Friday, October 05, 2007

John 2:3-11

3When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to Him, "They have no more wine." 4"Dear woman, why do you involve Me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." 6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. 8Then He told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." 9They 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 10and 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." 11This, the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him.

Mary tells Jesus that they have no more wine. It is suggested by some commentators that she merely expects Him to offer some kind words to draw any malcontent away from the bridegroom. But others with whom I agree think Mary intends for Jesus to do something about the situation. After all, she says to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Jesus’ response is perhaps confusing, beginning first with what literally reads: “What’s it to Me?” It doesn’t sound polite. It is suggested that He calls Mary “woman,” rather than “mother,” to ensure that the focus on God’s work stays with Him and does not drift into sharing His glory with His mother. While it is right to give honor to whom honor is due, Jesus wants none of us to worship His mother for her role; all the worship must be directed to the Triune Godhead. It is also suggested that He calls Mary “woman” in light of Genesis 3:15, where it is prophesied that the seed of woman would crush the head of Satan. Perhaps Jesus is referring to Mary as that woman, and He is that seed. Consider that Jesus is saying to Mary, “I am your Son, but I’m more than that. I’m the Son. You aren’t the one who decides when I do the will of the Father. The Father decides.” And lastly, and perhaps most plainly, “woman” was a common way to address respectfully address a woman in the culture – Jesus normally addresses women in this manner (John 4:21; 8:10). Next, Jesus says, “My time has not yet come.” He suggests to Mary that He will do something about it, but it’s not because she wants Him to. And she seems to understand what He’s saying. She gets the message. She doesn’t bug Him about it. Let’s look at her final remarks:

We acknowledge that when Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, she is specifically speaking of this episode involving the wine. But, as many commentators point out, we can take this further. Rather than tell Jesus what to do, Mary says to do what He says to do. How appropriate! In all things, Jesus has authority, and when we come to Him, He doesn’t send us to His mother. Of course, Catholics love to go to the Holy Mother and enter her presence. She tells us here: I can’t do anything, but my Son can. Obey Him. Mary rightly points us to Jesus.

In v6, John describes the stone jars. Why? He is evidencing the validity of the miracle. If there were only one or two jars, it might be possible that they were carted in from some other place while no one was looking. But 6 jars (some 120-180 gallons) couldn’t have been produced on a whim. If only one jar had been changed from water to wine, the miracle could have been considered insignificant – a fluke. But all the jars were changed, and thus the miracle is not only authenticated, but also considered significant. Furthermore, the jars symbolize the old ritual of ceremonial washing, while the wine Jesus creates is a symbol of eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

Jesus’ command to fill the jars with water served to authenticate the miracle as well. The servants could be certain that they themselves had put water in the jars, and thus only by miraculous means could wine be drawn out. And Jesus commands that the master of the banquet be the first to taste the wine. And the master was amazed at the quality and commended the bridegroom for providing the best wine near the end of the banquet. Essentially here, Jesus is solving a problem while at the same time putting the people on trial. If God blesses us with choice wines, are we able to maintain sobriety? If God blesses us with abundant food, do we have the self-control to avoid gluttony? If God gives us opportunity to give generously through a vast inheritance or successful career, do we have the discipline to avoid wasting wealth on a life of luxury? Isn’t that the way it seems to work? We pray for a blessing; the blessing is granted; we take it for granted or waste it away with poor choices. When we are blessed, we need to be discerning. But let’s not get whiny about this miracle. Rejoice! Here’s why: Everything Jesus does is good. He gives us the best. He pours out blessings on His people in abundance and extravagance.

Finally, we are told that this first miracle, performed in an insignificant town at a significant event (marriage before God), served one purpose – to display or reveal or manifest His glory. We are not told that the bridegroom was ever made aware of what happened. We are not told that the master of the banquet ever found out what Jesus did. But the servants knew, and His disciples knew. They put their faith in Him. And His glory was revealed. Jesus’ glory is revealed when people believe on Him. This conclusion also fits with John’s overall theme (John 20:31).

Thursday, October 04, 2007

John 2:1-2

1On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

In keeping with the tabernacle imagery theme, recall that the children of Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea after the Passover and before they were sustained with manna in the wilderness. Similarly, on a visit to the tabernacle, you would first come to the altar – where the Passover lamb was sacrificed (the Lamb of God as we saw last time), then before entering the tent of meeting where the Bread of Presence was kept, you would pass by the laver – the washing basin for the priests to be cleansed. That is the imagery we get from John in this and upcoming passages – all the way to chapter 5 or 6. We are absolved from the guilt of sin through the blood sacrifice, and we are cleansed of impurity through the washing with water. Water is both cleansing and life-sustaining. We need both aspects of it, and God provides both to us in Christ. So think “water” as cleansing and sustaining as a behind-the-scenes theme for John in the next 3 chapters. A summary of this chapter, and maybe even the next 3, might be the phrase, “Out with the old and in with the new.”

