Liz Curtis Higgs: So I’d encourage you to ask the Lord today, how can you honor your earthly mother? Whether she’s alive or not, you can honor her today.
John Fuller: Well, as we head into Mother’s Day weekend, we have a thoughtful message for you from Liz Curtis Higgs. Thanks for joining us today. This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: That’s right, John. Liz is going to give us a unique perspective on Mother’s Day by sharing some fascinating details of a story many of us know quite well, the first miracle of Jesus.
Jim: The turning of water into wine. I think you’ll be intrigued by the role Mary, the mother of Jesus, played in that situation. Liz Curtis Higgs is an award-winning author and speaker, and is perhaps best known for her book series called The Bad Girls of the Bible. Uh, Liz serves as the Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ Church United Methodist in Louisville, Kentucky.
John: And, uh, this message was recorded there, at the church, just last year for Mother’s Day. Hear now Liz Curtis Higgs on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
Liz: So blessed, so blessed. Interesting though, this weekend, to have Derby Day and Mother’s Day right next to each other. I’m sure it must happen. I just can’t remember the last time it did. Uh, and it just has really struck me how some things they have in common, other things not at all. But, but we do, in both cases, we love roses. Either Saturday or Sunday, roses work. Uh, Mother’s Day or Derby Day, great excuse to wear a hat. Um, I’m wondering, I see at least one hat in the crowd today. I almost wore my hat. Um, then I thought it would be distracting, and that’s the last thing I wanna do. However, we do want to point to Jesus up here and, and wow, did this hat point to Jesus. It had a feather (laughs) that went straight up. But I was afraid you wouldn’t pick up on that.
Liz: Um, the other, the other thing about Derby Day and Mother’s Day, in both cases, the emotions run really high, at a fever pitch, really. Yesterday, you had great joy if you put money on Rich Strike. What a (laughs) well named horse. Um, but you had sorrow if you bet on Summer Is Tomorrow. And we should’ve known better because summer is June 21st, it’s not tomorrow. So we should’ve known.
The Kentucky Derby, however, is nothing compared to the rollercoaster ride wrapped around the word, mother. Mother. It’s a very complicated relationship. This woman who risked her life to give birth to you. Do you ever think about that? She risked her life. She did, and willingly, and joyfully. And that wasn’t the end of it. All through your life, she made one sacrifice after another to raise you.
My mother’s been gone 44 years. Um, wow. I can’t even believe that. And the memories I have are so vivid and unusual. It’s the small things I remember. What you need to know about my mom is she was also an Elizabeth, like me, but everybody called her Betty. So it was appropriate, every Friday, she got her hair done at Betty’s Beauty Parlor. And, uh, in our little town, that was the beauty parlor. Every woman went there. They had a special appointed time once a week, you got your hair done. They sprayed it within an inch of its life.
Liz: And it had to look good all week. So Friday afternoon, she was a million dollars. Sunday, it was still hanging in there for church. Starting to look a little frumpy by Tuesday, but she would make it to the next Friday. Well, we had a mother-daughter pool party one May day, and we all got together. The moms went in the pool and they played a game where they threw quarters in the water and encouraged the mothers, “Now, reach down and get all the quarters. For every one you get, we’ll have a little prize for your daughter.” Oh, dear.
Liz: There was Mom with her Betty’s Beauty Parlor bouffant.
Liz: And I could see her face. She’s looking at those quarters. A big sigh came out. I could even hear it from a distance… And down in the water she went.
Liz: And I don’t remember if she came up with any coins. (laughs) I only remember being aware of how much she loved me. Well, having a mother is one thing. We’re all pretty much in that boat. Being a mother is something else entirely. For every woman here, every woman here, the word mother has its own joys and its own sorrows. Um, we’re just all so aware of it, my sisters.
That if you have never married and you’ve now come of an age where it is unlikely you will ever have children, that weighs on your heart on Mother’s Day. Or you may not be a mother ’cause you’re struggling with infertility, or you may have children, but you don’t have custody of them. Or you may have a child who is waiting for you in heaven. Or, you may have young children, as I see this little one running around in the back. (laughs) So fun. And your sanity is hanging on by a thread.
Liz: We always think we’re gonna remember, when we’re mothers of littles, what it’s like. But then we get older and we forget, and we say foolish things like, “Aww, enjoy this time.” (laughs)
Liz: Why do they always look like they wanna hit us for that? Swat.
Liz: And you may have grown children, as I certainly do. Uh, but perhaps they’re not in church today. Perhaps their lives have taken them to a far country. Just a quick word of encouragement. That would’ve been me. As far as my mother was concerned, I was a prodigal daughter. But I came back, Mom. She didn’t live to see it, but God knew it was coming.
