Jesus. God, Man, Or Both?, Part 2

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

This verse gives us a beautiful hint that the Messiah would be both God and man, for it says that “for to us a child is born,” which means that this Messiah will be a man, born as a child. But it also says, “to us a son is given,” which means that this Messiah also will a son, given to us by God, God’s Son. So this prophecy 700 years before the birth of Jesus already points to Him being both God and man. But did this prophecy come true? Is Jesus really both God and man? Fully God, fully man; His whole earthly life, and now still?

My objective in this post is simple. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ humanity. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ divinity. Let’s ask some difficult questions that come into mind. And let’s consider the importance of Jesus being both.

Jesus Is Fully Man
So how human was Jesus? Well, although His conception was a miracle, Jesus was born just as all human babies are born (Luke 2:7), and the Bible says that He “grew and became strong” (Luke 2:40). The fact that Jesus “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52) implies that He went through a learning process just as all other children do – learning how to eat, talk, read, write, and how to be obedient to His parents (Heb. 5:8).

After Jesus had fasted for forty days in the wilderness, we read that “He was hungry” (Mat. 4:2). And when He hung on the cross He said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). When He came to the well in Samaria and was talking to the woman, it says that He was sitting down because He was wearied from His journey (John 4:6), and so He became tired just as we do. Something we see as well right before Jesus wakes up to calm the storm, He “was in the stern, asleep on the cushion” (Mark 4:38) and the disciples actually had to wake Him up to calm the storm. We also read that His soul was troubled (John 12:27), and that He was “troubled in His spirit” (John 13:21). He was clearly angry when He drove the money-changers out of the temple with a whip of cords (John 2:15). He marvelled at the faith of the centurion (Mat. 8:10), and wept at the death of His good friend Lazarus (John 11:35). Yet He also had compassion on the crowd (Mat. 9:36), and wanted His joy to be in us (John 15:11).

On His way to the cross to be crucified, the soldiers forced Simon the Cyrene to carry His cross (Luke 23:26), most likely because Jesus was so weak from all the beatings He had received. And ultimately we see His limitations in terms of His human body when He died on the cross (Luke 23:46) and His human body ceased to have life in it, just as ours does when we die. But then Jesus also rose from the dead in a physical human body (though one that was made perfect), and afterward when He was with His disciples He said to them, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” (Luke 24:39) and they “gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.” (Luke 24:42-43). And in that same human body Jesus also ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9), and it says that He will come back in that same body (Acts 1:11).

Matthew reports an amazing incident in the middle of Jesus’ ministry when even though He had taught throughout Galilee “healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Mat. 4:23), when He came in His own village of Nazareth the people who knew Him best, the neighbors with whom He has lived and worked for thirty years, saw Him as no more than an ordinary man, living an ordinary life, saying, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? […] Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mat. 13:54-58).

All this to say that as far as Jesus’ human body is concerned, it was like ours in every aspect both before as well as after the resurrection. His divine nature was permanently united to His human nature. Jesus will remain fully God and fully man, yet in one person, forever.

Jesus Is Fully God
So what do the gospels say about the deity of Jesus? Was Jesus really God? Some people say that Jesus never says that He is God, but that is not true. Jesus repeatedly said He is God, but often He does it in a way that we do not directly recognize without understanding some background.

Two things we need to realize. The first is that many times in the gospels Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man, which is a term from Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7, pointing to the Messiah, the eternal world ruler, coming from heaven. So when we read in Matthew 26, “And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.’” (Matthew 26:63-65; see also Mark 14:61-62), Jesus is claiming to be this eternal world ruler coming from heaven from Daniel’s vision. And we know that the high priest knows this as well, because he calls it blasphemy. What is blasphemy according to the Jews? Making yourself equal to God. So, Jesus said He was God.

And this is exactly why the Jews wanted Jesus dead. We read in John 10, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’” (John 10:31-33). Jesus continually made Himself equal to God.

Secondly, Jesus frequently called Himself the Son of God (see for instance Matthew 27:43); saying that God was His father. Now we may see that being God and being the Son of God are two different things, they are not the same. But the Jews say otherwise. We read, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:18). And Jesus acknowledged this equality with God by saying things like “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11).

One of the biggest statements of Jesus claiming to be God can be found in John 8 where He is talking to the Jews about Abraham, and the Jews say “‘Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” […] You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him” (John 8:53, 57-58). Why did they pick up stones to kill Jesus? When Jesus said, “before Abraham was, I AM” He was claiming to be the voice from the burning bush; the I AM WHO I AM. The I AM who sent Moses to liberate Israel. Jesus was claiming to be God.

We also have His disciples say that He is God. When He asked them, “‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’” (Mark 8:29). And also when Jesus presents Himself to Thomas after the resurrection, Jesus said, “‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:27-28)

OK, this is all Jesus or others saying that He was God, but are there any examples of actions in Jesus’ lifetime that point to Him being God? Well, Jesus demonstrated His omnipotence (being all powerful) when He multiplied the loaves and the fish (Matthew 14:19), or when He stilled the storm at sea with a word (Matthew 8:26-27). Jesus demonstrated His omniscience (being all knowing) in knowing people’s thoughts (Mark 2:8) and it says that Jesus “needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:25). And also the disciples said things like, “Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” (John 16:30) and “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17). On top of that Jesus claimed the power to lay down His life and take it up again (John 10:17-18), which He both did.

All of this to say that Scripture tells us in words and actions that Jesus was fully God. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “for in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3)

Questions, Questions, Questions!
Now, I don’t know about you, but this raises all sorts of questions for me. And none of them are easy to answer. Questions like, how can Jesus be fully God and fully man at the same time, always? How could Jesus be all powerful and yet weak? How could He leave the world and be present everywhere? How could He learn things and yet be all knowing? And if He was always both at the same time, was Jesus able to sin? If He was able to sin, then how can He be God (because God can’t sin)? If He wasn’t able to sin, then was He even tempted to sin? And how can He truly identify and sympathize with us if He was or wasn’t able to sin? Why was it even necessary for Him to be fully man and fully God? And why is it important to understand and embrace this? Does this really matter in daily life? Like I said, none of these questions are easy to answer, but I do want to share some thoughts.

