The Last is Best

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 2:10-11

And said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:10-11 rsv

Have you ever caught a glimpse of something so compellingly attractive that it started you on a search to find what you had seen? Maybe it was a broad landscape that seemed to promise serenity, or a forest waiting to be explored, or a face you couldn’t forget. Once you had seen it, a nameless yearning was kindled in you and you were never quite the same again. In the fascinating allegory by C. S. Lewis, Pilgrim’s Regress, the hero John has an experience like that. He gazes one day into a woodland near his home and hears sweet music. Suddenly he seems to see just for a moment and far away a calm sea and an enchanting island. The scene quickens in him such an intense longing that he can’t rest until he has set out to discover that island. One glimpse begins a lifelong quest.

If you have ever been in love, you know that there was a moment when you first saw something special in your beloved – the way she smiled, the toss of her head, the way she looked at you. That did it. You were hooked. Or perhaps it was his confident way, the laughter in his eyes, the set of his chin that first attracted you. One word spoken, one moment shared, and you somehow knew that here was the person you had been waiting for.

A religious conversion, a life-transforming faith, often begins in just that way. First a moment of vision, then a lifetime of commitment. That’s how it was with the first followers of Jesus Christ. As they met Him, listened to Him, watched Him in action, one by one they saw something in Him which affected them profoundly. The apostle John tells of one incident in particular that made a deep impression on the men who had gathered around Jesus. It happened at a wedding festival in the Galilean town of Cana.

Listen as I read it. It’s from the Gospel according to John, chapter 2, at verse 1:

On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

We don’t know exactly why, but soon after this feast began, the wine supply was exhausted. Perhaps the host family was of limited means. Mary was concerned. She mentioned the problem to Jesus, evidently expecting Him to do something about it. His reply seemed gruff, almost like a rebuke. “Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” He seemed to be saying that He had His own destiny to fulfill and could no longer be guided by her wishes.

It wasn’t long, however, before He told the servants in the household to fill several large stone jars with water. The servants were puzzled but, reassured by Mary, did as they were instructed. Later, Jesus told them to draw from those same jars and take the contents to the steward of the feast. He was apparently the official “taster” of the wine. He was so delighted with what the servants brought him that he praised the bridegroom highly. “You have kept the good wine until now.” The last is the best.

In this homely but remarkable event, John tells us the first followers of Jesus saw His glory. It wasn’t simply that they were amazed at what He did. They somehow became assured by it that God Himself, the Lord of the universe, was present among them in this Jesus. That was an amazing conviction, to say the least. What led them to it? What did they see that convinced them?

WHAT ONLY GOD CAN DO

For one thing, they saw Jesus doing what only God can do. Think of it this way: God is changing water into wine all the time. He sends the rain that refreshes the earth. To the vines on a thousand hills, He gives roots to draw their moisture from the soil. Then the miracle happens. By God’s power, the rain from heaven becomes the fruit of the vine. The water becomes wine. In other words, what God does through processes that we naively call “natural,” Jesus does by the mere putting forth of will. This event John calls a “sign,” a pointer to something beyond itself, something yet to be, something of great importance. Nature’s life-giving Lord has come to dwell among us. Here He is!

The miracle takes place in this case without any fanfare. We read no prior announcement of it, not even a description of how it happened. There are no magic words spoken, no wands waved. No one seems to be doing anything – except the servants who go obediently about their task. But the unheard of happens. A transforming power is at work behind the scenes. It is the word and the sovereign will of Jesus Christ.

“Did that make His disciples into believers (this event)?” someone asks. People have seen strange things before – and since. Amazement at marvelous happenings doesn’t always lead people to personal faith and commitment. There must have been more here than a prodigy, a startling event. The first disciples of Jesus saw also a hint of how this power at work in Him was being used. The needs of people were being supplied in a very ordinary life-situation.

MEETING NEEDS

This is another way in which God’s glory comes to light. He ministers to the needs of people where they are. Sometimes we act as though the Lord’s miraculous works are designed only to bring about faith in Him, to support His claims. To see it that way is to miss the cheering fact that He wills to do us good, that His power is put forth for our benefit. Jesus came to reveal God’s glory among us, but He never performed miracles just to demonstrate who He was. He came to use His life-giving, transforming power for people. Able to heal, He was constrained by compassion to do it regardless of the effect His miracles might have on those who witnessed them. These were acts of love as well as displays of power. He cared about people in their sicknesses and embarrassments, their wants and frustrations, their longings and sins.

