Our God seeks greater partnership with us

Genesis 14:17-20

Melchizedek, acting as a priest,  brings out bread and wine and blesses Abram, who in turn gives him a tenth of everything.

Psalm 128

Blessing comes from a deep desire to walk closely with the Lord as a partner in life.

John 2:1-11

The first miracle of Jesus, turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana, Galilee relied on the willing participation of others.

Revelation 19:6-10

The sound of heaven: the cry of an immense gathering praising God for the ultimate partnership, the wedding on the Lamb of God and His prepared and presentable Bride, the Church.

The message that emerges – God’s provision but also partnership

Partnership with God, provision of land for Abram

Abram, or Abraham as he became, was a man who heard from God and had a close walk with God. He lived his life in partnership with God, trusting God to be ahead of whatever situation he faced; when he and Lot needed to diverge, to give their livestock and herdsmen more room, he gave Lot first choice and trusted God for his own provision. Lot’s own choice took him to Sodom and Gomorrah where he encountered problems.

Abraham simply trusted God who brought him to Mamre, near Hebron, a better place altogether.

In the short passage for this week, we see how Abraham initiated two life principles which we do well to emulate. When he experienced success and victory, he gave God the glory for that. He also honoured God by giving Him the first part of everything. This practice, giving back to God the tithe (or tenth) endures as part of Christian worship today and is seen as God’s provision for His church based on our faith and trust. Abraham’s trust of God and willingness to give God the first part didn’t leave him impoverished. His faith made him the wealthiest man of his time as well the founder of a nation. As we give God the glory due to Him, and honour Him with the first part of all that He gives us, He trusts us with more.

Partnership with God in a close walk, Psalm 128

Psalm 128:1 sets out the blessings of the kind of close walk that Abraham practised and defines the “fear the Lord” phrase for us: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to Him.” These blessings cover every area of life: family, health, work and provision in a prosperity that is rooted in the “blessing from Zion”, the sense of keeping the focus on the Lord in the place of worship.

In Judaism, there is the concept of earning salvation, and of sanctions (sacrifices) for sin, both known and assumed. Christianity turns this on its head at the Cross. Guilt and shame and struck out. So is merit and entitlement. Grace, the undeserved favour of God, is what we find for us at the Cross, where the price was paid. However, our response to this is surely to revere God, want to walk with God and follow His ways. Perhaps the best way to understand this is the transformation that takes place when we give ourselves to Jesus, and the greater facility to be like Jesus that comes from our willingness to be continually filled again with His Spirit, and experience His love. At this point, we will be motivated and guided to walk a close walk – who would not want to walk closely to such love – and to do what is right in God’s sight – releasing His blessings into our lives.

Partnership in the miracle of provision, John 2

It was shameful, not just an embarrassment, for a wedding host to run out of the only drink available, after preparing for a week-long event. For Jesus, ministering to shame and every other emotional need is as important as other dimensions of healing, deliverance and salvation.

The miracle of water turned into fine wine at the wedding celebration teaches us how faith works in our willing participation in what then becomes a miracle. Here the servants went about an unnecessary task, filling the jars with water, and then they served out what they knew was water when it went in – as they did so, the water became wine. Later, in the feeding of the five thousand gathered on the hill, it was as the bread and fish was shared out, not by Jesus, but by the disciples, that the multiplication took place. The servants at Cana didn’t have much choice – they were doing what the Master told them. What about us, as the Master tells us something? For us this is usually a prompt from the Holy Spirit. We have a choice to hear and act on what we have sensed or glimpsed or caught uncertainly,  or to do nothing. As we move out tentatively in our little bit of faith, so God moves in with blessing.

Partnership with God’s eternal purpose: Jesus’ return for His bride, the Church

The “wedding of the Lamb” and “His bride… made… ready” can seem a remote and future concept to us – hardly at the top of today’s priorities. However, heaven’s purpose and practice is intentional and ongoing. Everything is directed towards this end, when Jesus will return in glory and take hold of His church.

