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Water and Wine

John 2:1-11

Perhaps because it is so early in Jesus’ ministry that the other Gospel writers do not include this first miracle. John was there from the beginning, and he remembers it thusly:

1On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.£

7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

12After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.


It is fairly well known among Christians that God uses his miracles for his purposes, and not to satisfy the whims (or pleas) of his disciples. One such purpose is to be a witness – either to the Christ, or one of his apostles. This event is such a witness. We can see this in the way in which Jesus performs this miracle:

  • First, note that he instructs the servants to fill the jars. Why? Perhaps it is so that the disciples would not think they had somehow contributed to the miracle. But it is equally likely that this was done so that the servants would be witnesses to the miracle. They could honestly say that they were performing their assigned task, and this is what they saw. (Besides, Jesus does not take a servant from his place, but uses him where he is).
  • Next, note that Jesus did not fill the jars himself, miraculously. He could do this – He who spoke and the worlds began – but he did not. The time of the old creation is past; that of the new creation has yet to arrive. The miracle is “ordinary.” It is a matter of divine style; water becomes wine by natural means, and Christ is the author of nature. Besides, it’s more convincing to the servants; 30 gallons of water weighs about 240 pounds.
  • The “master of the banquet” (some translations have “ruler of the feast”) is (according to Chrysostom) what we today would call a caterer. As such he has one most necessary attribute: he’s sober. The guests evidently are not. For a miracle like this, you would want at least one sober witness. If the servants were likewise sober, then it appears that most of those who could testify to this were indeed cold sober. Which makes the caterer’s judgment about the quality of the wine all the more important. Again, it is divine style: Jesus does all things well.
  • The caterer, having no idea where the wine came from, comes to the obvious conclusion that the bridegroom (who paid for the wedding in those days) has done something stupid. Then as now, the older the wine, the better the taste – and the more expensive the bottle. So the caterer thinks he is letting the young man know that this is dumb – get the guests plastered and then bring out the cheap stuff. In so doing, he gives the bridegroom the chance to be a witness too.

You can see that the style has been calculated to produce the evidence in such way as to make the fact of the miracle beyond dispute. You can imagine the buzz of gossip in the village the next day.

But it was not merely to start the words flowing from the mouth that Jesus did this. His purposes are clear:

  • First, that it will be a sign to one and all. Not just to those of that time, but to all who come afterward.
  • In so doing, he reveals his glory. It is now clear that there is some special connection between God the Creator and this man Jesus.
  • Though the whole of the doctrine could not be made clear to them as yet, it is sufficient for the disciples. It takes but one bullet to prove the gun is loaded. They put their trust in him – which is precisely what he intended.

His sign; his purpose – then, now and forever.

Why did Jesus…?

Perform this miracle at all?

There are several reasons for this. The question makes a bit of sense, for Jesus clearly reacts as if it is too early.

  • It is possible that his host was overwhelmed by Jesus and disciples as extra guests. As travelers, hospitality would ordain that they be invited. There is perhaps some aspect of bringing your own bottle to this. At the least, it is polite not to overburden your host – and Jesus was unfailingly polite, but never stuffy.
  • It is also just possible that he did this to give fits to the WCTU types. There has always been a tendency to portray Jesus as a stuffed shirt who wept twice but never laughed. (How we put Jesus into our picture frames!)
  • Most likely of all, however, is that Jesus responds to Mary’s trust. It’s a lesson for us; things change when we trust him.

Use the ceremonial pots?

Those things are heavy when filled with water! And there were certainly a bunch of empty wine jugs around. Why didn’t he re-use some of those? Doesn’t he know he should be recycling?

  • If for no other reason, it is to show by divine evidence that the Son of Man is superior to the Law. These pots are used for ritual cleansing, never for wine.
  • But “new wine in new skins;” Jesus is Lord both of the Sabbath and the feast. In this way he shows his disciples that he is indeed something new.

Say “no” to Mary, then do ask she asked?

The answer to this is found in Mary herself:

  • First, Jesus exemplifies here the command to “Honor your father and mother.” It is his rule; he is pleased to set an example.
  • Next, for her humility in the way she asks. She puts the servants at his disposal (which, by the way, indicates that this might have been the wedding of one of Jesus’ brothers) and waits for results. She never tells him what to do.
  • His response is in humility also – not time yet – but she overcomes his humility with her obedience. By placing all she has in his hands, her obedience moves him to grant her request.

Let others do the labor?

The Son of Man is the servant king; here, the servants do the work. Why? Other than his desire that they be witnesses, we can see these:

  • In this miracle Jesus works the way he works in nature. Nature’s creator and sustainer is not a part of nature, and this is portrayed here.
  • He also wants to awaken our sense of awe in nature – and so the process is done as it would be in nature itself. The heavens declare the glory of the Lord.

Our Water to His Wine

Wine is used throughout the Bible as a metaphor for other things. This episode features two things: wine and a wedding.

  • Melchizedek brings out bread and wine to Abraham. Bread and wine are prophetic symbols of the body and blood of our Lord.
  • Indeed, in the New Testament, we use wine as the symbol of the blood of our Lord, shed for our salvation.
  • But the wedding has a part to play too. By that wine he built his church – who is the bride of Christ.

So it is fitting that he reveal himself for the first time in two great symbols: wine, which symbolizes his blood, and wedding, which shows us the Bride of Christ.

Miracles and the church today

You will kindly note the lack of fanfare in this miracle. Those of the “jump and shout” persuasion might do well to remember these things:

  • Miracles are done in his time. They are not the playthings of the screaming, “bind the demons” preacher, but rather the power of the Word become Flesh.
  • Miracles are done in his way. There is a certain sense of style to miracles, as shown here. Those who want pigs to fly miraculously might take note of this.
  • Miracles are often done in honor of our humble prayers. Our humble obedience greatly pleases him, and he is therefore pleased to hear our prayers.
Mary’s Three Keys to Discipleship

It is unfortunate that (particularly since the Reformation) the Roman Catholic church has continually elevated Mary. I am told that the Pope now wishes to declare (infallibly, of course) that Mary is co-redemptrix with Christ. One result of this is the fact that the Protestant (and especially evangelical) churches have minimized what Mary has done. I present for your consideration three keys to discipleship which Mary exemplifies:

  • Obedience. Whatever else Mary knows, she has found that obedience brings forth a great response from God. Her statement, ecce ancilla, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord” is one of the most sublime statements of obedience. She shows it here too.
  • God Reliance. So many of us are anxious to tell God how to arrange things to obtain the results we pray for. Mary shows the perfect balance in this: she relies on God’s wisdom to determine what is to be done – but is also willing to do her part at his command.
  • Trust. One aspect of trust shines out here: she trusts that God will work. So many of us are confident that God will do nothing. She expects him to act. More than that, she expects that he will act to do what is good for those who love him.

These three things were true when Jesus walked the earth. They are still true today. God has not changed. Have we?

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