About Jesus Christ: Chapter 4
DO WHATEVER HE SAYS
Today we can review 2000 years of history from early New Testament manuscripts and the writings of thousands of theologians and preachers. What we are here looking at is the way in which the first century Jew looked at Jesus. How did Jesus’ contemporaries know that he was, indeed, the promised Messiah? What made him different from the hundreds of other Rabbis of his time? How was he unique?
Something we know about their Jewish culture that differs from ours is that 1st century Jewish people were students of the Scriptures they had in hand. That included the books of law and the prophets, history and poetry. According to the Mosaic Law, parents were to teach their children and their grandchildren what God had revealed (See Deuteronomy 4:9). They followed that command diligently. That is why they could make connections between their Scriptures and what they saw taking place on the Judean landscape during their time.
While our example in this section might well pass by the average person in the 21st Century, it would have caught the attention of the 1st Century Jewish person. Here is another instance where the average person inIsrael during Jesus’ time would pick up the importance of the miracles that Jesus performed.
Mary’s instruction to the waiters at the wedding at Cana was, “Do whatever he tells you.” This directive from Jesus’ mother (John 2:1-11) set the stage for the first recorded miracle that Jesus performed. What was the problem at the wedding? They had run out of wine. In a land where hospitality was near the top of the social graces, to be caught short of the main beverage was unthinkable. The guest list apparently included Jesus, his family and some of his disciples. Mary, who was involved at this happy event, saw the problem and knew the implications. She also knew how to solve it. She guided the servants to the one person who could eliminate the problem.
On Mary’s direction, the servants went to Jesus. There was only one thing that Jesus required: He needed empty vessels or jars. So his first instruction to the servants was to fill the 6 stone jars (holding 20 to 30 gallons each) with clean water. After the servants completed that, Jesus told them to take a glass of “water” from one of the jars to the master of the wedding banquet (who knew nothing of what had just taken place). He had to approve the wine being served at the wedding. His only complaint? The “new” wine was better than what was first served. So the wedding master reminded the bridegroom that the best wine is always served first. After having plenty to drink, the guests wouldn’t notice the change in quality.
While we might focus our attention to the miracle of water into wine, there is a more important element of spiritual value for us to note. It is the matter of faith. Mary, of course, had been observing Jesus her son since birth. She had listened to the story of the shepherds there in Bethlehem; she had seen and heard what the angels said and sang; she had shared the dreams and divine directions with her husband, Joseph. She remembered Jesus’ experience in the Temple in Jerusalem when he was just 12 year’s old.
Mary was convinced that this person who had grown up in her home was fulfilling the prophecies of Anna and Simeon, as well as the prophets and writers of the Old Testament. She believed. And so, her faith in Jesus’ ability to solve the wine problem came somewhat naturally. She believed he could and would do it.
The servants’ response to Jesus’ instructions was somewhat more doubtful. Who was this man, telling them to bring some large empty jars, fill them with water and then risk their jobs by taking plain water to the wedding master and say, “Here’s some really good wine!” Yes, Mary had said, Do whatever he says! But this seems to be over the top for these servants!
Nonetheless, for whatever reason, they were convinced that Jesus’ instructions to them were full of promise and fulfillment. They made no excuses to the master of the wedding. The servant’s obedience to what Jesus said is called “faith”. They believed him. Perhaps there was some familiar story from their Scripture that gave them confidence that he was the promised one. Perhaps the story that follows is that story.
Our Old Testament parallel to the story about wine is from II Kings 4. One of the married prophets in Israel died. He left a widow and two sons with no means of support. The prophet left debts that his widow was unable to pay. To settle the account, a creditor was threatening to take her two sons and sell them as slaves.
The widow went to Elisha the prophet, pleading with him to do something about her situation. She had no idea what Elisha could or would do. The prophet’s response to the widow was a question: What do you have in your house? Remember, she had already told Elisha that she was bankrupt—she had nothing. Yet he asked her: What in your house of scarcity do you have? Her reply: Just a little oil.
Elisha instructed her to go around her neighborhood and ask her friends for empty jars. It was as if she was “doubling down” on her scarcity. She had no money, just a little olive oil, and now she is to fill her house with empty jars. Elisha was pushing the envelope so to speak. He instructs the widow to ask for a lot of jars. This is the point at which the woman showed her great faith. She stepped out on a promise, seeking fulfillment to save her two sons.
However, the widow’s faith is going to be tested even further. She and her two sons are going to have work this out by themselves. Elisha says: When you have all the jars inside your house, close the door with just you and your two sons inside. Then set up a production line pouring oil into the empty jars. After you have finished, open your door and sell the oil to your neighbors. Not only will you have enough money to pay off your debts, but you and your sons will be able to live on what is left over.
The oil from her own small jar kept running until all the empty jars were full. Out of her scarcity came an abundance that went far beyond her immediate needs—to pay her debts. That is how God responded to her faith. This story was well understood in the homes of first century Jews. When they saw Jesus’ miracle at Cana, or heard about it, it was but a reflection of a story from their Scriptures that they had heard from childhood.
II Kings 4
I Kings 17:7-16.
- From these two stories, how would you describe faith?
- In what way has your faith in God been tested?
- In your case, how did God respond?
- Do good people always get what they ask for? Why (not)?
- What steps do you see in the two pictures of faith?