Unless you have been living under a rock or away on an isolated island vacation with no TV broadcasts, you are probably aware that the U.S. has been alight and buzzing with recent testimony before our Senate Judicial Committee as it met in session for the purposes of presenting or declining a candidate for the vacant seat on our Supreme Court. As powerful lobbies and political factions collided before our eyes, Americans saw the worst attributes of power players seep out in a drama that captured some of the largest ratings on American TV. At the heart of the issue are accusations from decades past, and deep concerns of many who, in unrelated personal stories, have sadly faced criminal abuse in their lives that was not resolved justly. To get to the heart of the facts, a few selected testimonies were paraded in front of us, while much happened behind closed doors and we were left without enough to bring a factual conclusion, but got enough to tarnish everyone who was involved. Toss enough slop around a room carelessly and the whole room will end up covered – and they did.
This isn’t a political seminar, so relax. I don’t have to take a side here, and the truth is: my vote doesn’t count in this exchange.
• It is fair to point out the Bible requires “corroboration of testimony” before any public accusation against leaders without such evidence. That protection has been historically enshrined in our civil laws – but the idea clearly emanates from the Bible itself (cp. 1 Timothy 5:19).
• With the very same voice, I want to say without qualification the Bible supports real tenderness for those who have been victims, and every attempt should be made to be sure we care for the hurting as best we can (cp. 1 Thessalonians 5:14).
In the end, I simply argue that one cannot find the truth in a process that is not specifically designed to get to it, and one will not find the truth when power players are at work to bend the information in different ways for pre-determined causes. In short, we’ve been set up to fail here.
We won’t know for sure (this side of eternity) what happened long ago between these people (if anything) by the methods used in this process. I would suggest that by looking deeply into the hurting eyes of a victim as they pour out their fragmented memories on TV you will learn little of certainty. Conversely, we will not ascertain facts solely by judging the full-throated defense of a professional judge who is a trained lawyer, since he argues for a living.
What seems very much at the heart of the main issues of our day is how we can find the truth… and why truth really matters!
That is what we need to talk about. Where and how do we find truth?
If these proceedings have shown us anything, they clarified a weakness in teaching people to distinguish between deeply held “gut-level opinion” and carefully “cross-checked” evidence.
Some honestly believe they can tell if someone is telling the truth by their demeanor as showed on a flat screen TV; but I think that is at best naïve.
• I want to examine evidence. I want to know truth based on verified evidence – just like everyone else.
• I want every victim of crime to be consoled that one day, even if not in this life, every abuser will stand before God, and the Lord will not decide based on their demeanor. “He Who is the Truth” will speak definitively in judgment.
• At the same time, I want every person who has faced false and stinging words employed to harm their reputation to remember, God said not to bear false witness, and those who speak lies will also stand before the Judge of truth.
What a great setting to introduce a subject we will be following for the next few months. The title of our series exposes the simplest part of the idea: “What Jesus did,” but it doesn’t offer the richness of the texture to what we are going to deep dive into. We are going to look at the evidence of what Jesus DID to offer testimony and substance to what He claimed about Himself. We are going to go back into things that happened in the past and gather the testimony of verified deeds.
We are going to follow the evidence that has been combed over for centuries, and listen to the words of those who saw Jesus in action, and judged His character and personal claims by His deeds.
As with every search in our modern times, we should also anticipate there will be much distraction. An anonymous Amazon book reviewer offered this on a book about Jesus. He wrote:
Each year as we approach Christmas and Easter, we are inevitably greeted at magazine racks by news journals trumpeting the “latest scholarship” on the “historical Jesus.” The fact that very little of what appears ever has lasting scholarly value seems of little concern to the journals in question. The attraction of the sensational and the scandalous governs media coverage in our age and any “scholar” who claims things about Jesus Christ that ordinary Christians would find disturbing is enticing to a cynical media looking for a “story” – even if the views promoted lack any credibility with the vast majority of experts in the field…
That reviewer nailed the sentiment that we have a hard time getting to the truth in an age where people value their presuppositions and conclude as much based on flimsy opinions as they do by carefully entertaining the eyewitness testimony.