The Bible clearly says that while He was fully human, He was different in one important respect: He was without sin, and He never committed sin during His lifetime. To the Jews who opposed Him, Jesus asked, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46), and received no answer. In spite of all the accusations, Pilate could “find no crime in Him” (John 18:38). Jesus Himself said regarding His father, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29). Paul said that “for our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Peter said, “He committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22).

OK, He was truly man yet without sin. But was it even possible for Jesus to have sinned? The Bible tells us that Jesus was fully man who did not sin, that Jesus is fully God, that Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:2; Hebrews 4:15), and that God cannot be tempted (James 1:13) nor sin. Do you see the difficulty with these truths? If we believe these individual statements, and that these all come together in the person of Jesus, then there must be a way in which Jesus’ human nature and divine nature work together in a way that He can be distinctly fully man and distinctly fully God, and was tempted in one (human) sense and in another (divine) sense not be tempted. Yet Scripture doesn’t explain it, so I guess this is where faith comes in.

On the other hand, we can make a suggestion. We could say that if Jesus’ human nature had existed by itself apart from His divine nature, then there would have been the possibility for Him to have sinned, since it was a similar human nature that God gave Adam and Eve, and they sinned. But Jesus’ human nature never existed apart from His divine nature. Both His human and divine nature existed united in one person. We could also say that any act of sin involves the person, and that therefore if He had sinned, it would have involved both His human and divine natures. But this would imply that God Himself would have sinned, and it’s not possible for God to sin. Therefore, a conclusion could be that it was not possible for Jesus to sin, because the union of both natures in one person would have prevented that.

This then raises the question if Jesus’ temptations could have been real. And the answer is yes, because Jesus refused to rely on His divine nature to make obedience easier for Him, but met every temptation to sin on the strength of His human nature alone. And we see this play out in the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. For instance, Jesus had the ability, because of His divine nature, to change the stones into bread, but if He had done this He would no longer have been obeying in the strength of His human nature alone. And so He resisted the temptation to the full although He was very hunger. The temptations were real, even though He did not give in to them. In fact, they were most real because He did not give in to them. Jesus was “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Why Is This All So Important?
This brings me to the question of why is it so important to understand and embrace the fact that Jesus was, and is, fully man and fully God? And what does this mean for every day life?

If Jesus isn’t fully man, we lose everything. Jesus has to be fully man so He could perfectly obey God’s law in our place where Adam and all of us failed (Rom. 5:19). Jesus has to be fully man so He could die and pay the penalty for our sins in our place. He died the death we should have died and paid the prize we should have paid (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:16-17). Jesus has to be fully man so He could live an exemplary life for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21). And Jesus has to be fully man so He could rise from the dead to give us hope beyond this life. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, “… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. […] If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead […] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 5:16-21)

Likewise, if Jesus isn’t fully God, we lose everything. Jesus has to be fully God, because only an infinite God could bear the penalty of all the sins. Jesus has to be fully God, because “salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9), and the whole message of the Bible is designed to show that no human being could ever save man or himself, only God Himself could. And Jesus has to be fully God, because only someone truly and fully God could both bring us back to God (1 Timothy 2:5) and also reveal God most fully to us (John 17:1-5)

He had to be both! “… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. […] And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14, 16)

This isn’t just good news, this is the best news ever! I don’t need a God who just sits on His throne in heaven and silently and unpredictably looks down on me with contempt, thinking ‘How can you be this way?’, but giving me no possibilities or opportunities to meet His standards.

I don’t need a God like this. I need Jesus to be exactly how He is. I need a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). A God who came down from heaven to earth to dwell among us to give us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6). A God who came down to save all of us who are so desperately lost, and call us to repent and turn to Him. A God who came down to serve us by laying down His life for us in order to save us and bring us God. But in my depth of sin and the face of constant trial and temptation, I also need a God who can understand and relate because He not only faced it all, but has done it in a way which gives all glory to God. And in all those circumstances I need a God who doesn’t just have pity on me, but who is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25)

And we have a God like this, and His name is Jesus. By His perfect and sinless life, His sacrificial death and His resurrection, God provided us a way to be reconciled to Him, if by faith we believe that Jesus is the Son of God. And right now there is a human in the throne room of heaven, who, because He is fully human, is able to sympathize with all of our weaknesses and struggles because He was tempted in every respect as we are (Hebrews 4:15), and because He is fully God, is able to intercede for us to God the Father to ensure our salvation.

This is a God worthy of all worship and glory, so let us rejoice with great joy in what God has done for us through Jesus, who came, and because of what He has done we can now come to Him, and proclaim “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9)

Jesus. God, Man, Or Both?, Part 1

In response to a currently ongoing discussion about whether God emptied Himself in order to become human, here are some thoughts based on two sermons I preached about two years ago. One on Philippians 2:1-11 called “Rejoice! And Be Made Nothing” and one on Isaiah 9:6 called “Was Jesus Really Both God and Man.”

In this first post I want to take a look at Philippians 2:1-11 and the humility of Jesus, and in a subsequent post I will be digging into the humanity and deity of Jesus.

Unity: The Identity of a Christian
Let me start off by asking a couple of questions to probe your heart.

Do you feel any comfort of being in Christ?
When He saved you, He drew you near to Him, and made you a new creation and you were united to Him as a member of His body. How does this truth affect you when you are in need of His comfort because of any sort of suffering you are going through? How does being in His presence, being His child, being part of His family with many brothers and sisters encourage (in the sense of comfort) you in times of need? Do you feel any consolation from being in Christ? Paul says elsewhere, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Cor. 1:15). And the psalmist says, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Ps. 94:19). There is great encouragement, comfort and consolation to be found in Christ, but do you feel it? Do His consolations cheer your soul?

