to Jesus, and we say “Jesus, can you please fix this?” It’s understandable. But can I tell you something? Jesus wants so much more for you than that. He has such bigger plans for you, such bigger priorities for your life.
It’s been a tough week for many of you. Some of you are feeling the brokenness of the here and now. You’re suffering. You’re grieving. You’re waiting on Jesus. I’ve talked to some of you this week who are in real financial difficulty and you’re wondering “Is Jesus going to help?” I’ve talked to some this week who have for the last two years just had one piece of difficult news, one situation of grief after another. You’ve born it so well. You’ve held to your faith beautifully, but you’re wondering “Jesus, can you help me?” Can you give me just a little break? Could you please just fix this? Others of you are in unjust situations at work. You are being mistreated. What you are going through is not right and, like Mary, you’re wondering if Jesus is going to help. Just so you know: I’ve had one of those weeks myself. The script of my life this week was not written the way I would have written it.
Like Mary, sometimes we bring it to Jesus, because we know he can fix it, but we find that he has other priorities, bigger priorities. Because what he wants to accomplish in you is not temporary. It’s eternal. What he wants to build is not wealth. It’s character. What he’s doing isn’t small. It’s big, way, way bigger than the little party we had planned. So sometimes we come to Jesus, and we say “When is the party going to start again?” Jesus says “Not yet. I have other priorities for you.”
Jesus doesn’t tell us to go anywhere that he hasn’t gone first. In fact, let me show you something. What in this story is Jesus’ main priority? What is it that’s so much more important than fixing this party? Look at the end of verse 4 again
“My hour has not yet come.” His priority is his hour.
– John 2:4
Do you know what hour Jesus is talking about there? It’s the hour of his sacrifice, the hour that Jesus’ claims will be laid bare. It’s the hour when he is betrayed and unjustly tried and hung on a Roman cross. It’s the hour when he is raised from the dead for you and me. That was Jesus’ main priority. That’s the main thing he came to accomplish. He’s rebuking Mary, not because she’s bothering him, not because she’s asked him for help. He’s rebuking her to remind her that he has a bigger job to do. He’s not just here to fix the party. He’s here to fix eternity.
He can’t lose track of that priority and think he’s just here to make people comfortable. He can’t throw the timing of his sacrifice off by doing a bunch of public miracles and becoming too famous too quickly. Jesus’ priority is his hour. That’s what he’s working toward.
Do you know what else John says about that hour? Do you know what he calls it again and again in this gospel? He calls it “the hour of Jesus’ glory.” Jesus does miracles. He turns water into wine, and heals people, and gives sight to the blind and he receives glory from that. But when John talks about Jesus’ hour, the hour in which he is truly glorified, he’s talking about Jesus’ crucifixion.
That’s Jesus’ priority, because that’s when he’ll give eternal life to you and me. But it’s the hour of his glory, because that’s when we see Jesus’ true quality. When he bows in obedience to the Father, even after he’s pleaded with the Father to remove this cup of suffering from him, when Jesus chooses to love and trust his Father so deeply that he obeys at great cost to himself, that’s when he’s glorified. That’s when he really shines. He glorifies God by showing that his way is best, and he glorifies himself by being the obedient Son, even when it’s really, really hard. It’s the hour of his glory.
Can I ask you a question? What is going to be your hour of glory? When is the moment when you choose to love and trust God, even when it hurts? Is it now? When things are hard? When you’re confused? When you’re bringing your crisis to Jesus. and he seems to be ignoring you? When is the hour of your glory?
Jesus main priority is not to fix all the brokenness we face in the here and now. He came to give us life in the midst of the brokenness. His primary mission was to fix eternity, not to fix the here and now. With this rebuke, he insists that Mary recognize that. Jesus’ main priority is not to fix our party.
But here’s the thing: The story’s not done yet! There’s a wedding. There’s a crisis. Mary asks for help. Jesus says “What do I have to do with this?” It seems like the story is over, but it’s not! Jesus’ main priority is not to fix our party. Point 2:
But Jesus Cares About Our Party
His main priority isn’t our comfort. it’s not our party. it’s not the little crises that we face in the here and now, but Jesus does care deeply about the here and now. He cares about our party, and the passage shows us that he cares. After Jesus has told Mary his hour has not yet come, look at how she responds:
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
– John 2:5
Jesus’ response to Mary seemed harsh, but somehow Mary knew that Jesus was going to intervene. I don’t know what it was that tipped her off, whether it was with his body language or if he said something that John doesn’t record or if she just knew Jesus’ character. I don’t know what she expected Jesus to do, whether she thought he would just create wine or whether she thought he would give everyone food-poisoning so they would go home. But she was expecting something. So she tells the servants “Do whatever he tells you to do.”
Jesus responds by doing a kind of “behind the scenes” miracle. He does a miracle in such a way that it isn’t a big production, and it isn’t seen by most of the wedding guests. Only Mary, and his disciples, and the servants know what happened.
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.”
– John 2:6-8
These were huge jars, 20-30 gallons. They were made of stone, because in Jewish religious culture, stone was ceremonially clean, and earthenware was not. The Jews used these stone water jars for ceremonial washing. Jesus has the servants fill these giant jars to the brim with water. Then without telling the servants what he’s up to, he has them draw some out and take it to the sort of Maitre d,’ the guy who’s in charge of the feast. Now look at the end of verse 8.
