5. The First Sign: Jesus Turns Water Into Wine (John 2:1-11)
My wife and I know what it is like to get married on a limited budget. When we became engaged, Jeannette and I both contributed to the purchase of her engagement ring. When we got married, we had to stop and cash one of the checks given to us as a wedding gift in order to pay for our room that night. The second night of our honeymoon was spent on the living room couch of my former roommate’s parents’ house in Eastern Washington. If you think that’s bad, our third night was spent at a state park. Jeannette slept in one seat of the car, and I slept in the other. The next night was a little better; we stayed with Karl and Martha Lind, our friends in Portland, Oregon.
Some of you may remember the story I have told about staying in their son David’s room, since he had moved away from home. John, the older brother, still lived at home. We were awakened in the morning to the sound of a booming voice over the intercom announcing: “Breakfast will be served in the dining room in ten minutes!” The voice sounded so dignified, so formal, but I knew it was John. Before he could even take his finger off the intercom button, we heard a huge crash and the breaking of glass. It literally sounded as though every dish in the cupboard had fallen and broken on the floor. This thunderous crash was quickly followed by a bellowing voice that I knew was Karl’s: “John!”
Getting married on a limited budget is not easy. It was not easy when Jeannette and I married, and it may not have been easy for some of you. Neither does it seem to have been easy for this unnamed couple whose wedding Jesus, His mother, and His disciples attend in Cana of Galilee. The story of the wedding at Cana of Galilee is found only in John’s Gospel. It is on this occasion that our Lord performs His first demonstration of power. It is no mere miracle; it is a sign, a miracle with a message. Let us listen carefully to the words of this text to learn what the Spirit of God intends to teach us from this wedding miracle.
1 Now on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.89 Jesus’ mother was there,90 2 and both Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine left.” 4 Jesus replied, “Woman, why are you saying this to me? My time has not yet come.” 5 His mother told the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”
In the Old and New Testament worlds, weddings were happy, festive occasions just as they are today. The marriage ceremony was considerably longer, during which time there was feasting and celebration. Two passages in the Bible shed light on what may have taken place at this celebration in this second chapter of John. The first is the marriage of Jacob and Leah in Genesis chapter 29. Actually, Jacob thought he was marrying Rachel, the younger sister for whom he had labored seven years. Laban outdoes Jacob in deceit by switching brides. A lengthy celebration, a good quantity of wine, and a very dark tent seem to explain how Jacob could spend the night consummating his marriage with Leah rather than Rachel.
The second, and most instructive, wedding celebration is that of Samson in Judges 14. The marriage is never actually consummated, and in the end, this Philistine bride is given to Samson’s friend and perhaps even his best man (14:20). Samson finds this woman in Timnah and demands that his parents arrange for the marriage. On his way to the place, Samson is attacked by a young lion, which he tears apart with his bare hands. Samson says nothing of this to his anyone. Later on, when he is on his way to Timnah to be married, he comes across the lion’s carcass, in which a swarm of bees have created a honeycomb. Samson scoops out some honey, which he eats and shares with his parents, without telling them where it came from. During the week-long wedding celebration, Samson propounds a riddle to the Philistine young men who are guests at the feast. He promises to give them 30 linen wraps and 30 changes of clothes if they can solve this riddle within the seven days of the feast. The Philistine men cannot figure out the riddle, so they force Samson’s intended bride to extract the answer from Samson. When the young men solve the riddle and Samson learns how this was accomplished, he goes down to the Philistine city of Ashkelon and kills 30 Philistines, taking their clothing and giving it to the young men of Timnah. As a result of Samson’s revenge, the marriage is never consummated, and the woman is given to another man. This story provides insight for us into what takes place during the week-long wedding ceremony in our text.
