The First Sign - John 2:1-12
©September 27th, 2020 by Rev. Rick Goettsche SERIES: John
When I was in college, we had an on-campus worship service on Thursday nights. At one time, we had about 150 people regularly attending this service. One night while we were singing, the director of the ministry came and told me he needed me in the back. I assumed there was some sort of issue with the university that he needed me to handle. When I got to the back I saw the reason he got me—there was a young man having a seizure! I asked why in the world he’d come and gotten me. His response was that I was a lifeguard, so he thought I’d know what to do. I thought one of the handful of nurses or nursing students in the room might have been a better choice! It was a strange circumstance, because I wasn’t sure what he thought I could do. I had him call 911 and proceeded to work at stabilizing this young man. There’s more to the story, but the short version is that this young man ended up being ok. When the ambulance arrived, they knew his name before I even told them—he was a frequent flier. Needless to say, it was a very memorable experience.
In our text this morning, I see some similarities to my experience in college. Jesus was a guest at a wedding when his mother comes to him and mentions a problem. There is a sense in which I imagine Jesus thinking, why are you talking to me about this? But the difference between me and Jesus is that Jesus had the ability to solve the problem—and he did so miraculously. This is a fascinating account which raises many questions but can also teach us a great deal.
We pick up the story shortly after Jesus had gained his most recent disciples.
The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. (John 2:1-2, NLT)
Jesus and his new disciples headed to the village of Cana in Galilee for a wedding. Scholars aren’t entirely sure where Cana was, but it was most likely relatively close to Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown. We also discover later in John’s gospel (21:2), that Nathanael was from Cana. We don’t know how exactly Jesus and his disciples ended up at this wedding celebration, but the text says they were invited, so either Jesus, Nathanael (or maybe everyone) had some connection to the couple (who is never named). Whatever the case, Jesus and his disciples find themselves at this wedding.
It is helpful to give a little background on Hebrew weddings. They were a big deal. The bride and groom were typically ushered through town by a parade of people, taking the most circuitous, winding route possible to prolong the celebration. The entire community shared in the joy of this couple.
After the wedding took place, they had a huge party. Rather than a honeymoon, the newly married couple would host the party all week and would be treated like royalty by the friends and family. This celebration would likely be the grandest thing the bride and groom would ever do in their lives, especially if the family was poor, as was likely for the residents of Cana.
One of the major staples at these weddings was wine, and plenty of it. This not because it was a drunken party—on the contrary. Drunkenness was condemned within the Jewish faith, and to drink to excess at a wedding would be highly disrespectful. But wine was a symbol of celebration and of joy. As such, it was appropriate to have plenty of wine throughout the entirety of such a joyous occasion. It is against this backdrop that we can better understand what happens next.
3 The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” 5 But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5, NLT)
Tragedy strikes at the wedding, as the wine supply runs out. This would have been an incredibly embarrassing situation for the newly married couple. It would bring the celebration to a grinding halt and cast a black cloud over the entire celebration and may even make them believe their marriage was doomed as well.
The text makes it sound like Mary was aware of the wine shortage before the guests. As such, some believe Mary may have been a hostess at the wedding, which may indicate closeness to the couple. It’s impossible to know this, but it seems plausible.
Whatever the case, she comes to Jesus and doesn’t make a request, but informs him that they had run out of wine. But her statement clearly seems to expect Jesus to do something to remedy the problem. This means Mary probably already had some sense of Jesus’ power. She knew he had the ability to fix things.
Jesus’ response has been a source of many jokes through the years—as well as many misunderstandings. When Jesus addresses his mother as “dear woman” (or just “woman” in older translations), he was not speaking disrespectfully to his mother. In our culture addressing your mother as “woman” might get you smacked, but the language he used was respectful in their culture. His response, however, is perplexing. He says, “That’s not our problem. My time has not yet come.” What did Jesus mean?
I think Jesus is gently trying to remind his mother of an important point—that she did not set his timetable, but the Father does. In other words, He was reminding Mary that His actions all served a greater purpose, and everything He did was ultimately leading towards “His time”—when He would be glorified in his crucifixion and resurrection. I suspect Mary got the message, but she still seemed to think Jesus was going to do something, because she told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them.
As Mary anticipated, Jesus did something to remedy the problem.
6 Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, 8 he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.
