Guest – Who?

How do I get greater faith, more trust, more Jesus on the inside?  There’s a straight-forward, familiar, yet marvelous account in today’s Gospel from John 2:1-11.  Watch what Jesus did for his first disciples, and learn what he will do for you and for me. “Guest – Who?”  January 20, 2019.

I want to grow in faith.  More than that. I need to grow in faith because growing in my trust in the Lord God means that in my heart of hearts there is less and less room for Satan, less and less room for my sinful side, less and less room for self-centered character flaws as Jesus takes up more and more space and fills my heart.  If I’m not growing in faith, then there’s more space for the bad stuff. Then I’ll fall back into old patterns, sinful ways, selfish paths. I’ll not be the child of God he wants me to be. So, how do I get that? How do I get greater faith, more trust, more Jesus on the inside? There’s a straight-forward, familiar, yet marvelous account in today’s Gospel from John chapter two.  Watch what Jesus did for his first disciples, and learn what he will do for you and for me. The Gospel writer takes us to a wedding reception. On the third day, the third day after traveling from down south along the Jordan River, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.

What’s the first thing people check out when they arrive at a wedding reception?  They look for the entrance to the banquet hall and their numbered table. They look for the gift table and card box.  They look at the cake. But the first thing on their minds? They check out other guests. They are looking at the guys to see if they are wearing coat and tie or bowtie and suspenders, their shoes, their two-day stubble, their haircut.  What are the women wearing? “Check out her dress, her handbag, her shoes, her make-up, her hairstyle, and woe is me if she has a dress identical to mine!” Whether we like it or not, guests are checking out other guests.

How about the wedding at a village ten miles north of Nazareth?  Keep in mind that a reception in ancient Israel lasted several days.  Guests were coming and going. On the scene was Jesus’ mother. Was she involved in planning the wedding?  Was she the hostess? Was she related to the bride or groom? We don’t know, but Cana was near her home, and her son and his new group of friends were also invited.  He seems to slip both in and out under the radar. Guests may have thought he was a childhood friend of the groom or neighbor or cousin. Most didn’t even know that he later performed a miracle while there.  But for Jesus’ disciples it was as if someone snuck up behind them, covered their eyes, and asked, “Guess who?” because something astounding happened, something amazing, something they didn’t expect. This special guest was beginning to reveal his identity, an identity which they did not fully grasp when they arrived but an identity which would increase their faith by the time they left as they caught the answer to: “Guest! – Who?”

As He Revealed His Humility

If you had a chance to attend a wedding reception and knew that someone special, a superstar athlete or singer or actor, was going to show up, wouldn’t you expect a little fanfare?  Wouldn’t you expect an arrival in a limo or a Lamborghini? Wouldn’t that person get the red-carpet treatment, a concierge to open the door, servers to bow, people to clap, autograph hounds to stick out their sharpie, photographers to be clicking away?

But what if that special guest had the power to humiliate you, arrest you, punish you.  What if that special guest had the authority to stand up and announce everything you’ve done wrong, to expose your hidden character flaws, to reveal the evil and hurt you have perpetrated on others, to tell others at the reception what you’re like when your sinful side gets the upper hand over your believer side?

A special guest arrived at Cana and could have done that.  He could have picked on Uncle Joe or grandma Mildred. He could have exposed the greed of the groom’s father or the lust of the best man or the lying of the matron of honor.  He could have busted the hypocrites and anyone else pretending to be nice but covering up evil hearts. But he didn’t do that. Also, he could have stolen the show and performed more than the quiet, unheralded water to wine miracle.  He could have levitated the dance floor with people on it. He could have snapped his fingers and provided lamb chops and beef ribs for everyone. People would surely be asking, “Guest! – Who?  Who is this?”  But he didn’t do that.  He came in humility. He came in humility into our world and to this wedding on purpose.  He did not come to humble us but to humble himself so he could be in our place. He did not come to make fun of us but to bring us eternal fun.  Guest! – Who?  He is our Savior, Jesus, our humble Savior, humble for us.

As He Revealed His Wisdom

Has this happened to you?  You needed directions to a wedding reception, and you were lost.  Even Siri seemed like she didn’t know where to point you. Once there, you didn’t know which door to enter, which direction to the banquet hall.  You didn’t know many people there. You didn’t know if it’s open bar or not, where the gift table was, whether the food would be served on time or whether the speeches would go on and on.  There was a lot you didn’t know.

