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Jesus Turned Water to Wine. What’s the Big Deal?

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I preached a very familiar passage, John 2:1-11, to our congregation a week ago. It’s the historical account of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. You may have read it many times and thought “Eh, Jesus turned water into wine. What’s so big about that?”

Unless you’ve studied the passage in-depth you will miss a lot. As I prepared, I learned a whole lot about this text that I was not even aware of. You will, too. But the main point about Jesus doing his first miracle, and the reasons why John writes about these miracles is this: “…so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

Click here to watch the 35 minute sermon, or read it below.

The Savior’s Simple Sign

John 2:1-11

As we’ve been going chronologically through the New Testament over the last several months, something struck me that is going to seem really obvious.

The reason I’m going to tell you this, is that it dawned on me in a new, fresh way as I’ve been listening to the weekend messages and studying to preach my own.

Also, I recently read this little booklet called “Listen Up!” that Pastor Zac suggested, so I’m coming prepared with “ears to hear” what God has to say to me each week.

I’m coming expectantly to church. I’m asking this question before the service: What is it you have to tell me today from the man of God in the pulpit?

This is what I’ve learned: It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about seeking his glory and not my own. It’s about knowing him more and making him known.

Over the course of our lives as Christians it’s easy to settle into a routine of just “doing” church, going through the motions, sitting patiently and leaving unchanged. A familiarity can set in about whom Jesus is.

And we can too easily and casually relegate our Savior to the status of being just a friend and companion, forgetting that he is the living Word, our Holy and righteous God.

As we’ve looked at the events in the Gospels through an historical time line, the magnified message is indeed: It’s all about Jesus!

He was prophesied about to Mary in Luke’s Gospel: And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk. 1: 31-33)

The prophesy was then fulfilled in the birth narratives with this declaration: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Lk 2:10-11)

Then, from far-off lands, came Gentile wise men to worship this Son of promise: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Mat. 2:2)

It’s all about Jesus!

In Lk 3:22, after he was baptized, God commends Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

He’s then proven as a worthy Savior when he resists the temptations in the wilderness against Satan. “Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God  and him only shall you serve.’” (Mat. 4:10)

In John 1:29, John the Baptist proclaims: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

And his first disciples followed when they discovered who he is: “We have found the Messiah.” “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn 1:41, 49)

The time line up to now in the Gospels declares this: It’s all about Jesus!

Now there’s a demarcation in Jesus’ public ministry. He now reveals a bit more than anyone has yet seen of him in the Gospels: He does his first miracle, a sign showing who he really is.

To shake off any semblance of chummy familiarity, He reveals his glory. He shows that he is more than just a man, more than just a son, and more than just a teacher. He is God in the flesh.

Read John 2:1-11: 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. 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.”

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. 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.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

Most of us, I imagine, have read this passage of Scripture many times. We are all familiar with this account.

It may not seem like a very big deal. In fact, you may be thinking “Eh, Jesus turned water into wine. What’s so big about that?”

Well, verse 11 says that the point of this sign was to “manifest his glory.” Glory sounds like a churchy word.

But by biblical definition it “is to describe the revelation of the character and the presence of God in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. (New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Tyndale)

John does not list anyone else’s name in this passage because it’s all about Jesus. The purpose of this miracle was to reveal Jesus as God to His disciples. Glory means deity.

Let’s look now at the SETTING, SITUATION, SUPPLY, SIGN and SIGNIFICANCE of John 2:1-11

THE SETTING

v.1-2: 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.

On the 3rd day, probably after the calling of his first disciples, Jesus, his disciples and family were invited to a wedding.

Weddings were huge deals in this part of the world during New Testament times. Because of the hard work involved just to live, and the poverty they had to endure on a daily basis, a wedding celebration was a welcome respite to a difficult hardscrabble life.

These weren’t just one evening affairs like we’re used to.

We’ve come to expect vows to be exchanged, a kiss, a dollar dance, the cutting of the cake and someone doing the worm on the dance floor, with everyone clearing out after a few hours.

No these celebrations could last for as long as a week, with the bride and bridegroom wearing crowns and robes under a canopy and being led along the village streets by torches.