Do you feel God’s love for you?
God loves you. Consider that for a moment. The creator of the universe, the holy and perfect God loves you. In fact, He cannot stop loving you. He loves you so much that while you were His enemy, while you were separated from Him because of your sin, He sent His own son to die for your sins so that you could have a relationship with Him again. God loves you, always, in every circumstance, and whatever you are going through. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).

Do you feel the reality of the Holy Spirit in you?
When you received Christ as your Savior, you also received the Holy Spirit. You were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Your spirit got renewed (regenerated) by being united with the Holy Spirit. You can now have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and experience His joy and His comfort, and His counsel, and His truth in your life. In fact, Paul says in Romans 5:5 that it’s God’s love that has been poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit. How real in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in you? How much do you call upon Him in the everyday things of life?

Do you feel a deep love for your brothers and sisters?
When you see one of your brothers or sisters going through some hardship, some sorrow, some weakness, some testing, how spontaneous does your heart go out and desires to help him or her? Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. Do you feel a deep capacity to love your brothers and sisters?

Now, you may wonder why I am asking you these questions. Well, here’s the thing. At the end of chapter one, Paul exhorts us to let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel by standing firm in one spirit and with one mind striving side by side for the gospel – in other words, being in unity together as we deal with all sorts of external conflicts – Paul now continues by saying: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Phil. 2:1-2)

So let me ask you this question: were you able to answer the four questions I asked you with a resounding ‘yes’? In other words, does being in Christ, and being in God’s love, and being in His Spirit, move you to be manifest His love to one another? Because this is what Paul is saying. That if we are united in Christ, and are united in His love, and united in His Spirit, and united by our love for one another, then let us be living in unity with one another, be knit together in mutual affection for one another.

This is our identity as Christians. You could say these are four gifts to a Christian – encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, affection and sympathy. They are real. Communicated to us both in a direct, spiritual way from Jesus, as well as from Jesus through each other to each other. These four gifts are to lead to a deep, abiding, internal unity amongst each others, united in heart, soul, and spirit, setting our mind on the same thing. And it continues what Paul started talked about in the previous chapter: to live a manner of life worthy of the gospel, side by side striving for the faith of the gospel. But in order to do this, Paul encourages the Philippians to get their act together.

Unity is our identity.

Humility: The Activity of a Christian
So how do we attain this unity amongst each other? Paul continues: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)

Now this statement is absolutely countercultural. Our world exists, thrives, for selp-help, self-esteem, self-love, self-actualization. Not for humility. In the world, humility is not a virtue. It is not found. It is not what people desire or look for, at all. And so we must rebel against our sin nature, against our culture, against western civilization, that life is about your destiny and your rights and your vision and your calling and your giftedness and your glory. We must rebel against all of that, because it’s not true. It’s simply not true. Paul here gives us safeguards about love. He gives us the activity which both flows out of our identity as well as allows us to move toward it. Love through unity is both our starting point as well as our goal. He says first: “do nothing from rivalry or conceit.” Do nothing through strife/self-ambition, or vain/empty glory. Nothing! Because pride works itself out in these ways. So flee it with all that is in you.

Strife, rivalry or self-ambition is at the heart of our human fallenness, and it has to do with a desire to put yourself forward, to promote your own interest, your own ambitions, and your own goals at the expense of others. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul lists it as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). And James in his letter says this: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:13-16)

Second, Paul says: “but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Now, what is humility? Humility is not to be confused with false modesty; it does not mean that you should falsely consider others better than yourself. But it has to do with a proper estimation of yourself, being well aware of both your weaknesses and of your glory (we are made in His image after all), but making neither too much or too little of either. Elsewhere Paul says, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Rom. 12:3). True humility is therefore not self-focused at all, but looks to the concerns of others. We are to consider other not in our estimation of them, but in our caring for them, putting them and their needs ahead of our own. So, it is not so much that others in the community are to be thought of as better than you, but as those whose needs and concerns surpass your own.

Here is what I believe Paul says, and which I think is very important to understand so that we can apply it: pursuing humility by God’s grace starts with personal obedience of each one of us individually, but can only be worked out in the context of community; meaning that we need each other in our pursuit of humility. If humility means putting the needs of others ahead of our own, we need others’ needs to be able to do this, right? And I believe that if each one of us individually decides to pursue humility by the grace of God, that this will lead to the unity that Paul is talking about. Nothing builds a church stronger and healthier than humility. Nothing breaks and destroys a church faster and certainly than pride.

Where unity is our identity, it is humility which is the activity that fuels that identity.

The Example We Have In Christ
So, are you pursuing humility or not? The only way to pursue humility is that you and I would not work out of rivalry and conceit, thinking that we’re smarter than everyone else and better than everyone else, but by God’s grace in humility look at Jesus. Paul knows this. And so Paul lifts up Jesus as an example of not only the most humble that ever lived, but the only humble person that every lived or will ever live, by saying, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)

Paul starts in such a comforting hopeful way. He says, “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” implying that it is possible this mindset. Paul doesn’t give us an example which is impossible to follow or attain. No, he exhorts us to pursue this mind of Christ with everything in us. It is all too easy for us to read this description of Jesus and admire it from a distance. God wants us to be awed by it to be sure, but also to see it as something that we must enter into and imitate. Obtaining this mindset, this attitude, is something we have a choice about. It is something we must choose to walk in. And I believe here as well, Paul is giving us a picture of identity followed by activity. The picture starts with the identity of Jesus, and Paul says that in eternity past Jesus was God. Jesus’ identity is that He is God. Certainly as God, Jesus did not need anything. He had all the glory and praise of heaven. Together with the Father and the Spirit He reigned over the universe. But then Paul says that Jesus did not consider His equality with God as something selfishly to be held on to. Jesus did not think of Himself; He thought of others. His attitude was that of unselfish concern for others. And so He made Himself nothing(!), taking the form, taking the identity of a servant. This is an incredible statement. I won’t bore you with the Greek grammar behind this, but what it implies that the true identity of God, His true inward nature, is that of a servant. Let that sink in for a minute. If you would have to answer the question: “Who is God? What is His true identity?” then the correct answer is: “God is a servant. That is His true identity”. We also mustn’t think that in making Himself nothing that God emptied Himself of His divine attributes to take on the form of a servant (more about this in the next post). No, His true identity, his true nature, is that of a servant, and He added humanity to His nature. This to me is absolutely mind-blowing.

