Following His Footsteps: “Exposing the Secret” – John 2

closetThere are English expressions that are used by various movements in different times in history, and along the way they adapt in meaning. The phrase “out of the closet” was used by advertisers long before it was adopted by modern social action groups. More recently, as a surprise to virtually no one, this phrase has become the mantle of those who see themselves as “bravely stepping forth on issues of sexual preference orientation”. Yet, the phrase actually denotes exposing a long held secret. It was historically linked to the idea of “skeletons in the closet” – and denoted potentially embarrassing things kept hidden from view out of potential shame. I want to go in a different direction with the phrase as we tackle the next part of the ongoing series to follow the footsteps of our Master as we study the record of His life in the Gospels. I want to talk about how a secret identity of Jesus became publicly exposed.

Jesus’ miracle at Cana was like the moment Clark Kent went into the phone booth to shed his suit and emerge exposed as the super hero of the classic comic books.(I know, that is a terrible comparison, but the image might actually stick with you!)

Think of it this way… Jesus had a secret identity. His mother Mary knew what it was because an angel named Gabriel told her thirty years before. His stepfather Joseph knew it, because God told him in dreams thirty years before our story. The angels knew it, because they made the announcement at His birth. The enemy knew it, because he faced Jesus in a “temptation sparring match” in the Wilderness of Judea a short time before the events of today’s lesson took place. Yet the truth is that although many BEINGS in Heavenly places knew Who Jesus was – the Eternal Son of God living in human flesh –few PEOPLE who lived near Him knew the truth of Jesus’ identity. This lesson is about how Jesus stepped out of the shadows and showed Himself to be the fulfillment of God’s promise from centuries before… man’s Redeemer was eating breakfast next door to someone who was clueless of His presence!

The problem is that Jesus’ identity also led to a problem. If He is Master, then I have someone in charge of me… and no one likes that – now or then.

The passage for study is John 2, and it offers two essential lessons that set up the first steps of Jesus’ public ministry after His baptism by John in the Jordan River and after the temptation wrestling match was completed in the nearby Judean Wilderness. Jesus picked up His first five “would be” disciples, and then two stories unfolded:

• The first public miracle of Jesus (John 2:1-11). Jesus turned water into wine at a Cana wedding feast and showed that the ordinary could become the extraordinary – if it received the touch of the Master.

• The first public challenge by Jesus (John 2:12-25). Jesus walked into His Father’s Temple distracted by the commercial barkers and turn a bazaar into chaos while He showed that much becomes little – when God “weighs in” on religious nonsense.

Key Principle: Jesus knew His place, and revealed it from the very beginning of His public ministry. What He met was resistance, because people want a Rescuer, but not a Master.

It is important that we recognize this truth – because among those who do not both carefully study the narrative and believe it is historically valid – a common notion is that Jesus “slowly discovered” His place as the Son of God. Some “scholars” even express the notion that Jesus was never fully aware of it until after the Resurrection. In the more liberal circles of “Christian” thought, that is not even a debated concept – it has been accepted.

Not to pluck a phrase from our current political Benghazi discussion of our current news cycles, but here is the question of our lesson: “What did Jesus know and when did He know it?” We are not entertaining the debate that Jesus was NOT the Savior – that debate is simply answered by a faithful study of the Gospel accounts that were NOT fuzzy on such things…Our thoughts concern the challenge that Jesus was a benevolent and hapless rabbi that was unaware of some greater position He had. Does the Gospel reveal that? Not at all…

It is true that the Bible does not overtly state the moment at which Jesus knew that He was the Eternal Son of God sent to die as the “Spotless Lamb” for man’s sin. It is also true that He DID know those things. We read that later in His ministry Jesus fully expressed Who He was from eternity past, declaring: “Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58). Later, John recorded Jesus praying this way: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5). Clearly, if the Gospel record is true – Jesus knew His place. Our question is when did Jesus fully grasp that truth?

