March 9th, 1748, a young British sailor was abruptly awakened to the sound of total chaos all around him. A violent storm had, suddenly and without warning, descended upon his ship. In the chaos, one of the crew members had been swept overboard, and drowned. This was a monster of a storm, and a matter of life or death. At only 23 years old this young sailor was confronted with his own mortality, as he struggled - for hours on end - to keep the boat from capsizing. And like so many have throughout history - in his fearful hour of desperation, John Newton cried out to God - pleading to Him for mercy.
The following day, March 10th, the terrifying storm had subsided and the badly battered ship was miraculously still afloat. For the young 23 year old John Newton - this was the hour he first believed.
It was this experience, this ‘hour’ that he would reference years later - when he wrote the now universally beloved hymn “AMAZING GRACE”
“TWAS GRACE THAT TAUGHT MY HEART TO FEAR AND GRACE MY FEARS RELIEVED
HOW PRECIOUS DID THAT GRACE APPEAR THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED!”
Newton would forever credit that miracle at sea as being the hour he first believed. That is to say, his moment of initial belief.
You see, John Newton had been a slave trader. And he would continue to actively participate in the horrors of the slave trade for a few more years, even after his dramatic and life altering conversion at sea. The hour John Newton first believed was not the hour his faith was perfected. He may have begun to believe, but he didn’t change overnight! Not by a long shot.
To use his own word, Newton described himself as - a ‘wretch’ - you know “amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” - it’s a word that means a despicable person. A shameful, detestable, vile person. And those things, he absolutely was! Later in his life, he wrote about and confessed the atrocities he witnessed - and the unspeakable crimes against humanity that he and his crew participated in. The men and women that were tortured - tortured and killed - under his watch. When he calls himself a wretch, he’s not being hyperbolic. He’s not exaggerating. He means it. Because John Newton had been, for all intents and purposes - a total monster.
But then came the revelation of a lifetime, that God’s abundant grace was able to save, even a wretched human being, like John Newton - the slave trader.
And how precious did that grace appear the hour he first believed:
The hour John Newton first believed was not the hour his faith was perfected. Not by a mile. But it was the beginning of a transformation that would last a lifetime.
By the time Newton was in his 50’s he had become one of Britain’s foremost abolitionists, actively speaking out against the slave trade. He wrote:
“I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was, once, an active instrument, in a business at which my heart now shudders.”
He once was blind, but now he was finally able to see.
Did you John Newton was once himself a slave in Africa? His life story is fascinating! His tombstone reads:
John Newton: Once an infidel and libertine a servant of slaves in Africa was by the rich mercy of our LORD and SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy.
And see he did!! He lived just long enough to see parliament abolish the slave trade in 1807, when he was 82 years old. What a storied life. When the revelation came, and the invitation to a new kind of life was offered, John Newton said yes! The hour he first believed, while only a moment at sea, housed the potential to change not only a wicked man’s heart, but ultimately change the world.
Over the past 250 years “Amazing Grace” has been sung by nearly every culture on earth! And it’s even become an anthem of the very people once captured, once traded, once tortured by Newton himself.
What a dichotomy! From enslaver to freedom fighter. From lost to found!
That’s the power of God’s amazing grace. That’s the power of Jesus to completely transform a life, no matter how wretched! And I’ve got good news for us:
Jesus is still revealing His glory today! He’s still changing hearts. And he presents us with an invitation to simply believe. So will we?
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.
Turn with me in your Bibles to John Chapter 2. Today we’ll be looking at 2 such moments, 2 distinct moments of belief. We’re in the 2nd week of our series all about the Gospel of John. So while you’re turning to John chapter 2, let me welcome those of you who are joining us online!
Thanks for being part of this service! Whether you’re watching now, or later on in the week, I’m glad you chose to join us!
And welcome to all of you who were able to be here in person this morning! I’ve said this before, but I know how hard it can be to get out the door on a Sunday morning and I feel like that’s always something that should be celebrated! You made it to church this week! And we can definitely celebrate that together!
