First, You Pick Up the Cross

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

Not to offend anyone here, but I believe we have a way to easy and convenient and almost metaphorical picture of cross-bearing. We are not talking inconveniences here. The term is way too glibly used. The general idea that these words of Jesus about bearing the cross refer to passive submission to all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon man in life, is totally wrong.

The one carrying a cross essentially walked down death row to their place of execution. He knew there was no turning back. He had no longer any say over his life. Actually, the person bearing his cross was already considered death.

So, to be honest, I don’t think it so much refers to total commitment. Let me explain. To commit means to bind or entrust or pledge or obligate. Now, in that regards, it is Jesus who commits Himself to us, and this is not in any way confirmed or enhanced by our commitment to Him (rather the opposite I would say). I don’t think it refers so much to the way to our death (Jesus didn’t bear His own cross walking to His death).

No, “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4). We are already dead, and brought to back to life, and are a new person. We are not committing to being that new person. We are that new person by His work, not ours. It is all by His grace, and it’s one way.

So, what does it mean then? It is a reminder BEFORE you accept the invitation by faith what the consequences will be. Remember that a disciple (in the sense of a follower) isn’t necessarily yet a regenerated person, a Christian. It is a reminder that when you accept His invitation by faith you will be a dead man walking for “those whom he called he also justified” (Rom. 8:30). You will die and be buried with Christ (by Christ), and raised to walk in newness of life (by Christ’s Spirit).

And read carefully what it says…

First, you pick up your cross.
You need to pick up your cross. No one else can do that for you. You are the one that must be willing to die to self. You pick up your cross. For Jesus the cross was literally dying to self, because Jesus died there as a human, and in another way, Jesus died there as God. And both were necessary to fulfil the Scriptures. What does it take for you to die to self? As long as you are not willing to pick up your cross, as long as you are not willing to lay down your life, you cannot be His disciple.

Second, you follow Him.
Once you are willing to lay down your life, you actually have to do it. And I believe these two actions go hand in hand just like the lame man in John 5 who got up after Jesus healed him from laying on that stretcher for 38 years. It is unthinkable that the healed man would continue to lay on the stretched. No, Jesus’ command of healing and Jesus’ command to get up go hand in hand. Following Jesus after picking up your cross is acknowledging that you would follow the life and pattern of Jesus. This is following Jesus at its simplest. He carried a cross, so His followers carry one. He walked to His self-death, so must those who would follow Him.

Third, you will be a disciple.
You can follow Jesus without being His disciple. Jesus had lots of followers, but all (even including His disciples) stopped following once they figured out where Jesus was going. No, being a disciple (a Jewish talmidim) means so much more. A disciple’s highest calling was to be a reflection of his teacher. A disciple studied to learn, to act, to speak and to respond the same way his master would act and speak and respond. A disciple studied to do the things his master did. His highest goal was to walk after his teacher. There is a story in ancient tradition that tells of a rabbinical student so devoted to his teacher that he hid in the teacher’s bedchamber to discover the mentor’s sexual technique. To be sure, this is a bit extreme, yet it demonstrates the level of commitment required to be a disciple. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus made it clear that only cross-bearers can be His disciples. And if you are not His disciple, well, then why are you following?

I don’t at all think this is talking about the daily inconveniences of life. It’s about counting the cost beforehand. This whole section of Scripture from verse 25 till the end is all about counting the cost, not about what you do once you are a disciple.

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 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)

Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion

Elihu succeeded in preparing Job for what is to come, as we will see next week. Because of Elihu’s words, Job’s heart is softened and ready to receive God’s words. You see, effectually all that Elihu was saying to Job: “Your God is too small, Job. Let me make it bigger for you.” We need a big God. We need to see our God as big as He really is, because we will suffer. Being declared right before God on the basis of Jesus’ work does not exempt us from suffering. Maybe even on the contrary! And when we do, how we view God is crucial. Our God is gracious, just, and great.

By His sovereign grace, God chose us from before the foundation of the world. By His sovereign grace, God justified us freely through the gift of saving faith. And by His sovereign grace, God is sanctifying us through suffering according to His infinite wisdom. We should not “… despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Pro. 3:11-12). And, as John Piper beautifully says, “its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified.”

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction
Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God Is Gracious
Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just
Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great
Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline
Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion

The Fear of the Lord #6 – The Necessity

In the last post of this series I want to sort of extend on my earlier post on the development of the fear of the Lord. In your development, or as a result of your development of a fear of the Lord it is important to recognize why you should fear the Lord. I hinted on this in my opening post when I referred to Acts 9:31 and the fact that the fear of the Lord is required to increase the church. It is a motivation for ministry.

Persuade Men
Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too.” (2 Corinthians 5:11, NLT)
What do we persuade others off? And what is our responsibility to the Lord? Right, it’s our fear of the Lord which reminds us of our responsibility which is to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19, NLT) and to “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:20, NLT). The grammatical construction suggests that Paul is defining lifestyle. The Message paraphrases it, “…we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God.” Getting ready to face the Lord is a lifelong process. That approach to ministry, as Paul describes it, is controlled by a respectful reverence for God, who knows us inside out, and who knows our motives. We don’t want to pretend to be somebody we’re not, but to commit ourselves to being open, honest, and transparent with the people we interact with. Paul could see the need to persuade the world of the person and work of Jesus, and of his own integrity as a messenger of the good news. Everything should always be about Jesus and about the glory of God.

Let me close off with these two verses as an exhortation: “If you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:4-6) “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)