Tag Archives: New Testament

Looking Back to Sunday’s Gospel

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 “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time 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 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

John 2:1-11

In John’s gospel, the stories that other writers call ‘miracles’ John calls ‘signs.’ It is proper to think of them as signs that point in specific directions. Sunday’s gospel reading tells us about one of those signs.

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. (John 2:11)

The story is fairly simple. Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were invited to a wedding feast. The guests drank up all the wine before the feast was over. When Jesus’ mother learned of the problem, she asked Jesus to help. After demurring, Jesus told the servants to fill up some big jars with water, which he then transformed into the best wine the host had ever tasted. Problem solved.

If this event is a signpost, to what does it point?

There are several hints. It is the third day since he met and called Nathanael to be a disciple. The element “the third day” is part of the sign. We all know that Jesus was resurrected on “the third day” after his crucifixion. This sign points toward that day. This element reminds us of the whole story of the trial, the crucifixion, the death and the resurrection, and those events were all quite bloody. That is part of the sign.

When Mary asks Jesus to help, he says, “My hour has not yet come.” In John’s gospel, Jesus’ hour is the crucifixion. Over and over through John’s telling, we are told that Jesus’ hour has not yet arrived, and then things change. In John 12:23, Jesus says, “The hour has come.” In today’s story, we learn that an hour will come, although it has not yet appeared, and that is part of the sign.

Jesus turns water into wine. It is one of the stories of his provision of nourishment for people. When Jesus later fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish, he explained that it was a sign to make them hunger for eternal food. In this first sign, the wine points to the Last Supper where Jesus told the disciples that the wine was his own blood of the new covenant. The lavish amount created points forward to the fact that Jesus lavishly shed his blood on the cross because of his love for all people. Like his act of giving thousands of people enough bread that there were leftovers, this sign provides enough wine and more. This miracle is not simply a sign that teaches us about the Lord’s Supper. It is a sign that teaches us how richly God provides for our lives.

Think about it. Jesus never gives people barely enough; he always gives what they want and need and then some. His provision always exceeds necessity and supports a generous sharing spirit. When he provided wine to the host of the wedding feast, he didn’t provide just a single bottle or wineskin; he provided gallons and gallons. When he provided bread to the five thousand, the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftovers. When he healed Peter’s mother-in-law, she didn’t simply open her eyes and say “I feel better now.” She was so thoroughly healed that she got up and made dinner. When he healed a paralytic, the man didn’t merely wander off through the crowd; he leaped!

And when Jesus shed his blood of the covenant, he shed it lavishly, completely, to the last drop. He was arrested and beaten by the temple guards. Pilate scourged him. Soldiers nailed him to the cross. One soldier even shoved a spear into his side, and he bled still more. The sign shows us not just the fact of Christ’s sacrifice but it also shows us the degree to which Christ planned to go for us. He would give all that there was to give.

Some people try to make the Old Testament out to be about some different God than the New Testament, but in Christ, the Old Testament and its prophecies and signs come to life. There certainly were signs in the Old Testament.

Moses, for example, as a sign to the Egyptians that their river god had been defeated, dipped up water out of the Nile and then as he poured it out, the water became blood. The bloody sign of Moses was the sign of death, the death of the gods of Egypt. The first sign of Christ is the miracle of wine, the best wine the host had ever tasted, and though this sign pointed to the shedding of blood, that bloodshed brought life, not death. The contrast with the sign of Moses is clear.  The death of Egypt’s gods was accompanied by the death of many Egyptians. In contrast, the bloody death of Jesus would bring life to all people.

This story calls to mind the Jacob’s final blessing as he was about to die. As he blessed each son he made a prophecy about the future generations in that line of his family. When he blessed Judah, he said, “The scepter … shall not depart from Judah … until Shiloh comes ….” Speaking of Shiloh Jacob says, “He washes his garments in wine and his clothes in the blood of grapes.” It is a graphic image of the realities of the crucifixion, and the phrase “the blood of grapes” reinforces Jesus’ statement to his disciples that the wine had become “the new covenant in my blood.”

When John came to the end of his book, he said, “These [signs] 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.” John said that there was a lot more to tell than he could cram into his book, but he was confident that he had told us enough to be able to recognize Christ. John’s method of telling the story packs a lot of information into a text of manageable size.

There is one more element to the story that seems worth mentioning. This first sign of Jesus’ ministry took place at a wedding feast. John writes of another wedding feast in the book of Revelation. In this first wedding feast, Jesus gives the sign of his coming crucifixion and resurrection. In the wedding feast in Revelation, Christ is joined to his bride, the church, which consists of the people ransomed by the lavish shedding of his blood on the cross. This sign points richly to the immensity of Christ’s love for all people. He loves each of us with the passion of a groom about to be joined to his bride in marriage.

There are people who believe that the Bible and the Christian religion are about rules and judgment. They believe that because of the word sin. They believe that God does not love people, because God calls sinful behavior sin. In today’s gospel story Jesus gives us the first sign that helps us to understand that God’s love of people makes him hate sin so much that he will lavishly give his life away in order to save us from it. Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper may we be even more aware of its meaning for us, because John has told us the story of this first signpost on the road to the cross.

