Don’t picnic under exit signs!

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We’re talking about miracles today, but actually we’re talking about more than miracles. We’re talking about the miracle worker. The Bible describes in the Gospel of John Jesus’s first recorded miracle. John is going to call it a sign, but spoiler alert: This is not the only miracle that you’re going to read from the Gospel of John. Jesus does a lot of miracles in the Bible, and I want to just talk for a few moments about this word sign. I want you to just think about this word for just a second.

When the Bible uses the word sign, it’s describing something that’s pointing to something else. In fact, I was trying to think of the most outrageous statement that I could use today to help you understand what I mean by the word sign. It should make you laugh when you hear this statement: Don’t picnic under exit signs!

Don’t picnic under exit signs!

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Jeff, that’s the stupidest thing that I’ve ever heard in my life. Nobody does a picnic under the interstate signs,” in fact, I was going to try to take a picture of myself right next to an interstate sign, but I was pretty sure that if I did that, some joker would come driving by looking at Facebook on their phone instead of the road, and they would run me over and kill me. 

I’m not smart enough to figure out how to do this with Photoshop, but I want you to think for a moment about why signs exist in the first place. Have you ever seen somebody picnicking under an exit sign? No, of course not, because the exit signs are to point directions; they’re not there for a destination. 

One time, I got sent to go speak to some Air Force guys right outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m not interested in seeing the dancing girls, and I’m not particularly interested in gambling. When I went to Vegas, the only thing that I wanted to see was the famous Las Vegas sign.

Let me just tell you, if you’ve never been to Vegas, that sign is a huge bust for me, because I thought this thing was going to be ginormous. I thought it was going to just sit there and mark the entrance to Vegas. When I got there, it was tiny. There were a bunch of people standing in line. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t even snap a selfie with my phone in front of that sign. It was so small and it let me down so much. All that I wanted to see when I went to Vegas was that sign, and that sign totally let me down.

And of course, it let me down because the sign is never supposed to be the destination. It’s supposed to give the directions to the destination. I want you to just think for a moment about the word signs that John uses to describe Jesus’s miracles. And I want to just ask you, have you ever personally turned the directions into the destination? You might be thinking to yourself, “Jeff, come on. That’s crazy. Who would turn directions into destination?”

Well, sometimes we want a miracle so bad that we start to care more about the miracle than the miracle worker. And when that happens, you start to turn the direction signs into the destination. Folks, just let me tell you right now, the direction signs are awesome. When Jesus does miracles, it’s spectacular in the Bible. You’ll see it today. But the direction signs are not nearly as awesome as the destination. The miracles are not nearly as amazing as the miracle worker. 

Today, what I really want to focus on is not the sign, not the miracle. I want to focus on the guy who does the miracle, the miracle worker. And I want to just challenge you, if you’re asking God for a miracle, don’t settle for the miracle alone when he wants to give you the miracle worker. 

Here’s what we’re going to learn from the Bible about miracles. This comes from John 2. We’re studying through the book of John, and it has taken us a month to get to chapter two. That’ll give you an idea of how long we’re going to be reading through this book. When we get to chapter two, we read about Jesus’s first recorded miracle in the Bible. It happens in a city called Cana, and here’s how the story (true story) goes: 

John 2:1-12 On the third day a wedding took place in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’s mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were invited to the wedding as well. When the wine ran out, Jesus’s mother told him, “They don’t have any wine.” “What has this concern of yours to do with me, woman?” Jesus asked. “My hour has not yet come.” “Do whatever he tells you,” his mother told the servants. Now six stone water jars had been set there for Jewish purification. Each contained twenty or thirty gallons. “Fill the jars with water,” Jesus told them. So they filled them to the brim. Then he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the headwaiter.” And they did. When the headwaiter tasted the water (after it had become wine), he did not know where it came from—though the servants who had drawn the water knew. He called the groom and told him, “Everyone sets out the fine wine first, then, after people are drunk, the inferior. But you have kept the fine wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. After this, he went down to Capernaum, together with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples, and they stayed there only a few days.

Now, admittedly, some people who read the Bible don’t believe these miracles really happened. I think they’re wrong. I am 100% convinced the miracles that we read about in the Bible are true, and what Jesus did by turning water into wine is nothing short of a miracle. You can explain it away. By the way, for those of you who are hard against alcohol, it wasn’t grape juice, and you can explain this away as some science experiment. But I also need you to understand something about Jesus’s miracles. Why does the miracle worker perform miracles?

Jesus’s miracles…

1. demonstrate his grace.

Well, today we’re going to see about four reasons for this, and the first reason, naturally from the Bible is, Jesus does this to demonstrate his grace. Now, when I say his grace, what I mean by that phrase is, God is not sitting in Heaven totally distant and completely disconnected, and the only time you ever know he’s there is when the thunder and lightening happen and he’s bowling up in Heaven and sending down bolts of lightning, right? That’s not the God that we read about in the Bible. The God that we read about in the Bible is very involved in the human condition.

