The Beginning of Signs
September 21st, 1986 @ 10:50 AM
THE BEGINNING OF SIGNS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-21-86 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message. It is an exposition of the first 11 verses of the second chapter of John. And we are all going to turn to that passage and read it together [John 2:1-11]. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we have come to chapter 2. And now the message, an exposition of these first 11 verses entitled The Beginning of Signs; The Beginning of Signs. Now may we all read God’s Word together. John 2:1 to 11, together:
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
And both Jesus was called, and His disciples, to the marriage.
And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto Him, They have no wine.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.
His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.
And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
And He saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.
When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou has kept the good wine until now.
This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him.
The beginning of signs: sēmeion, plural sēmeia, signs, translated here, miracles. John never uses the word miracle, not once. Always it is sēmeion, sign. And John’s Gospel is made of seven signs. He says, as he concludes the twentieth chapter of his Gospel, “Many other sēmeia, signs did Jesus before His disciples . . . But these are chosen that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through His name” [John 20:30-31]. John chose seven sēmeia, signs, of the Lord Jesus, and his Gospel is those seven signs. One of them, of course, is the feeding of the five thousand [John 6:1-13]. One is the opening of the eyes of the man born blind [John 9:1-11]. The last, the seventh one, is the raising of Lazarus from the dead [John 11:38-44].
And the first sign, the beginning of signs, is the one you have just read [John 2:1-11], the turning of the water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee, “This beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him” [John 2:11].
When the woman of Samaria testified to the Lord, the Samaritans of Sychar believed her testimony [John 4:28-30, 39]. Then when they saw Jesus themselves they said, “We have believed because of your testimony, but now we have seen Him for ourselves” [John 4:39-42]. That identical thing is here. The disciples had believed on the Lord Jesus because of the testimony of John the Baptist [John 1:29]. But now they were seeing the marvel of the Son of God Himself, and they believe on Him [John 2:11].
That is a wonderful word that John chooses here, this beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana [John 2:11]. And phaneroō, phaneroō, that’s a word meaning “to bring to light, to reveal,” here translated “to manifest.” What He did in these marvelous sēmeia, He manifested, He revealed, He brought to light His deity. If those marvelous things that Jesus did reveal, brought to light His deity [John 2:11], then deity was in Him before those marvelous miracles revealed Him to the people. It was manifest. It was brought to light in the marvelous sēmeion, in the sign, but it was in Him before.
That’s a remarkable thing. The Lord was God in Nazareth in the thirty years of His obscurity just as He was in the three marvelous years of His ministry. He was no less God, deity, when as a youth He was obedient to His parents; when He loved His brothers and sisters; when, as a carpenter [Mark 6:3], He made, say, ox yokes, or chairs, or could it be a doll for a little girl. He was just as much deity and God then, in the ordinary commonplaces of life, as He was when He was manifested [John 2:11], when it was brought to light through these marvelous sēmeia.
Isn’t that an amazing thing? God is in the commonplace and in the ordinary just as much as He is in the marvelous and in the wonderful. He is as much in the ordinary as He is in the extraordinary. It’s just that, being human; we see it in the extraordinary more than we do in the ordinary. But God is no less in the commonplace than He is in the miraculous.
Look at us. We are far more assured, we think, of the deity of our Lord when He healed the paralytic and said, “Take up your bed, and walk” [Mark 2:11]. We are far more sure of deity in Him than when He said to the same paralytic, “My son, thy sins be forgiven thee” [Mark 2:5]. We are far more sure, we are, in our weakness, of the deity of the Son of God when He fed the five thousand [John 6:1-13] than we are when He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” [John 6:51]. We are far more sure, in our human weakness, of the deity of our Lord when He raised Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44] than when He said, “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25].
Somehow in our human frailty, we can see God in the earthquake and in the fire, and in the storm far more than in the still small voice [1 Kings 19:12]. We think we can see Him more and hear Him better in the marvelous, oratorical peroration than in a humble gesture of giving a drink of water to a thirsting man [Matthew 10:42]. We think we see God more in the thunder and the lightning than we do in the dewdrop. But He is just as much in the commonplace as He is in the thundering miraculous.
