Scripture: John 2:1-11
Speaker: Sean Higgins
Service: Sunday morning – July 17, 2011 (liturgy)
God loves parties. He delights in a good celebration. He made a world full of life and He made life full of moments and events to enjoy. We might presume that there is no better example of how to party than the Word made flesh. Yet, for most of us, Jesus is the last person we would expect to see at a party, let alone enabling the party or enjoying it. That’s because we’ve got a simplistic view of Jesus and a superficial view of life.
By the end of John chapter one, Jesus has gathered His first followers. Jesus has already said some astonishing things, even revealing divine omniscience to Nathanael. Now Jesus does what only God could do and takes His small group to a wedding; life on life discipleship goes wherever life goes.
His public ministry begins in chapter two and extends through chapter 12. John 2:1-11 reveals Jesus’ first sign, the first of seven recorded in the Gospel of John that are written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing we may have life. A miraculous sign is here, divine glory is here, life is here. If we tell the story correctly, we, like the disciples, should see His glory and believe.
Of all the places we might expect Jesus to take His disciples, a wedding probably doesn’t make our top 10 list.
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. (verses 1-2)
John the evangelist narrates us through the first week of Jesus’ ministry starting in 1:19 with the witness of John the Baptist, then followed by “the next day” in verses 29, 35, and 43. The third day is the third day after the last day mentioned, the day when Jesus called Philip to follow Him and Nathanael came too (1:43-51). That would make this the seventh day, though it doesn’t identify what day of the week it is.
The setting shifts to Cana of Galilee, Nathanael’s hometown, probably located within a few hours walking distance from Nazareth. There was a wedding in Cana and the mother of Jesus was there. Weddings could last a week (Judges 14:12) though we aren’t told specifics.
We also aren’t told who is getting married, yet because Jesus also was invited it seems likely to be the wedding of an extended family member or friend. Cana was less than ten miles away from Jesus’ hometown and, while His disciples were welcome, the verb invited is singular, so the five (Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, Nathanael) came with their discipler. His mother is already there, perhaps because she came to help. That also explains why she took it upon herself to do something about the problem and why the servants paid attention to her when she gave them instructions.
This is a big problem, in some ways as big a problem for us as it is for the wedding party, though for different reasons.
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.” (verses 3-5)
Why is this a problem? Because wine was a sign of celebration and blessing. It was so connected with festivity that failing to provide wine for one’s guests at a happy event such as a wedding was a social embarrassment. The party just wasn’t a party without wine. Running out of wine was a major problem.
It’s a problem for most of us, too, since alcohol is a hot-button issue in our culture and church culture. But wine does have something to do with Jesus and the gospel and life and witness. I’ll admit that I spent most of my life ignorant about God’s revealed perspective, living with a poorly informed conscience and a sad, tiny, fearful heart.
First of all, wine in the Bible was wine, not grape juice. The only people who argue that “wine” was actually juice are conservative, Fundamentalist, American, teetotaling preachers afraid of the “devil’s juice.”
Here’s how we know that the wine was wine (fermented grapes, alcohol): context. We could look in Greek dictionaries or Encyclopedias, but reading the story itself will do just fine. It’s jumping ahead but, after the miracle, the master of the feast makes the case. He says there is “good wine” and “poor wine,” cheap stuff. There is a quality issue and, even today, most people don’t talk about “good juice” and “cheap juice.”
More than that, juice doesn’t have the potential to get anyone drunk. The ESV’s drunk freely in verse 10 is a more polite way to say it. The verb μεθύσκω means “to get drunk,” not have a stomach full of sloshing liquid. That doesn’t mean that everyone at the party was drunk. The master of the feast was stating the principle: you can get away with cheaper stuff after the heart is gladdened (Psalm 104:15), after the senses are numbed by the alcohol. Juice doesn’t gladden the heart let alone make anyone drunk.
That principle also undermines the argument that wine was cut with water. Sure it was, and certainly it was cut with more water at some times than others. But in order for the principle to hold true, the wine must have that “heart-gladdening” effect. And again, the good versus cheap wine discussion is fairly pointless if it’s mostly water.
Second of all, wine in the Bible is a gift from God to men. The Old Testament especially is full of verses that speak about the blessing of wine.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
Beyond man’s daily needs, God provides for man’s enjoyment.
In Deuteronomy 14 God called His people to an annual tithe, a feast to celebrate all He provided for them. He instructed them to “eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your heard and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:23). They would learn to fear in feasting. If they weren’t able to travel to the place of the feast, they were to turn their tithe into cash and then “spend the money for whatever you desire-oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household” (v.25). The feast was required to acknowledge God’s goodness and wine was a part of that goodness.
The Lord promised to give blessings to those who honored Him.
Honor the LORD with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.
It was such a gift that wine in the Bible symbolized the future kingdom blessings. As God secures His people in the midst of defeated nations He promises that
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.
“The prophets characterized the messianic age as a time when wine would flow liberally” (Carson, 172). (see Jeremiah 31:12; Hosea 14:7; Amos 9:13–14)
Of course, Paul does prohibit getting drunk in Ephesians 5:18 and said that church elders and deacons must not be drunkards or addicted to wine (1 Timothy 3:3, 8). Proverbs mentions multiple dangers of wine.
It was a blessing and, as is true of all God’s blessings, it can be abused. Sex is a gift, meant for enjoyment in a certain kind of relationship (marriage) in a certain place (privately, at home). Sinful sex is a problem. Grace is a gift; men abuse grace by thinking that more grace comes when they sin more. That’s sin. Food is a great gift; gluttony is a serious abuse of a great thing. So is drunkenness. Being drunk is abuse of God’s gift.
