“The Wine, the Wedding, and the Way: Jesus’s First Sign”
April 14, 2019
Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service
Our Scripture reading this morning is from the Gospel of John, chapter two, verses one through eleven. Please listen carefully, for this is God’s Word for us this morning.
2:1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
This is the word of the Lord.
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]
Let’s pray …
Lord, you are our portion,
and so we commit ourselves to keep your word.
We ask you with all our hears to show us your favor,
and be gracious with us according to your promise.
When we consider our ways,
turn our feet to your testimonies.
And as we hear your word now,
give us a sense of urgency to conform ourselves to it,
so that we act on it without delay.
Grant this we ask, for Jesus’s sake. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:57-60]
Rowan Atkinson, a British comedian most well known for the character he plays named “Mr. Bean” has a comic sketch where he comes out on a stage that is set like the front of an Anglican church, and walks up to a fancy lectern wearing the vestments of an Anglican priest, and in a comically stern and serious way that only Rowan Atkinson could do, he begins to read the story from John chapter two that we just heard. The version he seems to be reading is in King James English. It is high and lofty language, but then as it goes, the story begins to diverge from the Biblical account – though Atkinson remains serious as ever throughout the whole thing.
He gives the account of how the wine ran out, and then he reads on, somberly:
“And Jesus said unto the servants: ‘Fill six water pots with water.’ And they did so. And when the steward of the feast did taste from the water from the pots, it had become wine. And he knew not whence it had come.
“But the servants did know. And they applauded loudly in the kitchen. And they said unto the Lord: ‘How [on earth] did you do that?’ And inquired of him: ‘Do you do children’s parties?’ And the Lord said: ‘No.’ But the servants did press him, saying; ‘Go on, give us another one!’
“And so he brought forth a carrot, and said: ‘Behold this, for it is a carrot.’ And all about him knew that it was so. For it was orange, with a green top. And he did place a large red cloth over the carrot, and then removed it, and lo, he held in his hand a white rabbit. And all were amazed, and said: ‘This guy is really good! He should turn professional.’”
The routine continues, and includes Jesus telling Mary to lie down in a box, and Atkinson reads on seriously:
“And then took he forth a saw, and cleft her in twain. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But Jesus said: ‘Oh ye of little faith!’ And he threw open the box and lo, Mary was whole. And the crowd went absolutely bananas. And Jesus and Mary took a big bow.”
And it goes on even further from there.
It is not a pious routine – I’ve omitted the parts that are even more flippant about the ministry and even death of Christ.
And so, I don’t mention it because it is a great example of Christian humor … but I mention it instead because it is a helpful window into how many people … non-Christians, but even some Christians, I think … tend to view the miracle we are looking at this morning.
Because of all Jesus’s miracles, turning water into wine here most uncomfortably resembles a party trick to many of us. Many have felt it in reading the story, and Atkinson is just making the covert feeling of many into an overt source of humor in his routine.
I think that the miracle of turning water into wine seems uncomfortable or even silly to many of us, if we’re honest – at least when it’s compared to miracles of healing the sick and giving sight to the blind. We have questions about it: Why would Jesus make this his first miracle? Why did he do it? What does it even mean? Is it just supposed to tell us that Jesus has cool powers that come in handy at a party?
To begin to answer questions like these, we need to start by making sure we rightly see the problem of there being no wine, and that we rightly consider the purpose of signs in the Gospel of John.
First, the problem of there being no wine was more serious than simply a hitch in the party.
As one commentator notes: “A wedding celebration could last as long as a week, and the financial responsibility lay with the groom […]. To run out of supplies would be a dreadful embarrassment in a ‘shame’ culture; there is some evidence it could also lay the groom open to a lawsuit from aggrieved relatives of the bride.” [Carson, 169]
The point of concern when Mary speaks to Jesus is not that this will lead to a lull in the party if someone does not run out for more drinks soon, but it expresses fear for the honor of the groom’s family and the newly married couple. Public shame and even worse could face a couple who fails to provide the expected supplies for a wedding feast like this in this particular culture. So, Jesus’s first motive is not to wow people at a party, but to lovingly rescue a new couple from public embarrassment.
That is the nature of the problem of the party running out of wine … but to our second question: what is the purpose of this sign, and of signs in general?
