The Case For Christ: His Life

John 2:1-22

April 1, 2001 | Brian Bill

It’s still early but has anyone already been a victim of an April Fool’s joke?  Some of you have been if you forgot to turn your clocks ahead last night!

The history of April Fool’s Day is fascinating.  In the 16th Century, the New Year was celebrated on April 1st.  When the calendar was revised, New Year’s Day was moved to January 1st but many people did not receive the news for several years (that was before email!).  Still others, even though they heard about the change, refused to accept the new calendar and continued to celebrate the New Year on the 1st of April.  The general populace labeled these backward folk “fools”.  They were made fun of and people began to play pranks on them

April Fool’s Day has developed into an international funfest.  The French fool people by taping a paper fish to their friends’ backs as they yell out, “April Fish!”  In England, if a joke is played on you, you’re called a “noodle.”  In Portugal, the traditional trick is to throw flour at your friends.  I love what Mark Twain said about April Fool’s Day: “The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”

Here are some of the more popular pranks that kids like to play in our country:

  • Fill the sugar bowl with salt.  Then wait until your brother eats his cereal!
  • Put a fake mouse on the floor.
  • Pour the shampoo out of the bottle and replace it with honey!
  • Put a fake ice cube with a fake fly in your dad’s coke.
  • Go to the bathroom and hide all the toilet paper.
  • Put fake bugs in your mom’s bed.

This morning we’re beginning a new series called, “A Case For Christ.”  It’s my prayer that we’ll see Jesus in a fresh way this Easter season.  Each of us have a portrait in our mind of what He looked like and how He lived His life.  

Friends, no matter what Jesus really looked like, the picture many of us have of Him is anemic and inadequate.  Although the name of Jesus is familiar to everyone — so familiar that it has become a casually used expletive — Jesus Himself remains a cloudy figure.  I know some of you think of Him as just a frail, gentle kind of man who did some neat things and provided some good teaching.

This morning we’re going to focus on two images of Jesus from John 2 that will help us form a composite picture of who He really is.  If you want a more complete picture, you’ll need to read the eyewitness accounts contained in the 4 Gospels.  Even then, there’s more to say about Him.  John recognizes this in John 21:25: “Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”  

The Joyful Jesus

My guess is that if you’ve been going to church for a while, you don’t really think of Jesus as someone who liked to have a good time.  The picture in many of our minds is of someone who avoided such normal human pleasures as social activities and parties.  That’s exactly what the religious people thought 2000 years ago.  

When we read through the gospels, we discover that Jesus loved to go to banquets, parties, and receptions — He was a much sought-after dinner guest.  Even the religious leaders disdainfully referred to Jesus as an overeater and a lover of wine.  Matthew 11:19 says, “The son of man came eating and drinking…”   Jesus always chose to spend time with ordinary people rather than mixing it up with the religious crowd.  

Our reporter John writes about an event that happened when Jesus and His disciples were guests at a wedding in John 2:1-11.  Here’s some important background information:

  1. Weddings were a big deal in the Jewish culture and a certain protocol was followed.  If the bride was a virgin, the wedding would be on Wednesday.  If the bride was a widow, the wedding started on Thursday.  
  2. In our culture the bride is the main attraction.  In Eastern weddings, the groom is the “man in the middle.” The bride merely shows up. 
  3. The wedding festivities lasted seven days, and hosts invited as many people as possible, especially distinguished guests like prominent teachers.  It was a time of great celebration.
  4. The wedding ceremony would take place late in the evening after a time of feasting.  The father of the bride would take his daughter on his arm, and with the wedding party in tow, would parade through the streets of the village so that everyone could come out and congratulate her.  Finally the wedding party would arrive at the home of the groom, where the actual wedding took place.  
  5. There was no such thing as a honeymoon because the couple was expected to host a weeklong open house.  And it was the groom’s family who was expected to provide all the food and refreshments for this protracted party.
  6. To run out of wine at a wedding was worse than an April Fool’s joke.  Since new guests constantly arrived, the groom was obligated to provide food and drink.  It would be embarrassing to run out of either one.  In fact, a family could even be sued for a breach of hospitality if they didn’t plan accordingly.  
  7. To the Jewish people wine symbolized joy.  The rabbis had a saying, “Without wine there is no joy.”  When the fruit of the vine ran out, the delight dried up.