That is so emphasized in the Bible in the life of our blessed Lord Jesus. He magnified the little things, and the common things, and the ordinary things of life: relationship, home, family, friends, work, travel, just being. John the Baptist was the spiritual ideal of ancient Israel. He was ascetic. He was austere. He was stern. He mortified every natural instinct. He immediately was accepted as a prophet. But Jesus was so contrary and different. He lived in another world. Jesus was convivial. He was gregarious. He came eating and drinking. They said, “He is a glutton and a winebibber” [Matthew 11:19]. He never refused an invitation, never. You can read His life four times in that sacred Book. Every time He was invited to anything He accepted the invitation: to the home of Simon a Pharisee [Luke 7:36-40], to the home of the hated tax collector Zaccheus [Luke 19:2-7], here, to this marriage; no, to the marriage feast [John 2:8-9], He was in the middle of it. He liked that kind of life, being with people, associating with them, talking to them, approachable. Just go up and touch Him. Go up and ask Him any question. Just go up and talk to Him. That was the Lord Jesus, just walking, living among the people, accessible and approachable.
I don’t know how it would have been with John the Baptist, so austere, ascetic, living in a world of his own. But Jesus, just best Friend, best Somebody just to open your heart to, just to come to see Him, or invite Him in your house, or invite Him in your home, have Him seated at the table, talk to the children. Got a baby? Put the baby in His arms. He blessed them [Mark 10:13-16]. That’s the Lord. It’s a wonderful thing what kind of a person Jesus was, and before this sermon is done, what Jesus is.
Do you notice He turns the water into wine? [John 2:7-9] What kind of wine was that? Jesus made it. The governor of the feast said, “I never tasted wine like that. This is different” [John 2:10]. I think the observation and judgment of the ruler of the feast is correct. That was different.
In the institution of the Lord’s Supper, our Savior said, “I will drink henceforth no longer the fruit of the vine until I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” [Matthew 26:29]. In the nineteenth [chapter] of the Revelation we are going to sit down with the Lord Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9]. That’s the wine that Jesus made [John 2:7-9], the wine we are going to drink at the marriage supper of the Lamb. And that wine won’t make you drunk, and it won’t kill, destroy the cells in your brain. That wine just brings to us the fullness and the gladness of the presence of the Lord. That’s what He did.
Now one other thing: if it is a sēmeion, if it is a sign, then it has a meaning to it. It points to something else. What is this “the beginning of signs?” [John 2:11]. What is this? It also is very apparent, when you look at the Word of the Lord.
At this home in Cana of Galilee are six big basins hewn out of stone [John 2:6]; big, big, big stones, hewed so it would hold water. And each one of those hewn basins would hold about thirty gallons of water, between twenty-five and thirty gallons of water, between two and three firkins. Each firkin is about nine gallons, so about twenty-five to thirty gallons of water. And there are six of those big stone basins there; according to the purifying of the Jewish people, when the guest came, he washed his feet in those big stone basins, and they washed pots and pans in them also.
When I listen to people expound the Word of the Lord, some of the things they say are the funniest things to me you could ever think for in your life. And this is one of them. This is one of them. What they say is, Jesus turned all of that one hundred sixty-three gallons of water into wine, and then they took it out of those basins and carried it to the governor, and they drank it. What do you think a Jew would think about drinking wine out of a foot tub? What would you think about that? It’s ridiculous. It’s silly.
What happened is very plain. The Lord said to the servants, “You draw out, draw out from the depths of the well, you draw out the water and fill up these six basins.” Then, antleō, that’s the word there, antleō, which means “draw from the deep.” “Now you draw out and take to the governor of the feast” [John 2:7-8]. And on the way from the drawing of the deep well to the governor of the feast, the miracle happened [John 2:9]. Not all of that one hundred sixty-three or one hundred sixty-five gallons was turned into wine in a foot tub.” “Fill the foot tubs; and then, “Draw out now.”
