Recently in our Wesley Theatre, before a thousand business leaders, the English management writer and professor of business studies Charles Handy said "I cannot forget a sculpture which I saw in the open-air sculpture garden in Minneapolis. It is called 'Without Words' by Judith Shea. There are three shapes. One of them, the dominant one, is a bronze raincoat, standing upright, but empty, with no one inside it. To me, that empty raincoat is the symbol of our most pressing paradox. We were not destined to be empty raincoats, nameless numbers on a payroll, role occupants, the raw material of economics or sociology, statistics in some government report. If that is to be its price, then economic progress is an empty promise. There must be more to life than to be a cog in someone else's great machine, hurtling God knows where. The challenge must be to prove that each one of us, can fill that empty raincoat." (also in his book "The Empty Raincoat" Arrow 1995 p2)
A Saulwick Herald Poll found that, on a scale of one to 10, Australians rated their present life at 6.78 down compared with a year ago. (SMH 17/2/92.) This seems to be a very low score for a wonderful country like Australia. Why are so many people feeling so empty and unsatisfied? Many people have searched their heart and found nothing. Internally they are empty. Spiritually they have a vacuum. There are people who have rested on psychiatrists' couches, who have looked into themselves and found the horror of finding there is nothing there. What do you do when you discover a vacuum within? There are many people who need to know the answer to inner emptiness.
The Christian faith says Jesus Christ can fill your inner emptiness. But today many people reject Jesus Christ. Some people claim a superior intellect thinking they have no need for God. Some wrap themselves in pagan secularism which is a cover for their immorality, thinking that if they deny the existence of God they will be free from His moral laws. Some live pampering their own pleasures in thoughtless hedonism careless of the needs of others. Others believe in every faith except the true one and seek refuge in a tangle of conflicting ideologies. Despite this they remain empty within.
Paradoxically there is greater interest in Jesus and His teachings than ever. The 1997 Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission (International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Jan '97 p24) indicates there are 65,571 books in libraries with "Jesus" in their titles! Over 25,000 books on Jesus have been published in the past 25 years, and that in 1996 alone, 1,500 new books on Jesus were published. People look to Jesus to find an answer to inner emptiness.
But is Jesus filling your emptiness? Where, on a scale of one to ten, would you rate your life now? If the interviewer asks you, what number will you record? That Australians average 6.7 seems to me to be pitifully low! Australians should be living life to the full, enjoying it to the uttermost, living with confidence in the future. We live in a land of peace with no social conflict, with bountiful natural resources, with the highest rate of home ownership in the world. Even with 8% unemployed, we still have more people employed than at any time in our history. But too many people rate their satisfaction with life low. They are empty within.
Yet some theologians are making it difficult for ordinary people to find that Jesus can fill their inner emptiness. Revisionist scholars of The Jesus Seminar decided most of what we have attributed to Jesus was not spoken by Him but by very clever followers in the few years between His death and the first written manuscripts. They create doubt about the very One who can give meaning and purpose to life. However studies by other scholars who up-hold the Scriptures as divinely inspired, researching new discoveries, support belief in the Gospel of John containing the words of Jesus. There is interesting recent evidence concerning a well known miracle of Jesus.
1. JESUS GIVES HIS FOLLOWERS A SIGN. John's Gospel has an event right at the beginning that gives an indication of what the rest of the Gospel will show. It is the sign that Jesus gave at the wedding of Cana in Galilee. It was the first recorded miracle of Jesus, an event that is dismissed by some modern scholars who go to all lengths to explain what this event means provided it does not include the miraculous. These scholars reject anything looking like a miracle. John says that this miracle was a "sign" that pointed to something beyond itself, that there is a deeper meaning. John 2:11 "This, the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him." Here is a sign, a frontispiece to the Gospel.
Note when it happened. At a wedding feast, which typically lasted for up to six days of open house celebration involving the whole village.
Note where it happened. John 2:1 "On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee".
Cana was a small village, six kilometres from Nazareth. Today it is larger with an aircraft electrics factory. "Jesus' mother was there, 2 and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding." Mary was probably a relative of the groom.
Note what happened. Mary asked Jesus to help because, to the family's embarrassment, the supply of wine ran out. Jesus simply went to six large stone jars which each contained 20-30 gallons of water for drinking or cleansing, and told the servants to fill them to the brim with water and to draw it out again and give it to the master of ceremonies who remarked what good wine it was! 6 "Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then He told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."
2. THAT SIGN HAS A RANGE OF MEANINGS. Many have spoken of this sign indicating the interests of Jesus. Jesus is interested in ordinary people and everyday events: weddings, funerals, work, fishing, harvesting, drawing water from a well, farming, sewing patches on garments and so on. All of this teaching is illustrated from the activities of ordinary people whom He understood and loved.
