Steven Furtick — By Invitation Only
Look at John, chapter 2, verses 1-11. I want to talk today about what to do when your joy is running low. I chose this passage because it gives us a good illustration. It says, "On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there..". You don't normally think of this as a Christmas Scripture. Every time we see Mary she's pregnant, but she also went on to raise Jesus, and now he's a grown man. Some people don't know that. They leave Christ in the cradle. They don't ever get to the cross or they leave him on the cross and don't ever get to the empty tomb to realize that what he came to do he did and what was done to him he defeated and he reigns forever and now he lives within my heart.
The Bible is using this as an example, and I think it's highly symbolic. "Jesus and his disciples had been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone..". "The joy of the Lord is your strength". Wine often represents joy. Some of y'all can't have fun any other way. "...Jesus' mother said to him, 'They have no more wine.'" Jesus said something you should never say to your mother. "'Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.' His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you.'" Go back to verse 2. It says, "Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding". Turn to your neighbor and say, "God has something special in store for you, but it's by invitation only".
That's my message today: By Invitation Only. I went to a restaurant recently, and a man came over to the booth, and he looked shocked. He said, "Pastor, what are you doing here"? He looked at me with that look like... Do you remember when you used to see your teacher in Walmart? It didn't make sense in your mind, because your teacher is supposed to live in the classroom. Abbey saw one of her teachers in Target the other day, and she couldn't stop laughing. She thought that was the funniest thing that her teacher actually went to Target. The man looked at me so funny. He said, "I'm surprised to see you here".
Now listen. It was not a strip club or even the bar at Applebee's. I was just sitting in a booth. He said, "I'm surprised to see you here". Like, "What do you think, man? I live behind the pulpit? I do eat. They don't keep me in a cage between Sundays. I do get out a little bit". But he was surprised to see me there. He didn't expect to see me there. I'm surprised to see Jesus in John, chapter 2, at a wedding. He can go wherever he wants to go, but I'm surprised to see him at a wedding that he's not even officiating.
Can I say that Jesus turned up? I'm surprised that Jesus would make time. The only reason I say it is because of the context. John's gospel is a little different. Matthew and Luke give us a little bit of the shepherds and the angels and the traditional Christmas story. John goes way back and starts with, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". That's where John starts in John, chapter 1. He backs up from the cradle to show us that the same Word of God that was made flesh in the cradle was preexistent in the cosmos. That is, the same world God came into was created by the Word that existed before you and I were ever born.
I just like to zoom out every once in a while and remind myself that while God came in the smallest package, in a little baby, in the form of an infant... The infinite became an infant, but he was there all along. He spoke his word into my situation before the struggle ever began. That's how I can know he's going to finish what he started and he's going to do it again, because he spoke it before it started. He knows the end from the beginning, and he will perfect that which concerns me. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God".
That's where John starts. He says the Word was at home in heaven. That's where Jesus originated. He was at home in heaven, but he had a job to do on the earth. So the angels got together and had a little angelic appropriations committee meeting, a little ad hoc angelic committee. Just use your imagination for a minute. God says, "I have to get the word out. Good news to all people. I have to get the word out". Maybe the angels as they're deciding how to market this message of the goodness and greatness of God into the earth... "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," but God was looking for a way to get the Word into the world.
So angels got together and they hired Moses as a consultant and they said, "Well, maybe we can send them the law, and if they keep the law..". Moses said, "Tried it already. They broke it". Then Elijah came over and they said, "Maybe we'll send them the prophets". Elijah said, "We tried it already. They stoned the prophets. The only way this is going to work is we have to send the Word and we have to wrap him in flesh". That's what John says. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us". That's John 1:14.