When we read on, Paul tells us the activity that flows out of this identity: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Wow! Jesus humbled Himself when He became obedient. This was something that Jesus could only experience by coming down from the throne of heaven and becoming a man. When God sits enthroned in heaven’s glory, there is no one He obeys. Jesus had to leave heaven’s glory and be found in appearance as a man in order to become obedient. One key to Jesus’ obedience on earth was the endurance of suffering, as it says in Hebrews, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8). This again was something He could only learn by experience by becoming a man. Here is what Paul is saying. Jesus is the most humble person and His death on the cross is the most humble event and act in the history of the world. Jesus willingly humbled Himself. Why? That He might lift us up! What?! Yes. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 8:5). God left being worshiped by angels continually to be disrespected by stiff-necked, stubborn, unrepentant, self-righteous, proud people, like you and me. And how did we respond to Jesus, who is God? We murdered Him. That is how proud we are. Not only that, Jesus, allowed us to murder Him. That’s how humble He is. And in dying, He is so humble that He died for me that I might have salvation and love and reconciliation with God who made me. My pride is laid on Jesus, and His humility is laid on me. This is absolutely astonishing!

How is all this for our example? Here’s why. We cannot be like Jesus in that we can die for the sins of world. That was His specific mission. But we can follow Jesus’ example in our pursuit of humility. Here are two thoughts:

  1. Humility means to be a servant: We have the tendency to be confused. Whereas God doesn’t think He is us, we too often think that we are like god. But if this were true; if we truly want to be like god, we would have to also portray the true identity of God, meaning: taking the form of a servant. Because God is a servant, and Jesus came to serve.
  2. Servanthood comes with sacrifice: Many people are willing to serve others if it doesn’t cost them anything; and if there is a price to pay, they suddenly lose interest. But that’s not serving. Serving comes with a sacrifice. Jesus did not only come to serve, but to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). This means that service and sacrifice go hand in hand.

Jesus’ Exaltation
Jesus revealed that the principle by which God operates is that in order to be exalted, you have to humble yourself and become a servant. It makes sense thus that Paul concludes by saying: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

When we seek to take honor to ourselves, we will always be humbled – if not on earth, then for all of eternity. The promise of exaltation for the humble and humiliation for the proud is one ultimately fulfilled in eternity. Peter said this in his letter, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5-6). The whole purpose of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation is the glory of God. As Jesus faced the cross, the glory of God was uppermost in His mind: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). The joy of pursuing humility comes not primarily from helping others, but from the knowledge that we are glorifying God. We may not see the glory today, but we shall see it when Jesus comes and rewards His faithful servants.

Let us imitate Jesus and make ourselves nothing, becoming a humble servant, willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others. Let us not think about glory other than the glory we want to give to God. Let us not think about our own glory. Jesus didn’t when He came down to rescue us. And if, if, we receive glory, let it be received through the giving of God, which is true glory, everlasting glory.

A Sign of His Commission

To fully appreciate what John is trying to portray in John 21:1-14, we need to have a good picture of where we are in story John is telling us. Just like they had done in previous years, Jesus and the disciples were in Jerusalem for the celebration of the yearly Passover feast. I am sure, as they had also done in previous years they celebrated the Passover feast together. But this time was different. The first signs that their lives would soon radically going to be changed forever were showing. Something was up. The Passover meal turning out different than the disciples expected. It started with Jesus telling them that one of the disciples, Judas, was going to betray Jesus. That must have been quite a shock! They lived life together for the last three years, spending each day together. It must have been unthinkable for them to consider that one was about to betray Jesus. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, after Judas left when Jesus pointed him out, Jesus tells Peter, the leader, the spokesman, the brave one, that before the night is over he will deny Jesus three times. Again, unthinkable! I am sure this must caused them feeling unsettled and confused, anxious for what was going on and about to happen. But then He tells them, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1). OK, things settle down…

But then Jesus launches off into a huge monologue, telling them about a Helper who will come and dwell with them, and that He needs to go away otherwise this Helper cannot come. Then He tells them about bearing fruit by abiding in Him, and that the world will hate them. Again He tells them about this Helper who will come and lead them into all truth. In all of this, Jesus is really saying things the disciples do not understand, like “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16), and that they all will scatter and leave Him alone. And He closes off with a huge enigmatic prayer to the Father. If they weren’t unsettled or confused before I bet they were now. What was Jesus all saying? Were these things really going to happen? But there was no more time to think about this or ask some clarifying questions to Jesus, because all that Jesus had foretold them was about to come true. Judas came to betray Jesus and soldiers came to arrest Him. And during the trial that happened that same night, the disciples scattered, and indeed Peter denies Jesus three times while He warms himself up by a fire near the place where they question Jesus. And to top it off, Jesus gets crucified. He dies, and gets buried. Where they were confused and unsettled and anxious, now deep sadness set in. They lost their best friend, their teacher. How could He save them when He was dead?

But the story doesn’t end there, right? Three days later, Jesus rose from dead. John and Peter see the empty grave, but where is Jesus? Well, first He showed Himself to Mary Magdalene, who told the rest of the disciples that she saw Jesus. What! He has truly risen from dead? Is it really true? Sadness makes place for hope. Then on that same evening, Jesus appears a second time, now to all the disciples. Oh the joy that must have been! And He says to them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) He is giving them a mission, and then He disappeared again.

