Craig Smith - By Invitation Only
Well, welcome to Mission Hills and Happy New Year. It’s early in 2020 so I feel like this is probably a safe time to go ahead and ask this question. How many of you set some New Year’s resolutions? Okay. How many of you are still keeping them all right? Yeah, I want you to feel good about yourself. That’s great. That’s awesome. I’ve set a few. I know that the statistics are not good. At the end of January, only 25% of people are still keeping their resolutions. But I figure that means that if you at least set one, you’ve got a one in four chance of making some significant change in your life. And so if you set 4, then I think you’ve got 100% chance of making some significant changes. So I set four and I want to share one of them with you. I’m gonna share my kind of my big resolution for the year. But to do that, I need to set it up just a little bit.
And so I wanna start by celebrating. God did some amazing things in and through Mission Hills last year. But hands down, my favorite one is we tallied it all up, we looked at student ministries and kids’ ministries and counseling ministries and things that happened in a weekend experience, and we realized that last year through the ministry of Mission Hills, we saw more than 500 people say yes to a relationship with Jesus. How awesome is that? Five hundred is a big number, right? And I’m part of…I have a strategic team here. And so we began to pray a late last year about, you know, what should our goal for this next year be? You know, what can we kind of do to organize ourselves as a church and move forward and be inviting God into things?
And when we saw that 500 number and we said, you know, what if we dream crazy big and what if this next year, we started praying and trying to move the church towards the goal of seeing 1,000 people say yes to Jesus? I was pretty excited about that. And I went to the elders with that proposal and the elders, their job is to discern, direct, and protect the future of the church. And they started talking about it and praying about it. And one of the elders, his name was John, he said, “Yeah, I’m just not sure that’s the right number.” And I was like, “I know it’s, I mean, we’re talking about doubling.” He goes, “No, no, no, no, no.” He said, “You know, we had this big vision to reach every lost person in the Front Range, right? That’s our long-term vision.” And he said, “One of our strategies for that is to unleash an army of missional followers of Jesus.”
“Well, we’ve got literally thousands of people who called Mission Hill, thousands of people who come in on a weekly basis, thousands of people that are regularly part of our worship services.” He said, “We wanna unleash them to be on mission with Jesus. We’ve said that. So what if we do that this year? What if we work really hard to unleash the people of God to be on the mission of God in the world?” And he said, “If we do that, then I don’t think 1,000 is enough. I think we need to make it 2,020 in 2020.” And the other elders went, “Yes.” And I went, “Oh no.” That is our goal though. We are moving towards seeing 2,020 people say yes to Jesus through the ministry of Mission Hills in 2020 and so that sets the stage.
Yeah. You can applaud that, it’s gonna be awesome. It also sets the stage for my number one resolution, which is I’m gonna get better at prayer. I am because there’s a couple of reasons for that. Number one, there’s no way that’s gonna happen apart from a movement of God like we’ve never seen here. Okay. And that only happens through prayer per such a critical part of that. And the other reason that I’ve made getting better at prayer one of my resolutions is honestly, I’m not great at it. I know, right? Like, a pastor is not supposed to say that, right? Pastors are supposed to be the best at prayer. And I know a couple of pastors who are the best at prayer, but honestly, I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret, the rest of us are not. In fact, most pastors, when the guard comes down and we’re really honest with each other, almost every pastor I know feels some guilt that we’re not better with prayer.
And it’s interesting. I don’t think the reason that we sometimes struggle with prayer is because, you know, like we don’t think it matters. We do. We think prayer absolutely matters. And it’s not, you know, that we’re so arrogant that we think we can do it without God. It’s not that. I think that the number one reason that most pastors struggle with prayer, maybe the same reason that almost everybody struggles with prayer, and that is we overthink it a little bit. I think pastors, in particular, are prone to overthinking and here’s how overthinking gets in my way when it comes to prayer. So, you know, when I sit down to pray and I wanna pray some of the ways I was taught, and one of the ways I was taught was when you start praying, you should always praise God first, right? Sort of reminds you who he is and who you’re praying to and get centered on God.
