Keep company with the more cheerful sort of the godly; there is no mirth like the mirth of believers.
* * * * *
You and I are invited to a delightful place where there is joy and laughter. The place is Cana, a village of Galilee, where a wedding ceremony is about to begin.1 Jesus and His mother are among the invited guests, and so are the disciples, which of course includes us. That is, some of us. Others of us have been there for some time, preparing for the festivities.
It is a lovely occasion and everyone is smiling. Excitement fills the air. The ceremony is being held outdoors in the sunshine. The presence of Jesus lends a sudden touch of glory to the proceedings. Can you imagine anything more thrilling than just being there?
Why do you suppose Jesus was invited to this event? Was it because He wore a sad expression? No. What a misreading of His real character! If I read Scripture correctly, Jesus was an attractive person with a contagious personality just the kind of individual that people like to be around. He exhibited a light and serene spirit. He radiated cheer. According to the letter to
the Hebrews, He was anointed by His Father with the oil of gladness more than His companions.2
That's why Jesus was invited to the wedding. Not because He was a relative they had to invite. Not because He was an apostle of doom and gloom. Not because He was sure to go about gratuitously buttonholing the other guests and informing them that the fires of hell awaited them. He was invited because He was someone special a Gentleman, a lovable Person, and a very warm Friend.
How does this picture compare with other Scriptures that tell us Jesus was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief"?3 Let's note right away that the sorrows and griefs that came later in His ministry in fulfillment of prophecy were not of His own devising. He knew about them, but at the wedding they seem to have played no part in His temperament. When they came, they were thrust upon Him from without. He would be ready for them; but this wedding took place early in His ministry, and at the moment He was not borrowing trouble or taking thought for the morrow.
Here then is the real Jesus young, fresh, and enthusiastic, setting out on His heavenly assignment to our planet to bring relief to the hard-pressed human race. What a mission! I recall from my younger days a popular ballad about Casey Jones, a legendary locomotive engineer who, after being assigned to a dangerous run between Lynchburg and Danville, Virginia, "mounted to the cabin with his orders in his hand." At His baptism, Jesus had His orders in His hand. He knew that He was facing a very rough ride, but He was not dismayed or depressed. The New Testament tells us it was because of "the joy that was set before Him [that He] endured the cross, despising the shame."4
Our Lord came from heaven to bring salvation to the world, and after His excruciating ordeal of sacrifice He went back to heaven to reign forever, but with the promise that He would be coming again to earth. His Father sent Him to us to preach the kingdom of God, to set us free from our sins, and to prepare us
for a place in glory. He faced spiritual wickedness in high places, and He proved ready and eager to do battle with them.
At the wedding Jesus is stopped by His mother as He walks by her. She tells Him, "They have run out of wine."5 Many people have difficulty in understanding Jesus' reply. I see Him putting His hands on His mother's shoulders and saying with a loving twinkle in His eye, "Woman, what am I going to do with you? It's not my time!" (When Dostoevsky described this scene in The Brothers Karamazov, he added, "He [Jesus] must have smiled gently at her.)
In a culture where women were classified as chattel, Jesus always treated women with gentleness, respect, and dignity. The same could be said of His treatment of people of other races the Roman centurion, the Canaanite woman. As for the sick and infirm, He didn't wring His hands over them; He just healed them.
Mary may be experiencing a premonition of what is coming, for she says to the servants (remember, you and I are there and we have chosen to help the servants), "Do whatever he tells you."6 And shortly Jesus orders the big stone waterpots to be filled with water. We do it. Then He tells us to draw off some of the water and take it to the host. We do that.
The host tastes what we bring him and his eyebrows go up.
He calls over the bridegroom and asks him, "What's going on?" Well, it happens that you and I saw what was going on. We poured the water into those jars. We were aware that the Lord Jesus was doing something as God with the processes of nature. We knew, we knew! But the very nature of the miracle was such that in spite of its awesomeness we were ecstatic.
C.S. Lewis suggests that to understand this and other miracles, we need first to believe in some reality beyond nature, beyond the universe itself.7 He says, "There is an activity of God displayed throughout creation. The universe itself is one great miracle." He then takes us back to earth: "The miracles done by God incarnate, living as a man in Palestine (that is, Jesus), perform the same things as this wholesale activity [in creation], but at a different speed and on a smaller scale." In other words, "the
miracles . . . do small and quick" what God is always doing in His creation. The same miraculous activity that operates the universe, for example, was employed by Jesus at the feeding of the five thousand to make little bread into much bread.8
Year after year the Sovereign God creates wine through the grapevine, grain through the wheatstalk, babies through natural begetting. Lewis claims that when miracles occur, the New Testament record shows consistently that God was using ordinary nature as a channel for "supernature." He used water miraculously to create wine, and bread and fish to multiply bread and fish. As for healing, when God enters the natural order to perform a healing miracle, His divine energy uses the natural organs of the body. "Stretch out your hand," Jesus said one Sabbath day to a man with a withered hand. He did, and the hand was miraculously restored.9
To understand fully what took place at Cana, I believe, we have to be in on Jesus' secret. He was a Man of Joy, remember? He carried an easy burden and operated with a light heart. It's hard for us to bear that fact in mind because we are so used to the man-made "holy" depictions of Him amid heavy religious solemnities.
