The Beginning of Signs
September 21st, 1986 @ 8:15 AM
THE BEGINNING OF SIGNS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-21-86 8:15 a.m.
And the Lord be magnified through the hearts of the multitudes of you who listen to this hour on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message, which is an exposition of the first part of the Gospel of John chapter 2, entitled The Beginning of Signs. We are going to read the first eleven verses; we are going to read them together, John chapter 2, the first eleven verses. And the dear people in our First Baptist Church of Dallas love to share the wonderful good news of Christ with the whole world, including you on radio. Now let us read together, John chapter 2, verses 1 to 11:
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.
And 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 hast 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.
John never uses the word “miracle.” This word in the King James Version translated, “This beginning of miracles” [John 2:11], is a translation of the word sēmeion, “sign.” Never one time does John use the word “miracle”; always “sign,” “this beginning of signs.” And the Gospel of John is built with seven signs. He closes the twentieth chapter of his Gospel with the word: “Many other sēmeia,” plural “signs,” “many other signs did Jesus which are not written in this book: But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” [John 20:30-31]. John, out of a great multitude of signs, chose seven of them. This is the first one [John 2:1-11]. Another one was healing the man born blind [John 9:1-7]; another was feeding the five thousand [John 6:1-14]; and the seventh sēmeion, sign, was the raising of Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44].
The purpose of those signs, John says, is to present and affirm the deity of the Son of God. He writes here, “This beginning of signs did Jesus, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him” [John 2:11]. The Samaritans coming to Sychar said, “We believed the testimony of this woman, this Samaritan woman; but now we have seen Him for ourselves, and we believe that this is the Son of God that should come into the world” [John 4:39-42]. That is identical with these disciples. They had believed on the Lord Jesus because of the testimony of John [John 1:29]; but now having seen the manifestation of His deity, they believed for themselves, having seen the glorious presence of God in the ableness and power of the Lord Jesus [John 2:11].
He uses a word here that is very significant. “This beginning of sēmeion did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and phaneroō, phaneroō,” translated here “manifested”; phaneroō, “to bring to light, to reveal, to make known.” “This beginning of sēmeion, of signs, did Jesus, and phaneroō, brought to light, affirmed His deity” [John 2:11]. If it was manifested in this sign, then that deity of our Lord was in Him, hid by the flesh before the revelation, before it was brought to light; which would mean that He was Deity in the thirty silent years in Nazareth. He did not begin to be the Son of God in this sēmeion number one; but the sēmeion, the sign, just revealed, it brought to light what was already Jesus, God’s Son, which would mean that He was Deity, He was the Son of God in submission to His parents in the days of His youth in Nazareth [Luke 2:51]. He was the Son of God in His expression of love for His brothers and sisters and family [Matthew 13:55-56]. And He was the Son of God as a carpenter making ox yoke, making chairs [Mark 6:3]. Wonder if He ever made a doll for a little girl? The sēmeion just manifested what was already in Him, brought it to light: He was God in Nazareth [Matthew 2:20-23], just as much as He was the manifest Son of God here in Cana of Galilee [John 2:1]—which means that God is in the ordinary just as much as He is in the extraordinary.
Our weakness, our persuasion is that God is only seen in the miraculous; He is only manifested in the supernatural, in the extraordinary, but we have a hard time perceiving the presence of God in the ordinary and the commonplace. As surely as you live, we think we see more of God and the power of God when Jesus says to the paralytic, “Take up your bed and walk” [Mark 2:11], than we do when He says, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” [Mark 2:5]. We think we see more of the power and presence of God when the Lord fed the five thousand [John 6:1-13] than when He said, “I am the true bread that came down from heaven” [John 6: 41, 51]. We are assured in our hearts that we see more of the Son of God in Christ 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 we think we see God in the earthquake and in the fire and in the storm far more than in the still small voice [1 Kings 19:11-12]. We think we see more of God in the oratorical peroration than we do in the humble service of a glass of cold water to a thirsty man [Matthew 10:42]. And we think we see more of God in the thunder and in the lightning than we do in the dew drop [Jeremiah 51:16]. That’s our human weakness. But God is manifest in the ordinariness of life, in the common places of life, just as marvelously and gloriously as He is in the thunderings of life.