Long ago, the work of a pastor at Ephesus (today in western Turkey) named “John the evangelist” offered a series of testimonials about Jesus’ activities in the first century. His account gave selected events with a specific stated purpose that he included near the end of the work. John recorded that purpose and wrote:
John 20:30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Listen to his words carefully. He selected events to help us truly see, believe and have life.
John was interested in his readers. He wanted them to know what Jesus said (so he included seven “I Am” sayings of Jesus in the work) and he wanted them to grapple with what Jesus DID (so he included seven miracles of Jesus) as well.
Recently we listened to a series of teachings on what Jesus said. Now we examine the accounts of what He did. These are seven miracles including:
• Changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11).
• Healing a child long distance between Cana and Capernaum (John 4:46-54).
• Restoring the legs of a lame man at the Pools of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-11).
• Multiplying the resources of the loaves and fish for a hungry Galilee crowd (John 6:6-13).
• Shutting down a storm on the Sea of Galilee that brought fear to His disciples (John 6:16-21).
• Giving sight to a man born blind at the Siloam Pool in Jerusalem (John 9:1-7).
• Raising up the dead body of His friend Lazarus at Bethany in Judea (John 11:1-45).
Each of these seven events were recalled to offer clear evidence that Jesus is Messiah, God’s Eternal Son and sole door to God. Don’t forget what is at stake! John also wrote:
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
If that record is accurate and Jesus was speaking the truth, we are forced to conclude that knowing Him provides the one and only door to our Father in Heaven. In that case, Jesus isn’t one of many paths, He is THE WAY. John wanted us to know that truth by knowing accounts of His works.
Let’s start our investigation early in the account…
Here is what I think you will see:
Key Principle: Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.
Look with me at the first of these seven stories found in John 2:1-11. See if you can pick out what the account tells you about Jesus that will change you.
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 water pots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots 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.
Put on your detective hat and let’s look at this account from a wedding at Cana to see what we learn about Jesus and how He can give us life.
Don’t skip the details, because the Word of God didn’t:
The opening two verses provide both the cast of characters at the event, as well as the specific setting of it.
First, the text opened with a timing note: “on the third day.” There is an old Jewish wife’s tale that Tuesday was the best day to get married. Many in Jewish circles still echo that. It wasn’t actually part of the Bible or of the Talmud, but some held the “ideal day to get married is Yom Shelishi (Tuesday, or the “third day”) because in the Creation story, the phrase “ki tov” (for it is good) is used twice on that day. Halachot (Jewish laws) and common customs existed regarding getting married on particular days, months, seasons and even parts of the month, but there was no specific law regarding marriage on any day other than Shabbat (the Sabbath). At the same time, this account is often quoted in an historical way to show the old custom. Here is the bottom line: It was likely a Tuesday the events unfolded. The idea that this follows “days” from chapter one doesn’t seem to really fit the time.
Second, the text offered a place: Cana of Galilee. This was no small town (like Nazareth) but it was a town along the rim of the Beth Netofa valley system in lower Galilee, in a low lying place where reeds were (at one time) probably harvested for the making of roofing materials. (The term Cana is “reed”.)
Third, the text offered a list of people: the mother of Jesus (2:1), Jesus and His disciples (2:2; we presume the five He got from John the Baptizer in the previous chapter which were: John, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, and Simon Peter). Included in the account were also servants of the master of the house (2:5), a headwaiter and a bridegroom (2:9). I take it the list of people to corroborate the events, then, was at least ten people, perhaps more. It was a public party, and the disciples clearly learned of all the background events according to their response in verse eleven.
The story recounts more than an embarrassing moment – it records a disaster.