Leon Morris supplies us with some additional background from the Jewish writings:
According to the Mishnah the wedding would take place on a Wednesday if the bride was a virgin and on a Thursday if she was a widow (Ket. 1:1). The bridegroom and his friends made their way in procession to the bride’s house. This was often done at night, when there could be a spectacular torchlight procession. There were doubtless speeches and expressions of goodwill before the bride and groom went in procession to the groom’s house, where the wedding banquet was held. It is probable that there was a religious ceremony, but we have no details. The processions and the feast are the principal items of which we have knowledge. The feast was prolonged, and might last as long as a week.91
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is at the wedding, although her role seems to be more than that of a guest. One gets the impression that the couple being married are either friends, or possibly related to Mary, and that she is helping with the arrangements, especially the serving of the food and wine. She seems to be one of the first to know that the wine is running out. She instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and they appear willing to take her instructions.
Jesus and His disciples are also at the wedding as invited guests. There seem to be only five disciples at this point: Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and John (if indeed he is the other disciple of John who follows Jesus). The fact that Mary, Jesus, and His disciples are all invited to this wedding suggests that this wedding is that of someone known to all of them, perhaps a friend or a relative. Well into the festivities, Jesus’ mother becomes aware of a most embarrassing situation—the wine has run out, and there appears to be no solution. Either no more wine is available, or there is no money to buy more wine. The guests seem unaware of what is happening. If something is not done, all will be embarrassed. Some commentators even inform us that litigation was possible in such cases.92 (Can you imagine being sued for not providing enough food and drink at a marriage ceremony?)
Jesus’ mother seems to step in and take charge when she says to Jesus, “They have no wine left.” This is no mere report, as our Lord knows, and as John expects us to understand. Though not all perceive this to be so, I believe Mary informs Jesus with the hope that He might do something about the situation.93 Of all those present, the mother of our Lord knows Jesus best. She knows better than anyone of the miraculous events surrounding His birth. She knows of John the Baptist’s miraculous birth as well, and of his ministry in which he has identified Jesus as the promised Messiah. Apparently Jesus has not yet performed a miracle, and we do not know for certain that she expects one. But from what she does know, it is certainly possible that she expects Jesus to do something out of the ordinary.
Mary may have considered this crisis providential. Perhaps she thinks it is time for Jesus to present Himself to the world as the Messiah.94 John the Baptist has already designated Him as Messiah, and He already has a following of disciples. A well-timed miracle could be the means by which He declares His identity to the nation. At the same time, the newlyweds would greatly appreciate His providing a remedy to their problem! Mary is very careful not to tell Jesus what to do, but it seems clear that she hopes He will do something.
Jesus knows that His mother expects a response of some kind, and He gives her a response, though it is hardly what she expects. Yet, it is not an unkind response—it simply serves to set the record straight by redefining His relationship to Mary, His earthly mother. Jesus does not call her “Mary,” or “mother,” but “woman.” This is the same term Jesus will use when He speaks to her from the cross (John 19:26). Here, at the wedding, Jesus asks Mary the question, “Why are you saying this to Me?”95
Jesus is not employing a new or unique expression when He refers to His mother as “woman.” This expression is found a number of times in the Old Testament (Judges 11:12; 18:24; 2 Samuel 16:10; 19:23; 2 Kings 3:13; 2 Chronicles 35:21) and a few times in the New (see also Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28). The expression has a way of distancing two parties. For example, when the Ammonites come to do battle against Israel, Jephthah is recruited as Israel’s leader. He sends this word to the king of Ammon: “What do you have against me [literally, “What to me and to you …”], that you have come to fight against me in my land?” (Judges 11:12b, NKJV)
Jephthah’s expression, “What to me and to you?” is virtually identical in meaning (in the Hebrew text, and in form and meaning in the Greek translation of this text in the Septuagint) with the phrase employed by our Lord in our text in John. Jephthah asks the king of the Ammonites what the problem is between them. What problem pits you and I against each other? Jephthah is distancing himself from the king of Ammon in any way that will lead to war. He achieves this by pointing out to the king that they do not have enough issues between them to fight about.
In the New Testament Gospel of Mark, the demoniac speaks to Jesus on behalf of the demons possessing him, “What is there between me and you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you will not cause me anguish!” (Mark 5:7). It is the same Greek expression by which the demon tries to distance himself from Jesus. He begs Jesus not to trouble him, not to make his demonic existence more miserable. What differences do they have between them at this moment in time?