In all the Gospels, but in some ways in John especially, the miracles recorded are always meaningful – and that is reflected in part in the fact that John prefers to refer to them as “signs” rather than as miracles or mighty works. As one commentator puts it, the miracles of Jesus are “never simply naked displays of power, still less neat conjuring tricks to impress the masses, but signs, significant displays of power that point beyond themselves to the deeper realities that could be perceived with the eyes of faith.” [Carson, 175]
And what kind of realities are being displayed? As another commentator notes: “The first sign had the same purpose that all the subsequent signs will have, namely, revelation about the person of Jesus.” [Brown, 103]
Every sign is meant to reveal truths about the person of Jesus.
The central question for us this morning then, is what does this miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana reveal to us about Jesus?
And as we look at it together, I think we can see at least three things revealed about Jesus here. We see:
First: What Jesus’s relationship to the world (or creation) is,
Second: Where Jesus is bringing the world, and
Third: How Jesus will get us there.
Let’s consider those three things in our text:
– What Jesus’s relationship to the world is,
– Where Jesus is bringing the world, and
– How Jesus will get us there.
First, Jesus’s miracle tells us what Jesus’s relationship to the world is – and by “world” I mean the created order.
Mary comes to Jesus in verse three and tells them they have run out of wine. It’s not entirely clear what she expects at this point. We have no account of Jesus performing a miracle before this one, so it seems like a stretch to think that Mary was asking Jesus to perform a miracle.
More likely she was just asking if there was something he could do. Joseph, Mary’s husband, does not show up at this point in the story, so we may venture a guess that Joseph had already died by now, which would make Mary a widow and Jesus, her eldest son, the man on whom she would come to depend on, especially in the culture they were living in. And so most likely she considers Jesus to be one who is resourceful, responsible, and concerned for others, and so she turns to him for help, to rescue this couple from public disgrace. [Carson, 169]
And after a brief exchange, which we will discuss more in a few minutes, Mary’s requests lead Jesus to perform his first miracle.
That is the immediate context, but in the larger context, what does the miracle itself tell us about Jesus’s relationship to creation – to the world, to the cosmos?
C. S. Lewis is especially helpful here.
In his essay on “Miracles”, Lewis pushes us to think more carefully about how we look at the miracles Jesus performs like this one. He points out first that modern people have a general dislike of miracles, so much so that even if a modern person admits that there is a God and that he could perform such miracles, they still tend to doubt that he actually would. Lewis writes that to most modern people, for God “to violate the laws [of nature that] He Himself has imposed on His creation seems to them arbitrary, clumsy, a theatrical device only fit to impress savages.” … In other words, something like what Rowan Atkinson described.
Instead of this, Lewis directs us to think more carefully. He writes: “There is an activity of God displayed throughout creation, a wholesale activity let us say which men refuse to recognize. The miracles done by God incarnate [by God come in human flesh], living as a man in Palestine, performed the very same things as this wholesale activity [that God does every day], but at a different speed and on a smaller scale. One of their chief purposes is that men, having seen a thing done by personal power on the small scale, may recognize, when they see the same thing done on the large scale, that the power behind it is also personal – is indeed the very same person who lived among us two thousand years ago. The miracles in fact are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. […] In other words, some of the miracles do locally what God has already done universally.”
What does this have to do with the miracle at Cana? Lewis continues – he writes: “God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus, every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana.” [Lewis, 28-29]
What is the first thing that this story reveals to us about the person of Jesus? He is the Maker of this world. He is the one who made the world, and he is the one who is at work in it even now.
As Lewis puts it, from the beginning of history Jesus, as God the Son, has been turning water into wine. He usually does it with vines, but it is still he who does it – not just in the past, but even now today. And we, in our materialistic foolishness look at it and see it all as an accident of time, space, and matter.
And so, in order to open their eyes, the Maker has shown up to reveal that he is the one behind it all.
What the miracle of turning water into wine tells us about the person of Jesus is that he is nothing less than the maker and the sustainer of the cosmos.
That is who we are dealing with in this passage. That is whom we are considering. That is the first thing: What is Jesus’s relationship to the world? He is its Maker.
The second question is: Where is Jesus bringing the world?
And that is hinted at in his first sentence he utters when answering his mother. He says: “Woman, what does this have to do with me?”
The phrase Jesus uses, which would be literally translated as “What to me and to you?” is one that, one commentator explains, would be used to respond to a petitioner “when someone is asked to get involved in a matter which he feels is no business of his.” [Brown, 99] “What does this have to do with me?” “This is none of my business!”
Or … I wonder, if we might even put it something like: “Why are you coming to me? This is not my wedding!”