Obviously, Mary was (in some way) linked to what could seem to us as an embarrassing faux pas, but it was much more than just a slight to the guests in that time and place. This problem had deep and powerfully enduring consequences. Middle Eastern society, both then and now, is steeped in a culture that expects certain social obligations to be met in the community. One of them is the notion of “reciprocal hospitality.”
Let’s say last year because you celebrated a feast at my child’s wedding where we fed you lavishly and had all the wine you cared to drink, you are expected to do the same for me when I attend your son’s marriage feast. Failure to respond in kind comes with severe social consequences. The marriage will be labeled a disgrace, and there could well be a lasting social stigma on the couple and even the children of that union. In some circumstances, such a breach of hospitality could have brought a lawsuit for damages by the family of the bride, since this part was in the hands of the groom’s family. The hired steward of such a disaster would probably never work another celebration in that community again.
This was no small incident, and when the wine ran out early, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3).
Don’t miss that Near Eastern culture is also quite a superstitious culture in many ways. Even though God gave His Word to the Jewish people, if you know their history and writings, there is no shortage of reference to what amounts to “omens” and “signs” that move them. Paul referred to that tendency when he wrote:
1 Corinthians 1:22-24: For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Bear in mind that marriage feasts were intended to be the most joyous of community occasions for a village. In the Hebrew world, wine personified joy, plain and simple. In the poetic language of the Hebrew Scriptures, wine is most often a symbol of God-given joy:
Psalm 104:15 And wine which makes man’s heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man’s heart.
Judges 9:13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’
Isaiah 55:1 Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
The point is that wine represented JOY and the lack of it stood to condemn this couple and their new home. You don’t want to be the couple that started marriage with the omen of joy that ran out. It doesn’t bode well for you or your children. If the local crops fail next season, plan on getting blamed.
Now look again…
The phrasing isn’t completely clear, but I want you to consider a reasonable way to look at the detail of the text. There is an indication in verse one and two that Mary was already at the feast, at the time when Jesus and His disciples arrived on the third day. Since wedding feasts were often seven day events, John may have recalled that Jesus and the disciples (who were in fact invited) didn’t get there until the end of the week long feast. The point is, the wine seemed to be a sufficient amount until additional people showed up. The steward made a judgment call and didn’t get additional resources during the week, because he thought they had enough to get through the end of the feast. With more people, the lack of supply quickly became apparent.
Part of the text recalled a personal interaction between Mary and Jesus.
John 2:4 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.”
Obviously, the discussion was truncated. We don’t know all they said to one another. If the words recorded were the whole conversation, it was just plain weird. We assume John cut off the unnecessary parts of the interaction, but it is interesting he included Jesus’ objection. He did it, I believe, to show that Jesus was being pressed to do things to confirm what Mary was told about Him at the time of His conception by the angel Gabriel,
and at the times when God intervened on Jesus’ behalf as a child. Mary seemed sure that Jesus could fix the problem because Mary believed Jesus was the Promised One.
Jesus, on the other hand, wanted to make sure that He was not going to be “outed” by the agenda of anyone beside His Father. This was part of His objection when Satan wanted Him to jump off the southwest pinnacle of the temple in the temptation (Mt. 4).
In any case, out of respect for His mother and her faith in Him, He apparently agreed to deal with the crisis. Mary left the scene with two great statements:
• First, she gave the servants the best words offered in the New Testament: “Whatever Jesus tells you to do, do it.”
• Second, she left apparently totally trusting Jesus, and didn’t return to add additional input. She trusted Him, and she rested in His ability. That is a wonderful reminder to all of us who have wrangled with Jesus after we have prayed.
The Heart of the Miraculous Account: Water was changed into wine.
Verse six shared the scope of the miracle by offering us the vat size and number of containers. There were six stone pots, each containing between twenty and thirty gallons. One hundred twenty to one hundred eighty gallons of wine seemed like a lot of libation to get through to the end of the feast – but that wasn’t the KEY DETAIL that changes your thinking. Obviously, Jesus provided enough for all that they needed to celebrate, and what they needed to start their own label for the next year!
