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John 2:1-11

Jesus turns water into wine

at the wedding in Cana

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1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’

4 ‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’

5 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from eighty to a hundred and twenty litres.

7 Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 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.’ 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

‘On the third day’ or perhaps ‘another day’, but it was soon after their arrival in Galilee. Jesus had most likely returned to his parents’ home in Nazareth which was about six miles south of Cana, and he had automatically been included in the wedding party – ‘and bring your friends too’.

The rest of the story is very well known so rather than going through verse by verse we can look at it as a whole. On the face of it someone had made a miscalculation, and there wasn’t enough wine. Jesus provides plenty more wine and the festivities can continue.

Thus the Marriage Service can suggest that marriage must be good because Jesus helped out at a wedding:-

‘Marriage is a way of life made holy by God,
and blessed by the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ
with those celebrating a wedding at Cana in Galilee’.

It has also been used to justify having an excess of alcohol at weddings!

But the Son of God did not come into the world to confirm that marriage is a good thing, or to save someone from embarrassment. There must be more to this story than at first meets the eye.

This is Jesus’ first miracle but it is odd. Let’s look at the facts:

Why should I say that the story is odd? John records that this is the first miracle. Jesus had never done anything miraculous before. He had done no party tricks, had not helped around the home or his father’s workshop using his supernatural powers, and until now there was no suggestion that he was even able to work miracles.

Yet Jesus’ mother tells him that the wine is gone, and then instructs the servants to do whatever he tells them – as if expecting him to do something about it. That is odd.

3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’

Perhaps the numbers attending had not been anticipated, because the wine ran out. That would have been a major embarrassment for the host. Jesus’ mother told him, but the words she actually used are ‘they have no wine’. To me this lifted the simple statement to something quite different.

Jesus’ reply in verse 4 is strange too:

4 “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

This would suggest that Jesus is saying he is not ready yet, but then immediately he has a change of heart and goes ahead and produces wine. Strange behaviour to say the least!

And the quantity of wine is odd: he made about 150 gallons of wine – more than 600 bottles (or 50 cases). And he didn’t just ask for the bottles that had run out so he could refill them – which might have been a more obvious thing to do – but chose a much more theatrical way, which seems out of character.

And we are told he thus revealed his Glory – his Glory was his Father’s Glory – and surely God’s glory is on a different plane to filling water jars with wine.

To discover more about what was going on, we must look at Matthew 15:

1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’

We saw in the introduction that Rabbis taught not only the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), but also the Oral Torah. This was the traditions and rules added to the Law in order to answer specific questions concerning its application (or in the same Matthew passage (v6 & 7) how to avoid awkward laws!).

Over the years the religious leaders had elaborated on the many things that could make you ritually unclean, adding to Leviticus 11 (either side of verse 24). And this had led to the development of many rules concerning the ways to wash in order to become clean again. An important set of rules had evolved concerned the washing of hands before eating.

So important was this, it had become a ritual automatically followed by everyone. And if you didn’t do it, it would be immediately obvious to everyone else. For Jesus’ disciples to deliberately not wash their hands, it must have been that their Rabbi had instructed them not to.

Why would he have done that?

God’s laws were given to the Israelites in order to teach them Holiness: ‘be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’ Leviticus 19:2 (Also 11:45, 20:7, 21:8)

But this had been corrupted by man into ‘Be law-abiding, because I am the Law-giver’. And in order to make this more attainable, the Oral Torah had been developed, adding layer upon layer of additional rules which had to be observed. ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’ 2 Timothy 3:5

Jesus recognised the hypocrisy of the system and would not take part in it.

As he arrived at the wedding he would have been met by a servant offering him the cup of water needed to make him ‘clean’; not to wash with, but simply to pour over the fingers of each hand in turn – merely a symbolic ritual.

What thoughts would have entered the mind of ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’? (John 1:29)

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

(Robert Lowry)

There would come a time when Jesus would give his blood: living, red, powerful – like wine that would be drunk at the Passover meal – or the Last Supper. Here he was being offered water – clear, colourless, thin and totally ineffective. How right his mother was to say: ‘They have no wine’. (v3)

Jesus knew his destiny, but he also knew ‘My hour has not yet come.’ (v4)

He had only just started his ministry. He still had three years ahead of him to explain to any who would listen. We are reminded of this half way through his ministry: ‘At this they tried to seize him, but no-one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.’ (John 7:30)

It’s only when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that he said ‘Father, the time has come.' (John 17:1)

But for now, Jesus will give them a parable. He commands that those useless ritual water jars are filled to the brim – representing the maximum that man could hope to do to cleanse himself. Six jars full to the brim - with useless water.

Now he commands the servants to take some to the master of the banquet and they find that it is wine – rich, red, powerful – not any old wine, but the best. In abundance; full and overflowing; totally replacing the ritual water; making that ritual useless now, and actually preventing it from being repeated.

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus thus demonstrated why he was here. Here was a nation that had lost touch with God; a nation which cheerfully ignored God’s commands while paying lip service to rules which man had devised to replace them; a nation where obedience to man’s rules made you acceptable to God.

Jesus’ mission was to reconcile man to God, and that was not going to come about through rules or religion. And this was what Jesus began to teach his Disciples. As a true Rabbi, this would be as much by his actions and lifestyle, as by his words (as we will see in the next study!).

But Jesus was not just a Rabbi – remember in Chapter 1: 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

This wine was the best wine, wine that had been stored for a number of years: Luke 5:39 ‘no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better’. So here was the Creator at work, making something with an appearance of age; and he needed no millions of years, no ‘Primordial Soup’ or flashes of lightening (or even a convenient comet – as I write this a spacecraft is investigating a comet to see if that was where life came from!) to help him – in fact Jesus did not even touch it. ‘The Word’ simply spoke: ‘and God said . . . . and it was so’ (Genesis 1:9).

Watching the Creator at work was, for John at least, a revelation of who Jesus really was. Verse 11: What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

And so he could write ‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth'’ John 1:14

John 1(c) John 2(b) NIV Copyright