“Fat Tuesday” John 2:1-11
– God is often thought of as a wet blanket on a good time. But Jesus’s first miracle shows God desires goodness and joy for us. The problem is, we can’t recognize the good stuff, and often cause problems in our attempt to “let the good times roll.”
Some of you know that I used to live in New Orleans, Louisiana… home to the giant carnival of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. I have to talk about this festival, because like the wedding in Cana, Mardi Gras takes place “on the third day.” Every year, on the Tuesday before lent, New Orleans is consumed by a giant party. Parades, drinking, and music are all over the place. For some ultra-conservative folks, this Mardi Gras festival is looked at as nothing but wanton debauchery. When I say “conservatives” here I don’t really mean those who are theologically or politically conservative. I should probably say up-tight rather than conservative. If you need a mental picture to form an understanding, I am thinking uptight look like the preacher from Footloose who is convinced that dancing is evil.
Well if dancing is evil, then Mardi-Gras really is in trouble because dancing is one of the milder activities that is commonly associated with Mardi Gras. I did see all kinds of things going on at Mardi Gras. In fact, when Jenny and I lived in New Orleans we lived in a basement apartment that was right on a parade route. So we really were in the middle of it. I saw some people doing inappropriate things, sure. But I also saw lots of families along the parade routes. In fact, I would say that most people who I saw having a good time at the parades were behaving decently and in good order.
Most people I saw were making good choices and having fun. I think most of the real debauchery of Mardi Gras is confined to the French Quarter as the party goes late into the night. For most folks I knew, Mardi Gras was a family event.
The culture in New Orleans is a lot more relaxed and informal than up here in Pittsburgh, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily any eviler a place than Pittsburgh. The attitude is summed up with an old French saying, Laissez les bons temps rouler! Or Let the good times roll. In New Orleans, especially around Mardi Gras, smiles seem to come easy, and conversations with strangers do not seem so standoffish. The culture is more oriented toward joyfulness. Letting the good times roll does not mean that we have to engage in vices and activities that are sinful. I don’t want anyone to think I am advocating loose living, because that kind of “fun” behavior is actually life stealing. We should not engage in sinful activities in a vain pursuit of pleasure. We read in Romans chapter 14, “”For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Often though, I think believers in Christ can get a little too uptight in the day-to-day of trying to live a Holy life that is pleasing to God. Often, the weight of God’s glory, and the weight of sin can crush the joy out of us. It’s easy to do. Life is hard.
But God wants Joy for us. In chapter 10 of John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.”
That’s why I love Jesus’s first miracle as recorded in the Gospel of John. Jesus, turns around 150 gallons of water into wine. Not just any wine… the GOOD stuff. I believe this is a sign to us that God loves us and wants us to have Joy. Jesus wants us to have Joy as a witness to God’s glory so that people will believe in Jesus and be saved. Let me explain what I mean, because the miracles that Jesus performs in the scriptures are signs to us on many different levels.
First, let us unpack this scripture at the top level. Jesus performs the miracle of changing water into mine so a wedding celebration can continue to be a festive occasion without any snags. We all know how snags can mess up that special wedding day.
There are so many things that could go wrong, and especially if the things that go wrong affect the bride… There is a whole show called “bridezillas” that showcases bridal temper tantrums for the amusement of the viewing audience. Have you seen this show?
In Jesus’ day, I’m sure that the wedding was an emotional time for the bride, but in the ancient near east, it was a very serious time for the groom. Hospitality demanded that all the wedding guests be well taken care of. Hospitality was taken super-seriously. This even carries down to the modern day in the middle east. If the hosting couple of the wedding festival (which could last for several days) ran out of provisions for the guests, it could be regarded as bad form.
On the top level, Jesus and Jesus’s mother were worried that the celebration of marriage would be ruined because the wine was gone. Jesus cares about people having a good time. God knows that humans need to celebrate the joyful things of life. Humans are not built to suffer all the time.
