The Hebrew wedding celebration was the grand event of life, especially among the poor. The marriage ceremony took place late in the evening, following a feast. After the ceremony, the bride and groom were escorted to their home in a torchlight parade complete with a canopy over their heads. They took the longest route possible, so that everyone would have the opportunity to wish them well. Instead of a honeymoon, they held open house for a week. They were addressed as king and queen, wore crowns, and were dressed in their wedding garments. …For people whose lives would contain much poverty and difficulty, this was a supreme occasion. Many would plod through life and never again have a celebration equal to their wedding.[i]
John is the only gospel writer who tells us about the wedding celebration at Cana. Jesus and his disciples were invited to a wedding where an amazing miracle took place. It is a significant story because it is the first miraculous sign that Jesus performed. This miracle came not just as a result of a great need but was the opportunity for Jesus to reveal a powerful truth and the nature of who He is to His disciples.
F. F. Bruce points out an interesting element about John’s gospel that is unique and unlike the other three gospels. John never uses the word for power in speaking of the miracles that occur in this gospel, rather he uses the idea of signs.
Several words are used in the NT to denote Jesus’ mighty works. The word which actually means ‘mighty works (dynameis) is not found in this Gospel; in fact the word dynamis (‘power’), of which dynameis is the plural, is totally absent from it. …The NT miracles are not mere miracles; they are all signs of some underlying reality.[ii]
In other words, Jesus’ miracles as told in John’s gospel, are all pointing to something significant about Jesus. In John 2:1-11, we find the first miracle or sign of which there are seven found in the gospel of John. It is the miracle of turning water into wine. While Moses was used by God to turn water into blood, Jesus is seen here performing a sign to bring joy into the hearts of people as wine was a symbol of joy. In Psalm 104, the psalmist, in describing God’s nature and creative work for the benefits of His creation, relates that idea.
He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to makes his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.[iii]
So we see that wine is described as bringing joy. This concept is further reinforced when the prophet Isaiah is calling for the people to respond to God’s gift of salvation. This gift is likened to wine which enriches life. Here it is a call to come to God to be satisfied.
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.[iv]
Let me make this little caveat here about the differences between the wine of the ancient world and the wine of today.
Wine in the ancient world was diluted with water to between one-third and one-tenth of its fermented strength… Undiluted wine, about the strength of wine today, was viewed as ‘strong drink’, and earned much more disapprobation [strong disapproval on moral grounds].[v]
Now as we turn to our text and the miracle of the water being turned into wine, we must consider the context of the story. Jesus had just finished calling his disciples to himself. We find at the close of chapter one, the calling of Nathanael. Jesus tells him that the reason he believes is because of Jesus seeing him while he was praying to the Father. Then Jesus makes this amazing statement in the first chapter.
Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.
He then added, ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.[vi]
It is from this promise of seeing greater things that John begins this story about the wedding at Cana. It is a sign of a better time coming, though many rejected God’s kingdom, others embraced it, and their lives were filled with joy. So, what are some of the things we can learn from Jesus performing signs, and in particularly this sign of turning the water into wine? We can have this assurance that when Jesus comes on the scene, a better time has come and when Jesus returns again, the greatest time of all awaits us.
THE FIRST THING WE CAN LEARN FROM THE SIGNS OF JESUS IS THAT IT AUTHENTICATES WHO HE IS AND HIS MESSAGE
One thing we need to understand about Jesus’ first coming is that God’s kingdom had come, and still the totality of His kingdom on earth is yet to come. Why does God choose to confirm His pronouncements with signs? One reason is that there are false messengers. True prophets according to the O.T. had to validate their message by seeing them come to pass, or performing signs showing that they had Divine approval and that their message was from God. Moses also warned that signs alone were not enough, the message had to be evaluated as well. However it is interesting that people would expect a sign authenticating the prophets words.
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.[vii]
It was not just signs that authenticated the prophet, the message must bring us to the true and living God. The prophet Isaiah had told King Ahaz that the sign to alleviate his concerns about the alliance between Syria and Israel would be the birth of a child to a virgin, and the child’s name would be Immanuel.
Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.
But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.[viii]
This sign is very familiar to us, because Matthew quotes it in relationship to the birth of Christ. However, its initial fulfillment happened seven hundred years earlier. Its ultimate fulfillment happened with Jesus was born to Mary and God, in Jesus came to save our world from sin and all its effects.