And so, you know, praise God’s, so like, “Yeah, God, I praise you. You’re so good and I praise you, God, that you’re so powerful. I praise you that you’re all-knowing. I mean you’re so all-knowing, you know everything that I need before I need it. And you know everything that I’m about to say even before I say it. So what are we doing here again? Anybody else ever have that question when it comes to prayer? I think a lot of people do and it can really kind of get in our way. And so what I wanna do today is I wanna share a story from the life of Jesus that maybe more than any other story has changed the way that I think about prayer. In fact, it’s changed it so much that one of my strategies for getting better at prayer this year…we always need a strategy.
The problem is that a resolution without a strategy is just a wish, okay? And I don’t want my desire to get better at prayer to just be a wish and so I have a strategy. And one of my strategies is I’ve set a reminder on my calendar every Monday morning at the start of every week, first thing in the morning, my reminders says, “Go back and read this story.” That’s how powerful and practical I think it is and how much it changes the way that I think about prayer in a very significant way. And so, I’d love to have you join me. We’re gonna be in John chapter 2 and what we’re doing today is we’re launching a new series, it’s called “Living Proof.” And what we’re gonna do in this series is we’re gonna walk verse by verse through seven stories that John tells about seven miracles that Jesus performed.
Now, John doesn’t call them miracles. He calls them signs because what he believes is that these things that Jesus did aren’t just announcements that he’s powerful, but they’re announcements of who he is, that they’re signposts that point to who Jesus is. Now, obviously Jesus did a lot more than seven signs. And in fact, John recognizes that at the end of his Gospel in John 20:30, John writes this, he says, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples.” He performed a lot more, which are not recorded in this book, which means that he’s been picky, right? It means that he’s hand selected. He’s carefully selected, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, these seven miracles. He did a lot more, but he selected these particular seven miracles specifically because they’re signs and because they point to who Jesus is in a very significant way, maybe more than any of his other miracles.
Have any of you ever driven up kind of north around the North Dakota area? If you’re going from the east…first time I did it, I was coming from the east and like a thousand miles before I got there, I started seeing signs for this one place. Some of you know exactly what it is, it’s Wall Drug. I’d never heard of Wall Drug, but I started seeing little signs and picket signs and big billboard signs and there were so many of them that I was…I’ll be honest, the standard was really high. And when I finally pulled into this place I was like, “I’m here. Am I here? Is this it, really?” But that’s kind of what John is doing in his Gospel. He’s actually organized the main part of his Gospel around these seven signs. Because unlike Wall Drug, he says if you understand these signs and their significance, they’re gonna give you a picture of Jesus that’s more vivid. It’s more powerful than anything you’ve ever seen.
In fact, he goes on he says this, “But these are written, these seven that I’ve chosen are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” So John’s organized the main part of his Gospel around these seven signs because he says when you understand these signs, and when you understand their significance, it’s going to allow you to believe in Jesus in a profound way, and it’s gonna allow you through that belief to experience life the way God always intended it. Life is impossible apart from belief and faith in Jesus Christ. He says, “I’m gonna give you these seven signs.”
And he starts in John chapter 1 with the first of Jesus’ public miracles, and this is how it goes. “On the third day, a wedding took place at Cana of Galilee.” Now Jesus’s mother was there and Jesus and his disciples had been invited to the wedding also. So Jesus begins his big important work…it was kind of a small and unimportant place. It’s interesting. He begins his big important work in a place called Cana of Galilee and here’s how small and insignificant Cana was. We don’t even know where it is. We have no idea where the town was. In fact, if it weren’t for this story, we may not know that Cana ever existed because nobody else talks about it. It was a very small town in the middle of kind of an unimportant province in the Nation of Israel.
Archeologists have a couple of different theories about where it might’ve been, but nobody’s bothered to get up an expedition to go and see if it was there because they don’t expect to find anything of significance there. It just wasn’t an important place. So it’s very, very interesting that Jesus chose to begin his big, important work in this small, unimportant place. And honestly, in the lives of, if I can be honest with you, small, unimportant people. Well, we don’t even know who this couple was. John’s the only one who writes about him and even he doesn’t name them because it’s like, it wouldn’t mean anything to you. They’re not people you would have heard about, they’re not people of any significance, they’re not people of any notoriety. They’re just kind of a generic small town couple having a generic small town wedding in a generic small town. And yet this is where Jesus chooses to begin his big, important work, which is very, very interesting.
