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It wasn’t until after I had selected the title for this month’s Kernels of Truth, that I realized there are numerous songs by that same title. Probably the most well-known is by a lady named Rebecca Peck. The chorus to her song reminds us:

Beyond the manger stood the cross, awaiting Him the awful cost, born to die and save the lost. Beyond the manger stood the cross.

Those who listen to me very much have heard me say we need to be careful that we don’t leave Jesus in the manger, where He is more comfortable and less dangerous to us. The manger is vitally important to the gospel message and without it there would be no good news. This is why we spend a month or month and a half each year presenting advent messages, Christmas plays and cantatas, and we ramp up many of our activities during this time. The King has come and He has come in the likeness of mankind, as a baby born in a stable in Bethlehem. Never let us lose sight of the importance of the manger.

Nevertheless, now that we have turned the page on the calendar and are looking forward to the blessings, challenges, and adventures of the coming year, it is incumbent upon us that we move beyond the manger. That baby in the manger grew up to be a man, with a particular mission Himself, having been commissioned by His Father to accomplish. We know pretty well how to respond to a baby in a manger, with all the warm feelings it generates. The question we must ask therefore is what do we do with and how do we respond to a grown-up Jesus? As followers of Jesus Christ, we probably know the answer to that question. Maybe we need a reminder of what is our proper response to this baby having grown up into a full-grown man.

We can look no further than the mother of our Lord, Mary, to point us in the right direction (in case we have lost it). The occasion is what we have come to know as the first miracle performed by Jesus while residing on the earth. Of course, I am referencing the wedding at Cana, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 2.

Studying extra-biblical sources, some believe that Mary was likely related to either the bride or groom. There are other ideas out there (including some interesting suggestions in the Coptic gospels), but suffice it to say that Mary wasn’t just interfering in the proceedings, but must have been in charge of the arrangements. If she was indeed a family member, this would have made all the sense in the world.

Many Bible scholars believe that at this point, only Andrew, Peter, Nathaniel, Philip, and an unnamed disciple (most likely the author of the gospel, John) were counted as His disciples. So, Jesus and His 5 disciples were invited to this wedding. Further supporting the idea that Mary was in charge of the arrangements, John writes that “the mother of Jesus was (already?) there.”

At some point, the supply of wine had expired and this would have been a grand embarrassment to the groom. It is highly likely he was poor and could not just send out for some more wineskins. Mary inserts herself at this point when she approaches her Son and simply makes the statement, “They have no wine.” Now whether you are a redneck from the panhandle of Florida, or the Son of God (I dare not insinuate ANY similarity), when your mother looks at you at a wedding feast and says, “they have no wine/punch/Dr. Pepper,” you know exactly what is happening. And of course, so did Jesus. Remember, He had lived with this lady for over 30 years.

His response has often caused people to scratch their head, as He says to her, “Woman…what does that have to do with Me?” It seems He is short with her. In our modern- day culture, to address a lady with the moniker “woman” would be a little disrespectful (maybe a lot.) It is obvious this was not the intention of Jesus, because when He was concerned most humanly and tenderly with her great grief and desolation while He was hanging on the cross, He addressed her in the same manner and with the same word (John 19:26). His message was simply it is not yet time…My time has not yet come.

I love her response to Him, when she turns to leave and says to the servants standing by, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” In other words, do whatever He tells you to do. Well, we know the rest of the story, they filled up the wine vats with water and what was produced was the finest wine anyone could imagine. There is much more to this story (maybe a personal study would be apropos). But watching Mary respond to her Son, who was also her Lord, is fertile ground for how can respond to the King of our lives.

Mary knew where to turn, even though she had no clue what He would do or how He would do it. If our Lord is not relegated to a manger, then we can turn to Him when faced with a situation for which there seems no solution. Where do we usually turn in a challenging or difficult situation? Do we lay our focus on the thing in front of us that is stressing us out, or do we turn our eyes “to the hills,” where God our Help dwells? Mary didn’t have to look far for her Lord…and she turned to Him without hesitation. May we emulate her simple faith in Him.

