Tag Archives: Marriage

Revelation #5: Pergamum – Courage or Compromise?

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Study #5: Pergamum—the Compromising Church

Have you ever wondered how the bat became a creature of the night? Aesop, the Greek storyteller, gave his take on it. He said it happened as a result of a war between the animals. The beasts and birds were fighting for control of the earth, and the bat, being a consummate politician and not wanting to risk the disfavor of either side, decided to join both parties. When the birds were winning, he winged around with the birds. When the beasts prevailed, he walked and pretended to be a mouse. But finally, his duplicity was found out and he was rejected by both groups. So today he hides his face in shame, only daring to appear at night.

batOf course, that fable wasn’t intended to teach us about bats. The bat is what he is, not because of his misbehavior but because of God’s design. Aesop’s fable, like all his stories, was intended to teach us something about ourselves. In this case, the disgust with which we view the coward and hypocrite. If you and I believe something, we should believe it strongly enough to say so. For if we try to please everybody, chances are we’ll wind up pleasing nobody, because there are few people we respect less than those who lack the courage of their convictions.

This is especially true of spiritual convictions. Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters, for he will either hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. In other words, serving Christ is a fundamental choice of masters. Joshua earlier referred to this when he demanded of God’s Old Testament people, “Choose you this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

The truth is that fallen man never likes to be pinned down. Because he finds his strength in what others think about him—his family, his friends, his neighbors, his co-workers—he is always asking himself, “What will people think of me if I do this or that?” But the Bible warns that “the fear of man brings a snare.” When we become too concerned about what others may think, it not only destroys our usefulness to Christ, it also enslaves us to the opinions of others.

That was the dilemma in Pergamum, the third church in our study of Revelation. Located in a city that was hostile to Christ, the believers faced this decision: Do I go along with the crowd and try to keep from offending those around me? Or do I ignore the peer pressure and take a stand for Jesus Christ, even if it isn’t the popular thing to do? To help us understand why they made the decisions they did, but even more importantly, to help us make the right choices, there are four major facts I want to emphasize about this church. The first fact is—pergamum-1

  1. Where They Lived

The letter begins, “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write, “These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: ‘I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.’” Three things stand out about this city. First, it was a strategic city. When the Roman legions conquered Pergamum, it became their provincial headquarters and the capital of Asia Minor for over 400 years. Second, it was a culturally elite city, famous for its theaters and art galleries and boasting a university with a library of 250,000 books. Third, and most important to understand, it was the devil’s city. Jesus says in verse 13, “You dwell where Satan’s throne is.”

You say, “I thought Satan’s throne was in hell?” No, the Bible teaches that Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), not the next, and that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19) In fact, the Bible says he deploys his demons like a military commander appointing the strongest demons to ruler the greater cities and the lesser demons to rule the smaller cities. The angel Gabriel referred to this in Daniel 10:13, where he explained why he was slow in bringing the answer to Daniel’s prayer. It was because the prince (or demon) of Persia resisted him and he had to wait for Michael the archangel to come to his aid. So, yes, the devil does have a kingdom, but its throne is right here in this world. In John’s day, it was located in the city of Pergamum. Today is likely located in some other strategic spot.

pergamumTheaterWhy did the devil choose Pergamum? Well, not only was it a capital city, it was also fertile soil for false religion. There was the strictly enforced worship of Caesar. There was the worship of Bacchus, the god of drunkenness. There was also the 100-foot altar of Zeus erected on the side of a cliff, which looked like a giant throne. But the most awful evidence of Satan’s presence was the temple Asclepius, the serpent-god. Its reputation as a healing center was so well promoted that people came from all over Asia hoping for a cure. The patient would enter his temple, be given hallucinatory drugs, and then be led through a tunnel filled with snakes. From openings in the walls, voices would whisper, “You will be healed. All praise to Asclepius who is healing you. Asclepius has touched your body.” History reports that a few were healed, but others died of snake bites, and many emerged from the temple hopelessly insane.

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You may wonder, “Where is Satan’s throne today? And what demons control the city where I live?” Only the Lord knows for sure. But I assure you: We’re living in occupied territory. Drugs. False religion. Sexual perversion. The Pergamums had nothing on us! Yet the good news is, we can be faithful, no matter how much evil we face. The devil is a liar and has convinced himself (and some of us) that this is his world, and there’s nothing we can do about it. “After all, look at the hold he has on the schools, the media, the government!” But then we read Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell within it.” Jesus added, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples…and lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” Suddenly we realize, it is not a hopeless battle. In fact, even if it were, it is still worth being faithful to Christ. As someone has said, “I’d rather fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed, than succeed in a case that will ultimately fail.

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  1. How They Succeeded

Jesus continues in verse 13, “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” In spite of their wicked surroundings, Christ was pleased with these believers for two reasons:

First, they held fast to His name. Did you know that confessing Christ’s name is an essential part of salvation? Romans 10 tells us that to believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord is a good thing, but that the proof of our salvation is whether or not we’re willing to confess Him with our mouths. “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is without your mouth that you confess and are saved.” There are no secret disciples, then. Jesus never called anyone to follow Him privately. Instead, He said, “Whoever confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him will I deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

I used to worry, “Does that mean if I get nervous and fail to confess Christ in a moment of fear, I won’t go to heaven?” No, Jesus wasn’t talking about a one-time denial. If that were true, no one would be saved! Peter denied his Lord three times and still found forgiveness. But if we suffer an ongoing embarrassment to be identified with Christ, we need to double-check our salvation. Because that isn’t normal for a child of God. On the contrary, we ought to feel a holy pride that we belong to Jesus. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes.”

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Let me ask you. Have you taken that initial step of confessing your love for Jesus Christ by being baptized as a believer? If not, it’s important that you do that as soon as possible. Many of us were christened as babies, but we didn’t realize at the time what we were doing. That is why the Bible says that baptism is for those who know Jesus and have committed their lives to Him. Baptism doesn’t save us. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But there is something about confessing Christ publicly that seals our salvation and makes it real.