So God came down. "How will we send him down"? One of the angels said, "I know. We'll call a press conference. We'll do it in New York City. We'll do it from Truth Tower, and we'll put Jesus on an escalator and send him down to announce his candidacy for King of Kings on an escalator. We'll put a hair piece on... We'll send him down". God said, "No, I'm not sending him down on a gold-plated escalator. I'm sending him through the service entrance. I'm going to wrap him in swaddling clothes and lay him in a manger". "Well, who should we tell? We could call Megyn Kelly". God said, "No, tell the shepherds. The shepherds need to know. Tell the shepherds. Send the invitation to the shepherds".
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night minding their business. And suddenly the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.'" All people. Who's invited? White people, black people, Asian people, Hispanic people, Latina people, Latino people, broken people, strong people, weak people, little people, big people, tall people, short people, fat people, ripped people. "...which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord".
The invitation has been issued. Ask your neighbor, "Did you get the invitation"? You're welcome here. When the Word that was with God in the beginning made its way into the world he created, the Bible says his own received him not. He was not welcome in the world that his very words started. Can you imagine if I came to church and they wouldn't let me in? I started this thing. It would be kind of weird. When he came there was no room. He wasn't welcome, but he came anyway, not in an invasion but in the form of an invitation. "This shall be a sign unto you," they told the shepherds. "You will find the babe wrapped in something that looks so common most people won't even see what it contains. You will find the Word, the presence of God, the image of God, the incarnation of God wrapped in clothes, dressed in flesh. The invitation is open".
Jesus came down and grew in favor and stature and wisdom with God and with men. Now he's around 30 years old and he has to pick his team, because he has to get the Word out. The Word has left heaven and is now here on the earth, and he has to get the Word out, so he starts picking people. He goes over to the Bible college. No? I mean, if you're going to get people to help you preach the Word, you want to go to the seminary. He didn't go to the divinity school? You mean he went to a fishing boat and invited a foul-mouthed fisherman named Peter?
John, chapter 1, starts with, "In the beginning the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth". Then John tells us that John the Baptist, who prepared the way, got out of the way and told his disciples, "This is the one. Follow him". Jesus starts inviting. He invites Philip and Andrew and Nathaniel. Nathaniel was shocked when Jesus called him. In fact, he had just finished insulting the place where Jesus was from. "Can anything good come from Nazareth"?
We're so consumed with what the package looks like we don't see the potential, but Jesus saw potential in Nathaniel. He said, "Look, an Israelite in whom there is no guile". Nathaniel said, "How do you know me"? Jesus said, "I saw you under the fig tree". Nathaniel said, "Truly I know now that you're the Son of God". Jesus said, "That impressed you? Wait till you see this". And he invited him. It's good to be invited, especially when you know you don't deserve to be invited.
Have you ever been in somewhere you knew you didn't deserve to be? As for me personally, I feel like that every time I get to take the stage. I feel like maybe the real preacher has been sick for the last 11 years of Elevation Church. One day he's going to get his microphone back. To me it's a privilege to be here, because I know me. I can't believe he invited me. I feel like the shepherds. I wasn't expecting God to call me, and he called me. Without him I'm nothing, but he invited me. He called me. He allowed me to follow him. He invited me. Do you know why you're here today? Because he called your name. He knows all about you and he calls you just the same. He saw what you did and he wants to do it through you anyway.
He called the disciples. Look at this. In John 1:50, right before the passage I read in John 2 that you didn't know was a Christmas Scripture, but it was all along; you just didn't know it, where Jesus goes to a wedding and they run out of wine and he turns water into wine... Before that happened, Jesus looked at Nathaniel, whom he just invited to be his disciple, and said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than that. This is just the beginning. I'm inviting you into the mission of a lifetime. You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Not an escalator but the Son of Man. We have work to do. We're going to change the world inside three years, and you're invited. We're going to turn the religious system upside down, and you're invited. We're going to heal lepers and touch blind eyes. Lame people are going to walk. Deaf people are going to hear. Dead people might get up and dance a little bit. You're invited".
