The First Miracle
[read passage, prayer] As know, not one for having lots of props for my sermons. But think this one appropriate, given our passage. Wine bottle, pretty sure this one is got as wedding gift. Think it’s pretty good kind too!
Receiving this as gift flows out of long stream of ancient traditions. Wine long been associated with blessing and celebration, across various cultures, across various time periods. Jewish texts assumed and expected that wine would especially be present at important occasions, such as Sabbath meals or coronations or weddings.
Of course we also know that wine can be abused and lead to great trouble. Many ancient texts warned against getting drunk on wine or on becoming a drunkard, the Bible certainly among them. Illus – Unfortunately been at several wedding celebrations where several guests got smashed. Even seen bride and bridgegroom get way drunk! Bible rightly warns against lingering too long over wine.
That being said, is striking that wine, and particularly having abundance of wine, is one of more powerful symbols we have of God’s blessing and goodness. Listen to these great passages. 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.” Doesn’t that sound awesome? You can appreciate then the fervency of messianic expectations back then. As an ancient Jew you had much to anticipate?
Listen to Jer 31:12. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. Or Amos 9:13 - "Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.
Our passage then naturally invites lot of questions. Why here? Why Jesus do what he did? Only about making good party really good party? Or is something more at play here? Perhaps something is happening along the lines of what is spoken of in the Old Testament?
Text points us in direction we should go. Quick lesson on reading Bible, too often we rush right through passages, totally miss point. Instead, pay attention to the details. Note different reactions. And especially pay attention to what the author himself says about what this event accomplished. Will help us in the end.
Story begins third day after Nathanael has joined up with Jesus. Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding, along with his mother Mary.
Now, Jewish wedding celebrations were some serious parties. Kind of parties that everybody turned out for. Still see this in some cultures. Ask the Laings for example how many people were at their wedding in Indonesia. Joel told me that he met someone just once and yet was expected that they would invite them to their wedding. You might invite an aunt, and that aunt is fully expected to invite several of her friends also to come!
Jewish wedding celebration also not one day affairs. Party often would run for at least week. And financial responsibility for the entire party. To run out of supplies during a wedding was huge embarrassment, very shameful. Would not live it down for many years. Even some evidence that could lay the groom open to a lawsuit from the relatives of the bride if unable to accommodate all the guests!
So running out of wine huge deal for this groom. Most definitely sweating bullets. Jesus’ mother Mary becomes aware of situation and goes to Jesus to tell him what has happened.
Now why would Mary want tell Jesus? Left specifically unsaid in text, but most obvious reason is most likely the correct one – she wanted Jesus to do something about it.
Some traditions that point to Mary being a widow by this point. Some hints in Scripture of this. We don’t hear at all about Joseph after the episode in the temple when Jesus was twelve (read about in Luke 2). And by this point he was known as the carpenter (Mk 6:3). This indicates that Jesus had formally taken up Joseph’s carpentry, and the family had most likely, at least up until Jesus began his public ministry, been dependent on Jesus. And really, with a firstborn son like Jesus, well, how could you not? Now certainly, Mary also knew that her son was unique and special. He’s the Messiah!
So surely Mary can get him help out somehow, since she is his mother after all, and surely he will help out, because he is the Messiah, and this might be a good way to reveal that to everyone.
Jesus’ answer is striking. v.4, “And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come." Now, Greek word for “woman” not as harsh as seems. Really don’t have great English equivalent. “Ma’am” is our closest equivalent. Jesus refers to his mother in courteous way, but not particularly familiar way, certainly not in way would expect a son would towards his mom.
Really distant way to address one’s mother. This amplified by what he follows with, essentially mild rebuke, “what does this have to do with me?”
What Jesus showing is that he now most definitely a man with a mission. It is mission guided by God and one that can not be subject to desires or wishes of any person, no matter who they are. Everything, even family ties, must be subordinated to fulfillment of his divine mission. Even Mary, his mother, shouldn’t presume upon their relationship to push him to act in any way. Jesus can no longer act under her authority or do whatever she wants him to do.
Now of course, this saying that Jesus not deeply care for his mother. v.12 remarks on how after wedding he and disciples go to Capernaum to spend time with his mother and rest of his family. While he was hanging on the cross Jesus makes provision for her.
However, what must come first is his mission. And his mission is to go to a cross. “My hour has not yet come.” This reference to an “hour” is constantly used in book of John to refer to the cross. Even at this early stage, his first year of ministry, Jesus has his eyes set on what his ministry must ultimately culminate in – death, resurrection, and exaltation, all by means of the cross.
This is the goal. Jesus in this moment seeks to reorient his mother towards that same goal. What Jesus must accomplish on the cross is what his mother and indeed all people most need from Jesus. And the road Jesus will travel to get that point, and the public signs and miracles he will do along the way, must happen on God’s schedule, and God’s terms.
