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January 4th, 2015

A miracle is something that happens for which there is no other explanation than God.

John 2:1-11

January 4, 2015

My one word

Somewhere in my study for the Isaiah sermons last fall, I came across a comment that suggested there are some words we should reserve for God.  We diminish words like “awesome,” “exalted,” “great,” or “holy” when we profane them (make them common).  We even use the word “god” for something other than God. The writer said he had taught his children to reserve certain words only for God.  Do you have any words like that? 

One of the words I think we should reserve for God is “glory.”  We just sang, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.”  Even the Bible doesn’t use the Hebrew chobad or Greek doxa only for God, so I don’t want to be holier-than-thou if you use “glory” for a Panthers victory or an Olympic athlete.  But glory means splendor, majesty, magnificence, brightness, preeminence – attributes that in their absolute sense only describe the eternal Creator and sustainer of the world.  Only God deserves glory.

This helps me clarify “my one word” for 2015.  In fact, it means my word needs no clarification.  It’s “Glorify.”  If only God deserves glory, my one word for 2015 necessarily means I want to bring glory to God.  As you move into 2015, what is your word?  Click here for more information on this idea of choosing a word for your year’s focus.  If you would like a copy of Mike Ashcraft’s book, stop by the Rowe Welcome Center.

Where did the idea for my 2015 word come from?  From a study of John 2:1-11.  This is the first of 15 miracles of Jesus we will study at Corinth from now through Easter.

What is a miracle?  I’ve ordered a book on miracles by Eric Metaxas that I expect to arrive this week, but for now let me offer my own definition:  A miracle is something that happens for which there is no other explanation than God.  Miracles display God’s splendor, his uniqueness, his majesty.  The purpose of a miracle is to bring glory to God.

Glory at a wedding

If the word “glory” were appropriate for a human event, it might be a wedding.  Although there are exceptions, most people put more time, effort, creativity, and money into a wedding than any other single event across a lifetime.  The bride wants to look splendid.  Her family want this moment to display their recognition of its uniqueness.  The groom wants to be worthy of this woman who has pledged herself to him.

Because they want the wedding to memorably seal this commitment, they want the day to be magnificent, unique, grand. There’s generally plenty of time to plan all the details.  It’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong, because humans are involved.  If there’s an obvious oversight in an area where careful planning would have met expectations, it can be humiliating.

That’s what happened at the only wedding specifically mentioned in the Gospels where Jesus was in attendance.  As you imagine this scene in John 2, you need to imagine a wedding in your own experience – maybe yours, your child’s, a friend’s.  Feel what a wedding is like.  But also need remember that each culture – in fact, each generation in each culture – has its own wedding customs. In other words, when you read about the wedding in Cana of Galill, do not imagine the bride walking down Corinth’s aisle to Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” followed by a reception at Lake Hickory Country Club. The wedding in John 2 was a small town affair in a pedestrian era.  Cana was probably about a half-day’s walk (9 miles) from Jesus’ home town of Nazareth.

At the time of this wedding, Jesus was about thirty years old, and his father had apparently passed away when he was a teenager or young adult.  Until recently, then, Jesus had been the man of house for his mother and younger siblings.  Now he had connected with John the Baptist’s populist movement, and had himself been baptized by John.  Jesus had also begun gathering a handful of followers.

The wedding to which he was invited was more than likely in his extended family.  We can imagine his mother saying to him, “Jesus, I know you’ve left home and things are starting to happen in keeping with what I heard from angels and shepherds and Magi thirty years ago, but I really want you to make an appearance at this wedding.  It will be embarrassing to me if my oldest son is not there. I will to need your help with everything from taking care of your brothers and sisters to trouble shooting and problem solving if anything unexpected comes up.  Bring a few of your new friends if you want to.”

“Yes, ma’am.  I’ll be there.  You can count on me.”  When Jesus showed up, he would have found the whole town in party mode.  A wedding was a week-long festival with the climactic ritual on a Wednesday evening, immediately following the biggest feast of the whole week.  The couple were treated like royalty, and addressed as king and queen.  After the ceremony, the young couple were paraded through the most public streets of the city under a canopy by the light of torches so that everyone could wish them well.  The level of joyous celebration was unmatched.

Throughout that week, but especially on the big day, the hosts needed to coordinate all the hospitality.  There were no Crown Plazas or Courtyards by Marriott to rent rooms, no Salsaritas or Atlanta Bread Companies for lunch outings.

One of the keys to a successful celebration was plenty of wine.  Most people most of the time drank water in their daily lives, but wine was essential to feasts.  One of the rabbis had said, “Without wine there is no joy.”  The wine was not strong – generally diluted 2 parts wine to three parts water so it was more about beverage than alcohol.  Still, no detail of wedding planning had higher priority than sufficient wine.

John 2:1 gives us a time marker of “the third day.”  This is not a reference to the wedding week, but to a sequence of events in Jesus’ world John chronicles in chapter 1.  Apparently Jesus didn’t show up for this wedding until the big feast.  Without e-mail to assure her he was still coming I would imagine Mary was a little anxious until she saw him.

Jesus and his disciples arrive in Cana (2), and immediately they encounter a social crisis.  “They ran out of wine,” Mary tells her son in verse 3.

