April 28, 2013
A little girl from a poor section of a large city became ill on Christmas Day and was taken to the hospital. Lying in her bed, she heard carolers singing and listened while someone told how Christ had come to redeem a lost world. With childlike faith, she received the gift of salvation by trusting Jesus. Later she said to a nurse, “I’m having a good time here. I know I’ll have to go home as soon as I’m well, but I’ll take Jesus with me. Isn’t it wonderful why He was born? He came to save us!”
“Yes,” the nurse said wearily, “that’s an old story.”
“Oh,” said the girl, “do you know about Him too? You didn’t look like you did.”
“Why, how did I look?” she asked.
“Oh, like a lot of folks—sort of glum,” replied the girl. “I thought if you really understood that He came to bring us to heaven, you would be glad!” (“Our Daily Bread,” Dec., 1985)
I wonder how many of us by our demeanor communicate to others that we know the Savior in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forever (Ps. 16:11)? How many of us experience the fact that Jesus came so that we would have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10)? He wants His joy to be in us and our joy to be made full (John 15:11).
If we’re lacking in the “fullness of joy department,” we might benefit by meditating on the story of Jesus’ first miracle, when He turned about 150 gallons of water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. He didn’t say, “They’ve had enough fun. Let them drink water.” No, He made wine, and lots of it! While there is much more to this story, one obvious lesson is that Jesus was not a killjoy! He wanted this young couple and their guests to enjoy the wedding festivities. He wants us to enjoy the blessings of salvation.
It’s an interesting story in that there is no mention of who the groom or bride or their families were. There is no mention of how the wedding party or the guests responded to the miracle, if they even knew about it. John doesn’t even tell us how the miracle was done. It was very low key. Jesus didn’t call all the guests around and like a magician have someone confirm that it was only water in the pots. Then, “Abracadabra,” He had them taste it again. Everyone marveled, “Wow! How’d He do that?” In fact, so far as John reports, Jesus didn’t even touch the waterpots or pray. The focus in the account is not on the spectacular part of the miracle, but on Christ and His glory. Those who had eyes to see knew what He did and believed in Him.
John calls this miracle a “sign” (2:11): it pointed to something beyond itself, namely, to Jesus and what He came to do. It was an actual historical event—if you had been there you could have tasted the new wine after the miracle. But the miracle is like a parable, in that you have to think about the meaning behind it. With some of the other miracles that John reports, the significance is more obvious. In chapter 6, Jesus feeds the 5,000 and then proclaims (6:35), “I am the bread of life.” In 8:12 He claims, “I am the light of the world,” and then in chapter 9 He opens the eyes of a man born blind. In 11:25, He asserts, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and then He raises Lazarus from the dead.
But here there is no explanation to tell us the significance or deeper meaning of the miracle. Some well-meaning commentators read all sorts of fanciful meanings into the text. To determine the intended meaning, we need to consider the context as well as some clues in the account itself. In John 1:16-17, we read, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” The contrast with Moses and the Law puts the focus on the new covenant blessings that Jesus provides. “Fullness” emphasizes the abundant blessings that Jesus bestows. Here He gives an abundance of wine, a symbol of the Messianic kingdom.
In the context following this miracle, we read of Jesus cleansing the Jewish temple and proclaiming His risen body as the new temple (2:13-22). In chapter 3, we see Jesus teaching a leader of the Jews about the new birth that He came to bring. Nicodemus had the rituals and the commandments down pat. What he lacked was new life. In chapter 4, instead of the water of Jacob’s well, Jesus offers a sinful woman living water that will quench her thirst forever. Instead of the worship at Gerazim or Jerusalem, Jesus talks about worship in spirit and in truth (see D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 166). And here, in the story itself, we see the empty waterpots that were used for the Jewish custom of purification filled with the new wine that Jesus gives. And, we have John’s statement (2:11) that this sign manifested Jesus’ glory with the result that His disciples believed in Him.
Also, to interpret the miracle properly, we need to understand that in their culture, the Jews viewed wine and weddings as times of joy and celebration, and even as symbolic of the future Messianic kingdom. The rabbis could say, “There is no rejoicing save with wine” (cited by Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 179, note 15). Morris adds that this does not indicate drunkenness, which was strongly condemned. Also, the wine was usually diluted with one part of wine to three parts of water. It was not as strong as our wine or beer are.
But wine was associated with joy and gladness (Ps. 104:15; Judges 9:13). Isaiah 25:6 promises, “The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine.” Joel 2:19, 24, promises, “The Lord will answer and say to His people, ‘Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied in full with them; and I will never again make you a reproach among the nations.... The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil.’” (See, also, Jer. 31:12; Joel 2:19, 24; Amos 9:13-14.)
So we can sum up the significance of this miracle:
Jesus’ first miraculous sign should cause us to see His glory and the superiority of the joyous salvation that He brings so that we believe in Him.