Responding to the Heat
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side
of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
” (John 21:1-8)

So we have seven of the disciples getting together one evening, and they go fishing. Now we don’t know why. It doesn’t say in the text. Yet when looking at the other gospels, we could draw some conclusions. Both Mark and Luke end with the Great Commission and the immediate taking up in heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-51), so it seems that the Great Commission really came at the end of their time together, meaning that the story here in John 21 happened before they received the Great Commission. So was this a return to the old life? Or were they just providing for themselves and those near to them until Jesus told them what to do next. Well, there is this verse in John 20 where Jesus tells them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) But I guess Jesus by now knew that the disciples usually didn’t get it the first time around, and so what we see here is that the way that the disciples respond to what’s been happening over the last couple of days is that they do what they know best. They do what they are most comfortable with: fishing.

But as is often with us, we see that when the disciples worked on their own strength, their efforts were futile. So, Jesus gives them a little reminder. When after a full night of not catching anything, Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. This definitely got their attention, because it happened before. In Luke 5, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we read of the first time when the disciples after catching nothing for a whole night they were asked by Jesus to casts their net again, and caught so many fish that their net broke. Jesus was reminding them that He called them to be fishers of men, to be on mission for Him. As the Father had sent Jesus, so Jesus is sending them, and through them the good news of Jesus will spread. The good news that Jesus has come to fill our dead hearts with the living water of the Holy Spirit, that He came to live the life we should have lived, and die the death we should have died, and that because of His resurrection we can walk in newness of life by the power of the Holy Spirit. And both in Luke 5 as well as here, Peter was the first to respond, recognizing the magnitude of the miracle. In Luke 5, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, clearly making a full-time commitment to Jesus. Here in John 21, we see Peter responding by getting to Jesus as fast as possible, for as soon as he heard it was the Lord the ship could not hold him, nor could he stay till the bringing of it to shore, but into the sea he throws himself, that he might come first to Christ. Could it be that Peter already had in mind
that Jesus was about to ask him to again make a full-time commitment?

It’s All About Fellowship With Jesus
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” (John 21:9-14)

This story is famous for the fact that it mentions that they caught exactly 153 fish. And every since everyone has had a field day speculating what this number means. I have read through many different reasons, some very amusing, but none were even remotely satisfactory. On the one side the number is specific enough that I presume for the disciples it had significance, but since nowhere else in the Bible the number is used or explained I presume that for us it is not important to know. When reading the story I would say that the breakfast rather is what we need to focus on.

It is beautiful to read that Jesus invited them to have breakfast with Him. He says, “come”. Throughout the Bible a meal is a picture of intimate fellowship. And that is also what Jesus came to do; a method to connect and draw people in. In Luke 7:34 it is even said that Jesus “came eating and drinking.” And throughout the gospels we see Jesus eating with tax collectors, feeding the 5,000, eating at the home of Mary and Martha, inviting Himself to dinner with Zacchaeus, etc. Jesus did evangelism and discipleship round a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher of wine. Meals represent friendship and community; and so also here. It’s Jesus who invites His disciples, His friends, and the ones for which He laid down His life, and He invites them for a meal. He invites them into fellowship with Him, because that is what it is all about: fellowship with Jesus.

And so, John paints for us a final picture. It all started with a picture of Jesus’ mission, and now, at the end, we have a picture of Jesus’ commission. Just like the disciples, we all have a need to be constantly reminded of the mission that Jesus gave us, and that we are sent into the world so that we “may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), and to be fishers of men. Because just like the disciples we have a tendency to fall back into our old habits, and slip into our comfort zone. But Jesus calls us in whatever situation we are and says, “come, dine with me, have fellowship with me, be in communion with me, for although I sent you I am also with you, to the end of the age. I will never leave you or forsake you. We are in this together.” And that is a beautiful picture that John leaves us with; a picture of our God who invites us and welcomes us with open arms.

A Sign of His Work

“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” (John 5:1-17)

We Find Jesus in a Hospital
So, what’s the story here? We have Jesus going to Jerusalem for a feast. Now there are three feasts each year in which the Jews were obligated to celebrate and go to Jerusalem for. But John doesn’t tell us whether this is the Feast of Passover or the Feast of Pentecost in the spring, or whether this is the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall. And it is not important either. But what is important to note is that although Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate and remember Israel’s history through this feast, He took the time to be with the sick and the needy. You could even say He deemed it more important than the feast. So, while all of Israel is feasting and rejoicing, we find Jesus walking among the poor whom He loved so much. Can you imagine spending your New Year’s Eve at a nursing home helping an old man or woman eat or play a game with or just provide a listening ear? Is it wrong to party? Not at all, but what a beautiful picture Jesus paints here for us as an alternative for doing what everyone else is doing.

And so when Jesus was in Jerusalem, we find Him at Bethesda, or house of mercy. It was a poor provision for the city’s abounding sickness. You could call it a hospital perhaps. It was a place at the north side of Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate. Now you may recall that when Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem some 450 years earlier after the Babylonians had destroyed it in 586 BC, the Sheep Gate was the first gate they built (Neh. 3:1) and called that way because that’s were the sheep were brought into the temple for the sacrifice. And five covered colonnades or porticos surrounded this house of mercy. Now it was told that an angel sometimes stirred the pool, and whoever was in the pool first when this happened was healed. So I am guessing this place was packed with the blind, the lame, the paralyzed, sitting on the cold steps or lying on their wretched pallets, waiting for the moving of the waters. While the whole city was feasting, these people were in deep physical pain, forgotten by society; but not by Jesus. Our Lord was at home amid this mercy, for here there was room for His tender heart and healing hands to work
miracles. When we are full of health and strength, let us remember those to whom these privileges are denied. This is a difficult lesson for me to be reminded of because I don’t like hospitals. I’ve been a patient in one myself before, when I got operated on my Achilles tendon when I was seven years old, and afterward went many times for regular checkups (which is never fun when you are young). But I also have many footsteps in a nursing home in Amstelveen, one that has recently been
torn down. In the late 80s and early 90s (so in my late teens), both my Grandma and Grandpa were in a nursing home until they passed away. My Grandma even for as long as five years. My Grandpa was in there because of multiple strokes and he simply wasn’t able to take care of himself anymore. And my Grandma suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. And when you come in a nursing home that often you just see terribly sad things and are confronted with unavoidable tragedy of sickness and
death. I remember at the closed wing my Grandma was at, there was this one old woman who just kept on circling the block within the wing, the whole day through. It probably took her up to an hour to circle it once, but that’s just what she did all day. And I can also remember this one woman who lay in bed and was always wailing at the top of her lungs, and you could hear it throughout the whole wing. It was just terrible. But this was all in my late teens when I wasn’t a Christian yet.

