December 4, 1988
Old Things Made New
In the television drama, a woman returns to college after fifteen years. In one scene, she stands before a mirror, dressed in shorts and her college sweatshirt. Arms extended, she goes through the cheerleader routines of fifteen years before. Then she turns away downcast, because it is not the same.
Thomas Wolfe titled his novel You Can’t Go Home Again. Yet how often we attempt to recapture the past.
Alumni gather to recall and to relive the experiences of the days that are no more. Lovers return to the scene of their initial romance attempting to rekindle the fires that once burned bright.
Malachi holds forth a promise of a return to former days when the relationship with God was acceptable and fruitful. There once was a time in which the offering of the people of Israel was acceptable to God, and the nation prospered.
Now the circumstances of their life were disastrous. God did not prosper the people of His choice. There was a lack of sincerity. The people were not obedient to their God as they had once been.
The prophet sees a messenger, a representative of God, coming to bring the people back to faithfulness, and subsequently to prosperity and joy. The coming of the messenger will be sudden, unplanned, and unexpected.
The prophet’s dream of a brighter future is contained in the coming of the messenger of God. The messenger comes before the return of God Himself to dwell with His people.
When the messenger comes, there will be “good news and bad news.” The good news is that the people have dreamed of his coming, hoped for his coming, pleaded for that return. The bad news will be the overwhelming power that he brings. It will be a day in which there will be trauma and travail. The coming of the messenger to announce the new days will bring drastic, even harsh changes.
The messenger will come suddenly and even unexpectedly. The signs of God’s coming, the divine acts of renewal, will break in upon the people when it appears that it will not occur. The return to the old days of faithfulness and prosperity will appear to be impossible, but become a new reality through the sudden appearance of the messenger of the Holy One of Israel.
The results of the coming messenger will be a new covenant, an act of purification. When the people are refined like silver, they will have that sense of devotion which brings approval to their offerings to God. In that new day, the offerings will once again be pleasing to God, and the nation will be lifted up.
The reality of that ancient dream came in Jesus of Nazareth. He appeared when it seemed hopeless. He came suddenly. Although the old was brought back to life, in the recreation of obedience, a new reality was created. The message of Advent is the realization that when the former things are reestablished, they are surprisingly new.
In our preparation for the holiday which is coming, we may dream and hope for a return of happier days, more joyful times. Yet when we finally arrive at Christmas 1988, may we discover a new reality that leads to new life. (HCP)
December 11, 1988
Good News and Bad News
William K. McElvaney, formerly of St. Paul School of Theology and now Professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, is the source of the phrase, “good news is bad news is good news.” His phrase certainly leaps out of my memory as I contemplate this passage from Luke.
John the Baptist castigates the multitude who have come out to hear his message. He calls them names. That’s not the way to be a popular preacher.
He demeans their history. That’s not the way to be an acclaimed friend. He promises doom and destruction. That’s not the way to be invited to return for another engagement.
Yet the denouncing tone of John’s message stirs from the crowd the question, “What then shall we do?” For each of the group of “sinners” who ask, he provides an act of repentant living.
The directness of his message, his appearance, his expectation of a new life opens the door to his speaking about the Christ, and allows John to point to Jesus. Then, Luke concludes and summarizes the doom, the denouncement, the call for repentance with the phrase, “So, with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people (3:17).
Seldom would you and I categorize the direct preaching of John as “good news.” If such a word was addressed to us, wouldn’t it be called “bad news”?
An Advent theme does not center upon the condemnation as an end in itself. The theme for this Scripture is upon the future coming of one whose appearance will truly be “good news.”
The loss of what is cherished may appear to be bad news. But in the coming of the Christ, only His coming is of ultimate importance.
All acts must be the acts of preparation. And when we prepare ourselves, and recognize the One who comes, we are the recipients of the ultimate “good news.”
The doctor tells us of a tumor which demands surgery. That is bad news. But, following the surgery, the possibility of health and wholeness is good news. The denouncing and condemning word from John is the good news which is cast in the form of bad news which is truly the good news. (HCP)
December 18, 1988
False Dreams Become a Reality
The prophet Micah may be best remembered for his answer to the question, “What does the Lord require of you?” The three-fold image of “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8b, RSV) is often remembered.
