Friday, December 20, 2019

Best wine

John 2:1–11 tells the story of the first of the signs in John's gospel: turning water into wine. I've been thinking a lot about this story over the last several months, because it seems to me like it shines light very clearly on an error I fall into. This is a story we hear in connection with marriage quite frequently: the Lord attending a wedding, which we cite as evidence that marriage is endorsed by Christ Himself. I think that's a completely valid conclusion to draw from the story.

We remember the story: the Lord attends a wedding, and they don't have enough wine. A friend of mine said in a Bible reading, "'no wine' is a serious problem – not as serious as 'no water' – but serious nonetheless." I think that's a good summary. I'm afraid (having grown up among Canadian evangelicals) "no wine" doesn't strike me as very serious... but the Lord took it seriously, and so does John.

So the Lord has them pour water into six earthen vessels, and when they draw out the water, they find it's turned to wine. And then they take this new wine to the master of the feast, who comments that they planned the feast wrong: they ought to have served the good wine at the start of the feast, then they should have served the lesser wine after the guests have drunk enough (John 2:10). (Presumably the guests' drinking was supposed to have dulled their palates.) But at this wedding, they served the best wine last.

My buddy went on in that same Bible reading to say that we're going to taste that vintage, but we need to wait until the Kingdom. I'm not much of a wine drinker, but I'm looking forward to tasting that one.

I've been mulling over the fact that the Lord made the best wine. The feast master's appraisal doesn't actually add anything to the miracle: Christ shows who He is by turning water into wine. But the Scripture includes it anyway, which indicates there's a lesson to be learned in it. There is a point beyond the "mere" miracle of turning water into wine: it shows that the Son of God paid attention to something as frivolous as the quality of the wine at a wedding. He didn't take an austere position and tell them that too much wine is bad for them, He didn't tell them they should be grateful for any wine He gave them: He made the best wine.

I confess that my views on Christianity – on sanctification and salvation and manifesting the life of Jesus in our mortal bodies – can lead to a completely passive Christian life. It's not hard from there to fall into a sort of a Gnosticism, where the world around us is somehow irrelevant. And I'm sorry to say that I've known many believers who have fallen into this exact error: they end up almost enslaved to their theology, afraid to act lest they do so "in the flesh" and contrary to the work of the Holy Spirit. It's all too easy to take what Scripture says about "death working in us" to an idea where we strive to be nothing so that Christ can be everything. But as one friend said, "striving to be nothing isn't Christianity, it's Buddhism."

Francis Schaeffer warns in Escape from Reason that if we divorce "Grace" from "Nature", we end up with an autonomous "Nature" that will eventually destroy "Grace" (pp. 28–29). Of course his concern was mainly about humanist intellectuals starting with Thomas Aquinas, but I have fallen into the exact error he cautions against, and I'm not alone.

The problem is as simple as tunnel vision. The truth of our unity with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection is glossed over to the point of complete neglect in many Christian circles. So we end up with a glut of "ministry" that urges counterfeit spirituality, where men and women attempt to be made perfect in the power and energy of the flesh. And when someone sees the truth of their unity with Christ, and the freedom that comes from that, the natural tendency is to share that with everyone. And the more it's resisted, the more it becomes the focus.

So let's just say that our death, burial, and resurrection with Christ is the key to a godly life. There can't be fruit for God unless we have been made dead to the Law by the body of Christ (Romans 7:4).

But let's not lose sight of the whole counsel of God.

Consider 1 Corinthians 6:19–20; we're called to glorify God in our bodies. Consider 2 Corinthians 4:10–11; we're called to manifest the life of Jesus in our mortal flesh. Consider Romans 12:1–2; we're called to present our bodies as living sacrifices. We could go on, but the point is that we're not called to a hypothetical life. We're called to live the life of Jesus in physical bodies, in the physical world.

Yes, the creation is fallen. Yes, our bodies are fallen. Yes, we look for a new heaven and a new earth. But I can't find in Scripture where I'm allowed to treat this creation like it doesn't matter.

A while back, Rodger shared a quote where someone said that Scripture talks about the "new creation", but it never once mentions the "old creation". There's an "old man" and an "old covenant", but there isn't an "old creation" in Scripture, because God isn't finished with the first creation yet. God doesn't call something "old" until He's done with it.

But I have frequently fallen into the trap of calling this present world the "old creation", out of a desire to draw attention to the [Scriptural] idea of New Creation. And I'm not alone.

So let's go back to the wine at Cana... when the Lord Jesus made wine, He made the very best wine. That comment doesn't just give us a hint into the wedding customs of that day: it shows us that the Lord Jesus treated the first creation with dignity as being the work of God. It's fallen, but it's not nothing. It matters. And good wine matters: Christ didn't act like it's unimportant whether the wine is good. He made the very best wine.

And I'm having to remind myself that when I allow myself to divorce this life from heavenly truth, I end up with an autonomous view of this life that eventually overtakes and pollutes my view of the heavenly. It's not just a philosophical trick Schaeffer was playing: it was a very serious warning about a truly dire problem.


Rodger said...

It is very striking to realize that a man will be evaluated not according to what he knows or believes, but according to the deeds done in his body, 2 Corinthians 5:9-10. That is the true measure of a man. And we are told this in the same epistle that speaks of the new creation, and a man in Christ, and the third heaven!

Rodger said...

The quote mentioned above is from this helpful article by James McBroom, "Creation and New Creation":

The last few paragraphs are particularly worth considering.

Anonymous said...

This is a largely insignificant point - but if you work out the max amount of water in those jars that could be turned into wine, it represents the equivalent of one thousand standard size bottles. The quantity is amazing - and the quality was obviously good too. CG