Jesus uses this same expression to ask Mary just what has caused her to think the problem she has identified is His problem as well as hers. As His mother, she might think she has some parental authority over Him. As her sovereign God, she has no authority over Him at all! This is what Jesus conveys with these words. It is almost as though Mary has said, “Jesus, they are out of wine. We really need to do something,” to which Jesus responds, “Ma’am, what do you mean ‘we’”?
This response reminds me of the shop-worn joke about the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian companion, Tonto. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are surrounded by a tribe of Indians and greatly outnumbered. Turning to his companion, the Lone Ranger says, “Tonto, I think we’re in trouble.” Tonto looks back at the Lone Ranger and responds, “What do you mean, “we,” White man?”
In his Gospel, Luke makes the point that Jesus lived in submission to His parents as a child (2:51). We do not know at what point in time it happened, but it appears that Joseph died prior to our Lord’s adult years, since he is never mentioned after our Lord’s early years. Jesus honored His mother and lived in submission to her authority, but it is now time for our Lord to indicate to His mother that there will be a change. Not only is He a grown man about to set out on His own, He is the Messiah, who will some day establish His kingdom on the earth. He can no longer relate to Mary as He formerly has. He cannot allow His submission to His Father to be “overruled” by the requests of His earthly mother.
This wedding crisis provides Jesus with the opportunity to set a precedent which clearly indicates to His mother that He will not be instructed or influenced by her—as His mother. A new relationship between Jesus and His mother commences at the wedding in Cana. Catholics and Protestants strongly disagree on this matter. Catholic scholars, consistent with their exaggerated view of Mary’s importance, are convinced that she uses her influence on Jesus to get Him to do what He would not otherwise have done.96 The text seems to tell us just the opposite. Jesus reminds her that she is just a woman, and that He, as God, cannot comply with her wishes if and when they are not in “His time.”
Our Lord neither abruptly nor arbitrarily turns His mother down. He does not say, “No,” and neither does He say, “Yes.” He simply reminds her of the change in their roles and relationships. He is no longer her “little boy,” obliged to do whatever she asks. He is the Messiah, who must obey His true Father. He is thus sensitive to the timing of His “debut.” Jesus informs His mother that it is not yet “His time.”97 He refers here to “His time” as the time of His public debut as the promised Messiah—not His death on the cross of Calvary.98
Duly informed, Mary certainly is not offended, nor is she entirely put off by Jesus’ words. She simply turns to the servants and instructs them, “Whatever He tells you, do it.” She does not argue with Him, for He has made His point. She does not plead with Him. By her words, it seems that she leaves her request in His hands to deal with as He sees fit. He may not tell the servants to do anything. Yet, if He does tell them to do something—anything—they should obey, for then it is His good pleasure and done in His good time.
Water Into Wine
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washing, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the water jars with water.” So they filled them up to the very top. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the head steward,” and they did. 9 When the head steward tasted the water that had been turned to wine, not knowing where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the cheaper wine when the guests have become drunk. You have kept the good wine until now!” 11 Jesus did this as the first of his miraculous signs, in Cana of Galilee. In this way he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.
The Old Testament Law required various washings, but to the Pharisees and some others this was not enough:
1 Now the Pharisees and some of the experts in the law who came from Jerusalem gathered to him. 2 And they saw that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their bread with unclean hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they perform a ritual washing, holding on to the tradition of the elders. 4 And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. They hold on to many other traditions: the washing of cups, pots, kettles and dining couches.) 5 The Pharisees and the experts in the law asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with unwashed hands?” (Mark 7:1-5)
Consequently, a devoutly Jewish wedding ceremony might have required many ceremonial cleansings. To facilitate these washings, a substantial amount of water was kept on hand. Nearby, within sight of our Lord it would seem (but perhaps out of sight of the guests as they ate), are six large stone waterpots. Each pot has a capacity of between 20 and 30 gallons of water, a total of around 150 gallons.
