Setting Up the Scene
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” (John 2:1-5)
I can remember my own wedding like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful fall day in mid October five years ago. I remember arriving at Christchurch with Eric and Tim, and since we weren’t allowed in the church yet, Benjamin, our photographer, thought it be a nice idea to climb into a small and very unstable old boat that was docked there, which had water in it, and take some pictures. Great idea, and some good pictures, but I can remember almost falling in the water getting into the boat and
being terrified that this boat would old boat would not hold us and that I wouldn’t make it dry to my own wedding. I can remember that the whole day I hadn’t been nervous, but when I heard the music starting and knowing that Heidi was about to come in and walk down the aisle, the sheer anticipation of getting to see my bride was absolutely nerve-wrecking, and beautiful at the same time. I can remember the photo shoot afterward, walking from Christchurch to café Dwaze Zaken, and having our picture taken by Japanese tourists and people shouting ‘congratulations’ from their windows. I can remember a great reception, dinner, and party. And I especially can remember our taxi ride home, where the taxi driver must have thought that we were really anxious to get home that I never been so afraid in a car, literally fearing for my life.
In other words, weddings are beautiful and memorable events, and not only for the bride and groom, but also for all the guests. And our story today, the setting for Jesus’ miracle, happens at a wedding. Now Jewish weddings are very elaborate and rich in ritual and meaning, and quite different from how we celebrate a wedding. After the official ceremony, the bride and groom would lock themselves in a room to consummate the marriage while the guests are all assembled, ready to celebrate the new marriage. Once the marriage was consummated the friend of the bridegroom, the best man, would announce the good news to all the guests and the celebration would begin, lasting for an entire week! Only at the end of the week, the bride and groom would make their long awaited appearance and there would be a joyous meal, a marriage supper to honor the new couple. So, our story begins telling us that Jesus, His mother, and His disciples Peter, Andrew, John, Philip, and Nathanael were at a wedding and the wine ran out. Now in those days, wine was the only drink other than water, so to fail in providing adequately for the guests would involve social disgrace, an error that would probably never be forgotten, and would haunt the newly married couple all their lives. On top of that, wine was a symbol of joy, and so not providing enough wine on a wedding feast implies a lack of joy of the married couple. I can remember at our wedding that during the feast in the evening I was afraid that they had forgotten all about the champagne because it was already a lot later than when it was planned to do the toast, and so I went to check in. Luckily they hadn’t forgotten about it; it just took them much longer than expected to get everything ready. I mean I guess most married couples will have a story of something that went wrong on their wedding day, but to run out of drinks all together while everyone is still feasting is quite embarrassing.
And so Jesus’ mother Mary tells Jesus there is no more wine. Now, Jesus’ response has puzzled many smart people over the years, but it is good to realize that although Jesus is sort of rebuking His mother here He is not being disrespectful. It does seem that his mother expected Him to do something. We are not told what she expected, but we are told that Jesus did not approve of what she said. Jesus’ response of “what does this have to do with me?” seems to be saying “You shouldn’t be coming to me like this. This is not your affair.” What makes this so significant is that Jesus goes right ahead and takes care of the problem by doing a miracle. If you are going to do what your mother has in mind anyway, why don’t you simply agree with her and then do it? And I think the answer is that Jesus wants to make clear that although Mary is His mother, it is not by His mother’s will that He acts, but by His Father’s will. Later on in this gospel, Jesus says, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” (John 8:28). His mother and His physical family would have no special advantage to guide His ministry. And His mother and physical family would have no special advantage to receive His salvation. Jesus is saying to His mother: your relationship with me as mother has no special weight here. You are a woman like every other woman. My Father in heaven, not any human being, determines what miracles I perform. You, like every one else, come to me by faith, not by family.
And then Jesus also says that His hour has not yet come. What is this hour? All throughout this gospel, John is using this term to anticipate the hour of His death when He will die for sinners and make purification for sins. In John 12, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24). And so while here in chapter 2 indeed the hour of His death has not yet come, He goes right ahead and does the miracle. Why? It seems like He wants to give us a sign of what’s coming; a sign of His upcoming mission; what He is come to do here on earth which will ultimately beautifully climax in His death.