Serious abuse, serious problems, serious offense. But in the Bible, wine is not just an okay liberty, but a gift to be received and used appropriately. God is not afraid of giving gifts, including alcohol.
Back at the wedding in Cana, for whatever the reason, the wine was running out and that was a problem.
Jesus could have easily said, “That’s great. At least there won’t be anyone getting drunk today.” He could have said, “They have water. Let them drink that.” Or even, “Let me purify this water.”
Instead, He said to His mom, Woman, what does this have to do with me? The Greek more woodenly expressed: “Woman, what to me and to you?” First, calling her “Woman” rather than “Mother” seems out of place. It isn’t disrespectful, but it is distant. He’s saying, “This isn’t really My problem.” Jesus was a guest, but that’s not the real reason He puts up resistance.
Why the stiff arm? The reason for His response: My hour has not yet come. (See also John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1). This sentence does a few things. It reveals that Jesus knew what He was doing, that He had a purpose. It also alerts us that there would be that “hour,” a time still to come, so we should read with anticipation. It also implies that Jesus understood Mary was asking for something big.
Various opinions suggest that Mary depended on Jesus as any widowed woman would. Joseph, her husband, had probably passed away by now, last seen in Jerusalem when Jesus was 12. They figure Mary, trying to help with the wedding, came to Jesus to help. But what exactly did she think Jesus could do in this new town?
She could have sent the servants to run to the store or neighbors and buy more wine. And clearly Jesus took it as more than an errand. While we may not be sure exactly what Mary thought, she seems to have expected something extraordinary. Jesus is saying that the display of His glory was up to His heavenly Father’s timeline.
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She not only wasn’t offended by what her Son said, she believed Him so much that she leaves it in His hands.
Though it seemed as if Jesus refused to help, He does anyway.
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. (verses 6-8)
Stone was better than earthenware because it was more impervious, so more clean. Six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification were there, apparently outside the main banquet area. They were used for ceremonial washings of people and utensils. These were large jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons, so between 120 to 180 gallons of water.
We can only imagine what the servants were thinking when Jesus told them to Fill the jars with water. Who was this guy? What good with this do? Are we going to give them water to drink? Try to pass it off?
They filled them, likely from some nearby well, and then Jesus instructed them to draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.
The master of the feast was in charge of the party. He may have had master of ceremonies responsibility, and he apparently had food and wine tasting as responsibility, too. Seems to me that he was a glorified wedding coordinator, in charge of the catering and hospitality.
He’s been busy doing other things, unaware of Jesus and the water jars. Somewhere in here, the miracle occurred and the water was new wine.
When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
The master of the feast called the bridegroom because the groom had responsibility to pay for the wedding. The bridegroom was equally surprised. The good wine is served, the two buck chuck finished, the crisis averted, and the party continued.
Jesus created over 150 gallons, of great quantity, and it was good wine, of great quality, no doubt the best wine they had ever tasted. His wedding gift was lavish.
The party continued due to a miracle, and only a handful of people knew about it.
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
This was the first of his signs. Signs pop up again and again through the first half of John’s Gospel. He’ll give at least six more so that we might believe. The point of a sign is to point, to direct attention elsewhere, and the water turned into wine points to Jesus. This is a sign of things to come, and a clear statement that Jesus didn’t perform any childhood miracles.
It manifested his glory. We already read that His glory was seen (1:14). But how does this wedding miracle really display glory, especially when most of the people at the part kept drinking the good wine with no idea about where it came from?
Because by turning water into wine, Jesus manifests miraculous, gracious, and lavish provision for life. Life includes celebrations. Life includes parties. Life includes marriage and family. It can be costly to enjoy life, to enjoy fellowship and to reflect our God in serving so that other people may have life.
Jesus exerts divine prerogative and power by changing the molecules into other molecules. But He could have done that ANY time, ANY where, for His own reasons.
Here was Jesus’ golden opportunity to teach this crowed what was really important: Him. Here was a sermon platform about being thankful for breath even when you run out of wine. Instead of spiritualizing, He enables the celebration of something He created: marriage, yes, and life!
Jesus manifested His glory by provision and by participation, and it was glory that not everyone had to see. He’s got so much, He can spend it lavishly even when others don’t see it.
And his disciples believed in him. They saw and they saw it all, the miracle and they saw that not everyone saw the miracle. They already believed, but here’s an example of faith growing, of believing more and more. The Gospel of John isn’t only aiming to help unbelievers believe, it’s also aiming to help believers believe and live.
Why the profane miracle? Because the Word became flesh. He gives life to people, He doesn’t save souls and leave the attached hands to do whatever they want. There is more to eternal life than really good quiet times while we’re on earth waiting for heaven.
This is not a call to drink, but a call to glorify God in whatever we eat or drink. This is not a call to party, but a call to honor God with our lives, not just with our brains or during our morning quiet time.
Weddings happen, parties happen, life happens, and it may look the same externally. But Christians are the only ones who see God’s glory manifested in our celebrations. We dare not do it hollowly, we don’t do it duplicitously. We live all of life, weddings and funerals, at parties and in hospital rooms, with a little and with a lot, as a way to live out our belief in Jesus.
We celebrate Him, we celebrate with Him, we celebrate because His provision for life is gracious and lavish.