What we have not remembered about Micah is manifold. A contemporary of Isaiah, this prophet was much like Amos. He was from the rural area southwest of Jerusalem. He lived in a time of the need for moral reform. He spoke vividly and pointedly, his words interspersed with times of silence.
We remember Micah for those words from the 5th chapter which form today’s text. Yet what we remember is not the prophecy of Micah, but the application of that word to Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus Christ will come from Bethlehem, the city of David’s family. Jesus will be rooted in the ancient reality of Israel. He will come after a time of the silence of God. And the work which He shall accomplish shall be of import for all the people.
Harold Bosley, in The Interpreter’s Bible (Volume 6, page 930), captures the essence of these verses when he wrote: “There is little or nothing in common between its central theme and anything He (Jesus) did or said.” The dream of the prophet — at least as Micah understood it — was a dream that was not to be true. A descendant of David would not come from the ancient tribal home to establish an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem again. The splendor of the days of the united kingdom would not return as Micah expected.
Jesus did not match the dream of the prophet of the seventh century. But our Lord did fulfill that dream. The New Testament interpreters of Jesus’ ministry were correct when they imaged the ministry of Jesus in the ancient prophecies. Jesus was not the realization of the prophet’s dreams, but the fulfillment of God’s plans.
Jesus was from the days of old. He was from the days of creation. He was, as John noted, from the beginning, and nothing was made without Him. Jesus was the first citizen of a new kingdom to which many would return, the first-born of many brethren. The food He offered was not grain, or common wine, or daily bread. The food which provided the strength of the Lord was the word of life.
The people of the new creation lived with a new security, not the security of an earthly empire, but the security of a new heart and a new spirit.
Christmas is all about the transformation of a dream into a living reality. As a young man, I dreamed of writing the great American novel. That novel has never been written. Instead, it is daily devotions and Bible studies. The future did not match the dreams of the past, but fulfilled them.
Appointed as pastor of a historic congregation, there was the dream of a new surge of energy and growth. The outcome of my ministry among that congregation was not growth, but a deepening of faith and love.
If, at this Christmas season, our ancient and cherished dreams and hopes are transformed into the dreams of God’s fulfillment, then there is a new miracle, and a new reality for each one of us. (HCP)
December 25, 1988
The Drama of Christ’s Coming
The Christmas story is already familiar. We know it because we have heard it again and again. We can visualize it as well as any event in the Bible. We can see in our own minds the stable, the animals, the visiting shepherds and the wise men, Mary and Joseph, and we can almost hear with our inner ears the singing of the angels.
As difficult as it will be, we should be challenged on this Christmas morning to come and hear this story as if for the first time. If at all possible, we might try to erase from our memories all the repetitions of the past, so we can find the newness of this event again.
Look at the setting of this story.
It is during the time of Caesar Augustus. A nephew of Julius Caesar, he was adopted by the uncle. Finally, in 27 B.C., the nephew was affirmed by the Roman Senate as the ruler, and given the title of Augustus.
For over forty years, he ruled and solidified the Roman Empire. Ever popular, he made an impact upon the Roman Empire which continued for more than 300 years afterward.
Quinirus was the Roman authority in Syria and the surrounding area from about 6 A.D. until 21 A.D. A military authoritarian, he was unpopular in Rome, and unpopular in the provinces. The setting of the story, the drama, is the time of Roman rule and authority. What Rome wanted, Rome demanded, and Rome expected.
The land is Palestine. The Promised Land, the land of hope and dreams since the days of Abraham. It was the goal of the wilderness journeys, the site of prophetic messages, of faithful and unfaithful offspring. The Promised Land was the pawn in the game of conquest by the world powers for generation after generation.
Look at the characters.
There are Mary and Joseph, far from home. According to Luke, they have journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the enrollment. It was not their choice, it was not the time for them to be making such a trip.