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Getting Ready to Learn from the Bible

Titlepage of the New Testament section of a Ge...
Titlepage of the New Testament section of a German Luther Bible, printed in 1769. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many ways to study the Bible, as many ways as there are people to study. One way to enhance your understanding is to use helps. Bible study helps come in many forms – commentaries, dictionaries, maps, and so forth. You can find Bible study guides that encapsulate helps and thought questions that may make it easier for you to accomplish your study in less time.

I like to use an assortment of helps. When I study a particular text, I usually read several commentaries in order not to be confined to one person’s viewpoint on the text. If one or more specific words seem important, I use dictionaries to help me understand those words. If it seems important to get back to the original languages, I use an interlinear Bible that links to lexicons for that language.

Here is an example of using helps to understand the lectionary readings for Easter Sunday this year, 2012.

The texts are:

Acts 10:34-43

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Mark 16:1-8

As I read through the texts for the first time, I took note of verses or sentences that seemed more important to me. You will find that any given verse or passage may spark different reactions each time you read it. I believe this is the work of the Holy Spirit leading us into truth.

For example, as I read the Acts passage this time, I was drawn to pay attention to the verse that says that Jesus healed “all who were oppressed by the devil.” It reminded me that in our readings from the book of Mark this year, demon possession figures prominently, but the Acts passage doesn’t really refer to possession. It uses the word “oppressed.” I wondered if it would be appropriate to conclude that Peter felt that all the people Jesus healed – the sick, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, as well as the demon possessed – were oppressed by the devil. I wrote down that verse and took note of that question for further investigation. I will first look in several commentaries, and I may find that I needed a dictionary or even a Greek lexicon, depending on what I find in the commentaries.

The last verse of the Acts text says that “everyone who believes in [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins.” If I think back to Peter’s original comment about those who were “oppressed by the devil,” this passage makes me ask if it is right to conclude that Peter believes sin is the expression of the truth that we are “oppressed by the devil?” It will be important to know how the term “sins” is understood specifically in this text and generally in similar texts. I may need to look at a book on theology, or maybe some of the early Christian writings will refer to this text.

When I read Psalm 118, I see a text I have seen as a quotation in the New Testament. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” I don’t immediately remember where it is quoted, but I can look it up in some of my helps. I also see the word “salvation.” We commonly say that our salvation is the result of Christ’s death and resurrection, which had not taken place when Psalm 118 was written. That must mean that in this psalm, the word meant something different to the original writer and the original readers, yet this word may foreshadow or foretell something about the Messiah, especially since the “cornerstone” verse is quoted in the New Testament. I note the quotation and the word “salvation” for further research. I am also led to ask if there is a relationship between Peter’s use of the phrase “oppressed by the devil” and the Psalmist’s use of the word “salvation.” Most people say that salvation takes place when our sins are forgiven. I may want to look in some theology books for definitions of salvation and for better understanding of the theological view of sin. Theologians may have a broader definition of sin than the common idea that sin is something we should not do.

1 Corinthians 15 is famously about Christ’s resurrection. Verses 1-11 refer to it, reporting the evidence of those who witnessed Christ alive after his resurrection, and reporting Paul’s own experience with the risen Christ. I read and reread this passage trying to uncover any relationship with the other texts, and then I saw this verse (3) “Christ died for our sins … (vs. 4) he was buried and … he was raised on the third day.” If I am following the right thread of thought through these texts, this section will help me reach the understanding the Holy Spirit is trying to teach me in these readings. “For our sins” may be linked with Peter’s statement about people “oppressed by the devil.” In order to find any link, I probably need texts with the original language and references to lexicons or other resources that explain that either the same word is used, or the word used is related.

Finally I reach the gospel reading. Mark tells only that three women went to the tomb, where they found the stone rolled back. Inside, Jesus’ body was gone, and a young man in white spoke to them. He said, “Jesus of Nazareth … has been raised; he is not here.” This is an eyewitness account that underlies the passages in Acts and 1 Corinthians. The Corinthians passage nails down information that might result from investigation of the report of a resurrection. In Acts, Peter explains what it means for us that Jesus rose from the dead. It is becoming apparent that the term “oppressed by the devil” may really have a strong link to the meaning of resurrection and salvation. I wonder if I can find a book or commentary that will help me see the whole picture.

After prayerfully reading all four texts, I conclude that I will focus on Peter’s statement that during Jesus’ ministry he set individual people free from the devil’s oppression. I will examine the concept that sin is Satan’s tool to oppress us, and that Christ’s death and resurrection eternally set all people free from that oppression. I will use some commentaries, dictionaries, and perhaps some individual books that shed light on these passages and these concepts. Eventually I expect to reach a moment in which some truth just for me will emerge from this study. I will use the following strategies:

  • Ø  Research Bible Study – reading and taking notes from reference materials
  • Ø  Sustaining Bible Study – one or more meditations on themes that emerge from my research
  • Ø  Transformational Bible Study – time set aside to ask God what needs to be different in my life because of this study

Everybody needs to study the Bible in order to grow as a Christian. We all have different life schedules, different gifts, different callings, and different ways of learning. Some people do not learn best in the pages of a book or sitting still somewhere. Know yourself, and study using the means and opportunities God gives you. I share this information as a prompt for you to discover the method or style that opens your heart to the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit. I am deeply grateful not to be a cookie-cutter human, just like everybody else. You, too, are unique. Discover how special you are in relationship with Christ.

What learning method or style draws you so close to Christ that it is like walking together in conversation?