Second, they did not deny His faith. Or to put it another way, they spoke out for Christ even when it wasn’t the politically correct thing to do. Antipas is the best example. His name means “against all,” symbolizing his willingness to speak out for Christ even if it meant standing alone. History says when he was brought before the statue of Caesar, he was told, “Swear that Caesar is Lord.” But he refused. “Jesus is Lord and there is no other God but He.” The Roman official exclaimed, “Antipas, don’t you know that the whole world is against you?” To which the great man replied, “Then Antipas is against the whole world!” He was then placed inside a brass bull, which was heated with fire until he slowly roasted to death. Antipas was an obscure little man in church history. But he is the one we remember when we think of Pergamum.

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And who knows? Maybe it will be the same way when we look back on the church of today. When I think of heroes, the names of Billy Graham, James Dobson, and Jim Elliot come to my mind. But is it possible that some little known saint will head the list instead? The girl who stands up in her classroom and politely says, “Teacher, I don’t believe we came from monkeys. I believe God created us.” Or the young man who stands up among his friends and says, “You bet I go to church, and I’m proud of it. Why not come with me?” Or the single mother who says to her children, “Yes, I know everyone else is doing it. But this is a Christian family and we’re going to please the Lord!” Those are the real heroes among us. Those who are willing to risk the wrath of the crowd and say, “No,” even when the rest of the world is saying, “Yes.”

Courage. That’s what we need more of today. Winston Churchill put it like this, “Without courage, all other virtues lose their meaning.” He was right! The reason we American Christians have had so little impact on our modern society is because we fail to add to all our other virtues the courage to stand up for what is right. We’ve seen where they lived and how they succeeded. Unfortunately, their success did not last. Let’s see why.

  1. Why They Faltered

The Lord continues in verse 14, “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”

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Jesus cited two acts of disloyalty by this church. First, they tolerated the Nicolaitans. Who were the Nicolaitans? The word comes from two words—niko meaning “to conquer” and laos meaning “the people.” It was a heresy in which the leaders of the church began to act as lords over the congregation, taking on powers and privileges which God never intended. In fact, many scholars believe this is when the non-biblical distinction between clergy and laity began, the leaders creating a hierarchy of deacons, elders, pastors, and bishops. But the Bible is clear. The ground is level at the foot of the cross, we are all brothers and sisters in the family of God, and though there are offices in the church, leaders are to be humble examples to the flock, not lords over the congregation. (1 Pet. 5:3) Therefore, Jesus said to them, “This thing I hate!”

Why did Jesus use such strong words? Because of two dangers. They were robbing God’s people of the opportunity to use their spiritual gifts under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. You see, there are some pastors who give their people the impression that “you cannot serve the Lord in this church unless I give you my permission.” That’s wrong! After all, whose church is it? Not mine or yours. It belongs to Jesus. He purchased it with His own blood. So pastors and elders can give their counsel, and if you’re wise, you will listen to them. But the permission and authority to do ministry in the church comes directly from Jesus Christ through the leading of the Holy Spirit, not any human leader.

The second danger of this heresy is that it lets God’s people shift their responsibilities to the professional staff. “After all, Pastor, that’s what we pay you to do. Besides, you’re better at it than we are—the counseling, the confronting, the visiting, the evangelizing, the organizing. I have a good theological words for that—Baloney! That’s not why you pay your pastor or others on the ministerial staff. Ephesians 4:12 says the reason Christ gave pastors and teachers to His church was “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” In other words, pastors exist not to do your work for you, but to help you do your work better. In fact, other than preaching and making the most difficult decisions facing the church, I am hard-pressed to think of one other job in the church that only the “clergy” can do. I believe the saints can be trained to do it all!

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The second evil they tolerated was the doctrine of Balaam. Who was Balaam? He was a powerful and demonically-inspired false prophet who was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the people of Israel. Three times he tried to do so, but each time God stopped him—once by speaking to him through the mouth of a donkey. So when “Plan A” failed, he turned to “Plan B.” He advised the Moabites to send their daughters to intermarry with the Israelites. By doing so, he accomplished two things: 1) He made the Israelites hesitant to fight the Moabites, since they were now their in-laws. 2) He ate away at the moral core of Israel by introducing idolatry and immorality to their homes. The Israelite men married the beautiful daughters of Moab and began to accept their false religion and the immoral practices that went with it. What Satan failed to do through cursing, he very quickly achieved through compromise.

Nor have his tactics changed. As they say, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” So, in Pergamum, when persecution didn’t work, he began to raise up leaders who assured the people, “It doesn’t matter who your friends are as long as you love Jesus!” So, while continuing to speak out for Christ, they began to form wrong relationships—Christians marrying non-Christians, believers becoming business partners with unbelievers, and God’s people visiting the temples of idols.

What about you? Have you let the world, the flesh, and the devil worm their way into your life? I talked to a Christian couple some time ago who innocently entered into a business partnership with an unbeliever—a very nice unbeliever—and then spent the next three years trying to get out of it without losing their shirts as a result of all the unethical decisions he was making. Or perhaps you’re viewing movies and television programming that have no place in a Christian home. Or maybe you’re letting your children or grandchildren spend time and money on video games that do not please the Lord.

Last but not least, I warn young adults and your parents that according to 2 Corinthians 6:14, Christians are not permitted to date non-Christians. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

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But you say, “I only want to date him, not marry him!” Perhaps so. But the fact is, you don’t marry someone you haven’t dated. And having watched the pattern develop from start to finish dozens of times, I can tell you it almost always ends in sorrow. Typically, the girl says, “I’ll date him until I lead him to Christ, and then will I marry him.” But rarely does that happen. Rarely does the unbeliever make a genuine commitment to Jesus Christ. He may say he has, because the girl is attractive and he wants the benefits of a Christian wife. But rarely does the believer lift the unbeliever up to her level of morality. The lesson of Balaam is that we’re pulled down to their level of unbelief. So, parents, teach your children to trust the Lord not only their salvation, but also for His choice of a soul-mate.

As a personal testimony, I can tell you it was difficult for our two daughters to wait and pray until God brought loving Christian men into their lives. But their patience paid off. Our older daughter has just celebrated 12 years of marriage to a wonderful Christian man and pastor. Our younger daughter will soon celebrate 8 years of happy marriage to a very faithful and devoted Christian man. All of which brings great peace and joy to our hearts as parents.