The happy couple didn’t leave everyone for the honeymoon either, but would conduct an open house so friends and relatives could stop by and wish them well.

The fact that Jesus is there at the marriage and performs his first miracle to ensure the success of the occasion is important. Jesus is sanctifying the marriage and the ceremony itself.

This is a sacred union between a man and a woman, first designed by God in the Garden of Eden between Adam and Eve. It is about two becoming one.

Marriage has always been, and will always be, in God’s eyes, between a man and a woman. It’s more than just a piece of paper. The ceremony is designed to be a statement to the world of mutual faithfulness before a Holy God. A ceremony provides accountability to the couple before all the invited guests.

This wedding in a little non-descript place in the boondocks of Palestine was a great celebration with food and drink and great rejoicing. But something went terribly wrong….

THE SITUATION

V3: When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

At Jewish feasts wine was an essential. The Rabbis had a saying, “Without wine there is no joy.” Hospitality in that region was a sacred duty.

If something went wrong at a great social event like this one, it could haunt the married couple for the rest of their lives. It would never be forgotten. Some commentators suggest that the groom could even be sued by the bride’s relatives for not providing adequately.

I tried to think of an equivalent faux pas in our modern society, but realized that manners and civility and politeness have eroded to the point that no matter how bad the blunder, people would just shrug it off as no great thing and move onto something else.

What if, though, all of Hope Chapel was at a wedding, eating expensive hors d’ oeuvres, and salmon and Fillet Mignon, the finest of drink, and the end, the father of the bride presented each guest with a $150.00 bill to pay for the celebration?

That couple’s marriage would forever be remembered in a bad light, as the celebration of Wedding Bills. Bills to pay.

Mary wanted to save face and wanted Jesus to do something. She must have had something to do with the arrangements. She was in charge of the servants.

There’s urgency to her statement: “They have no wine.” Was she expecting a miracle? Did she really know what he could do?

V4: And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

This was not as rude a statement as you may think. It was all in the tone. “Woman” was actually a polite way to address someone.

This is the word Jesus said to his mother when he entrusted her to John as he was dying on the cross: “Woman, behold, your son!” (Jn 19:26)

It’s the word he used when he addressed Mary Magdalene after his resurrection: “Woman, why are you weeping?” (Jn 20:15)

In classical English it might be the word “Lady.” It’s a respectful word, but a distant word.  At this point Jesus intended to distance himself from the relationship with his mother to emphasize the one with his Father.

The gist of this phrase could be: “Woman, I’ll do it in my own time; it’s my concern not yours; that is why I’m here.”

Jesus was completely committed to doing the will of his Father.This was his greatest priority, and Mary would have to understand that.

Jn 8:28b: I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.

Jn 5:17: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Jn 5:19: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

Jesus was on a divine time schedule and nothing was going to deter him from the Father’s plan.

Mary was not offended at all. She got the point.

V5: His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Mary submits her will to Jesus. She trusted him even though she didn’t fully understand.

If the answer you get is “NO,” will you still trust him? I’ve been thinking about what I read in a devotional a few days ago: “You can trust the man who died for you.” Yes I can. Yes we can.

THE SUPPLY

V6-7: 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.

The ceremonial laws of the day said that people had to wash their hands before eating.

Mk 7:3: For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders,

It had less to do with cleanliness and more to do with religion. Strict Jews washed their hands after every course.

These jars held a maximum of 180 gallons of water.I don’t know exactly how they filled these jars but it couldn’t have been easy. The weight of the water alone had to weigh about 200 pounds.

These were good servants though, because they filled the jars not halfway or close to the top, but to the brim. (Trotman: The back door must look as good as the front.)

V8: And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.

To a Jew, drinking from the purification jars would be unthinkable. If you’ve ever gone camping you know that there is potable water and water to clean things with. You would not drink the unpurified water, would you?

Have you ever visited a Catholic church? There is usually a large bowl of Holy water that people dip their hands in.

Would you be willing to serve that at a wedding? This is the water that Jesus tells the servants to take to the Master of the Feast.