Some believers want to believe that He was consciously spinning planets while lying in a manger in Bethlehem – a view that I do not hold. Scripture does express that as a young child He was fully aware of His work, but He did feel an early need to be preparing as a boy to complete a work His Father in Heaven sent Him to complete by age 13. On a boyhood trip to the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus was “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46). When his parents discovered Him there, He offered this question: “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” (Luke 2:49-50). Luke made sure that in reading the account and reader would know that Jesus possessed information beyond what His parents could grasp. After the recorded incident, Luke noted: ”And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Let me suggest that though Jesus may well have known Who He was, his physical immaturity still lacked the completed ability to make all things clear to those around Him. He needed to grow physically, emotionally and mentally. Though He was cognizant by that time that He was fully God, He needed to become fully a man. Over the early centuries of Christianity, this subject was explored deeply and hotly debated by Church Fathers who were trying to understand the theology of the God-man.

Let’s accept the Biblical record that Jesus knew years and years before everyone else understood His mission and move forward with the story. What happened at the early stage of His ministry, then, concerned exposing the truth to those both near to Him and those in charge of the God’s people. The two episodes found in John 2 effectively do just that – and then they expose the way people responded to the message that God wanted to both SAVE then and RULE their lives. The first message is preached, loved and celebrated. The second truth (that of the rule of Jesus) is taught seldom and loved little – even by people who profess to follow Jesus. Somehow we have invented in modern Christianity a Sovereign Lord that leads us by following after our desires. That Jesus isn’t the one pictured in the Gospels.

First Miracle at Cana

We open the chapter with our first look at the miracle ministry of Jesus:

John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw [some] out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it [to him]. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when [the people] have drunk freely, [then he serves] the poorer [wine]; [but] you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of [His] signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

John made clear:

• On the third day there had been a wedding at Cana, and Jesus’ mother was there (2:1).
• Jesus and His first five followers were invited (2:2) apparently arriving at the end of the feast.
• When the wine ran out, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3), explaining they had run out of wine. She was evidently confident that Jesus was able to meet the need in some incredible way.
• Over Jesus’ initial objections (2:4), she left Him with the servants and instructed them to follow all His directions (2:5).
• Jesus told the servants to take the six stone pots that held twenty to thirty gallons each and fill them with water (a stunning violation of their purpose of ritual purity collection – 2:6-7).
• Jesus then told them to draw out from the stone jars a cup and take it to the head cupbearer of the feast and have him sample it for the guests (2:8).
• The cupbearer was shocked and complimented the groom on his surprising stash of excellent wine (2:9-10).

While it is nice to know that Jesus liked weddings, and that Jesus would make a good vintner, why would such an event become important enough to record for posterity?

First, it is important that we understand that Jesus wasn’t so “other worldly” that He wouldn’t celebrate a wedding with two people starting a new family – His earth ministry wasn’t just about lofty theological debates and Satan hunting… it was about loving people and celebrating the stages of their lives with them. Though life is PRIMARILY about the eternal things – life here is a gift from God to be enjoyed, celebrated… it is to be lived. God is nowhere more present than in the room of people who love Him and each other and are falling on the floor laughing hysterically over something that won’t let go of their funny bone. God isn’t a prude. Anything you have ever enjoyed – He thought of. Any flavor you have ever savored – He created. Any beauty that has ever taken your breath away – He pulled out the brush an painted on the landscape. God is not just powerful and Majestic – He is personal and creative. He knows good coffee and can delight in the swirls of freshly stirred caramel sauce. Don’t you DARE make Him into some monastic prior with itchy clothing eating bread and water! There is no pleasure without the Creator of all things. Even in our fallen state, God’s joys still shine through. Let’s say it clearly: Jesus knows how to party!

Beyond that truth, we observe in the passage the truth that Jesus speaks, and the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. God isn’t into the light adjustment business – He is a total and complete transformer! When Jesus spoke forgiveness over your life, you began a transformation that is ongoing. You know the problems, and you encounter your own resistance – but let’s be honest… YOU KNOW YOU ARE BEING CHANGED. You don’t want all the things of the world you once did. Your tastes buds are already starting to salivate when you smell the fresh baked bread of Heaven. When people are really in a walk with Jesus – they don’t have to be convinced of transforming power – they are living it. Here is the really neat thing: someday soon the Heaven’s will open, the trumpet will sound, and the very molecules of my body will be transformed from earth’s smell of slow decay to Heaven’s fresh, new aroma of purity and life.