Perhaps that was the case for the guests at the wedding in Cana.  There were a lot of things they didn’t know until they arrived. Very few knew about the wine running out, and the few who did didn’t know what to do.  Jesus’ mother simply stated a fact. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”  But he knew what to do.  “Woman, why do you involve me? … My time has not yet come.”  He was not being snotty.  It was more like, “This is now my business, my concern.  Don’t worry. I got it.” He knew that making a big splash was not good timing.  He knew that if he did that, people would go wild for freebies and for a free show.  But he also knew what his disciples needed. They needed to grow in their understanding of who he is so they could grow in faith.  It would take a while to sink in. In their eyes he was the Messiah, but merely a man, a humble teacher. In their hearts they did not yet grasp that he was God in flesh, which explains their remark a few months later in a boat after he calmed a storm, “Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41).  At this early point at the beginning of his ministry they were still wondering, “Guest! – Who?”  So, with this miracle he began to reveal his identity by demonstrating his wisdom.  He knew what the guests needed and what the disciples needed.

When this special guest comes to you and to me, he knows what we need.  He’s not going to give us a million in small bills or a vacation home or healing from cancer right away.  He could and he might, but he’s the special guest with wisdom to know what we need for thinking that is rooted in selfishness, for speaking that is hurtful, for doing what is dirty or damaging.  He’s the special guest who knows what we really need. Guest? – Who? He is our Savior, Jesus, our wise Savior, knowing what we need.

As He Revealed His Generosity

When guests arrive at a wedding reception, they typically bring a gift. It’s expected.  You feel dumb if you didn’t. Nowadays brides and grooms eliminate the guesswork and allow you to pick your price range and match what you plan to spend with what they want from their registry at Kohl’s or Target or At Home.

We don’t know if gifts were a part of weddings in Israel, but we do know this special guest was more generous than anyone could imagine.  He solved the problem in a way that boggles the mind. Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.  That’s one hundred fifty gallons.  That’s sixty-three cases. That’s seven hundred fifty-six bottles.  It must have been quite a crowd coming and going that week. That’s enough wine for over three thousand people.  And it was top shelf! The master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.  He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.  Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”  “This came from where?  Guest! – Who?

When Jesus arrives in your life, he isn’t going to bring a cheap imitation of his love or forgiveness half paid for, “I paid for some of your sins.  You’ll have to take care of the rest,” which would be like a wedding gift with a card that says, “Your gift is at the store. We paid for half. To pick it up, you’ll have to pay for the rest.”  No! He is generous and gracious to over-flowing. Surely our cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life (Psalm 23:6).  Do you wonder, “Can my sin really be paid for?  I’m too wrong, too evil, too sinful!” But who is the one who responds?  Guest! – Who?  He is our Savior, Jesus, our generous Savior, generous in his grace and mercy for us.

As He Revealed His Glory

What guest at a wedding reception comes in a tuxedo, sits at a table and sets up a sign with a big arrow pointing to himself, “Superhero here!” and if a disaster strikes, jumps into the coat room and emerges in cape and costume to save the day?  None. That’s comic book stuff, a plot for an animated movie, not the real world.

The special guest at Cana didn’t do that.  What he did was low key. Only the servers knew at first.  But his disciples caught on. This special guest did put up a sign, a pointer.  What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  Why change water into wine?  Sure, he knew that guests would be better cared for, the host would be pleased, the bride and groom would have one less thing to be bothered with.  But his main concern was for his disciples. He wanted them to grow on the inside, to grow in their understanding of who he is so they could better grasp what he came to do, to grow in faith.  He wanted them to stopping guessing, “Who?” and to know that the answer to “Guest! – Who?” is “The Son of God in human flesh come to save us!”

This is what the angels sang about at Christmas.  It’s what John the Baptist pointed to just days earlier, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 2:29).  It’s what the disciples would see on the Mount of Transfiguration and Mount Calvary.  It’s what we see. This glory of God was under wraps at the wedding at Cana but peeked out in a miracle.  This glory of God was on under wraps on the cross but burst out on Easter morning. This is the Son of God and son of Man in one glorious person so that we look to him and trust him more and more as the answer to, “Guest! – Who?”  He is the one who fills us on the inside and pushing out the bad stuff so we get the greater trust and faith we so want and need.  He is our Savior, Jesus, our glorious and only Lord.

What if you planned a wedding reception at your house? You’d have to clean up the place, get ready, decorate.  But what if a guest arrived and cleaned up for you? What a guest that would be! That’s what our special guest has done to our hearts and for our faith.  That’s what we celebrate during the Epiphany season of the church year, what we celebrate every time we gather for worship, what we celebrate every day. It’s why we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  What better guest could there be! Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on January 20, 2019