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.”
– John 2:8-10
So once Jesus has made his priorities clear, he steps in and shows his care. He provides for his friends at the request of his mother. He provides in great style! Look how John describes it. First, he describes the quantity of what Jesus provides, which is staggering. There are six jars. Each jar holds 20-30 gallons, and the servants fill these jars to the brim! That is up to 180 gallons of wine. That is (I looked it up) 900 bottles of wine. That is 4,500 glasses of wine. The quantity is a LOT!
Second, John describes the quality of what Jesus provided. Look at what the Maitre d’ of the Feast says in verse 10 again:
“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.”
– John 2:10
This was the good stuff. We’re not talking about Winking Owl or Barefoot here. This is Chateau Yeshua! This is the good stuff, made by the guy who invented the grape! Just for clarification’s sake, the wine Jesus made here was alcoholic. It says “The water had been turned into wine.” Although in Jesus’ day, they normally mixed their wine with water to make it about the strength of beer, this wine was alcoholic. Think about what the Maitre d’ says when he tastes the wine Jesus made. He “You normally serve this stuff until the guests have had too much to drink in other words, until this stuff has made them intoxicated then you bring out the cheap stuff.” So it was definitely alcoholic.
Since many of us come from different traditions regarding alcohol and say that what Scripture teaches about alcohol in a nutshell is this: Alcohol is not forbidden for God’s people. In fact:
“God gave wine to make the heart of man glad”
– Psalms 104:15
There were some offerings and feasts in Israel in which you offered or drank wine before the Lord. Scripture does not teach that alcohol is forbidden, but it does teach us that alcohol is dangerous. It says “Wine is a mocker, and strong drink is raging and whoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” It teaches that we should never be controlled by alcohol. If alcohol in any way becomes our master, we are mis-using God’s gift, and we need to stop. If you drink to excess in one sitting and get drunk, the alcohol is controlling you in that moment. You need to stop. If you need alcohol, if you to drink regularly to function, it’s controlling you and you need to stop.
So Scripture teaches us to be cautious. Alcohol is a gift that can enable people to relax and be joyful. Here John is showing us that Jesus turns the water of Law, the water of ceremonial washing, into the wine of the Kingdom. It’s a gift! But it can easily be misused and cause all kinds of heartache. So many Christians have decided not to drink alcohol at all, and others have decided that they can do that and honor God. You decide what is best between you and the Lord and live by your conviction, but whatever we do should be done to God’s glory.
Alcohol or no alcohol is NOT the point of this part of the story. The point of this part of the story is that Jesus cares! Jesus’ main priority is not to fix our party, but he cares about our party! Look at the story. He didn’t provide grudgingly. He stepped into the crisis and provided wholeheartedly, generously, amazingly! He brought joy and gospel generosity and life to the party. Because Jesus cares, he was the life of the party!
Jesus cares about you. He cares about that circumstance in your life. He cares about your finances. He cares about your job. He cares about your grief. Scripture says he cares enough to keep track of the hairs on your head. He cares when he intervenes and answers your prayers and fixes things. He cares when he doesn’t. He cares about your party.
He’s a generous God. He has already come. He’s already given his very life to fix your biggest problem and his resources are infinite. Why wouldn’t he care about your party? It reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 8. This is a chapter where he is talking about suffering, but listen to what he says:
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all good things?
– Romans 8:31-32
How Do We Respond?
Jesus cares. His main priority isn’t to fix our parties, but he cares deeply about our parties, about the circumstances, the crises, the challenges we face in life. So what do we do with this passage? How do we respond to it? Well, the answer is simple: Let me give you two very simple, very obvious thoughts. The first is this:
- Keep Jesus’ priority in mind.
We have to keep Jesus’ priorities in mind. We have to remember the main reason that he came, the main thing he wanted to accomplish then and now. Eternity is more important than the here and now. Character is more important than comfort. Getting to know for sure that God really loves you (and I’m sorry the only way you get that is by being in a place where it’s hard to see his Love, and hard to see why he would love you). Getting to know for sure that God really loves you is more important than feeling good about yourself.
Jesus didn’t come to fix our circumstances. He came to fix us in the midst of our circumstances. He didn’t come to fix the here and now. He came to fix eternity. The first thing we have to do is remember that. The second thing we have to do is this:
- Keep bringing it all to him
Keep praying. Keep asking. Take a page from Mary’s playbook and keep bringing your party, your circumstances, your crises, big and little, to Jesus. Pray without ceasing. Pray about everything. If Mary had never asked, she would never have been reminded of Jesus’ main priority. If she hadn’t asked, she wouldn’t have seen him provide so generously.
So keep praying. Keep asking. When it seems like he’s listening and moving and when it seems like he’s saying “What is it to you and to me,” keep praying. We serve a generous God, a God whose generosity is shown not just in his provision but in his priorities for me and for you.
Jesus’ main job is not to fix our party, but he cares deeply about our party. Jesus’ main priority for you is eternal life. We keep holding on to Jesus, believing in his goodness when we face the crises of life.