Nathaniel said, "I'm in. What's next? Where are the blind people? Where are the dead people? Let's get started. We have work to do. We have a short time to do it". Jesus said, "Well, we have to go to this wedding". Nathaniel said, "What? I thought you said we were going to see the angels ascending and descending and the heavens opened". Jesus said, "Yeah, we're going to go to this wedding. I RSVP'd and my mom is expecting me, so we have to go to this wedding". "No, but, Jesus, we have to make the announcement. This is the moment. You're the miracle worker. You're the Messiah. We have to make the announcement". Jesus said, "No, we have to go to this wedding".
I had a seminary professor who taught a whole class one time around one question. Now remember, this is a Baptist seminary I went to, so it makes it even funnier. He said, "What in the world was Jesus doing at a wedding turning water into wine"? That was the whole title of his class. The Baptists kind of have a hard time with John, chapter 2. It's kind of hard for them to understand. I don't drink. I'm crazy enough without it. I don't need any help making bad decisions. He went to the wedding. Why? I mean, I'm reading about, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and all things were made by him, through him, and for him". I understand that. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us". I understand that. He invited these disciples to follow him, and I understand that. But why a wedding, and why in Cana of Galilee?
Do you know how insignificant Cana of Galilee is, geographically speaking? They can't even tell you where it was if you go and visit the sites where Jesus performed his miracles today, and yet John, chapter 2, verse 11, after Jesus turns the water into wine because the couple ran out... Jesus is a transformer, and he can give you joy for sorrow, beauty for ashes, praise for heaviness. The wine stopped flowing. Everything was going well, and then the wine stopped flowing. Everything was going well, and then Aunt Susie showed up at the Christmas dinner. You know, these things that happen in life that stop the flow. It was going great. Peter was about to juju on that beat. The party was going well, and the wine ran out. It was humiliating and awkward for this couple. It was the epitome of social disgrace for the wine to run out. The wine ran out.
Yet the Bible says about this wedding... We don't even know who the couple was, so there's nothing necessarily significant about the couple. We don't even know where Cana is, so there's nothing necessarily significant about the location, but the Bible says that what Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory. "And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth". They saw his glory and believed in him at the wedding when he turned the water into wine. Why here? Why this? "Come on, Jesus. We have to get this thing moving. We have to get a movement started. We have to appear to the influential people". Jesus said, "No, I'm going to stop by this wedding".
Why would Jesus go to a wedding? I can answer my seminary professor's whole lecture with one Bible verse, because the Bible tells us why he went to the wedding. Would you like to see it? It says in verse 2, "Jesus and his disciples had also been invited". Why did Jesus go to the wedding? He was invited. You'd be surprised where God will show up when he's invited. It's not just in church. It's not just in the mountaintop experiences. God is my shepherd in the valley. If I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he'll show up and walk with me if he's invited.
Jesus said, "I have to go to Cana. I have to go to this wedding". "A wedding? Really"? "Yeah, I have to go to the wedding, because I need to show you that my miracle-working power is active in mundane places". To me, there couldn't be a better message for the Christmas season: the miraculous in the mundane. God shows up where he's invited. Now God is not Vince Vaughn. He's not Owen Wilson. He won't crash the wedding, but if he's invited...
God will show up in your car if you invite him. I know this isn't good for business and I probably shouldn't say this while we're busy building buildings and all of this, but you don't even have to come to church to meet with God. I want you to come. I'm glad you came. I think it's powerful when we get together. Please keep coming. It would suck without you. But if in your car you decide, "My commute is my chapel," God will turn your Camry into a tabernacle. The presence of God will show up in your Acura. He'll come wherever he's welcome.
That's why we lift our hands when we come in church. We want God to know, "You're welcome, God". One of my friends wrote a song one time that said, "We welcome you with praise". Did you know that your praise welcomes God's power? When you reach out to him like a little child in weakness, the Word of God that was there in the beginning flows through the corridors of time and changes the most desperate situation. He'll show up in a valley of dry bones. If you speak the Word, if you prophesy to the bones, the breath of God will show up and blow through the dry bones, and the bones will come together and the flesh will cover the bones. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us". The Word went to the wedding, because the Word wanted the world to know, "I'll show up wherever I'm welcome".