A. Of all the signs this particular sign of turning water into wine showed that this new thing that God was doing was superior to what had been in the past.
This was now a fulfillment of all that had been promised. The water that Jesus turned into wine was superior to what had been served earlier. It is the announcement of something better.
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’[ix]
Here we have a crisis. No more wine. Some have suggested that Mary had a role at this wedding and that’s why she knew of the embarrassing situation that had arisen. It has even been suggested that Jesus and his disciples may have been a late addition to the guest list and that may have been one reason why the wine had run out. In other words, they had not factored them into their guest list. All of these suggestions by various writers are trying to figure out how anyone would plan so poorly at such an important event. The reality was that the wine had all been consumed and the party wasn’t over. Jesus’ mother told him about the problem and His response is interesting.
Dear woman, why do you involve me? Jesus replied, ‘My time has not yet come.’[x]
It is interesting that Jesus did not call Mary his mother here, nor did he at the cross. This title ‘woman’ seems rather impersonal and cold to us but this term was used with the utmost respect toward Mary. What Jesus was saying was that He would not respond to her request based on family obligations.
If she sought his help now, she must not seek it on the basis of their mother-and-son relationship.[xi]
Jesus’ response also alludes to the fact that He was working on a certain schedule created by His Father in Heaven. The glory which Jesus speaks of here is ultimately expressed in his death, resurrection and exaltation with the Father in heaven. On another occasion, Jesus gives the explanation for His action.
Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.[xii]
But now that he had entered into the purpose of his coming, everything, even family ties, had to be subordinated to his divine mission.[xiii]
Mary’s response is significant because she is undeterred by his response. We see from our text that Mary had always known that Jesus was the Messiah. That makes sense in light of the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth. Mary then tells the servants serving the wine to do whatever Jesus tells them. Was Mary expecting a miracle? That is hard to say, as to this point in Jesus’ life, he had never performed one. D. A. Carson suggests that Mary was likely a widow at this point and Jesus, being the eldest, was the one whom she had relied upon for his resourcefulness (John:170). May we also learn to rely upon Jesus with the challenges of our lives.
His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’[xiv]
One thing we can learn from Mary is that obedience brings blessings. If we do what God says, we can expect God to respond.
Jesus’ mother shakes off the gentle rebuke and exemplifies the best kind of persevering faith… so Mary is rebuked for presuming on the family tie, yet displays faith that is perfectly content to leave the matter in Jesus’ hands. …In short, in 2:3 Mary approaches Jesus as his mother, and is reproached; in 2:5, she responds as a believer, and her faith is honoured.[xv]
THE SECOND THING WE CAN LEARN FROM THE SIGNS OF JESUS IS THAT THEY ARE AN ANNOUNCEMENT THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME
Jesus is the king of the kingdom. His presence means that the kingdom has come, and with that comes the blessings of the kingdom. John now tells us the actual means of how the miracle occurred.
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it, to the master of the banquet.’ They did so,[xvi]
The very means of performing the miracle is filled with significance. The requirements for purification were very detailed in the Old Testament. Over time the Jews became extremely scrupulous about purity observances, to the point that the outward actions became more important than the attitudes of their hearts. Many of the divisions between the various sects of the Jews, Pharisees, Sadducees and the Essenes, were over what was considered pure and impure. Jesus upbraids and corrects them regarding this kind of over scrupulous behavior.
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were ‘unclean,’ that is unwashed.
(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, hold to the tradition of the elders.
When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)[xvii]
Jesus knew what those ceremonial jars were used for. Notice how Jesus responded to the ceremonial traditions.
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?
And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!
Again Jesus called to the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.
Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.
After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable.
Are you so dull? He asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’?
For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.’)
He went on: ‘What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’
For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immortality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.
All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’[xviii]
What Jesus is pointing out to the Jewish people was that the ceremonial does not transform a person’s life. It takes a spiritual power greater than that. We tend to focus on the externals, while God sees what is transpiring within the human heart. True change must come from within. It takes Christ coming into our lives to change the essence of who we are. Jesus changes our very nature. That is what true biblical conversion is all about. The apostle Paul described this as regeneration: a change of our nature.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come![xix]
Peter explains that when we give our lives to Jesus, we can participate in Christ’s very nature, because we have been given that nature. This means that we have the power to say no to temptation and yes to what God is asking us to do.
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.[xx]
When Jesus turned the water into wine, what he was declaring was that He was bringing what was greater than what had been before. Jesus is able to transform the very elements of our world for our benefit.