I’m going to explain the text by looking at the situation (2:1-2); the sign (2:3-10); and the significance (2:11).
“The third day” (2:1) probably refers to the third day after Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael (1:43). Cana was probably about 8-9 miles from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. We don’t know the social connection, but apparently Mary and Jesus knew the family (Joseph may have been dead by this time; but, see 6:42). John never uses Mary’s name, but refers to her as “the mother of Jesus.” The disciples at this point would probably be just the five men mentioned in chapter 1. John doesn’t mention “the twelve” until 6:67; he never tells us how the other seven came to be disciples.
To run out of wine at a wedding was a major social blunder that would have been very embarrassing and even could have led to legal action against the groom’s family, which had failed to provide the proper wedding gift (Morris, p. 179). It may mean that they were poor. But in a shame-based culture, this social mishap would have been hard to live down.
Jewish weddings had three stages. First was betrothal, which took place at least a year before the wedding celebration. This could not be broken except by divorce. When Joseph first learned that Mary was pregnant with Jesus, they were betrothed and so he sought to divorce her for unchastity (Matt. 1:18-19). The second phase was the procession, where the groom and his friends would go to the bride’s house and joyously lead her and her friends back to his house. The third stage, which is described in our text, was the wedding feast, which could last for as long as a week. It was a major social event for the community.
The story proceeds by narrating the counsel of Mary to Jesus, the commands of Jesus to the servants, and the comments of the headwaiter.
Mary may have had something to do with catering the food and drink. Commentators differ over exactly what she was asking Jesus to do. Some argue that since Jesus had not yet performed any miracles, she was merely asking Him to use His resourcefulness to come up with a solution (Carson, pp. 169-170). But the problem with that view is: short of a miracle, what could He do? He didn’t have access to funds to run out and buy more wine. Keep in mind that Mary knew that the angel had spoken to her about Jesus’ birth, announcing that He would be the Son of the Most High and would reign on the throne of David forever (Luke 1:32-33). She knew that she had conceived Him while she was still a virgin. She remembered the prophecies of Simeon and Anna over the baby Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:28-38). She treasured in her heart the incident with Jesus in the temple when he was twelve (Luke 2:41-51). And so it seems likely that here she is suggesting to Jesus that He do something to demonstrate that He was the Messiah (Morris, pp. 179-180, following Godet).
Jesus’ reply strikes us as abrupt and rude (2:4), “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” “Woman” was not rude in that culture. Jesus used the same word to speak tenderly to Mary from the cross (19:26). So it was a term of respect, although it wasn’t a customary way for a son to address his mother.
The next phrase is literally a Hebrew idiom, “what to me and to you” (Judges 11:12; 2 Sam. 16:10). In the gospels, on several occasions the demons address Jesus with these words (Matt. 8:29; Mark 1:24; 5:7; Luke 4:34; 8:28). It serves to put some distance between the two parties. It may be translated (Carson, p. 170), “What do you and I have in common (so far as the matter at hand is concerned)?” It was a rebuke of Mary’s suggestion that He do something to demonstrate that He was the Messiah. Also, Jesus was indicating to Mary that there was now a new relationship between them as He entered His public ministry. He was now out from under her authority and was totally under the authority of His heavenly Father. Thus she must not presume upon Him or dictate to Him how He must act. She must allow Him to minister in His own timing and way. D. A. Carson (p. 171) observes regarding Mary,
She could no longer view him as other mothers viewed their sons; she must no longer be allowed the prerogatives of motherhood. It is a remarkable fact that everywhere Mary appears during the course of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus is at pains to establish distance between them (e.g., Mt. 12:46-50). This is not callousness on Jesus’ part: on the cross he makes provision for her future (19:25-27). But she, like every other person, must come to him as the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus explains His comment by adding, “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus’ “hour” refers to the time for His glorification, especially as culminated in the cross (see 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1). But how was this comment an answer to Mary’s statement about the wine? Jesus means that it is not the time to reveal His identity publicly by performing a miracle that would show Him to be the Messiah. (There is a similar situation in 7:1-10 with Jesus’ brothers.) Here, He denies Mary’s request, but then fulfills it on His own terms, more discreetly and behind the scenes. Mary must have taken some hope from His answer, because she tells the servants (2:5), “Whatever He says to you, do it.” That’s not bad advice for any situation: Whatever Jesus tells you to do in His Word, do it!
The six stone waterpots would have held between 120-180 gallons. The Jewish purification rituals were extensive. The last book of the Mishnah contained 126 chapters with 1,001 separate items of purification. There are two special tractates with instructions about purifying hands and vessels, the latter containing over 30 chapters! Judaism had become a religion that emphasized external cleansing and rituals, but often their hearts were far from God (Mark 7:6-8). John notes that the servants filled the waterpots to the brim, so there would be no room for wine to be added. We’re not told how Jesus did the miracle. He simply told the servants to draw some water out of the pots and take it to the headwaiter. Somewhere in the process, the water had become wine.