He’s very involved in our work or our world. He’s so involved that he’s close by. Let me tell you the backstory here. In the previous sermon, we talked about when Jesus was calling some disciples, and he did it in his hometown of Nazareth. That’s where he was last time. Now he’s going to go on a road trip from Nazareth to Cana of Galilee, which, by the way in Jesus’s day, had no cars. He didn’t own a chariot, so this is a two-day walk. And Jesus goes for two to three days to go to this wedding celebration.

Now, I’m not going to spend the next hour explaining how weddings worked back in Jesus’s day, but let me just say this for you. It was radically different from the way we do weddings today. Most weddings would take five or seven days. Think about it like a family reunion that happens every five or six years, and everybody stops what they’re doing. Everybody comes to the family reunion, and it’s a really, really big event. Jesus is going to walk for three days with his disciples to go meet his mama and go to this big wedding celebration.

And of course, while he’s at the wedding celebration, there’s a crisis that the bride and groom go through. Jesus just happens to be there (No coincidence, right?). He just happens to be there when there’s a need. Christian, life has some ups, and it has some downs. You’re going to have some good days, and you’re going to have some hard days. There are some easy spots on the journey of faith, and there are some really rough spots on the journey of faith.

What I need you to know first and foremost is that Jesus is near when you have a need. But I also need you to hear something. He’s not only there when you have a need; he’s there on the good days and the hard days. He happens to be there when the wedding party is going through a crisis, but he’s there for you on the easy days, just like he’s there for you on the hard days. And sometimes we can get so busy, so preoccupied with life, that we forget about him on the easy days. And when life gets hard, then we remember the miracle worker.

One of the reasons why Jesus does miracles in the first place is to just remind you that he’s close by. That’s an indication of his grace. -this gift of God to have an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe. 

Jesus’s miracles…

2. reveal his glory.

Can I tell you the second reason why? It’s right there for you in the book of John. John tells us exactly why Jesus did this. He did this to reveal his glory. Now, glory is a Bible word, and the word glory in the Bible talks about God’s greatness. But it also talks about his reputation, or in this case, Jesus’s fame.

What Jesus does in this passage is about to make him famous, and he knows it’s going to make him famous. That’s why you have this tense little exchange going on between Jesus and his mother. His mother is pushing him into the spotlight, and Jesus is saying, “Hold on just a second. It’s not your place to push me into the spotlight, Mother. It’s my Father’s place. It’s my Father’s timing to push me into the spotlight, not yours.”

But there is a need, and Jesus decides this is going to be the first step. What John is really painting for us today is the first step in Jesus’s journey to the cross. And on that journey, he is going to do a lot of amazing miracles. 

Most of us, especially if you live in the United States, don’t really like to admit our weaknesses. Most of us don’t like to recognize that we have limitations. But can I remind you of something pretty obvious? God’s miracles are there when you are at your worst, when you are at your greatest need.

It is in your weakness that God is able to roll up his sleeves and show off his power in some of the greatest ways possible. And that is what you see today. In the Gospel of John, you see people who are really, really struggling. You see the wedding party that are about to be socially embarrassed and will totally let down all of the people that they love dearly. For me and you, we would say, “Hmm, this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Why is everybody getting their feathers ruffled about this?” Well, in Jesus’s day, this was a really big deal.

And I’m sure you’ve figured this out by now. That means for some of you, what’s going on in another lady’s life is a much bigger deal to her than if that were happening to you. When she’s crying out to Jesus for help, it’s a crisis for her. And for you, it would just be an inconvenience. When another brother is struggling with something, he’s really, really struggling with it. And for you, it may not be that big of a deal, but for him, it is a world-changing event. And that’s when Jesus shows up.

I don’t want to turn this into an allegory, because sometimes Bible teachers take these little tidbits… In fact, I’ll just call them out right now. Those prosperity gospel heretics will take this idea of Jesus turning water into wine and say, “God wants to turn your bankruptcy into a million dollars in your bank account.” I think these guys are totally wrong. I think it’s dangerous to listen to that kind of teaching, but I do need you to hear this: Jesus was willing to show up and do something for a relatively simple problem.

I mean, if you think about it for just a second (and most of you are probably thinking the same way I am), you might think, “Hey, wait a second, Jesus. There are people with serious sickness, and you haven’t healed any of them yet. -not as far as we know. There is crime. There is disease. There is poverty. All of that stuff is going on right outside the front doors of this wedding ceremony, and as far as we know, you haven’t done anything about that stuff. This just happens to be a minor inconvenience, and there’s a couple that’s getting married, and they ran out of wine. Why would this of all incidents be your first miracle?”

I really think what the Bible is trying to tell us is, your problem, although it may seem really, really small to others, God knows how big of a deal that is to you. And if Jesus is willing to work with a couple that is running out of wine, there is no problem so small in your life that he doesn’t care about. And sometimes he will do a big thing for what feels like a little problem so that people can see just how awesome he is. You want to know how awesome he is? Well, what the Bible shows us next is just how awesome he is.

Jesus’s miracles…

3. convince you of his goodness.

