A Sign in the Wine
Most of us have stories to tell about weddings.
There was the groom whose car had broken down on the main road on his way to the church. None of the passing cars would pick him up. It was a hot summer’s day. He was quite a sight walking into the churchyard with his coat, shirt and tie slung over his shoulder. He was relieved that he had made it just on time. The service got under way and no sooner had we started than he passed out and had to be taken out.
Then there was the groom who threw up all over the bride.
And there was the bride who was 45 minutes late because the chauffeur of the hire cars locked the car keys in the bridal car. You can imagine how frantic the groom was waiting at the church.
Then there was the bride who tripped on the front edge of her wedding dress as she walked up the steps to the altar and fell into my arms.
And of course, there are the usual pranks like writing "Help" on the bottom of the groom’s shoes and everyone has a chuckle as he kneels.
Every married couple have stories to tell about their own wedding.
Today I am going to talk about a wedding that Jesus, his mother Mary, and the disciples attended. And what a story! If ever there was a wedding story that would have been repeated again and again, it was this one.
Weddings back in Jesus’ time were happy occasions just as they are today. They celebrated the fact that a new home, a new family, was being created. There were speeches and toasts; procession to the bride’s house and then to the groom’s where the celebrations took place that could last up to a week. There needed to be an ample supply of food and drink, especially wine. It was possible that unexpected guests would arrive, and these would be welcomed and given food and drink.
Everyone was having a great time when the wine ran out. This was a crisis. If the food and wine gave out, then the celebrations were incomplete. The bridegroom was disgraced. People would talk about this for a long time to come. If you think today’s society is lawsuit crazy, it was known for a bridegroom in Jesus’ time to be sued for not providing adequate hospitality. So, you see, the fact that the wine had run out at this wedding was no trivial matter; it really was a big deal. This was a major catering blunder.
Some have suggested the Jesus’ mother was in charge of the catering that’s why she was so concerned about the lack of wine, others have said quite seriously that Jesus and his disciples had not brought "a bottle" each to the wedding celebrations and so caused a shortage, but that is reading too much into what is not stated. However, we are told that Mary informs Jesus what has happened, expecting him to do something about it. Jesus first of all politely rejects the idea that Mary should dictate to him when and how he should act. He will perform his first miracle according to the will of his heavenly Father.
Jesus does do something. He sees six stone jars standing in the house – each holding about 100 litres. They normally contained water for washing. The Jews were very strict about washing their hands before a meal, the washing of pots and pans to remove all kinds of pollution as well as the washing of the guests’ feet as they arrived. All of this required a huge amount of water. Jesus ordered that these pots be filled to the brim and then some of the water then be taken to the "MC (Master of Ceremony)" – the person in charge of the wedding celebrations. The water had become wine - the best vintage wine that the MC had ever tasted.
Notice the simplicity of what happens here, how easily, how quietly, with no fuss. Jesus says simply, "Fill these jars with water." And after they had been filled, he said, "Now draw some out, and take it to the man in charge of the feast." There was no prayer, no word of command, no shouting, no laying on of hands, no looking up to heaven - nothing. He didn’t even touch the water. He didn’t even taste it afterward to see if it had really turned into wine.
He simply said, "Take it to the man in charge of the feast." The water simply became wine.
Apart from this being a nice story about Jesus going to a wedding and helping out the bride and groom with a bountiful supply of good wine what are we to get out of this story? What is John’s purpose in including this story in his account of Jesus’ life?
John tells us that this is a sign. John writes, "This, 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" (John 2:11 NIV). John calls each of the miracles in his Gospel a "sign".
A sign points us in a certain direction or gives us a deeper meaning to something we are looking at. When you go to a lookout up on the range you can see across to the coast – it’s a magnificent sight. But this view becomes even more meaningful when there is a sign that points out what some of the landmarks are that you are gazing at – what is that hill, or that group of buildings, or the name of that river.
Signs give information sometimes that information is of dubious value. A sign above a Laundromat washing machine: Automatic washing machines. Please remove all your clothes when the light goes out.