But two years ago, in 2009, my Dad spent the last five months of his life in that same nursing home, also because of Alzheimer’s disease. Now I am in my thirties, I am a Christian, and it’s my Dad. There is just no comparison to your grandparents being in a nursing home and your own Dad being in a nursing home. Such sadness. And although I loved my Dad and wanted to spend as much time as possible with him in his final days, it was really difficult to go the nursing home and just be confronted with all this sickness and death. And yet Spurgeon once said, “I venture to say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness.” That is a strange saying, right? But I guess what he means to say that since sin is in the world, sickness is a good thing. Although it is very unpleasant, it is a friend to man’s soul for it reminds us of the inevitably approaching end of life, and hopefully humbles us, and makes us think seriously about God and His goodness. But also being among the sick can invoke these thoughts and feelings, and soften our heart to reach out to those who are sick. Which is why reading this text is a difficult reminder because I really struggle being among the sick, like Jesus is here.

We Are Hopeless Without Christ
Now coming into the hospital, Jesus noticed this one particular man. There were many painful cases there, but He singled out this one man who had been bound to a stretcher for 38 years, a victim of rheumatism or paralysis. Let us hope there no worse case on all Bethesda’s porches! Now this man had never managed to get into the pool. He had never been able to win a friend or find a helper to get him into the pool in all the long years he had been there. And Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” Now God doesn’t ask us questions because He lacks information. The question is a gift to lead our thoughts in the right direction. And the man’s answer reveals much. This man had been at the edge of the pool daily as a matter of habit, so you would imagine that when finally there is a man asking him if he wanted to be healed, finally there was a man possibly willing to carry him in the pool when the water was stirred up, that he would grab the opportunity with both hands, right? Not so. His answer shows what a poor creature he was, for there was not a sparkle of hope in him. And he had not only ceased to hope, he had also ceased to wish, for he said to Jesus, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” It is one thing the man doesn’t know that this is Jesus and/or that He is a miracle worker (how could he for he had been lying at the pool all the time), but the man doesn’t even consider the possibility that Jesus is willing and able to carry him into the pool. Wow! Consider the hopeless state this man is in! And is this not the same state we are all in without Jesus? The same state we were all in before we knew Jesus? Or worse even! I mean this man is very much aware of the miserable state he is in, and very much aware that he cannot get himself out of it, and even he doesn’t have any hope to get out of that situation. Yet most of us are completely blinded to the miserable state we are in to the point we don’t even consider we need any rescuing. And even if so, we look to ourselves for the solution; we look to ourselves for the cure; we look to ourselves for the hope. Don’t we? We do not naturally look to Jesus to be healed, to be made well, right? “No, no, I am not an impatient person,” you say to yourself while you are at the bus stop while you keep looking at your watch and start tapping with your feet, anxiously looking if the bus is coming. “No, no, I am not a proud person,” as you in that moment start thinking “doesn’t that bus driver know that I have important things to do today. How inconsiderate of him to be so late.” And even when we do think in those moments that we are impatient and proud, do we look to Jesus or to ourselves? To ourselves, right? “Oh, I need to just calm down, find my inner peace, think happy thoughts…” Let’s face it; we are worse off than this man at the pool.

Justification: Jesus Makes Us Whole
Ah, but look at what Jesus does. At the moment of complete and utter despair and hope, He comes to us and says, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” Christ died for those that are without strength. Christ died for the hopeless. He is the hope of the hopeless. He is the Savior not of those partly lost, but of the wholly lost. We don’t come to Him. He comes to us. And He comes to make us whole. And just as He spoke creation into existence with words of divine power, He speaks to us, and we are healed, just like this man was, for the next verse says, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” One moment you are paralyzed by sin, completely unable to help yourself and get out of your miserable situation, and Jesus acts, and the next moment you are able to stand upright and walk in His ways. What a beautiful picture of our justification! Jesus acts, and at once Jesus sees us standing upright, and we are on equal standing with Him. And it is all His work. We cannot work ourselves into this standing. Jesus did this work for us. And just as it was for this man so it is for us, Jesus completed (finished) this work for us. Our standing has been accomplished for us, and it is there. Jesus sees us standing upright.

Sanctification: Now Go and Sin No More
So far so good, right? But now we come to the tricky part of the story. The question we have to answer is what does the man do now that he has been healed? He goes to the temple, where Jesus finds him again, and then says to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” Now, I have read through a whole bunch of commentaries, and they all say the same thing. And that is that the man went to the temple to thank God for His mercy for healing him. And that when Jesus said to him to sin no more that nothing worse happen to him, Jesus warns Him not go back and do the sins which resulted in his paralyzed condition for 38 years in the first place. And this could well be what the text means, but I don’t think it’s the point of the text.

