NO LIMITS TO CHRIST’S LOVE

makings of ministry

John 2

1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Woman, x why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
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.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and 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 10 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.”
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.

 

This past week I was at a home missionary conference in Atlanta.  Atlanta is massive.  The metro area has over 6 million people, the ninth largest in the States.  We have 8 churches in that area, including a new mission right in the middle of the city.  8 churches for over 6 million.  It’s a good location for a conference about the mission work we have and the work missionaries do here at home in America.  And so a conference like this one was the kind of place where it is easy to see God at work for his church.  These are often so uplifting and joyous and motivating.  It’s a reminder of what God still does and accomplishes through his Word.  He saves people, unexpected, undeserving people – you and me.  When I attend those kinds of things, I pray that it will help not just me but all of us here in our service to the Lord and Bismarck.  Our Lord can do it.

And then, we arrive in a place where the mission work doesn’t seem so great.  It’s little Cana for a wedding.  Jesus is an invited guest.  In is a small, rural community Jesus has to know the family somehow, and a close-knit group having a happy celebration would customarily go on for several days or more.  Music, dancing, speeches, food, wine.  We’re told Jesus’ mother is there and that she notices a problem.  She brings it to her son’s attention because she knows whose Son he really is and what he is capable of doing.  It might seem like a little thing in a little community, but Jesus will prove that it’s not.

Jesus responds directly but respectfully.  The Son of God is here for one thing, so everything he does has to fit into that purpose and that timing.  His time to do what only he is capable of doing “has not yet come.”  That’s a good reminder that we don’t get to tell God what to do and when to do it.  Even if you are his earthly mother or a dear blood-bought brother or sister, we do not tell the Lord his business.  We make requests, we send prayers and petitions, but we do not selfishly demand or instruct our Savior.  We wait for him, and his answers will always come at the best time.

The time always comes when God answers, and his time arrived here in Cana, as well.  Jesus tells the servants to fill these six massive jars that can fit 20 to 30 gallons in each one.  Water goes in, the usual purpose for the jars.  But wine is what the master tastes.  I found this description of what happened: “Water heard the voice of its creator and blushed.”  Whatever kind it was, it was the best wine because that’s how God answers – with the best…always.

But I have to wonder why?  Don’t you?  A family runs out of wine at their wedding celebration?  That’s not life-threatening.  That’s not even life-altering.  That’s not calamity.  That’s not catastrophe.  That certainly doesn’t put anyone’s eternity at risk.  But even this simple item, this very small detail is one our Lord is capable and mindful to handle.

There are probably plenty of things, positive or negative, that we consider far too mundane to bring to the Lord’s attention: a scrape, a full bowl of cereal, a letter from a friend, a small schedule change, a trip down the street, a lost toy, a brief weather change, etc.  Or how about this?  Do you sometimes worry about money?  House payments, bills, credit card balances?  Do you fear you’re losing a close friend, who is drifting away from you?  Do you fret about your kids and what kind of world they are going to have in 50 years?  Is your day chalk full of endless tasks and responsibilities that you kind of start the day with a pessimistic outlook right off the bat?  All of these are relatively small and daily things that we deal with.  It can be easy to think, “I shouldn’t bother the Lord with these types of things.  He’s got depressed people, diseased people, dying people, abused people, persecuted people – all sorts of big-ticket items to handle.  My little thing is something I should probably take care of.”

Brothers and sisters, Jesus turned water into wine on the last days of a wedding in little old Cana.  He cares for your every need, right down to the daily bread that he taught you to pray for.  The small things like scrapes, a schedule change, something lost, a brief change in weather, the money issues, the drifting friendship, the changing and chaotic political situation – Jesus turned water into wine.  He can handle the little things.  The big things like diseases, he can cure them, or he can give the strength and humility to cope faithfully.  The loss of a loved one is when his Word can prove to be a mighty fortress even as waves of grief come attacking. Calamity and catastrophe can serve his goal of redirecting people’s attention.  He can also speed recovery and return any people and any place to stability and normalcy.  His love stretches that far, over every single aspect of your life.  You and I have limitations, his love does not.  And we haven’t even spoken of the greatest thing.