There is the new-born infant. Born in a stable, placed in a manger, these were not the circumstances for the genesis of greatness or divinity.
There are the shepherds. The people of Palestine were generally poor. The shepherds were the poorest of the lot. The common people of Palestine were not the most moral to be found, and shepherds were even less so.
There are the angels, and their appearance in the most unusual of places, at the most unusual of times.
Look at the climax.
Nothing in this story really prepares a reader for this. The angels sing out about peace — peace in the midst of strife. The angels sing out about good will — good will in the midst of coercion and dislike. The angels speak out about God — God in the midst of human misery.
Difficult as it is, we can see this event unfold as if for the first time. We can see again, so clearly, its meaning. We can see the enactment of God’s love made visible in human circumstances.
In a far land not of their own choosing, surrounded by a most unlikely cast of characters, in the most unlikely of settings, God acts and begins the drama which has not yet ended. If the reality of the power of God can come in such a time, in such a place, to such a cast of characters, surely that reality of God can come in our time, and in our places, and to our own hearts. (HCP)
January 1, 1989
Down with New Year’s Resolutions!
Every New Year I feel obligated to make New Year’s resolutions. I’m not sure why … I just do. So I sit down and list things I know I won’t accomplish.
Let’s get rid of New Year’s Day resolutions. Ill volunteer to lead the protest movement!
Paul, in the 3rd chapter of Colossians, gives us a set of resolutions for holy living that I cannot protest. These resolutions are from God to His “chosen people” who are “holy and dearly loved,” and these resolutions I desire to keep.
In verses 1-4, I would resolve to affectionately or wholeheartedly seek those things that are from above.
In verses 5-7, I would resolve to theoretically or philosophically live a life that is holy.
In verses 12-17, I would resolve to put into practice what I know to be theoretically and theologically right.
Let’s mine the gold in these resolutions of right action.
Resolution No. 1: I will be honest. I will not lie. Lying destroys the trust that someone has in me.
Someone once said: “Liars are verbal forgers.” I also like Henry Ward Beecher’s statement: “Even a liar tells a hundred truths to one lie: he has to, to make the lie good for anything.”
Resolution No. 2: I will be merciful. I will care about the world I live in and do my best to bring it help.
He was a poor, skinny old horse, but he was so happy; he was drawing a heavy load, too, but even that was forgotten, for right in front of him, as he pulled his weary load along, there was a hay-wagon. From this he was getting a bit of unexpected refreshment along the way.
Are we willing to be human “hay-wagons,” feeding those whose lives touch ours?
Resolution No. 3: I will be kind. I will think of ways to demonstrate the best in and for people.
Practical action helps me to smile at people … say “good morning” with meaning … kneel down to the level of a child … help a frustrated mother in the grocery store … encourage someone with a card … give clothing or shelter to a fire victim family … visit a geriatric center.
Resolution No. 4: I will be humble. That is, I will realize my true place in life.
Understanding that, anything I have does not come to me on my own, but from God’s help. I am His creature. I owe my all to Him. This resolution will be one of the most difficult to practice. Too often, “I” want the credit on life’s marquee.
Resolution No. 5: I will be gentle. Aristotle defined it as: “The happy mean between too much and too little anger.”
The person possessing gentleness is the one who is self-controlled, because he is God-controlled; that is, he is angry at the right time and not angry at the wrong time. We have at one and the same time the strength and sweetness of true gentleness.
Resolution No. 6: I will be patient. I will learn how to adjust to unpleasant situations, unexpected hurts and unwanted problems.
Charles Swindoll gives a good illustration using an oyster and a pearl: “Pearls are the product of pain. For some unknown reason, the shell of the oyster gets pierced and an alien substance — a grain of sand — slips inside. On the entry of that foreign irritant, all the resources within the tiny, sensitive oyster rush to the spot and begin to release healing fluids that otherwise would have remained dormant. By and by, the irritant is covered and the wound is healed — by a pearl.
“No other gem has so fascinating a history. It is the symbol of stress — a healed wound, a precious, tiny jewel conceived through irritation, born of adversity, nursed by adjustments. Had there been no wounding, no irritating interruption, there could have been no pearl. Some oysters are never wounded, and those who search for gems toss them aside, fit only for stew.”