 

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I’m the last person on earth who wants to keep you from making friends with unbelievers. After all, that’s how we lead them to Christ. But there is a difference between being friendly toward unbelievers and forming partnerships with them. That’s what we need to avoid. For that was and is the doctrine of Balaam. We’ve learned where they lived, how they succeeded, and why they faltered. Now notice a final fact with me. Notice—

  1. What They Risked

First, they risked judgment. Jesus continues in verse 16, “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” Did you notice the two different pronouns Jesus used? Two groups are being addressed in this verse—you and them.

Who are the “them” in this verse? False teachers who like Balaam were leading God’s people into sin. How do we know? Because of how they are punished—with the sword of His mouth. This is a reference not to the small sword used by Roman soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, but to the large two-handed sword used to decapitate the leader of an enemy army. It speaks of Jesus’ complete and everlasting victory over all of His enemies.

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Christians are often gullible. The moment someone claims to be a Christian, we say to ourselves, “Well, then, he must be OK?” What we forget is that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light to deceive us. Then when they begin to teach things contrary to the Bible or form their own little following, we give them the benefit of the doubt, “He’s just a misguided Christian who has gotten off the track.” Not so! 1 John 2:19 explains, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they are not all of us.”

The second group is identified by the word you. Who does this refer to? Backslidden Christians who are giving aid and comfort to the enemy. And the warning of Jesus is: Come out from among them and be separate, or “I will come to you quickly!” This isn’t the Second Coming, but Christ stepping into the midst of His church to bring judgment. You say, “Will God really judge His children?” Absolutely! Not for the purpose of condemnation. Romans 8:1 assures us, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” But God does discipline us so we don’t continue to put ourselves into circumstances that would cause us to be condemned with the world. (See 1 Cor. 11:32.)

The story is told of a farmer who was bothered by crows eating his new corn. So he loaded up his shotgun and crawled along the bottom of his fence to get a shot at them. Unfortunately, he also had a sociable parrot who, hearing the noise of the birds, decided to join them in the garden. BOOM! BOOM! The farmer pulled the trigger. Climbing over the fence, what did he find lying on the ground next to the dead crows? His pet, badly ruffled with a broken wing, but alive! Carrying it up to the house, his little girl tearfully asked, “Daddy, what happened to Polly?” Before he could reply, the parrot spoke up, “Bad company! Bad company!” For as 1 Corinthians 15:33 warns, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

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Not only does He allow us to suffer the natural consequences of our sins, Jesus also reminds us, “There are rewards to be lost, if we do not repent.” The letter closes like this, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the white stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”

The “hidden manna” refers to soul-satisfying fellowship with Jesus, the Bread of Life. Just as the Israelites enjoyed bread from heaven, you and I find everything our souls long for in Jesus Christ. Why is He called the “hidden manna?” Because fellowship with Him is something the world knows nothing about.

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I remember a phone call I received shortly after I became a Christian. A friend called me on Friday night and asked me, “Want to go drinking tonight?” “No,” I said, I don’t think so.” He said, “Well, then why don’t we go to the drive-in theater and see if we can pick up some girls?” “No,” I said, “I don’t want to do that either.” Then he mentioned a few other possibilities, and each time I said, “No, I can’t. I belong to Jesus Christ now, and it wouldn’t be pleasing to Him.” So, finally, in frustration he asked me, “Then what in the world do you do for fun now?” I remember I didn’t have a good answer for him at the time, because I was new at being a Christian. But even if I a good had an answer, I doubt he’d have understood it. Why? Because the joy we experience as Christians makes no sense to the world. They’re looking for a happiness based on happenings, when in fact the greatest joy of all simply comes from knowing Him.

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And not only is their soul-satisfying joy at the present time, the “white stone” reminds us of the special places of honor reserved for us in His kingdom. In ancient times, the Romans rewarded their athletes by giving them white stones with their names written on them, which served as entrance passes to the feasts that were held after the games. So, combined with the hidden manna mentioned above, I believe this is a reference to the special places of honor we will enjoy at that future feast called the marriage supper of the Lamb.

So ask yourself before we finish. How clean is my life before the Lord? Have I shown the courage to be in the world but not of it? Or am tolerating things the Lord hates? Remember:

All the water in the world, however hard it tried, could never sink a sailing ship, unless it got inside. All the evil in the world, the wickedness and sin, can never sink your soul’s craft, unless you let it in!

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Marriage: “When the Honeymoon Ends”

 

Picture1Cheryl was still a teenager—19 years old. I was 21 and not yet wise to the ways of the world. So I didn’t make a reservation for that sunny August weekend. We departed Tacoma at 11:00 a.m., fully expecting to find a vacancy in one of those coastal towns like Seaside, Canon Beach, Pacific City, Oceanside, Garibaldi, Rockaway Beach, Lincoln City. But there were no vacancies anywhere on the Oregon Coast. So with the sky turning dark, we headed inland where, an hour and a half later, at 8:00 o’clock that night, I finally escorted my beautiful new bride into the Best Western Inn of McMinnville, 45 miles from the Oregon Coast.

That was Day 1 of our honeymoon. Day 2 I made reservations, so we wouldn’t have to hunt for hotel rooms the rest of the week. Then on Day 3 my bride took ill. But on Day 5, she felt a little better. So we decided to dine out at a fancy restaurant. Food poisoning, so miserable we didn’t budge from our hotel room the whole next day. But Day 7 inevitably came, and still suffering flu-like symptoms, it was time to head home, back to work, only to have my ‘69 Mustang overheat on the highway, turning a 6-hour trip into a 10-hour nightmare. And so our parents wanted to know, as we limped in the door, “Did you have a good time on your honeymoon?”

And some of us did have a good time, and others of us didn’t. But the hard reality is: Sooner or later the honeymoon comes to an end for all of us, and what will we do then to successfully manage all the changes and challenges that come to us in marriage. One major challenge is the differences we soon discover in our marriage partners. The truth is: Opposites do attract, which means anytime a man and a woman say, “I do,” there are going to be major adjustments ahead of them. In our case, we not only discovered differences in gender and personality, but also differences in communication and taste and humor and upbringing and habits of housekeeping and spending and when to go to bed at night. All of which makes life very interesting the first few months of marriage.

