"Surrender to Start New"#86-22
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 27, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Surrender to Start New)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 2:1-25
Prior to getting married, I enjoyed skydiving, jumping out of airplanes. I served on a U.S. Air Force parachuting demonstration team, and in May of 2001 I jumped out of an airplane for my 400th time. In July of 2001, I got married, and I haven't jumped since.
I think I might have enjoyed continuing skydiving as a civilian pastime, but for various reasons it didn't quite fit into my married life. It's expensive, it's time-consuming, and it's a bit risky. I willingly gave that up to start a new life with my bride. Likewise, she also gave up parts of her past life to share a new life with me. In that surrender of our old lives, we have seen our present lives not depleted, but enhanced and enriched.
For my part, I have seen my relationship with my parents and my brother enhanced and enriched. If I had not married Amy, I think I would have continued to drift away from my family. But she has not only prevented that, our relationship has become stronger and closer because of Amy. And, bonus, she said she might be interested in skydiving at some point, maybe for our 20th wedding anniversary.
Starting a new life together involves surrender—a break with the past. Through that surrender, we can see the past restored. At the beginning of this new year, what is something that you need to surrender? What is something that you need restored?
The goal for the messages these next few weeks that I'm going to be sharing with you is for us to get to know Jesus of Nazareth better by listening to a biography that was written by one of His closest followers, John, the Gospel of John. We're in John 2 this week, in which Jesus goes to a wedding.
Weddings are a big deal. They were a big deal back then. They're a big deal today. At a wedding, we see two lives joined together. We see a man and a woman become a husband and a wife. The two become one flesh. We have ceremonies to symbolize what God does at a wedding. You have the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom. They each carry a candle down to symbolize the life that they bore into the world. Then, later on in the ceremony, the bride takes up her candle and the groom takes up his, and they together light a single flame, extinguishing their individual ones, symbolizing the new life that they are starting together.
Starting a new life involves two things—a break with the past and, two, the past is creatively brought into the future. Surrendering and restoring. Christians experience something similar when they become a part of the church, a part of the family of believers, which the Scriptures call the bride of Christ.
In Baptism, the Bible says our old lives, our mortal lives, were surrendered into the death and resurrection of Jesus. The new life of Baptism, the life of faith, is learning how to let go of what you've already lost and embrace a new life: a new life with Jesus.
Whether you're baptized or thinking about being baptized, as you listen to John 2, I invite you to ask two questions of yourself: What is something that I might need to surrender to Jesus? What is something that Jesus might be able to restore to me and for me?
Before we get into the text of John 2, I want to give you some background on ancient Jewish weddings. Now, you think we party at wedding ceremonies and wedding receptions today. Nothing. It's nothing in comparison. We might give up an evening to go celebrate with the bride and groom. They would give up days; seven days was the normal wedding celebration. At the wedding celebration, they'd be a great big feast, and the bride's parents and the groom's parents were expected to provide a feast for everybody. To run out of something in the middle, to run out of something critical like wine, would be humiliation, would be shame upon the families, and possibly be seen as a bad omen for the new couple. Keep that cultural background in mind as you listen to John 2, and also those two questions: What is something that I might need to surrender to Jesus, and (what is) something I want Jesus to restore for me?
If you're having trouble thinking of something for yourself, start by asking those questions through the eyes of Mary. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is in this scene. Think about what it would have been like for Mary in this situation. What might she need to surrender and what would she need restored? Listen to John 2.
"On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding. They ran out of wine. Jesus' mother says to Him, 'They have no more wine.' He says to her, 'Woman, My hour has not yet come.' She says to the servants, 'Do whatever He tells you.'
"Now, nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding about 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus says to the servants, 'Fill the jars with water.' So they filled them to the brim. Then He says, 'Now draw some out and bring it to the master of the feast.' And they did so.
"When the master of the feast tasted the water, which had been turned to wine, he did not know where it came from. But the servants, they knew. He, the master of the feast, calls the bridegroom and says to him, 'Everyone serves the best wine first and the cheap wine after the guests have had too much to drink, but you, you saved the best until now.' What Jesus did here at Cana of Galilee was the beginning of His signs, and He revealed His glory, and His disciples trusted in Him."
What did Mary need to surrender? What did she need to be restored? It's not clear what Mary's role in the wedding was. It's possible she was the wedding planner, or she was just trying to be helpful. Whatever it is, she realized the urgency of the situation—that the families would be shamed, and she was trying to restore them to good social graces. And so, she goes to her eldest Son. This is what mothers do. They go to their sons for help. Jesus is a good Son, and good sons help their mothers, but there's something in Jesus' response that indicates there's something about Mary's relationship with Jesus that she's going to have to surrender.
