The first eleven verses of John 2 present for us one of the most profound sections of Scripture in maybe the entire Bible — especially when the implications are fully understood.
The miracle recorded in this chapter of Jesus turning the water into wine was not only His first and one of the most famous but, with the exception of the resurrection, in many ways, it may have been the most significant. As such, we’re going to first read through the text, unpack what actually happened, and then discuss the significance of it all.
John 2:1-11, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’
Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the waterpots with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.’ And they took it.
When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, ‘Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!’ This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.”
In order to unpack what’s actually happening, let’s begin by setting the scene… In verses 1-2, John records that “on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.”
After calling Philip and having an exchange with Nathanael whereby he also decides to become a follower of Christ (all of which is recorded in the final section of John 1), it appears Jesus intentionally leaves an area known as Bethabara, heads north along the Jordan River Valley, back up to the Sea of Galilee specifically to attend this wedding. Not only had He been “invited” but it seems Jesus took His wedding RSVPs very seriously.
When John writes that “on the third day there was a wedding”, from the flow of his narrative, it’s likely this was three days from the close of chapter one. Literally, the text could read, “On the third day from departing Bethabara there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.” This is such a significant detail we’ll come back to it at the end of our study.
“Cana” is an interesting place. Historically, we know the city was a small Jewish settlement situated on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum, just a short distance from the city of Nazareth. If you’re a student of such things, Cana was so tiny, of the Gospel writers, only John mentions her by name. Most simply lump Cana into Capernaum proper.
Keep in mind, in those days, “a wedding” was a really big deal. In Hebrew society weddings were a community affair — especially in a town where everyone knew everyone else. Also, since John notes how there were “servants” helping to facilitate this shindig, it’s safe to surmise this was quite a large party for such a small place.
Aside from the fact “Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding” (with “His disciples” at this point being Andrew, Peter, John, Philip, and Nathanael), we’re also told, “the mother of Jesus was there.” Since it seems Mary (who interestingly enough is never mentioned by name in John’s Gospel) also played a role in facilitating the wedding (we know this because she had the authority to give the servants instructions), there is a good chance the bridal party was either Jesus’ family or a close personal friend of the family.
Before we examine what happens at the tale-end of these festivities, I do want to make one side observation. I absolutely love this phrase “Jesus was invited to the wedding!” Whomever this unnamed bride and groom were they made a wise decision to invite Jesus to be present for the most significant event in their lives — their wedding day!
Aside from the obvious importance of including Jesus in your wedding, do you know Jesus wants to be included in all the significant events that occur in your life? Because Jesus’ very presence tends to naturally lead to His active involvement and blessing, you should invite Him to be a part of everything! My guess is Jesus will accept your invitation.
And if there happens to be some event on your calendar you don’t feel comfortable inviting Jesus to, that’s probably a good indication you have no business attending the event either.
As the party continues, John tells us a brewing crisis reaches critical mass! Verse 3 says that “when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’” Apart from this being an obvious and severe party foul, since wine brought with it joy, Rabbinical traditions clearly stated a host could never run out of wine at a wedding. The situation John is describing was a serious cultural faux pas.
Since this was the case and Mary was involved in the execution of this wedding, she comes to Jesus with her concern declaring, “They have no wine!” The obvious implication of bringing this crisis to Jesus’ attention was that Mary wanted Him to rectify the problem.
Admittedly, Jesus’ response comes across rather oddly. He says, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” If this verse doesn’t strike you as bizarre, next time your mom calls and ask you to do something, call her “woman” and see what happens! I can’t imagine hearing Q or Theo turn to Jess and say, “Woman!”
For starters, in the original language, the idea conveyed behind the word “woman” is very difficult to translate into English. Though the word maintains respect, it does imply a measure of relational separation. It would seem Jesus is letting Mary know that since His ministry was about to begin His relationship with her was now about to change.
Though Mary would always be His mom and I’m sure He lived in such a way that honored this important role she held in His life, Jesus wants her to know that from this point forward the will of His heavenly Father would take precedent. In a profound way, Jesus is taking a moment to reconstitute His relationship with Mary away from mother and son.