These Jewish leaders took no notice of the glorious healing of the man (he must have been “famous” having been there for 38 years). They willfully ignore Christ, but spent all their energy on telling the man he broke some man-made rule, carrying his bed on the Sabbath. Later, Jesus finds the man again in the temple. What was he doing there? It is save to assume that he was there praising God for healing him, but on the other side it could also have been that the man went to the temple making amends for violating the Sabbath law. Regardless which it is, we can say that the man is trying to obey the law by going to the temple. But Jesus came to fulfill the law. Didn’t He say in John 2, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) And didn’t He say to the Samaritan woman in John 4, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:21, 23). In both these verses Jesus is referring to the fact that He is the object of worship. He is the ultimate temple through which and by which to worship God.

Now, I believe that when Jesus sees the man in the temple and says to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more” that He is referring to the fact that Jesus had just healed him; Jesus had just done this miraculous work for Him, changing his standing before Him; Mercy had just been given, that He is now giving him a warning not to go back to observing the law, but to exhort him to continue in the mercy shown to him.

You see, when the man was healed there was an inherent obedience that flowed out from that. It is unthinkable that after the man was healed he would have just continued lying on that stretcher. No! The obedience to “get up and walk” was part of the miracle. We see this play out a couple of verses later in verses 10-11 when the Jewish leaders ask the man about it, and he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” He saying, “Hey, I just did what He told me to do” He simply obeyed Jesus.

And I believe Jesus is saying here “Well, great that you obeyed, but I gave you mercy, so now continue in this mercy. I released you from the law for I fulfilled it for you, so don’t go back to the law now.” Does that make sense? Jesus is saying that He has made us whole (that He did a completed work for us), and that the result, the outflow of this work for us is obedience in us; an obedience based on His completed work.

When Jesus says, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you,” what is the issue? The issue is holiness, not health. “I have healed you to make you holy. My aim in healing your body is the healing of your soul. I have given you a gift. It’s free. It came first, before my command. You didn’t earn it. You weren’t good enough for it. I chose you freely. And I healed you. Now, live in this power. Let the gift of healing, the gift of my free grace, be a means to your holiness.” And Jesus warns him that if he turns away and mocks the gift, he will perish. In other words, “I have healed you that you may be holy, that you may stop doing evil, and that you may not rise to the resurrection of judgment, but to the resurrection of life. I have pointed you to myself as a life-giver. Don’t turn from me to a life of sin.”

What a wonderful story this is! Jesus not only shows us His compassion and mercy in healing the lame man, but He gives us a beautiful picture that we all are in desperate need of His compassion and mercy, and that, incapable of coming to Him, He not only comes to us but also does all the work for us by making us whole, and then calls us out of the life we have been living and into a new life that is based on His continued work in and through us, which is based on obedience to the Spirit He has given us.

A Sign of His Mission

Setting Up the Scene
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” (John 2:1-5)

I can remember my own wedding like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful fall day in mid October five years ago. I remember arriving at Christchurch with Eric and Tim, and since we weren’t allowed in the church yet, Benjamin, our photographer, thought it be a nice idea to climb into a small and very unstable old boat that was docked there, which had water in it, and take some pictures. Great idea, and some good pictures, but I can remember almost falling in the water getting into the boat and
being terrified that this boat would old boat would not hold us and that I wouldn’t make it dry to my own wedding. I can remember that the whole day I hadn’t been nervous, but when I heard the music starting and knowing that Heidi was about to come in and walk down the aisle, the sheer anticipation of getting to see my bride was absolutely nerve-wrecking, and beautiful at the same time. I can remember the photo shoot afterward, walking from Christchurch to café Dwaze Zaken, and having our picture taken by Japanese tourists and people shouting ‘congratulations’ from their windows. I can remember a great reception, dinner, and party. And I especially can remember our taxi ride home, where the taxi driver must have thought that we were really anxious to get home that I never been so afraid in a car, literally fearing for my life.

In other words, weddings are beautiful and memorable events, and not only for the bride and groom, but also for all the guests. And our story today, the setting for Jesus’ miracle, happens at a wedding. Now Jewish weddings are very elaborate and rich in ritual and meaning, and quite different from how we celebrate a wedding. After the official ceremony, the bride and groom would lock themselves in a room to consummate the marriage while the guests are all assembled, ready to celebrate the new marriage. Once the marriage was consummated the friend of the bridegroom, the best man, would announce the good news to all the guests and the celebration would begin, lasting for an entire week! Only at the end of the week, the bride and groom would make their long awaited appearance and there would be a joyous meal, a marriage supper to honor the new couple. So, our story begins telling us that Jesus, His mother, and His disciples Peter, Andrew, John, Philip, and Nathanael were at a wedding and the wine ran out. Now in those days, wine was the only drink other than water, so to fail in providing adequately for the guests would involve social disgrace, an error that would probably never be forgotten, and would haunt the newly married couple all their lives. On top of that, wine was a symbol of joy, and so not providing enough wine on a wedding feast implies a lack of joy of the married couple. I can remember at our wedding that during the feast in the evening I was afraid that they had forgotten all about the champagne because it was already a lot later than when it was planned to do the toast, and so I went to check in. Luckily they hadn’t forgotten about it; it just took them much longer than expected to get everything ready. I mean I guess most married couples will have a story of something that went wrong on their wedding day, but to run out of drinks all together while everyone is still feasting is quite embarrassing.

And so Jesus’ mother Mary tells Jesus there is no more wine. Now, Jesus’ response has puzzled many smart people over the years, but it is good to realize that although Jesus is sort of rebuking His mother here He is not being disrespectful. It does seem that his mother expected Him to do something. We are not told what she expected, but we are told that Jesus did not approve of what she said. Jesus’ response of “what does this have to do with me?” seems to be saying “You shouldn’t be coming to me like this. This is not your affair.” What makes this so significant is that Jesus goes right ahead and takes care of the problem by doing a miracle. If you are going to do what your mother has in mind anyway, why don’t you simply agree with her and then do it? And I think the answer is that Jesus wants to make clear that although Mary is His mother, it is not by His mother’s will that He acts, but by His Father’s will. Later on in this gospel, Jesus says, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” (John 8:28). His mother and His physical family would have no special advantage to guide His ministry. And His mother and physical family would have no special advantage to receive His salvation. Jesus is saying to His mother: your relationship with me as mother has no special weight here. You are a woman like every other woman. My Father in heaven, not any human being, determines what miracles I perform. You, like every one else, come to me by faith, not by family.