Jesus instructs the servants to fill each of the six waterpots to the brim. We would have to agree that these stone waterpots would be heavy when empty, and even heavier yet when full (the weight of the water alone in a full pot would be about 200 pounds). It does not appear Jesus intended for the servants to carry these pots away, dump them, refill them, and then carry them back. They are far too heavy for this, especially when filled with water. I am inclined to think that at least some of these pots were partially filled at the time—the wine ran out, not the ceremonial cleansing water. The servants must have fetched water in smaller containers, and by this means eventually filled the large stone containers.
Up to this point I doubt that either the servants or Mary, or our Lord’s newly-acquired disciples have a clue as to what Jesus is about to do. When the six stone pots are filled, Jesus instructs the servants to draw out some of the “water” from one of the pots and to serve it to the master of the feast. Here is where Mary’s words to the servants are put to the test.
I am not sure we can understand just how difficult an assignment this was for these servants. It was one thing to fill the stone waterpots, which was probably a part of their responsibilities. But who would ever think of someone drinking this “water”? Imagine working for a caterer who is serving a very large group of people at a banquet. In the kitchen, one of the large “squares” (cooking pots) falls to the floor, and half of the gravy spills out onto the floor. One of the employees manages to scoop up most of the gravy from the floor, which he then pours into the serving pitchers. Would you let a waiter pour it on your potatoes if you knew where that “gravy” had been? I don’t think so.
Those of you who are campers have probably stayed in a remote campsite where the water comes from a well, but is not pure enough to drink. You look for signs there that clearly differentiate “potable” water from that which is not. You would not think of drinking water that is not entirely pure. You may wash your hands with it, but you would certainly not drink it. This ceremonial cleansing “water” may not have been considered suitable for drinking. Wine is to be drunk at such times. I doubt that any devout Jew would have considered drinking water from one of those six stone pots.
With this in mind one can better imagine what it must have been like for the servants when they finished filling the stone waterpots and returned to Jesus for further instructions. Not one of them could have ever imagined what Jesus would say next: “Now draw some out and take it to the head steward.” In absolute unbelief they must have thought, “I know Mary said to do whatever Jesus said, but surely He can’t be serious! We are to serve this “water” to the head steward? When he finds out it is only water, and not wine, he’ll have our jobs. And if he finds out where this water came from, we’re really in big trouble.”
No one could even remotely imagine what was about to happen. Jesus does not wave his arms over the waterpots, commanding the water to become wine. It appears that He never even touched the water or the pots. Jesus does not even tell them that the water has become wine, or that it is about to do so. As far as they know, Jesus is instructing them to serve water, ceremonial cleansing water, to the head steward no less! This is horrifying! To tell them more would have surpassed the limits of what their minds could conceive.
As far as we know, the servants immediately obey our Lord. We read of no hesitation, no words of protest. The servants draw out of the pots and begin to serve the wine, starting with the head steward. I wonder at what point the water turned to wine and changed color. (Or, what if it had been white wine and it did not change color at all? There would be no visual indication that the water had been transformed into wine.) The head steward has no idea where his drink has come from, but the servants know. The suspense of those moments between the time the head steward drinks the wine and the time he responds must have been sheer torture for the servants. The head steward sniffs the cup, and then sips. He then calls for the bridegroom—what is he about to say? The scenarios which played in the heads of the servants would make interesting reading.
With a smile, and perhaps a pat on the bridegroom’s back, the head steward proclaims this wine to be great—the best yet. The timing is a little unorthodox, he tells the bridegroom, but the wine is great. Usually, he notes, the trick is to save the inferior wine until last. When everyone has had their fill of wine, or more (literally “have become drunk”),99 their taste will not be as discerning, and thus the inferior wine may not be detected. But this wine is the best yet! The bridegroom has outdone himself, saving the very best until last. What looks like certain shame has turned to sudden fame for the bridegroom and the head steward.
This miracle at Cana of Galilee has much to teach us today. Allow me to make some observations, and suggest some implications and applications for us today.