Jesus turns water into wine

John 2: 1-11

Wednesday, January 17

The first miracle of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, Galilee

1-3  On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.

  • “Third day” – following the calling of Philip and Nathanael, John 1:43.
  • Perhaps the ruined Khirbet Qana, about nine miles north of Nazareth

1-3  Jesus’ mother was there,  and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

  • It was probably the wedding of a relative or family friend, as Jesus, his mother, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael and John were all attending.

1-3  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to Him, “They have no more wine.”

  • This was wine, not grape juice, and people, then as now, might have too much to drink (v.10). Wine in the ancient world was commonly diluted with two or three parts of water.
  • Running out was embarrassing for the host and groom – and especially so in a culture which emphasised honour and shame. The celebration could go on for a whole week. Often everyone from the village would be invited, and careful preparations were expected.

4   “Woman, why do you involve Me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

  • This is abrupt, but not rude as it comes across in English. The literal phrase was “what does this have to do with us” and this was a common Jewish idiom, Judges 11:12, 2 Samuel 16:10, not unlike our like our “this is not down to me”. Mary had to make a bigger shift than most parents to recognise Jesus for the Messiah He was, not just her son.

His mission must follow God’s timing, not anyone else’s. “My hour has not yet come” always refers to Jesus dying and being exalted e.g. John 7:30 and several other mentions in this gospel. There might also be some symbolism in His answer – the wedding calling to mind the “wedding of the Lamb” at the end of the age, Rev. 19:7 (fourth reading) and foretold in the wedding parables of Matthew 22 and 25.

For further study: Matt. 22:1-14 and 25:1-13, a wedding celebration with wine in abundance, Isaiah 25:6, Jer. 31:12, Hosea 14:7.

5  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”

6  Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

  • The milk churns seen in the country until the 1970s were 10 gallons capacity – so these jars, made of stone, not earthenware, were huge.
  • The ceremonial washing mentioned by John draws a contrast between the old order of Jewish law and religious custom, with Jesus Himself and, looking forward, the complete cleansing in His shedding of blood and death on the Cross.
  • Further on in the story, Jesus went on to Jerusalem for the Passover and cleansed the temple there, John 2:13-16.

7  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8-10   Then He told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise 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.”

  • A characteristic of this new apostolic age which Jesus brings in,  is better and “best” as here.

11  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.

  • It was the first of eight miracles, or signs, that John is recording, that demonstrate and confirm who Jesus is – “through which He revealed His glory” – and through which others believed in Him. Each of the signs emphasises the exceptional extent of the miracle – wine of the highest quality, the official’s son healed at a great distance, a paralysed man healed after 38 years, 12 baskets of food left over, recovery from lifelong blindness, raising Lazarus after four days in the tomb, exceptionally large and diverse catch. Another emphasis seen in all the signs is that they are people-centred. They were not simply demonstrations of God’s power but demonstrations of His love and care.

For further study:

(Water into wine – John 2:1-11)

Healing of official’s son – John 4:46-54

Healing of paralytic at Bethesda – John 5:1-15

Jesus walks on water – John 6:5-14

Healing man blind from birth – John 9:1-7

Lazarus raised from dead – John 11:1-45

Miraculous haul of fish – John 21:1-14

Application

This first recorded action of Jesus has a spiritual intention, to raise awareness of God’s goodness and to renew faith. The wedding party running out of wine was symbolic of firrrst century Judaism having become spiritually dry. Wine, and plenty of wine (but not drunkenness) was seen in the O.T. as a sign of God’s blessing and of joy, Psalm 104:5, Prov. 3:10.

There is also a practical intention. It was shameful, not just an embarrassment, for a wedding host to run out of the only drink available, after preparing for a week-long event. For Jesus, ministering to shame and every other emotional need is as important as other dimensions of healing, deliverance and salvation.

It is not God’s intention that we carry shame with us. It is His intention that we look to Him for every need and expect Him to have ways of meeting needs that we haven’t considered possible.

