During this Lenten season we are looking at Jesus in the gospel of John. Last week we heard that John is different from Matthew, Mark and Luke and one of the ways John is different is that many times John writes on two levels. John tells us what happens in the life of Jesus but then the details and symbols John uses helps us understand more fully who Jesus is and how Jesus affects our lives. The best example we see of this is found in the miracle stories John records in the first half of his gospel.
In John 2-12 we find seven miracle stories and while there were more miracles Jesus performed, for John these seven were enough. This is where we see the symbolism of John at work. In the Bible, seven is a number that represents completeness – think the seven days of creation. In seven days God did all He needed to do and even rested and nothing more was needed. Seven miracles were all John needed to provide because it would be these seven that would tell us all we need to know about Jesus. These miracles not only point to Jesus’ identity, John calls them signs, but they speak to our lives as well. Today we are going to look at two miracles that show us that Jesus came to bring light and life to the world and to our lives.
The first miracle we are going to look at is the first miracle Jesus performed. John 2:1-11. So this story can be read on two levels. We first read about what happens. Jesus, his family and his disciples were invited to a wedding. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother asked him to help and so Jesus turns water into wine. On the surface, changing water into wine tells us that Jesus has divine power or power over natural elements and the natural world, but if we dig a little deeper and look at the details John provides, we actually find a lot more is going on here and we see that this miracle has something important to say to our lives today.
First of all, we are told that the miracle takes place at a wedding. Jesus doesn’t turn water to wine at a family dinner or a picnic with friends; he does it at a wedding. Weddings were large events that went on for days and included the entire community. Weddings feasts were filled with good food and fine wine and there needed to be enough for everyone to enjoy for days. For the host to run out of either food or wine during the celebration would have been a huge disgrace because weddings were the event of the community. More importantly, weddings were symbolic of life in the kingdom of God. Heaven has been compared to a wedding feast and the prophet Isaiah said that when the Messiah came there would be a huge feast with choice foods and the best wine. Isaiah 25:6-7.
This is a picture of the coming of God’s Messiah and the life that he would bring, so when Jesus turns water to wine at a wedding he is not just showing his power over the natural order but he is making a statement that he has come as the Messiah to bring to God’s people the fullness of life. This life Jesus offers can turn our disgrace into blessing and death into life. Isaiah 25:7-8.
John also gives us details about how Jesus got involved in this situation in the first place. It was Jesus’ mother Mary who asked him to help out and what she said to the servants was, do whatever he tells you. Mary wasn’t thinking Jesus would turn water to wine; he had never done that before, she probably thought Jesus would tell them to go buy more wine in the village. But when the servants did what Jesus told them to do – what happened? A miracle took place and wine was provided. When the servants do what Jesus told them to do, the wedding feast continued and life was given.
What John is telling us in this miracle is that when we do what Jesus tells us to do – we will find life. When we do what Jesus tells us to do all our problems may not go away, our suffering may not stop and our struggles will not disappear, but when we do what Jesus tells us to do we will find life – the fullness of God’s live. When we do what Jesus tells us to do we will experience the fruit of God’s spirit, the wine of new life, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and these are the things that can help us through the storms of life. God doesn’t take all our problems away but he does give us what we need to find peace and joy and strength in the midst of them.
Another detail John provides is that the jars that held the water were stone jars that were used for ceremonial washing. This was the water the people would have used for hand washing during the wedding celebration to keep them clean and able to remain at the party. That John tells us that the jars were stone and that they contained water for ceremonial washing has to mean something. John could have just mentioned that they were six jars of water, but he doesn’t and so these details are important for us to consider.
Let’s start with the fact that they were stone jars. Out of stone jars comes the best wine. Out of stone jars comes the fullness of life and in Ezekiel 36:26 God says, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you a heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. That wine comes from stone jars isn’t just a miracle of nature it is a statement that Jesus is providing us a new heart and a giving God’s people a new spirit. Through Jesus, a new heart and life were coming and it wasn’t going to come through religious rituals but the power and grace of God.