And I think that’s actually important because here’s the thing, sometimes we fall into this trap of believing that God only does his big, important work in big, important places or in big, important people. And this is not true. It’s just not true. That Jesus spent most of his time with people that the world would have considered insignificant. And he did some of his greatest works in the lives of people in the places that the world would have said, why are you doing it there? That place doesn’t matter, but it does matter to Jesus. And maybe you’re here today and you’re thinking, I need God to move in my life. I need God to do something. I need a sign. But maybe there’s a little voice in the back of your head going, but I’m probably not gonna get one because he’s got bigger fish to fry. He’s got more important people to pay attention to. He’s got more important places to work than in my life. And the danger of that kind of thinking is that if we think that way about God, then we may never invite God in.
And it’s so interesting. If you ask the question, the more important question, the most important question, why did Jesus begin his ministry here? Why did he begin his public signs in this small and unimportant place at the wedding of the small and unimportant couple? Why did he do it? And the answer is, as John tells us, he was invited, right? It’s what he says, Jesus’s disciples went because they’d been invited. I have no idea what that was like. I mean my guess is that the couple invited him, but they didn’t really think he was gonna come, right? But they’re like, it would be cool if he did, wouldn’t it? I mean he wasn’t really a huge deal yet, but he had some disciples so he’s getting a certain amount of fame around him. So I imagine the couple was like, well, you know, we kind of know his mom and so we kind of have an in. Do we do it? Okay, let’s send him a save the date.
But my guess is when he showed up, they’re like, dude, he’s here. Here’s the thing, like we shouldn’t be surprised when Jesus shows up to where we’ve been invited, but we flip it around, we also shouldn’t be surprised when Jesus doesn’t show up where he hasn’t been invited. Listen to me, Church, do not be surprised if Jesus doesn’t show up where he hasn’t been invited. This business of invitation is actually really important. In fact, you might underline that word invited. We’re gonna come back to it a couple of different times today because I think it’s actually very central to the story that John is telling. Listen, if you think that God’s not interested enough in you to do a work in you, then you may never get up the courage to invite him in and that’s a disaster because we shouldn’t be surprised when Jesus doesn’t show up where he hasn’t been invited.
But here he was invited. So Jesus’s disciples had also been invited to the wedding, and now verse three says, “When the wine was gone, Jesus’s mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.'” Now, here’s what you got to understand. This is a big deal, okay? Running out of wine was a really big deal. Running out of anything at a party where you’re hosting people was a really big deal. That was especially true in the ancient world because hospitality was valued in a way that you and I can’t really completely imagine or understand today, but we can get a little bit of a glimpse of it. I threw a party before Christmas for the executive team here at Mission Hills with spouses and my kids, I can get about 11 of us. And my wife and I decided we were gonna cook prime rib and so she went to the store and she bought prime rib.
And she came back with the biggest piece of beef that I’ve ever personally beheld. I mean, it was a large section of a cow, actually, and I remember kind of looking at it and I said to her, “How much do you expect them to eat?” And she goes, “I don’t know, but I didn’t wanna run out.” Like how weird would that be if you’re like throwing a big party and you, like, ran out of the main dish? I’m like, yeah, okay. It’s all good, plus leftovers, right? It’s all good. I mean I get that. I understand how embarrassing, how dishonoring to your guests it would be if you ran out. And that’s in the modern world where we don’t value hospitality the way they did. In their realm, in their culture, in their world, to run out of something like wine, it was dishonoring to your guests in a way you and I can’t even begin to imagine. This is a big deal and maybe, honestly, even a bigger deal because the fact is that the only reason, they would have run out of wine is because they ran out of money, which means that this exposed their poverty.
So it wasn’t just dishonoring to their guests, but it was humiliating for the hosts as well. And I think that’s ultimately…that’s why Mary decided to get involved in this. I don’t think she was like, “Hey, I didn’t get enough wine. Jesus.” Right? I don’t think that was her plan. Now here’s the thing, I don’t care about the wine, but like when I’m at a wedding, I do watch those pieces of the wedding cake that had the flowers on them, right? Because I love me some good frosting. And like if I were going to Jesus for this, I’d be like, “Hey, they ran out of frosting pieces. They ran out of the flower ones and that will all be about me, okay? I would not be concerned about the host or anything. It was just all me. I didn’t get enough frosting yet, okay?