Have you welcomed Christ into your Christmas season? He won't invade it. Jesus will let you go through this whole season where you celebrate the Savior stressed out if that's what you want to do, but if you invite him in, the Prince of Peace will come in. You know what? Whatever you welcome is what you have to live with. I know the Bible says Jesus was invited, but it's interesting, because sometimes we invite everything else into our lives but him. We invite stress into our lives, and the stress we fight in January is the result of the money we spent in December. We invited it. Sometimes depression comes. I know depression can be a chemical thing. I'm not saying you always create your depression, but sometimes when you're discouraged, you're discouraged because you invited discouragement with your thoughts.
They ran out of wine, and they were running low. Have you ever been running low? Good thing Jesus was there. Good thing the source of joy was in the place where the wine ran out. Mary knew where to go. I love Mary, because she goes up to Jesus... This is pretty powerful. Really this is a passage about expectations. The guests are there, and they're expecting another glass. They're walking around with red cups that are empty. Not for Christmas. It's not Starbucks either. They're walking around, and it's dried up over there at the bar. Their expectations are not being met.
Jesus is supposed to be in the synagogue, and he's not. He's at a wedding. He's supposed to look like Thor, and instead he came down looking like Charlie. Jesus is here, and they don't recognize him. He's just chilling at a wedding in the situations of everyday life. This is like Jesus showing up in your carpool line. This is like Jesus showing up in your kitchen. God will do the dishes with you if he's invited. I'm not even saying you have to quote Philippians 4. I'm just saying if you will invite God in with your attitude, he'll come in, but to invite him in you have to have room for him, so there's some stuff you have to say, "You're not welcome here".
Let me list a few unwelcome guests: fear, intimidation, offense. "You're not welcome here. I'm welcoming the presence of God in my heart and in my life". Mary says something only a mom can say. She asks Jesus to do something in the form of a statement. There's no question mark. She goes, "Hey, there's a situation. They have no more wine". Jesus says, "Woman, why do you involve me"? Write that word down. Invited is the first word. Involved is the second. We're going to talk about what to do when joy is running low, when the wine runs out. He was invited, and now Mary is trying to get him involved, and he doesn't want any of it. He said, "That's not my problem". "Woman, why do you involve me"?
Watch what Mary did. There's a little Christmas song that says, "Mary, did you know"? Well, she knew. She knew who to go to. She knew what to do. That's really the question, isn't it? Do you know where to go when your joy is running low? They're running low, and now they're about to get in the flow. Instead of arguing with Jesus... It seems like he doesn't want to do it.
Do you ever ask God for something and it seems like he won't give it to you? You're like, "God, just give me your joy this season. I miss this person, and I'm disappointed in that person, and I'm feeling low. God, give it to me". She comes and says, "Here's the situation, Jesus. There's no more wine". "Here's the situation: my heart is broken. Here's the situation: they left me. Here's the situation: I'm not feeling it. Here's the situation: I don't have the money to do what I wanted to do. Here's the situation".
She says the situation, and on the surface he seems resistant. I've been preaching this passage for 15 years, and this is the first time I ever saw what I'm about to show you. I always read it and it was like an abrupt change to me that she goes, "They're out of wine," and Jesus goes, "Who cares? Why do you involve me"? and then Mary turns to the servants, not to Jesus... She doesn't turn to him; she turns to them, because she knows he's not going to get involved until they do. She can beg. She could cry. She could put a maternal guilt trip on him, but he's not going to do it.
There's something about Mary. She had been in a situation one time before. If you will remember, the angel appeared to her when she was just a teenage girl with a virgin womb. When the angel said unto her, "You're going to bring forth a son, and his name is going to be Jesus," she said, "How is it going to happen"? The angel said, "Don't even worry about it. The Spirit of God will overshadow you, and the power of the Most High will come upon you, and you will give birth to something you don't even understand, for no word from God will ever fail". Mary said, "I am your servant. May it be to me as you have said". There's the common word. "I am your servant".