And then Jesus also says that His hour has not yet come. What is this hour? All throughout this gospel, John is using this term to anticipate the hour of His death when He will die for sinners and make purification for sins. In John 12, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24). And so while here in chapter 2 indeed the hour of His death has not yet come, He goes right ahead and does the miracle. Why? It seems like He wants to give us a sign of what’s coming; a sign of His upcoming mission; what He is come to do here on earth which will ultimately beautifully climax in His death.

The Best Wine: An Act of Faith
We don’t know what exactly happened between Mary telling the servants to do whatever Jesus says, and Jesus actually asking them, but I think that Jesus got up from His table and sort of unnoticed went to the back where the servants were to instruct them what to do. And He asked them to completely fill up these six stone water jars with water. Now this must have been a very strange request to the servants as these jars were normally used for cleansing and ritual purification. You see, daily life, and especially contact with Gentiles and the secular world made a Jew ceremonially unclean. Therefore, Jews poured water over their hands before eating and so on. But the feast was already ongoing; this was not the time for that. There was a wine problem, not a cleansing problem, right? But as Mary asked the servants to do whatever Jesus asked them, they obeyed without question, filling them up till they almost overflowed. Can you imagine if these servants were lazy and only filled up the jars halfway? There would have been only half the amount of wine, and thus only half the blessing for the bridegroom and all the guests. And since it says that this miracle manifested His glory, Jesus would have been way less glorified. And then He tells them to take some of the water and bring it to the master of the feast. This took a lot of faith. Can you imagine how angry the master of the feast would be if the servants brought him water to taste! Yet in faith, they obeyed the word of Jesus. And what happened? The water had become wine. Good wine. I am guessing the best wine they every tasted! And lots of it! 20-30 gallons * 6 jars = 120-180 gallons (450-680 liters of wine = 337- 510 bottles of wine). Jesus performed miracles in many different ways. Here, Jesus did not say a word or blink an eye. He merely exercised His will and the miracle was done.

Can you imagine what a huge blessing this must have been for the married couple, which are completely unaware as to where all this awesome wine came from! One moment this marriage feast would have been remembered for a long time as the feast that ran out of wine, and the married couple probably scarred for life in their community. And the next moment this marriage feast is now remembered as the feast with an abundance of the best wine ever, and the married couple probably praised for life in their community (as no one knew where the wine came from). But the disciples knew, and they believed in Jesus. Of course they believed before, but now their belief was deepened and re-expressed. This is typical in our Christian lives. God does something great in our lives, and we believe in Him all over again.

So, What’s Really Going On?
Now, let’s take a step back and see what really happened, because although I am sure Jesus took great pleasure in blessing the married couple with an abundance of wine, I don’t think that’s what’s really going on here. Like I said earlier it seems like He wants to give us a sign of what’s coming; a sign of His upcoming mission; what He is come to do here on earth. And not only a sign, He wanted to manifest His glory! But how then did He do that?

First, we see that Jesus uses these six stone jars that are normally used for ritual purification. You see, what they did in the Old Testament is take a very rare and valuable red heifer, a red cow which had never been pregnant, that was without blemish or defect, and completely burn it (skin, flesh, blood, even its dung). And the priest would add three things (which all point to Jesus): he would add some precious cedar wood (pointing to the preciousness of the cross), hyssop (pointing to the cleansing of sin), and scarlet (pointing to the cleansing by His blood). And afterwards they would gather all the ashes and sprinkle it in water bit by bit to make the water fit for purification. And to be cleansed you would be sprinkled with this water mixed with ashes. We read in Hebrews 9:13-14, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:13-14) And so we have Jesus manifesting His glory by giving us a sign, an acted out parable, of how His hour, His own death, will be the final, decisive, ultimate purification of sins. There is no ritual any more for cleansing. There is one way to be clean before God. Coming to Jesus to be cleansed by His blood.

Secondly, we see that Jesus fills these six empty stone jars, and fill them with water to brim all the way full, and then once the servants in faith use the water the water has turned into wine, the best wine ever. No, again, there is a lot of symbolism here. These empty stone jars are a picture of our dead, unregenerated and empty hearts before God. The water is a picture of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Word of God. And wine is a picture of joy and new life. We read in Ezekiel 36:26, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) And so we have Jesus manifesting His glory by giving us a sign, an acted out parable, of how He has come to fill our dead empty hearts with the living water of the Holy Spirit, and that when we step out in faith, we will experience His abundant joy and life. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

And thirdly, we see that Jesus performs this miracle at a wedding, and we have read that because of His work, there was an abundance of wine and joy. And I believe this wedding is a picture of the ultimately wedding supper of the lamb at the end of all things. And what a feast it will be! We read in Isaiah 25:6, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” (Isaiah 25:6) And so we have Jesus manifesting His glory by giving us a sign, an acted out parable, of a greater marriage feast than that of Cana that one day will be held, when Christ Himself will be the bridegroom and all believers together will be the bride. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9)

So, here in the beginning of the gospel of John as a first miracle, as a first sign, we have a three-fold revealing and manifestation of His glory, a three-fold display of His grace. As the ultimate purifier, He gracefully shows us that there is but one way to come to God, and that is to be cleansed by the blood sacrifice of Jesus. As the ultimate live-giver, He gracefully shows us that by faith we can have our stone hearts regenerated and experience an abundant and joyful life. And as the
ultimate bridegroom, He gracefully shows us the true wedding feast that He is preparing for us, the church, wherein we will forever be joined in holy matrimony to Jesus, our perfect husband. “And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)