Monday, April 30, 2012

Musings on John Chapter Two: V

“This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.”

The Gospel of John is a narrative of Jesus unveiling His glory through a series of signs, typically accompanied by teachings related to the signs. Jesus is the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Living Water, the Resurrection; He feeds the multitude, gives sight to a blind man, a woman receives eternal life, Lazarus is raised from the dead. At Cana, however, what does Jesus do and what does Jesus teach?

We see a marriage feast, the wine has run out, Jesus turns the water into wine; not just any grade of wine, but good wine – I think it is fair to say that it was excellent wine. I wonder how much a bottle of this wine would bring at a wine auction.

Wine appears again in the Gospels, though it does not explicitly appear in John’s Gospel. While the Bread and Wine of the Last Supper are not explicitly mentioned in John’s Gospel, because of Matthew, Mark and Luke we can visualize their presence in the Upper Room of John Chapter 13. The wine in the cup of the Lord’s Supper is the blood of the New Covenant for the forgiveness of sins. We can also see the wine in the entire Upper Room discourse of John chapters 13 – 17, for all five chapters portray our communion with the Trinity; Christ invites us to partake of the cup of the Trinity in intimate relationship; the Trinity abides in us, we abide in the Trinity, and we abide in each other.

In the Upper Room there are echoes of Melchizedek and Abraham from Genesis Chapter 14. “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)” In Psalm 110:4 is the Messianic declaration, “The LORD has sworn and will not repent, You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Then in Hebrews Chapter 5ff we see that Jesus is the fulfillment of Psalm 110, that Jesus is the Promised One after the order of Melchizedek; we should expect no less than bread and wine from Him.

In Genesis 14 Melchizedek serves bread and wine to Abraham, the one to whom a promise of salvation to all humanity is made; in the Upper Room Jesus Christ serves bread and wine to twelve descendants of Abraham who are also twelve representatives of all humanity as Abraham was, in his time, the one representative of all humanity.

Abraham prospectively, down through centuries, partakes of the body and blood of the Lamb, the Twelve in a prospective immediacy, for the Crucifixion will occur within hours, partake of the bread and wine. In the case of the Twelve the bread and wine become a way of life, celebrated over and over again throughout their lives within an ever-increasing community, an ever-increasing koinonia. With the Twelve the bread and wine become a way of life for Jesus becomes their source of life, daily, hourly, moment by moment; as the Father is Jesus’ source of life the Trinity becomes the source of life for the Twelve, a source of life which they pass on to others, and others to others; someone passed that source of life on to you, someone passed that source of life on to me, we are called to pass that bread and wine on to others. As Jesus is our bread and wine, we are called, in Christ Jesus, to be bread and wine to others.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Musings on John Chapter Two: IV

“…the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’”

Was the master of the feast reproving the bridegroom? Was he commending him? Or was this a simple exclamation? And the bridegroom; did he have any idea that he had run out of wine? When he heard the master’s words did the bridegroom think that the servants had made a mistake in serving the good wine last?

What wine it must have been! Had the master ever tasted such wine before? Was the bridegroom’s palate able to discern the richness and bouquet of the wine? If it was, then perhaps the bridegroom wondered where this marvelous wine came from, for surely when he was taste tasting the wine he purchased for the wedding he did not taste anything comparable to this wine.

And the other guests? How many of them were in a condition to wonder, “Where did this wine come from? Why is the best being served last?”

God often saves His best for last. The prophet Haggai writes, “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts,” Haggai 2:9a. Jesus is the greater Temple, a Temple that expands until it fills the entire earth, (Daniel 2:35; Ephesians 2:21, 22; 4:15,16; Hebrews 12:18 – 29).

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through Whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” Hebrews 1:1ff.

Jesus is the best wine that our Father has to offer and He is the best wine that we can offer others. Unlike natural wine, Jesus does not make us drunk, He makes us sober; He does not impair our vision, He causes us to see for the first time. Jesus enlightens our eyes and gives joy to our hearts.

And yet professing Christians insist on purveying other wines; when we walk in wine shops operated by professing Christians we do not find Jesus front and center, no, we must look for Him. If we find Him He will be in a dusty bin and we’ll usually see that it has been sometime since anyone requested Him. The popular wines? Let me count the varieties.