Alright, John Chapter 2. We’re going to keep the celebration going with a wedding story, but before we look at the word together, let’s pray:
Ok, a quick recap! Barry set the tone for us last week, telling us that the gospel of John is intentionally provocative. It depicts these moments in the life of Jesus and His disciples, moments that beg the question, “Do you believe? Are you in or are you out with this whole Jesus thing?” There’s no middle gray area with the Jesus we see presented in the gospel of John. You can’t be lukewarm. You have to choose a side. Accept Him, or reject Him.
And all who DO choose to believe in Jesus can become children of God, and be reborn into a new kind of life. But there’s a problem. We read last week that Jesus came into the world that HE CREATED, but that world didn’t recognize Him. Even His own people rejected him.
And so John is not shy at all about the bold claims he is making in this gospel. He’s saying, “Here is Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. He is among us and I saw Him with my own 2 eyes! Do you believe him? Do you recognize that Jesus is God?
Now, I know I said we would be in John chapter 2 this week, and we will be in a moment, but before we get there, there’s a moment of revelation, a moment of belief that I don’t want us to miss in chapter 1.
John the Baptist had been publicly declaring that Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” - God’s anointed one, the long awaited Messiah. And verse 35 tells us that 2 of John the Baptist's disciples actually started following Jesus! One of them we know was Andrew, and the first thing Andrew did was go and tell his brother Simon (who we would later know as Peter). Then down in verse 43, Jesus called Philip to follow him, and the first thing Philip did was go and tell his friend Nathaniel. And I want us to camp out on this Nathaniel character for a moment, and you’ll see why in a minute.
For our purposes today, I’m going to call him:
Nathaniel the salty skeptic. Or Nathaniel the sarcastic skeptic. I like this guy! I like his sense of humor! Check this out in verse 46, I love that this witty response from Nathaniel was recorded in the Bible for all time. Philip had just met Jesus. And he immediately goes and finds his friend Nathaniel and tells him “We found him! The one that Moses and the prophets wrote about!
His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
And I love this: Nathaniel’s response to his friend Philip, he says “Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
I love that! ”Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I think we can all think of a town like that, a town that for whatever reason, just has a shady reputation. You can go ahead and insert the name of whatever town has an unsavory reputation in your mind, and you get the idea! Everyone has their own version of this! Can anything good come from Nazareth?! Nathaniel is cynical! He’s sarcastic, he’s a skeptic! But he’s also the first disciple to recognize that Jesus was so much more than just a wise teacher.
Philip brings his friend Nathaniel to meet Jesus, so that he can see for himself how amazing this Rabbi is. And John tells us in chapter 1:47 that
47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”
And this just blew cynical Nathaniel’s mind! Jesus - from NAZARETH of all places - who was a total stranger by the way - just spoke as though he knew Nathaniel personally?
“How do you know about me?” Nathaniel said. And Jesus replied,
“I could see you.
I could see you when you were sitting under that fig tree before Philip found you.”
And here’s the moment I didn’t want us to miss! Here’s the revelation of a lifetime for Nathaniel:
Watch what he says here in verse 49. In that moment, in that ‘hour’ if you will, something happened that changed his attitude, from one of skepticism to one of firm belief. Look what he says in verse 49:
49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
That was the hour Nathaniel first believed. He made the connection. In that moment Nathaniel, who had been blind to the truth only seconds earlier - could now see clearly that Jesus was the Son of God.
And now it’s Jesus who has a witty remark for Nathaniel. He said:
50 “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”
And this brings us to chapter 2! We were just told that we would see GREATER THINGS. And the first example of this takes place at the wedding of an unnamed couple in a village called Cana. So read with me in John Chapter 2:1
2 The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. 3 The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”
Let’s pause here for a moment. This would’ve been a really big deal.
This wasn’t just a wedding reception that ran out of alcohol. In ancient Jewish wedding ceremonies, and even today wine is a symbol of joy. That means that for this couple,
wine would have been an important symbol of their marriage, a symbol of the joy of their union. And it would’ve brought great shame to the couple if they ran out of something so central to the symbolism and meaning of the occasion. They would’ve been ridiculed, and their marriage would’ve been marked by disgrace from the beginning. What an embarrassing start.