That’s not Mary’s concern. I think there’s a compassion here. She’s concerned about what this means to these friends of hers. So she goes home and she says, “They had no more wine.” Now, understand Jesus knew they didn’t have any more wine. Okay. I don’t think this was a shock. It’s not like she came and said, “Hey, they had no more wine,” Jesus went, “What?” No. I mean, first off, you know, he’s at the party, so I mean he’s probably noticed that. But secondly, earlier in the Gospel of John, we’ve already seen that Jesus has supernatural knowledge. He has access to information he shouldn’t have as a human being because he’s not exactly just a human being. He’s the Son of God and he’s demonstrated that. And so Jesus isn’t like needing to be informed of the fact that…and what we need to understand is that Mary is not telling him this to inform him. She’s telling this to invite him to get involved, right? That’s what’s going on here. The implication is they have no more wine, sooo, would you do something about it?
And maybe more than anything else, that’s the reason that I need to read this story every week this next year if I’m gonna get better at prayer because here’s what we need to understand is that we don’t pray to inform God. We pray to invite God to be involved. Do you hear me, Church? I’ve said that I struggle sometimes. I overthink it. I’m like, “Well, God, you already know what I’m about to say. You already know what I need. You know, what’s the point?” The point is the invitation. The point is the invitation. We don’t pray to inform God. We pray to invite God to be involved. That’s what’s happening here. And that’s what prayer should always be.
She says, “Hey, they’re out of wine,” with the implication, would you do something about it? And if you know Jesus at all, you kind of expect him to go, “I’ll get right on it, Mom.” Instead, he says this, he says, “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour’s not yet come.” Which like sounds crazy insulting, right? Can you imagine saying to your mom, “Woman,” like that would not be okay, right? But here’s the thing, that’s true in English, but it wasn’t true in the ancient world. What Jesus says here is in no way disrespectful. But it is an interesting thing. He says, the NIV translates it, “Why do you involve me?” Which is actually the perfect way to capture the thought. The literal Greek is, “What is this to you and me?” That’s what he literally says, “What is this to you and me?” In other words, “What’s the big deal, Mom? This doesn’t really affect me. It doesn’t really affect you. This isn’t mission-critical.” He says, “My hour hasn’t yet come. I’m not really ready to go public with who I am. So, you know, the plan really wouldn’t be to do anything here. Why are you trying to involve me?”
And it sounds like Jesus is reluctant, doesn’t it? Here’s what we need to understand. What happens here isn’t to demonstrate that Jesus is reluctant, it’s to demonstrate the power of invitation. Let me say that again because it’s really important we understand. What’s happening here isn’t intended to demonstrate that Jesus is reluctant. It’s intended to demonstrate the power of invitation. What Jesus basically says is, “Mom, if you hadn’t invited me to be involved in this, I wouldn’t do anything about this. This really wouldn’t have been part of the plan except you made it part of the plan by inviting me to get involved.”
And so his mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s clear that she understands that he’s not saying no, he’s not dragging his feet. He’s just demonstrating the power of invitation. And I think about this story and it makes me wonder something because you know, it wasn’t just his mother that was there. His brothers were there too, including a man named James, who at first thought Jesus was crazy, but he eventually came to believe that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God. After the resurrection, James became a follower of Jesus. He became a leader in the early Church, and he went on to write one of the books of the Bible. And in fact, in that book that wrote, it’s the book of James chapter 4, verse 2, he says, an interesting thing, he says this, he says, “You do not have because you do not ask God.”
James understood the power of invitation. And I actually wonder if when James wrote that, he wasn’t actually thinking about what he saw at this wedding. When Jesus looked at his mom and said, “What’s the big deal here? This really wasn’t part of the plan. This isn’t really mission-critical. I’m not really ready to go full-on public yet, but all right, since you invited me, I’ll get involved.” So James writes, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” That’s the power of invitation.