Now, I’m sure that Jesus does not want everyone to become fall down drunk. But Jesus wants the provisions to continue so the celebrating can continue. It is hard to celebrate for very long if there isn’t enough food and drink to keep us going. Remember, wine in the ancient world was diluted 3 parts water to one-part wine. Wine was simply important to keeping the good times rolling. But God doesn’t just want us to be happy every once in a while… God wants lasting Joy for us.
Running out of wine at your wedding might spoil the celebration, but it is not a life or death problem. Of all the miracles that Jesus does like raising people from the dead, casting out demons, and healing the sick, keeping the party going doesn’t seem that important. And yet, that is what Jesus does for his very first miracle in John’s Gospel. There is something important about this sign. Something important to make sure that the account was included in the scriptures.
Jesus, did not do any miraculous works that were not directed for him to do by God the Father. In John 5 we read: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” What is even more important is written at the end of the Gospel of John in chapter 20 we find out why all the miracles were worked. We read, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
The second level of meaning is deeper and more excellent than the first. Jesus turned water into wine in Cana to be a sign that Jesus was changing the old, empty religion of Israel into the joy-giving true religion of having an eternal relationship with God the father.
The Jars of water that Jesus transformed were used for ritual bathing. Part of the Law of Moses required ceremonial washing. Jesus changed the plain old washing water into something that would be able to keep the party going. The ritual washing under the law of Moses only was effective for a short time. It needed to be repeated over and over again. But the wine, like the wine or grape juice we drink for Communion, represent the new covenant that is effective for all time. Changing ceremonial water into wine was a sign to what Jesus came to earth to do. Jesus came to earth among other things to allow us to be with God in heaven, where the good times will roll forever.
These two levels of meaning for a simple miracle show us that Jesus doesn’t simple want us to have a fun life. God wants us to have the lasting Joy that comes from the Holy Spirit. The only way that we can get that is to believe in Jesus and obey His instructions.
If we don’t obey Jesus instructions, we are in for trouble. That is because very often, we sinful humans do not know the good from the bad. We choose “fun” activities that bring easy pleasure over the kind of life that will bring us deep joy. In other words, we can’t tell what is the “good stuff” and what is the “bad stuff.” For example, many people will choose getting wasted and going out clubbing to find someone to be with for one night over working on their own character so they might become the kind of person that would set themselves up for a lasting relationship. We need to obey Jesus in order to pick the kind of “fun” that leads to lasting Joy. It doesn’t always look like fun.
On the other hand, we often get so caught up in the moral requirements and the suffering that will come as we pick up our cross and follow Jesus, that we forget that God wants us to be joyful. God likes to have fun.
Here is a practical application for each of our lives. If we are pious and holy people, but we never have any fun, why would anyone want to become a believer in Christ? The news that belief in Jesus allows us to access the Joy of the Lord is Good News that this world needs. And the world needs to see it in us, those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. In Galatians 5, Joy is listed as a fruit of the Spirit. The world will not believe our words. Advertising has trained people to believe deep down that people will say anything to get what they want. They need to see our Joy before they can hear our words.
So if you find yourself without Joy, there may be a problem with your witness to Jesus. Those in this world are hungry for the Joy that lasts. Too often, the things that provide simple, immediate pleasure, actually decrease our Joy in the long run.
Everyone gets the joy kicked out of them from time to time. It is nothing to be ashamed of. But my hope is that this sermon will remind all of us that God wants us to be Joyful and to have fun. And that you might really take a look at how much you live out the joy of Christ. If you feel lacking in Joy, come talk to me, or go talk to an elder or a deacon. Have people pray for you. Sometimes prayer and council is required to access the Joy of the Lord in our lives. Just like the Ethiopian Eunich in Acts chapter 8, all of us need a person like Philip to help us understand how to let Jesus transform us. Ask someone else to journey with you if you need to develop the Joy of the Lord in your life.
Because we all need Joy of the Lord in our lives in order to witness to others. God wants us to have fun, and to have joy that lasts even through the hard times. Jesus demonstrated this by turning water to wine in Cana for His very first miracle. Jesus kept the party going, but also performed a powerful sign of his transformative, saving ministry to all people. And we read in scripture, that this sign “…was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
And likewise, as God transforms simple happiness into eternal joy in our lives, more people will believe in Jesus more deeply.