Today, in what situations do you need the most patience? Turn them over to God.
If it all seems impossible, it is — in our own strength. However, God is able to accomplish it in our lives, beginning the moment I yield to Him and continuing through a lifetime of faithful service.
We learn the lessons through accomplishments and failures; not giving up, but pressing forward — with resolve! (DGK)
January 8, 1989
Praise, Blessing, and Thanksgiving
(Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18)
Mark Twain traveled to Berlin, where he received an invitation to call upon the ruling Kaiser. The Kaiser’s young daughter exclaimed: “Why papa, if it keeps on this way, there won’t be anybody left for you to get acquainted with but God!”
Paul, the Apostle, exclaims in our text we can be acquainted with God now. He gets so excited at the thought that — in the midst of the passage — he lets out a “Praise be to God!” Paul probably scared his poor secretary to death because he shouts it while dictating the letter.
Is it any wonder there is praise and blessing and thanksgiving on the lips of Paul?
I. Praise, Blessing and Thanksgiving Go to God (v. 3)
The story is told of a good Presbyterian minister in Scotland — of a rather conservative type — who had in his congregation a poor old woman who was in the habit of saying, “Praise the Lord, Amen,” when anything particularly helpful was said. This practice greatly disturbed the minister, and one New Year’s day he went to see her.
“Betty,” he said, “I’ll make a bargain with you. You call out ‘Praise the Lord’ just when I get to the best part of my sermon, and it upsets my thoughts. Now if you will stop doing it all this year, I’ll give you a pair of wool blankets.”
Betty was poor, and the offer of the blankets looked very good. So she did her best to earn them. Sunday after Sunday she kept quiet. One day, however, a minister of another type came to preach — a man bubbling over with joy. As he preached on the forgiveness of sin and all the blessings that follow, the vision of the blankets began to fade and fade, and the joys of salvation grew brighter and brighter. At last, Betty could stand it no longer, and — jumping up — she cried, “Blankets or no blankets, Hallelujah!”
Gratitude is a grace that struggles for expression. It does not shut itself up in the heart. It does not allow itself to be merely felt. It wants to speak. It must be heard.
II. Praise, Blessing and Thanksgiving Are Set in Love (v. 4)
Biblical agape love is not an emotion, but is a disposition of the heart. God chose us as sons and daughters, to be His unique people because of His love. MacArthur penned: “Just as He chose Israel to be His special people only because of His love, so He chose the church, the family of the redeemed.”
God etched in our hearts His love. It comes by way of the blood of Christ. His death spoke for all time His eternal love.
Can we grasp how important that makes us? Is it any wonder we Christians praise God … thank Him … proclaim His Holy Name? We are redeemed because we are loved.
Take time to love God today. As you do you will find your mouth full of praise and thanksgiving.
III. Praise, Blessing and Thanksgiving Are Given to People (vv. 15-18)
Paul in verse 16 proclaims: “(I) have never stopped giving thanks for you ….”
Our love drives us to thanksgiving for fellow believers. There is a kinship that the world cannot comprehend fully. Someone wrote: “Christian love is indiscriminate; it does not pick and choose which believers it will love. Christ loves all believers, and they are precious to Him. By definition, therefore, Christian love extends to all Christians.”
Several years ago I went through one of the darkest times of my life. There were times I wasn’t sure I would come out. Thank God I had two Christian friends who helped me.
My deep hurt became their hurt. When light came and the burden lifted, they were there to rejoice with me; but we went through the blackest of night together first. There was truly a bond of love that united our hearts together — and it was Jesus!
Today, think of Christian friends who have shown Christ’s love to you. Write them notes expressing your thanks and praise to God for their friendships.
Better yet, will you be that kind of friend to another? (DGK)
January 15, 1989
Caught by a Vision
Several years ago, beneath the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, stood a deserted tobacco warehouse. It had become shelter to hundreds of forsaken people of the city.