Not mean Jesus will then do absolutely nothing. This is why Mary tells servants to be ready to do whatever Jesus tells them to. By no means did Mary fully understand everything that was in store for Jesus. But she knew that in the end what she needed was leave this in Jesus’ hands, and trust that he would act, but in his timing and in his way. As one author puts it, Mary comes to Jesus as his mother in v.3, in v.5 she responds as a believer, putting her faith in him. She doesn’t know what Jesus will do, but she has complete confidence that he will do what’s best.
Jesus does act, but he decides to act behind the scenes. He will act, but so that he might reveal more of himself specifically to his disciples.
So we told in v.6-7 that Jesus has the servants fill up six stone water jars with water. Jars were there for the Jewish rites of purification. Most likely used for ritual washing of certain utensils and of guests’ hands.
Each jar could hold 20-30 gallons of water. Means then that collectively jars could hold 120 to 180 gallons. Jesus has them fill them to capacity.
Jesus then instructs them to draw some out from these now full jars and bring it over to the master of the feast. This “master of the feast” was either a head waiter or perhaps an honored guest who was serving as a kind of master of ceremonies for the celebration. Would be in charge of catering, distribution of the wine.
The master tastes from cup the servants give him and that’s when we realize something extraordinary has happened. It is wine in that cup, not water. Jesus has turned 120-180 gallons of water into wine.
Let’s appreciate significance of this. Bring back out my wine bottle. 1 gallon of wine would be about 5 of these wine bottles. Means then that the jars held the equivalent of 600 to 900 wine bottles. That whole lotta wine! Jesus did not skimp here. This would be like Jesus walking into a restaurant and saying, “All drinks are on me, for rest of the week, 24 hours a day!”
Worth mentioning here that this was real wine. Some have tried argue wine used in Jesus’ day, like the wine used at this wedding for example, was really just unfermented grape juice. That’s silly. Wine spoken of in ancient texts we have from biblical times besides the Bible make it very clear that word “wine” meant definitely of alcoholic variety. If wasn’t alcoholic then we wouldn’t have warning in passages like Eph 5:18 to not get drunk from wine. Can’t get drunk off of grape juice! Also remember, did not have refrigeration or hermetic sealing. Fermentation happened quickly and was inevitable.
This being said, not like they pounding back shots back then either. Wine they drank was diluted with water. This made the alcoholic content of wine they drank little less strong than that of beer.
So this is real wine, and whole lot of it. Feast master no idea how this has happened. Thinks groom responsible for this, had some secret stash. And he’s incredibly impressed by it! He tells him in v.10, "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."
What true today true back then. As time goes on in a party, and if people are drinking wine throughout, pretty soon they feeling pretty good. “Drunk freely” is the expression used here. “Buzzed” be modern translation of this word I think. (Again, another example that this was alcoholic wine). Not make much difference what drank later on, their senses already kind of dull. Illus – Think of people been with at tailgate parties, eating grapes, drinking wine. Then go into stadium buy $10 beer that looks like pee and tastes like it too. But they buy it and happily drink it up.
Got much different scenario here. The feast master can immediately tell that this is superior wine to anything they’ve drank before. It is good good wine! We can only imagine the surprise of the groom at this!
The text concludes with statement to describes what’s happened and launches us towards what is we meant to learn from it. v.11, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.”
Word “sign” significant word. What Jesus does not meant be cheap magic trick, way to oh and ah people with his power. A sign meant to point to something beyond itself. For those given the faith to see, like the disciples in this case, the signs Jesus does reveal his glory, which is God’s glory. They show that God is here, actively at work!
Spoke last week of how in Christ we now under an open heaven, where we can witness and experience God in way we unable to before. This sign flows right along with this teaching but now expands our understanding. To be connected to God in this way is nothing less than a new era, a new divine age. It is the divine new age that OT prophets looked forward to. This first sign announces that it is here, now, in Jesus Christ.
How describe this new age? Let’s take look back at what happens in story and what is particularly highlighted.
[CLICK] 1. The new age of Jesus is age of transformation.
Notice that John makes a point of mentioning what the jars were used for. What Jesus did would have made many a legalistic Pharisee upset! And it is important indicator of the new reality Jesus the meaning of this event.
Water represents old Judaism, marked by law and custom and ritual. Jesus came to replace this old Judaism with a new Judaism, into Christianity. It is a change from old covenant into new covenant. Indeed, what was old and partial is replaced with something new and complete.
Commentator Leon Morris puts it this way, “[Jesus] changes the water of Judaism into the wine of Christianity, the water of Christlessness into the wine of the richness and the fullness of eternal life in Christ, the water of the law into the wine of the gospel.”