They have no wine’ goes beyond the lack of refreshment at the Cana wedding. It defines the human experience without Christ. Life without Christ is life without wine. In Scripture wine is a symbol of joy….”[xxi]
In other words a life without Christ is a life without joy. As we shall see, this new wine is better than the old. This is a picture of the superiority of Jesus and the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. Notice the response of the master of ceremonies.
and the master of the banquet tasted the water, that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.[xxii]
For all those who are looking for support in overindulging in alcohol by pointing to this verse, let me point out what is being communicated is not endorsing this behavior. The master of ceremonies is just pointing out how this is what happens. If we were to look at this issue we must go to a text that is very clear on the issue. We are actually commanded by God’s word not to get drunk.
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.[xxiii]
What is one of the characteristics of a person who is drunk on wine or any alcoholic beverage? It leads to debauchery. So what is debauchery? It means to be seduced and led astray from moral virtue and duty. We know that alcohol lowers people’s inhibitions. Instead, we are commanded to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit. So what is one of the characteristics of the Spirit of God at work and reigning in our lives?
But the fruit [result] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law.[xxiv]
In other words, the very opposite of debauchery. This is why the Holy Spirit can be described as the new wine. The new wine is superior to the old wine.
THE LAST THING WE CAN LEARN FROM THE SIGNS OF JESUS IS THAT THEY REVEAL HIS GLORY AND STIMULATES OUR FAITH
Jesus, in performing this miracle, reveals His nature.
This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.[xxv]
John had earlier recorded that they had the privilege of witnessing God’s glory in the person of Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.[xxvi]
What an amazing moment during Jesus’ earthly ministry, of which many more moments of God’s glory was to be revealed through Jesus. Some examples of Jesus revealing His glory is exhibited when He is walking on water, calming the storm by His authoritative word. We see His glory displayed in the healing of the sick, the deliverance from demonic oppression and the raising to life from death, first of a young girl and later his friend Lazarus. Ultimately, John will see Christ transfigured on the mountain and the crowning glory of His resurrected body. All of these are expression of the glory, but here for the very first time, they had witnessed the transformation of water into wine. The result of this conformational sign is that they put their faith in Jesus.
D. A. Carson points out that not all understood the significance of this sign.
The glory was not visible to all who had seen the miracle; the glory cannot be identified with the miraculous display. The servants saw the sign, but not the glory; the disciples by faith perceived Jesus’ glory behind the sign, and they put their faith in him.[xxvii]
As Jesus works in our lives, it creates a greater degree of authenticity for us as to who He is. His presence is God’s kingdom at work, for He is the king of this kingdom. When He works He reveals His glory to us and does so to stimulate our faith in Him. How often do we allow the wines of this world to try and deaden the pain of our lives? It has been said that people drink to live but end up drinking to die. Jesus reveals in this incident the profound truth that His life is the new wine that brings ultimate joy and satisfaction in life. His presence is what enriches life. Oh, may we drink at this fountain.
On the last and greatest day of the festival, [tabernacles] Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.
By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not been glorified.[xxviii]
There is a thirst, an ache, a longing, in the human soul that can only be quenched by experiencing the joy of knowing Jesus. When we surrender our lives to Jesus, we now experience that sign of a better time coming. That time ultimately will happen when Jesus returns to earth to restore all that is wrong with our world, just as He promised.
[i] R. Kent Hughes, Behold the Lamb, (Wheaton, Il: Victor Books, 1984), 29.
[ii] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 72.
[iii] Psalm 104:14-15, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iv] Isaiah 55:1.
[v] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 169.
[vi] John 1:50-51.
[vii] Deuteronomy 13:1-3.
[viii] Isaiah 7:14-16.
[ix] John 2:1-3.
[x] John 2:4.
[xi] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 69.
[xii] John 5:19.
[xiii] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 171.
[xiv] John 2:5.
[xv] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 173.
[xvi] John 2:6-8.
[xvii] Mark 7:1-4.
[xviii] Mark 7: 5, 9, 14-22.
[xix] 2 Corinthians 5:17.
[xx] 2 Peter 1:1-4.
[xxi] R. Kent Hughes, Behold the Lamb, 30.
[xxii] John 2:9-10.
[xxiii] Ephesians 5:18.
[xxiv] Galatians 5:22.
[xxv] John 2:11.
[xxvi] John 1:1, 14.
[xxvii] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 175.
[xxviii] John 7:37-39.