First of all, this is the first of our Lord’s miracles. John calls it “the beginning of signs” in verse 11. Liberal scholarship is unwilling to take the words of Scripture at face value. They do not believe this was a miracle at all. They explain the story this way: There was a wedding, and they were running out of wine. Jesus told the servants to serve water when the wine ran out. This was like a child’s make-believe tea party. To try to play down the embarrassing situation, the head steward tastes the water that is served in place of the wine and says (in good humor), “Good wine!” Then, someone else at the celebration catches the spirit of the moment and adds, “Yes, this is the best wine yet!” I prefer to take John’s account literally. This was a miracle. Jesus turned water—ceremonial cleansing water—into the best wine men ever drank.
Second, while this miracle appears to be an exercise of supernatural power that our Lord is reluctant to perform, but which He does because of His mother’s persistence, it is not. I believe it is correct to observe that, in the Gospels, our Lord is often not as eager to perform miracles as others are to have Him do so. He knows the limitation of such displays of power, as we shall see at the end of this chapter. Jesus’ reluctance is not a resistance to helping this couple in need, but a concern that His mother understand that their relationship has changed forever, and that therefore His calling is not to do her bidding, as though she has an inside track with God. He also is concerned that He fulfill His Father’s plan at the divinely appointed time, rather than in His mother’s time-frame. He knows it is not yet time for Him to make a public display of His power, by which He publicly presents Himself as the promised Messiah. Those today who are overly eager to see God perform miracles (some almost insist upon them) should consider this fact carefully. Jesus is not as eager to perform miracles as others are to see Him do so.
Third, this miracle was not a “necessity,” but rather a “luxury.” Stop and consider this fact for a moment. This miracle is not like some of the other miracles Jesus performed, where an individual has suffered for years, or a child’s life hangs in the balance. This is not an emergency situation which demands immediate and dramatic action on our Lord’s part.
Years ago, when our family visited our good friends in Canada, we received a phone call from the U.S. while we were out. We were told the call came from someone with a strong accent. Since there is no way for me to reflect sounds (especially accents) in print, if you can switch your mind to “Swedish mode,” you may be able to “hear” the conversation as I did. When I called our home, where a Swedish couple was staying in our absence, Schel answered. “Bob, we’ve had a tragedy here … Carmen is dead.” Carmen was our little poodle, and we liked her a lot. She had gotten outside and was run over by a passing car. We were sad, but this was not a tragedy. We did not feel obligated to cut our trip short and rush home for the “funeral.” Similarly, running out of wine was a problem, but it was not a tragedy. Jesus’ first miracle was the solution to a non-critical problem, though I am sure that in the newlywed couple’s minds, and perhaps in Mary’s, the problem was a little more crucial than my assessment of the situation. But a crisis it was not.
There is a lesson to be learned from this miracle. God is concerned with our “non-critical” problems. Prayer is not like calling 911. Some may have the idea that God is like the President of the United States—a person with many (too many) demands on His time, so that He cannot possibly respond to them all. They may think of God as sitting at a large heavenly desk with an array of telephones before him which are all ringing with “prayer requests,” and He is busy answering them all. Who are we to “bother” God with our problems? If this is our idea of God, we are wrong. God is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is never overtaxed by our calling upon Him for help.
He is also a compassionate and merciful Father, who cares about His children. God is never annoyed when we come to Him with our small problems. Continuing the analogy of “bothering” a busy President, God does not look upon our “calls” (prayers) to Him as interruptions, as if someone were calling the President for the time and temperature. We are God’s children. I can tell you that a President who loves his child will (or should) gladly suffer the interruption of something that greatly concerns his child when he or she interrupts their father.
I am greatly encouraged that our Lord’s first miracle is one that many would consider non-essential. Later in our Lord’s ministry, His disciples begin to act like our Lord’s “secret service,” shooing away little children and people whom they consider to be a bother to the Savior—and Jesus rebukes them for doing so. God cares about the little things in our lives. I am reminded of the story of the “lost ax head” in 2 Kings 6, where Elisha retrieves an ax head for one of the sons of the prophets. Many have tried to spiritualize this text to make it relevant. I believe it is very relevant: God cares about lost ax heads, and lost car keys and flat tires … God cares about the little things that affect His children.100
Fourth, this miracle is a lot like some of my jokes—most people in attendance just didn’t “get it.” It would seem that Jesus would want everyone to know what He was doing. He could have called for everyone’s attention, announcing to all that He was about to turn water into wine. He could have been much more dramatic, waving His hands over the waterpots, and then personally presenting the “good wine” to the head steward. In fact, Jesus does not seem to even touch the waterpots or the wine. He simply gives instructions to the servants to fill the pots and to serve the contents. If you had interviewed the head steward or any of the guests and asked what they thought of the celebration, they probably would have said: “Oh, it was a really nice celebration, and the wine at the last was really something.” Most of the people never knew a miracle had taken place. It seems that only Mary, the servants, and the disciples were aware of what happened. John tells us that because of this miracle, the disciples believed in Him (verse 11). My impression is that the servants knew “what” happened, but they were not sure exactly “how” it happened, so they simply kept quiet, scratching their heads with wonder.