Now let's go to John 2:5. Jesus isn't a baby anymore. He's not a promise anymore. He's a man standing at a wedding, and the people are out of wine. Mary turned to the servants and said, "If you'll get involved, he'll get involved. Do what he tells you. Don't make it complicated. It's really simple. Do what he tells you". Here's the part I like. It says, "Nearby..". Everybody say, "It's right in front of you". It's not some spectacular thing. That's our problem. We're looking for the spectacular. The Bible says, "Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing". Common jars used for an everyday purpose.
Jesus said, "I want those, the ones everybody walked by without even noticing. That's what I want to use to reveal my glory here in Cana of Galilee, a town so insignificant it's not even on the map, at the wedding of a couple who are not even named. In this moment, I want to reveal my glory. I want to take an ordinary moment and do an extraordinary thing". "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the excellency of the power of God is not of us". Six stone jars, the kind they used to wash their hands in, the kind they put their dirt back in. He said, "Bring me those". Then he told them after they went and got the jars... They're heavy too. They hold 20 to 30 gallons. These are big ol' jars. He tells the servants to bring them over. Then watch what he tells them to do next. He tells them to fill the jars with water. Not with wine but with water. They needed wine, but he pointed to water.
We want God to show up in great glory, and he comes looking like a baby. We want God to do something spectacular, and he starts with something small. Could it be that you will miss Christ this Christmas because he is hiding in the common? I'm preaching right to somebody. You've been asking God for something that's right in front of you. I'm the best person to preach about this, because I get a little bit "Grinchy" at Christmas. This year I hit an all-time Scrooge level that I never hit before. I love the church part of Christmas and the story and all that. I just get all weird around Christmas time. I don't know why. I had great Christmases growing up and everything too. I can't even blame it on my upbringing. That would be convenient, but I can't even do that. It's just Christmas.
Something about Christmas makes me stressed out. I told the kids the other day, "We might cancel the whole thing this year. I just want y'all to be ready. We might not do anything this Christmas. Y'all have plenty of crap, and you can go play with that. You can put a bow on the crap I bought you last Christmas, if you can even find it". That's how I lead my family spiritually. I'm just trying to be an example to the flock over which God has made me overseer. The kids kind of looked at me like, "Oh". Nobody said a word.
A couple of weeks later Holly was putting up the tree. I give her all the glory. Let's be honest. How could she not love Christmas when her name is Holly? She is set up for this holiday. She put up the lights. She put up the stockings. Joanna helped her. I think Nicole came over and helped. I didn't help her. I was upstairs writing my sermon for Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Elijah is 11 now. He comes upstairs and goes, "All right, Daddy. The tree is up. The lights are up. The stockings are hung. Come on downstairs. I'm going to teach you how to enjoy Christmas this year".
The boy had made me coffee. He had the Chris Tomlin Christmas album playing through Spotify all through the house. We went around. He said, "You have to go through the front door". He didn't mean to, but he accidentally locked us out of the house, so it wasn't a good start. We banged on the door for a little while. We got in, and I looked at it. I'm happy to report to you I'm doing better this Christmas. I'm wearing my red Christmas J's to preach to you in honor of our Lord. Jordans for Jesus on Christmas Day. It's the common stuff. I think kids know stuff. "If I get Dad involved, he'll enjoy it".
Some of us stand at a distance waiting for God to give us joy while God is waiting for us to rejoice. God said, "I'll give you joy if you'll rejoice". Why don't you just start clapping your hands right now, Lake Norman? Right now, UC. Right now, Rock Hill. Right now, Ballantyne. Right now, Blakeney. Come on! Welcome his presence in your situation! We welcome you, Lord. Let your joy flow this season. Somebody stand up and clap for 12 seconds and thank God that he turns water into wine, fear into faith, failure into a hope and a future. Come on, stir it up! Get involved. Stir it up! You're not going to get it with your arms crossed. Clap your hands, all ye people, and shout unto God! A stone jar, a common jar, was the setting for an uncommon miracle.