While I was at this conference, I worshiped with maybe 50-70 brothers and sisters from all over our church body. We heard the law and gospel inspired and written by God.  We ate and drank the bread and wine, which is, as Jesus instructs his true body and blood for our forgiveness and nourishment.  I heard other pastors talking about meeting atheists in their communities who, over time through the power of God working through the Word, were completely changed into believers.  People who hated God and refused to acknowledge that he even exists are now musicians, elders, leaders, and inviters for God and his church.  I heard about pastors meeting all sorts of people out at community events, in shops, at neighborhood parties, at kid’s sporting events, or during community service project, and those relationships sometimes lead to people taking a BIC (Bible basics) class and membership in the eternal family of God.  I heard about not just pastors but members of these home missions who jump right in and help set up for worship in rented spaces, who bring invitations to work and parties, who develop friendships with the idea that they want to live forever with friends and neighbors in heaven.  The only way that is possible is to introduce them to Jesus.

“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.” This is something so massive and limitless that it’s hard to put into words.  God’s love is not just able to turn water to wine.  Jesus’ love is not just good for serving at weddings.  See, this miracle is great and there are many more, but miracles aren’t the big thing. John goes on to describe the big thing at the end of his book in John 20: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” God’s love can turn dirty, stinky, gross hearts like yours and mine into cleansed and purified hearts that believe in Jesus.  Jesus’ love serves us the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, given to spare us from the punishment and pain of hell so that we can live with him forever in heaven. His Word and the sacraments have that kind of power.  His love has that kind of desire.  There are no limits to what God has accomplished for us.

His grace will not run out like the wine at the wedding.  I hope you noticed just how much Jesus provided.  If things were wrapping up in a couple days maybe 10 more cases of wine would do the trick.  That’s 120 bottles, each at 750 mL.  Quick math and that would be about 24 gallons.  That would be one of those stone jars.  Jesus did 6 times that amount of the best wine the master had tasted.  Brothers and sisters, your Savior knows how to provide for your earthly life.  He knows how to provide your eternal life.  He knows how to do these things abundantly, without limits.

This good news strengthen, builds, and encourages people.  This kind of love is going to work in hearts just like it did on the disciples.  They kept following, kept learning from, kept believing in, and kept serving the Lord.  And that’s the prayer for us, as well.  That must be why someone recommended the second reading for today.  This is God inspiring the apostle Paul’s prayer for believers in Ephesus and believers here.  It’s worth another look, from Ephesians 3 (7 and 8 in the worship folder):

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Jesus’ power is not just in this place where we hear his mighty Word.  It’s wherever he is.  It’s in Cana and Atlanta.  It’s in Sterling, Menoken, Mandan and Bismarck.  Jesus’ love is not just in this place where he feeds us with his body and blood.  He puts his love in your heart through faith.  His love shines through you, so it’s wherever you go to and serve others in his name, for his glory.  His love is where you work, where you study, where you relax, and where you play.  His love is where you eat and where you rest.  His love is at work in every situation you deal with.

There is also a great reminder here in what Jesus did and didn’t do.  He did change water into wine, but he didn’t fill the jars with water or take the water to the master. He told the servants to do that. Jesus’ love changes us from bystanders to servants who draw from his immeasurable grace and mercy, and then give it to others.

But that’s not the limit either.  His love is active way beyond just you and me. It extends wherever sinners are finding forgiveness in him, wherever the troubled are given peace in him. It reaches those who otherwise have no reason to hope, no possibility of contentment. His love is wherever the gospel is proclaimed. Yes, in keeping with his unlimited and immeasurable power, the love of Jesus is “so wide and long and high and deep,” in this life it’s impossible to fully know it. It even reaches countless souls you and I will never meet until we sit down with him and all his beloved at the bountiful heavenly wedding banquet.