You see it so explicitly in the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus. John the Baptist was the ideal of Israelite spiritual commitment to God. He was ascetic; he was stern. He denied himself all the natural instincts of life. And immediately John the Baptist is accepted as a great prophet among all of the people of Israel [Matthew 3:4-5]. The Lord Jesus was the opposite of that: He came eating and drinking and fellowshipping; He never one time turned down an invitation, no matter to whom or to what. Were it to the house of Simon the Pharisee, Jesus is there [Mark 14:3]. Is it to Zaccheus the hated tax collector? Jesus is there [Luke 19:5-6]. And here He is a guest, not at just a wedding, but at a feast [John 2:1-11]. He was that way: just somebody you would love to have at your house, somebody you’d love to sit down with, somebody you’d love to talk to, somebody you’d love just to be with. Jesus was convivial, He was gregarious, and He was always that; never aloof or ascetic or withdrawn. Wherever there was a crowd, there you’d find Him. What an unusual thing. And here it says He turns water into wine. I wonder what kind of wine that was. The ruler of the feast, the governor of the feast said, “I never tasted wine like this” [John 2:6-10]. I’ve often thought that’s the same kind of wine that Jesus mentioned, when instituting the Lord’s Supper, He said, “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” [Matthew 26:29]. That’s the kind of wine then that we are going to drink at the marriage feast of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9]. It’s a new kind of wine, and it won’t make you drunk, and it won’t hurt you, and there’s no alcohol to deaden the cells in your brain; but it’ll be a new wine, a new fruit of the vine, full of the happiness and the presence and the goodness of God. That’s the Lord Jesus.
Do you notice he says, “This beginning of sēmeia, signs” [John 2:11], then it has a meaning. It is a parable of something; and the parabolic meaning is very obvious. At the Jewish home are six basins made out of solid stone, hewn out of stone. There are six of them, not urns, but big basins, six of them. Each one of them held two or three firkins of water [John 2:6]. A firkin was about nine gallons; so each one of them had from twenty-five to thirty gallons of water in them. And they were foot tubs. When the people, when the guests came, why, according to the cleansing ritualisms of the Jewish people, why, they would wash their feet in them; maybe wash their hands, wash their vessels in those big, big stone jars. So the Lord says to them, “Now you draw out of the depths of the well and fill up those big stone basins”—all together they’d hold about one hundred sixty-two gallons of water—“Fill them up.” And they filled them up to the brim [John 2:7]. Then the Lord says, “Antleō, draw out of the depth of the well” [John 2:8]; you have that word used again in the fourth chapter when the woman at Samaria says to the Lord Jesus, “You say I am to drink of the water that You could give me. The well is deep; how could You draw” [John 4:11], there’s that word antleō, “how could You draw out when you do not have anything to draw with?” [John 4:11]. That’s the word used here: “Draw out now, out of the depths of the well, and bear to the governor of the feast” [John 2:8].
I sometimes am amused at what people say about the Scriptures. They say, and I’ve heard it world without end ever since I was born, ever since I’ve been going to church, and I started church when I was one month old, I’ve been hearing them say, “You know they filled those stone basins and then they draw out of that stone basin the wine to the governor of the feast, that the Lord made one hundred sixty-two gallons of wine.” Now can you imagine the Jewish people being delighted in drinking out of the foot tub where they washed their feet? Can you imagine that? It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? What we need to do is to look at the Word of God. “Fill up those waterpots; fill up those big stone jars. And now draw out, and take it to the governor of the feast.” And on the way to the governor of the feast it turned into the God kind of wine.
He says that’s a sēmeion, that’s a sign [John 2:11]. And I say it is very apparent: you see, those six stone basins represented the ritualism of the old dispensation; that’s what it says. According to the cleansing ritual of the Jewish people, those six basins represented all of the ritualism of the Old Testament [John 2:6]. Six in the Gemara, in the Talmud, is always the number of incompleteness; seven is always the number of perfection. Six is incompletion; six is incompletion. So the Lord says, “You fill them up, fill them up, fill them up.” And it says, “And they filled them up to the brim” [John 2:7]. Then He says, “Now draw out and take to the governor of the feast” [John 2:8]. A sēmeion, a sign: the sign, the old dispensation is full to the brim in our Lord Jesus. Every type, every shadow, every adumbration, all of it filled to the brim; the old dispensastion is fulfilled [John 2:7]. Now He says, “Take out from the depths of the well this new water which is the new wine, and bear to the governor of the feast” [John 2:8]. It is in a new dispensation that our Lord has brought grace and mercy from heaven. The old is passed away now, and the new has been brought to us by our loving Lord.