A sign in an office block: Toilet out of order. Please use floor below.
On a leaflet: If you cannot read this, this leaflet will tell you where to get lessons.
Then there is the problem of a lack of signs. I’m sure you have become frustrated as I have, when you want to find out what street you are travelling on, or where to turn off, or in what direction a particular town is located and there are no signs.
John’s Gospel has signs – signs that give us information about Jesus. He uses the miracles as signs to tell us deeper truths about Jesus. In Matthew, Mark and Luke we find the parables, the stories that Jesus told like the woman who lost a coin, or the son who rebelled and left home. These stories give us an insight into the deeper truths that Jesus taught. However, John uses the miracles of Jesus as parables.
John records, "This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee" (John 2:11). The miracle tells us that Jesus had supernatural power, but for John the miracle is a sign pointing to something far more important.
This sign teaches us, reveals to us, something about Jesus’ divine nature as well as the unique relationship between him and his heavenly Father. Jesus isn’t just a bloke from the back blocks of Nazareth who could dazzle a crowd with his spectacular powers. He is the Son of God. (See John 14:1: "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves" NIV).
These signs tell us that Jesus is God doing the works of God so that we might believe and have faith. After the miracle at the wedding, we are told that "his disciples put their faith in him". Near the end of what John has to say about Jesus in his Gospel he wrote,
"In his disciples' presence Jesus performed many other miracles which are not written down in this book. But these have been written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through your faith in him you may have life" (John 20:30,31).
In other words, he has written down these miracles with the specific purpose of pointing us to Jesus as our Saviour. He isn’t interested in writing a history about Jesus or telling us what a wonderful person Jesus was to help the bride and groom at Cana or dazzling us with a display of supernatural tricks.
These miracles are retold so that we might believe that Jesus is our Saviour, that he is truly God, and that through him and only through him is there the possibility that we might have forgiveness and eternal life.
These signs point ahead to Jesus’ future glory that will shine from the cross and the empty tomb. For John, this is Jesus’ greatest moment of glory. Every other sign of glory before Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection are signs that point to this far greater glory.
For us it hardly seems a glorious moment for God’s Son to be executed as a criminal at the hands of evil people. The beatings, the humiliating mockery and laughter, stretched out in public view nailed to a cross. But Jesus thinks quite differently. He says just prior his death referring to the indignity that he would soon have to face, "Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your Son, so that the Son may give glory to you" (John 17:1). His death and resurrection are clear signs. He is saying that through his death and resurrection people will be able to see clearly that he is God come to earth to bring forgiveness and eternal life. All will be able to see that Jesus has come to save us all. It will be clear that he is the way of salvation as he said on so many occasions, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one goes to the Father except by me" and "Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness" (John 14:6, 8:12).
Plenty of people saw Jesus’ miracles and were indeed impressed by what he was able to do but not everyone believed in him. We are told at the end of John 2:1-11, "He revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him". Notice that the two go together. The signs reveal his glory to those who believe in him. Jesus’ glory is seen always through the eyes of faith. Plenty of people saw the signs, but only those with faith recognised them for what they were.
Let me finish by reminding you that the reason John has written this is so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. These miracles are signs that are understood in the light of faith in Jesus and that at the same time bring faith in Jesus.
The question for us as we read this account along with the others in this gospel is, do we believe in Jesus? Do we believe that his coming has provided the only effective way of receiving forgiveness for our sins? Do we believe that he is the one sent by God to be the Messiah, the saviour of the world? This well-known miracle of changing water into wine is more than just a miracle. It's a pointer, a sign, to the deeper truth of who Jesus is, of the glory he reveals to those who believe in him.
These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Parables of Jesus - Daniel Kazemian
Vince Gerhardy Blog
Parables: The Greatest Stories Ever Told - White John
All the Parables of the Bible - Dr Herbert Lockyer
Gospel According to Jesus: What is Authentic Faith? - John F. Macarthur
Interpreting the Gospel of John: A Practical Guide - Gary M Burge