It may also be that John emphasizes Jesus’ use of this term “woman” in order to draw his audience's attention back to Mary’s real identity. In Genesis 3:15, when cursing Satan, God made this prophetic statement, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
Further evidence of Jesus reconstituting the nature of their relationship can be found in the question He asks her in response to the request concerning the wine. He asks, “What does your concern have to do with Me?” Greek scholar Edgar J. Goodspeed observes that Jesus is implying independence of action. Lacking an English equivalent, he believes this question is more of a declarative statement aimed at Mary saying, “Do not direct Me!”
Again… Though Jesus had spent a great portion of His life submitting Himself to the supervision of His mother and there is no question Jesus had a genuine love for Mary, from this point forward, He wants her to know she would no longer have such authority.
Following this important exchange, Jesus then declares, “My hour has not yet come.” Now I will admit to you that I’ve wrestled. On the surface, the plain reading suggests Jesus is telling Mary that it wasn’t time to begin His ministry.
The only problem with this interpretation is that directly following the reconstitution of His relational priorities from His earthly mother to His heavenly Father, Jesus then goes ahead and performs a miracle anyway — in effect doing what Mary wanted in the first place. If His “hour had not yet come” why then does Jesus perform a miracle?
In a measure of theological gymnastics, one commentator I read tries to reconcile this point by claiming between His statement to Mary and the next verse when He initiates the miracle Jesus actually gets the ok from His heavenly Father that the time to begin His ministry had indeed arrived. With respect, this reading seems to be quite a stretch.
Aside from the plain reading, things are further complicated when you come to read this statement in the larger context of John’s Gospel. In John 7:6, 7:8, 7:30, and 8:20 we find variations of this phrase repeated by Jesus that His “time had not yet come” across various points in His ministry. However, once the cross, resurrection, and ascension come into view Jesus repeatedly says “the hour had come” — John 12:23, 12:27, 13:1, 16:32, and 17:1.
There is no question “the hour” Jesus is referring to is the moment when He’s offered to die for the sins of the world, is resurrected after three days in the tomb, and ultimately ascends to heaven where He takes His rightful place in glory at the right hand of His Father. The question… How does this tie into Mary’s request about the wine running out?
The truth is that in its literal context Jesus’ statement “My hour has not yet come” doesn’t make any sense at all! And yet, I’m not sure it’s supposed to. Keep in mind, John describes this entire exchange in verse 11 as the “beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana ” — signs, he adds, that intended to “manifest His glory” and cause “His disciples to believe in Him.”
In a way, I don’t believe even John understood what Jesus was saying until the larger purpose behind the miracle came into view after His hour had finally come. Don’t forget John tells us there is more to this miracle than the plain reading. He describes it as the “beginning of signs.” Let’s leave this idea here to come back to at the end of the study.
I absolutely love Mary’s response… As John recalls this scene, he notes how Mary then turns to the “servants” and says, “Whatever He says to you, do it!” Can you think of a better bit of advice? “Whatever Jesus says to you, do it!” I mean really what can you add?
With these “servants” now equipped with their marching orders to do whatever Jesus tells them, John continues to set the scene by adding “there were six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing 20 or 30 gallons apiece.”
These large “pots” provided enough water to allow the guests to clean themselves before the wedding feast “according to the manner of purification” outlined in the Law. Aside from the practical purpose, note there was a religious connotation behind the washing itself.
As John recounts the story, he remembers how Jesus then instructed these servants to “fill the waterpots with water, draw some out, and take it to the master of the feast.” Not only did they obey Jesus by “filling the waterpots up to the brim” but John would never forget what happened when they “drew some out” and presented it to the “master.”
Verses 9-10 records, “When the master had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master called the bridegroom and said, ‘Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!’”
Though the “waterpots” had been clearly filled with water, John tells us that by the time the water reached the limps of the “master of the feast” it had been “made wine.” And not just any wine but John says it was a wine of such incredible quality that it defied basic party logic. This Greek word “made” literally means wine came into existence. What a miracle!