Marriage is difficult. The good news is that as difficult as the adjustments may be, marriage is still in way better shape than the media lets on. Consider just a few statistics. According to one survey by the Gallup organization, on average, 13,500 Americans get married every day, 175 of them age 65 or older. 92 percent say they’ve only had one sexual partner since they took their vows. 87 percent add that they’d marry the same person, if they had it to do all over again. 80 percent say that even if they were sure their spouse wouldn’t find out, they’d never cheat on them. And 75 percent add that their marriage partner is their best friend and that in their case they consider “divorce is very unlikely.” And yet, marriage isn’t not without its difficulties, is it? As someone has said, “Marriage teaches you loyalty, forbearance, self-restraint, and a whole lot of other great qualities you wouldn’t need if you stayed single.”

Picture2The truth is that marriage is a refining process that forces you to become a better person than you were before. If you doubt that, look with me for a moment at 1 Corinthians chapter 7, where the Apostle Paul gives his take on marriage. He begins by saying in verse 25: “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord.” In other words, whether or not it’s better to get married or remain single isn’t something the Lord Jesus talked about in His teaching ministry. So, in the verses that follow, Paul goes on to say, “Given all the persecution the early church is going through, it’s probably wiser to remain single than to get married.” And yet, he goes on say in verse 28, “If you do marry, you have not sinned.” And of course, down through the ages, that’s what most believers have chosen to do, because as the Lord Himself said in the Garden, “It is not good for man to be alone.” And yet, don’t miss what Paul adds at the end of verse 28. He warns, “But those who do marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you.”

All of which is to say, if you’re having trouble in your marriage today, don’t let it catch you by surprise. That’s normal and to be expected, because marriage is difficult. And yet, no matter what you’re going through, God has an answer for it. That’s my message in a nutshell this morning. Marriage is difficult, but God gives grace to help in time of need. To underscore that truth, what I want to describe, first of all, are two major sources of trouble we’re likely to face in marriage. Then I want to come back and offer God’s solution for those problems. First of all, then, let me ask the question—

I. What are the major sources of trouble in marriage?

And of course, there are many issues we could raise at this point: pressures associated with finances and debt, differences of opinion about childraising, expectations laid on us by in-laws, and stresses we suffer because both of us work and lead such busy lives. And most of these issues we’re going to deal with in our classes on Sunday morning or our small groups during the week. But that’s not what I want to focus on this morning. What I want to zero in on today are two basic, but wide-ranging sources of trouble in any marriage, the first of which is found right here in 1 Corinthians 7:32, if you’d like to look at it with me for a few moments. Let’s call it for lack of a better term—

a.  The problem of neglected needs.

Notice how Paul begins. He begins by comparing the priorities of married believers with unmarried believers, and he says this: “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.”

Paul makes a distinction between married believers and unmarried believers, doesn’t he? And if you’re single, he says, you can pretty much do whatever you please whenever you please to do it, as long as it’s also pleasing to the Lord. You can work 40 or 50 hours a week, spend another 20 or 30 hours in ministry, get up early, stay up late, entertain people in your home seven nights a week, and give all your extra time and money to help people in need. But he adds, the moment you say, “I do,” you no longer have that freedom. Oh, you’re still expected to please the Lord, but you’re no longer free to do it whenever or however you want, because now you have a new priority. Now you have a husband or wife, which means the first question you must ask before you do anything is: “How will this impact the needs of my mate? Will it help her or hurt her? How will Cheryl feel about it?” And of course, Cheryl has to ask the same questions about me.

I’ll never forget the moment this hit home for me. We were still on our honeymoon. Cheryl was in our hotel room, taking her first round of medication and hoping to get some relief from what she was suffering. I, on the hand, was taking a walk on the beach, looking up at the sky and asking, “Lord, what did I get myself into?”

Make no mistake! I loved my wife. It’s just that it hadn’t really sunk in until that moment, that it was no longer about me. Now there was another precious human being trusting me to look out for her needs for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live, which sounded like a long time at that moment.

And because we all have different personalities and come from different background, I don’t want to generalize and say: “Here’s the top 10 list of our needs as husbands or wives,” because all of us are different. I might say that one very clear that need that Paul spells out in verse 3 of this chapter is—Is it OK to talk about sex in church?—because that’s what he does in verse 3. He says: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again, so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” So that’s one need we all have as married people, and we’d better not neglect it in our partner’s life or we’re going to expose one another to all sorts of temptation that God never intended for us to handle. And there are many other needs we have as well—

One need I quickly discovered in my wife was the need for me to be more responsible in the way I handled money. Cheryl will tell you that when we first met, I was making pretty good money for a 20-year old kid in his second year of college. I was a journeyman with the Retail Clerks union, taking home $200 a week with all the benefits: medical, dental, vision, and 3 weeks of vacation a year. So on Thursday afternoon, when I’d go to cash my paycheck and then pick Cheryl up from work, I would generally have about $200 cash in my wallet, which was a fair amount of money at that time. And Cheryl never really said anything, but I knew it bothered her, because there wasn’t a lot of money to go around in the home she grew up in, and it took a long time for her to earn $200.

So the moment we said, “I do,” I knew things would have to change. I was going to have to grow up in the way I managed money. Otherwise I was going to expose her to all sorts of anxiety she didn’t need to deal with. And why would I want to do that to someone I love?

 

Paradise LodgeSo let me ask you. Have you recognized and are you working hard to satisfy the needs of your partner? Some of us are “Toys R Us” kids, and we don’t want to grow up. But Paul wrote, “When I became a man, I put away the childish things. I put away the toys.” And I suspect that some of us need to do the same. We need to come to grips with the fact that it’s no longer just about us. God has given us a precious husband or wife, made in His image with real needs just like our own, and if we fail to meet those needs, there’s going to be trouble in marriage. There’s the problem of neglected needs, and if we fail to deal with that, it’s going to lead to an even greater problem—

b.  The problem of hardened hearts.

That’s what happens when we let little things build up in our marriages without addressing them—little things like unmet needs and unresolved hurts. The heart of our husband or wife, which was once so soft and warm toward us, grows hard from bitterness, hurt, and resentment, communication turns cold and cautious, and love begins to die. But you say, “My offenses are so slight and insignificant! Just a little neglect from time to time: clothes left lying on the bedroom floor, being late for dinner and not calling, a forgotten birthday or anniversary. Is that enough to kill the love between us?” And the answer is: Of course not. Not at first. But what about after 50 or 500 times? That’s how a hedge of bitterness grows up between us. It isn’t always about the big offenses. More often it’s about the 10,000 little hurts that chip away at our love and convince our partners that someone or something else is more important to us than they are.

