This weeks message looks at Jesus' first miracle, which takes place at a wedding in Cana. If you don't know which it is, it might surprise you. We'll explore what the miracle was, why Jesus might have done this, and what we might be able to take away from it.
Years ago when Johnny Carson was the host of The Tonight Show he interviewed an eight-year-old boy. The boy was asked to appear because he had rescued two friends who had fallen and became trapped in a coalmine outside his hometown in West Virginia. As Johnny questioned the boy, it became apparent to him and the audience that the boy was a Christian. So Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday school.
When the boy said he did Johnny inquired, “What are you learning in Sunday school?” “Last week,” he said, “our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine.” The audience really laughed, but Carson kept a straight face. He then asked, “And what did you learn from that story?” The boy squirmed a little bit, he hadn't really thought about that. But then he lifted up his face and said, “I guess if you’re going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!” That’s actually some really good advice, but not for the reason the boy might have been thinking.
Wedding ceremonies in the Jewish culture were really big events. Weddings typically took place on Wednesday nights. The actual ceremony took place late in the evening, they would have a feast first. Then they would move into the ceremony. Then after the ceremony, there was a big procession taking the couple to their new home. The procession would go all around town, the longest route possible, to take the couple past as many homes as possible, so as many people as possible would have an opportunity to wish the couple well.
There were no honeymoons. The couple stayed at home, and for a week kept an open house. People could stay for the entire week, or come and go as they wished during that week. The couple wore crowns and robes, and they were treated like a king and queen, and actually addressed and king and queen, and everything they wanted was done for them. Their word was law, at least in that house, for that week.
But then this poor couple ran out of wine. Wine was really important in Jewish culture. In fact, Jewish rabbis have written, “Without wine there is no joy.” It was essential. Drunkenness was really frowned upon, it was quite a disgrace, but wine was an essential part of hospitality, and hospitality was almost a sacred duty. It was that important. And to run out of wine at a wedding party was a major dereliction and would have brought a great shame on the couple.
So Mary brings it to Jesus’ attention. This would have been a terrible thing to happen to this couple. Do something, she says. I don’t think Mary really expected a miracle. I mean, this was His first. We haven’t heard from Joseph since Jesus was at the temple at age 12. It’s likely he died sometime after that, and that Jesus stepped up and took care of Mary. She was probably looking to Him like she always looked to Him when there was a problem. He was the oldest son and He took care of her. Who else would she go to?
But Jesus had something else in mind. I expect He knew what was going to happen before He even accepted the invitation. He knew they were going to run out of wine. And He knew what He would do. He knew all along that through this miracle, He would become known.
I want to look at this story now from three points of view, so that we’ll really be able to understand it. Remember that John was writing this to two audiences. He was Jewish, and wanted to speak the Jewish people, to convince them that Jesus was Christ, but he also wanted to write in a way that would bring the Greeks to a faith in Jesus as the Christ. So with that understanding, we’ll look at what the Jews would have thought, then we’ll look at this story with some emphasis on maybe what the Greeks would have taken out of it, then we’ll see what truths there might be for us to today.
So first, from the Jewish point of view. John seems to write pretty simple stories, but as you really reflect on them and begin to understand some of the significance, we almost always see a deeper meaning hidden beneath the surface. Another thing about John’s writing, he never seemed to write an unnecessary detail. If he wrote it, it’s because it contributes to the story somehow. And often as we reflect on some of those background details, they will pop with some new meaning or better understanding.
For example, there were six stone water jars. Now they are empty at the beginning of the story. I’ve seen some commentaries that suggest that Jesus took the dirty water after everybody had cleansed themselves, but John tells us they were empty, and that Jesus instructed that they be filled with clean fresh water. So, at Jesus’ command, all six were filled with water, then Jesus turned the water into wine. Now for a deeper meaning. According to the Jews, seven is the number of perfection, representing something that’s absolute and complete and perfect. Six is the number of incomplete, unfinished, imperfect.