He calls her "woman." He doesn't call her mom or mother. He calls her woman. Now, it's not a rude address, but it does put some distance between the two of them. Jesus has come to restore. He has come to bring full and joyful life with God, but He's not going to do it in Mary's way exactly; He's not going to do it in Mary's time exactly. He's going to do it on God's time and in God's way.
Also, what do you need Jesus to restore for you? Where have you come up short? Where have you run out? Where have you been humiliated or put to shame? Know that Jesus has come to restore you, but not in your way, not in your time, in God's way.
Like weathered, scarred, earthen vessels filled with new wine, the best wine, Jesus takes what is old and makes it new, makes it better than new, but this involves some surrender. Mary eventually had to surrender her mothering of Jesus. She had to surrender her role as His mother to become His disciple, His follower. She says to the servants, "Do whatever He tells you."
What do you need to surrender to Jesus? Think about that question. Ask God to reveal that to you as you listen to the second half of John 2.
"Now the Jewish Passover was drawing near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem and in the temple courts in Jerusalem He saw people selling cattle, and sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So He made a sort of whip out of ropes, and drove all out of the temple, both sheep and cattle, and He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
"To those who were selling doves, He said, 'Get these out of here! Stop making My Father's house into a market!' His disciples remembered that it is written, 'Zeal for Your house will consume Me.'
"The Jews in response said to Him, 'What sign can You give us to show that You have the right to do these things?' Jesus said, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it.' They said to Him, 'It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and You will raise it in three days?' But the temple He spoke of was His body. When He had been raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. They trusted the Scriptures and the Word which Jesus spoke.
"While Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast, many people trusted in His Name because they saw the signs that He was performing. But Jesus for His part did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people. He did not need any testimony about humankind, for He knew what was in each one."
This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, O Christ.
You might have heard of the "South Indian monkey trap." I talked to my friend from South India, and he could neither confirm nor deny that this is really a thing, but it makes as good illustration. Here's how it works: you take a coconut and you hollow it out, and on the one end of the coconut you attach a chain, which is attached to a stake and is then hammered into the ground. On the other end of the coconut, you hollow out another little opening, and you scoop in some delicious rice, and you leave it there.
The monkey comes along, and he smells the rice, and he sees the coconut, and he squeezes his little hand into the coconut and grabs a fistful of rice, but he can't pull his hand back out of the opening unless he lets go of the rice, which he will not do. He's trapped, not by any physical barrier or a cage. He's trapped by his own unwillingness to reevaluate what he has in light of a new situation.
The temple is a gift from God. It was a gift from God to the Jewish people. Over the years though, structures of authority, of human authority and human tradition, had grown around it like a hollowed-out coconut. Jesus the Messiah comes on the scene—God in the flesh, the presence of God in Person, and a new situation has arisen for Israel. He is calling them and will continue to call them to reevaluate what they have in light of the new situation.
In a similar way, Jesus is calling you and me to loosen our grip on the past, on our past life, on mortal life. The Scriptures say in Romans 6 that in Baptism the Christian is surrendered into the death and into the resurrection of Jesus. The old is gone. The new has come. So much of the Christian life consists of simply learning to let go of what we've already lost and embrace the new life in Jesus.
What do you need to loosen your grip on? Jesus knows. Already Jesus knows. He doesn't need to do surveys. He doesn't need to formulate educated guesses and make tentative conclusions. He already knows what's in you; He already knows what's in me—desire to control people, desire to control circumstances, desire to be right, need to be praised, need to be needed, need to be busy.
I don't know what's going on inside of you. I barely know what's going on inside of me, but I can point you to the One who knows and loves us, nonetheless. I can echo the words of one of His first disciples, His mother: "Do whatever He tells you." He's not going to tell you to do something that He hasn't already done. He has already surrendered His life for you and for me.
Think about what that means for a moment. Think about what the Son of God could have done with an average human life—what the all-powerful, all-knowing Son of God could have done with a life like yours or a life like mine. He could have cheated death and tasted the thrill of extreme sports: skydiving. He could have been with all the prettiest girls. He could have trotted the globe and experienced firsthand the spices, and the spectacles, and the sounds of all the best that this mortal life has to offer. He could have developed himself physically and intellectually. He could have been the world's most-renowned athlete, and inventor, and entertainer. He could have gone into business and made billions. Fistfuls of opportunity and pleasures and ambition were at His fingertips, and He surrendered it all for something greater, for a bride, for life with you and me.
What's keeping you from surrendering to Jesus?
There is another significance to the surrender of the Son of God. He became a human being. Think about what that means for a moment. He is God, truly God, with God, with the Father, from all eternity, before creation, above creation, unlimited, unbound, and He chooses to take on a human nature. He doesn't stop being truly God, but He does stop being God only, and He becomes a human being. He takes on a new way of experiencing life, which would expose Him to all kinds of humiliating and shameful things that you might think wouldn't be proper for God. He gets a mother who might push Him in the right direction or try to push Him. He gets exposed to shame and suffering and death, even death on the cross.