9 When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. 10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” (John 2:6-10, NLT)
Jesus tells the waiters to fill up six stone water jars to the brims with water. These jars were used for ceremonial washing by the Jews. Each held 20-30 gallons of water. This would have seemed a strange thing for the servants to do. They had major problems to solve; the last thing they would want to do was haul 180 gallons of water! But they obeyed Jesus (and in so doing, Mary). They filled the jars up to the brim, meaning the only thing in these jars was water and there was no room for anything else. This means there was no other explanation for what happens next other than a miracle.
Jesus told them to dip some out and take it to the Master of Ceremonies, the man in charge of the feast. When he tasted the water (which was now wine), it was finer than any wine they’d had before, and he commends the groom for saving the best for last.
I imagine the groom graciously accepting the compliment while also having no clue what the master of ceremonies was talking about! Jesus not only made sure they had more wine, but it was the finest wine of the celebration! And not only did Jesus make sure they had enough wine to get through the rest of the celebration, he made somewhere between 120-180 gallons of wine! There was wine in abundance!
John gives a postscript to this event in verses 11-12.
11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him. 12 After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples. (John 2:11-12, NLT)
He says that this was Jesus’ first miracle, and his disciples believed in him. They had already believed to some degree (as we saw last week), but this event helped solidify their belief in Jesus. John doesn’t just refer to this event as a miracle, however (though it was a miracle). He refers to it as a sign. Throughout John’s gospel, he refers to Jesus’ miracles as signs. What are they signs of? All of Jesus’ miracles were done to teach us something specific about Jesus, His ministry, and God’s plan. Every miracle was a sign. This miracle was no different.
So why did Jesus perform this particular miracle? Why did he choose this as his first sign? Why not something different?
The Christian comedian Mark Lowry liked to joke that Jesus’ first miracle was done just to keep the party going. There’s obviously more to it than that. But it still seems like an odd choice. I think there’s at least three different reasons for this miracle.
First, it shows Jesus’ care for individuals. This is an intensely personal miracle. This wasn’t a miracle to “keep the party going”, it was a miracle that helped protect a couple from embarrassment and shame. It was a miracle that made their wedding day a wonderful memory as opposed to a terrible one.
This miracle reminds us that Jesus cares for individuals. He cares for you and for me. He cares about the intimate details about your life. He hurts when you hurt and rejoices when you rejoice. This is a wonderful reminder to us. It doesn’t mean that Jesus will always spare us from hardship or even shame, but it does mean that He cares about us and is never simply leaving us on our own.
We don’t know if the couple ever found out what Jesus had done (though I have to believe someone told them). But the disciples knew, and so did the waiters. The people who knew about this miracle learned about how Jesus cared intimately for people.
Second, it shows how Jesus brings joy. In the Bible, wine is often used to symbolize joy. And that’s one of the reasons it was such an important part of a wedding celebration. Wine was intended to demonstrate the joy that marriage can and should bring. By creating wine for his first miracle, Jesus points us to the fact that a relationship with him is the ultimate source of joy. Listen to how William Barclay describes this,
[W]hat John wants us to see here is not that Jesus once on a day turned some water pots of water into wine; he wants us to see that whenever Jesus comes into a person’s life, there comes a new quality which is like turning water into wine. Without Jesus, life is dull and stale and ﬂat; when Jesus comes into it, life becomes vivid and sparkling and exciting. Without Jesus, life is drab and uninteresting; with him it is thrilling and exhilarating.
Too many times Christians are not joyous people. We are known as hard and angry people. We are known as people who break up celebrations or frown on them, rather than people who enjoy the blessings of life. Jesus jumped right in to celebrate. He was not in the corner frowning at people not behaving with appropriate decorum, I think He was smiling as he looked at the people celebrating the blessing of marriage.
Friends, if the gospel is true, we ought to be the most joyous people on the face of the earth! If we really believe Jesus has given us forgiveness and new life, and that He cares intimately about the things we face in this life, and that He will never leave us or forsake us, our lives ought to be characterized by joy! That’s not to say there will not be hard times in life, nor that we will never be sad, but this miracle reminds us that life with Jesus is full of joy and blessings.