You see, Jesus’s miracles are not just there to show us his grace, to tell us that God is involved in human history. They are also there to convince you of his goodness. And now I’m talking about you personally. I’m talking about your world, your life, and your problems. What I’m saying is, the miracle worker cares about you individually, just like he cared about this couple that was getting married in Cana a long time ago. The fact that Jesus is there is proof that he cares.

Jesus tells the workers, “Hey, you’ve got some purification jars, right? These stone jars, pretty big, pretty heavy jars. I want you to go ahead and fill them up with water; fill them up to the brim, because there are a lot of guests here, and apparently they’re burning through the wine like crazy. Why don’t you go ahead and fill these jars up to the brim?” Now, I don’t know that anybody, to include Mary, really understood what was about to happen next.

The Bible doesn’t show us Jesus pulling out a Harry Potter wand or putting some Hocus Pocus incantation over this. He just tells them, “Fill it up to the brim. Now, draw something out, and go take it to the wedding planner to have a drink.” And when the wedding planner has a drink, it blows his mind so much, that he goes to the groom and says, “Everybody else serves the good stuff up front, and they save the cheap stuff to the end. You gave us the best wine that I’ve ever tasted, and you did it after everybody else had been drinking for a while.”

You want to know how much wine we’re talking about here? It would probably fill up the average (I did a little bit of math today) kiddie pool. That’s how much wine Jesus just created for this wedding celebration, and he did it because there was a family in need. Do your problems feel like they’re trivial? Do they feel like God doesn’t know? Do they feel like God doesn’t care?

Sometimes he waits for the perfect moment, and he shows up with perfect timing and in the perfect way just so that he can show off, and people can say, “Wow! Look at how good my God is! Awesome! Look at how much my God loves me personally, that he would be willing to suspend the laws of nature, break the own laws that he created when he created this earth, he would be willing to break his own rules and do this for me.” You see, Jesus’s miracles are there to just simply point us to the miracle worker.

Please don’t ever let them become the destination. They’re always there to give us directions, but they’re never supposed to be the destination themselves, which is what brings me to the final thing that John says about his miracles. 

Jesus’s miracles…

4. prove he is God!

Not only did they show off Jesus’s glory, but they were really there to prove that he was God. When his disciples saw this, they were like, “Whoa! Nobody can do what just happened. Obviously there’s more to this guy than just a conquering hero that’s going to drive out the foreign army. Obviously this guy really does have the power over heaven and earth if he can do what he just did.”

Now, I’m going to say something. I really need you to pay attention to me because it might hurt just a little bit. Jesus’s miracles are there to prove how good he is. They’re there to prove how powerful that he is. They’re there to put his glory on display and to prove to you that he is God. But sometimes when I hear Christians pray for a miracle, it doesn’t sound to me like they’re asking for God. It really feels like what they are asking for is a genie. 

Here’s what I mean: “God, my grandmother is sick, and she has cancer. She’s going to die from this if you don’t do a miracle and heal her cancer. God, I’m rubbing the lamp right now, and I need you to come out of the lamp. I need you to heal my grandmother’s cancer. And then after it’s over with, God, I need you to get back in the lamp and let me live my life.” Come on, you all. Sometimes our prayers sound like this. 

“God, my marriage is so broken that I can’t fix it. And God, we’ve tried counseling; we’ve tried everything. And God, I’m rubbing the lamp right now, and I need you to come out of the lamp, and I need you to fix my marriage. God, I’m desperate.” And after he fixes the marriage, “God, I need you to get back in that lamp, leave me alone, and let me live my life.” 

“God, I’m struggling with addiction, and I can’t conquer it. I need you to do a miracle. I’m rubbing the lamp. I’m praying as hard as I can, and I need you to fix my problem. And then I want you to get back in the lamp, and I want you to leave me alone so that I can go on living my life.”

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with asking for God to heal Grandmother or to fix your marriage, or to help you conquer this addiction that has a strong hold over you. In fact, I want you to pray that. But I do need you to hear this: When you’re praying to a God who is a miracle worker, you’re praying to a God who calls the shots in your life. Yes, he is big enough. Yes, he is powerful enough. Absolutely, I completely believe he can do the miracles that you’re asking for. But maybe his plan is to allow you to go through that for a period of time, maybe for a long period of time, because in the process, it puts you closer to the miracle worker, and you now are more dependent on him than you’ve ever been in your life. 

Sometimes God lets the bottom drop out in our lives, because at this point, we’ve got nothing left. The world has just ripped the rug out from underneath us, and life has left us flat on the backs, and we’ve got nowhere to look but up. And now God rolls up his sleeves, he steps in, now he intervenes, and now he does something that only he can get the credit for. And now he does something that drives you to your knees and closer to him than you’ve ever been before. This is what I mean by sometimes we can turn the sign into the destination, and we just want the miracle, and we would be willing to pass on the miracle worker.

I’m just asking you, in fact I’m begging you today, 2 Cities Church, don’t settle for the miracle alone when you can have the miracle worker. And I am convinced the miracle worker wants an intimate walk with you.