That brings us to description #2. [CLICK] 2. The new age of Jesus is an age of abundance
Can’t help notice abundance of wine that made. The jars were filled to the brim. Jesus provided way more than was needed for the feast. They would have a lot left over. Symbolizes the abundant, extravagant blessing that we now find in Jesus.
What kind of abundance is this exactly? List too long to tell. Just point out things from just the gospel of John:
- In Jesus can experience have abundance of the Spirit of God, 3:34 – “…for he gives the Spirit without measure.”…..
- In Jesus can experience an abundance of joy, 15:11 – “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”…..
- In Jesus can experience an abundance of grace and truth, 1:14 – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”…
The pots were filled to the brim. The new age of Jesus is in which people can experience brimful lives! As Jesus tells us, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Third and final description. [CLICK] 3. The new age of Jesus is an age of superior quality.
The wine that was served before was inferior compared to what Jesus offers. As the master of the feast says, “You have kept the good wine until now!”
In Christ we are under better covenant (Heb 7:22). The relationship we can now have with God is substantially, qualitatively, better.
Indeed everything Jesus does is better and superior and extraordinary. Jesus heals people from long distance with just a word. Jesus feeds thousands of people with only 5 barley loaves and two small fish. He raises from the dead a man who has been dead and decomposing for four days.
No surprise then, that to live within this new age of Jesus means living life that is better, superior, extraordinary.
This is glory of Jesus being manifested to us. It is in new age, new era, new reality, new life, rich and deep and full of glory of God.
But notice, is possible witness all this, yet still miss the point. Many like the servants. They see Jesus, but they miss the glory of God in Jesus.
Only disciples saw the glory manifested by this sign. But they responded in the only way you can and must to Jesus – by believing in him.
This story of Jesus turning water into wine is meant by God to reveal his glory in Jesus, and in so doing to bring us to believe in him. Belief in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Indeed, it is belief in Jesus, absolute faith and trust in him, that draws us into this new age. All who believe in Jesus are invited to live within this age, even now.
Jesus himself later uses wedding imagery to describe how this new age he is bringing will eventually culiminate in a cosmic wedding celebration. Jesus himself will be the bridegroom, and rest assured, he will supply all the wine that is needed and then some. We even now can view ourselves and indeed live as honored guests to that marriage feast of Jesus.
Some of you though still saying how? All this seems so distant. How do I believe? And when I believe, how do I experience this? My Christian life right now seems dead and lifeless!
[CLICK] Isaiah 55:1-4 - "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.  Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.”
Jesus is the David promised by the prophet here, the one who will be witness to all peoples, a leader that will lead people from every culture and background into this new age we’ve described. One of abundant and rich milk and wine and bread.
But notice here. The call is not to those who think they can buy this. The call is not to those who think they have enough already. The call is to those who realize they have nothing. And paradoxical, in having nothing they gain everything! The one who has no money is invited to buy and eat, to receive wine and milk and bread, to delight in and enjoy eternal satisfaction.
I think back here that phrase from the Leon Morris quote, that in Jesus the water of the law turns into the wine of the gospel. Important to see that contrast. Under the old way of religion and the law, focus is on trying harder, doing better, checking off things on a checklist. Sadly, this old way is one many people still stuck in. Non-Christian, does this describe how living your life? Christian, how you still living your life this way, trying to make yourself a good, abundant life-filled Christian?
Under new way of the gospel, we look to grace and truth. We “do better” because of our faith in Christ – our faith in the truth of what Jesus teaches us and our faith that by his grace and by his strength alone we can live according to that true teaching!
We no longer are trying to be good! Instead we rejoice in generous and better wine that is the gospel of Jesus! This gospel is generous and better wine because shows you that God help you to believe in Jesus. It is generous and better wine because shows you that God also help you experience and bask in all that there is for us to have now in Jesus.
Are you humble enough to incline your ear, to listen to God, to receive from him? Not on your terms, but on his terms? To not demand upon him, but to fall on your knees, and believe in him?
Rest assured. God will make that everlasting covenant with you. He will soften your heart and open your eyes and eyes, and you begin to more and more enjoy the rich abundant wine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And more and more, you will realize that it is just not worth going back to that old religious ritual water!
May the glory of God in Jesus Christ be made manifest in such new fresh way today in our midst, so that might fully realize that kind of new age and new reality here in Phoenix!
But before the blessing of the new age could come, the cross was necessary. Paradoxical. From sacrifice on the cross came abundance. Body broken and destroyed because of our sin means now that we can be part of a whole full body of people that’s called the church. Blood poured out for us means that we now can washed fully clean of our sins, experience full riches of new covenant. etc…..