Brothers and sisters, today in little old Cana we see one of the things that makes Jesus’ ministry so powerful.  It is his unlimited love.  But that’s not just in Cana, is it?  Through faith in him, his love is right here and right there.  And when you have his unlimited love in your heart, he involves you.  You already have what he gives you – and it’s a limitless supply – now start serving.  Amen.

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THE WORD BECAME FLESH

 

Light in the Darkness

John 1

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

When I was a kid, we used to do this thing on Christmas Day where my brother, sister, and I would look for a small pickle ornament that was hidden somewhere in the Christmas tree.  Have you ever heard of this before?  There are a lot of hypotheses as to how this ever became a thing to do at Christmas, but the one that my mom taught us seems logical.

Putting an evergreen tree up in your house became a thing around the 15th century in Germany.  It’s a symbol for the tree of life.  And so they brought this tree in their house at Christmas because Jesus is the Life, he gives us the gift of life, and he will bring us to heaven where, as the Bible says, we will enjoy the tree of life forever.  And they decorated this tree sometimes with candles because Christmas is all about the light that shines in the darkness.   Their ornaments on the tree were cookies, apples, and other fruits and vegetables because the tree of life is something that we will eat from.  That’s why a lot of ornaments nowadays are round balls that look like apples and pears.  So here’s where we pick it up with this pickle thing.  My mom said, according to tradition, that the pickle was the last ornament hung on the tree.  It was hidden and then the game was that whoever found it first would get an extra present.  So that’s why we did it as kids.

We read through this Christmas gospel from John 1 every year on Christmas day, and it’s straightforward and clear language.  There are no big theological words here, just plain normal words that we use all the time: “beginning…the word…with God…was God…”  But there is something hidden in here that is a lot more profound than getting an extra little present.  Because hidden in these words is the greatest Christmas gift we have.

The true gift of Christmas is not a great man, a miracle worker, or compassionate leader, because it is something far greater.  John wants us to see just how great it is and so he goes way back to the very first words of the Bible, “In the beginning…”  But John goes ever further back than Genesis, to a time where was no earth.  What was there? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  God was there before Genesis 1.  And God was not alone.  The Word was with God, but the Word also was God.  Jesus is one of the persons of the eternal Triune God.  Astounding to think that Christmas started before Bethlehem, before the shepherds and angels, before Mary and Joseph.  Because the one whose birth we celebrate today, has no beginning.

But why did he have to be born here in this world?  I don’t claim to know anything about engineering, but when an engineer designs a machine, he has a specific job that it is designed to do, right?  That machine does not need to do anything nor everything.  It has a precise purpose.  When an architect sketches out a building it is to fulfill a certain function.  If it’s a church building it will look one way, a house another, a store still another.  Likewise, when God made this world and put us here, it was for a specific purpose: to love our maker, to give him glory as an unequaled powerful and loving God, and to be a blessing to our fellow human beings.  We were designed in the image of God to reflect his love, care, thoughtfulness, and productivity.

But quite quickly after we were placed into this paradise, we failed to keep God’s image.  We did not live up to our purpose.  That is why we needed God to become man.  We couldn’t fix ourselves and get rid of the brokenness.  We needed the one who made us to fix us.

There is another reason we needed God to come here.  People often look at God as distant or hidden.  Sure, he says he is watching over you and helping you, but sometimes it’s hard to see.  It seems like God is way off in his perfect home not having a clue how hard it is to live as a human being in this dark world.  Christmas shows us that our God knows and understands us better than we often think.  If we say, “God, do you know what it is like to face endless temptations,” Jesus says, “I can recall more than 30 years of experience fighting off the devil with my thoughts, words, and actions.”  If we say, “God, do you know what it is like to be so scared that you can barely function,” Jesus replies, “I can relate from that night in Gethsemane where my sweat was drops of blood and my prayers begged my Father to change the plan.”  If you say, “God, you can’t understand what it is like to have family and friends let you down again and again,” Jesus answers, “Do you remember my disciples Denying Peter, Betraying Judas, Doubting Thomas?  I think I get it.”  Even if you say, “Jesus, do you know what it feels like to carry a burden of guilt and shame?  Do you know what it is like to feel like God is against you, like he has abandoned you,” Jesus responds, “I can understand better than you, because I carried the burden of sin for the whole world.  My Father would never abandon you, because when I was on the cross paying for your sins, he abandoned me.”