Let’s read John 2:1-11.  

While Jesus is at this reception, His mother, who may have been helping with the banquet, came up to Him and reported that they were all out of wine.  The fact that Jesus works to remedy this situation reminds us that He is concerned with the everyday things in life that we face.

I wonder what was going through Mary’s mind.  Jesus was her son, and yet He had greater loyalty to His heavenly Father’s will.  She no doubt remembered what He said to her when he was twelve in Luke 2:49: “…Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”

I think that’s what was behind His answer to Mary in verse 4: “Dear woman, why do you involve me?  My time has not yet come.”  He’s not being rude to His mom but is instead emphasizing that she should no longer think of Him as merely her son.  By calling her, “Dear woman,” He is establishing some polite distance.  He was giving her a gentle hint that everything was subject to the divine will of His Father.  She could no longer approach Him on an “inside track.”

The phrase translated, “My time has not yet come” refers to the Cross in the Gospel of John.  Friends, we can’t understand the life of Jesus apart from His death and resurrection.  The Scriptures don’t tell us what He looked like, but they do tell us very clearly what He came to do.  What Jesus is saying is that that once He starts doing miracles, He will begin the road to the cross.  He is living according to a “heavenly timetable.”  When Jesus sensed the time was right He would act, not before.  

I love Mary’s reaction in verse 5 as she says to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”  Though mildly rebuked, she recognized that the reply of Jesus implied His readiness to work when the hour was right.  She hoped that time was right now as she submissively and confidently tells the waiters to do whatever Jesus says.  She somehow knew that Jesus would take care of the problem and gave the servers a “heads-up” so that they would listen to the Savior’s instructions.

In verse 6 John sets the stage by describing six stone water jars.  These pots were used for hand washing.  When the guests arrived someone would pour this water over their hands to symbolically purify them.  To eat with unwashed hands would have been a defilement.  Mark 7:3 give us some insight into this practice: “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.”  The rabbis had a saying that went like this: “He who uses much water in washing will gain much wealth in this world.”  Each of these jars held twenty to thirty gallons, which means the total capacity was between 120 and 180 gallons!

These water pots represented the old order of the Law that Jesus would replace with something better.  They were symbols of the elaborate system of outward cleansing that could neither clean the conscience nor satisfy the deep yearnings of the soul.  The time for religious ritual has passed; the time for joyful celebration had come!

The servants are told to fill the jars with water in verse 7.  They didn’t question Jesus by saying, “We need wine, not water.”  They immediately obeyed and filled them to the brim.  This emphasizes that there was only water in the jars and that nothing else could be added because they were full to the top.

They’re then told in verse 8, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”  The “master of the banquet” was the guy who was in charge of everything that happened at the wedding.  One of his primary duties was to regulate the flow of wine so that people didn’t get drunk and crash their chariots.  People at the party would hold this “wedding planner” responsible for the empty bottles of wine.

When the banquet manager tasted the water that had been turned into wine, he was shocked.  He called the groom over to the corner of the room and said in verse 10: “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.”   It was customary to bring out the Mogan David cheap stuff after the party got going.  This wine was anything but inferior!  It was the best the manager had ever tasted!

I went on the Internet this week and looked up the winemaking process (don’t worry, I don’t have any grapes fermenting in our basement!).  The whole process can take six months to a year.  And the best wines take even longer.  This is significant because this miracle was instantaneous.  Jesus turned the water into wine immediately!

Verse 11 tells us that this was the first of His miraculous signs.  By the way, this verse declares as false the stories about Jesus performing miracles when He was a young child.  This first miracle revealed His glory to the disciples and they put their faith in Him.  That’s always the case.  Jesus reveals His power and glory so that we can put our faith and trust in Him.  A “sign” is something that points beyond itself to something greater.  That’s why Jesus often preached a sermon after performing a miracle.  He didn’t do it here, but if He had, I think He would have made at least three points:

  • My first miracle took place at a wedding, not at a funeral; in a home, not in church.  Please invite me into your relationships and into your families.  I value social interaction and friendships and have sanctified marriage by my presence.  Don’t compartmentalize me by thinking of me only when you’re in church.
  • I am the bridegroom and those of you who know me are my bride.  Please keep yourself pure and be ready when I come for you so that we can sit down together at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and experience never-ending joy.
  • If your joy has run out, let me give you the kind of joy that is new every day and let me satisfy you completely.  Give me the ordinary and let me do the extraordinary.  Put your faith in me just like my disciples did.  When you do, I’ll transform your life from the inside out.  I’ll change you just like I did the water.