The city of New York asked the Salvation Army to do something for them. They began ministering to and feeding them. Joseph Sizoo was asked to speak to them. Pastor Sizoo found it difficult to speak to them because they just stared at him blankly.
One day after a service a bearded, long-haired man with a shabby coat held together by a string and a nail, came to Sizoo and asked, “Do you read Greek?”
Sizoo replied, “Yes, I do.”
Sizoo asked, “Do you know how to read the Greek New Testament?”
“Yes,” he replied, “let’s read it together.”
Slowly, the man’s story emerged. At one time he had taught New Testament Greek in a college. He was an excellent, well-respected teacher. He was dean of the faculty, he had a wife and three children and was active in his church and community.
However, something happened to him. He lost sight of his values; he ignored the Bible he taught. He made decisions based on what he wanted rather than on what was right. He lost perspective.
Things began to go wrong, and he began to drink a little. Soon he was an alcoholic. Now he was in the New York tobacco warehouse with no family, friends, money, or work. It seemed there was no hope.
That story could be repeated over and over in city after city. People have made messes of their lives. People have given up. People have had their dreams and hopes smashed to pieces.
I may be speaking to some who are struggling to find something worthwhile and meaningful in life. How can life come alive for you?
The word vision means: “The act or power of seeing with the eye-sense of sight … The ability to perceive.” That’s what we need! We need to perceive … to see what God wants for us. What better time than now, close on the heels of the Christmas season.
I. The Wise Men Caught a Vision of Their Debt to Christ.
Their vision included a debt of joy.
Joy is a contagious thing; your joy will kindle another’s joy. How many hearts will feel joyous because you are joyous?
Henry Ward Beecher once noted, “Some people think that black is the color of heaven and the more they can make their faces look like midnight the more evidence they have of grace. But God, who made the sun and the flowers, sent me to proclaim to you such a lie as that. We are told to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’.”
We find joy in the spirit of Christmas — the joy of expectancy. By the intensive awareness that the Babe of Bethlehem is Immanuel — God with us — we have the anticipation that He will triumph over the evil in the world, even over sin and death.
Their vision also included a debt of worship or adoration.
There seems to be something spontaneous about their act. Their joy became the means of bringing them to God. Even when a man comes to God in sorrow he finds joy in worship.
Hallock wrote, “The days of these wise men were quiet and slow-moving; not so with us. We find it more necessary to cultivate the mood, but it will come at unexpected times,” and in different ways. For some there will be the loud praises of the Lord from their lips, to others it will be tears, to others a quiet peace.
II. The Wise Men Caught a Vision of their Offering to Christ.
They had pondered, back in Mesopotamia, over what they were to bring this new king. Each brought a gift: one of gold, one of frankincense and one of myrhh.
I wonder how prepared we are with our gifts, tiny as they may be. The important thing to remember is that they first did not present their presents or gifts; rather, they presented themselves for service.
Have you presented Christ with yourself? The material things are secondary and last place. He wants us for His service.
They offered their gifts in love. God offered His gift in love!
Mary Lou Carney wrote: “Several years ago I went to Honduras with a group from my church. There in the small mountain village of Danli, we constructed a cement-block church for a local congregation. Next to the building site grew a poinsettia, a poinsettia tree! It’s branches, boasting huge red flowers, arched over the roof beams of the new church.
“Since my experience with poinsettias had been limited to the greenhouse variety, I was fascinated. In my faltering Spanish, I told one of the nationals that I had a poinsettia on the table in my house at home. His eyes widened in disbelief but before I could explain, he hurried down the street.
“Soon he returned with several other Hondurans. He wanted me to tell them about my poinsettia. I tried to explain that my plant was very small. They could not grasp this. They could only express awe that my house was so big!
“It is difficult for us mortals to understand why Christ, omnipotent and eternal, became a new-born baby — small and vulnerable. We who spend our efforts struggling to be something cannot imagine one who willingly made Himself nothing.
“Perhaps our finite, ambitious minds can never really grasp the concept of the incarnation. But we can accept it on the basis of love. A love so deep and complete that it had no room for self.” (DGK)
January 22, 1989
The Genuine Work of the Spirit
One man’s evaluation of the church today is too close to the truth: “If God called His Holy Spirit out of the world, about ninety-five percent of what we are doing would go right on — and we would brag about it.”