These were jugs that were there for cleansing, because that cleansing was required under the Jewish law. William Barclay’s commentary on this passage suggests that these water jugs represented all the imperfections of the Jewish law. And the message is that Jesus came to do away with the imperfections of the law, and to replace them with the new wine of the gospel of grace. In essence, replacing and turning the imperfection of the law into the perfection of grace.
Another thought, six water jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons of water, which, when turned to wine, could have been as much as one hundred and eighty gallons of wine. I’m not sure John was telling this to be literal, or he would have told us the capacity of each jug, so we would know exactly how much wine there was. But think we can draw from this that when the grace of Jesus comes to men there is way more than enough for all.
No wedding party could drink one hundred and eighty gallons of wine. No need on earth can ever exhaust the grace of Jesus Christ. There is a glorious super-abundance found in the grace of Jesus. John is saying that in Jesus the imperfections have become perfection, and the grace of God has become limitless, more than sufficient for every need we might have.
Now let’s look at something for the Greek. Greek mythology has a story somewhat similar to this. Dionysos was the Greek god of wine – they actually had a Greek god of wine. Pausanias was a Greek storyteller, and he once wrote a story of an ancient ceremony that took place outside the sanctuary of Dionysos. Three empty kettles are taken into the building and placed there. On the doors of the buildings, the priests and anyone else who wants to, can place their seals. The next day, they come back and examine their seals, and find the three kettles full of wine.
So Greek mythology includes a story similar to this. Perhaps John, including it his gospel, is saying to the Greeks, “You have your stories and legends about your gods. But they are only stories, and you know they aren’t really true. But Jesus has come to do what you always dreamed that your gods could do. He has come to make the things you longed for come true.
So to the Jews John said: “Jesus has come to turn the imperfections of the law into the perfection of grace.” And to the Greeks John said, “Jesus has come to really and truly do the things you only wished your gods could do.”
So what’s for us? What is he telling us? What do we see here if we look deeper? I think that John tells us stories, not of things Jesus did once a long time ago, and never did again. I think John’s stories are things Jesus did, and is forever doing. Now I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus turned water into wine everywhere he goes, but I do suggest that everywhere He goes, there is a new quality which is like turning water into wine.
Without Jesus, life is dull and stale and flat. But when Jesus comes into our lives, life become vivid and sparkling and exciting. Without Jesus life is drab and uninteresting, with Jesus life is thrilling and wonderful and exhilarating. There is real passion, and hope, and joy, when we live life the way we were created to live, in a relationship with the Creator. If God created us to be in a relationship with Him, then we’ll never get the most out of life, we’ll never experience all life has to offer, until we’re in a relationship with Him.
Wilfred Grenfell was a medical missionary in Newfoundland and Labrador, and when he was appealing for volunteers to help him in this work, he had the habit of telling people he couldn’t offer them much money, but he could promise that if they came out to do the work, they would have the time of their lives. We can have the time of our lives when we serve the Lord.
That’s what Jesus promises us. John wrote this gospel about seventy years after Jesus was crucified. For seventy years he had thought about this, and meditated on it, and reflected on his time with Jesus, until he saw meaning and significance that he had not seen at the time. When John wrote this story, he was remembering that life with Jesus was exciting. It’s like he said, “Wherever Jesus went, whenever he comes into life, it was like turning water into wine.” In this story, John is telling us, “if you want to experience something really great, become a follower of Jesus Christ, and there will be a change in your life which will be new and different and better.
I think what makes this such a great miracle is that it makes a statement about Jesus. Who He is, and why He came. This miracle, using the cleansing jars to make wine from water, and saving the wedding celebration, tells us that the time for ritual cleansing has passed; the time for celebration had begun. The Prophets all the way up to John the Baptist preached judgment. But Jesus' first miracle was one of tender mercy. The time of judgment is past. It will come again in the last days, but now Grace has come into the world.
The question for each of us to consider, is how will we respond to this Grace? Many respond by doing whatever they want to, they see it as a license to live however they want. To do whatever they want. But some, the wise, will see it and be thankful, and turn to God, and fully experience this Grace.