I want to challenge you this Christmas season not only that God should be invited and not only that you've been invited, because you can take your part around the same manger as any of us can. "This shall be to all people". All people are invited. Not only to be invited but to be involved. The Bible says something so cool. Let me show you this, and then I'll let you go out into the chaos of Christmas. Do you know what's cool, though? Jesus will go with you out of this place if you invite him. He'll go with you to Harris Teeter. He'll go with you if he's invited and if you're involved. Have you invited him into every area of your life? Have you invited him into those empty places when the wine ran out? Do you know where to go?
Sometimes inviting God doesn't have to be pretty. It's just, "God, help me in this moment". When those certain people who give you ulcers show up with their casserole, just under your breath say, "Come, baby Jesus. Come, Lord". He'll show up right there in the middle of a dysfunctional family. God is comfortable in the chaos. He'll walk into the wedding if he's invited. He'll come into the dry place if he's invited.
I love what the Scripture says. It says when they drew out the water it became wine, and when the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine... Some people don't know that what looks like joy now was once sorrow, but faith knows how to draw it out. There is joy. There is hope. There is promise in this season. Jesus said, "Draw it out". When they did, the master tasted it, and he said, "Oh man, this is the good stuff". He was tasting the product. The ones who drew it out knew the process. Sometimes it's out of sadness that God produces strength. Sometimes it's out of loneliness that you sense his nearness. The Bible says when he took it out and drank it he said, "Most people use the expensive stuff first and save the cheap stuff until everybody doesn't know the difference, after they've had a little too much, but you have saved the best until now".
Could it be that God still does this? What if the rest of this year is the best of this year? What if God wants to turn every defeat in your life in this year into a victory? Before this year is over, I'm going to see the glory of God in my situation. "You saved the best until now". Verse 9 says, "He didn't realize where it had come from..". He didn't know what had happened to turn the water into wine. "...but the servants who had drawn the water knew". They knew. They were informed about the source of joy. Mary knew. She knew those jars, if they were filled with water, could become... She knew.
I was thinking about how there were six jars. Six in the Bible is the number of man. Six represents incompletion. It's always symbolic of man's falling short. I wondered why Jesus would do his first miracle with six jars on the side. Do you know what the Lord told me? He said, "You are the seventh jar. You are the place where I want to reveal my glory". Mary is standing there. She counts the jars. One, two, three, four, five, six. Mary knew the glory of God fills virgin wombs. Mary knew, "I am the seventh jar".
Somebody shout, "I am a miracle waiting to happen. I am a place for God to pour his glory. I am a miracle in progress. Now I know". Running low, in the flow, and now you know. It's you God wants to fill. It's you God wants to use. It's the dry seasons that the rain is coming to irrigate. Somebody begin to praise God right now. Tell him, "Lord, I welcome you. I invite you. Have your way in my life. Welcome to my world, Jesus. Welcome to my life. Welcome to my heart. Welcome to my hardship. Fill me to overflowing. Fill me, Lord"!
I don't know where this message found you today. I don't know if it's the holiday season or maybe you're watching it at another time. I believe this message is for all seasons. When we get in the flow, when we get involved in what God is doing, when we invite God into those places of our lives that seem insignificant or maybe even seem embarrassing, God is more than willing and more than able to make his joy overflow. I just want to ask you a question. This is a section called "Live It". It's where we get the Word out of the theoretical and into the practical areas of our lives. What is that place? What is that area where you need to invite God? What have you been inviting into your life? Discouragement, doubt. What have you been inviting in that you need to shut out, and what have you been shutting out that you need to invite in? I believe this message is for every season. May God find room in your heart in this moment.