Yet, don’t neglect to look at WHAT KIND OF POTS they were.
If you believe the detail of the ritual purification pots was just incidental, it is because you aren’t looking at the story the way a Jewish person would. Ritual purification was, and is, at the heart of observant Jewish life. The
elaborate rules regarding ritual purity and impurity are deeply embedded in the Hebrew law.
The noun “ṭumah” (defiled or unclean) is used some forty times in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible to denote ineligibility for different services. The adjective tamei (טָמֵא) (impure) is all through the text of the Hebrew Bible.
These were people that wanted to please God by collecting the rain water in the required stone vessels, so that every impurity of life could be symbolically washed away. Do they seem like the kind of people who CARE about symbolic things? Of course, they do.
Consider the volume of the pronouncement of what Jesus did when He took THAT WATER and transformed it to wine. The account ended with a commentary:
John 2:11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
We see in the story that Jesus wasn’t so “other worldly” that He wouldn’t celebrate a wedding with two people starting a new family. He knew family was important, since He established the family to begin with. Yet, remember our key truth…
Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.
• Jesus didn’t offer them INFORMATION on where to get more wine.
• Jesus didn’t give them an EDUCATION on why they should plan better in the future.
• Jesus didn’t pull the crowd in and offer EXPLANATION of why the steward could not have known His boys would arrive late.
Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.
He understood the longing of that family to have their impurity washed away – so God brought them Jesus. What He brings is more than they could understand, ask, think or expect.
• If you are reading today for scintillating information (something new you hadn’t heard before) – you are willing to settle far too low for what Jesus can bring you.
• If you would be satisfied with more education about the Word today, you are far too easily pleased.
Jesus wants to take your longings and completely, utterly, entirely and unreservedly transform them by His touch. He can make plain His GLORY and offer you something from Heaven.
He transformed their longing into something far beyond what they could have expected.
He made the ordinary into the extraordinary when it was set aside for His exclusive use. The water put exclusively under the control of Jesus was transformed into something greater than it could be without His Word.
Don’t miss that. Don’t overlook that many people will file into a church today looking for Jesus to fix the plumbing leaks of their life. They had a break-up with one they love. The bills rolled in like a tsunami and they are under water. Their health is failing them. An injustice against them hasn’t been settled and unfairness seems to be winning. They will pull together their list, their tears, their pain – and they will file into a church and wait for God to fix their problem. Yet, what God wants to give them is so much more. He wants them to encounter the powerful transformation of Jesus’ Word.
He doesn’t want to wash them with their saved up water in their old stone pot – He wants to transform their water and satisfy their thirst with something they have never tasted before!
He wants to fill them with something made in Heaven – not a religious ritual cut from a stony hillside and carefully calibrated by men.
Jesus is the timeless transformer. He is so passionate to show you Who He is, He actually came in the flesh bringing transforming power to you.
As I close, I want to echo the words offered by Billy Graham a few years ago, before he entered the presence of the Savior on February 21, 2018:
• There is no doubt that our generation suffers from moral uncertainty. We have a great deal of levity, but little real joy. There is searching on the part of young people for fun, but little real happiness. There is a great deal of canned laughter on television, but it is empty and hollow.
• We are zealous for freedom, but we are weak in our worship of God. We boast over military strength, but our television screens show that it is brutal in application.
• We have everything, but possess nothing. We seek knowledge, but lack understanding. There is plenty of struggle upward, but we continue to sink lower.
• As John Steinbeck said, “Our civilization needs the panic of a great crisis to shock it out of its Pharisaism.”
It is time for you to take your stone pot, set aside for washing to find a sense of cleanness – and let the Word of the Savior transform it.
If you don’t know Him as Savior, today is the day you can ask Jesus to take your life from you and commission you to follow Him. If you DO know Him as Savior, you have tasted of the sweetness of His ability to transform your life. What pot hasn’t been given Him? That one is still just plain water…