Another thing about her response to Him was that she didn’t really understand Him or exactly what He was doing, and yet she still believed in Him. Even in the moment when it seemed He would refuse her request, she just told them to do what He says. Somehow, Mary had a faith in her Lord to trust Him, even when she could not see the outcome.

In 2nd Kings chapter 5, there is the story of Naaman, the commander of the army for the King of Syria. Having developed leprosy, he sought the prophet, Elisha. Now, Elisha had not watched the “commander of armies” awards shows and either did not know who Naaman was, or was simply not impressed. Either way, he didn’t even come out to meet him, and that royally offended Commander Naaman. The prophet simply sent word for him to go dip 7 times in the Jordan River, the dirtiest, nastiest of all the waters around. While stomping his feet returning home, his servants said a very simple thing to him.

“My father, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he told you only to ‘Wash and be clean’?”

Surprisingly, Naaman heeded the advice of his servants (indicating there are more ways to serve than carrying a cup), and went and dipped in the waters as instructed. He was completely healed of his leprosy. He learned that day that obedience to God’s word, even when we don’t totally understand all the facts, is still fruitful.

Doing what He tells us will provide the new wine of the Spirit in our life. New wine is fresh, viable, pure, and sustaining. We can know all the Scripture (and I certainly encourage that), but without the new wine of the Holy Spirit, it will benefit us little. Never separate the Scripture from the author.

Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus,
“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” New Living Translation

Seeking sustenance from an artificial source will only leave us unsatisfied, incapable, and lacking the wherewithal to accomplish our mission. Do you sometimes feel like you have run out of “wine?” When you are in this place or one like it, you find yourself just going through the motions. Now, sometimes, just going through the motions is better than taking our motions somewhere unproductive. But, ultimately, we need to be filled with the enabling and empowering power that only comes from God’s Spirit. I must say that sometimes we have run out of new wine because we have not followed the way of Jesus in the world. Sharing, forgiving, and serving will go a long way towards putting us in a position to be born along by the Spirit of God.

Something else Mary learned during this lesson is that God’s provisions are more than enough. The 180 gallons of water that Jesus turned into the finest wine far exceeded that which was needed. Especially near the end of the feast, Jesus provided much more than expected or even needed. But not only did He provide beyond the need, He produced a wine that was far better than would have been expected near the end of the wedding feast. The headwaiter at the wedding told Jesus,
“Everyone brings out the good wine first, and whenever they are drunk, then the worse. But you’ve reserved the good wine until now!”

When God provides, there is always more than enough. And regardless of your circumstances, Jesus still turns your water into wine. We need just to commit to do whatever it is that He tells us to do. Remember Jesus said that if we truly love Him, we will keep His commandments – do whatever He says.

How about that for an exercise of going beyond the manger and finding the Lord of all mankind? The one who Peter said is the only one who has the words of life. Let’s make a fresh commitment to study the Scriptures, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of them to us, and give us the grace to respond appropriately. This is light years beyond the manger. Just what exactly can you do with a grown-up Jesus? I will answer that question with two (actually 2 1⁄2) parting verses.

John 14:23 – 24a “All who love Me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and We will come and make Our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love Me will not obey Me.”

1 John 5:3 “Loving God means keeping His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome.”

Here is the rest of that song:
Beyond The Manger
Words and Music by Rebecca J. Peck © Copyright Thomas Peck Music (BMI)

Verse 1
Sweet little child in Mary’s arms, the precious babe of Bethlehem, sent to reveal the Father’s heart, a love that we can’t comprehend. So bittersweet, those first few hours, to see His tiny hands and feet, for they would feel sin’s dreadful pow’r upon a hill called Calvary.

Beyond the manger stood the cross, awaiting Him the awful cost, born to die and save the lost. Beyond the manger stood the cross.

Verse 2
The angels sang; the earth rejoiced. The shepherds knelt to see His face, but while they praised this baby boy, a shadow fell across the hay. Those rugged timbers brought Him down from Heaven’s royal throne above to wear a lowly sinner’s crown,
to bear our shame, to shed His blood.

How beautiful the moment when our Savior arrived, but so much greater is the wonder that He laid down His life.