Well, for all those reasons and more, Mother’s Day is a, a loaded term. And so we’re gonna dive in. We’re gonna talk about a woman in the Bible and her wonderful son, Jesus and his mother, when we’re not gonna celebrate a horse race or Mother’s Day, actually. It’s a different kind of celebration.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God and in the face of this company of witnesses to behold a wedding. Now, not to worry if you paid no attention to whether you were sitting on the bride’s side or the groom’s side. They play no part, honestly, in this story. They’re not even mentioned by name, but our hero is.
And so our story begins on the third day. What a fabulous start. Such an auspicious beginning to this story, ’cause it hints at a miracle in the making. It points to a resurrection on the horizon. There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Oh, nice town, Cana. A village, actually, about half a day’s walk from Nazareth, Mary and Jesus had lived there, and the mother of Jesus was there. This is interesting to me. She’s called the mother of Jesus here, and I thought, “Well, surely John knew her name.” Couldn’t he have said Mary, the mother of j- But he doesn’t.
Oh, not just here, anywhere in his gospel, he never names the mother of Jesus as Mary. And that’s odd to me because he names Mary of Bethany several times, Mary Magdalene several, several times, but not, not Mary. Maybe because the Gospel of John came along later than the others, and by that point, Mary’s star had faded and her son’s star had ascended. And so, she’s just the mother of Jesus, though she is mentioned first in this story. I like that.
The mother of Jesus was invited. Jesus’ mother was a guest, an invited guest, to this wedding. Maybe these were some friends and relatives of her. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. They were also asked to come to the festivities, the wedding celebration. Well, that’s not really a surprise, honestly, because weddings were the biggest feast anybody ever had in their town, and in their own family’s lifetime. The wedding feast was it.
You saved up for years and prayed you only had one daughter. (laughs) Just kidding. But you, you know, you really, you, oh, this was gonna be expensive, for sure. Very expensive. Because not only was, like, everybody in town invited, but the wedding feast lasted a week. A week. Seven days. People would go to work in the morning and then come rolling back into the party about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon and party all night, get up, work the next day, come back. That’s how it worked. They partied, and partied, and partied, and oh my goodness, people married as we do here. Uh, late spring, early summer, so that it could be outdoors in pleasant weather.
And the most important thing they served at this wedding was not the wedding cake, it was the wine. These people loved their wine. The psalm was wrote about wine to gladden the human heart. And even the poor of the neighborhood, who very seldom got to drink wine, they might stomp the grapes, but they didn’t get to drink the wine. But when there was a wedding feast, they could have wine with everybody else.
So imagine the drama that we come to in verse three, when the wine w- gave out. All the wine was gone. Other translations say the wine failed, the wine was exhausted. Well, of course it was. Seven days? You’d be exhausted too. And the problem was, running out of wine was a major social disaster. It would never be forgiven by the town if this family ran out of wine at the wedding. Literally, the whole party would’ve come to a stop. Everybody woulda had their empty glasses going, “More? More?”
What are you gonna do? Well, as the host stands in the brink of embarrassment, Mary decided to do something. Of course she did. The mother of Jesus said to him, (laughs) “They have no wine.” I love this. It’s just a statement, but we all get what a typical mom move this really is. Mothers point out something that needs fixing and hope one of their adult children gets the hint and fixes it. That’s what she’s hoping will happen here.
I mean d- He’s the savior. She’s not gonna tell him what to do. But she’s going to make this beautiful suggestion. “Wine, they have not,” is the literal translation. A reminder that, at this point, Mary is no longer the young virgin meek and mild. Okay? She is now mature and self-assured. She is in her mirth- mid 40s, at least, with a son who’s about 30. She’s been with this young man a long time, and her faith has been honed by experience and by expectation. Absolutely nobody on the planet was more in anticipation of Jesus busting out and being Jesus.
She is so ready because she was there. She was there when Gabriel came to her, before she’d even conceived and said, “Your son will be great and’ll be called the son of the most high. And of his kingdom, there will be no end.” So she has always known her son was gonna be special. Of course, every mother thinks her son is special. (laughs) But Mary had a real reason to, with that kind of proclamation. Just imagine how much she longed for everyone else to see what an amazing boy she had given birth to. So here’s her chance to help him shine, just a little nudge, “They have no wine.”
Liz: And Jesus said to her- So he did hear her. Oh, he picked right up on it. But he said, “Woman,” which sounds a little sharp, unless you understand, the word woman was a respectful form of address back then.
John: Well, this is Focus on the Family, and today we’re featuring Liz Curtis Higgs. And let me mention that she has a related book that offers some really fascinating profiles of three women who had a close relationship with Jesus, including his mother, Mary. It’s called The Women of Easter. And we’ll be happy to send that to you for a donation of any amount to the ministry today. Uh, this reminder, when you get the book from us at Focus on the Family, we’ll include a free audio download of this entire presentation. So donate today and request those resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call for details. 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Let’s return now to Liz Curtis Higgs.
