One of the great privileges that I have as a Christian is studying the Bible with others. I'm often asked, by beginners, "What would you recommend. Where do I start?" This is a tough question because everyone is different. Usually with the person that is just getting started to study much, I want to give them something simple. I don't want them to start in Genesis because they get so involved they begin to get bored and usually just don't keep on. Leviticus works for just a chapter or two and then fizzles out. I most often recommend to the beginning student the Gospel of John because of it's beautiful simplicity and ability to change lives. Now for the more advanced student that says, "What can I have that has lots of meat in the bones. I want to really dig deep, I make the suggestion of the gospel of John because of it's amazing depth and ability to changes lives. You can go as deeply as you wish to go in that book. It is not as simple as it seems. It has an amazing depth and ability through the Holy Spirit to change the life.
The Gospel of John strikes the reader as a model of simplicity. The story of Jesus' first miracle in chapter 2 is no exception. It reads as a simple story. I most often use this story when I'm doing weddings. That's fun. You know, you can that here, Jesus sanctified marriage, that's where He did His first miracle, but that's really about all you say about Cana. Because, you've got the bride and the groom and they're not willing to stand there and listen to a complex theological discourse on that day. Other things are going through their heads. I find it a privilege today to talk about the wedding feast at Cana when there's not a nervous groom and bride standing there. We can go a little more into depth. As I studied for this sermon, the highly complex thought structure of John gave me a brain ache! I couldn't believe some of the stuff I was finding. I always thought it strange that the same John that wrote Revelation could have written the gospel of John. They cymose so far removed from each other. But after looking a little more deeply I see that the writer of that complex book at the end of the Bible could very well have written this one.
Let's look at the story in its entirety. John 2:1-11. On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to Him, "They have no more wine."
"Dear woman, why do you involve Me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come."
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever He tells you."
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim.
Then He told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet."
They did so, and 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 and 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."
This, the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him.
A simple story, a beautiful story. But let's see what else it has to hold for us. Let's look again at verses 1 and 2. Here we find that on the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. This is a little complex trying to figure out what it means by the third day. John 1 has a series of the next day and the next day and the next day, and now we have a third day. It's a little confusing because John does not include the story of the temptations of Jesus right here after the baptism. I don't think he is talking about the third day of the week. One reason is that according to the Mishna, a collection of the traditions of the Jews, the wedding of a virgin was traditionally supposed to take place on a Wednesday. Don't ask me why. So this was probably on a Wednesday. Also, since the wedding feast took place over several days, this could have been the third day of the week-long wedding.
Is it possible that Mary was there because she was related to those getting married? She would probably be in her mid-forties (Jesus was about 27 then). Mary was a teenager when Jesus was born. Jesus and His disciples were also invited. Jesus was a relative, Mary was a relative, possibly John, but the other disciples were unknown. I wonder if this invitation to Jesus' friends might have been a last minute thing. Jesus had been in the wilderness and He had been calling the disciples. Where was Jesus when the invitations went out? Maybe this would explain the reason they ran out of wine. These great big fishermen show up. "Well, yes, go ahead and invite your friends, Jesus." "Oops, we don't have enough wine. They should have R.S.V.P.'d. We'll do the best that we can."
Verse 3. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to Him, "They have no more wine."
Here, we see Mary acting in the place of Matron of Honor, which she may have been. She is trying to solve this problem before it becomes a major social blunder. Her words to Jesus may have been a rebuke as well as a plea for help and a desire for her son to reveal Himself. "They have no more wine" may have implied that Jesus and His friends had not been planned for. They were running out of wine. It was also a desire for her son to get her out of the possibility of disgrace. But I also believe this was a chance- "Come on Jesus, make your Mama proud. Show them what you can do, Jesus. They've been talking about you since you've been here. Haven't you noticed them in their little groups? Talking and looking over here at You? Yes, we've all heard about You baptism. We've heard about the dove that landed on Your head. We heard about the voice that came down from heaven. That's all what people are talking about. Make Mama proud. Show them what you can do. I know You can." I think Mary was also longing for that Messiah to come and release Jerusalem from its bondage to Rome. She, too, wanted Him to take the leadership of the country, working miracles and march down the road to Jerusalem and be crowned king.