Minimizing the visibility of this first display of our Lord’s power is by design. Everything our Lord did in transforming the water into wine was intended to minimize His exposure. Done in this way, our Lord was able to perform the miracle without violating His Father’s will concerning “His time.” It was not yet the moment for our Lord to publicly display His power and glory. Thus, He performed the miracle privately, in a way that conformed to God’s timing. In one sense, there are two miracles here in these first verses of John 2. The first is the transformation of water into wine. The second is accomplishing this miracle in a way that was not apparent to everyone.
Most likely, this is the way many miracles occur today. They occur in ways that seem so natural many do not even recognize them as supernatural. Perhaps an illustration would be helpful. As I was about to graduate from seminary a number of years ago, it came time for me to make the decision about where I would be going to minister. I had a couple of possibilities, but there was one I really did not want to consider, largely because of where the ministry would be. It was the one place in all the world I did not want to be. But God worked in my heart to the point that I relented and expressed to Him my willingness to serve Him even in that place. A church in that city had contacted me and expressed a desire to pursue the possibility of my ministry with them in that place. At the same time, I also had to make a decision about continuing in my current ministry, where I did want to be. Because I had to make a commitment within a certain period of time, I set a kind of deadline. If God wanted me to go to the other place—the place I preferred not to go—then that church would have to contact me again before the deadline passed. They did not, and I made the commitment to stay where I was. Only a few days later, a letter arrived in the mail from the “other church.” Interestingly, the letter had been mailed a month earlier, and from the marks on the letter, I could see it had been many places—except our mailbox. Somehow, the letter was not delivered on time, even though it was mailed to the correct address. Some might very easily say this was just a Post Office blunder. But I believe it was providential—a miracle—or, as one of my friends used to say, “another one of those strange coincidences.”
Fifth, notice especially how this miracle “manifested our Lord’s glory.” This is what John tells us: “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him” (John 11, emphasis mine).
This is a rather interesting statement, because it seems inconsistent with what we have just observed. How could our Lord’s glory have been manifested when so few even knew a miracle had been performed? The answer to our question may be answered in chapter 1:
10 He was in the world, and the world was created through him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children 13 —children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God. 14 Now the Word became flesh and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the only One, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:10-13, emphasis mine).
Paul’s words to the Philippians may help to clarify what John has told us:
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
Jesus was God. He was in the beginning with God. He actively participated in the creation of this world (John 1:1-5). He was the true Light, the Light of the world, but the world did not know Him (John 1:6-11). The disciples beheld His glory, but the vast majority of those who saw and heard Him did not really see Him for who He was; they did not behold His glory.
This matter is taken up later on in John’s Gospel, but let me briefly turn your attention to an important text in John: “I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created” (John 17:4-5). Our Lord had great glory in heaven, and this visible glory He set aside to come to the earth in human flesh. He glorified God by His humility and obedience, which culminated in His sacrificial (and humiliating) death.101 Because of this, the Father has given Him even greater glory. That glory will be openly and visibly manifested at His Second Coming, and in heaven (“glory”).