Was it real wine? In a word, yes. The word used means wine. Verse 10 implies that it was alcoholic. The headwaiter is not endorsing drunkenness, but is simply stating the common practice. A host would serve the best wine first and hold the cheaper wine for later when the guests’ palates would be deadened and they wouldn’t notice the difference. Also, while the Bible strongly condemns drunkenness (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; Hab. 2:15; Luke 21:34; Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18), it does not command total abstinence. It may be wise to abstain from all alcohol for several reasons. First, it’s easy to get addicted to alcohol, especially if you begin to depend on it to relieve stress or block out your problems. Before you know it, you can’t get along without a daily drink or two. I’ve read that if you have two beers a day, you’re an alcoholic. So, be careful! Second, if a brother who has a problem with alcohol sees you drinking and is led to go back to drinking himself, you have caused him to stumble, which is sin on your part (Rom. 14:21). But at the wedding, since the wine was diluted and since drunkenness was condemned in the Bible, Jesus was not endorsing drunkenness, even though He made alcoholic wine.
The headwaiter didn’t know where this wine had come from and we’re not told whether he (or the bridegroom) ever did know. But he attests to its superb quality. It was better than the good wine that the host had served earlier in the wedding feast. Several commentators note that the world always gives its best things first and saves its worst things for last. Sin draws you in by its instant gratification, but it hides the painful long term consequences until later. Jesus’ servants, on the other hand, may have to suffer hardship and trials in this life, but He saves the best for last. We’re promised eternity with Him, with no sorrow or pain or death (Rev. 21:4).
Remember John’s purpose for writing these “signs” (20:30-31): “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” The result of this miracle is that His disciples (the five men from chapter 1) believed in Him. They had already believed, but for John faith isn’t a “one-time and you’re done” sort of thing. You believe in Christ at the moment of salvation, but you go on believing more and more as you see more of who He is.
I’ve already commented on the main significance of this miracle. Wine is a symbol of joy, especially of joy in the coming Messianic kingdom. The six stone waterpots that were for the Jewish custom of purification point to the old rituals of Judaism that could not completely satisfy. Jesus fulfilled those ceremonial rituals with the abundant joy of salvation and new life in Him. He is the Son of God who brings the transforming joy of salvation to all that believe. Leon Morris states (p. 176): “This particular miracle signifies that there is a transforming power associated with Jesus. He changes the water of Judaism into the wine of Christianity, the water of Christlessness into the wine of the richness and the fullness of eternal life in Christ, the water of the law into the wine of the gospel.”
Also, John says that Jesus manifested His own glory, not God’s glory, showing that He is the Son of God. R. C. Trench (Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord [Baker], p. 73, italics his) observes, “Of none less or lower than the Son could it be affirmed that He manifested forth his glory; every lesser or lower would have manifested forth the glory of God.” After Isaiah wrote (40:3), “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness,’” he adds (40:5), “Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed ….” John the Baptist has already referred to himself as clearing the way for Jesus as the Lord (John 1:23). So here the apostle John is saying, “The glory of Jesus that we saw in this first miracle is none other than the glory of the Lord.” Jesus is God.
This miracle also reveals Jesus as the Creator: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). Just as He transformed the water into wine He also can change sinners into saints. He transforms the deadness of religious ritualism into the new wine of a relationship with Him. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus has the power to change your heart!
This miracle also emphasizes the abundant provision of Christ for our needs. The wine had run out. There was no way to get more to supply the need of the guests and to save the groom from social disaster. But it’s when we come to the end of ourselves that the Lord displays His power. It was when there was no way to feed the hungry multitude that the Lord provided enough bread to satisfy everyone’s need, with 12 baskets full left over. It was in Paul’s weakness that he came to know the sufficiency of the Lord’s power (2 Cor. 12:9). If we think that we’re rich and have need of nothing, we will not experience the Lord’s sufficiency. It’s only when we recognize that we are “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17) that we will hear Jesus knocking, open the door, and enjoy dinner with Him (Rev. 3:20). And He brings all the food!
Some of you may be like these waterpots: empty or only partially full with the water of religion, but you’re lacking the joy of knowing Jesus as your Savior from sin and judgment. The solution is to believe in Him as your Savior and Lord.
Others of us may have believed in Christ as Savior, but we’re not experiencing the abundant joy of the salvation He has given to us. We need to see more of His glory so that we believe in Him again and again.
John Stott (Christianity Today [June 12, 1981], p. 19) told of a Salvation Army drummer in England who was beating his drum so hard that the band leader had to tell him to tone it down and not make so much noise. In his Cockney accent the drummer replied, “God bless you, sir, since oi’ve been converted, oi’m so ’appy, oi could bust the bloomin’ drum!” That’s the kind of joy that Jesus wants us to have. He wants to change the water of dead religion into the joyous, abundant wine of His kingdom rule.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation