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First and Last Things 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
03/13/11

Genesis 3:1-7
John 2:1-11



I did not go to school there, but in coming to Nashville, you know the saying: "When in Nashville, do as the Nashvillians do." Well, maybe that is not a saying, but I think it will work! I have become a passionate fan of the Vanderbilt Commodores, especially their basketball team. Yesterday the Vanderbilt Commodores lost for the third time this season to the University of Florida Gators. I have been thinking about that. They say it is hard to beat the same team three times. Maybe we should add a parenthesis to that: ("unless it is the Vanderbilt Commodores.") I suddenly realized in thinking about this loss that this is the third time in nine years that I have served here as your pastor that I have attempted to preach on this passage in John 2, the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. I looked back at the first two sermons and realized that both were losers – twice I came up against this passage and twice I was soundly beaten! Truth to tell, this is probably a loser as well for a simple reason: This story is so rich, so deep, so full of truth, beauty and power that I suspect any preacher is going to be overmatched by it. It is a great account and the first "sign" or miracle in John's gospel. That is what John calls miracles: "signs," because signs point beyond themselves. Every sign in John's gospel points our vision, our attention, our minds and hearts in the direction of Jesus. 

At the end of the first chapter of John's gospel, just before this encounter at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, Nathaniel is amazed that Jesus knows who he is when he is sitting under a fig tree. Jesus said, "Don't be impressed with that." He said in John 1:50, "You will see greater things than these." If Jesus lived in America in this generation, He would say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." This wedding feast is part now of those "greater things" that the disciples are about to see as they fix their gaze and rivet their attention upon Jesus. This is the first of these "greater things."

Have you ever noticed how often first things point to last things? How often it seems that the first things that transpire in a novel or in a great book, turn out to be portents or omens of the last things as well. I think that is part of the brilliance of John's gospel. So let's note a few of these first things that point to last things in this remarkable encounter told only in the Bible by John. 

The first is this: Jesus' first sign happens when Jesus visits people in the midst of their joy. Isn't that interesting? I know Jesus is "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." I would be the first to tell you that I have encountered Jesus in the trials and tragedies of life, in "the valley of the shadow of death" itself. That does not mean that Jesus is only found there. Isn't it interesting that the first sign of who Jesus is, is a sign that comes to people in the midst of great joy? Nothing exceeded the joy in Jesus' time than that experienced at a wedding feast. All of you can think of very special weddings that you attended for people you knew and loved, families that you knew and loved, and weddings are still great occasions of joy. Jesus comes to visit His people in the midst of joy and adds great joy to what is already a joyful occasion. Remember what C.S. Lewis said once? "Joy is the serious business of heaven." Jesus turns water, what is common, pedestrian, flat, everyday, into something extraordinary, life-giving, full of zest, one of the great symbols of hospitality universally – Jesus turns water into wine. In every case in this first encounter, this first sign in John's gospel, this sign points beyond itself to some of the last, the deepest, the most important things that we ought to note about Jesus. I will hang our first point, that Jesus meets His people in the midst of joy and adds to it, on John 15:11. It comes much later in the gospel when Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches." At the end of that wonderful extended metaphor, Jesus says: "These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might be in you, and that your joy might be complete (or full)." When Jesus comes to us, He brings joy; He brings life to the great party called life. I don't know about you, but I think a whole lot about the fact, the certainty that one day I will die, and when I die I will be remembered for the life that I lived. I will be remembered, and this will be the legacy I leave. I hope like crazy that part of it for the people who knew me best and loved me most is, "Todd brought joy, real joy to my life." How about you and your legacy? Is it apt to include joy? Wherever Jesus is, even in the midst of sorrow and sadness, when He comes, brings joy.

The second of "first things that point to last things" is that this first sign is all about abundance. It is all about extravagance, about God's immense generosity in giving to us Jesus, and Jesus' generosity in the gifts that He offers to us. All of our lives, in different ways, we struggle within, on our worst days, between whether we believe life is about abundance or life is a matter of scarcity. We wonder whether life calls us to generosity, or whether life calls us to protect what we have, to worry endlessly about losing it. This first of Jesus' signs is all about that life-long struggle in which we all engage between whether there is enough or whether we are going to give into fear that leads to scarcity and greed.

