John 2:1-11 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 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 10 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.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
In preaching through John’s introduction, the deity of Jesus was easy to see and appreciate. I have a similar experience when I read the NT letters when they speak of Jesus, as they tend to do so in lofty, conceptual terms. Since coming to the narrative portion of John’s Gospel, however, one of the things that has continually rattled around in my mind is the humanity of Jesus. Much of the way John describes Jesus makes him seem like a pretty normal and relatable (even if exceptionally zealous) guy. Have you given much thought to that? When you think about Jesus, do you imagine what it would be like to actually spend time with Him (maybe at a wedding)? Do you picture Him as a real person? Or do you more often focus on Him as God who is above all?
In our passage for this morning, we find a clear example of both (Jesus functioning as human and divine). The day after calling/receiving Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael as disciples, the group did something normal people do all the time—they went to a wedding together (along with Jesus’ mother, Mary). In the course of this ordinary event, however, Jesus did something that was anything but ordinary; He did something that normal people definitely don’t do all the time. He performed a miracle. It was His first public miracle, the first manifestation of this kind of His glory, and it lead to another level of belief among His disciples.
The big idea in this short scene is the simple fact that Jesus is the Christ and John told stories—miraculous stories—like this to help his readers see and believe that. That was the exact effect it had on Jesus’ disciples (including John!), and that’s the exact effect it ought to have on you and me. Let’s pray that it would be so.
A BRIEF WORD ON BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
Before we get into the story itself, I want to say a brief word on something that is really important if we are going to get all we’re meant to out of this gospel. The Gospel of John is filled with biblical symbolism that typically serves to amplify key events within it. In our passage there are two specific symbols that I want to point out—weddings and wine.
Marriage is, by God’s design, a living picture of the gospel and a sign pointing to the Great Wedding that is to come. What’s more, in three short years, Jesus would drink wine again with these men (and the other seven) at the Last Supper and the institution of Communion as the sign of the New Covenant. Both of these things are woven into the fabric of this story to help us more fully appreciate its significance.
The study of these kinds of things often falls under the discipline of what we call “biblical theology”. Biblical theology has one main assumption and two main areas of focus that result from it. The main assumption is that in the Bible, God tells one grand story—different books, different authors, different times, different genres, and different immediate purposes, but all intended to tell one bigger story. And the two main areas of focus of biblical theology are (1) identifying the story as well as possible and (2) tracing the key themes that run throughout it.
In more concrete terms and in the way of an example, the meta-story of the Bible is something like, “God’s salvation of God’s people through God’s Son and for God’s glory.” Insofar as that’s a right way to describe the overall story of the Bible, we should expect to find threads of God, whatever it is that God’s people need to be saved from, God’s Son, and God’s glory woven throughout and uniting all 66 books. Indeed, we do.
For that reason, for example, Jesus’ words in Luke 24:27 should come as no surprise. That is, if the Bible’s main story is about Jesus, it makes sense that Jesus would be found throughout the whole Bible. Indeed, He is. While walking with His disciples after His resurrection, Jesus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, …interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” As you know, Jesus didn’t come in the flesh until the time recorded in the NT. But Moses and the prophets, centuries earlier, pointed to Jesus. Biblical theology works to find and understand those things.
In the same way, there are other, somewhat lesser, themes that God has woven throughout the biblical story. Learning to recognize them adds depth and confidence and worship to our understanding of Scripture.
In our passage for this morning, the presence of two of those themes serves to draw our attention to and highlight the significance of the events described. They help us recognize that the events of this verse are bigger than they seem on the surface.
Once again, the themes are wedding and wine. This is not the place to exhaustively trace them throughout the Bible, but I do want to touch on them just a bit.