Jesus talked about this in His ministry, you may remember. The religious teachers come to Him in Matthew chapter 19, hoping to trick Him into saying something wrong. So they ask Him in verse 3, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce His wife for any and every reason?” That’s how bad things had become by the time Jesus came to earth. Jewish men were interpreting the Bible to say that they could divorce their wives for any fault they found in them, as long as they followed the proper legal procedure and gave them a certificate of divorce. Sound anything like the no-fault divorce state we live in today? So Jesus corrects them and says, “That was never God’s design for marriage. God’s design has always been one man for one woman for life.” But they continue to press Him, and in verse 7 they ask: “Then why did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” So Jesus answers in verse 8: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so.”

Let’s think about that phrase for a moment—“the hardness of your hearts.” That phrase comes from two little words—kardia meaning heart and skleros from which we get our word arteriosclerosis, which means “a hardening of the arteries.” And I’m no biologist, but heart disease does run in my family. My father died 5 years ago from a heart attack caused by a hardening of the arteries leading to his heart, and my mother died two years ago from a stroke caused by a hardening of the arteries leading to her brain—both the result of tiny pieces of plaque building up in their arteries over the years and blocking the flow of blood. In this case, of course, Jesus isn’t talking about our hearts in a physical sense. He’s speaking relationally and emotionally, warning us that if we let little things build up in our marriages without resolving them, it’s going to lead to a hardening of hearts, the flow of love will be blocked, and our marriages will eventually die. So what’s the solution to these two great sources of trouble in marriage? Let me suggest 3 steps that will help—

II. How do we prevent heartache in our marriages?

The first of which will come as no surprise to anyone. We need to—

a.  Practice open and loving communication

There are two sides to this, of course. First of all, it means, if we want our husband or wife to understand and satisfy our needs, then we’re going to have to open our mouths and tell them what those needs are. It’s embarrassing to admit, but intimacy has always been difficult for me, so much so that when we were first married, if Cheryl failed to meet my needs, you know how my mind would work? I’d say, “This is your fault! You ought to know what I need! After all, you have the Holy Spirit. He’ll guide you, if you ask Him!” Of course, what I should’ve asked myself was: Is that how I think when I fail to meet Cheryl’s needs? Do I say to myself, “Oh, I should have known that! This is my fault! After all, I have the Holy Spirit to guide me!” No. Instead, what we’re apt to say is, “What do I look like—a mind reader! If you need something, you gotta tell me. Otherwise I’ll never know!” And that’s true, isn’t it? The way God plans for intimacy to draw us together is by daring to share the deepest needs of our hearts. Otherwise, the other person will never know, because that’s not the way God made us. Instead, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we need to learn to “speak the truth in love.”

HairUp2But there’s also a second side to this, isn’t there? And that’s learning to listen to the one we love, and not just to their words, but as Les Parrott puts it, we need to listen with a third ear to that emotional river flowing beneath their words. “Pan for gold,” he says. “Pan for that little emotion and hand it back to your spouse, saying: ‘Is this how you feel?’” When you do that, he says, it opens up your spouse’s spirit and helps them to begin trusting you in ways they’ve never trusted anyone before.

Some of you may remember the prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon, where there is discord, harmony, where there is doubt, faith…Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we’re born to eternal life.” I think that’s a good prayer for marriage: To seek not so much to be understood as to understand the one we love. So how are you doing in this area? If you say, “Not so well at the moment,” then let me ask you: Why not? What is it that’s getting in your way?—DVD Clip #2—We need to take the time and make the effort to communicate openly and lovingly with one another. And step #2—

 b.  Practice forgiveness and grace.

Ruth Graham, the wife of Billy Graham, describes a good marriage like this: “A good marriage is the union of two forgivers.” Or as a Jamaican proverb puts it, “Before you marry, keep two eyes open. After you marry, keep one eye shut.” And I think that’s good advice. After all, isn’t that what the Bible says? Later in Ephesians 4:31, Paul commands us: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you.”

On her golden wedding anniversary, a bride of 50 years described what this meant in her marriage. Asked by a few of her guests the secret to her long and happy marriage, she explained: “On my wedding day, I decided to choose ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook.” One of the guests asked her to name some of his faults. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “I never did get around to listing them. Whenever my husband did something that made me mad, I would say to myself, ‘Lucky for him, that’s one of the ten.’”

I suspect that’s why our marriage has also lasted a long time too—40 years at this point. It’s because I married such a forgiving person! I just wish I’d learned a lot sooner to forgive the little things she does to hurt or annoy me, because I’ve not always been a very gracious or forgiving person. But I’m learning. I’m learning from my wife that one of the most important things we can do for our marriage is to communicate openly and lovingly with one another and to forgive each other when we fail. And finally, step #3—

 c.  Pray with and for one another daily.

Do you still have this card in your Bible? If you’ve been with us the last few weeks, you’ll remember we passed these cards out as a way of encouraging one another not only to pray for our study of marriage, but as a reminder to pray with one another at least 6 minutes a week for the next 6 weeks, because for some of us, this is one of the most difficult things we do, and you can be sure that the enemy will do everything in his power to stop us. The truth of the matter is, no one—not even your spouse—can meet all the needs of your heart. Only Jesus can do that. That’s why one of the most important things you can do to encourage one another and strengthen your marriage, especially at those times when our human resources fail, is to spend time together in prayer, telling God what you need. Solomon writes, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” And in Christian marriage, that third strand is God, who not only meets our needs when we call upon Him, but binds our hearts together in love.

So, if you haven’t yet made this commitment, or you’ve made it, but you haven’t yet followed through on it, determine right now that even if you get nothing else done this day or week, you’ll do this. You’ll communicate with one another more openly and lovingly, you’ll forgive one another’s failures, and that you’ll take time to pray with and for one another every day.

 

Tacoma 1995And again, I confess that that hasn’t always been the pattern of our marriage. In fact, if I had to graph the history of our marriage, it would probably look something like this: 3 years of constant fighting so bad we would have thrown in the towe, if we hadn’t made an unconditional commitment to one another in name of Christ. Talk about irreconcilable differences, we had ‘em all! And yet, we hung in there, and for the next 22 years, it was hot and cold: raising children and facing challenges together, but not always liking each other as much as we should. But the last 15 years has been all joy in spite of Cheryl’s battle against cervical cancer and my recent diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease.