John explains first in this passage that this wedding took place “on the third day.” This could also be rendered, “Three days later.” While a simple read through the Gospels may fail to pick up on these timeline indicators, a study of the Gospels cannot fail to notice some apparent inconsistencies. If we go with the timeline John provides, this wedding and the first miracle that Jesus publicly performs occur on the third day after the beginning or on the third day of Jesus’ ministry. And so the question arises, “When did Jesus’ ministry begin?” Many say that His baptism signified the beginning of His ministry. The other Gospels record Jesus’ temptation in the desert for 40 days as occurring immediately after His baptism (Mark 1; Matthew 4; Luke 4-5), and upon hearing of the arrest of John the Baptist, only then did He come to Galilee and call His first disciples, thus commencing His ministry. So perhaps this timeline of John omits the 40 days of temptation to suggest that the timeline begins in John 1:19 after the temptation in the wilderness, when Jesus comes to Galilee. But what then do we make of John the Baptist’s arrest? Supposedly, Jesus only came to Galilee after hearing of John’s arrest, and only then did He call His first disciples. But here in John’s Gospel, Andrew and John begin following Jesus while in Bethany across the Jordan (John 1:28) – before Jesus left for Galilee (John 1:43). He even called Philip and Nathanael before coming to Galilee. The other Gospels record the calling of Andrew, Peter, James, and John in Galilee, while they are fishing, after John’s the Baptist’s arrest. So there are some difficulties. Some suggest John the Baptist was arrested on more than one occasion. Others say that it’s not important. Maybe John records events from early on and events from late in the game and leaves out the middle – as he knew it was covered in the other accounts. Jesus traveled to Galilee numerous times, and He could have called the disciples numerous times as well, as in different training sessions and finally a permanent residing mentorship. This issue may remain unresolved for now, the point for us to take from this passage is this: when Jesus begins His ministry, there’s no dilly-dallying. He’s called into action immediately.

It is thought that there were at least three Canas in the general region at this time. This Cana is presumed to be the smallest and least significant Cana for a couple reasons: it was a one-day journey from Capernaum (John 4), it was no more than a three-day journey from Bethsaida, where Jesus had been in chapter 1, and it had to be near Nazareth as both Jesus and His mother were invited. Notice that Jesus’ disciples were also invited. This would lead us to believe that a close relative of Jesus was taking a wife. The groom would have gladly wanted his close relative, Jesus to have a good time, and if that meant bringing 4 extra friends along, he would accommodate them. Notice the bridegroom is the one offering the banquet, not the bride’s family. Finally, we can also infer that the man getting married was poor. After all, it’s a small-town wedding, and he runs out of wine prematurely. Nevertheless, he is still hospitable to Jesus’ disciples. The poor are generally the most welcoming.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

John 1:47-51

47When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." 48"How do You know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." 49Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." 50Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that." 51He then added, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

Jesus and Nathanael. Nathanael accepts Phillip’s invitation to come and see, though perhaps reluctantly. And Jesus sees him coming and pronounces that he is “a true Israelite;” Jesus introduces a surprising chasm here: Some Jews are true Israelites and some are not. Jesus defines for us what makes a “true Israelite:” one in whom there is nothing false, or no deceit. And of course, that definition sheds abundant light on the later conflicts that Jesus has with the Jewish leadership, in whom there is much deceit and falsehood. In this definition, we are also given an understanding of what it means to live the Christian lifestyle: integrity of heart before God, and uprightness before men. And that is fitting, because, as we will later read in John, the devil is a liar or deceiver, the father of lies and deceit. Furthermore, calling Nathanael an “Israelite” might have recalled thoughts of Jacob, the first “Israelite,” and Nathanael will be promised an experience like Jacob’s dream in v51.

Jesus’ statement regarding Nathanael’s uprightness was meant not to flatter him, but rather to liven the conversation and draw from Nathanael this question, “How do You know me?” And now Jesus is in prime position to show him that He is the Messiah. Jesus’ response, “I saw you under the tree before Phillip called you,” does not yield the possibility of knowing Nathanael’s heart, and Nathanael gets that. Nathanael knew by Jesus’ response that He did not see him as I see you, but by a look truly divine. Only by virtue of seeing Nathanael’s heart could Jesus claim his uprightness. That realization leads him to conclude that Jesus is not only the Christ, which is what Phillip had already told him, but also that Jesus the Son of God and the King of Israel, who did not at that moment speak as a mere man, but as God. Nathanael’s statement is remarkable, as by grace and despite spending no time with Jesus, he exhibits faith not simply in a Jesus, but in the Jesus who is exercising His offices of Prophet, Priest (Redeemer / Mediator), and King. Nathanael knew from the Old Testament that Jesus was King of Israel, but we know that He is King of God’s Israel and the whole earth, even all creation.