Jesus told the servants to bring the water pots – but He didn’t use water from a nearby well. He used water DEDICATED TO PURIFICATION in pots beside the house. He used something that was set aside for God’s holy purposes already. It was never “just a pot of water”, but a “purification pot” set aside for God to use.

Here is the truth: God uses what we give to Him to use. What is kept for us to use as we please is not surrendered, so it doesn’t get used in the marvelous display of transformation – because we don’t want to give it up. Some believers aren’t changing, simply because they are keeping the pots of water for themselves and not surrendering them to Jesus as He told them. They have their own religious pots, neat and clean, and their water is still just ….water. If we want transformation, we are required to surrender what we have to Jesus to get it. When they gave it to Jesus, He dramatically transformed into something outlandishly exquisite.

Don’t miss the story in the water pot. God’s intention for you is not that you become a raging and angry separatist – trying to whine your way into people’s ears. What pleases Him isn’t that you HATE, PROTEST and COMPLAIN. At the same time, God isn’t looking for you to become a tolerant conformist who measures what is TRUE by what is POPULAR. God wants ONE THING that will mark your life… He wants you to deliberately yield your life choices to Him, so that He can TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE in front of all the people in your life. Don’t worry – when he does – they won’t mistake the exquisite wine for bland water. When God gets hold of a life, people smell the aroma of life and taste the spice of truth. You don’t need a t-shirt, a bumper sticker or a campaign. Transformed lives are the best evangelism program any church will ever have.

While we are studying the story, let’s not pass over a problem that often occurs when Jesus is at work among His followers. Don’t forget that when Jesus arrived in Cana there was a problem. It seems like it was his mother’s problem, or at least she felt responsible for some reason… What happened next is a common problem believer’s will understand…she thrust HER PLAN for the problem on Jesus. It is surely true that Jesus was, at least from an earthly perspective, her son. Bu the truth is, many believers act exactly this way toward Jesus when they get into trouble. Do you see it? The text doesn’t say Mary “dropped to her knees and sought God concerning the difficulty”. She didn’t consult Jesus on what should be done. MARY HAD A LITTLE PLAN and she wanted her plan cared for by Jesus. Can you identify with that? Did your prayer life ever sound like you were offering God sage counsel on how to fix things?

We need to be careful: We cannot tack Jesus on the plans we have already made and call that a surrendered life… it isn’t. Jesus is our Master, not our Holy errand boy. I love that Jesus honored her request, but I don’t want that to become my pattern in life.

First Challenge at Jerusalem

The story of the Cana miracle is always thrilling, because I want to be transformed and I love that God shows He can do it in dramatic ways! At the same time, the second story – the “First Cleansing of the Temple” (John 2:13-25) always changes the temperature in the room when I am passing through the study of John chapter two. It isn’t a happy time, but a serious time of challenge.

John 2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated [at their tables]. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove [them] all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

The time came for the feast of Pesach (Passover) and He went to Jerusalem to celebrate it. He journeyed south to Jerusalem (about 80 miles as the crow flies – cp.2:13). “Passover” was so important we have some record of authorities that would repair the roads for the great influx of people … and whitewash the tombs so nobody would accidentally touch them and accidently defile themselves. Homes were cleaned, cooking utensils cleansed, and houses were removed of all leaven. Those living in Jerusalem were expected to put up out of town guests, so “dust bunnies” in every corner were removed. Fortunately, most homes were a simple plan and not very large.

• Jews celebrated deliverance from bondage in Egypt and Jews from all over would come to the Temple in Jerusalem to present their offerings. Animals were slaughtered, fat was burned, and blood was sprinkled on the altar. Meat was taken home, and eaten by the family in a stew. People stood in line to pay the “Temple tax” of a silver ½ shekel coin to pay for daily sacrifices through the year.

• This was the biggest event of the year. Jesus stood on to the south porch of the Temple, observing merchants selling animals and money changers hawking the crowds as the best rate providers. (2:14).

