In our study of the first chapter of John, we saw the author under the inspiration of God give a masterful treatise stating the theology of Jesus Christ; that He is God in the flesh, He was with God from the beginning, He is Light and the light of the world, and that He is the Life of men, that is the Creator, the giver and sustainer of life. That was John’s opening argument in his gospel, which is given as an apologetic as well as an evangelistic message, the purpose of which is stated in John 20:31, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
Then we saw in the remainder of chapter one that John brought forth witnesses to corroborate his claim. The first witness was John the Baptist who declared Jesus is the Son of God and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And then John brought another group of men forward as witnesses, that being the Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael. Andrew called Him the Messiah, Philip said of Him that He was the One of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote, and Nathanael called Him the Son of God, the King of Israel.
Now beginning in chapter 2, John provides illustrations from the works of Christ which attest to His divinity and His purpose; that He is the Son of God, and the Messiah, that is the Savior of the world. And to do this, John begins with what he calls a sign, or what we would call a miracle. John says in vs.11, that this was the beginning of signs that Jesus did, and they manifested His glory, and because of this sign, His disciples believed in Him.
Now I would point out that His disciples already believed in Him as attested to in chapter one. But this sign increased and strengthened their faith. And that fulfills a spiritual principle found in Luke 19:26, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” In other words, God will build your faith as you follow Him in faith.
Now before we get into the event in detail, I just want to be sure you understand the purpose of signs or miracles in the gospels. Many people mistakenly look at the miracles recorded in scripture and think they are a blueprint for what we can expect to accomplish in our lives. But as we look at the gospels, we see that the miracles are not simply exhibitions of our Lord’s power but they are designed to teach us certain spiritual truth. I have stated before on numerous occasions that all miracles in the gospels are given as a parable to teach a spiritual principle. And we would do well to remember that as we study the scriptures. No where is it taught that Jesus healed everyone, or performed miracles in order to make His life easier or just to remove some difficulty. But miracles serve to illustrate a spiritual principle by means of an earthly parable.
And I like the word John uses rather than using the word miracle. He uses the word sign. We all know what signs are, don’t we? You are driving down the road at night and you see a yellow diamond shaped sign with an image of a leaping deer, you know what that means don’t you? I know what some of you think. “Target practice.” But seriously, we all know it warns us that deer might be on the road ahead. And in the same way a sign as used in this passage points to a person, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. It points ahead to a time when Christ will be manifested to the world, but for now we see a sign signifying that He is Lord.
So we know then that the following miracle is not merely presented as just a happy circumstance that happened 2000 years ago, but that it points to something that will be revealed fully later, it points to a truth about Christ. So as we unpack this account, let’s focus on the principles that God is teaching us through this sign. And there are a number of them here. But first let’s fill in a little background information in order to be able to understand it fully.
The third day establishes the chronology of John as he gives this historical account, after the day mentioned at the end of chapter one when he saw Philip and Philip called Nathanael. There have been two days intervening, when Jesus and the disciples traveled to Cana of Galilee, which was the hometown of Nathanael. So not only Nathanael would have known the groom who was being married in this tiny village, but obviously Jesus did as well, as it says in vs.2 that He and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And it’s likely that since Cana is only about 6 miles from Nazareth, and Jesus’ mother was in attendance and she seems to have direction over the wine and servants, that there is a good possibility that this is the marriage of one of Jesus’ brothers. That is speculation of course, but it accounts for the fact that His mother is in a supervisory role in the marriage over the wine and the servants.
But I would point out that John has deliberately left out such details. They are not really germane to the story or the principle of the story. Many people have read way too much in between the lines of this account and as a result have come up with all sorts of false doctrines, such as the worship of Mary and the intercession of Mary, so that they teach the need to pray to Mary to intercede on their behalf. And nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the event proves that Mary is in need of a Savior just as everyone else is. She is not in a preferred status as evidenced in Jesus addressing her as “woman” rather than mother.
Now just a word about weddings in general in those times. Weddings were the social events of the year in that culture. When people came to a marriage celebration, they came because there had been a betrothal, an engagement period. About a year earlier, the couple had been engaged. That was a legal, binding, contract that could only be broken by divorce. But the marriage wasn’t consummated at this point. It was consummated at the end of the celebration which sometimes lasted for up to a week.
Ancient Jewish weddings were very different from our modern affairs. In western weddings the bride is the prominent figure. When the bride enters, clothed in all her glory, the whole congregation stands and the organ plays, “Here comes the bride! ” and every eye is focused on her. But in ancient Jewish weddings it was the groom that was prominent. He was the one whose coming was anticipated.