Lastly, Jesus approving of Nathanael’s faith, promises to him and to others that He will confirm the truth of Nathanael’s confession by many stronger arguments than that which caused Nathanael to believe. The proof for Nathanael was that Jesus saw him under the fig tree and knew his heart. That’s an individual episode, but Jesus promises greater things that would be common for and to all, and thus, instead of addressing Nathanael personally, Jesus turns to address everyone nearby.

Jesus and Jacob’s ladder. Jesus’ image of Jacob’s ladder suggests several things: First, heaven is opened for those in Christ. We have access to the Father through the Son and by the Spirit. Second, we see examples of times when God’s people saw this image become a reality in Scripture: Stephen (Acts 7:55), the three disciples on the mountain (Matthew 17:5), and the other disciples at Christ’s ascension (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9). Third, what was prefigured in Genesis 28:10-16 was fulfilled in Christ. Fourth, angels are said to ascend and descend, so as to be ministers of God’s kindness towards those in Christ – thus angels are ascending and descending ON the Son of Man; and therefore this mode of expression points out the mutual intercourse which exists between God and men. With and in and through Christ, angels have a friendly care to help us. Without Christ the angels have rather a deadly enmity against us. Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man – His favorite self-title from Daniel 7:13.

Calvin concludes, “In short, this [verse] teaches us, that though the whole human race was banished from the kingdom of God, the gate of heaven is opened to [those in Christ], so that we are fellow-citizens of the saints, and companions of the angels (Ephesians 2:19), and that they, having been appointed to be guardians of our salvation, descend from the blessed rest of the heavenly glory to relieve our distresses.”

John reveals two important and foundational truths in this passage: First, Jesus is the Lamb of sacrifice who conquers in glory as was expected; but He does so by laying down His life as a ransom for many (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), which was not expected though should have been. Second, that Jesus is the Christ is a well-testified-to fact. It’s not an obscure statement made by a lone radical. It’s a well-understood statement made by MANY. Thus, we may run with certainty and confidence to Jesus, finding in Him salvation for our souls.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

John 1:43-46

43The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, He said to him, "Follow Me." 44Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 46"Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.

Jesus and Phillip. Next we read that Jesus found Phillip as He was leaving for Galilee and said to him, “Follow Me.” And Phillip does so. This is a great illustration of the power of Jesus’ word. We’ll read later in this Gospel as well of the power of Jesus’ word when He calls to Lazarus, “Come out!” Jesus has life-giving power in His voice, in His word, and it is this very same power that the Holy Spirit uses to quicken us to spiritual life. When we were dead, God made us alive, simply by calling our name. Now based on the language, it is likely that Jesus and Phillip knew one another, and only now does Jesus make His authority known to Phillip; and Phillip, who likely knew Jesus as a friend, now sees Him for who He is, and rightly obeys the command to follow Him.

We also read in these verses that Andrew, Peter, and Phillip are from Bethsaida. Calvin comments, “The name of the city [was] mentioned on purpose, that the goodness of God to the three Apostles may be more illustriously displayed. We know how severely, on other occasions, Christ threatens and curses that city (Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). Accordingly, when God brought into favor with Him some out of a nation so ungodly and wicked, we ought to view it in the same light as if they had been brought out of the lowest hell. And when Christ, after having drawn them out of that deep gulf, honors them so highly as to make them Apostles, it is a distinguished favor and worthy of being recorded.”

Next, like Andrew reaching out to Simon Peter, so Phillip reaches out to Nathanael. Phillip, despite not getting the quality time with Jesus that Andrew and John had, simply believes their testimony, and with a child-like faith, proclaims to Nathanael that Jesus of Nazareth is none other than the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15-22 that we addressed earlier and the One proclaimed by the prophets. We could get theological and point of that Jesus was “of Bethlehem” rather than Nazareth, and that He was “Son of God,” rather than Joseph, but Phillip is not technically wrong on these points. (We might learn here that God blesses our evangelism efforts despite our ignorance and/or error.) What is significant is that Phillip recognizes the important facts about Jesus – that the Law and the prophets testify of Him.