Liz: Now, what comes next though might be hard to hear, “What concern is that to you and to me?” Why did you involve me? “Is that any business of yours or of mine,” translations say. So here’s where we need the audio Bible narrated by God, so we’re sure it’s right. Because how did Jesus say these words? We don’t know how he said them. His tone, his attitude, his mood. Was he frustrated with her, or was he scolding her, or was he speaking gently to her? I don’t know. I don’t know.
Just note this. Mary had not actually asked him to do anything about the wine, right? She didn’t ask him to do anything, but Jesus knew her heart. He knew her thoughts. He knew her intentions. He knew (laughs) she was coaxing him to perform. Any mothers here get that?
Liz: Yeah, been there, done that. Don’t look at me, Matt. I’m not looking.
Liz: But I know I’ve done that to you. I know I have. He says to her, “My hour has not yet come. The time for me to show who I really am isn’t here yet. My time to act and to be revealed has not yet come.” Literally, in the Greek, it means, “The hour of me is not here.” Now, that might’ve been the end of it, except Mary is, above all, a mother. And so she’s gonna play the mother card ’cause she’s thinking to herself, “He didn’t say no.”
Liz: ‘Cause he didn’t, right? He didn’t actually say no. (laughs) So she does a little end run and his mother said to the servants- She went ahead anyway and said, “Do whatever he tells you. Whatever he may say to you, do.” It’s actually great advice for all of us. Whatever God says to you, do. Whatever he says, whatever he tells you, do. Now, if this were a TV show, there’d be a commercial break right here. You’d be left hanging. What happens next? But this is live. (laughs) So we can go right on and find out what happens.
The next word is now, and that always means there’s a turn in the story. Standing there were six stone water jars. Not seven jars, the Biblical number of perfection or completion. Six imperfect, incomplete. There are no coincidences in the Bible. There’s no, “Oh, isn’t that interesting?” Oh, it’s interesting all right, and it’s very intentional. This isn’t gonna be finished until Jesus does something to those jars.
And they’re stone instead of baked clay. Baked clay would’ve absorbed things from the water, including impurities. The stone jars were better for what they needed these- And, by the way, they’re big. Oh, (laughs) they’re big. They stood on the floor. A standing jar? Right off the bat, it’s telling you this thing is pretty tall. Six very large water pots for the Jewish rites of purification.
So they weren’t designed to hold wine, just water. Water used to purify for Jewish ceremonial washings. They did that before meals, before they went into the temple. Several times, that ritual was performed. So they kept these jars handy. Each holding 20 or 30 gallons. Big jars. Just to help you get a number around this, if there’s 30 gallons in a jar and there are six jars, (laughs) that’s 900 bottles of wine. It’s so much wine. I don’t care what Derby party you went to yesterday. They did not have 900 bottles of wine.
Liz: They just didn’t. They sure didn’t. It’s a lot of wine, even for a big (laughs) party like this. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” Aww. So he’s honoring his mother after all. Oh, I like that. Of course, it was one of his own (laughs) commandments, right? Honor thy mother, so, you know, let’s see it, buddy. Live it out. And he did.
Liz: Fill the jars with water. Now, this woulda taken a minute because these are big jars, a lotta water, and there’s no tap in the house. They’ve gotta go out to the well, and bring the water back, and go out to the well, and bring the- Even with a lot of servants, there was a certain amount of time involved here. I would love to know what the convo was among Jesus, and his mother, and the disciples while that was happening.
What’s interesting to me is the servants ask no questions. They did exactly that. And they filled it up to the brim, to the very top, the highest part, ready to spill over right there, hanging on. Now, I don’t know why they got that enthusiastic, but I have a theory. Because then, if indeed this water was gonna turn into wine, they could see it. They could watch it happen.
He said to them, “Now, draw some out and take it to the chief steward. Dip that wine goblet in there and take it over to the chief steward.” So they, they took it. They carried it. And when the steward tasted the water that had become wine… Just like that! Wait a minute. Did you hear, like, an abracadabra or any kind of calling down, or- No. It just happened. When? And exactly how? (laughs) We, we don’t know. We just know that it happened.
See, that’s the way it is with miracles. Only God really knows, and he asks us to trust him. And that’s hard, ’cause we wanna know, exactly how did that happen? In fact, we spend a lot of energy looking at the miracles of the Bible and trying to make them make sense scientifically, realistically. And they’re miracles, friends. Sometimes, they’re just miraculous.
The steward did not know where it came from. Well, somebody knew ’cause the next part of the verse is either in parentheses or, some of your translations, it’ll have a dash. Though the servants knew who had drawn the water, they knew. It’s just so like Jesus to me that he would make sure the least of these, the servants, would be the ones to see the miracle. The steward didn’t see, the servants saw.