The water in those stone jars was used for ritual purification and those rituals had to be done over and over again to make people clean and acceptable to God. The ritual wasn’t lasting or effective so something greater was needed. That it is this water that Jesus turned into wine tells us that the time of religious ritual and ceremonial cleansing was on the way out and something new was coming. Being acceptable to God and finding life with God wasn’t going to come through ritual and ceremony it was going to come through Jesus.
There are two more details we need to notice. The first is that the water jars were filled to the brim which means that when they were moved, water or wine would have spilled out and the second is that the wine Jesus provided was very, very good. These details tell us that the life God wants to provide for us is better than anything else in the world and it fills us to overflowing. God doesn’t hold back when He gives us new life. God fills us to overflowing and what God gives us is the very best there is, in fact, it is better than anything else in the world. All the things we turn to for help or support and all the things we use to fill our lives will pale in comparison to what God can give us. Compared to Jesus, everything comes up short and leaves us empty.
Think of all the things we turn to in order to experience more in life. Many people turn to wine or alcohol or drugs to help them enjoy life more. Many people today are turning to exciting and daring vacations or different relationships or different jobs but the reality is that the effects off food, alcohol and drugs wear off, vacations come to an end and jobs and people let us down. Everything in this world will fail and disappoint us, the only thing good and lasting is Jesus. He fills us to overflowing with the best wine there is.
On the surface, this miracle tells us that Jesus has divine power over the created world, but the details of this story tell us so much more. Jesus has come to offer us the fullness of life and that life isn’t found in the ritual of our religious activity it is found when we place our faith and trust in Jesus and do what he tells us to do. Life is found when we love and trust God enough to do whatever he tells us and the life God gives us when we do this is better than anything in this world and it lasts forever.
The last detail to look at is that John tells us that the stone jars held 20-30 gallons of water each which means Jesus has just provided 120 – 150 gallons of wine, that is over 450 bottles – that’s enough for everyone and the life God wants to offer is for everyone. There is no limit to God’s amazing grace and love and gift of life. The life Christ offers is for all people, Jesus brings life to all and he brings light and the next miracle shows us this – John 9:1-7.
Again, on the surface this miracle tells us that Jesus is able to restore sight to the blind, he has power over the natural world and our bodies and lives, but as you might guess, there is so much more we find here if we look at the details John provides. The first point Jesus wants to make clear in this healing is that the problems we experience in life are not always caused by our sin. While our sin does have negative consequences in our lives and can create problems and pain in our lives and in the lives of others, pain and suffering is not always due to sin.
In Jesus’ day, this was what people believed. If someone got sick or had a problem, then people believe that they sinned in some way and God was punishing them. What’s interesting is that we often still think this way. We may not look at someone who is sick and say, what sin did they commit, but when we get sick or have a problem how often have we said, what did I do to deserve this? There are still times we connect our suffering and pain to sin or we think that God has abandoned us and doesn’t care for us, but Jesus says here that our suffering and pain is not always a result of our sin or the sin of others and that, believe it or not, our suffering and pain can become an opportunity for God to work.
Let’s be clear, God doesn’t bring problems into our lives so He can solve them, and God doesn’t cause suffering so He can help us, but when problems and suffering do come they become opportunities for God to show his power and glory and grace. As a student associate pastor in seminary, there was a woman in the church I served who battled cancer. She asked if she could come to the church to be anointed and prayed for and we said, sure, but why not open this time up to everyone in the church. Her cancer gave us an opportunity to anoint and pray for many people who needed help and suddenly her sickness had a larger sense of meaning and purpose. God was using it for something good.
She was anointed and we prayed for her, along with many others, and she got better. For months her cancer didn’t grow or spread and she was able to do more with her family and friends and church. Together we celebrated her healing. I wish I could say it lasted, but it didn’t and in time our prayers for healing changed and we knew the healing God would bring would be an eternal healing. At her funeral service we celebrated how God used her cancer to be an opportunity of healing for others. Did God cause her cancer? No. Was her cancer the result of her sin or the sin of her parents or husband or children? No. Did God use her cancer as an opportunity to be glorified and be a blessing to others? Yes.