So for a year the husband has been preparing a place for his bride. He would have purchased or built a house for his bride and prepared it for them to live in. And during this time he would have been working to pay for the cost of the wedding feast. The bridegroom had full responsibility for all the cost of the wedding which lasted for up to a week and involved the whole village. His job was to get everything ready, and then when everything was ready and the house was built and the house was furnished and all preparations were made and he had demonstrated that he had what it took to care for his bride and to provide for her, he would come take his bride to his house and the celebrations began.
Now I cannot help but see a correlation here in this account of the marriage in Cana to the marriage of Christ and the church as His bride. In Ephesians 5 Paul talks about the church being the bride of Christ and compares His relationship to the human institution of marriage between a man and a woman. Listen to this; Eph. 5:23-32, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” Notice that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh. Is that not an echo of what we read at the beginning of chapter one, that the Word was with God, but the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He became one of us, that He might be joined to us, so that we might become one with God.
So in the marriage of Christ and the church Jesus is the bridegroom and we are the bride of Christ. Jesus calls Himself the bridegroom in Matt. 9:15 “And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
So as we understand the symbolism of marriage, Christ became flesh to seek a bride which is His church. He betrothed Himself to her. He has made promises to come again and take us to His home which He said He is preparing for us. And when He comes again, we will join in the celebration of the marriage supper of the Lamb and then we will be like Him and join Him on the throne in His glory to rule and reign and live with Him forever.
Now as we understand that, it helps us to know what Jesus is saying when He responds to His mother’s complaint that they had run out of wine. This was a major faux paus on the part of the bridegroom. He somehow either did not have the means to buy enough wine, or they had more people show up than they had planned for or the party ran a few days longer. And the fact is they couldn’t just run down to the store and pick up a few more bottles. So if one of Jesus’ brothers were getting married, and Mary was the matron of honor so to speak, then the family of Jesus was responsible for getting more wine. Jesus as the eldest son would have had the headship of the family. It is generally agreed upon by most scholars that Joseph was dead by this time and so Jesus would have taken on the responsibility as head of the family.
So Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour is not yet come.” Now there is a lot of commentary on that phrase, “what do I have to do with you,” as well as the fact that He called His mother Woman. First of all, Woman was not a term of disrespect, but a word which signaled a change in relationship between Jesus and Mary. As Jesus began His earthly ministry, He would no longer be bound by familial restraints as head of the household, and as a consequence she would have no more hold over Him in the usual way a mother might have over her son. But even more to the point, as I said earlier, it indicates that she does not have any special privilege as His mother. She would have to come to Christ the same way every other person must come; as a sinner, saved by grace. Even on the cross, as He is obviously full of concern for His mother, He calls her Woman, even as He passes on responsibility for her well being to the Apostle John. So it’s not a disparaging title, but a term designating a change of position, from Son to Savior.
And then to the question of what He said. A better reading might be; “What is that to you and to Me?” In other words, the fact that they don’t have wine, what is that to us? My hour is not yet come.”
Now keep in mind the picture presented here is Christ coming for His church, His bride. He is saying I am not ready to provide the wine at this point of my ministry, because my hour is not yet come. So what is does the wine symbolize? Well, in a few minutes we will be celebrating another supper, the Lord’s Supper. And as you know there are two elements in communion, the wine and the bread. And Jesus quoted by Paul in 1Cor. 11:25 says, “In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” Now when Jesus said that, obviously it could not be His own blood as the Catholics would have us believe, because He had not yet shed His blood. So what was it? It was wine. Wine symbolizes then the blood of Christ which washes away our sins, in which we have forgiveness of our sins. This is the token of the new covenant which Hebrews 9:15 speaks of, which is better than the old covenant which featured the blood of bulls and goats which could never take away sins. But the new covenant in His blood takes away sins and purchases the right to an eternal inheritance.
So Jesus is saying, My hour to die on the cross and shed My blood for the remission of sins is not yet come. He will say the same thing in John 7:30 “So they were seeking to seize Him; and no man laid his hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.” He speaks of His hour in another half a dozen places in John’s gospel. And finally in His priestly prayer before His crucifixion in chapter 17 He prays, “Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son.” Amazing isn’t it? That He equates crucifixion with glory. And why would He say that? Because at that time He purchases the redemption and sanctification of His bride. In that act God destroys the power of sin and death and crushes the head of the serpent, Satan. His death achieves the glory of God. It manifests the glory of Christ and it makes possible the glory of the church, His bride. So then His hour He speaks of is the time when He offers up His life as a sacrifice on the cross for sin, purchasing with His blood the remission of sins for all who believe on Him.