And so Mary looks at the servants and she says, “Do whatever he tells you.” And I love that. The keyword there is whatever because she doesn’t really know what Jesus is gonna do and she hasn’t specified, has she? She hasn’t said, “Hey Jesus, they’re out of wine. So here’s what you need to do.” She just invited him to be involved, but there’s no limitation on it. And that’s important, I think. Because here’s the thing I’ve come to understand about prayer is that we often put limitations on our invitations, right? We invite God to be involved, sure. But we go, here’s how you need to do it, right? So we go, “Hey God, I really…you know, my marriage, boy, my marriage needs you. Would you get involved in fix him? It’d be great.” And maybe God’s going, “Yeah, I’m not sure that’s where we need to start.” We go, “God, my finances needs you. I need you to be involved. Please come into my finances. I’m inviting you into my finances. Here’s what I need you to do, get me a raise.” And God may be going, “Maybe we need to change the way you spend first.”
See, we put these limitations on our invitations. And what I’ve come to understand is that the more our invitations include limitations, the less inviting they actually are, the less we’re actually extending a real invitation when we’re putting on these limitations. Let me think about this. Somebody invites you to a party and they say, “Hey, would you come to my party? I’d love to have you there.” And you’re like, “I appreciate the invitation. I would love to come.” And then they go, “Okay, but you should know that it’s a costume party.” Ooh. “It’s a superhero costume party. It’s a DC superhero costume. It’s none of that Marvel business.” Okay, wow, I don’t know about this. “Oh, and you should come with the outfit on, but you need to come with a trench coat so nobody can see the outfit because at a certain point in the party, we’re gonna have a big reveal. It’s gonna be awesome.” You’re like, “No, it’s not.” And I don’t really even wanna come because you put all these limitations that your invitation doesn’t really feel very inviting because it sounds like you’ve got an agenda, honestly. You just kinda need players for your little drama. And that’s what I mean. I mean, the more limitations we put on our invitations, the less inviting they actually are. And I think it works that way with God.
And we say, “God, I want you to be involved, but here’s what it should look like.” Maybe the less inviting that actually feels to the Lord. Mary doesn’t do that. She says, “Do whatever he tells you. No limitation. Just do it.” And nearby…it says, “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from 20 to 30 gallons.” Now, the jars he’s talking about, they’re pretty big pieces of pottery, right? And they were used, not for full-on bathing, but as you came in, you know, you would wash the dust of the road off of your arms and your hands and they would sit in there, which meant that the jars were basically full of dirty water. And even if you poured all the water out, I mean that dirt would still be part of that kind of slimy stuff around the filling and they’re not…they’re kind of gross is what I’m trying to say.
And I love the fact that just like, “We’re gonna use those,” because that’s Jesus, right? See, Jesus didn’t spend all his time hanging out with the people who are perfect and pure. Not that there are any such people, but there are people who think that that’s what they are, right? Those aren’t the people Jesus hung out with. He hung out with the people that everybody else said they’re filthy, they’re dirty, they’re beneath God, they’re so sinful. Surely God cannot care about or have anything to do with those people. But Jesus has this sort of long history of taking what’s dirty and making something delightful out of it. He looks at these dirty jars and goes, “We’re gonna do something delightful there.” I love that.
And maybe you’re here today, and it’s early in the year, maybe you’re here because you’re trying to follow a new resolution. There’s a part of you that says, “I know I need God,” but maybe you’re here and you’re uncomfortable because there’s a part of you that’s thinking, I’m just not sure God wants anything to do with me because I’ve messed up a lot. My life’s…and it’s not kind of a mess, it’s a mess. I’ve done a lot of wrong. I’ve committed a lot of sin. I’m pretty dirty, honestly. Maybe I don’t even fit in with his crowd or maybe honestly, maybe you’re watching online because you don’t think you fit in with this crowd because you’re too dirty. You’re not.
Listen to me. There’s no life so dirty that Jesus can’t make something delightful out of it. Do you hear me, Church? If you feel in that way, you’re in really good company. A lot of us feel that way, but how we feel about it’s irrelevant because the truth of the matter is that Jesus doesn’t care, and there is no life so dirty that Jesus can’t make something delightful out of it. So he looks around, he sees these dirty jars and he says, “There we go.” Verse seven says, “Jesus said to the servants, fill the jars with water so that they fill them to the brim.” In other words, they added water in so that it was all the way to the very top. And then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” And they did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.