God not only brought light to this woman, he not only gave her hope and healing, but he brought light and hope and faith through her to others. God does the same thing with so many people. Bob Crook was known as the miracle man in Altoona. God healed him of cancer in some pretty miraculous ways twice and used Bob’s situation to be a blessing to others. Meagan Murphy was a miracle baby born in Geisinger and her premature birth and early struggle in life was not because of the sin of her parents but her struggle and the struggle of her family was an opportunity for God to be glorified in Meagan’s life every day. I even think of our own Patsy Benner. Patsy struggled with all kinds of health issues and her sickness wasn’t because of sin and it wasn’t caused by God but Patsy saw them as an opportunity to praise God for how He could bring her through. Patsy looked at problems and suffering as opportunities to place her faith and trust in God and even when things didn’t turn out the way any of us would want – God is still glorified.
The second important detail about this miracle is once again the importance of doing what Jesus tells us to. The man is only healed because when Jesus told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam, he did. Jesus didn’t have to heal the man this way, most of the time he didn’t, but here he brings light and sight into this man’s life by inviting him to be part of the miracle. This tells us once again that when we do what Jesus tells us to do and go where He sends us – we find light and life. Trust and obedience are both needed for us to experience the fullness of God. There is an old hymn that says, Trust and Obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
The third thing we see in this miracle is another symbol found often in John’s gospel and that is the important role of water. It was water Jesus turned to wine and here it is water used for washing that brings healing. 29 times in John’s gospel he mentions water and what John wants us to think about when he talks about water is the water of baptism. Just as the blind man sees after he washes in the pool so are we able to see when we are washed in the waters of baptism. Baptism is a sacrament where we place our faith and trust in Jesus and through the water we step into the light of Jesus and find life in him. Just as going into the pool of Siloam was the blind man’s act of faith and trust in Jesus that opens his eyes, so entering into the waters of baptism opens our eyes and brings us light and life.
But water is just the symbol that we have placed our faith and trust in God. What opens our eyes and brings us light isn’t the water but trusting in God. What opened the eyes of John Newton so that he could see that the slave trade he was working in was inherently evil and what turned him from being the captain of a slave ship to an outspoken leader in the abolition movement was when trusting in God’s grace brought him light to really see. John Newton is the one who wrote, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see and what opened his eyes and gave him light to understand was trusting in Jesus and God’s amazing grace. When we trust in Jesus we are given light to see things in a new way and light to understand God’s will and purpose in new ways and that light brings life.
So this miracle of Jesus bringing sight to blind man tells us that God can open our eyes and heal our hearts and bring us light and life if we will trust in God and his amazing grace and love for us. Jesus has come to bring light and life and we find that when we do what he says, goes where he sends us and receive the grace and love offered to us in Jesus Christ.
John – The Gospel of Light and Life
The Miracles of Jesus
1. This week read John chapters 2-5.
Use the following questions during your reading:
• What is said in this passage about Jesus?
• In this passage, how does Jesus bring life to me?
• What response do these verses require of me?
2. Read the miracle stories of Jesus found in John 2:1-11 and in John 9. Note all the details you find in these stories and what they might mean and mean for you today.
3. Where do you try to find meaning, fullness and pleasure in this world?
• Relationships / sex
• Eating / drinking
• New / thrilling experiences
Have these things filled you to overflowing? Has their power been effective and lasting?
4. What darkness are you walking in today? Can you name it? What effect does it have on your life, family, jobs, friends?
5. How can God help open your eyes so you can see His light?
6. What suffering, pain or problem have you seen God use for His purpose and glory? What problem are you facing today that God might to use for his purpose and glory?
7. How can you be a miracle of life and light in the life of someone this week?