Nathanael, who is a “true Israelite in whom there is nothing false,” as Jesus will proclaim in a moment, practically denies Phillip’s claims. Phillip persists with Nathanael, repeating the words of Jesus to Andrew and John, “Come and see.” This is for us as well. If I excitedly proclaim, “I have found the cure for cancer!” you might be inclined to say two things: First, “There is no cure for cancer.” And second, “You are incapable of that. It’s not in your skill set. You’re not a medical scientist.” Whatever the objection may be, if my claim is true, then I should invite you to come and see. The same goes for our efforts in evangelism. We, like Phillip, may not know the whole truth about Jesus. We may not be able to overcome all objections. But “we know who we have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12). And when we say, “I have found the way to eternal life – it is through Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sins and for the perfect righteousness required by God,” people may say it’s too simple, it’s only a story, I don’t buy it, I don’t need it, nothing good can come from Nazareth, you’re na├»ve, you’re wrong, that’s fine for you but not for me, or you couldn’t have possibly found it, because you’re not that smart. Whatever the excuse may be, persist and say, “Come and see.” Show them Jesus. Psalm 34:8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him."

Monday, October 01, 2007

John 1:38-42

38Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are You staying?" 39"Come," He replied, "and you will see." So they went and saw where He was staying, and spent that day with Him. It was about the tenth hour. 40Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). 42And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter).

Jesus speaks: Come and see. Jesus doesn’t wait to hear from these two men who come to Him; rather, He initiates the conversation. “What do you want?” This is not harsh like we might perceive it. It’s more like, “What can I do for you?” The apostle John will later quote Jesus as saying, “Whoever comes to Me I will not drive away” or “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). And the two men, moved by the commendation of their former Rabbi, John the Baptist, hold Jesus to be a Prophet and teacher, which is the first step towards receiving instruction, so they call Him Rabbi.

They ask, “Where are You staying?” It’s a nice way to ask, “Can we come and rest in Your presence and be taught by You?” We can learn a very important truth here: Eric taught about this in Mark’s Gospel. Don’t just hear Jesus from the outskirts. You can do that, and you might hear some interesting stuff, but you won’t become His devoted follower that way. Instead, go with Jesus wherever He is and let Him personally instruct you. That’s what these two disciples want to do, and Jesus says to them, “Come and see. You want to know where I am staying? Come and see.” And so they went and spent the rest of the day with Jesus. It was the tenth hour (4 PM), late in the day to start “hanging out,” but they were so intrigued by Jesus that they had no concern for the time. They went to Him to learn from Him, and they didn’t care what time they’d get home. They weren’t even His disciples yet, but they were seeing if being His disciple would be something worthwhile. Do you have that type of experience in coming to Christ? I can remember staying up until 2 AM or later to stay immersed in the Word of God, to see if Jesus really was who He claimed to be, to see if I should devote myself to Him, or to carry on a conversation about spiritual things with others. Can you imagine what these two men experienced with Jesus that day? For them it was enough to conclude that He was the Messiah (v41), and enough to decide to follow Him for the rest of His ministry and beyond.

Jesus, Andrew, and Peter. John here gives us the identity of one of the two followers of John the Baptist who left him to follow Jesus, namely Andrew. (The other was presumably John himself.) We see that Andrew, who has spent only a short time with Jesus and has what would certainly be considered a child-like faith at this point, is on fire to spread the news of the coming of the Messiah. He immediately (the first thing he does) goes to his brother – Simon Peter – and excitedly declares, “We have found the Messiah!” Can you imagine Simon’s reaction? And notice that Simon doesn’t come excitedly to Jesus. Rather, Andrew brings him to Jesus. And Jesus says that Simon will be called by a new name – Cephas or Peter, which, of course, means “rock.”

Let’s look closer at this dialogue: Jesus says, “You are Simon, son of John.” Jesus is pointing out that this is an ordinary man from an ordinary family. There’s nothing special about Simon, and there’s nothing special about his father, John. Yet Jesus prophesies that he will be called Peter, and in so doing, prophesies that he will be an unshakably courageous man, boldly steadfast in faith. Calvin says of this prophecy, “I look upon it as a prediction, not only because Christ foresaw the future steadfastness of faith in Peter, but because He foretold what He would give to him. He now magnifies the grace which He determined afterwards to bestow upon him; and therefore He does not say that this is now his name, but delays it till a future time.” Furthermore, all believers may very realistically be called “Peters.” We are living stones with which Jesus as the chief cornerstone, our “Ebenezer” or “stone of help,” is building for Himself a church.

Notice another point about Andrew and Simon Peter here. Looking back we notice that Peter was a much more prominent figure in the early church than was Andrew. Yet without Andrew, Simon would have never become Peter. The point is that none of us, however excellent or important, should refuse to be taught by an inferior, by a lesser one. Also of note here is that the whole region, not merely the purebred Jews, was intrigued by the prophetic coming of the Messiah. Samaritans, half-breeds, and even Gentiles (pagan nations such as Babylon (Daniel 9:25-26)) would have known about this prophesied figure. Yet, as many as looked for Him, it is amazing that so few received Him when He came.