Verse 4. Dear woman, why do you involve Me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come." I like this the way it says it in the King James Version: "Woman, Why do you get Me involved for?" That's he way we could read it.
But actually, it was an the Oriental custom for a beloved mother or beloved wife to be called "Woman." Here He was showing her respect, even though He had a difference of opinion with her. In fact, at the cross, we once again hear Jesus looking down and saying "Woman." I believe there is more than just a coincidence between these two stories.
It is clear that Jesus differs with His mother on this occasion. She wants to push Him to do the kinds of things that a popular Messiah would do. Jesus, on the other hand, is aware that His agenda is not set by His mother. It is not set by His disciples, or by anyone else It is only set by His heavenly Father. To have fulfilled her request in the way she had hoped would have severely damaged His cause. It was not His hour. "My time has not yet come." When Jesus spoke of His hour coming He meant that last hour, that hour in which He faced His trial, His crucifixion, His betrayal, His resurrection. That hour of His life had not come. He knew that if He stepped forward as the Messiah at that moment, we'd probably end with John 3, His crucifixion. His ministry would have ended. "My hour has not yet come." But instead, honoring His mother, He helps in a way that glorifies His mission and creates the appropriate type of belief in Him. Verse 5. His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." When I first read that I was thinking, "Is she not listening to Him? Didn't He say His 'hour was no yet come'", but as I look at it a little bit more closely, I believe that Mary understood that Jesus is not going to stand up and make Himself king during this wedding, but she trust that whatever He does will be for the best, a lesson that we could all benefit from. WE can pray for a miracle and we can be specific, but we must ask that it be God's will, because He knows what's best.
I remember those prayers in college. "Lord, You know who I'm dating. She's kind of cute. If it's your will, I'd kind of like to get together with her. You know, forever and ever..that kind of thing. I surely hope that's your will, Lord." Boy, I've surely been glad when He said, "No." I might not have been glad right then, but I look back now. I see them at the class reunions and I think, "Thank you, Lord. You did not answer the prayer the way I asked." God said, "I might have something better for you." And He does. Something far greater than we could ever imagine. He says, "I've got something better. You may not want Me to answer that prayer that way."
And Jesus even prayed that way. Jesus prayed, "LORD, I don't want this cup. Help it to pass from Me. But not My will. You know what's best. I want to do You way."
Well. Mary had that kind of faith. "I don't know what my Son is going to do, but if He asks you to do something, do it.
Verse 6. Nearby stood six stone jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. These jars were huge. I have a thirty gallon fish tank. If it's full of water I can't moved it (240 pounds). It's huge. If all of these were thirty gallons each this would produce 180 gallons of wine! One jar would have been too much. A hundred and eighty gallons? Wasn't Jesus going a bit far here? Wasn't he overstepping what was needed? We'll find out the answer to that a little later.
Verse 7. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. I like that. When Jesus asks us to do something... They didn't fill them half full. nor three quarters full. They filled them to the brim. When Jesus says to do something, let's go all the way with it.
Verse 8. Then He told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet."
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water hat 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 and 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." This really hit me. He pulled the bridegroom aside. This was no compliment. "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink. But you've saved the best till now. Why have you done this? This is not right. You've broken with our tradition. You've kind of messed up the feast here. What's going on here? "
To understand this passage more fully, we must look at the larger picture. This simple story in chapter 2 is the beginning of a series of stories that ends with chapter 4. These stories have something a common. The have a common theme: Replacement. Old things have passed away, and the new has come. Jesus replaces the waters of Judaism, those purification pots they had for ceremonial washing, He replaces the water of Judaism with the wine of His blood. He replaces the temple of Judaism in the next story with His body. In the Nicodemus story, Jesus replaces the miracle of physical birth with a spiritual birth. And in the story of the woman at the well, Jesus replaces Jacob with Himself and physical water with spiritual water, and worship at Jerusalem with spiritual worship. John, here, has a point. He is arguing for the superiority of faith in Jesus to all other ways of life and all other forms of religion.