And still another reason we needed God to come here.   The God we have is so huge and powerful and divine and vast and mighty and holy and eternal and on and on and on, that we could never begin to comprehend him.  That’s pretty clear with this title before us today, “ λόγος.”  What does that even mean?  It can be translated “word” or “statement” or “communication.”  But we’re not just talking vocabulary here; it’s the message or the embodiment of an idea.

How can we possibly understand a being that could call all things into existence simply by speaking?  That’s why smart science people have tried to answer that question by saying he didn’t.  Their brain power is too small to understand how this world came into being.  Jesus is so far above us, so much beyond us, we cannot grasp the breath of his knowledge or the limitlessness and eternity of his power.  The title “the Word” wraps all of that up in a package that says we have an awesome God.

But we need to understand him, at least to some extent.  We need to know what he wants and does not want of his creation, how he feels about us and our sins.  So, we needed him to reveal himself to us, that we might understand what he wants us to know.

To really understand someone requires words.  Imagine you are walking through a park or the mall.  You see a man in his 30s.  Just by looking at him, you come to some conclusions.  He has no ring on his finger, so he’s likely not married.  He has a big beard, a plaid shirt, and tight jeans, so you conclude he’s a millennial hipster.  He’s eating a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, mushrooms and pickles, so you assume he is dieting or a vegetarian.  Just by looking at him, you can figure out a few things.  But would you say you actually know him?  I sure hope you’re not the judgmental.  To really know him would require a conversation with WORDS.  So, when Jesus is called “the Word,” the Spirit is telling us he is the way God reveals himself to us.  He is how we get to know God.  We can sure look at things in Creation and deduce that God is powerful, wise, and creative.  Yet only in looking at Christ Jesus can we really see what is in God’s heart.  Only in looking at Christ can we see that God is loving, that he doesn’t wish to destroy sinners, but save us.

And so, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Jesus came.  The hidden God became known here among us.  God “made his dwelling” here.  I like how that is the past tense.  It means God did that in the past.  He came here once, but he didn’t stay because that was not the job.  The job wasn’t to make this place his home.  It was just a dwelling.  The Greek word means “to live in a tent.”  It wasn’t permanent.  The Word became flesh so that he could remove the darkness we made.  The Word became flesh so he could reveal himself as the God who loves us.  The Word became flesh so he could save us from sin and open up the doors to a new home.  The first time, God came here to dwell with us, so that there would be another time where God could dwell with us, when we are taken to his home in heaven forever.

There is only one way that eternal life in heaven can be ours.  There is only one way to be on God’s side, a child in his eternal family.  John says that you cannot be born “of natural descent.” It’s not about having the right parents or genes.  John says that you cannot have this by “human decision.” That means you don’t decide to make heaven your home.  It is “of God.” Heaven, being part of God’s family is a gift given by God.  And he does it this simple yet amazing way.  Through the written Word, the living and active Word of God, the Spirit creates faith in us and ties us in faith to the incarnate Word.  They are inseparable.  To be in the Scripture is to be in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Apart from Scripture, you are apart from the Word.  That’s why we join in worship, why we encourage Bible study, why you read your Bible at home and have devotions with your family.  Because without the written Word you don’t have the incarnate Word, who came to remove our darkness.

So here we are today, marveling all over again at the miracle of the Incarnation, taking in that Word of God.  Brothers and sisters, hidden in here is something better than a pickle in a Christmas tree and an extra little trinket.  Hidden in this Word is the eternal Word who took on human flesh to save us.  Hidden in this Word is the greatest gift we could ever have: the Light of life that drives away the darkness of sin, death, and hell.  Hidden in this Word is the eternal Word who took up residence in our hearts so that we could be called “the children of God.”  There is no greater gift at Christmas than this Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

…to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Merry Christmas.