Now I have just a minute to say what that new dispensation is. The old is filled, and we have a new revelation from God. Number one: we have a new place to worship. In the old dispensation represented by those ritualistic basins, in the old dispensation you worshipped at Jerusalem; only in Jerusalem could a sacrifice be made unto the Lord [Deuteronomy 12:5-7; John 4:20]. The altar was there, the priest was there, the temple was there, the Holy of Holies was there, the altar of the covenant was there [Leviticus 17:2; 2 Chronicles 3:1-5:10]. It was in Jerusalem God said, “My name shall be there” [1 Kings 8:29]. And by explicit interdiction they were not to worship on any other hill or in any other place [Deuteronomy 12:5-7]. Once a year Elkanah and Peninnah and Hannah went up to [Shiloh] for to worship [1 Samuel 1:1-3]. In the new dispensation of grace, anywhere is a good “where” to call on the name of the Lord. A kitchen corner is just as good as a cathedral. And where you are seated, right where you are is a magnificent place to open your heart heavenward and God-ward and to Jesus.
I ran into a man the other day who said to me, “Driving along in the car, I was listening to you on the radio. And the message touched my heart, and the Spirit of God convicted me. And I stopped the car, having pulled to the side of the road, bowed my head over the steering wheel, and there I gave my heart to Jesus.” That was a good place to meet God. Anywhere now is a wonderful place to call on the name of the Lord—a new place [Acts 17:30].
Number two: a new sacrifice. Just think of all of the endlessnesses of the sacrifices of the old dispensation: the burnt offerings, the fatted calves, all of those ritualistic altar offerings made before God [Leviticus 1:3-17, 6:8-13]. But even the prophet Micah wondered at that. He said, “Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Will the Lord be pleased with burnt offerings and with calves of a year old? Will He accept thousands of burnt offerings and ten thousands of rivers of oil? Yea, shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” [Micah 6:6-7]. Even the prophet hesitated before it.
And we know that they lack efficacy and effectuality because they were repeated again and again and again and again [Hebrews 10:1]. “But at the end of the age did Jesus our Lord appear to make sacrifice for sins through His own atoning blood, and to them that look for Him shall He appear again, apart from sin, unto salvation” [Hebrews 9:26-28]. In the sacrifice of our Lord, all of those sacrifices of animals ceased; they are no more. It is a new sacrifice: the sacrifice for sins we now know in the loving, atoning death of Jesus our Lord [Romans 5:11; Hebrews 2:17].
Third: a new invitation, a new appeal from God in oh so different a way. In the old dispensation, remember the Book of Hebrews:
We are not come unto Mount Sinai, that burned with fire, and was covered with darkness, and thundering, and lightnings . . . insomuch that Moses said, I do fear and tremble: But we are come unto Mount Zion, and to the city of God, the New Jerusalem, and to an innumerable concourse of angels, and to the assembly of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, whose blood speaketh better things than that of Abel.
Come, the new invitation of grace: not to the condemnation of Mt. Sinai. If a man picked up sticks on the Sabbath day, by commandment he was stoned to death [Numbers 15:32-36]. Fear, thundering, lightnings, the judgment of God—but you are invited in the new day of grace to come to Mt. Calvary, to Mt. Zion [Hebrews 12:22]. There the loving Lord; anybody could feel at home in His presence; loving, caring, teaching, dying, guiding, saving, healing, welcome. It’s a new dispensation. It’s new wine. It’s a new day. It’s a new and glorious faith. Come. This is the gospel; and that is the sēmeion; the parable of it: the old has passed away with its judgment, and the new is come with its hope and salvation [John 2:1-11].
And that is our invitation to your heart this solemn morning hour. “Pastor, today this is God’s day for me, and here I stand, accepting openly and publicly the Lord as my Savior, coming to Mt. Calvary” [Hebrews 12:22-24]. Bringing your family into the fellowship of this dear church, or answering the call of God in your heart, make the decision now, and in this moment when we sing our song, down that stairway or down this aisle, “Here I am, pastor, God has spoken, and here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.