The first wedding took place between the first two people ever created, Adam and Eve. It took place in the Garden with God as the officiant. In that way, it serves as a paradigm for all future weddings and as the normal pattern for men and women in adulthood. What’s more, we learn from Jeremiah (3:14) and Hosea (2:19-20) that there is a deeper meaning behind marriage; namely, that it describes God’s relationship to His covenant people in some ways. That idea is further developed by Paul in Ephesians 5 where he explains that marriage between a man and a woman is designed by God to be a living picture of the future marriage between Christ and His Church—of the gospel. And the fullest expression of all of that is found in Revelation (19:7-8) where, in the fullness of time, we’re invited to “…rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”–for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”
We could do the same thing with wine, tracing it through the feasts given to the covenant people of God (especially Passover), the promises that God has given it to us to make our hearts glad (Psalm ), to the Last Supper where Jesus explained that it represents the blood that He would shed for us, and to the new heavens and earth where it will be a part of the eternal celebration of Christ and His bride.
The point I’m trying to make is that with even a basic understanding of the purpose for which God gave weddings and wine, and even a basic understanding of how they’re described in the Bible, our reading of John 2:1-12 is greatly enhanced. It is not a coincidence that Jesus first miracle was at a wedding and involved wine. Those two things were created by God to represent the very heart of why He came to earth.
All by itself, turning water into wine is a miracle, of course. All by itself, it ought to inspire awe and wonder. Read through a biblical theological lens, however, takes it to another level still. This was not a random, miraculous act. It was not an afterthought. It was a part of the unfolding of the plan of God to save the world from our sins, present us to His Son as a pure, spotless bride and bring us into an eternal wedding feast of joy with the new wine of Jesus. That adds significant amazement to something that’s already pretty amazing, doesn’t it?
With that as the backdrop, let’s consider the events of the passage itself.
THE WINE RAN OUT
You might already understand this, but it’s important for us to have at the front of our minds the fact that the cultural differences between us and the first century Jews are significant. Weddings among Christians today are certainly a big deal, but they are usually nowhere near as big of a deal as they were in the context of this passage. We just don’t appreciate them in the same way they did back then. To really appreciate what’s happening in our passage we have to take our picture of a wedding and multiply it exponentially.
Everything was heightened in first century Jewish weddings. The expectations were bigger. The celebrations were bigger. The decorations were bigger (even among the poor). The food and drink were more important. The weddings and honeymoons lasted longer. The social pressure to get things right was bigger. You get the idea.
A Real Situation (3)
It is for all of those reasons that what probably seems like a relatively small thing to you and me (running out of wine), was a really big deal to the family of the bride and groom in John 2:3. That the wine ran out would have been no small matter. Rightly or wrongly, it would have brought a kind of shame and lasting stigma on the family—especially the grooms family who was primarily responsible for the wedding—that would not soon (if ever) have been forgotten. In addition to the rest of the significance of Jesus’ actions in this passage, it was no small act of kindness and mercy. In short, this was a real social situation.
My Hour Has Not Yet Come (4)
Although the passage doesn’t explicitly state it, the fact that Jesus and Mary were both invited to the wedding suggests that the wedding was for a close friend or family member. Mary’s involvement, investment, and authority also suggests that they were close to the groom (whose family would have been responsible for the wedding). Mary clearly felt responsible to help prevent the social catastrophe that would have resulted from running out of wine in a way that was beyond what a more distant guest would have felt.
That Joseph isn’t mentioned suggests that he had passed away by this point (sometime after Jesus’ teaching in the temple when He was twelve). And with Joseph no longer present, it was natural for Mary to look to Jesus, her oldest son for something she would have otherwise looked to her husband for. Therefore, “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine'” and she expected Jesus to help.
It’s not certain that Mary expected a miracle, and I have no reason to believe this actually happened, but it is because of passages like this that I sort of imagine child-Jesus causing toy balls to levitate or His siblings’ toys to temporarily disappear or some of the mistakes He made when working in the shop with His dad to be “fixed”. You know…just little, fun miracles that Mary would have watched and smiled at. “Oh Jesus, I thought I told you to stop that.” Again, there’s no record of that kind of thing at all, but somehow Mary knew that Jesus had the power to fix the situation and we can’t help but to wonder if she had miraculous power in mind.
Jesus’ initial response is rather curious; at least on the surface. Instead of a quick, “Sure thing, mama, I’ll see what I can do,” He said (in v.4), “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” On several levels this sounds sort of cold or disrespectful or at least off-putting. It’s as if Jesus was bothered that His mom would try to put that on Him.