But we can go further. We must also look further than the book of John or even the New Testament. A number of items from the Old Testament can help us to understand this simple story. An abundance of wine, for example, was considered a characteristic of the future kingdom of God. There'll be an abundance of wine. The fact that Jesus produced much more wine than was needed in those huge pots is more than a coincidence. He produced an abundance of wine at that feast to bring people's minds back to these Old Testament prophecies. And the fact that John expressly mentions their great size could lead one to believe that he was pointing out how far the Jewish rituals for purification had gone.
This story also reminds us, as it did them, of the transformation stories of the Old Testament.
Speaking of Moses, there is no question that the comparison between Moses and Jesus is a major theme for the book of John. He is writing to the Jews who believe in Moses but not Jesus. He want them to say, 'Jesus has replaced Moses.' Moses and Jesus are major themes of the whole book of John. Moses is used by name as a comparison with Jesus several times.
Some of these parallels may be a little tenuous, but there seems to be a clear intention on the part of John to show a pattern between the actions of Moses and the activities of Jesus. If you look at the other three Gospels, the pattern becomes even more clear. Like Moses, Jesus is threatened at birth by a king who ends up killing all the wrong babies but the one he really wants to destroy. Like Moses, Jesus came out of Egypt. Like Moses, Jesus saw the glory of God. Like Moses, Jesus fasted in the wilderness. Like Moses, He gave the law from the side of a mountain. Like Moses, He fed a multitude in the wilderness. Like Moses lifted up the bronze serpent, Jesus was lifted up on the cross.
With all of this in mind, and there could be much more, our simple story about a poor couple who run out of wine at their wedding feast, much to their embarrassment and to the embarrassment of others, and who are rescued by a noble Visitor with a miracle, suddenly has some serious theological implications.
The main and most obvious theological point of this story is the role of wine as a symbol of the barrenness of Judaism without its Messiah. In the huge purification pots, John sees Judaism's obsessive concern for matters of relative unimportance. Could this be us? Could we put matters of small importance above matter that are of big importance? The accusation is plain and to the point: "They have no more wine." And when the good wine finally shows up, the head caterer doesn't even know where it came from. He even complains that they have not operated according to custom, in which the earlier is supposed to be better!
When the outpouring of the Holy Spirit comes, let's not be caught saying, "Wait a minute! I didn't think it would come that way. It came differently than I expected. I don't think I want a part of that." When Jesus comes the second time, let's don't be caught saying, "Wait a minute! He's not coming the way I envisioned it. Something is wrong here. I don't want a part of that." That's what happened the first time He came. He didn't come the way they thought He should.
The head caterer represents Jesus' own that received Him not in John chapter 1:10,11. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. I don't think it's a coincidence that chapter two follows chapter one here. Here we have a parable in action of what was going on in John Chapter one. While Judaism is concerned with water for washing, Jesus offered them good wine, and even when they sensed that such spiritual 'wine' was present, they did not recognize that it had come from Him.
For John, the replacement of water with wine represented the fact that Jesus offered something better than Judaism. He was a replacement for the washings. He was a replacement for the temple. He was a replacement for the feasts. He was a replacement for the regulations of the Jewish system. All that the Jewish worshiper looked for in these things could be found in abundance in Jesus. The wine, in particular, represented the blood of Jesus, which offered the only ultimate path to eternal life.
Many other parallels could be explored but the bottom line for us today is the same as it was then. Everyone seems to be caught up in substitutes for real life: alcohol and other drugs, forms of entertainment, greed, power, lusts, careers, a form of religion that thrives on petty issues, etc. The answer is replacement. Replace this stuff with the stuff of eternity! Find in Jesus the ultimate replacement of all the substitutes for real life! Allow Him to fill your life with the True Wine from the True Vine by putting your faith in Him like the Disciples in verse 11, which says: ...He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him. The water saw it's God and blushed. When we look upon Jesus, we change. Let Jesus work a miracle and change your life!
Hymn of Praise: #21, Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise Scripture: John 2:1-5 Hymn of Response: #338, Redeemed!
Sources: Desire of Ages John by Jon Paulien Pacific Press Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim Eerdmans
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last updated 2/19/2001 by Bob Beckett.