By the way, that is like the most low-key announcement of a miracle I’ve ever seen, right? Like it’s almost a letdown. I mean like, I don’t know like what he should’ve said, but like I feel like there should be some appropriately spiritual word. It’s not abracadabra obviously, but something like, you know, “ta-da” maybe or “lo behold” or something biblical, right? But there’s none of that. He’s just like take it and they’re like, “Oh the water had been turned into wine.” Like, what? See Jesus is still kind of keeping it low key. He’s not really ready to go full-on public yet.
Now he, meaning the master of the banquet, he did not realize where it had come from though the servants who had drawn the water knew. I love that. The only important person really at the wedding because the master of the banquet was a big, important person. The only really big, important person at the wedding didn’t even know what had happened, happened under his nose. But he says, “The servants knew.” I love that. I love it because that’s God. That’s a sign of who Jesus is. He’s not interested in people that the world considers significant. He is interested but not more interested.
The world’s designation of significant is not his designation. You’re significant because you’re his child. You’re his son, his daughter. You’re made in his image. He loves you deeply. And Jesus came to rescue because of his profound passion for you. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks about you. God thinks the world of you. He says, “The servants knew.”
I think of Isaiah 57. It says this, Isaiah 57:15, “For this is what the high and the exalted One, what God says. He who lives forever, whose name is holy, I live in a high and a holy place.” And you’re like, of course you do. He says, “But also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite.” Listen to me, what we see over and over again in the life of Jesus is that our status in life doesn’t determine our access to God. Our status in life does not determine our access to God. We all have free and clear access to the Almighty. He says, “The master of this ceremony, the master of the banquet, the important person in the room had no idea what had happened, but the servants did.”
They tasted the wine and it says this, “And then he called the bridegroom aside and he said, ‘Hey, everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink,'” which is a pretty good strategy, right? Don’t give them the good stuff when they’re able to discern the intricacies and the subtleties of a good wine. No, give them the good stuff early. But once they’ve had too much to drink and they can’t appreciate it, then you give them the cheap stuff. But you flipped that around. “You saved the best until now,” he says. And 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. It’s so interesting.
I mean, John says, “This is a big deal. This is the first of the signs.” The first of only seven that he’s really gonna focus on, the first of seven he’s gonna build his portrait of Jesus around. He says, “This is the big deal,” but it’s such an interesting place to have started the public ministry of Jesus, this small, unimportant wedding in a small, unimportant place. And it sort of begs that we ask the question like, why this miracle, why this sign? And we’ve already seen some of it, but let’s summarize because I think it’s important, we understand why this is the way that he kicked the whole thing off. The first one is this, is that this miracle points to this undeniable fact, and it’s gonna make a few of you uncomfortable, but it’s important that we recognize that this is truth about Jesus. Jesus loves a good party because he’s all about joy. He does, and I realize that might make some of us uncomfortable.
But the reality is that Jesus appears, I’ve studied the gospels and it seems that Jesus went to every party he was invited to. Even when the host of the party and Jesus didn’t see eye to eye, even when they kind of butted heads, he still went because Jesus loves a good party, which isn’t a surprise because he’s all about joy and we lose track of that sometimes in the Christian life, don’t we? Sometimes we get this idea and through us, the world gets this idea that to really follow Jesus seriously, you have to be a fairly grim person. It’s a little bit of a dour kind of an attitude that’s required of the saints, right? We take our sin very seriously and we’re very concerned about this and that and…We need to take our sin seriously, but Jesus has forgiven it, right?
I mean, Jesus came to live the perfect life so he didn’t have any sin so that he could go to the cross in our place to pay for our sin and he rose from the dead to prove that he’d done it so that when we receive his gift of forgiveness by faith, we are in fact forgiven. Our sin is no longer an issue. It’s not between us and God. And yeah, we need to cooperate with God’s work in our lives. We need to move with the Holy Spirit towards lives of greater and greater holiness, but we need to not necessarily be so grim about our sin and we need to be a whole lot more joyful about our forgiveness. And sometimes we lose sight of that in the Christian world.