Someone else aptly stated: “When we rely on organization, we get what organization can do. When we rely upon education, we get what education can do. When we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do. When we rely on the Holy Spirit, we get what God can do.”
A revival spirit broke out where no one expected it to: Samaria. Philip had proclaimed “the Word” (8:4) and “Christ” (8:5) along with the “Kingdom of God” and the “Name of Jesus Christ” (8:12) — and people responded by the score.
The Jerusalem church did what any “normal” church would do to investigate the validity of the report; they formed a committee. They gave Peter and John a travel expense account and sent them on their way to see what was happening to these outcasts in Samaria.
When they arrived they realized that this was a historic breakthrough and divine confirmation of the missionary outreach of the gospel. These folks had been saved.
Yet something was lacking in their experience. In verses 15-16 it states: “When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” The genuine work of the Spirit came into their lives.
Let’s examine this for a few moments.
I. The Holy Spirit was the Confirmation of Missionary Outreach.
For too long there appeared a “Jewish only” sign above the church door. There was, however, a missionary zeal that desired to push the gospel boundaries beyond the present limits. The Samaritan Pentecost gave confirmation and impetus to such a movement.
A great outpouring of the Spirit of God still is needed to sweep through our nation and world to bring folk to Jesus. Much of the world has not yet heard the name of Jesus; England and France now have more Moslems than Christians; news stories recount the rise of Satan worship in our towns the size of my small town, along with the rise of the “New Age” movement.
If a genuine, Spirit-filled revival came, apartheid in South Africa would stop because men’s hearts would change. Nicaragua, Panama, or whatever South American country would live at peace. It comes by genuine missionary work aimed at the hearts of people!
II. The Holy Spirit was the Confirmation of Church Unity.
I wonder what was going through the minds of Peter and John as they traveled the dusty trails to Samaria. Was the ancient wall separating Jews and Samaritans breaking down? Could these Samaritans, so long considered alienated from the true people of God, receive the gospel and the gift of the Holy Spirit just as the Jewish believers had done? Could there be a real unity of faith?
The positive answer came when these two apostles saw the genuine response to the gospel in the lives of the people. When the Spirit came a genuine unity began because their hearts were open to God.
A closed heart keeps God and other people out. The apostles had open hearts and loved the Samaritans; they risked being open to them. With the coming of the Spirit came a unity in the church — a unity of purpose, goal, desire and spirit.
III. The Holy Spirit was the Confirmation of Prayer.
Peter and John asked of God that His Spirit would fall upon the Samaritans. The answer came because He came! We need to pray for the Spirit to fill our lives.
W. J. Dawson said he once saw nailed on the vestry door of an Episcopal church a list of names and above them this memorandum: “People whom I wish to pray for in this day’s service.”
Are we as definite in our prayers? For whom shall we pray that the Holy Spirit will come in power upon them? Which brother or sister needs to be lifted up to God in prayer? Who needs an answer from the Spirit of God?
We need the genuine work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Do we honestly know and experience Him today? (DGK)
January 29, 1989
God’s New Deal
On July 2, 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt made a nomination acceptance speech which shook the American people. The gist of that speech is summed up in its most famous line: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”
Whatever else you say about this “new deal,” you are forced to note that things happened when Roosevelt took the White House.
The New Deal was a dream — a dream for a better life, a dream for an end to the depression which was choking the very life out of America.
The dream — this “new deal” — didn’t begin with Roosevelt. It began where man began, and has followed or led him ever since. The story of Abraham in the Bible is the quest for a “new deal.” You recall that God said to him, “Go from your country and your kindred … to the land that I will show you . And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you.”
Look at our own ancestors. The pilgrims’ migration to America in the seventeenth century was also a quest for a dream. In fact, if we were to try to capsule the history of the human race, perhaps we could say that it’s the history of the quest for a “new deal.”