This sign was a quiet affair, neither the bridegroom nor the master of ceremonies knew what had happened, but the servants filling the waterpots and drawing out the wine knew.
Others have used this sign to indicate the methods that Jesus uses. He works with humans in solving peoples' problems. He used the hands of people to fill the water pots, to draw from them, and to give to others. He takes whatever we already possess and uses that, multiplies that, and satisfies our needs abundantly. He fills our emptiness.
Others have used this sign to indicate the mission of Jesus. His purpose was to reveal to His disciples who He was. 11 "This, the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him." People who put their faith in Jesus see His glory.
But there is even a deeper level of meaning. One characteristic of John's writing is that beneath John's simple stories "there is a deeper meaning which is only open to those who have eyes to see." (Wm Barclay) One detail was the six stone waterpots containing the water which turned to wine. Each large stone waterpot held between twenty and thirty gallons of water. Jesus turned all that water into wine. That was anything up to one hundred and eighty gallons of wine! Not 180 bottles of wine, but 180 gallons of wine! When the grace of Jesus comes to us there is enough and to spare for all. No need on earth can exhaust the grace of Christ. There is a glorious superabundance in the grace of Christ. He meets our need and fills our emptiness to overflowing.
3. IS THERE ANY EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT SUCH A SIGN? In "Archaeological Diggings" Feb/Mar 1997, edited by Australian David Down, there is an article entitled "Houses Of The Wealthy In Jerusalem." It tells of the discovery in 1970 by Israeli archaeologist Nahman Avigad and his team of the remains of houses destroyed by fire dating from the Revolt of 66-70AD. Seven houses of two and three storeys, bathrooms, baptisteries (mikvas) and large cisterns have been excavated. Pottery, Jewish coins, and an inscription found in situ indicated one was a high priest's house ("Belonging To Bar Kathros") torched by the Romans in 70AD. A coin from 69AD was found inside the house. The Jewish Historian Josephus' wrote: "The Romans surmounted the last wall without bloodshed, and, seeing none to oppose them, were truly perplexed. Pouring into the alleys, sword in hand, they massacred indiscriminately all whom they met, and burnt the houses with all who had taken refuge within." (War 6.403)
In "The Burnt House" a skeleton of a woman was in the kitchen. A seven branched menorah or candlestick, the earliest such depiction known, was painted on the wall. In the kitchen were several large, lathe-turned stone vessels. Avigad states, "we were astonished by the rich and attractive variety of the stone vessels" (p176). Why would Jews need such expensive stone wares each capable of holding twenty to thirty gallons? The answer is in the Jewish laws of ritual purity: stone vessels "afford protection from" impurity. These stone vessels reflect the "six stone jars" prepared "for the Jewish rites of Purification" (John 2:6) found at the wedding of Cana in Galilee. (Charlesworth p106-8) Here are authentic vessels from the time of Jesus.
4. PEOPLE TESTIFY THAT CHRIST FILLS OUR EMPTINESS. There are experiences of people today who testify to how Jesus fills their inner emptiness. Dr G Scott Sparrow is a well known psychotherapist who has published a collection of modern day encounters with Jesus. In his book "I Am With You Always: True Stories of Encounters with Jesus" he provides a rare mix of academic inquiry and first-hand knowledge. Dr Sparrow analyses each encounter methodically as you would expect from a psychologist, looking at the life-changing nature of such experiences. People tell their experience and he seeks to answer the hard questions: how valid is the vision; why so many Christians have such visions only occasionally; and why many Christians never have a vision of Christ. Many testify that in a miraculous way, Jesus Christ has filled their inner emptiness today.
So many Christians live satisfied and fulfilled lives that non-Christians must be living miserable, purposeless lives, hence our low satisfaction scores. You must learn how to be alive all your life!
At my graduation from Melbourne University, one of Australia's great explorers and Antarctic Scientists, Dr. Philip Law, spoke of his own adventurous life in the frozen wastelands. He urged us: "Seek adventurous living. There is very little connection between materialistic possessions and true happiness. Do not attempt to find satisfaction in a job simply for the material benefit it may bring. Seek for life, real life!" And I felt like calling out: "Yes I agree with you. Seek for life, real life - but ultimately you can only find it in Jesus Christ!" Jesus Christ can fill your inner emptiness. Have you made the faith commitment to Him that fills inner emptiness?
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
THE FIVE GOSPELS R W Funk, Macmillan 1993
THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS P Barnett Aquilla 1994
JESUS UNDER FIRE M J Wilkins Zondervan 1995
NEW INTERNATIONAL COMMENTARY:JOHN L.Morris Eerdmans 1971
JESUS WITHIN JUDAISM J H Charlesworth SPCK 1988
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