Nationalism, politics, economics, foreign affairs, prophecy, music styles, modes of sacraments and worship, church polity, the way people dress, self-help, church growth, personal peace and affluence – the list is endless.

When we are drunk on lesser wine we will not recognize the best wine. When our palates are trained in the best wine we will have no taste for lesser wines.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Musings on John Chapter Two: III

“Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.” John 2:6.

The wedding reception has run out of wine, what to do?

“Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it.”

The number six is associated with man, Adam being made on the sixth day. For the past 2,000 years Jesus has been turning water into wine, changing lives from the mundane to the supernatural, from the earthly to the heavenly. Jesus touches lives of stone and makes them tender, forgiving, and loving. He shows us that our efforts at self-purification have no end to them and bring us no lasting peace, but that in Him we have total acceptance and perfect forgiveness and eternal peace. We learn that Jesus Christ is our righteousness and purification and redemption (1Cor. 1:30), that He is our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:8 – 16).

In Christ we need not fill stone pots with water for purification again and again and again, for His cleansing is once and for all (Hebrews Chapter Ten), nor do we need to bring our water buckets to the well day after day, for He will put a fountain of life within us (John Chapter Four). When Jesus attends a wedding, when He touches a life, things are never the same – the old ways are no longer – new wine is put into new wineskins.

But it is hard, hard to accept this idea that we need only trust Christ, hard to accept the idea that we need not maintain vessels for purification, for constant washing and washing and more washing. It’s hard to accept the fact that we can use our water buckets as planters, that we need never use them again to draw water from a well. It is easy to sympathize with the Galatians; sure we came into relationship with Christ through belief, but surely we must do something to remain in God’s good favor!

What are the servants thinking as they fill the water pots? Maybe they aren’t thinking, maybe they’re just being obedient servants earning a day’s wage. But then maybe they are thinking, maybe they’re thinking that Jesus is going to put an additive in the water, something to give it the appearance and color of wine – after all, most people have had more than a couple cups of wine, many of the celebrants may not even notice the change in taste – there is a reason why the quality of wine at festivals and receptions declines as the party wears on – who can blame Mary and Jesus for trying to make the best of a bad situation.

So the servants will do what servants must do, they will play the game, they will play the “let’s make believe the water is wine” game and see how it develops. Servants have been playing this game as long as there have been employer – employee relationships, as long as there have been masters and servants, owners and slaves – let’s see what dumb thing the boss is going to do next.

What were the servants thinking when they approached the master of the feast with the water turned wine? Could they discern the transformation or could they only wait to see the reaction of the master of ceremonies? What were they feeling as the master of the feast raised the cup to his lips and the water/wine passed into his mouth? Were their eyes fixed on him or where they looking away, waiting for an explosion of “What are you trying to pull here?!

Suppose we had been the servants? What would we have thought? Would we have poured the water into the stone pots? Would we have carried the water to the master of ceremonies? Would we have told the bridegroom that there was a crazy man interfering with the catering service? Would we have quit rather than be associated with such a hair-brained scheme?

But we are the servants, aren’t we? Those of us who claim to follow Jesus, aren’t we His servants and doesn’t He ask us to do things that make no sense? Turn the other cheek, go with someone an extra few miles, give away what we have, forgive the unforgiveable, love the unlovable, invest ourselves in a Kingdom that can’t be seen (at least by most people), tell the truth even when it is to our detriment (at least the world would tell us that it is), prefer others above ourselves. All of these things make about as much sense as serving water to a master of ceremonies and hoping that he’ll think it’s wine. What kind of God asks His servants to do such things?

Thankfully the obedience of belief need not be without questionings and doubts, thankfully we can wonder, “Is this water really going to become wine?”, as we display our trust in Christ through our obedience. Our Lord Jesus knows our frailties, He knows our struggle for belief; let us remember we are called to trust Him, to trust who He is, to trust His Person, His Character – I am not called to believe that water can be turned into wine, I am called to trust Him and to trust that when He commands and I obey that His will and purpose will be done. It is not the measure of my faith that matters, it is Who I place my faith in.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Musings on John Chapter Two: II

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee…” (John 2:1)

“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” (John 2:19)

The story is about a Bridegroom seeking a Bride. The image of God is male and female in unity (Genesis 1:27). As Paul writes, “This is a great mystery” (Eph. 5:32). And so the Word is made flesh, but the Word will yet be made flesh again on Pentecost, and that making of flesh, that progressive incarnation of Christ in His Body, has its consummation in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and the presentation of the New Jerusalem, a Bride prepared for her Husband. As an earthly bride descends a grand staircase, or walks down a cathedral aisle, the Bride of Christ makes her entrance for all to see; her Husband is her glory and she is His delight.

