18 April 2008

Amma goy-teerey kaŋ na haro kaa wo bay...Yohanna 2.1-11

...or translated from the Zarma: "Whereas the servants who had drawn the water knew very well..."

I had the privilege of teaching Ladies' Bible Study at our church again a week ago. It really is becoming something I love as I get to know these ladies better and start to appreciate the realities of their world. One huge challenge for me is to teach to a group where only 3 of the women are literate.

The Lord has impressed upon me a need to work through the Gospel of John - not just for these ladies, to strengthen their confidence and belief in God and to give them assurance of their future with Him - but also for myself. I've heard all my life, it seems, that John is a good place for brand new believers to begin, and I wanted to understand why people always say that. As I've taken the time to read the book from start to finish in one setting, several times now, I'm finding that not only is there the simplicity of the plain Gospel message, but also a depth that challenges me afresh each time I dig into this particular book of the Bible.

The book of John is very clear - it was written with the following goal: "...that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that in so believing, you will have life in His name." (John 20.31) This is my prayer, that as I work through different parts of this book of the Bible with these ladies, they will come to believe more fully on the Lord and have the assurance of eternity together with Him.

Last weekend, we worked through John 2.1-11.
Three days later, there was a wedding in Cana, in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus was also invited to the wedding with his disciples. As they were running short on wine, Jesus' mother said to Him, "They don't have any more wine."  
Jesus responded back to her: "Dear lady, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come?"

His mother said to the servants: "Do that which He will tell you to do."
There were 6 stone containiers destined to be used for the ritual cleansing of the Jews, each one able to contain approximately 120 liters. Jesus said to the servants: "Fill each one of these containers with water." And they filled them to the brim. "Now, draw some out," He said, "and take it to the chef in charge of the meal." They carried it to him.
When the chef in charge of the meal had tasted the water changed into wine - not knowing from where this wine had come, whereas the servants who had drawn the water knew very well - he called the bridegroom and said, "All men serve their best wine first, then the wine of poorer quality after, when the people have already been drinking; you, you have kept the best wine until now."
Such was what took place at Cana in Galilee, the first of several miracles that Jesus did. He manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
Here are some highlights of what we discussed, ideas that the Holy Spirit impressed upon these ladies as we worked through the passage...

Three days later... Three days after what?? Tracing back through the first chapter of John, it appears to be talking about three days after John the Baptist gave very clear testimony of who Jesus was. John the Baptist recognized the uniqueness of Jesus, the Lamb of God - and his attitude as he approached the Lord, or even as he answered questions about Jesus, was one of humility. John the Baptist described himself as "...one not worthy to even lace the sandals" of Jesus. Such humility should also be the attitude of our hearts each time we approach God's Word to learn more of our Lord. We can't study the Bible to justify our ideas, determined to learn what we think we want to learn. We must come humbly determined to see the Lord, as He reveals Himself, even if it is not what we want to see.

Next, we looked at the fact that Jesus' mother was invited to the wedding. Jesus and his disciples were invited also. Culturally, 1st century Jewish weddings were much more similar to how weddings are celebrated in Niger than how we "do" weddings in the US. As I explained the process in the States - guest list determined, specific number of invitations sent out, often specifiying which family members are included in the invitation, required responses, catered meal carefully calculated and prepared on the basis of those responses, etc., ... oh - the giggles and laughter - the ladies found that hilarious! Here, anyone walking by can show up at the wedding and expect to eat. Invitations are scattered about and there is no way to know who will or how many will show up for the celebration. And just as running out of wine at the wedding in Cana would have resulted in shame and embarassement for the host families, running out of food here also leads to shame and embarassement. I love how God gave these ladies something, right away something with which they could identify - for it involved them immediately in the story... not just the historical account of Jesus' first miracle, but something that they felt could actually happen to them...

The mother of Jesus came and said to Him... Mary knew she could come and share this need with Jesus. Mary obviously knew there was something very special about her son: the Promised One's coming birth announced to her by an angel, the incredible circumstances of His birth and other things that she would have seen as He grew up in her home. And we know she had the habit of gathering these things up and pondering them in her heart (Luke 2.19). But the Bible says that this was His first public miracle, so I don't really think it was His habit to go around miraculously correcting difficult or uncomfortable situations. I love the song, "Mary, Did You Know?" that we so often play around Christmas time, partly because it asks this very same question: she knew her son was special, but did she realize how special? I don't think even she could have recognized the significance of all that He had come to earth to do. Yet she knew Him well enough, and had sufficient confidence in Him that she knew she could bring this need before Him.

Jesus responded to her... I love the fact that Jesus did respond back to her. I don't know what answer Mary was expecting... I imagine that the one she received was probably not exactly the answer she was hoping for. But He heard her and He did respond. The things that concern us concern Him, too. And He will respond for the best. Mary somehow understood this, because while Jesus' response ("Dear lady, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come?") may not have been what she was hoping to hear - she trusted that He would do something and that what He would do would be right - thus she tells the servants, "Do that which He will tell you to do." One of the things that the ladies all remarked upon was that they'd never considered this side of Mary's faith in Jesus - and that it was both challenging and encouraging to them.

There were 6 stone vases... each able to hold about 120 liters. Jesus told the servants to fill them with water. They filled them up to the brim. As Jesus responds, as He prepares to work this miracle, stop and think for a moment about the extravagance. Sandy Winter wrote, "Jesus chose an act ...truly extravagant and exagerated.... We would have thought that Jesus would recommend moderation. What does it mean, then, that He responded so excessively? 720 liters of rich and intoxicating wine...? This, then, is the true question. What was He trying to demonstrate by His nearly scandalous extravagance in this, the inaugural event of His ministry,... especially knowing that later miracles would deal with desperate needs: healing, provision, security, life?"

We discussed this, and the ladies really weren't sure what to think, although the point was made that perhaps because there is not much "extravagance" in their lives, they are looking for God's extravagance in ways that would make sense to them, and perhaps are missing instances where He is responding extravagantly. We also wondered some if it wasn't just the fact that God loves to delight those He loves.....

Whereas the servants who had drawn the water knew very well... As I first began to study this passage, preparing for this study, this was the phrase that grabbed my heart. I want to see my Lord working miracles - thus I need to be in a place of humble service, doing that which He tells me to do.

He manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him.
Could this relate right back to the point about how Jesus loves to delight with extravagant responses to the things that concern us? Think about the first time we read of a miracle where water is changed into something else. God, working through Moses, changed water into blood (thus no longer life-giving), and ushered in the law. This, the first miracle of Jesus, the Lamb of God who came to usher in salvation by grace, was water changed into wine in super-abundance. Those Jews familiar with the Scriptures would have understood that the this abundance of wine was a celebration because of the arrival of the Messiah. (see Amos 9.13,14 & Isaiah 25.6-10) And, of course, we can't forget Revelation 19 - a wedding supper no one will want to miss, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

Please note: Since my notes from Bible study are in French and Zarma, all Bible verses are either translated back into English from the French, La Sainte Bible, Louis Segond version, or from the Zarma, Irikoy Tira Hanna.
The quote from Sandy Winter is also translated back from my French notes, so it is more accurately a paraphrase this time around.

Filling vases picture from kidschristiansunite.com .
Marriage Supper of the Lamb from sacredtexts.com .

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