But Jesus was all about joy. He was all about joy. At one point, some of the religious leaders came to Jesus, said, “Hey, you know, your friend, John the Baptist, well, his disciples, his followers, they’re fasting and they’re mourning and they’re pretty grim. And your disciples, well, they kind of party a lot,” is basically what they said. They said, “They’re not doing that. They seem to be really happy. You need to kind of fix that. You need to like tone that down.” And Jesus said, “That’s not gonna happen.” He actually said, he said, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? How can they mourn while the bridegroom’s with them? No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Joy is the order of the day where I am.”
Later in the Gospel of John, he said, “The thief comes to steal and to kill and destroy, to take life. I came that they may have life and have it to the full.” Why this miracle? Because Jesus is all about a good party because he’s all about joy. Second reason I think this miracle is Jesus is new wine that needs new wineskins. There’s a strong association in the Bible between joy and wine. Wine is often a symbol of joy and Jesus is all about joy. So, it’s not surprising that Jesus should talk about himself as new wine. In fact, he said this, this is in the Gospel of Matthew. He said, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins.” And he’s already established that he’s the new wine. He says, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins and both the wine, and the wineskins will be ruined.” No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.
Because the thing about new wine is that it’s still kind of expanding. And if you put it into a wineskin that’s already expanded when you put the new wine in, it doesn’t have any more room to expand and so it cracks, and it splits and the wine spills out. He goes, “That’s no good. We don’t wanna lose any wine, especially you don’t want to lose any of me.” So, what he says is like, I’m new wine, but I came, and I’ll come into you. But you need to understand that for me to be able to be in you, I’m gonna have to make you new. And it’s not the old way of doing it. It’s not the old system. It’s not the old check off the boxes, the dos and don’ts, follow the rules and regulations and hope that you’ll please God enough for him to love you. No, no, no, no, no. You can’t do that. Your sin’s too profound and every sin separates from God in a way that we can’t fix.
But he said, “But I can fix it. I’ll die for it. I’ll pay for all of it.” And so you don’t have to earn God’s favor. He already loves you. “You just have to accept my gift of forgiveness and allow me to come in and begin to change you from the inside out.” And it’s not a coincidence that his first public miracle was the creation of new wine. It’s because Jesus is new wine. And he’s willing to make us into the new wineskins that can contain him in his joy.
But there’s a third reason I think, and this one might be the most important reason why this was the first miracle. And I say this because there’s a certain tension in the story, and on the one hand we have this very clear statement that this miracle is a big deal. This the first of seven signs that John talks about that point to who Jesus is that reveal who he is so we can believe in him and have the life that he offers. So clearly this sign is a big deal. What does he say at the end here? He says, “It’s the first of the signs and his disciples having seen them believed in him.” So clearly, this is a big deal. That’s one side of it. The other side of it though is that it almost sounds like he wasn’t planning on doing it, right? “Why do you involve me, woman? My time hasn’t come. This isn’t really mission-critical.” So, it’s a big deal, but it almost sounds like he didn’t wanna do it.
Why are we given that tension? And the answer is because we’re intended to understand the importance of invitation. It became part of the plan because he was invited to get involved. And I ask you to underline that word invited back at the beginning because I really do believe that it’s central to the purpose of the story and it’s central to why we’re given this story first. Because listen to me, God’s involvement often depends on an invitation. You hear me, friends? It’s not that God has to have an invitation, okay? It’s not that God requires an invitation before he can do anything. God, he’s King of kings, he’s Lord of lords. He can do anything anytime, anywhere to anyone, but he often waits for an invitation because he’s all about relationship.
God’s involvement often depends on invitation. So I’m gonna ask you a couple of questions. First one is just this, what areas of my life most need God’s involvement? I think it’s important that we identify those areas where we need God to be involved because it’s only when we recognize where we need him that we are prone to invite him and sometimes we’re kind of late to the party on that one, right? We get pretty far down the road of ways we need God’s involvement before we say, “Oh God, would you get in here?” So let’s reverse that here at the beginning of 2020. Let’s take some time to reflect. Maybe already God has spoken to you about something or maybe something will be given to you over the next few hours, but can you ask that question? You know, where do I most need God’s involvement and where do I recognize the need for God’s involvement before things have really gotten desperate?
The second question is this, how am I inviting him to be involved? He doesn’t need your invitation, but he often waits for it. God’s involvement often depends on our invitation. So how are you inviting him? Now, let me just suggest real quick three very simple but important ways that we extend that invitation. One we’ve already talked about, it’s prayer. We don’t pray to inform God. We pray to invite God to be involved. Prayer is one of the most important ways that we invite God’s involvement, but it’s not the only way.