Christ is the head of the Bride, He is her Savior, He loves her and gives Himself up for her – that He might sanctify and cleanse her in order that He might present her in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:22 – 33). Paul is right, this is a great mystery. Is it any wonder that Jesus’ first sign was done at a wedding?

Just as the body of Jesus will be raised in three days, there is a sense in which a wedding will be inaugurated on Easter morning, for Jesus Christ came out of the tomb to claim His Bride. What an amazing love He has for her – she isn’t much to look at with the natural eye; she is soiled and stained and trampled on and misused and abused and confused about whom she is and who she belongs to. The swirling images of Body and Bride and Temple and Priesthood and Flock and Family dance in and out of each other, the light playing through each turn of the kaleidoscope – let us take them for what they are and how they are presented – our focus now is on the Bride, Jesus died for His Bride, He rose for His Bride, His Bride was filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost; He has cleansed her, He is cleansing her, He will continue to cleanse her – a marriage supper is in process after which is the grand entrance, unveiling, and consummation.  This is a love story of a Bridegroom for a Bride, a Bride who starts out unlovable and untouchable but who is transformed through the Bridegroom’s love into a radiant beauty, a beauty with the glory of God.

“The mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’”

What hour is Jesus speaking of? Can it be the inception of His ministry, the inception of His signs? How could this be for surely Jesus would not perform a premature sign? Can it be that Mary had an expectation that Jesus would do a grand sign for many to see? Perhaps. In the event only a few people were privy to the miracle – it did not take center stage such as many of His other miracles – turning water into wine was not an attention getter.

Was it the hour of the Bridegroom’s own wedding to which He referred? Certainly it was no accident that Jesus’ first sign was performed at a wedding. Did Jesus look through that wedding in Cana and see the First Man and First Woman? Did He look through that wedding in Cana and see the Marriage Supper of the Lamb; did He see His Bride, the New Jerusalem, descending from the staircase of Heaven in her glory?

[Exegetical Note: These thoughts are part textual exegesis and part devotional interaction with the text. From a baseline exegetical perspective, some elements of my thoughts should be held tightly, others lightly; I believe we have the freedom in Christ to enjoy both. Were this a commentary or were this a class in exegesis, I would not venture as far afield as you may find herein, in any event, because the Biblical text is more than the Biblical text, that is, because it is also the Word of God (and therein lies a many-faceted mystery), we not only have a body (the text) but we have the Life-giving Spirit. And it may even be that we have a soul, which would be the heart and mind of man, including the imagination].

Monday, April 16, 2012

Musings on John Chapter Two: I

The corpus (body) of John the Apostle’s work (the Gospel, three letters, and the Revelation) begins and ends with the Word, the Lamb, a wedding and the Temple.

The Bible begins with the Word (“and God said”), a lamb (an animal had to die to provide skin coverings for Adam and Eve), a wedding (“for this cause a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall be one flesh”), and a Temple (Eden was a place of communion with God and the sphere of that communion was to have radiated outward into all the earth).

In John Chapter Two Jesus is at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, then He is at the Temple in Jerusalem during Passover; the chapter ends with a warning to the reader in the form of a commentary on Jesus’ view of popular belief concerning Himself. Genesis has a warning (“do not eat of this tree”), and Revelation closes with warnings in the midst of promises (see Revelation Chapter Twenty-two). Revelation also concludes with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and the true Temple of God coming into full expression; a Temple not of inanimate material but a Temple consisting of the Living God and His people, His Bride. The oneness of marriage pronounced in Genesis is revealed to be a shadow of the oneness of God with His people, the oneness of the Lamb with His Bride (see Ephesians 5:32).

The Word is transposed downward from John 1:1 to 1:14; then transposed upward in John chapters 20 – 21 (the Resurrection and Ascension); then transposed downward in its fullness in Revelation chapters 21 – 22. The promised image of God in Genesis chapters 1 – 2 is fulfilled in Revelation 21 – 22; what the First Man (Adam) could not fulfill, the Second Man (Jesus Christ) began anew and brought to completion (John 1:14; 12:23 – 26; 17:22; Revelation chapters 21 – 22).