As any party planner knows you always start the night by offering your guests drinks of a top-shelf quality when everyone is sober. Then once your guests “have well drunk” there are no problems switching over to the bottom-shelf booze since no one can tell the difference anyway. The “master” is blown away this “bridegroom had kept the good wine” till the end.
Before we continue I need to point out this word used for “wine” absolute references alcohol and not grape juice. Furthermore, this statement “when the guests have well drunk” can be translated as “when the guests are drunk” — which is once again very hard to accomplish on Welches or watered down wine. Though no one advocates for drunkenness, undoubtedly in His first miracle Jesus changes water into wine — an alcoholic beverage.
Though I don’t want this message to take a hard right turn into a discussion about alcohol or that the Bible nor Jesus ever calls for abstinence, in my preparations I did come across a great three-point recommendation by David Guzik if you do choose to drink:
(1) If you’re under bondage to alcohol and you have an addiction, it’s a sin. Don’t drink at all. (2) If you do drink, do not get drunk. Not only does the Bible present drunkenness as a sin but it can have dangerous repercussions. And (3) when drinking, be excessive in your moderation. Though you aren’t prohibited to drink, you are called to be “sober-minded.”
The story John records for us is rather straightforward… Let’s recap: Jesus and His disciples are invited to a wedding in Cana that His mother Mary is facilitating. The celebration is going swimmingly until they unexpectedly run out of wine. Whether this was Mary’s fault or not we do know she feels responsible to act so she comes to Jesus for help.
Though Jesus takes this moment to reconstitute this relationship with His mother, He does proceed to instruct the servants to fill up six pots of stone with water that were typically used for ceremonial cleansing, draw out some of the water, and present it to the master of the feast. In an incredible act of faith, these servants obey Jesus, and at some point in the process, the water they draw out miraculously transforms into high-quality wine.
Now that we’ve unpacked what’s happened, I want to take our remaining time and discuss the significance of what took place at this wedding. And don’t forget, because John defines what occurred as a “sign” there is more to this miracle than what the plain reading presents.
Let’s begin with the timing of the miracle… It is not an accident — in the flow of John’s Gospel and the overt ways he intentionally parallels the Genesis record by presenting Jesus’ recreation of God’s original order marred by man’s sin — that this miracle of turning water into wine occurred “on the third day!” Follow me for a second…
The Gospel of John is unique in that our author provides a thesis for the book in the first 18 verses of chapter 1 — Jesus came to restore what sin destroyed. Then in John 1:19, we have in effect the first day where our author records an interaction John the Baptizer had with the religious leaders. Following this story, John 1:29 reads, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” In the next few verses, John tells us about Jesus’ baptism — Day two!
After this event, John 1:35 will mark day three, “Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples.” On this day Andrew, John, as well as Peter will each have a personal, life-changing encounter with Jesus. After this, in John 1:43, we read, “The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said, ‘Follow Me.’” Jesus’ interactions with Philip and Nathanael will encompass what constitutes day four.
If you take into account the context John is establishing in the opening of this second chapter, “the third day” from the fourth would place this wedding and therefore Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine occurring on the seventh day of John’s re-creation narrative… While on the original seventh day of creation God rested from His work, in contrast, on the seventh day of re-creation, Jesus was busy at work! It’s also not an accident both seventh days we have the celebration of a marriage!
Genesis 2:1 opens, “The heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”
In contrast, John 2:1 opens, “On the third day (the seventh) there was a wedding in Cana, and the mother of Jesus was there. Both Jesus and His disciples were invited… And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’” While God rested, on this seventh day a pressing issue is demanding Jesus act to save a wedding!
While our time this morning is limited, understand the law of first mention (God ceasing from His work on the seventh day) indicates the Sabbath Day had nothing to do with man’s work and was instead designed to recognize the completion of God’s!
The point of the Sabbath and why it was holy was that it (A) served as a constant reminder that it was only through God’s work that humanity was originally afforded a relationship with Him on the “seventh day”, and (B) since our subsequent actions ruined this relationship, it could only be through a reinstitution of His work that this relationship would be restored.
In a way, Moses’ command, that the people cease from their work on the Sabbath, was to illustrate the reality humanity needed to stop working to fix a problem only God could remedy! You see the Sabbath was instituted to emphasize that God’s favor could only be restored through His work, not ours! The “seventh day” illustrated God’s grace!