That word antleō you have in the fourth chapter of John, when the Lord said to that Samaritan woman, “You drink of the water that I give you” [John 4:10]. And she said, “How can You give me water to drink? You do not have anything to draw out from the depths of the well” [John 4:11]. There’s that same word, “draw out.” “You don’t have anything to draw it out. How are You going to give me water from the well?” That’s the word antleō, “Draw out from the well, and bear to the governor of the feast” [John 2:8].
John says that is a sēmeion, a sign [John 2:11]. Well, what is the sign? It also is very apparent. In the Gemara, the Talmud, the number six is always the number of imperfection and incompleteness. Just as the number seven is the number for perfection, for fullness, the number six is always in the Bible a number of incompleteness, imperfection. So it says here, there are six, there are six of those water basins, according to the purifying of the Jews, according to the ceremonial cleansing and ritual of the Jews [John 2:6]. Six of them, they represent the old dispensation. They represent the old covenant, the Old Testament, with all of its ceremonies and all of its ritualism, the six water basins [John 2:6].
And the Lord says to the servants, “Fill them up to the brim. Fill them up to running over [John 2:7]. Now bear—draw out and bear to the governor of the feast” [John 2:8]. And, that’s a sēmeion. It’s a sign. All of the old rituals and old ceremonies are now fulfilled to the brim. All of the shadows and all of the adumbrations and all of the types and symbols they have now been fulfilled, filled to the brim. “And bear to the governor” [John 2:8], now the new administration, the new dispensation, the new covenant of grace and glory and the presence of God. That is the sēmeion.
Now in this brief moment let me say three things about the new wine, the new covenant, the new dispensation. The old fulfilled and all of its adumbrations and types are now finding their meaning in the glorious new gospel of the Son of God. Now three things in that sēmeion: the sign, the fulfilling of the old covenant.
Number one: we have a new place. In the old covenant, in the old administration, in the Old Testament, they were to worship in Jerusalem [Deuteronomy 12:5-14]. Only in Jerusalem was there the temple of God where the Lord said, “My name will be there” [2 Chronicles 7:16]. Only in Jerusalem, the altar; only in Jerusalem, the priest; and there, in Jerusalem, they were to offer their sacrifices unto God once a year [Hebrews 10:3]. Do you remember [Elkanah] and Peninnah and Hannah went up to the house of the Lord? And there they offered sacrifices unto God [1 Samuel 1:2-5]. Over and over again will you find in the Old Testament they were to worship God in Jerusalem.
The new dispensation, the new gospel message: anywhere is a good where to call upon the name of the Lord. Right where you’re seated, that’s a marvelous place to open your heart to the Lord. A kitchen corner is just as fine a place to worship as the greatest cathedral. Anywhere is a marvelous where to call on the name of the Lord.
A man said to me, “I was driving my car, on the radio listening to you preach, and the message convicted my heart. I pulled my car to the side of the road and stopped and bowed my head over the steering wheel, and there I gave my heart to Jesus.” Wonderful place to serve God, to find the Lord! Anywhere is a wonderful where to call upon His name. At the desk where you work, at the table with your children, in the bedroom before you go to sleep at night, driving down the highway, in the classroom, in the office, that’s the new life, it’s a new dispensation. Worship God anywhere.
Number two: it entails a new sacrifice. Think of the endlessness of those burnt offerings, trespass offerings, sin offerings, fatted calves, bulls and goats and sheep and oxen. Think of the endlessness of those sacrifices in the old covenant, in the old dispensation. Even Micah the prophet cried before the Lord, saying:
How shall I come before the Lord, and bow down myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
The repetition of those sacrifices, thousands of years of them, the repetition in themselves affirm that they were ineffectual. They could not wash away sins. And they had to be repeated again and again and again [Hebrews 10:1-4].