As the rest of the passage bears out, that was not the case. Jesus’ reply does, however, point to two crucial things. First, with His public ministry having begun, the nature of His relationship to His mom would never be the same. As He made clear (Matthew 12:48-50), He was now Mary’s Christ before He was her son. That’s why Jesus called her “woman” instead of “mom”. “Woman” was a term of respect and formality (probably most like “ma’am”). And second, His priorities as the Christ were different than, and trumped over, His priorities as son. That’s why Jesus asked, “What does this have to do with me?,” in light of the fact that His “hour [had] not yet come.” That second point needs a bit more explaining.
If you ever read a harmony of the Gospels (a chronological account of the events described in all four Gospels), you’ll notice that Jesus ministry builds in its clarity and public nature. Early on Jesus performs very few signs and teaches mostly among His close followers. It is only as He comes closer to the time of His crucifixion that He works in more public and controversial ways (which serves to bring about His crucifixion). Jesus very much understood this. This is why at first He often commanded those He healed to tell no one.
To this end (that is, to the end of keeping things on the down low until the proper time), John’s Gospel pictures this mysterious combination of Jesus strategizing and the Father miraculously directing (John 7:30) it all.
The bottom line is that Jesus knew that the more He functioned as the Christ, the more He’d invite the ire of Israel and Rome. He had come to die, but the Father had given Him work to do on earth first. To perform a miracle of this nature, this early, and this publically, would certainly draw attention that He was not yet ready for. It was not yet time for Him to go to the cross.
Do Whatever He Tells You (5)
Again, as evidence that Jesus meant nothing disrespectful, in response to His reply, Mary took it to mean that (in spite of its problematic timing), Jesus would come to her aid, and therein to the aid of the bride, groom, and their families. In preparation for whatever form His help would take, Mary commanded the wedding servants to “do whatever he tells you” (v.5).
Last week we encountered a critical question in Jesus words to His first followers, “What are you seeking [from me]?” I told you that I hoped and prayed that question would stick with you until you had a real answer to it. In these simple words from Mary, the mother of Jesus, we have another version of that.
In a very real way, the heart of the Christian faith, the heart of what it means to be a Christian, is “doing whatever He tells you,” in the certain knowledge that it is always better than every alternative. Embedded in this are the glorious twin facts that (1) Jesus is King and has the right to tell you what to do and (2) that He is a good King so everything He commands is perfect.
Would you ask God to help you settle on this, Grace? Would you ask God to help you appreciate the absolute reality that Jesus has the right to command and the goodness to make it right? And would you ask God to help you recognize that all that Jesus has commanded is given to us in the Bible? These things are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. That is, eager willingness to “do whatever he tells you” is the joyful responsibility of all who claim to have faith in Jesus.
WATER YOU TURNED INTO WINE
Jesus was announced as the Lamb of God by John the Baptist, He had begun His public ministry by calling five disciples to Himself, the six of them joined Jesus’ mother at a wedding that Mary was an important helper at, in a serious social foible, the groom’s family didn’t order enough wine and it had run out, Mary brought the issue to Jesus who clarified His status and mission for His mom, and now things hung in the balance. What would Jesus do? What would happen with the wine and the wedding?
For the most part, all of that was mean to lead to the events of vs.6-11.
If you didn’t already know what He did, what would you expect Jesus to do? Do you imagine Him leaving it up to the family to figure out so as to avoid prematurely ushering in His “time”? Or maybe you picture him helping, but in a manner that would keep the controversy to a minimum (maybe offer to build something—Jesus was a carpenter after all—for the wine-maker in payment for more wine)? Or maybe you think Jesus should just come out with a bang, making it rain wine?
We’ll see what Jesus actually did in just a second, but before we do, I want to highlight the simple fact that what Jesus actually did, doesn’t make total sense for any of our “semi-sanctified common sense” categories. It didn’t perfectly shield Him from revealing His power or reveal His power in a way that would cause the whole world to tremble and worship.
And here’s the lesson…honoring God often means thinking, feeling, and doing things that defy our usual categories. There is a place for ordinary wisdom in the Christian life, for sure, but too often we treat ordinary wisdom as the ultimate authority rather than the Word of God. Does it make sense for an undermanned army to get rid of most of their soldiers before battle (Gideon)? Does it make sense for a hungry people to eat bread that grows overnight on the ground or not collect any extra (Moses)? Does it make sense for old, barren women to be the mother of countless covenant children (Sarah)?