• It seems like the place sounded more like a Middle eastern open market than a place of worship and prayer, and that got under Jesus’ skin because it wasn’t what God wanted at all. He responded with open rebuke. (2:15).

• Some reports tell us that the High Priest’s family auctioned concession stands to the various merchants and money-changers … to the highest bidder. Merchants charged inflated prices for sacrifice animals, and inequitable rates of exchange for Temple bound coins.

When you read the account, don’t get the mistaken impression that Jesus “lost it” in a heat of the moment reaction. He didn’t fly off the handle. While He was walking around, observing the chaos, He carefully picked up some of the leather cords that were laying around … used to tie up the animals that had now been sold. While He was walking, He formed into a small whip.

Stop for a second and ask what Jesus would do on the set of the televangelist that is pleading for more money for a third of their airtime. I wonder if it is not worth asking if our generation has gotten off the path that He marked for us to follow. I wonder about the many Bible belt churches that look more like social halls and town clubs than hospitals for the spiritually wounded. Someone has said: “We worship our work … work at our play … and play at our worship.” I am not sure they are off base at all.

Jesus knew that God’s plan was for His House to be a house of prayer … a special place … a place of worship and praise. He called it: “My Father’s house” (2:16). He saw the people’s attitudes and actions – just like he sees ours. Did we sing that solo to get people to notice US, or to call them to worship HIM? Did we come because we wanted to seek Jesus, or because we thought the girl we want to date might be here?

The sadness is this: Jesus saw all the decorations of worship, but not the focus of worship! He called for UN-DISTRACTED worship of God. He plead for no ulterior motive – money, career, advancement, attention, affirmation…

Here is my simple question: Do we have Jesus’ zeal of heart (2:17)? Do we say, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord”? (cp. Psalm 69:9).

Jesus’ zeal was literally “eating Him up inside”. He had a PASSION for the things of God… We are passionate about our sports … our eating … music…our work. Are we that passionate about worship and prayer? He did, and He wanted others to have it as well. The authorities didn’t ask about the nature of His dispute, that wasn’t their issue. They wanted to know: “Who do you think you are to be doing this?” (2:18).

Their objection was John’s point in the narrative – that very question…”Who was Jesus anyway?” Jesus as God’s Son, was not willing for people to PLAY AT WORSHIP and feign a surrendered life before His Father!

Why didn’t they stand up to Jesus and kick Him out? There were certainly more of them than Jesus and his few disciples. That would come later in the story of the Gospel of John. For now, Jesus was operating with an authority that could be felt, and that made them hesitant! They knew this was not simply some mad man…. Emerging was a fuller picture of Who Jesus is.

He is loving, and He is tenderhearted. He is merciful and He is kind…. But that isn’t all He is. He is holy. He is just… and He doesn’t like people playing religious games and substituting them for a serious passion for God. When the situation called for assertive leadership He did not shrink back from the task. He didn’t “let it go.” HE answered with clarity and force.

Maybe a story will help:

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis were set in a mythical world. That world was inhabited by centaurs, dwarves, talking wolves and beavers, fawns, and all kinds of creatures more familiar to ancient Greek mythology than modern reading books. In one installment Narnia was covered in an endless winter as the result of a cruel White Witch – a world desperately waiting for a terribly cold winter to finally end. The central character of this book, a talking lion named Aslan (who the author said represented Christ). He was both a ruler and a Savior-type.

Four children – Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter – ended up in Narnia and were educated by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who told them about Aslan. They learned that Aslan was the true King and the son of the “Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea.” They learned that Aslan was a lion – not a man. When that truth was made plain, Susan said: “Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” Mr. Beaver replied, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just quite silly.” Then the youngest of the children, little Lucy, says, “Then he isn’t safe?” Mr. Beaver replied, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”

I remember that quote, because I think it says it all! Jesus is not who people think He is, and He breaks the molds we make for Him! He is not safe – He is Sovereign… and our reaction to His place in our lives determines if we really are Christians, or just religious church tourists that are self-deluded. Jesus knew His place, and revealed it from the very beginning of His public ministry. What He met was resistance, because people want a Rescuer, but not a Master.