Now, Mary indeed did nudge her son in this direction. But we can be sure of this, Jesus would never have done his mother’s will if it were not also his father’s will. So the steward called the bridegroom, called the bridegroom. You know this Greek word. I know you’re thinking, “It’s all Greek to me.” You know this Greek word. It’s phoneaeo. Phone, right? Like your cellphoneaeo. You know? It’s a, they called. And the steward said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.”
Um, I was hoping it didn’t really mean drunk, that he just meant later, and, no. It actually means inebriated. But, this wine steward is a little concerned. You have kept the good wine until now. Was he elated or exasperated? Again, we need the audio Bible, but you have kept the best to last. The fact is, the chief steward is in the dark. He is clueless how this happened. But Mary knew ’cause she got the ball rolling, and the servants knew ’cause they helped. And the disciples knew because they were witnesses. And now we know that the son of God and the son of Mary has moved into a new realm in his ministry, new wine for new wine skins.
He’s not just a teacher now. He is a miracle worker. So now, our camera pulls back. Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. This was his first miracle, the first of his wonder works. And he revealed his glory, he demonstrated his power. He showed his divine greatness and his disciples believed in him. Now, he just had gathered up the first of his disciples. It was time for them to see what this guy could do so they could put their trust in him, rely on him.
One translation says, “Their faith blossomed.” And this, friends, is the whole point of, of a miracle in the Bible. It’s not so everybody will say, “Yay, Jesus, you’re amazing.” It’s so that people will see who is, believe who he is. Sometimes, it will say, “And they believe in his name.” His name is Jesus. Jehovah is salvation. He’s gonna save his people, and they believe that.
Well, there is nothing more miraculous, I don’t think, than a life transformed. My mother’s death happened when I was 23. As a matter of fact, the last day I saw her alive, four days before she died, was Mother’s Day. So, for at least a decade, Mother’s Day was a very hard day for me. And her death shook me to the core, of course. It would at any age, but especially at 23 ’cause I was in the depths of my bad girl years. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, out in the far country, all the stuff.
And then I lost my mother. And suddenly, I started asking hard questions, big questions. Spiritual formation kind of questions, like, um, “Where is she?” My mother was a woman and faith, and so I was told she would be in heaven, and I was pretty sure I would not be. But God is good and God is faithful. And so, it took four long years, but I finally met the God of my mother. And when the men sang, amazingly, Amazing Grace today, “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
And so I’d encourage you to ask the Lord today, how can you honor your earthly mother? Whether she’s alive or not, you can honor her today. And how can you honor your heavenly father by moving into a deeper relationship with him? Because, friends, that’s why we gather. We don’t gather to hear great music, though it is amazing. We don’t gather to gaze at the stained glass, as beautiful as it is. We gather to worship, and we gather to grow. And so, as I pray, I’m asking God to show you how to make this Mother’s Day also a blessing for your heavenly father, Lord Jesus. Thank you for your Word full of stories about you, who you are and what you do. What you continue to do, because you are the same yesterday, today and forever. You are still about turning water, tasteless water, into delicious wine. Dead water into living water. People who are dead in their sins can come alive in you. Show us how, Lord. Help us be brave and take that step. We pray these things in the name of Jesus. Amen and amen.
John: Mm-hmm. And with that, we’ve come to the end of a very unique presentation from author Liz Curtis Higgs on Focus on the Family, as we head into Mother’s Day this weekend.
Jim: Ah. Wow, John. That was fascinating. And I feel like I witnessed Jesus’ first miracle. And, as Liz said, the purpose of miracles in the New Testament was to allow people to see who Jesus was, and believe in him. And I love the fact that this first miracle of our Lord was at a wedding. Yeah, I’m sure that’s symbolic. And that it was witnessed by just the servants and the disciples. They would’ve had the lowest social status of anyone attending. Isn’t that just like, uh, Jesus to do that? The creator of the universe, who was born in a stable and raised as a carpenter’s son, who, by the way, really loved his mother. What a wonderful perspective as we head into Mother’s Day. And if you enjoy how Liz, uh, brings scripture to life, you can learn more about three women who had life-changing encounters with Jesus in her book called The Women of Easter. In it, Liz profiles three Marys. Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Uh, we can send that out to you for a donation of any amount, as you support the work we do here at Focus on the Family. And when you get the book from us, we’ll include a free audio download of this entire presentation from Liz Curtis Higgs. So get in touch with us today.
John: Our number is 800-A-FAMILY, 800-232-6459. Or you can donate online and request the book, The Women of Easter, and get your free audio download at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Well, have a great weekend and I hope you’ll take the time to honor a mom in your life on Sunday. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening today to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back on Monday as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.