But even beyond the shame that this would’ve brought to the family, in this culture, there could’ve been legal ramifications too! There were certain standards and expectations that the families were legally obligated to uphold. This was a culture that placed such a high value on hospitality, that the bridegroom’s family could actually be sued if they didn’t provide a proper wedding, they could’ve been sued for running out of wine!
And Mary would’ve known this. Women were often involved in the food prep of such ceremonies, working behind the scenes to make sure everything went smoothly and according to plan. When this celebration ran out of wine, Mary likely would’ve been one of the first to know! And she certainly would’ve known the gravity of the situation, and what this would mean. She didn’t want this couple to be shamed. She didn’t want disgrace to come to this family. She knew she needed to act fast! She knew there was one person in attendance who had the power to turn this disaster around! So she tells her son Jesus “They have no more wine.”
And isn’t that just like a mom, to be that indirect! She doesn’t directly ask him to make more wine. She just lets him know that there’s a problem. It’s like when I say to my kids, “Your room is looking pretty nasty” or “There’s laundry on the table” - It’s a very indirect way of telling them what I want from them. Not “clean your room” or “go put your laundry away,” No. I just make them aware, that I’M AWARE of a problem… and that should be enough… Right? ..??? They know that I know that there’s a problem...
That’s sort of what Mary is doing here! Jesus’ mom just told him there was a problem: “They have no more wine!”
4 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
5 But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
I have to pause here again! “Dear woman, my time has not yet come!” Other translations don’t even bother to include the ‘dear’ part, it just says ‘woman! My time has not yet come!” If my son addressed me in public as ‘WOMAN’ - I don’t care how old he is, it would not end well for him. And for that reason, I had to do some digging into this word ‘Woman!’ Did Jesus just disrespect his own MAMMA?! Well, it turns out that The word Jesus uses for ‘woman’ here is Gune (GOO - NAY). It’s actually an affectionate and respectful and appropriate form of addressing a woman. So no worries there. Jesus isn’t being harsh or rude, ok, he’s being respectful. But he didn’t use the word “Mother.” He said “Dear Woman” and that is significant. Did he think she was meddling? Did he think that she was doing too much? The literal translation here is ‘Dear woman, what is there between me and you?’ As if to say, “This thing isn’t between us!” This is their issue. We’re just guests. But I love Mary’s response in verse 5:
She just looks at him. Ok that part’s not in the Bible, but I BELIEVE she just looked at him. And then turned to the servants! “Do whatever He tells you.” I love this scene so much! And you know what? Even though he had just protested that His time had not yet come, ultimately Jesus listened to his Mama! For whatever reason, at his mother’s urging, he chose to act on this couple’s behalf! Why? Why would He do that?
Truth is we’re not entirely sure why. I mean, on one hand He is God, and he knows the end from the beginning - so when he chose to act he knew exactly what he was doing. He was going public. He knew there was no going back after this, after he revealed himself in this way. But he had just told Mary that his time had not yet come. So why act, then? Was it because he was ultimately choosing to honor his mother? Was that it? Maybe He saw compassion in her indirect request. As a guest of this happy couple, Jesus wouldn’t have wanted shame and ridicule and a lawsuit for them! No! He wanted nothing but blessing, and fullness of joy for this young marriage. Blessing and joy in abundance.
Let’s pick it back up here in Verse 6
6 Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, 8 he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.
9 When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. 10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”
As we study the book of John over the next few weeks, watch for references to water. Water is a central theme throughout this book. John baptizes with water. Jesus demonstrates his authority over the natural world by turning water into wine. Soon we will see him meet with the woman at the well, heal the lame man by the pool of Bethesda, walk on water, and promise ‘living water’ to everyone who believes in Him.
Only moments ago this groom was at risk of being shamed and ridiculed, and potentially even sued! But now he’s being praised, and hailed for being a lavish host! And instead of being remembered as the failed, joyless wedding that ran out of wine, this celebration will go down in history as one of the most legendary weddings of all time.