Why would the Son of God do this? Because this is the way. This was God's way for Him to share life with us. See, if he would have remained God only, you and I, mere human beings, we would have nothing in common with Him. But He has taken on our nature to start a new life with us.
What's keeping you from surrendering?
Now, I can hear somebody object and say, "Well, Jesus, it's different for Jesus because He really didn't have to surrender anything. He knew that God was going to raise Him from the dead and give it all back at the end." And you're right. You're absolutely right, and the same is true for all you who trust in Him. In the end, Jesus loses nothing and gains everything—everything that's worth gaining. In the end, you will lose nothing and gain everything.
There was a critical point in my walk with Jesus when I was really struggling with surrender. I was in college. I was living large. I was jumping out of airplanes. I was baptized, and so in reality my life had already been surrendered into the death and new life of Jesus, but my experience of that reality was and is still catching up to my Baptism. I'm still learning how to loosen my grip on the old life and embrace the new.
I was reading this book by C.S. Lewis titled Mere Christianity, and I can still remember the last words of that book. They stand out to me as much now as they did 20 years ago when I first read it. In that conclusion, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life, and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will really be yours. Nothing in your that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay, but look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in."
If you're willing, I invite you to pray with me the last two verses of the 139th Psalm. "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me, try me, and know my thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the everlasting way. Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, test me, and know my thoughts. See if there be any unwholesome, any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Through Jesus my Lord, in whom and through whom I surrender. Amen.
Reflections for January 27, 2019
Title: Surrender to Start New
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we just heard a message from our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler. I'm Mark Eischer here in the studio with Dr. Zeigler, and we're always learning new things about you. I learned today that you jumped 400 times out of a perfectly good airplane, as they say.
Mike Zeigler: That's right. It was something I was doing when I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy, and I loved it a lot. Like I mentioned, a lot of my friends who were on that team with me went on to continue to parachute in the civilian world. It's something that I enjoyed for that time, but I don't regret not doing it anymore.
Mark Eischer: I especially enjoyed today's message, being an amateur winemaker, because of it talking about Jesus and the miracle at Cana. Having tried to produce my own wine at home, I know that it's an exercise in patience and it takes a great deal of time, and the idea of being able to do it instantaneously like that points again to Jesus' divine powers.
Mike Zeigler: Right. And there are so many messianic prophecies that John seems to be hinting at. That's another fun thing about going through the narrative of Scripture is that John very rarely tells us exactly what he's saying. He's making one thing clear: that Jesus is the Son of God, and to trust in Him is to have eternal life. But he's constantly suggesting things. And this is one of the things with the wine and how he references the ceremonial jars that were used for washing.
He's showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament, the purification system, the prophecies about the Messiah and how wine would abound, and new wine, and this miracle that Jesus does is much more than just a party favor, He's showing who He is. That's the point of all the signs in John is that, as it says, that the disciples would put their faith in Him, trust in Him.
Mark Eischer: And beyond just the time that it takes for quality wine to be produced. This is taking place back in the days before people knew what yeast was, before Louis Pasteur, and before they understood really what fermentation was, and it was just assumed that only the gods could make wine.
Mike Zeigler: Really? I did not know that. That's a great connection, and that's exactly what Jesus is showing here. He is the Creator, the One who has spoken it all into existence, and this is, as John says, He just is beginning to reveal His glory with this.
Mark Eischer: You talked a lot about surrendering. Is this pointing (to) maybe that it's depending on something that we have to do first—we have to do something first, and then God will step in. What do you think?
Mike Zeigler: People who have been raised with a heavy emphasis on what we do, that word resonates. So, yeah, I need to surrender. There's that song, "I surrender all, all to You, my precious Savior, I surrender all." But others who have been raised in a tradition that focuses more on God's grace might get their antenna up a little bit and say. "This doesn't sound right."
The problem is that the Bible speaks in both ways—of God's completely in control and does all the converting and raises us from the dead, like Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead; this is what our conversion to faith is like. He creates life out of death. And at the same time, the Bible calls us to respond to God's call and respond to God's grace, to come alive.
An image that I think is helpful is the idea of a of a pivot foot. My coach, when I was playing basketball in junior high, he'd say, "You leave this foot planted and then you can have a lot of movement with the other foot." The Scriptures point to Baptism as the "pivot foot" for the Christian life: Romans 6. In Baptism, Paul says we were surrendered, passively, we died, and it was something that God did to us. It's not something that we do. But then from that pivot point, we have a new life and now we can begin to act in accordance with that Baptism and to live it out, to live properly.
I think we need to talk in terms of our response, our surrender, but always doing it with that pivot foot of Baptism so that when I have those "dark nights of the soul" that we talked about last week and wonder where I stand with God, I have that pivot point of my Baptism: what God did for me through Christ, without any of my own contribution.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Christ, Our True and Only Light" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)