The things Jesus did often looked foolish to many and flew in the face of semi-sanctified common sense. Following Him, doing whatever He tells you in His Word, therefore, means that we will often find ourselves in the same place. If your aim is to always fully understand or look dignified in the things you do or seem reasonable to ungodly people, you will regularly veer from the path Jesus has called you to.
With that, let’s quickly consider what Jesus did.
It’s a Miracle (6-10)
What He did was a miracle.
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 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 10 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.”
As a favor to his mom, a service to the groom’s family, and (as we’ll soon see) an expression of His glory and a means of growing the faith of His disciples, Jesus took around 150 gallons of ordinary water and turned it into wine.
As you probably noticed, absolutely nothing is said about how Jesus did this. There’s no mention of prayer or dipping His finger in the water or putting one grape in each or anything. None of that was the point. It was water and then, by Jesus’ power, it was wine; as simple as that. Contrary to the foolish musings of some today, there’s no way around the fact that the Bible is, from front to back, unapologetically supernatural. There is no way around the fact that John records this story in his Gospel (under the Spirit’s inspiration), precisely because he witnessed Jesus perform a miracle and understood it as proof that Jesus was the Christ who brings life to all who believe.
The First Sign (11)
John records eight miracles of Jesus in his Gospel. He makes a point of explaining that this was the first.
11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee…
In conclusion, then, I want to draw your attention to three things the text tells us about this first miracle.
- He didn’t make ordinary wine. He made the best wine. “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.” I don’t want to say more than the text does here, but at the very least, this helps us to see that Jesus doesn’t offer the bare minimum. He’s not merely utilitarian. He loves and serves generously (filling the jars to the top) and excellently, and we would do well to follow in His example whenever we can.
- In this manifested His glory. In addition to explaining that Jesus did more than was merely necessary, John also made a special point to mention that in performing miracle, Jesus “manifested his glory.” That is, Jesus’ act of turning water into wine demonstrated that He had power and authority beyond that of any mere man. This miracle was an unmistakable display of glory unique to the Christ, the Son of God. And we are right to bring Him continual worship and praise because of it.
- Finally, this miracle cause His disciples to believe in Him. The very last words of our passage are, “And his disciples believed in him.” This is curious in that they clearly believed in Him already (“we have found the Christ,” “him of whom Moses…and also the prophets wrote,” “the Son of God…the King of Israel”). The very fact that they had followed Him proves that.
What was John getting at (especially considering the fact that he was among the disciples who believed because of this)? In short—and this is a big deal, Grace—our entire Christian lives until heaven are about increasingly believing in Jesus. I hope some of you find real and significant comfort today to hear that we are saved by having faith, not a certain measure of it. God-given faith, the size of a mustard seed, has as much saving power as an entire ocean of it. God’s grace helps us grow in our faith as Christians, and therein increasing trust in God in our daily lives, but the continual prayer of a Christian is, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Here John’s point is that Jesus helped His believing disciples with another pocket of their unbelief. And if you ask Him, He will help you too.
Jesus performed a miracle. The awesome, glorious nature of that was amplified by the fact that it was wrapped in the biblically significant themes of wedding and wine. The disciples saw this and were rightly amazed and rightly strengthened in their belief. Those ought to be the results for all of us as well. And yet, as I close, I want to keep a crucial question in front of you that we’ll be continually confronted with in this Gospel: why do some people see these things and respond in worship and belief (in Jesus day and in ours) and others (most?) respond in indifference, mockery, and even anger? Why did no one else follow Jesus as a result of this manifestation of glory (John doesn’t record a single, additional convert as a result of this miracle witnessed by others)? In the same way, why are some of you moved significantly by this story while others are bored by it? The answer is really important and will become increasingly clear as we work through John’s Gospel. In short, the answer is the sovereign grace of God—the sovereign Grace of God that Jesus came to purchase on the cross. Let’s pray that it would flood over us right now; let’s pray that God would cause us to believe in Him.