The Best Wine: An Act of Faith
We don’t know what exactly happened between Mary telling the servants to do whatever Jesus says, and Jesus actually asking them, but I think that Jesus got up from His table and sort of unnoticed went to the back where the servants were to instruct them what to do. And He asked them to completely fill up these six stone water jars with water. Now this must have been a very strange request to the servants as these jars were normally used for cleansing and ritual purification. You see, daily life, and especially contact with Gentiles and the secular world made a Jew ceremonially unclean. Therefore, Jews poured water over their hands before eating and so on. But the feast was already ongoing; this was not the time for that. There was a wine problem, not a cleansing problem, right? But as Mary asked the servants to do whatever Jesus asked them, they obeyed without question, filling them up till they almost overflowed. Can you imagine if these servants were lazy and only filled up the jars halfway? There would have been only half the amount of wine, and thus only half the blessing for the bridegroom and all the guests. And since it says that this miracle manifested His glory, Jesus would have been way less glorified. And then He tells them to take some of the water and bring it to the master of the feast. This took a lot of faith. Can you imagine how angry the master of the feast would be if the servants brought him water to taste! Yet in faith, they obeyed the word of Jesus. And what happened? The water had become wine. Good wine. I am guessing the best wine they every tasted! And lots of it! 20-30 gallons * 6 jars = 120-180 gallons (450-680 liters of wine = 337- 510 bottles of wine). Jesus performed miracles in many different ways. Here, Jesus did not say a word or blink an eye. He merely exercised His will and the miracle was done.
Can you imagine what a huge blessing this must have been for the married couple, which are completely unaware as to where all this awesome wine came from! One moment this marriage feast would have been remembered for a long time as the feast that ran out of wine, and the married couple probably scarred for life in their community. And the next moment this marriage feast is now remembered as the feast with an abundance of the best wine ever, and the married couple probably praised for life in their community (as no one knew where the wine came from). But the disciples knew, and they believed in Jesus. Of course they believed before, but now their belief was deepened and re-expressed. This is typical in our Christian lives. God does something great in our lives, and we believe in Him all over again.
So, What’s Really Going On?
Now, let’s take a step back and see what really happened, because although I am sure Jesus took great pleasure in blessing the married couple with an abundance of wine, I don’t think that’s what’s really going on here. Like I said earlier it seems like He wants to give us a sign of what’s coming; a sign of His upcoming mission; what He is come to do here on earth. And not only a sign, He wanted to manifest His glory! But how then did He do that?
First, we see that Jesus uses these six stone jars that are normally used for ritual purification. You see, what they did in the Old Testament is take a very rare and valuable red heifer, a red cow which had never been pregnant, that was without blemish or defect, and completely burn it (skin, flesh, blood, even its dung). And the priest would add three things (which all point to Jesus): he would add some precious cedar wood (pointing to the preciousness of the cross), hyssop (pointing to the cleansing of sin), and scarlet (pointing to the cleansing by His blood). And afterwards they would gather all the ashes and sprinkle it in water bit by bit to make the water fit for purification. And to be cleansed you would be sprinkled with this water mixed with ashes. We read in Hebrews 9:13-14, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:13-14) And so we have Jesus manifesting His glory by giving us a sign, an acted out parable, of how His hour, His own death, will be the final, decisive, ultimate purification of sins. There is no ritual any more for cleansing. There is one way to be clean before God. Coming to Jesus to be cleansed by His blood.
Secondly, we see that Jesus fills these six empty stone jars, and fill them with water to brim all the way full, and then once the servants in faith use the water the water has turned into wine, the best wine ever. No, again, there is a lot of symbolism here. These empty stone jars are a picture of our dead, unregenerated and empty hearts before God. The water is a picture of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Word of God. And wine is a picture of joy and new life. We read in Ezekiel 36:26, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) And so we have Jesus manifesting His glory by giving us a sign, an acted out parable, of how He has come to fill our dead empty hearts with the living water of the Holy Spirit, and that when we step out in faith, we will experience His abundant joy and life. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
And thirdly, we see that Jesus performs this miracle at a wedding, and we have read that because of His work, there was an abundance of wine and joy. And I believe this wedding is a picture of the ultimately wedding supper of the lamb at the end of all things. And what a feast it will be! We read in Isaiah 25:6, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” (Isaiah 25:6) And so we have Jesus manifesting His glory by giving us a sign, an acted out parable, of a greater marriage feast than that of Cana that one day will be held, when Christ Himself will be the bridegroom and all believers together will be the bride. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9)
So, here in the beginning of the gospel of John as a first miracle, as a first sign, we have a three-fold revealing and manifestation of His glory, a three-fold display of His grace. As the ultimate purifier, He gracefully shows us that there is but one way to come to God, and that is to be cleansed by the blood sacrifice of Jesus. As the ultimate live-giver, He gracefully shows us that by faith we can have our stone hearts regenerated and experience an abundant and joyful life. And as the
ultimate bridegroom, He gracefully shows us the true wedding feast that He is preparing for us, the church, wherein we will forever be joined in holy matrimony to Jesus, our perfect husband. “And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)