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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Miracles Happen Suddenly, and They Take a Long Time

In the famous miracle story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding, it is easy to miss the details about where the water came from before Jesus transformed it:
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washing, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, "Fill the water jars with water." So they filled them to the very top [John 2:6-7].
Six jars at twenty to thirty gallons apiece is 120 to 180 gallons total capacity. Do not overlook that they were unfilled and may have been completely empty, and the servants filled them to the brim.

To fill the water jars, the servants needed to draw water—a lot of it—from a well. Let's say they used a three-gallon bucket or two. If so, they may have lowered, drawn, and poured as many as sixty times to fulfill Jesus' request.

That did not happen all at once. There was a fairly lengthy amount of standing around and ongoing embarrassment for the groom and the headwaiter who did not know that Jesus and the servants were doing anything about it. Jesus changed the water to wine in an instant, but significant preparation was required before that happened.

This makes sense. This was the first miraculous sign Jesus performed, and he did it at about the age of thirty. To get to that point he needed to survive the diseases that probably claimed the lives of about 40% of the people born in Palestine the year he was born before they reached that age. (Of course, God would make sure that Jesus would survive that long, but the people around him did not know that.)

Jesus' conception itself was miraculous, of course, but centuries of prophecy passed before it came about. "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son" (Gal. 4:4 NASB).

This pattern happens aplenty in the Bible. The water jars remind me of Elijah's confrontation of the prophets of Baal. Elijah waited for most of the day while Baal's prophets failed to get their god to strike their sacrifice with lightning ("fire from heaven"). Then Elijah had to build a big altar out of found stone, then dig a ditch around it, then get firewood to put on top of it, then kill a bull and heave it on top of it. Then he had people fill four water jars—and since they were in the middle of a roughly two-year drought, they may have had to walk down seven hundred feet to the Mediterranean Sea to get that much water and then up again to bring it back—and pour the water on top of the altar. Then he made them do it two more times. Then he prayed. Then God incinerated the whole thing.

After this, Elijah prayed for the drought to end—seven times. (Unless you have prayed for the same thing in front of someone else seven times in a row, you do not know how uncomfortable this is.) Then a tiny cloud appeared on the horizon, and then a bit after that the downpour fell.

Miracles happen suddenly, but miracles take a long time.

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