I learned something about miracles in Faith Church’s worship service yesterday. Each week we have a volunteer host/ess, and they guide the service, welcoming everyone, making announcements, leading the prayer time and providing other transitional elements. Yesterday, our hostess, Chris, in her transition to the sermon, talked about how many albums, songs and movies have the word “miracle” in them. She played clips from a couple songs like Barry Manilow’s “It’s A Miracle” and, from Fiddler on the Roof, “Miracle of Miracles“. One song is about real miracles, one maybe not. The point is that we use the word “miracle” so frequently, as I mentioned in the preview post here, that we are in danger of missing out on real miracles. How do we see and respond to miracles? We’re going to try to answer that question this week on the blog.
This past August we started studying the book of John to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” After a break for Advent, we now return to that study, right where we left off, John chapter 4. And since it’s been a month, we’re going to do a bit of review.
As you’re reading this post, I encourage you to open a Bible to John 4, verse 43 and follow along.
The first words of verse 43 are “After the two days.” After which two days? Scan back to verse 40, and there we read that some Samaritans urged Jesus to stay with them, and he did so for two days. When you consider that Jews and Samaritans hated each other in those days, what led, Jesus, a Jew and his 12 Jewish friends, to hang out with Samaritans for two days?
If you scan back even further, all the way to chapter 3, verse 22, we learn that near the beginning of his ministry years, Jesus had a baptism outreach in Judea, the southern region of Palestine. But the religious leaders were tracking Jesus, and they became aware that Jesus’ ministry was starting to outpace John the Baptist’s ministry.
When Jesus found out that religious leaders were keeping an eye on him, he shut down his ministry and headed north toward his home region of Galilee, away from the religious leaders’ headquarters in Jerusalem. Far away in Galilee, it would be much more difficult for them to watch him. Not impossible, of course, as they had their people stationed around the entire country.
On his trip home, Jesus took the unusual step of traveling north through Samaria, unusual precisely for the reason I mentioned above, the Jews and Samaritans hated each other. In Samaria he met the woman at the well, and he had a conversation that changed her life, as well as the lives of many in the town, and that’s why they asked him to stay for two days more.
Now return to John chapter 4, verse 43, and we learn that Jesus’ stay with the Samaritans is over, and he completes his trip home to Galilee. But in verse 44, the Gospel writer, John, makes a surprising parenthetical comment: “(Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.)”
Jesus is headed home. It should be a grand homecoming, but Jesus said a prophet has no honor at home. Why?
I think we need to review even further. When Jesus first leaves home, he’s a no-name. Literally. He’s a single man, 30 years old, and that means he is getting toward the upper end of marriagability in his culture. Most men in that culture would have been married by his age. Not Jesus. He’s just working in his family business. A handyman. He’s living in a no-name town, in a tiny corner of the Roman Empire. There seems to be nothing special about him at this point.
But there is talk around town about a new prophet named John. This John guy is calling the nation to get ready for the Lord to return, asking them to repent and be baptized. Thousands make the trip to see this Elijah-like prophet in the wilderness, and when they repent of their sins, John baptizes them in the Jordan River. It’s no surprise that Jesus would go there too. Lots of people made the trip.
When Jesus shows up at John’s baptism ministry, however, John makes some surprising comments about Jesus, saying that Jesus bis the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Then John, who is eagerly baptizing everyone who comes to him, doesn’t want to baptize Jesus. How many people in the crowd saw this? Who is this guy that John won’t baptize? Why won’t John baptize him? But Jesus convinces John to go through with the baptism, and then something like a dove Spirit alights on Jesus and a voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved son.” Imagine being there for that!
Right away, over the next few days, Jesus calls some men to follow him, to be his disciples. How odd! A handyman does not normally have disciples. These are regular salt of the earth fishermen from his home region, and they all travel together back home. They go to a wedding where the wine runs out, and Jesus’ mother cajoles him to do something about it. And he does. He miraculously turns water into the best wine they’ve ever tasted, and the disciples place their faith in him.
Then it seems Jesus disappears and the men go back to fishing. After 40 some days, he shows up again, and now things start to move fast. Jesus calls more disciples to follow him, and soon enough his entourage has grown to a group of 12 men, plus other men and women start to follow him closely.
Next they make a trip to Jerusalem that includes a wild scene at the temple, where Jesus turns over the tables of the shady moneychangers and sellers of sacrifices, declaring that they have made a mockery of God’s house. Amid the ensuing chaos, the religious leaders are watching. They challenge him, asking Jesus for a sign to prove his authority, and he answers cryptically, “You want a sign. I’ll give you a sign. Destroy this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days. That will be your sign.” The leaders roll their eyes, as of course they aren’t going to destroy their own temple, but even more so because it is ludicrous to think that one person could rebuild the temple in three days when it took 46 years to build and still wasn’t finished.
Jesus then leaves the temple, and his star shines brighter because he does many miraculous signs in Jerusalem. The baptism, the wedding miracle, the disciples, the temple riot, then more miracles. At least one Jewish leader is intrigued. His name is Nicodemus, and he meets Jesus one evening to talk. During that famous conversation Jesus says, “Nicodemus, you must be born again,” which is to say that Jesus was inviting Nicodemus to place his faith in Jesus. The writer John explains for us that a faith of heart and mind is demonstrated by a life lived in line with the way of Jesus. It seems Nicodemus believes in heart, mind and life, but we don’t learn that until a later story.
Now Jesus launches a ministry, the successful baptism outreach in Judea I mentioned earlier. That leads to the two-day successful stay in Samaria, and now Jesus is back home in Galilee. In this short survey of how Jesus’ life changed in a matter of what was probably just a couple months, you can see the stark difference. Just two months prior, Jesus is a no-name. Now people across Palestine are starting to say his name. How do you think the people at home in Galilee would be handling this?
Some probably think this is ridiculous, and Jesus should knock it off and get back to the family business. Some probably think he has lost his mind, especially when they hear rumors that he started a riot in the temple. Some are likely thinking what he is doing is wrong, because a handyman shouldn’t be preaching when he never went to seminary. Some may be wondering, especially when they hear about miracles, if he really is the prophet, the Messiah.
People probably reacted to Jesus’ newfound fame and ministry in a variety of ways, but what John says in verse 44 is something that Jesus himself said, which you can read about in Matthew and Luke, that “a prophet has no honor in his own country.” He’s too familiar. Too known. Too normal. He’s the handyman. Not the Messiah. Not a prophet. It seems that John includes that comment as a foreshadowing, because things actually start off rather well in Galilee, which will learn about in the next post.
Photo by Ashley Jurius on Unsplash