Put yourself in the servants’ shoes. They may have had some idea of who Jesus is, but they certainly didn’t know what Jesus was about to do.

Imagine how irritated and angry the master of the feast would be when he sipped a bit of this dirty, disgusting washing water. The servants would certainly lose their jobs over this one.

Jesus didn’t wave his hands over the water pots and look towards Heaven. He didn’t pray a loud prayer for the water to change. He didn’t even grab the jars with both hands and command the water to become wine.

As far as anyone could tell Jesus didn’t do a thing. In fact, the miracle is almost incidental. No one shouted Hallelujah! No one gasped and fainted in the back of the room. There was no applause acknowledging that Jesus saved the day.

One man wrote: “Conscious water blushed when it saw its Maker.”

THE SIGN

V9-10: 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 oversaw the distribution of food and drink at this occasion.

He was amazed because wine was usually diluted with 3 parts water and one part wine. And in his past experience, the poorer wine was served last, after the guests were drunk. (“Drunk freely” literally means “to become drunk.”)

This was of the highest quality. It was probably the sweetest, best tasting wine he ever tasted. When Jesus does something he does it excellently.

Mk 7:37: “He has done all things well.

Jesus, in kindness and understanding, covered the shame of the bride and groom by providing for their needs at a critical time. He also made so much wine that he was able to give them a generous wedding gift! He saved the best wine for last.

In mercy, he covered our shame as well and provides all that we need, when we put our trust in him. God saved his best gift, His Son, until last. Until now.

Jesus bypassed the fermentation process. He bypassed the need for grapes, vines, earth and sun. He created something out of nothing. He didn’t even speak it, but willed it to happen!  All this was evidence that he is the Creator.

Speaking of Christ, Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Jn 1:3: All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

But this miracle, this sign, had a purpose that went well beyond the temporal needs of a marriage ceremony.

THE SIGNIFICANCE

V11: This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

The sign is not the destination, but points to the destination. This sign was to manifest Jesus’ glory. This sign was to put his deity on display. This sign was to announce to his disciples and to the world: I am God.

Jesus said in Jn. 14:11: Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

Jn 10:30: I and the Father are one.”

Jn 14:6-7: Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

When a sign is shown, a miracle performed or a wonder demonstrated in the New Testament, there is a purpose.

Wayne Grudem defines a miracle as “a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.” (Systematic Theology, p. 355)

When a six inch knot in a tree looks like the Catholic icon, Our Lady of Guadalupe, it’s safe to say it’s not a miracle.

When a faith healer knees a man in the stomach to cure his Stage 4 cancer, it’s not a miracle.

When you hear of gold dust being found in the mouths of the faithful in the church on the corner, those are not miracles.

Jesus’ act at the wedding was a quiet sign. It wasn’t showy. Those who had eyes to see and ears to hear would recognize what had happened. Because of this sign, his disciples believed in him.

But what about the servants who drew the wine? Why didn’t they believe? They were eyewitnesses of his glory! They heard he was the Messiah, now they saw that it was true!

Signs and miracles performed do not necessarily cause people to believe in Jesus and his Gospel. Only God can do that.

Jn 6:44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.

I’m less concerned about those servants more concerned about the people here today who week after week have heard about who Jesus is, what he’s done, and what he continues to do—yet leave this building unbelieving. They leave unmoved, unchanged.

Jesus changing water into wine was an indication of the transforming ministry he would have. He made us out of nothing and transformed all those who believe in him into something, into new creations.

He changes sinners to saints, wretched to blessed, and condemned to commended.

This sign, like all the other signs in John’s Gospel, teach us about our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

John 20:30-31: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Do you believe? There is no more important decision that you can make.

2 Comments

  1. “He changes sinners to saints, wretched to blessed, and condemned to commended”…that’s what He did for me! i love this sermon…thank you!

  2. What a great article. In a New Testament class I took my instructor talked about this and why it was such a big deal. This miracle was amazing but a lot of the points my instructor made and you made in your article made me think and appreciate it even more. It is more than just turning water into wine, there is so much more to think about.

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