Somewhere around year 25, I finally got my act together, started making Cheryl more important than anything else in my life, forgiving and asking forgiveness when necessary, and sharing more openly and lovingly with her in conversation and prayer. Marriage hasn’t been easy for us, but it has been completely worthwhile. And I pray that you too will soon experience a breakthrough in your marriage and begin to enjoy all that God intended it to be. I finish with this testimony from Tom Anderson, a writer for Guideposts magazine—

“I made a vow to myself on the drive down to the vacation beach cottage. For two weeks, I would be a loving husband—totally loving. No ifs, ands, or buts. The idea came to me as I listened to a speaker on my car stereo. He quoted a verse about husbands being considerate toward their wives, and then he went on to say that love is an act of the will, that “a person can choose to love.” I had to admit that I’d been a selfish husband—that our love had been dulled by my insensitivity. In petty ways, really: chiding Evelyn for her tardiness, insisting on the TV program I wanted to watch, throwing out day-old newspapers I knew Evelyn still wanted to read. Well, for two weeks all that would change.”

“And it did. Right from the moment I kissed Evelyn at the door and said, “That new sweater looks great on you!” “Oh, Tom, you noticed,” she said, surprised and pleased, and maybe a little perplexed. After the drive, I wanted to sit and read. Evelyn suggested a walk on the beach. I started to refuse, but then I thought, ‘She’s been alone with the kids all week, and now she wants to be alone with me.’ We walked on the beach while the children flew their kites. And so it went—two weeks of not calling the Wall Street investment firm where I’m a director, a visit to the shell museum, though I usually hate museums (but I enjoyed it), holding my tongue when Evelyn made us late for a dinner date. That’s how the whole vacation passed—relaxed and happy.”

“One thing did go wrong with my experiment, however. Evelyn and I still laugh about it. On our last night at the beach, preparing for bed, Evelyn stared at me with the saddest expression. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked her. ‘Tom,’ she said, voice filled with distress, ‘do you know something I don’t?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, that checkup I had a few weeks ago. Did the doctor tell you something about me? Tom, you’ve been so good to me. Am I dying?’ It took a moment for it to sink in. Then I burst out laughing. ‘No, honey,’ I said, wrapping my arms around her. ‘You’re not dying. I’m just starting to live.'”September 2010

Pray with me. Heavenly Father, we’re thankful for the gift of marriage and sorry for what we’ve made it at times. Help us to begin again this morning—meeting the needs of the one we love, forgiving and asking forgiveness when necessary, and communicating with both you and one another in a more open and loving way. We ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen

Download the message by clicking – “When the Honeymoon Ends”

 

His First Sign: Water to Wine!

Do you believe that God exists and that Jesus is Lord? If so, what reason would you give to someone who asked you why you believe? Here is a list of the most common reasons Christians give for believing. See which one comes closest to your own: 1) Answers to prayer; 2) Reading the Bible; 3) Marveling at what He has created; 4) Seeing changes in the lives of believers; 5) Sensing His presence in the worship services I have attended.

Picture1I ask you that question because that’s our topic for this study. In John chapter 2, we come to a turning point in John’s Gospel. The purpose for everything John wrote, I’d remind you, was to prove that Jesus is God. He states it clearly in John 20:31—“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have life in His name.”

You see, according to John, it is only by believing in the Deity of Christ that you gain the eternal life He offers. For that reason, he have seen him call eyewitness after eyewitness in chapter 1, each one testifying to the Lordship of Christ. First, it was John the Baptist, then Andrew and John, then Peter, James, Philip, and Nathanael in that order. Six ordinary guys who became the greatest men who ever lived because they were willing to believe! Don’t get confused about that. The reason people go to hell is not a lack of evidence. There’s always more than enough evidence to believe if you’re willing to believe. The reason is a hardness of heart and unwillingness to believe the evidence God has given us.

Oxygen Volume 17But now in chapter 2, John moves on from the testimony of eyewitnesses to a second, even more convincing argument. He presents the first of eight great signs Jesus performed—each one something only God could do. He walks on water, creates new eyes for a blind man, creates food to feed 20,000 peoples, raises a friend from the dead whose body has been decaying for four days, and in the passage before us—John 2:1-12, if you’ll open your Bible with me—He turns water into wine.

I know it also helps sometimes to have a map of where you’re going, so let me do that briefly as we get started. Let me give you a short overview of John’s Gospel. It can be broken into four parts—chapter 1 which we’ve studied where John calls several eyewitnesses to testify to the Deity of Christ, chapters 2 to 11 where John describes the public ministry and miracles of Jesus, chapters 12 to 17 where he describes the private ministry of Jesus to His disciples on the last night before His death, and chapters 18 to 21 which describe His death for our sins and His bodily resurrection from the dead.

Picture2But here we are looking at Jesus’ first great sign described in John chapter 2:1-12 – water turned to wine. To guide our study, I’ve divided it into 4 parts—the feast, the faux pas, the feat, and the faith it gave His disciples as a result.

  1. The Feast

Have you attended any weddings this summer? I attended the reception of my niece and goddaughter a week ago Saturday, and it was beautiful! Beautiful bride! Beautiful decorations! Beautiful setting! It was held at her father-in-law’s 3-acre country with beautifully manicured lawn and garden, just outside of Monroe, Washington. And the food was delicious! The affair lasted all night for those who wished to stay. That was a little too long for some of us older folks. But nothing compared to weddings at the time of Christ.

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_WCA0116-1800Read verses 1 and 2 with me. Here John recalls where the wedding took place: “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.” The third day means it was the third day since He met Philip and Nathanael in Bethsaida. So if it was a Sunday they met, it’s now Tuesday—Sunday, Monday, Tuesday—which means everything we’ve read so far has happened in a week. They heard John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God, they stayed with Him all night, they walked with Him from the Jordan to Bethsaida where He met Philip and Nathanael, and now they’re at a wedding with Him in Cana of Galilee. So if you think your schedule is crazy, don’t imagine for a moment that you’re busier than Jesus. He was always about His Father’s business.