Perhaps, since He found Himself at a wedding party, Jesus decided on a little merrymaking of His own. Customarily at Mideastern social festivities the best wine was served to the guests first; later on something akin to "rotgut" was reserved for those well along who kept coming back for more. Jesus turned things around, as He often did. He brought in the best at the last a prophetic touch, highly amusing and rather startling, but the wedding seems to have gained greatly by it. Quite possibly He did it to honor His friends, the bride and groom.
The text says that Jesus conveyed a sign to the marriage celebrants. What did it signify? Perhaps He was symbolizing the message of the Gospel, telling them that He came to earth to change the water of ordinary conventional religion into the wine of joy and love in the Spirit by His direct action as God.
Perhaps He thought beyond that, to Pentecost, to the time when the Spirit of God would be "given," and He would touch our spirits with His own holy flame, turning our individual lives into vessels of joy and laughter and good news and agape love for everybody. I'm sure He looked to that ultimate Great Day after all the tribulation when the kingdom would come, and we would relax from our struggling and worrying and complaining and break out the tambourines. Abundant living! Joy!
Meanwhile as we enter the new millennium the Holy Spirit is still pouring out love into individual lives. The ugly spirits of resentment, hostility, and bitterness are being dissolved by a divine solvent tipped from heaven into the heart. Reading the Bible for some people is no longer a tedious chore but is becoming a feasting on the Word. Worship is becoming a joyous celebration. The casual churchgoer is becoming a believer, an object of grace and a tributary of love. The water has become winenot the alcoholic drug, but the wine of a contented heart, the wine of peace and gladness.
In a hundred places the Bible tells us that the message of salvation in Christ is not of judgment but a message of love and joy. The very words "evangel" and "gospel" mean "good news, glad tidings." Many of the great hymns of the faith that we sing so majestically are really effusions of joy.
What is joy? It is the enjoyment of God and the good things that come from the hand of God. If our new freedom in Christ is a piece of angel food cake, joy is the frosting. If the Bible gives us the wonderful words of life, joy supplies the music. If the way to heaven turns out to be an arduous steep climb, joy rigs up the chairlift.
The fact is that joy is an attribute of God Himself. It brings with it pleasure, gladness, and delight. Joy is merriment without frivolity, hilarity without raucousness, and mirth without cruelty. Joy is sportive without being rakish and festive without being cheap. Joy radiates animation, sparkle, and buoyancy. It is more than fun, yet it has fun. It expresses itself in laughter and elation, yet it draws from a deep spring that keeps flowing long after the laughter has died and the tears have come. Even while
it joins those who mourn, it remains cheerful in a world that has gone gray with grief and worry.
Joy is not a sentimental word. It has a clean tang and bite to it, the exhilaration of mountain air. It blows away the dustiness of our days with a fresh breeze, and makes life more carefree. Perhaps the French translators of the Bible were attempting to say something like that when they rendered the third beatitude "Blessed are the debonair, for they shall inherit the earth."10 The French apparently see a carefree quality in meekness and humility that most of us miss. And is joy carefree? Is joy "debonair" that is, lighthearted, genial, and gracious? You decide.
Goethe at the age of 75 admitted that he had known only four weeks of happiness. There are Christians, some of them victims of lifelong suffering, who could say almost the same thing about happiness. But joy! Here we move into a different dimension, and that telltale light comes into the eye of the believer. Joy is the joy of salvation, the exultation of God's Spirit in men and women, "good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over."11
Joy was part of Jesus' ministry while He was on earth; it was a joy both present and in prospect. For today's Christian, fulfillment is never quite complete in this "vale of tears," but there is always joy in prospect. Thus joy becomes the ecstasy of eternity in a soul that has made its peace with God and is ready to do His will, here and hereafter.
At Cana the wedding vows have been exchanged and the wedding rites are over. A jubilant crowd escorts the bride and groom to their new home. The text says, "This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him."12 Thus heaven smiled on Jesus' first miracle.
What is to keep us from this kind of enjoyment? I don't know. I am no prophet. I have no pill to offer on the market that will produce a sunny disposition and a light heart. But I can pray that you will be saved by the blood of Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit so that He will give you joy. I know that route.
1. John 2:1-11
2. Hebrews 1:9
3. Isaiah 53:3
4. Hebrews 12:2
5. See John 2:3
6. See John 2:5
7. Walter Hooper, ed., "Miracles," in C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 25-37. Originally a sermon preached at St. Jude on the Hill Church, London, November 26, 1942.
8. Matthew 14:16-20
9. Matthew 12:10-13
10. "Heureux les debonnaires, car ils heriteront de la terre."
11. Luke 6:38
12. John 2:11
Chapter 6 || Table of Contents