My point is this: I fear we have a distorted definition of “glory,” very much like our Lord’s disciples had in the Gospels. We wrongly think that if the glory of God is present, it will be in some dramatic display of power, one that is visible and spectacular, one that is seen and acknowledged by all.102 Let me remind you that the glory of God was manifested in this miracle, even though few recognized it as such. We may be looking for the wrong kind of “glory.” All too often in the “triumphalism” of the New Testament church (i.e., Corinth) and in the church today, we look for the wrong kind of glory. The glory of God, as I understand the Scriptures, is manifested in and through the saints as they—like their Savior—live humbly and suffer patiently for the sake of Christ and the Gospel (see 1 Peter 2; also 2 Corinthians 3 and 4).
Sixth, this miracle is called a “sign.” Various terms are used in the New Testament to designate miracles. Of this term D. A. Carson says,
The New Testament uses several words to denote what we call ‘miracles.’ One of the most common, dynameis (‘mighty works’) is not found in John; another, terata (‘wonders,’ ‘portents,’ ‘miracles’) is found only when linked with semeia (‘signs’), as in ‘signs and wonders’; but this combination is found only once in the Fourth Gospel (4:48). John prefers the simple word ‘signs’: Jesus’ miracles are never simply naked displays of power, still less neat conjuring tricks to impress the masses, but signs, significant displays of power that point beyond themselves to the deeper realities that could be perceived with the eyes of faith. Jesus himself in this Gospel refers to his miracles and to his other activity as his ‘work’ or ‘works’ (e.g. 5:36; NIV ‘miracle(s)’ in 7:21; 10:25).103
This transformation of water into wine is closely related to chapter 1. In the first few verses of this Gospel, John informs us that Jesus of Nazareth is the Logos, who was not only with God in the beginning, but was God in the beginning. He is the Creator, who brought all that is into existence. Is it any great wonder that we should see Jesus “creating” wine from water, just as He once created the cosmos from chaos? Are we surprised that the disciples beheld His glory through this miracle when, in chapter one, the Apostle John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)?
This miracle, as the other signs of the Gospel of John, teaches us about the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. The purpose is simple: that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that in believing you might have eternal life (John 20:31). Do you believe? There is no more important decision in life than what you believe about the person and work of Jesus Christ. He alone is God manifested in human flesh. He alone is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, who alone can forgive your sin.
Seventh, in this first miracle of our Lord, Jesus takes something not so great and turns it into something very wonderful. He takes that which is the cause of drudgery and makes it the source of great delight. The Old Testament Law required various kinds of washings. All of these were to demonstrate to the Israelites how deeply sinful and unclean they were, and thus how unfit to enter into God’s presence. These washings were drudgery, yet the Israelites were to do them in obedience to God’s law. By the time legalistic Judaism added even more washings, Judaism was a laborious religion. Jesus took this ceremonial cleansing water and made it into wine. Jesus took that which was a pain and made it into a pleasure. Jesus took that which Jews would have found unfit to drink, and He made of it the best wine that has ever passed the lips of man.
What a picture this is of the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old, of grace to law. Because He came and perfectly fulfilled the law, meeting all of its requirements, our Lord was uniquely qualified to die for sinners on the cross of Calvary. The salvation He procured through His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary makes it possible for men to leave the drudgery behind and to enter into the joy of His salvation.
Our Lord is able to take that which is less than desirable (for drinking, at least) and make it into a vintage wine, the finest man has ever tasted. He is able to take fallible men like Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael and make them into apostles. He is able to take the “weak and foolish things of this world”—people like us—and transform us so that people marvel at God’s grace and power. What a wonderful Savior!
Eighth, Jesus not only produces something beautiful and blessed in this miracle, but something bountiful. The wine Jesus created was the best ever, but He did not create a small quantity. He produced much more than was needed. Can you imagine the joy of this married couple, who may have been poor, being left with over 100 gallons of the finest wine ever? When Jesus fed the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21) and again the 4,000 (Matthew 15:32-39), there were plenty of leftovers (14:20; 15:37). God’s blessings are always bountiful. “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).
God’s goodness and grace abounds to His children; they are without measure. What a wonderful Savior!
Heal then these waters, Lord; or bring thy flock,
Since these are troubled, to the springing rock.
Look down, great Master of the Feasts! O shine,
And turn once more our water into wine!
Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), “RELIGION”104
89 In the entire Bible, Cana is mentioned only in the Gospel of John (2:1, 11; 4:46; 21:2). There are a number of theories as to its whereabouts, but no one can really say where it was located with certainty. We will be told in 21:2 that Nathanael was from Cana, so he probably knew the couple being married.
92 “To run out of supplies would be a dreadful embarrassment in a ‘shame’ culture; there is some evidence it could also lay the groom open to a lawsuit from aggrieved relatives of the bride.” D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), p. 169. Morris goes into even greater detail. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 177, see also fn. 7.
93 Calvin writes, “It may be doubted if she expected or asked any thing from her Son, since he had not yet performed any miracle; and it is possible that, without expecting any remedy of this sort, she advised him to give some pious exhortations which would have the effect of preventing the guests from feeling uneasiness, and at the same time of relieving the shame of the bridegroom.” John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume 7: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors Inc., n.d.), p. 622. I find Calvin’s explanation hard to believe. It seems more natural that Mary hoped Jesus would do something, without knowing what that might be.
95 Literally, Jesus asked, “What to Me and to you, woman?” The various translations give this expression somewhat different nuances: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (KJV); “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” (NIV); “Woman, what does that have to do with us?” (NAB); “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” (NRS).
96 Morris writes, “Sometimes Roman Catholic scholars see Mary as asking for a miracle. Thus J. Cortes sees Jesus’ words as meaning: ‘What has changed between us? Why do you hesitate to ask me for a miracle? The hour of my Passion in which you will not be able to ask me for miracles nor will I work them, has not come yet. You are as always my mother and I am your son. Therefore I will gladly accept your petition’ (New Testament Abstracts, III, 1958-59, p. 247). The difficulty with this position is that there was a change. Jesus had never previously worked a miracle (v. 11), so Mary might well hesitate to ask for one.” Morris, p. 180-181, fn. 20.
97 On several occasions in the Book of John, Jesus refers to “His time.” In chapter 7, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was at hand, and our Lord’s brothers urge Him to go up to Jerusalem with His disciples and “show Himself to the world,” performing miracles so that He could be recognized for what He was. They did not say this in sincerity, but tongue-in-cheek, because they did not believe in Him as yet (7:1-5). Jesus declined to go up to Judea with them because He was not yet ready. He encouraged them to go on without Him. Later, He went up to the feast secretly to avoid, rather than to gain, attention (7:6-13). Later in the chapter, we are told that even though some of the Jews tried to seize Jesus, they were not able, because it was not “His time” (verse 30). A similar thing happens in chapter 8, verse 20. On other occasions, Jesus spoke of “His time” as having come (12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1).
99 Sadly, many look to this text primarily to prove their point about the use or non-use of alcoholic beverages, and thereby miss the main point of the story. One must work very hard to convince himself or anyone else that the “wine” was merely grape juice. On the other hand, the “wine” of that day and the wine of our own are probably not the same. The Bible does not forbid drinking any alcoholic beverage at all, but it does condemn the use of “strong drink” and drunkenness (Proverbs 20:1; Isaiah 5:11, 22; 28:1, 7; 56:12; Ephesians 5:18). It should be remembered that while John the Baptist was a “tee-totaler” and criticized for it, Jesus was not, and was accused of being a “winebibber” (Luke 7:33-34). Much can be said about the abuse of alcohol today, as in ancient times, but it is going too far to say that all alcohol is flatly condemned, or to attempt to convince us that the wine our Lord created was completely free of alcohol.
100 I had better add this caveat. While God does care about the little things that trouble us, He is not pleased with our petty, selfish petitions. James tells us that our prayers may not be answered because they are self-serving—James 4:3. Many of our prayers are self-serving, and God may not answer them because of this.
101 Morris cites Richardson, who sums up what “glory” means in our text: “Richardson points out that John ‘records no scene of Transfiguration, as do the three Synoptists; he regards the whole of Christ’s incarnate life as an embodiment of the [glory] of God, though the glory is revealed only to believing disciples and not unto ‘the world’” (An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament, London, 1958, p. 65), as cited by Morris, p. 186, fn. 38.
Related Topics: Miracles