Paul writes, “So then you…are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit,” Ephesians 2:19 – 22.

Then Peter, “…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter 2:5.

To appreciate a tapestry, especially a large and grand tapestry, we must step away to gain perspective, pause, and contemplate. The image must come to us, and the image is not information per se, it is not bits and bytes generated by a computer; the time for appreciating the interwoven threads will come, but without perspective there is no appreciation of interconnectedness, no understanding of the artist’s patterns and techniques, no reception of the grand message of the colors and materials and weavings.

I may be able to recite the books of the Bible in order; I may be able to quote extended Biblical passages (though more often than not we teach memorization of isolated verses); I may be able to correctly identify the historical settings of Biblical books; and I may be able to cite the salient beliefs of my particular tradition (though to find those who have thought them through and understand them is a rarity – we tend to applaud parrots rather than thinkers) – but if I do not see the Biblical tapestry then what do I have? After all, the Bible begins with images and it ends with images, and what a shame to be able to enumerate all the materials within a tapestry but not be able to actually see and receive and describe to others the images and patterns and story of the tapestry.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End – XX

On November 18, 1963 Lewis writes to Muriel Bradbrook:

“That’ll be fine. Sat. 8th Dec. wd. do me excellently. If you come about 4 o’clock you shall have tea and scones in the kitchen: if you prefer it, it’s sherry or whiskey in the study.”

On November 21 he writes to Nan Dunbar:

“Thurs. Dec. 14 at about 11. a.m. wd. Suit me well.”

And then we come to his letter of November 21 to Philip Thompson, a letter that I excerpted in my December 18, 2011 post:

“Dear Philip Thompson,
To begin with, may I congratulate you on writing such a remarkably good letter; I certainly could not have written it at your age. And to go on with, thank you for telling me that you like my books, a thing an author is always pleased to hear. It is a funny thing that all the children who have written to me see at once who Aslan is, and grown ups never do!”

[All excerpts are from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, 3Volumes, Walter Hopper, editor. Harper San Francisco.]

On November 22, 1963 Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis completed his journey. He wouldn’t have tea and scones or sherry and whiskey with Muriel Bradbrook on December 8; nor would he spend time with Nan Dunbar on December 14. As I’ve previously written, it is fitting that his last published letter, that written to Philip Thompson, was a letter written to a child, for Lewis not only wrote for children, he also wrote to children. Jesus says to us that unless we become as children that we can’t see and enter the Kingdom of God, and for sure we can’t touch it or taste it or smell it – the texture of the Kingdom is a texture of joy and delight, it is one of selfless serving as opposed to self-serving. As Reepicheep would say, to experience the Kingdom is to take the adventure that Aslan gives us. Sometimes we may appear victorious, sometimes we may appear defeated – but the only appearing that matters is Christ’s and whether we live or die we are His…we can be certain that where we live today are but the Shadowlands.

It is the grown-up world that is one of make-believe; one of masks and role playing and falsehoods; one of spin, one of saying, “You may hear the words I speak but do you know what I really mean?” “You may see the mask I wear but do you know who I really am?”

The grown-ups are the ones with the imaginary friends, except their imaginary friends are not the harmless ones of childhood, no, the imaginary friends of grown-ups are pride and vanity and popularity and wealth and physical looks and possessions and power and affluence and personal peace…the list goes on; these are fiendish friends who kill, who deceive, who make empty promises. It is the child who sees that the Emperor is naked, stark naked.

The adult makes excuses as to why we can’t be our brother’s keeper; why we can’t provide for the poor and needy, the fatherless and widows. The adult builds walls of arguments that provide secure barriers to sacrificial living, to selfless giving, to reconciliation, to forgiveness, to mercy and grace. And the adult invades the Temple and pushes the children and the lame and blind away and makes Jesus into a figure of practicality and economic and political common sense. The adult in the Temple is so guarded that he does not know the pain of his fellow pew-sitter because to know his pain would require childlike vulnerability and trust – concepts foreign to the adult.

And so Aslan chooses children to reveal Himself through, and to us adults Christ says, “If you would know Me, really know Me, let me teach you to become as a child, and in becoming a child you will know what it is to be a true man (or woman) created in the image of God.”

I close this series with the last paragraph of the Narniad:

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”