A second way is obedience that when we choose to obey what God has already told us, we’re actually sort of…we’re kind of cleaning house and we’re sort of making room and going, “Hey God, I made a place for you.” You know, when we invite God to do things in our lives but we aren’t already obedient to the things that we know he’s told us to do, there’s a little bit of a hypocrisy to it, right? “God, I really need you to get involved here and do this thing for me. Although, yeah, I know you told me I’m supposed to do this thing and I will eventually but, you know, first if you could…” Obedience, and maybe some of you are listening to this and honestly that’s a hard thing to hear because there’s something that immediately came to mind. There’s something in your life that you know shouldn’t be there and maybe you need to push into this obedience business because obedience is a kind of invitation.
Third way that we invite God is worship. Bible tells us that he inhabits the praises of his people. When we worship, we are extending an invitation for God. Certainly, we do that when we gather together publicly. I’m gonna get in trouble for saying this, but I’m gonna. Beginning of the year, the gyms are always full, so are the churches. I’ve seen the curve of attendance. It drops off pretty quick after that. But my guess is that a lot of you are here today because you know that you need God to be involved in your life. And by being here, you’re extending that invitation. The consistency which we gather together for worship as part of that and our willingness to engage in worship as part of that. And not just when we gather together, but even throughout the week that those moments of worship where we praise God for who he is, that is a profound invitation. He inhabits the praise of his people, which means that our praises are an invitation for his inhabitation. So how are you inviting God to be involved and how will you invite God to be involved this year?
The third question I think we just need to reflect on is this, am I putting a limitation on my invitation? Because that may be the missing ingredient for some of us. We’re like, “Yeah, God, I really need to be involved in this and this is what it needs to look like.” Maybe God’s got a better, better, better plan, but you’re not inviting him to do his thing. You’re inviting him to do your thing. You’re inviting him to meet your expectation and the more limitations we put in our invitations, the less inviting they actually are. So am I putting a limitation on my invitation? It’s important to reflect on. Would you pray with me? Let’s invite God in right now at the beginning of this New Year.
God, we do invite you in. We’re here today because we recognize our need for you. We know we can’t inform you with anything that you don’t already know, but we also understand from your Word that you value relationship. And so your involvement in our lives often depends upon our invitation to be involved. And so, Lord we’re inviting you right now. Some of us have some very specific things that we are aware of and we’re inviting you to be involved in those, not even putting any limitations on them. We’re just asking for your presence because we know that you’re good and you’re wise and you know better than we and so, Lord, we just beg you to come to be involved in each of those things. We ask for your forgiveness for the ways that we have lived life as though somehow, we could do it on our own and it could be what you intended it to be without your presence. Ask for your forgiveness.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you join me right now? Would you begin praying for the people around you, the people who are watching online who need to make a decision today about starting that relationship with Jesus? Because some of you are listening right now and you’ve never invited him into your life at all. It’s not a matter of inviting him into your marriage or your finances or your career or whatever those things are that you might be struggling with because he’s not in your life. Because once again, his involvement often depends on an invitation, but he’s taken the first steps. He loves you so much. As we said, he sent his Son, Jesus, he lived the perfect life. He died on the cross to pay for your sin, to remove every barrier between you and God, every wrong you’ve ever done.
There’s no life so dirty he can’t make something delightful out of it. No life so filthy with sin that he cannot clean it up and make something profoundly beautiful, and he wants to do that. That’s why he sent Jesus. He died for your sin. Three days later, he rose from the dead. Those are facts of history. And Jesus has given you an invitation. He said, “I’m standing at the door, I’m knocking. You just need to open the door and invite me in.” And if you’ve never done that, maybe today’s the day. And here’s how you do it. You can do it right here, right now. There’s no reason to wait. You’re just gonna have a conversation with God. You’re gonna extend a very simple invitation. Wherever you are, you’re just gonna say this to him and say:
God, I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for coming and dying for me. I believe you rose from the dead and I understand that you’re offering me new life, forgiveness in a relationship with God, so I’m opening the door. I’m inviting you in. Jesus, come into my life. I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.