But our Lord, our Savior—the blood of bulls and goats cannot wash away sin [Hebrews 10:4], but—at the end of the age appeared Jesus our Lord, in whose blood we have remission of all of our sins [Hebrews 9:26]. “And for them that look shall He appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation” [Hebrews 9:28]. The sacrifice of our Lord [Hebrews 10:10-14, 18] did away forever those thousands and thousands of years of endless sacrifices, blood sacrifices before God. What an amazing sign, sēmeion!
And one other: not only a new place, any place, not only a new sacrifice, the one that ended all others, but a new invitation. What a marvel and a wonder! Look at it. The author of Hebrews describes it like this,
Ye are not come to Mount Sinai that burned with fire, and was covered with blackness and darkness and tempest…
so much so that if an animal touched it, the animal was to be stoned to death, or thrust through with a dart:
And so terrible was the sight, that even Moses said, I do exceedingly fear and tremble:
But we, you and I, we, but we are come, not to Mount Sinai with its thunder, and its lightning, and its judgment and its death, but we are come unto Mount Zion, oh, oh! and to the temple of the living God, the new Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels…
And to the assembly of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant… whose blood speaketh better things than that of Abel.
If one in the old covenant so much as picked up sticks on the Sabbath day, the law said he must be stoned to death [Exodus 31:14-15; Numbers 15:32-36]; fire, and thunder, and darkness, and trembling, and judgment, and death [Hebrews 12:18-20]. But we, we are invited to come to Mount Calvary, and anybody could kneel and look upon the suffering Lord [Hebrews 12:22-24]. “Come unto Me,” He said, “all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:28]. The compassionate, loving Lord Jesus; how accessible He is, and how approachable! Sinners, all of us alike sinners; but the beloved, died for [1 Corinthians 15:3], cleansed, and purified, and forgiven in His precious blood [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. Burden of heart? He shares it.
As the author of Hebrews says, “Wherefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may find mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:16]. Jesus is our Friend. He is our Savior [John 4:14]. He journeys with us like a companion [Matthew 28:20]. He helps us like a fellow laborer. He walks by our side and never wearies. O Lord, how precious the invitation to come to Thee.
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to Him in prayer!
[from “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” by Joseph M. Scriven]
God is for us. He is our Redeemer, and our Savior, and our Friend, and someday our great Mediator and Intercessor [Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5]. O God, that there could be some way that I could speak of Thee more eloquently and movingly and lovingly and worshipfully.
May God take our stumbling words of love and adoration and use them to make appeal to your heart. “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand. This day I open my heart heavenward and God-ward, and I ask the Lord to be my Savior and Friend” [Acts 16:31]. “Pastor, this day my whole family, all of us are coming. We’re putting our lives in this dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25]. We’re going to grow in grace with these precious people.” Or to answer some call in your heart, “God has spoken to me, and I’m answering with my life.” Make that decision now, and in a moment when we sing, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor. I’ve made that gift of my life to God, and here I am.” May we pray now together?
BEGINNING OF SIGNS
I. Semeion – “sign”
A. Word “miracle” never
John chooses seven signs to attest to deity of Christ (John 20:30-31)
B. Turning water into
wine at the marriage feast is the first sign
1. His disciples
II. Phaneroo – “to bring to light,
A. The power and glory
in Him from the beginning, just now see it revealed
B. He was just as much
deity and God then, in the ordinary
III. The glory of Christ to sanctify, glorify
A. He magnified the
common, ordinary things of life
B. John the Baptist was
the spiritual ideal; austere, stern
C. Jesus never refused
an invitation; accessible, approachable
1. The wine He
made was different (Matthew 26:29, Revelation 19:9)
IV. If it is a sign, then it has meaning
A. Six water basins
according to purifying of the Jews (John 4:11)
1. Represent the
B. “Now draw out and
1. All the old
rituals fulfilled; now the new dispensation
V. The new wine, the new dispensation
new place (Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 10, 1 Kings 9:3, 2 Chronicles 7:12-16, John
new sacrifice (Micah 6:6-8, Hebrews 9:13-14, 26-28)