This weekend I watched a movie I knew Connie wouldn't have any interest in seeing. It was The Social Network, one of the movies nominated this year by the Academy for Best Picture. I am thankful to say that it did not win as it did not come close to the picture that did, The King's Speech. It tells the story of the highly contested founding of Facebook. Facebook is an unprecedented social phenomenon, an amazing idea created by we are not sure exactly who, though Mark Zuckerberg is clearly in the drivers' seat now as the owner of the intellectual property known as Facebook. Five hundred million people participate in Facebook, which is born of the idea that people long for community, that people long for connection with other people. It is going to produce a mountain of money. But in the midst of all of this abundance, the movie is all about greed and scarcity. Everyone is fighting over whose idea and hence who gets credit and money for the idea. Honestly, there is not a likeable character in the whole movie. Isn't it ironic that in the midst of unprecedented, anticipated abundance, we have a bunch of people haggling over "how much of this can I claim as mine?" It is a movie all about greed and scarcity, about fear and distrust. It is a brilliant movie, well written and well told, but in the end of the day none of the main characters are the least bit appealing, because all of them are motivated by fear and distrust of others.

All of our lives, we struggle with what is going finally to have the last word in our lives. Are we going to be people who recognize that there is enough? That there is enough for everyone because God is rich and gracious and abundant in the gifts that He gives to us? Make note that if this story in John 2 tells us anything, it tells us this: With Jesus there is always enough. Actually, this story says more than that! It says, "With Jesus there is more than enough, there is abundance, there is generosity, there is not just quality, as the steward recognized when he tasted the wine, but there is plenty." Four verses in this short passage are devoted to telling us in detail how abundant this miracle was. Six stone jars, twenty, maybe thirty gallons, filled to the very brim with water, transformed by Jesus into the very finest of wine. Once again we see not just the miracle, but we see the sign that points to something important that all of us need to know about Jesus. In John 10:10, Jesus says, "I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly." Or as John says in the prologue: "From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." All of the details in this story point to the fact that when Jesus is present there is enough; there is more than enough. Jesus is really like the American Express Card on this count: "Don't leave home without Him!" Don't go anywhere without Jesus, who richly gives us all things to enjoy. 

Finally, we are told at the end of this first sign that "the disciples believed in Him." Not everyone believed in Jesus that day, even though they were present. The steward apparently did not believe in Jesus – he thought the groom had popped for the best wine and was serving it last. My guess is that a whole lot of the people present on that occasion who received Jesus' abundant gift never really received Him as the giver. Isn't that the tragedy of life? All of us have received Jesus' gifts. And a whole lot of people who have lived their lives blessed by Jesus' gifts never have received Him, and never are moved to faith. That is the whole purpose of these signs in John – to point to Jesus, so that in gazing upon Him, we too will believe. 

Lamar Williamson was a missionary for many years to Brazil. He ended up teaching at Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. His life's work as a scholar is the gospel of John, and he says the whole theme of John's gospel is summed up in John 1:12: "But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God." To create faith in us, to help us to believe in Jesus – this is the whole purpose of this gift that Jesus gives in turning the water into wine. You have received plenty of Jesus' gifts. Do not take Jesus' gifts without also receiving, believing in Jesus, because that is the best part of faith. 

Finally, before we are done with this remarkable story, though in a sense, I hope we are never finished with it, Jesus saves the best wine for last. Jesus not only is generous in this life in the gifts He gives to us, but maybe best of all are the gifts He promises us for the life which is to come. I said it earlier, I will remind you of it again: One day every last one of us will die. I want to suggest to you that the most exquisite gifts that Jesus has to give are those that He gives in the face of that reality. Indeed, in John 11:12, before He raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die." Jesus looked to Martha and said, "Do you believe this?" In the same way, Jesus looks at each of us and asks, "Do you believe this?" 

Wilfred Grenfell was a renowned missionary to Labrador. Before he went on his missionary journey to Labrador, Grenfell went around recruiting people who might feel called to join him in this venture. He offered the same word to everyone when he was inviting them to join him. He said, "I cannot promise you much money, but I can promise you the time of your lives." I would suggest the same with Jesus: With Jesus, I can promise you the time of your lives!

AMEN.
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