Jesus answers respectfully but somewhat distantly, “Ma’am, why is that a concern of yours and mine?  It’s not yet time to expose me openly” (4).

Mary trusts him and says to the servants at the wedding, “Do what he says” (5).  I really don’t know what, if anything, she is expecting from Jesus.  She does know anything that happens will be up to Jesus, not her.  She’s letting go of her need to control.

The wine containers have been emptied, but Jews at a feast needed plenty of clean, kosher water for ceremonial washing. Even today, Jewish law requires hand washing in several situations, especially before eating bread.  It involves using a vessel to alternately pour water over both hands then, before, drying the hands, holding them up in the air and reciting a blessing.  Apparently at least six of the 25-gallon stone water jars had been emptied, and Jesus told the servants to fill them up, which they did (6-8).

“Now,” Jesus said when the jars were filled with water, “draw some out and take it to the master of ceremonies” (8).  The host had not been privy to the conversation with Jesus or the filling of the jars (9).  He was so startled about the quality of the wine that he complimented the groom on it: “You saved the best wine for last!” (10)

The miracle is one of both quality and quantity.  Even at an event where diluted wine functions more like iced tea at a Baptist wedding than hard liquor at an Episcopalian wedding, the quantity was lavish.  Who needs 150 gallons of wine?  But a miracle which is designed to reveal God’s glory would not turn water into communion cups-ful for exactly the number of guests.  The quantity is intentionally more than enough.

“Glory to the Son!”  That’s what verse 11 means when it says, “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana of Galilee.  He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”  The word John uses for miracle, translated “miraculous sign,” indicates that the purpose of a miracle is to point in a certain direction.  It is to shine a bright light.  It is to glorify God.  It doesn’t diminish the word “glory” to use it for Jesus, because he is God.  This miracle shines a light on his true nature.

A miracle life

Eric Metaxas wrote in a Christmas Day op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that the universe is the greatest miracle.  He based this statement on the statistical improbability for the world.  That may be true, but I think there are miracles all around which are easier to grasp and see.  I am not necessarily talking about healings or financial provisions or radical answers to prayer.  I’m talking about believers like you and me.

I want my life in 2015 to glorify God.  I want my life to shine with his brightness, his uniqueness, his magnificence.  I don’t know what will happen in my world in 2015.  It’s not about whether what happens is prosperity or pain, sickness or health, success or failure.  Whatever happens, I want the end result to be, “There’s no other explanation than God.”  Glorify.

I read about such a life this past week.  I read a story so remarkable that even Hollywood had to make a movie about it.  Linda and I saw the movie this week as well.

The book is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand.  She chronicles the story of Louise Zamperini, who thought in the first part of his life that his glory would be in track and field.  He would overcome his underdog, delinquent childhood and become the first man to run four-minute mile.  He would win a gold medal in the 1940 Olympics.  But no Olympic games were held in 1940.  The world was at war.

When you watch the movie, you think Zamperini’s glory is in his story of survival.  He spent 47 days on a raft after his plane went down in the Pacific, and finally landed on an island occupied by the Japanese.  From there he spent more than two years as a POW, enduring unimaginable horror.  Whether you watch the movie or read this book, you keep thinking, “It can’t get any worse than this.” It does get worse, as Zamperini battles thirst and starvation and sharks and an enemy plane in the raft, then endures beatings and starvation and disease and cold and more of the same only worse.  Louie Zamperini was the number one target of the man nicknamed the Bird, a man widely acknowledged to be the cruelest POW guard in an inhumane system of Japanese wartime prisons.  But Louie Zamperini survived.

The movie ends with a few epilogue screens, telling what happened to each character.  I forget the exact wording, but there is a mild reference to Zamperini living out his faith.  The book tells the story much better.  After he came home, Zamperini battled not only PTSD but the nightly terrors that were so real he almost choked his young, beautiful pregnant wife to death one night because in his dream he was choking the Bird.  Chapter 38, the penultimate chapter in Hillenbrand’s book, tells how Louie Zamperini met Jesus Christ personally under the preaching of a young evangelist named Billy Graham in his 1949 Los Angeles crusade.  Everything changed that night Zamperini met Christ.  He never again had another nightmare about the Bird.  You might think, then, that Zamperini’s story of glory was his conversion.  Earlier in my life, I might have thought that.  In fact, I found myself wanting a story for myself with more bad behavior or bad circumstances so that I could have a more dramatic conversion.  To glorify God, of course.

But I don’t think that was the glory of Zamperini’s life.  It was his life well lived, a life changed by grace.  His passion changed from killing his tormenter to finding him so he could personally forgive him.  He was faithful to his wife and raised two children.  He opened and operated Victory Boys Camp, where he could help change the lives of boys, one potential delinquent at a time.  He lived his life finding ways to extend grace into the lives of others.  There can be no other explanation for his life than God.

My life story has never been, and will never be, as dramatic as that of Louie Zamperini.  But when I forgive, when I care, when I confess, when I invest time in the lives of those others want to throw away, when I point others to Christ, when I respond with gentleness and understanding even though it makes no sense, a life well lived is the greatest miracle of all.  That kind of life brings glory to God.

In my life Lord

Be glorified, be glorified

In my life, Lord

Be glorified today.

 

Amen.

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