Jesus liked to be around people — and He thoroughly enjoyed himself at parties.  Sounds pretty radical, doesn’t it?  But, it’s an important part of the portrait that the Gospel reporters present.  Once you process this picture of Jesus, I think you’ll be even more attracted to Him.

Now, let me say at this point that Jesus is not saying that it’s OK to go out and get wasted.  Not at all.  Wine was the common beverage at meals in that culture because the drinking water was often impure.  The Bible cautions us against getting drunk.  Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”  And Ephesians 5:18 challenges us, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead be filled with the Spirit.”

Jesus was very much at home at a party and loves to take that which is ordinary and turn it into something special

While the Bible does not teach that drinking alcohol is wrong in itself, I personally think you’re better off if you avoid it altogether.  But don’t miss the point of this passage.  Jesus was very much at home at a party and loves to take that which is ordinary and turn it into something special.

The Zealous Jesus

As we continue putting together our composite sketch of Jesus, another picture arises from John’s reporting.  While there is no doubt that Jesus was joyful and loving toward people, there were some things that really set Him off.  Not only had the wine of the old law run out, the glory had departed from the Temple.  Both the story of the wedding and the cleansing of the Temple point to the deficiencies of religious activity apart from a transformed life.

Let’s take a look at John 2:12-25.  Jesus and his disciples had traveled to the capital city of Jerusalem for the annual spring feast called Passover.  The festivities centered around the Temple, which was the place where those who believed in God went to worship, pray, and make sacrifices.  

Some background information will help us understand this passage better.

  1. When the Temple was constructed, a special area outside the main building was designated for those who were investigating spiritual matters.  They could ask questions about the Scriptures, discover how to pray and worship, and seek advice for the problems in their life.  
  2. During the celebration of Passover, worshipers came from all over to Jerusalem.  Because many traveled long distances, it was inconvenient to bring their sacrificial animals with them.  Opportunistic merchants, seeing a chance to provide a service and make some shekels, set up stands in the outer courts of the temple in order for travelers to buy animals.  I’m told that a pair of doves brought a price of $4, even though they were only worth a nickel.
  3. The moneychangers were needed because the annual temple tax had to be paid with Jewish coins. Those coming from foreign lands would need to exchange their currency and were charged a high fee by the moneychangers.  

Now, with that as background, Jesus and his team approach this outside court of the Temple and discover that something is terribly wrong.  Instead of a safe haven for seekers of God, the area had been turned into a flea market.  Look at verse 14: “In the temple court He found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.”  

What do you think Jesus did?  Did He work His way through the crowds to get into the Temple so He could pray?  Did He and His disciples turn around and leave in disgust?  No.  For thirty years Jesus had been to the Temple and watched these men pollute the house of God.  He was furious at their disrespect and greed.  He was disgusted that the floor was carpeted with manure and the smell of urine burned his nostrils.  This was His Father’s house!

His response may surprise you.  Check out verses 15-16: “So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves, He said, ‘Get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”  Jesus went bonkers!  With a whip in His hand He cleaned house — literally!  This picture of Jesus may be shocking to some of you — but it’s true.

When the disciples saw Jesus confront these people, verse 17 says that they remembered what was written in Psalm 69:9: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  This Psalm is filled with references to the coming Savior and is quoted several times in the New Testament.  Psalm 69:21 speaks of vinegar being given to Jesus to drink when He was on the cross.  This was fulfilled in John 19:29 where we read that they put some on His lips. Perhaps the disciples are beginning to see that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies!