Third, it shows how Jesus lavishes us with more than we deserve. Jesus didn’t just make another couple bottles of wine or create some watered down wine to help the couple save face. No, instead he created 180 gallons of the best wine there was at the whole celebration (personally, I think it was probably the best wine ever!) This was not just a miracle to keep the party going, it was a miracle that shows how the gifts of God are so much greater than we deserve or we might even expect.
Again, this should lead us to great joy. Why do you think there are so many Christian songs about God’s overwhelming grace? Because God does not merely save us from punishment, He gives us a new life through Jesus. He does not merely ensure we survive, He wants us to live life abundantly. He gives extravagantly to His children. This miracle is intended to remind us of how extravagant God’s love toward us is.
So, what applications can we draw from such a passage? First, the right response to these signs is to trust in Jesus. That was the response of Jesus’ disciples. They didn’t marvel at the miracle he did and ask what other cool things he could do. They didn’t ask him to perform miracles to enrich them (Jesus, can you turn that bush into a money tree?) Their response was one of trust and worship. That should be our response to seeing the power and glory of Jesus revealed. If your response is, “I wonder why God doesn’t do stuff like that for me” you’ve missed the point. And you’ve missed the blessings God has given you. What we should see is that we serve a God who can do all things, and He does them in His perfect timing. The proper response to this story is to draw close to the Lord and trust Him with everything we have.
Second, we can only experience the blessings of God if we follow Mary’s advice—do whatever He tells you. Jesus could have performed this miracle without the waiters. He didn’t need to involve the master of ceremonies. But He did involve these people. I think the reason was so that their faith would be bolstered as well.
Faith is like a muscle. When we choose to trust God when it’s hard, and then we see Him come through, our faith is strengthened because we have seen He is faithful. If we want to see the blessings of God, we have to trust Him enough to do what He says. Like the waiters who, in the middle of a crisis, were asked to focus their energies on getting 180 gallons of water instead of finding more wine, sometimes doing what Jesus tells us doesn’t make sense at first. But if we actually do what He says, we will find Him to be faithful over and over again. For example,
· We should show love and respect to those who are unloving and disrespectful, even when we’d rather respond in kind.
· We should be honest when it seems like a “little white lie” might be a much better option.
· We should give freely of the things God has given us rather than hoarding them for ourselves to ensure we have enough to indulge our desires.
· We should make time for worship, prayer, digging into God’s Word, and using our gifts for ministry, even though the world tells us we will miss out by making those things a priority.
· We should follow the morality of the Bible, even though the world tells us it is outdated and old-fashioned.
These things all run contrary to what makes sense to us, or what the world around us says to do. But faith means doing what God says, even if we can’t understand why He says to do it. If we want to experience God’s blessings in our life, it starts by doing what He has told us to do. When we do that, we set ourselves up to see Him work in ways we might never have expected or even dared to dream.
Finally, it reminds us to be joyful. Joy is something that’s missing in our world right now. The pandemic has been a stressful time for everyone. Most people are angry and frustrated—even Christians. But we should be different than the rest of the world. We have hope when the world is hopeless. When the world is wringing their hands over infections, elections, and other unknowns, we can trust that God is still on the throne.
Christians have a reputation as militant and angry people who are against everything. Unfortunately we have gained the reputation as people who want to fight, not people who are joyful. There are some things worth fighting for, but there are far more things we should just let go. We can do that because we trust that God is still in control!
We must stand firm against the temptation to indulge in the sinful behaviors of this world, but we should also live with joy in everything else! We have what everyone else in the world desires—assurance that God will take care of us in this life and in the life to come. If we want the world to believe God’s way is best, we have to believe it ourselves. What does the world see when it looks at the way you live? Do people see joy or do they see something else? Our joyful lives should shine brightly in a dark and dreary world.
Jesus’ first sign is unique. Throughout his ministry, Jesus liked to surprise people by doing the opposite of what they would expect. But Jesus wasn’t just looking to make a splash here—He was making a point. We serve a God who gives us “exceedingly abundantly beyond all we can ask or imagine”! When you face situations that would try to rob your joy, look back to Jesus’ first sign and remember that just as He cared for this unnamed couple at Cana, He cares for you. And just as He blessed them, He has also blessed you and will continue to do so. Refuse to allow the world to take your focus off of Jesus—fix your eyes on Him and live life with gusto!
©September 27th, 2020 by Rev. Rick Goettsche SERIES: John
 Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Rev. and updated. Vol. 1. The New Daily Study Bible. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001.