Imagine that the Bible was lost and somebody today was given the task of recording, to the best of their ability, the deeds and words of the Son of God. They were to give an account of the good influence that Jesus had had in people’s lives. What do you think would have been recorded as the first instance through which Jesus showed his greatness? Imagine that there would be a poll among the Christians of the 21st century where they were to answer the question: how does Jesus show you that he is the greatest?
I’ll tell you one thing I don’t think would make it among the top ten: Jesus showing up at a small town wedding, making water into wine. But that’s what the apostle John reports as Jesus’ primary miracle, when he revealed his glory to the disciples, when he showed them his greatness.
Why couldn’t Jesus have found a better purpose when he performed his first miracle? Why couldn’t he have intervened in some of the many political conflicts of the time and put an end to war? Why couldn’t he have done something with the world’s food supply and put an end to world hunger? Why did he choose a small town wedding where he had to provide some more wine? These people had been partying for days and they had probably had enough to drink already. Why does Jesus choose to provide wine at a rural wedding when he would reveal his glory?
This story tells me that Jesus’ concern is to help individuals and make them happy.
How different this is from so many religious ideas about who Jesus is and what he does. Some people have thought that a follower of Jesus should abstain from marriage. Some people seem to think that a good Christian must not be too light hearted, but that a good Christian must be very serious. How very different the real Jesus is. He comes to a wedding. And he decides to perform his first miracle to help people enjoy themselves and have fun.
The point is not that Jesus is encouraging excessive drinking. That is repeatedly condemned in Scripture. But the point is to show how Jesus is the giver of all good things.
Jesus says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In our Norwegian tradition we tend to think of abundance as something that is too much, something that is unnecessary, almost immoral. But if you do a search in the Bible for the word “abundance” and similar words, you will soon find that one of God’s blessings is that we have abundance.
When Moses gives his last speech to the people of Israel, he makes it very clear that they have two options before them. They can serve God, who brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, or they can choose their own ways. The result will be either a curse or a blessing. If they go their own ways, they will experience the curse, and they will finally lose the land that God gave them, as they eventually did, but if they follow the Lord, they will experience the blessing. They will be prosperous and they will have abundance.
Deuteronomy 30:8-9 reads: “Then you shall again obey the LORD, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and the LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors.”
Many of us have experienced that God can lead us and demonstrate his goodness to us also when we don’t have abundance, also when we suffer and when we feel everything in life goes against us. Because God can turn everything around for the good and he teaches us that the most important good thing in life is to know Jesus Christ.
The Psalmist says: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:25-26).
But the text for today reminds us that we have a generous God and a generous savior. We have a God who wants us to have all good things. And he wants us to have abundance. Just as when he was a guest at the small town wedding in Galilee and they were a little short of wine. Jesus did not just provide a little wine. He found six of the biggest water jars available and while he was at it, he provided about 150 gallons of wine. They should be able to keep the party going a little while longer.
Jesus reveals that he is the one, as the apostle Paul says, is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).
In his world famous book on prayer, Ole Hallesby takes Mary in this story as an example of someone who knows how to pray to Jesus. What is it Mary does? She merely tells Jesus what the problem is. She does not suggest what Jesus should do. Mary no doubt has some idea of what Jesus is capable of. She remembers how he was born, and how he was conceived. She remembers the message from the angel that she “will conceive in her womb and bear a son, and she will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33). But she does not come to Jesus with an already thought out solution. She does not even ask that he do something about the problem. She simply says what it is. And she is so confident that Jesus, who is the giver of all good things, and who cares for us and wants us to have abundance, he will provide the best possible solution, better than what she can imagine.
Jesus’ reply to his mother may seem harsh: "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4). Jesus’ first miracle is the beginning of Jesus’ special ministry, and to reveal himself as God’s Son, and it is necessary that also Mary has to learn that she has to come to Jesus as everybody else. She does not have any privileged access to the Son of God even though she is his mother. She is in the same position as everybody else. Mary, however, is not discouraged by this seemingly abrupt answer she receives from Jesus, but she remains just as confident that Jesus has the situation under control. She does not bother to talk more to him about it. She knows that he knows. And she trusts him. She simply tells the servants: "Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5).
I don’t know if Mary would have been able to imagine what Jesus was about to do. Probably not. When Jesus provides an answer to our prayers, the answer is often more glorious than what we were able to expect. By giving us something other than exactly what we were expecting for, he is able to give us more. He provides a solution that is better than what we even could imagine.
My mother was able to teach me a lesson about this once, when I was in Junior High. I had just started at a new school, and these transitions to a new school are not always easy. In my case, I was picked on by some of the other kids. Especially one of them turned out to be very annoying and at times I thought it was absolutely terrible to be at school because of this individual. My mother and I used to pray together every night and when I had told my mother about this very annoying kid, my mother suggested that we pray for this boy and that we pray that he and I became friends. Now, at this point, I realized that my mother and I had a serious communication problem. Because she had clearly not understood what a jerk this fellow was. And my mother’s suggestion was more than stupid. But I couldn’t very well object, either. So I went along with this praying, confident that it could not possibly yield any results whatsoever. This boy was simply beyond what you could pray for. Maybe it was possible that he might leave me alone. That was something I could imagine. But becoming his friend? No way. Not in this world and definitely not in the next. Can you imagine what happened? We became friends. We became very close friends. We used to hang out all the time. I would go over to his house and we would hang out together.
He is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, says the apostle Paul (Eph 3:20). It is true.