Cana was also the hometown of Nathanael according to John 21:2 and about 9 miles from Bethsaida with a population of maybe 100 at the time. So it’s no surprise to find Nathanael there, as well as Mary. Having lived in Romania for 5 years, I can tell you that in old-world rural areas, you not only know the folks in your own village; you have friends and family in the next village too. Joseph isn’t because he’s died by this time. He died during the silent years when Jesus was working in the carpenter’s shop to support His family as the Firstborn Son. We know that because later, when Jesus is dying on the cross, He commits His mother into the care of John the Apostle, who was her nephew, something that wouldn’t have been necessary if Mary hadn’t have been a widow and Joseph was still alive. And as you’d expect of the mother of Jesus, she was busy serving at the wedding, maybe as the wedding coordinator, because you’ll notice in a moment, she feels very free to tell the servants at the reception what to do.

Picture3But the most important fact is that Jesus was there and performed His first public miracle there to emphasize the sanctity and importance of marriage in His eyes. So pay no attention to those who say that marriage is just a piece of paper! They don’t know what they’re talking about! Weddings matter and marriage matters. Marriage is a holy covenant made between one man and one woman in the presence of God and their family and friends, vowing they’ll be faithful to love one another as long as life itself. For that reason no other relationship on earth is as important or wonderful as marriage. Peter calls it “the grace of life,” meaning that of all God’s common graces—the graces He showers upon all people whether they love Him or not—of all His common graces, marriage is the greatest, which means any society that honors marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman will be blessed, whereas any society that fails to honor marriage is headed for chaos, judgment, disaster, and destruction. So watch out, America, how far you go! God is watching and will not bless what you’re doing!

For that reason, weddings have always been the most important celebrations on earth. I wish I’d understood that better as a young pastor. I would have preached it with even more conviction. The ancient world, especially the Hebrew culture, recognized that fact and considered a wedding the most important event of the year. Romania, where we served as missionaries, was also an old-world country in many ways, and they believed the same thing. Weddings would start in the late afternoon with a two to three hour ceremony at church, followed by a reception that lasted all night long, for anyone who could stay awake.

Picture4So it was in Cana of Galilee! Weddings often began on a Tuesday or Wednesday and lasted until the weekend. Or if you were well-to-do, they could last all week. And everybody came! Everyone was aware of the couple’s engagement that took place the year before, because an engagement was a legal contract that officially bound the partners to each other and could only be broken by divorce, even though the marriage itself wasn’t consummated until after the feast. What went on during that year prior to the wedding? That takes us to point #2—

  1. The Faux Pas

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0530-1800All year long the bridegroom worked to prepare a place for his bride to live, often a room added onto his father’s home. And he was also responsible to pay the full cost of the wedding. All of this to prove to her father that he had what it takes, that he was could provide for her once she became his wife! You see where the story is headed. The feast is in full swing and everyone is enjoying himself when the wine runs out. And that presents a problem.

As John MacArthur puts it, “Maybe he can’t plan! That’s what all of us fathers who marry off our daughters fear. Maybe he’s all smoke and mirrors and doesn’t know how to earn a living? I hope my daughter isn’t going to have to bring home the bacon!” They ran out of wine in the middle of the greatest celebration this couple would ever have—a huge embarrassment and a big question mark hanging over the head of this groom and his family. So verse 3 says: “When they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’”

Picture7
Now why do you suppose she would she say that to Him? Most preachers assume that she wanted Him to do a miracle. But why would she expect that? Had He ever done a miracle? No! Not that He couldn’t, but verse 11 says this was “the first of the signs” Jesus did. So there’s no reason for her to expect Him to do something He’s never done before. Again I think MacArthur gives the best explanation for this. When Mary had a problem, who did she always turn to, especially after Joseph died? Jesus, of course! Think about it. He never had a bad idea or made a bad decision in His life! He always led her in the right direction and had the perfect solution to every problem. If anything ever went wrong in their home, He always knew why it went wrong and exactly how to fix it. He was the smartest, wisest, and most resourceful person who ever lived. And He grew up in her home. By the way, He was also the compassionate person who ever lived! So who else would she turn to with this problem?

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0694-1800But wait a minute, is that the way a son ought to talk to his mother! Listen to what He says to Mary in verse 4. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’” Why such harsh words to the mother He loved? First, they didn’t sound nearly as harsh to Mary as when we read them out of context. For one thing, this is something He said to her in private, not publicly so as to embarrass. Remember that the next time you have something hard to say to someone you love, especially to your husband or wife. Wait until you’re alone with them instead of saying it out loud for the whole world to hear. That’s Matthew 18:15. Go to them in private and try to resolve things between the two of you before you let anyone else know about it. Tone of voice also makes a difference, and I know Jesus said it as gently as He could. And He was polite! The word “woman” is the same word He used at the cross when He entrusted His widowed mother into John’s care. Pointing to John, He said to her, “Woman, behold your son!” We have no equivalent in English, but He was saying in effect, “Dear Lady, what does your concern have to do with Me?”

8Why didn’t He call her “Mother?” Because the relationship between them had changed! For 30 years Jesus had been about His mother’s business, doing whatever she asked of Him. But now, with the cross looming before Him, He has just 3 years to be about His Father’s business. His mother, like His disciples, didn’t really get that until after His resurrection. But it’s imperative to let her know that from this point on, His only concern is the mission for which His Father sent Him into this world and nothing, not even familial relationships—can stand in His way. He gave her a warning of this early on in Luke chapter 2, when He was 12 years old and they found Him asking and answering questions of the scholars in the Temple. She scolded Him for worrying her. So He reminded her, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

BoyJesusLater He had to remind her again when she and his brothers stood outside a home where He was teaching, waiting to speak with Him. “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” He said. Then stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He explained, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in Heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” That’s true, isn’t it? We who love the Lord Jesus and do the will of His Father in Heaven are His brothers and sisters and mother. You see He wasn’t being unkind. But it had to be said. “I am the Son of God and I’m on a mission of infinite importance, and I can’t allow anything—not even family relationships—stand in My way. And thank God He didn’t let them get in the way. For if He had, you and I wouldn’t be saved today!