The story of the marriage at Cana is that kind of event. This was a dramatic demonstration by Jesus that God had begun something new.
I. God’s New Deal Signals the Passing Away of the Old Order.
Jesus’ comment to His mother seems curt and sharp. “What have you to do with me?” But this wasn’t simply the comment of an irritated man. It was a cutting of the spiritual apron strings. “Mother, you have no more authority over me.”
John called the turning of the water into wine a sign. A sign is an event which points to something beyond itself. Even Jesus’ remark to His mother was a sign. It, too, pointed to a deeper level of meaning. It signaled that the old order of authority had passed away.
In his spiritual classic Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan told the story of a man named Christian and his long journey to the celestial city. At one point, Christian gets sidetracked by a couple of fellows named Legality and Morality. Bunyan’s point was to show that simply being a “good” man and following certain rules are more of a burden than a blessing. How many times have you heard someone say that he’s trying to get to heaven by following the Ten Commandments?
The old authority had passed. Likewise, the religion of the old order had passed away.
The Gospel of Mark records the words of Jesus as He told of the inability of putting new wine in old wineskins. This new wine is active and fermenting, expanding and pushing out in all directions. The structures of the old wine bottles just couldn’t handle the flux and expansion of the wine inside. They burst wide open, losing both the wine and the bottles.
The story of the new wine in old skins and the story of the six stone water jugs both carry the same significance — old religious structures cannot handle the new, fermenting, explosive power of the new relationship God was establishing with His people.
The six stone jars stood outside the door of the host’s house. The guests would wash their hands up to the elbows as they entered the house. This was more than hygiene; it was a religious rite, a sign of purification.
Jesus saw this entire setting as an opportunity to make a significant point about God and His people. Turning the water into wine was a sign that this purification simply wasn’t enough. The old religion, like the old authority, was passing away.
Something new was needed.
God’s New Deal was needed. And so it signaled the passing away of the old order.
II. God’s New Deal Shows the Opening Up of a New Age.
It was Francis Bacon who said, “He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils.” People all along have known that. Not all wounds can be healed by the same plaster. Radical problems require radical solutions. That was what the Jesus event was all about.
In our passage in John 2, this new thing which is begun is very, very subtle. There was no earth-shaking trauma evoked. There was no trumpet choir of 100,000 angels blaring forth the news that God Himself was in their midst. We would like it that way, just as we would like for God to shake the world today, proving that He is God, but He never works that way. His is the way of the still small voice.
No, turning water into wine was no pushy publicity stunt. It was rather a small, quiet evidence that something new had happened in the history of mankind. As William Temple put it, “the modest water saw its God and blushed.”
Not everyone there even saw what had happened. The master of ceremony made a cute joke about the peculiar habits of serving the wine. That makes us wonder about the manner of God’s actions. They really are easy to miss.
Eyes not perceptive to spiritual reality see only earthly material. It was this truth which led Elizabeth Barrett Browning to write:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God;
but only he who sees takes off his shoes,
the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
I wonder how often we’ve looked past the things which God has done. We ask where God is, never even realizing that He is there with us then, bringing us fully into this new age. This “New Deal” of God’s is available to all, but accepted by precious few.
Note a very important fact. Jesus did not make the wine out of nothing — He used water, the only resource He had available. He does not make new people out of nothing; He uses what He has now — you and me, when we offer ourselves to Him and His work.
God’s new deal shows the opening up of a new age.
III. God’s New Deal Assures a Continuation Into a Future Age.
Like a preview to a coming movie, this entire incident at Cana in Galilee gave a scene of what was to come: God saves the best until last. Someone has said that this life is a short scene from a grand eternal play. That which is best is what is saved for last.
This new work of God, His “New Deal,” has ushered out the old order in life, has opened up a new age, and has assured a continuation into a future age. (DMA)
Outlines in this issue are provided by Harold C. Perdue, Representative, Texas Baptist Foundation, Round Rock, TX; Deri G. Keefer, Pastor of Three Rivers (MI) Church of the Nazarene; and Don M. Aycock, Pastor of Enon (LA) Baptist Church.
December 4, 1988