And here is the moment! For the disciples in attendance that day, this was the hour they first believed. Watch what it says in verse 11:
11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
THE REVELATION OF A LIFETIME! For Nathaniel, it had come a chapter earlier, but for these disciples, their moment was now!
“And His disciples believed in Him!”
Remember those 2 disciples from earlier, the ones who were disciples of John the Baptist before they started following Jesus? One of them we know was Andrew, because he’s mentioned by name in verse 40. Andrew would have been present at this wedding, when Jesus revealed His glory FOR THE FIRST TIME! This was the hour Andrew first believed. So who was the other disciple? The one not named as one of the 2 who left John the Baptist to follow Jesus?
I believe, and I’m not alone in this, but I believe it was John, the author of this gospel, who never directly mentions himself by name. I believe he was one of the 2 standing with John the Baptist when he cried out, “LOOK! THERE’S THE LAMB OF GOD.” And that means he would’ve been a first hand witness to Jesus’ first public miracle at this wedding in Cana. I believe that this “miraculous sign” would forever mark the hour that JOHN first believed. This gospel, John’s gospel, is the only one that mentions this event! And we know that John wrote his gospel after the other 3 had been circulating - after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It’s as if he had read their accounts and thought ‘WE HAVE TO TELL THEM ABOUT THE WEDDING IN CANA! I HAVE TO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT THE FIRST SIGN.” The word he uses for sign is “semion” it means
sēmeíon (Say-mi-on) – a sign (typically miraculous), given especially to confirm, corroborate or authenticate.
This miracle, this sign, corroborated what John the Baptist had declared about Jesus - That he was truly ‘The Chosen One of God.’ John is making the connection. It’s all coming together for him! Look, in chapter 1:17,
1:17 For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.
We know that John was echoing the old testament when he wrote his gospel. He’s coming in hot, making direct comparisons to old testament events. The law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus. And get this:
Moses’ first miracle was turning water into blood. That blood brought death, and chaos and God’s judgment. But Jesus’ first miracle turned water into wine, and that wine brought restoration, and hope, and God’s joy in abundance!!!
John is seeing for the first time - Jesus is God in the flesh. This was the hour he first believed.
Now, there was something else that caught my attention, in verse 9
9 When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over.
I have to wonder, what ever happened to those servants? John tells us that they KNEW where that miraculous wine came from. So did they believe? Did these servants recognize that the Son of God had just performed a miracle right in front of their eyes? Or did they think it was some kind of magic trick, that Jesus was some kind of mystic with magical powers? Did they miss the revelation of a lifetime?
Or maybe this was the hour they first believed. The truth is, we don’t know. The only thing John indicates clearly is that this WAS the moment when Jesus’ disciples believed in him.
So the question for us now is, do we?
And if we do - if you do - if you believe - when was that moment for you? Do you remember? What, for you, became the ‘hour you first believed?’ Were you rescued, like John Newton? Was there a moment, like Nathaniel experienced, where you felt seen and known by Jesus? Did you witness something that just couldn’t be explained? Maybe there was a time in your life when you realized just how much God cares about you. Maybe it was a moment of need that turned into a testimony of His provision.
Or maybe it wasn’t a singular event at all. Maybe it was a series of events. Maybe it happened over time. Maybe there have been things that you’ve witnessed over the span of your lifetime that have authenticated, corroborated, and confirmed that Jesus is who He says He is!
I know for me, I was born into the church. I ‘got saved’ hundreds of times as a kid. Some of ya’ll know what I’m talking about. Every time there was an altar call given, I’d be down there - wringing my hands, rededicating my life, promising God that I would ‘do better this time.’ I had no dramatic, John Newton-like rescue or conversion. But there had been various ‘signs’ throughout my life, moments and events that corroborated what John says about Him - in the next chapter of this book - in chapter 3, in verse 16 that God so LOVED the world - that God so loved me.
And I CAN identify THE moment, when I first felt the weight of his mercy and forgiveness. When He revealed to me for the first time, the glory of His grace. Before then, I had a head-knowledge of Amazing Grace, I knew what it meant. But the hour I first understood - for me, that was the revelation of a lifetime!