Another important strand of this story is about our willing participation in what becomes a miracle. Here the servants filled the jars with water and then served it out – as they did so, the water became wine. The servants didn’t have much choice – they were doing what the Master told them. What about us, as the Master tells us something, a prompt from the Holy Spirit? We have a choice to hear and act, or not. As we move out in our little bit of faith, so God moves in with blessing.

Discussion starter

3.  How much does God’s intervention in a situation depend on us, in the sense of our exercising faith in some way?  Have you ever been prompted to say or do something which took some courage and faith, and seen God do something – as if He was waiting for that first move?

Jesus ‘looks on the heart’ of Nathanael and calls him

John 1:43-51

Wednesday, January 10

The first fishermen-disciples find Nathanael and he has an encounter with Jesus, who perceives exactly what he is thinking with prophetic insight.

43  The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

  • The first two disciples, Andrew (named) and John (not named, but probable) joined Jesus on the testimony of John the Baptist. Peter came because of his brother Andrew. Greek-named Philip, from the fishing village of Bethsaida and probably a fisherman, was chosen by Jesus Himself. Later, when Greeks in Jerusalem sought Jesus, it was Philip they approached, John 12:20-22. Jesus’ message spanned both cultures.

44-45   Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

  • His reference to “the one Moses wrote about in the Law” is an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:18 where the Lord says to Moses, ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.’
  • Joseph was not the natural father of Jesus, but he was his legal father.

46  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

  • Nathanael, probably the personal name of Bartholomew, is later referred to in John 21:1-3 as Nathanael of Cana when seven of the disciples were together and went fishing, but caught nothing. The account of Nathanael’s call in John is immediately followed by the story of the first miracle in Cana, John 2:1-11. There are about three locations where Cana might have been, 1-3 hours walk to the north of Nazareth. Perhaps Cana was bigger and looked down on Nazareth – or Nazareth just had a poor reputation, not helped by having a Roman detachment stationed there. To be a ‘Nazarene’ was a way of saying ‘despised’; Galilee as a whole was looked down on and it was said no prophet could come from there, John 7:52, although Jonah came from Gath-hepher, a little north of Nazareth. God is no respecter of persons – or locations, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11.

47  When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

  • “No deceit” – literally, in whom there is no guile, dolos. The father of Israelites, Jacob, used dolos to take his brother’s blessing dishonestly, Gen. 27:35. Jesus goes on to relate Jacob’s experience at Bethel, John 1:51. Perhaps Nathanael had been sitting and reading about Jacob’s experience, Genesis 28:1-17 and Jesus perceived this supernaturally by a word of knowledge.

48  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

  • Jesus means He had a prophetic insight about Nathanael-Bartholomew joining Him. It was a sign to him (v.50).
  • “Under the fig tree” was an expression meaning someone who studied the Law (or Scriptures).

49  Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the king of Israel.”

  • His earlier cynicism about anyone significant coming out such a small place as Nazareth (which is not mentioned in the O.T.) are overcome by Jesus’ word of knowledge and insight into his integrity.

50  Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

Application

Central to the passage is the story of Nathanael’s call. He was a well-read young man, perhaps a little too confident in his good values, who saw, initially, a tradesman carpenter-builder, from a neighbouring village which people looked down on because its main claim to fame was having a Roman detachment stationed there. Jesus shared a word of knowledge in which he had “seen” Nathanael and his character. This was transformational: The sceptical Nathanael now changes to address Jesus as “Rabbi” or Master and recognises Him as Messiah.

In the flesh we carry all sorts of prejudices about class and status and appearance which we are inclined to apply before we have sought the Holy Spirit’s insight. We don’t always receive such a dramatic word of knowledge, but as we know God looks on the heart; with the leading of the Holy Spirit we can see beyond the immediate presentation of a person or situation. Jesus was asking His Father who He was calling, and Nathanael was also open to what God would show Him, we can surmise. It is an object lesson for us.

Discussion starter

When in your experience has initial prejudice been shown up by God, or its counterpart, initial favouritism, shown to have been misplaced?