Nor is Mary offended. She may not understand the implications of what He’s said. But she knows who her Son is, and she trusts Him. So what does she immediately do? Verse 5: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” Wise counsel! Wouldn’t you say? Whatever Jesus tells you to do, do it! That would save us a lifetime of grief, wouldn’t it? So what does Jesus tell them to do? That’s the third chapter in this thriller. We’ve been to the feast. We’ve witnessed the social faux pas. Now let’s watch Him as He performs His first miraculous feat.

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  1. The Feat

Do you know what the truly marvelous thing about this miracle is? Even though it wasn’t his mother’s place to give Him ministry advice…By the way, we’re going to find that Jesus never took the advice of anybody when it came to ministry. Why not? I thought a humble man always seeks the counsel of others? Not in Jesus’ case! He was humble. No question about that! More humble than you and I have ever dreamed. Try hanging on a cross for a crime you didn’t commit without defending yourself or trying to get even with your enemies! The reason He didn’t seek the counsel of sinful human beings is because He couldn’t trust us and didn’t need it. For this is no mere man we’re talking about. This is the Holy God become Man whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. So though it wasn’t Mary’s place to give Him advice (nor do I think she was asking for a miracle), women’s intuition may have told her something wonderful was afoot. And it was! By God’s grace her concern, the need of that young couple, and God’s will all came together in one miraculous moment of time, leading to one of the greatest feats He ever performed.

Picture5You see contrary to popular belief, this miracle was not an unexpected and premature event, interrupting God’s plan for His Son, due to a well-meaning but interfering Jewish mother. This was Plan A from before time began—for the first sign of Jesus’ Deity to be a miracle performed at a wedding in Cana of Galilee for His mother, His family, and His friends. Wasn’t that gracious of Him? And here’s how it happened. Verse 6 says: “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.”

This wasn’t water for washing their hands or taking a bath. It was for ceremonial purposes. Before a Jewish family would eat a meal, they’d pour water over their pots, their pans, their plates, and their hands, not to get them clean, but to be ritually pure. So for a feast of several days, you had to have a lot of water. But why did He have them fill the jars to the brim? So there would be no question about something being added to the water. Skeptics always try to explain away a miracle. Remember Pharaoh’s magicians and how they tried to copy Moses’ miracles? So they filled the jars to the brim. Ought to last till the weekend, don’t you think? But why so much wine? To picture the super abundance of God’s grace—“Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it will be poured into your lap.”

Picture6“And,” verse 8 continues, “He said to them, ‘Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.’ So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine…” Wait a minute, you say! I think I missed it. When did He do the miracle? In between the lines, there between verses 8 and 9! But then that’s how the Bible always describes the miraculous—very matter of fact. You really didn’t expect Jesus to make a big deal out of it, did you? Drum roll, please! “Tuh-dum!”

But what a miracle it was! Verse 9 says: “When the master of the feast (the headwaiter) tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew, (he) called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’” That’s true, isn’t it? When we invite guests for dinner, we get out our best china, put flowers on the table, pull out our best recipe, cook our best meal, and serve them in style. But if they stay a second or third or fourth day, it’s: “There’s the fridge. Try your luck! I think there are leftovers in the back if you look hard.” But in this case, it’s far different! The maître d says, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk too much, he serves the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Good wine! This was the best wine anyone ever tasted—like new wine freshly squeezed from the grapes of Eden!

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  1. The Faith

But we can’t leave it at that. We need to take a step back before we finish and ask the big question: Why did John tell us this story in the first place? Answer: To help us relive it with him and discover with His disciples who Jesus really is. Remember they’re only a week into following Him and this walking by faith thing is new to them. So Jesus performs a miracle, and John tells us about it, so that both they and we will believe. We have been to the feast. We have witnessed the faux pas. We have seen the miraculous feat He performed.  Now it’s time to solidify our faith in Him. That’s what this miracle did for them and should do for us. Verse 11 says: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0586-1800 Remember there are only 6 of them at this time: Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip, and Nathanael—all of them good friends, fishing partners, and strong believers in the God of the Bible—but not one has ever seen a miracle. Nathanael got a taste of His omniscience when Jesus said to him, “Before Philip found you under the fig tree, I saw you!” But not one of them (or you either, for that matter) ever saw a miracle like this. We’ve seen some amazing answers to prayer, but nothing like the magnitude of this miracle! 150 gallons of water instantly turned to wine!

The impact was so great two things happened right away. First, all six of His disciples put their faith in Jesus. I know. I know. They already believed in Him. Or they wouldn’t have followed Him all the way to Galilee. They called Him “Rabbi.” They called Him “Messiah.” Then Nathanael said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” But Jesus said they would see even greater things than these. And the first and one of the greatest was this—seeing their Creator make something out of nothing just as He had in the beginning. And for what purpose! So that both they and we would never doubt.

People-surround-Jesus-1024x744But even more important is the second thing that happened. John says they saw His glory! Isn’t that the purpose of our lives and what we’ve been longing for since we first met Him? I want to see His glory. And they did, at least in part! What glory? The eternal glory He shared with the Father before time began! You know the verse. So say it with me. John 1:14, “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And the best thing about is you didn’t have to be there to experience it. You can experience it this moment if you have faith to believe. As He said to Thomas, who finally believed and fell at His feet in worship saying, “My Lord and my God,” “Because you’ve seen, you’ve believed. But blessed (That means happy, elated, and overcome with joy!) “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed!” And so we believe without seeing, and we behold “His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus-Face-Paintings-01But someone will say, “I’d believe too if I saw a miracle like that!” Don’t be so sure. The Israelites witnessed 10 miraculous plagues in Egypt and the Red Sea splitting in half before them, and they still didn’t believe and died in the wilderness as a result! And the people of Jesus’ day saw even greater miracles than that. In fact, nowhere in the Gospels does anyone ever question Jesus’ power to do miracles. What His enemies claimed was that He performed miracles by the power of Satan, earning a place in hell as a result of it. The truth is Jesus performed miracle after miracle after miracle, day after day, for three years until virtually all disease was eradicated from Israel. But they still didn’t believe, because faith isn’t about evidence. It’s about a willing heart.

Jesus PleaThat means, if your heart is willing, you can know Jesus this very moment through simple childlike faith. So if you’ve never believed before, open up your heart to Him now as I lead us in a closing prayer. Say these words or words like them with me in the quietness of your heart and, if you truly mean them, Jesus promises that He will come into your life this very moment and live with you forever.

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