I remember the moment I realized that I had had it all wrong as a kid, white knuckling my prayers at the altar - basing my own salvation on a promise that I would ‘do better.’ I will always ALWAYS remember, the hour I first understood why Grace is so amazing - THAT IT WAS NEVER ABOUT ‘MY DOING.’ THAT GOD’S LOVE FOR ME HAD NEVER WAVERED, AND THE SAME MEASURE OF GRACE AND LIFE AND HOPE WAS OFFERED TO ME BACK IN THE DAYS WHEN I CONSIDERED MYSELF A GOOD CHRISTIAN KID, AND WHEN IT ALL CAME CRASHING DOWN. WHEN MY GOOD CHRISTIAN BUBBLE BURST, AND THE WEIGHT OF GOD’S MERCY SHATTERED THE FALSE IMAGE I HAD OF MYSELF, And OBLITERATED ANY TRACE OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS! I remember, simultaneously CLINGING TO HIS PROMISES FOR DEAR LIFE, and being so completely set free by the fact THAT HE WOULD STILL offer me the PROMISE OF NEW LIFE. A WRETCH LIKE ME.
I WILL ALWAYS, ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT HOUR. THE HOUR I FIRST FULLY BELIEVED.
But I know that there are some of you listening now who don’t believe. There are some who would say, “well sure, if I saw Jesus turn water into wine, I could believe too.” Maybe you’ve been waiting on a sign - something to corroborate, authenticate, and confirm that Jesus is who He says He is.
About a month ago, I went to see one of my favorite bands play a show, right here in Indy, down at the Hi-Fi. I heard a lyric that night that goes like this:
“Blind as I'd become, I used to wonder where You are-
These days I can't find where You're not!”
The fact that I got to see this sold-out concert at the HI-FI (despite not having a ticket) is a mini miracle in itself! Maybe I’ll share that story on this week’s episode of Between Sundays!
The glory of God is all around us. It’s everywhere. I see it in nature, yes, I see it in His creation. I see the light of His glory in the eyes of the people He created, the people He gave His life to save. I see it in your eyes.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:4,5
The darkness can never extinguish it. I’ve seen His glory in the way my husband has loved me over 19 years. In the way that our marriage has been restored. I remember how the light shined into our darkness, and the darkness didn’t stand a chance when God’s glory was revealed into our mess. The darkness can never extinguish it!
I saw His glory in my mom’s final hours - in our family’s darkest hours, when we weren’t sure how we were ever going to survive without her, but we let her go, and sang her into the arms of Jesus. God’s glory was thick in the room that day, illuminating even our darkest moments of deepest sorrow. His glory was there, and the darkness couldn’t extinguish it.
Blind as I had become, I used to wonder where He was. But these days I can’t find where He’s not.
Jesus is still revealing His glory to us, today!
16 From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.[f] 17 For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:18
“Blind as I'd become, I used to wonder where You are-
These days I can't find where You're not!”
Jesus is still revealing His glory today! He’s still changing hearts. And he presents us with an invitation to simply believe. So will we?
Do you believe? If you do, who are you telling? Who are you sharing this good news with? Are you like Philip? Are you excited to tell your friends what you’ve experienced, even the skeptical ones? And hey, don’t be afraid of the skeptics. God’s love is big enough for them. Ok? Look at God’s love for Nathaniel. All you have to do for the skeptics in your life is follow Philip’s example, when he said to Nathaniel ‘come and see for yourself.’
And if you’re the skeptic. If you struggle to believe - Jesus’ offer of abundant life, and love, and mercy and forgiveness is for you, too. His invitation still stands. Maybe, today can be the hour you first believe. Maybe, like John Newton, like Nathaniel, like Andrew, Peter and John - like me, like so many of us in this room and online - maybe you can catch a glimpse of why God’s Grace is so amazing. The revelation of a lifetime. And over the arc of your storied life, as you learn from, and follow Jesus, you will be transformed from lost to found. From blindness to sight.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear. And grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.