Though “God rested” on this original “seventh day,” as a consequence of the fall — when man sinned thereby separating himself from his Creator, God promptly ended His rest and busied Himself with the work of redemption! The Sabbath Day should remind you that the only way your relationship with God could be restored would not be through your best attempts but rather through the completion of God’s perfect work in Jesus!
Should there be any surprise this very miracle of water being transformed by Jesus into wine occurs on the seventh day of John’s recreation narrative? Now it’s with this context established, I want us to unpack what’s really happening in this story…
Consider the problem Mary wants Jesus to remedy… This glorious wedding celebration (which you should keep in mind was a picture itself of man’s relationship with God) was about to be ruined because they had run out of wine! Joy was replaced with sorrow.
The party had soured. The celebration was about to end. People were left without anything to quench their thirst. The wine was gone! So, in an act of pure desperation, Mary wisely goes to the only person she knew had the ability to remedy the problem… her Son Jesus!
Consider the mechanism Jesus uses to perform the miracle… John is clear that Jesus specifically chooses “six stone waterpots” used by the Jews for ceremonial purification. These religious vessels were empty and at best only used to hold water for temporary cleansing. No one would ever drink from these pots, let alone expect to find fine wine!
Secondarily, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jesus performs the miracle at a distance by inviting the participation of these servants. It will be their obedience to His commands Jesus will use to accomplish an amazing work. You see in an act of faith, pursuant to the instructions of Jesus, these servants took these empty vessels, filled them up to the brim, before drawing out water that transforms into wine as it hits the lips of the master.
Consider the fundamental nature of the miracle… While Jesus commanded these pots be filled with water, as the “master of the feast” takes a swig “the water was made wine!” At some point in the process, a complete and total transformation of the water took place. The water Jesus asked these servants to offer instantly became wine when consumed! Jesus didn’t add something to the water to make wine. He transformed the water into wine!
Are you beginning to see the work Jesus is illustrating? Because of sin, the wedding party was in a bad place. The joy offered by this world always sours before it ultimately runs out. And while no man can provide a remedy to this problem, religion proves worthless.
Six pots of stone present at this wedding only existed to provide water aimed at the temporary cleansing of the outward man. Though the Law incorporated water for a person’s outward purification, it was never used to address man’s internal thirst. While Moses turned water into blood (judgment), how amazing Jesus turns water into wine (joy and fulfillment)?
Understand, Jesus offers a thirsty world something much different… He offers water that not only purifies a man but wine that quenches his internal thirst. Jesus offers a Living Water that upon its consumption instantly turns into a wine that yields within the individual lasting joy. This is what Jesus has called His servants to draw out and give to the world.
Honestly, it’s the reaction of the “master of the feast” that says it all! Upon tasting what Jesus offered, he declares, “You have kept the good wine until now!” The world always offers its best first knowing, in time, what it offers sours before running out. How amazing it took this man one taste to know he was drinking something much different?
The entire purpose behind this miracle was to illustrate the reality that Jesus had come to offer something radically different than religion to a thirsty world lacking joy. Not only is Jesus’ mission focused on providing a lasting, internal joy as opposed to a temporary outward cleansing, but what He offers the world only gets better and better with time.
How cool it is to think Jesus calls His servants to offer this world a drink from a well whose water turns to wine. Jesus transforms the person, not through ceremonial washing but an internal renewal. While religion will leave the world outwardly clean but inwardly thirsty, not so with Jesus! It’s not about what we do but instead what He makes us into.
With these things in mind and in the context of what this miracle really represented, doesn’t Jesus’ statement that “My hour had not yet come” begin to make sense. Though His “hour had not yet come” when He would accomplish His mission to save the world of sin… When His blood (represented in the elements as wine) would be spilled to redeem and cleanse…
By changing the water into wine Jesus was giving His disciples a glimpse into what this work would look like. On this 7th day of recreation, Jesus was not resting, rather He was busy working to save a wedding lacking wine! What a “sign” for Jesus to “begin” with!
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