Excessive Grace

What kind of God do you and I worship?  Who is the God who reveals himself in Scripture?  Who is the one who created and sustains the very fabric of the cosmos?  Near the beginning of John’s gospel, there is one amazing story through which God reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus, the Son.

But before we get to that story, let’s remember what happened first.  In the beginning chapter of John, we witness the Word of God (the pre-existent Jesus) being incarnated and “pitching his tent” among humanity. The Word of God who created all that is becomes part of his creation.  And, as John writes, “out of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (1:16).

This grace God communicates through the second person of the Trinity is a pervasive theme in the opening chapters of John’s gospel.  It is apparent in the way Jesus invites people to follow him and it is an excessive grace in the wedding day miracle.

The wedding was so full of joy.  Jesus, his mom, and his disciples had been invited and most certainly engaged in the celebration.  Bride and groom were laughing, smiling, dancing, and full of hopefulness for a blessed future.  A new family was being birthed. Wine was flowing, food was enjoyed, and life was pleasant.

I’m not sure if Mary discovered it on her own or if she heard the whispers of the servants.  But all the joy was about to come to a screeching halt!  The wine that had helped create the atmosphere of joy was gone.  The party was literally and metaphorically, over.

Wine was a sign of God’s blessing.  Plenty of wine meant God was blessing the marriage and its future abundance.  Not only was it embarrassing to run out of wine, it also meant God’s blessing had been removed.  Not the best way to start life together.  That’s why I’m glad Jesus was there.

Jesus shows up and permeates the whole experience with grace.  Water is turned to wine.  The new couple avoids social embarrassment.  The future looks positive.  God is good!  But there is so much more below the surface.  Much more which reveals the heart and character of the God we worship.  Through this miracle, God shows us something about the relationship he is creating with us.

Weddings are a big deal to God.  The image of a wedding describes Jesus’ relationship with his church.  The groom and bride are united into a new relationship.  Jesus and his Church become a family.  It’s no wonder that Jesus uses a wedding to show off his promises.

 

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”  They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  (John 2:1-11)

 

Not only does Jesus bless the wedding at Cana, but he reveals the ways he will bless his wedding with the Church.  Jesus’ relationship with his people is always marked with grace.  Emptiness is filled with plenty.  Ordinary becomes extraordinary.  Faith is rewarded.  Blessing is common place. Trust is secured.

Our God can be trusted.  That’s one of the reasons we worship him.  God is always for you and me.  And he is always prepared to bless even in the midst of something hopeless.  Jesus reveals who he is through ordinary circumstances.  His grace is always excessive and it’s directed to you.  The grace of God is always enough.  It is never in short supply.

Abundant Life is Found Out on the Water

Bread and water are the often joked about references to the food of the incarcerated.  But bread and water are two elements Jesus uses to show Peter the secret to a full and abundant life.

The story begins in Matthew 14.  The crowds have followed Jesus into a remote place.  The sun’s going down and everyone’s getting hungry.  The disciples want to send the crowds into town for dinner.  Jesus has another idea – “you give them something to eat.”  The reaction of the disciples is one that we would share if we were in their shoes, “We don’t have enough…”

  When faced with obvious need, “we don’t have enough…” is our usual response.  I’ve been guilty of that.  We don’t have enough time, money, people, money, time…you get the idea.  We’ve all been there and we’ve all uttered the same thing.  But I love what Jesus does in light of their scarcity.  Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.”  Bring me your resources.  Bring me what you do have.  Then Jesus does what only he can do.  He takes our limits and stretches them to meet the need.

This story is immediately followed by Peter walking on the water.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Peter and the other disciples are in a boat struggling against the storm and waves.  They’re trying to get the other side of the lake to meet Jesus, but they’re stuck.  So Jesus comes to them, walking on the water.  Peter sees Jesus and wants to be where he is – out on the water.  But Peter let his water walking certification lapse.  So he says, “Jesus, if that’s you tell me to come to you on the water.”  If I were Peter, I’d want Jesus to respond with something like, “No. Don’t worry about it. Stay in the boat and I’ll come to you.  No need to get your feet wet.”  But he doesn’t.  Jesus’ response to Peter’s longing is simply – “Come.”

Now Peter has never walked on water but here’s what he has done: he has stepped out of a boat before.  He was a fisherman, after all.  He knows how to lift a leg over the side, set it down, and walk.  So Peter does what he knows how to do.  He gives Jesus what he already knows how to do.  And Jesus does, in those moments, what only Jesus can do.

I’m convinced that this is a life truth.  We give Jesus what we know how to do and Jesus takes it and does what only he can do!

Following Jesus is about being stretched.  Left to ourselves, we usually see what we can’t accomplish.  And that always limits the abundant life Jesus promises.  Jesus stretches our faith when he says, “Give me what you do have” and I’ll take it and do an amazing thing.  Abundant life is found out on the water – when we give Jesus what we know how to do and let him do with it what only he can do.

Last night I attended an event hosted by The Asservo Project (theasservoproject.org).  The Asservo Project, based out of Pittsburgh, exists to combat global human trafficking.  They are a David facing a Goliath.  Human trafficking is currently one of the world’s most profitable criminal enterprises.  There are 40 million victims globally.  At $150 billion annually, this criminal enterprise makes more money than Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Netflix combined.  Since 2010, human trafficking has grown 850%.  Trafficking and sexual slavery is real.  Open your eyes and it becomes so obvious.

This reality is so staggering I couldn’t help but think, “Jesus, we don’t have enough…”  That’s all I could think about on the way home.  How do you even make a dent?  And I kept going back to this story.  Jesus says, give me what you have/what you know how to do and I’ll do what only I can do.

So that’s my current next step.  But what about you?  You may not be passionate about ending human trafficking (I hope you will be) but there is something that you are passionate about.  There is something that God is calling you to and you’re first response is “I don’t have enough…time, education, money, fill in the blank.”

But here’s the spiritual truth.  The only way disciples grow is when they are stretched.  When they say, “Jesus, I hear you, and I don’t know how I will accomplish this but I will give you what I know how to do and I’ll let you do what only you can do.”

Abundant life is found out on the water…so get out of the boat.