Jesus was fervently focused on the Father

The King James Version translates verse 17 this way: “For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”  Zeal is passion, or love on fire.  It’s a consuming dedication to a purpose.  Jesus was fervently focused on the Father.  He was passionate about purity.  He was pumped about the purposes of God.  That’s why He cleansed the Temple.

Jesus would not stand for anything getting in the way of people having an opportunity to be reconciled to God.  That’s why He was so upset with the religious leaders — they should have been helping those who are seeking truth, not standing in their way.  You’ve heard about the plague of foot and mouth disease in Europe. These people had heart and money disease!  And Jesus wouldn’t put up with it.

It makes perfect sense for the religious leaders to ask what right Jesus had to do this in verse 18: “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”  At the same time, this was not a very smart question because Malachi 3:1-2 indicates that the temple cleansing was itself a sign that they should have recognized: “…Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple…but who can endure the day of His coming?  Who can stand when He appears?  For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.”

These leaders should also have been ashamed of all the graft and greed taking place within the courts of the temple.  Instead of asking Jesus by what right He had cleansed the Temple, they should have confessed their sins and thanked Him for what He did.

When Jesus answers them in verse 19, they think He’s telling an April Fool’s joke: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up again in three days.”  Actually, Jesus is using a figure of speech called a mashal, or a riddle.  It’s a paradoxical saying.

A young boy told me a riddle on Friday night.  There are 100 cats in a boat.  One jumped out.  How many are left?  I answered incorrectly when I said, “99.”  The answer is actually “0” because they were “copy-cats.”

Jesus is very cleverly using some riddles here.  The word, “destroy” can mean to tear down a building or to destroy a life.  The phrase, “This temple” could refer to the temple itself or to a human body.  And the phrase, “I will raise it up” is an expression used with respect to both reconstruction of buildings and the resuscitation of individuals.  But, instead of pondering these paradoxes, they misinterpreted the riddle and took it literally.

Check out verse 20: “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”  They couldn’t believe the audacity of what Jesus had said.  John adds an editorial comment in verse 21 to make sure that we understand that Jesus was referring to His bodily resurrection.  Because this was all put into a riddle, verse 22 tells us that the disciples mulled it over for many months and eventually understood it more fully after Jesus was raised from the dead.

The point that Jesus is making is that He came to replace the old system of religion with a relationship.  The Temple was no longer necessary because Jesus’ body would become the final sacrifice and He would be resurrected on the third day.

Summary and Action Steps

I love this chapter because it provides us with a good summary of the life of Jesus.  He came to bring abundant joy by turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.  And, He came to speak the truth with passion and zeal because He was locked into His Father’s purposes.  He came to die and be raised to life again.  We’re going to focus on the details of His death next Sunday.

In Jesus, we see both grace and truth.  John 1:14 provides us with a great synopsis of His life: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The first part of John 2 is filled with grace, the second half with truth.  Joy and zeal.  Love and holiness.  He came to bring personal renewal and religious reformation.

I want to close with some application points.

  1.   Read the Gospel of John between now and Easter Sunday.  If you read two chapters a day between tomorrow and Palm Sunday and then one chapter a day between Palm Sunday and Easter, you’ll finish the entire book and be prepared for the reality of the resurrection like you’ve never been before.
  2. What do you need to do as a result of hearing this message?  Do you need more joy or more zeal?  What “ordinary” thing can you give Him today?  What truth do you need to hear?  Is there something that you know Jesus wants to “clean-up” in your life, but you’ve been pushing Him away?
  3. Whenever Jesus taught or performed a miracle, people were given an opportunity to put their faith in Him.  We see in verse 11 and in verse 23 that in both the wine making and the temple clearing, people put their trust in Christ.  It’s not enough to just hear some things about Jesus, or try to imagine what He looked like.  Jesus demands a response – and that’s no April Fool’s.

In fact, the Bible says that those who rely only on themselves are foolish.  Proverbs 28:26: “He who trusts himself is a fool; but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.”  And Luke 12:20 speaks to those of you who have been putting off a decision to follow Christ: “You fool, this very night your life will be demanded of you.”

If you’re ready to make the wisest decision of your life by receiving Jesus as your Forgiver and Leader, as the one who can give you both joy and zeal, then join me as I pray…

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?