So Jesus says, “I am not ready to be glorified at this point. I am not ready to shed my blood which will be the wine of the new covenant at this hour. That hour is coming, but it is not now.
But somehow Mary understands that He isn’t speaking a rebuke to her, He is speaking metaphorically of His glorification which had been promised her by the angels before His birth. And so she turns to the servants and says “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Mary doesn’t speak much on record in the scriptures, and so we should find what she says very instructive. Our emphasis is not on the words of Mary, or the actions of Mary as an intercessor, but on the Word made flesh. Our obedience and obeisance should be to the words of Christ. The preference is not given to Mary but to Jesus and her instructions indicate that.
So Jesus knowing the need, supplies the abundance. He said He came to give life and that more abundantly. And that is a principle we see here in this sign as well in other places, particularly at the feeding of the multitudes. Jesus does not just supply barely enough, or not quite enough, but supplies grace upon grace. John 1:16 “for of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” This is speaking of His grace of righteousness to cover our sins. We cannot spend all the grace of Christ. Not that we should desire to presume upon the grace of God through licentiousness in continuing to sin, but that regardless of the greatness of our sin, the greatness of our separation from God, He has provided more grace than enough to reconcile us to God.
So Jesus orders the servants to take the six empty water pots and fill them with water. And the servants fill them to the brim. The Bible scholars tell us that this would have been about 120 to 150 gallons of water. That would have provided well over 3000 servings of wine. The significance of that is a measure of His grace; of His fullness, of the abundant supply of righteousness. And then when the servant drew out the water and presented it to the head waiter he was astonished that the bridegroom had saved the best wine for last.
I used to train wine stewards when I was in the hotel restaurant business. And I can assure you that if the wine steward knew it was wine, it was indeed wine. Now it is well known that they watered wine down in those days three parts water to one part wine, so that it was very difficult to get drunk from normal table wine. But it was wine, and furthermore, it was very good wine.
Now a note about the water pots. John says that they were used for ceremonial washings; for the Jewish custom of purification. The Levitical law required certain ceremonial washings in regard to sacrifices and various modes of daily life. But over time the Jews had added customs to the law that far exceeded the intent of the law to imply that the physical cleanliness was a means of spiritual cleanness. As you will remember, the Pharisees condemned the disciples at one point to Jesus because they had not ceremoniously washed their hands before eating. And later on Jesus condemns that sort of external ceremony that does not cleanse the heart of sin. Matt. 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” So Jesus condemns the ceremonial washings which could never take away spiritual uncleanness.
So as we already alluded to, the old covenant could not take away sins by the blood of bulls and goats, nor could the customs and traditions imposed by the religious leaders take away sins. And let me be even more clear, the ceremony of baptism cannot wash away sins. All of those things are just signs as well, pointing to the blood of Christ which is the only thing that can take away sin.
So what are the principles that we learn from this parable illustrated by a sign? One is that when Christ bestows a blessing it is usually preceded by a command. Secondly, Christ’s commands are not to be questioned, but obeyed. Thirdly, that Christ is the bridegroom that has purchased the redemption of His bride with His blood, for the forgiveness of their sins and to give them an inheritance prepared in heaven. Fourth, that as the wine was more than enough to meet the needs of the party, His grace is more than sufficient for all our sins, that we have received His fullness and grace upon grace. Fifth, that only His blood is sufficient to cleanse us from sin, but that no ceremony has the power to do more than point to Christ. Sixth, that the new covenant is a better covenant, enacted on better promises. And seventh, that He has saved the best for last.
As Heb. 11:39-40 says concerning the patriarchs and heroes of the faith of old, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” We are living in the last days. And God has saved the best for last. We have the complete, perfect revelation of Christ. We have His death, burial, resurrection of Christ and He now stands at the Father’s right hand to make intercession for us. We have all the promises of God made more sure by the written scripture. We have the immeasurable benefit of the Holy Spirit living in us, even as wine in stone water pots. Even as 2Cor. 4:7 says, that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” So that by the power of the Spirit within us we might live to the glory of Christ. Our redeemed, transformed lives are able to bring about glory to Christ through His death which is symbolized in the wine of His blood which was shed for us.
Our Lord is able to take the person who recognizes that they fall short of the righteousness required and with his touch make them full of abundant life; to turn their mourning into joy. He will do this with any who will call upon Him, follow Him, and believe in Him. That is why John highlights for us in vs.11, that seeing this sign, “the disciples believed in Him.” I pray that your faith in Christ has been strengthened as well as we understand the significance of this sign; what Christ has done for us and what His purpose is for us as we follow Him.