A poet writes poems not to become famous but because he is a poet. The fame comes later when people recognize the poetry that issues from within the person. And so it was with Christ’s glory, the glory of His self-giving love. It was precisely because His first followers saw in Him this kind of caring for others, this ministering to the everyday needs of people, that they could discern who He really was.

But the most evident factor in this scene is Jesus’ concern for human joy. Imagine it – God providing the wine at a wedding celebration! Most of us aren’t accustomed to thinking of God in that light, are we? We picture Him as Law-maker, Taskmaster, Ruler. We think of Him perhaps also as Savior and Giver of gifts. But few of us think of the Lord very often as the Joy-bringer.

BRINGING JOY

This aspect of His ministry may have taken Jesus’ first followers by surprise. Some of them admired the austere life of John the Baptist. They perhaps believed that Jesus too would be a recluse, a man of the desert, shunning scenes of feasting and merriment. If He was indeed the Son of God from heaven, surely He would have little time for the petty joys of earth! And what would the King of Israel have to do with the wine supply at a common family festival? During Jesus’ life, many were scandalized at His easy familiarity with all kinds of people and His freedom in joining their celebrations. Many of us may have the same problem today. We are hardly ready in our churches for the God who celebrates, and who delights in our laughter.

Maybe it’s for that reason – because we have such difficulty keeping joy and religion together – that Christ chose to reveal His glory first in a marriage feast. It was not in a temple or a synagogue, not even at a retreat or a prayer meeting, but at one of the happy moments of our common life.

Jesus comes to redeem all of life for us. In Him we see not a contempt for human feelings but a sharing in them, not a separation from human sympathies but a deepening and enriching of them. He comes honoring all our joys, renewing all relationships, hallowing all occasions. He is no aloof spectator-God, but one who comes to enter our lives and complete our joy. No one can live in the presence of Jesus Christ and still think of God as a killjoy or a bore. We may spoil our joys with excess or we may pollute them with selfishness. He certainly has no part in all that. But never forget that the Lord is on the side of gladness.

Yet the joy that Christ brings, though it’s never alien to our common joys, is richer and deeper. Without Him, our joys, like the wine at that feast, are soon exhausted. The law of diminishing returns seems to operate in most of our satisfactions, doesn’t it? The first taste is most delightful; the second is almost as good; but after that it’s never quite the same. That’s why the joys we have known seem incomplete when once we find the Lord. Here’s a better gift, a higher happiness. The Lord keeps the best until last.

None of those witnesses at the wedding understood all that was involved in what Jesus did. They had only a fleeting glimpse of His purpose to bring new life and happiness to the world. They knew little at that time of how costly it would be, how dark a path He would walk to bring them gladness. But Jesus Himself must have seen far more in what He did there at Cana than a good turn. Wine stands for gladness, but for Him at a deeper level it was to stand for blood, for poured-out life. As He put forth His power to restore the joy of these wedding guests, He may have been reminded that His own life would one day be poured out for many. The hour in which He ministers to a simple need points to that greater hour when He will give Himself for our deepest needs. With Him nothing is trivial, because the same love that leads Him to fulfill each common joy will go at last through death, so that we can taste the joy of forgiveness and find a purity ritual washings could never give.

So, friends, if those first disciples could see Jesus’ glory in a wedding feast, how much more shall we? If they believed because they saw Him furnish wedding guests with wine, how much more shall we believe who know that for centuries He has furnished the brokenhearted with comfort, the despairing with hope, the guilty with forgiveness and every searching heart with a glad awareness of God Himself?

It may not all become clear for us at once, any more than it did for them. But wherever we see the transforming power of Christ at work, doing what only God can do, wherever we see Him meeting the needs of people and crowning them with joy, there we catch sight of His glory. Then the life-long quest begins for us.

Remember, friends, the Lord is the One who saves the best for last. Whatever you may be going through now, whatever privations and difficulties you face, there are better things ahead. The Lord who wants your happiness will be there for you when you need Him most, to do for you beyond your best hopes.

Has the search of a lifetime begun for you? Have you glimpsed in Jesus Christ something supremely attractive, uniquely worthy? Then you’re on the way. The next step is to commit as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of God in Jesus Christ. Why not obey that vision right now? Don’t wait until everything becomes fully clear. Act on what you already see. It gets clearer and better as you go along. He’ll make your joy full and deep. He will even make you a joy-bringer to the world. And He’ll give you a future in which the last will be the best.