The response is a little odd on some level … but it may become less odd if we consider the idea that Jesus is at that moment considering his own wedding. And that idea becomes more plausible when we consider the Old Testament’s use of wedding imagery, the New Testament’s use of wedding imagery, and the next thing Jesus will say.
Already in John’s Gospel Jesus has been identified as the long-promised Messiah of Israel, as the Son of God, and as the Lamb of God. And in the Old Testament one of the images used to symbolize the day of the Messiah is that of a wedding.
So, in Isaiah 62, the Lord says to his people “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” In Isaiah 54 we read “Fear not […] For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”
Jesus, in his ministry, expanded this imagery, using the image of a wedding feast held for the son of a king to describe the fullness of the kingdom of God. And then the Apostle John brings the same imagery into even sharper focus in Revelation 19, where he describes the coming age when God will make all things new, and God’s people will dwell with God in eternal joy at the “marriage supper of the Lamb.”
Isaiah looked for the day when the Maker of the cosmos would be united to his people like a husband to his wife. Jesus described the fullness of the kingdom of God as a wedding feast for the Son of God. And the Apostle John showed us that that future hope of God’s people was the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
So when Jesus is at this wedding and says, essentially, “What does this have to do with me – this is not my wedding!” what is the wedding that Jesus, the Maker of the cosmos, Jesus the Son of God the one true King, Jesus the Lamb of God – what is the wedding that he would have in mind for himself?
It is that future day when God will make all things new and will be united to his people to dwell with them forever. [Brown, 104-105; Carson, 172-173]
The wedding points to that … and the wine does as well.
As a couple commentators point out, Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah all link the Messianic age with an abundance of wine, and several Jewish works popular in the first century emphasized this point [Carson, 172; Brown 105].
And so, in a smaller way with the abundance of wine, and in a larger way with the wedding feast of the Lamb – the Maker of the World, the Son of the King – this moment in our text is pointing to the promised kingdom of God to come: The day when God will put an end to human suffering, where death will be done away with, where human sin will be eradicated, and when all things will be made new. That is the wedding feast Jesus looks forward to in our text, and that is where Jesus intends to bring his creation: to the cosmic wedding feast where God and his people will joyously live together forever.
That is the answer to our second question.
So, first: What is Jesus’s relationship to the world?
He is its Maker.
Second: Where is Jesus bringing the world?
He is bringing it to the cosmic wedding feast where creation will be made new, cleansed of all sin and sadness, and where God and creation will be reunited together forever, in joy and love.
Which brings us to our third question …
How will Jesus get us there?
And the answer to that is given in the second sentence Jesus says to his mother.
After pointing out that the lack of wine is not his issue to deal with, as this is not yet his wedding, Jesus then says to her: “My hour has not yet come.”
What does that mean?
Well, throughout his Gospel, the Apostle John uses the idea and the phrase of Jesus’s “hour” as a technical way of referring to his suffering and death, as well as what would follow. [Brown, 99; Carson, 171-172]
Which leads to the question: Jesus is at a wedding feast with his family and friends … so why is he thinking about his death?
Why? Because Jesus knew that the only way to the cosmic wedding feast he longed for was through the cross. He knew that the only way to the crown among his people, was through the crucifixion.
And why was that? Because Jesus knew his people had sinned – they had rebelled against God, they had earned God’s just wrath for themselves, and the only way to restoration, the only way to spend eternity with his people rather than have that wrath fall on them forever, was to let that just wrath fall instead on himself. Jesus knew that to be with his people for eternity, the people he had made, he would have to first bear the penalty of their sin on himself. He knew that there would be no crown before the cross.
And in a way this text is therefore especially appropriate for Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday the people hailed Jesus as king … but in such a way that they expected a king without a cross. They expected triumph and victory with no need for atonement. On one level their cries of praise were right … on another level, their vision was terribly inadequate. They were living an illusion.
But Jesus had no such illusions. And so, as he is at this wedding, and as he appears to be considering his own cosmic wedding … it is his suffering on the cross on behalf of his people that is at the forefront of his mind.
Jesus’s comment reveals to us that this is what he is thinking about – that the cross is the way that he will deliver his people and bring them to the cosmic wedding supper of the Lamb.
So …What is Jesus’s relationship to the world?
He is its Maker.
Where is Jesus bringing the world?
He is bringing it to the cosmic wedding feast where creation and its Maker will be reunited together forever, in joy and love.
How will he get us there?
Through the way of the cross.
That is what Jesus’s first sign, his first miracle, reveals about who he is.
Now … what are you and I supposed to do with that?
Well … there are a number of truths presented in this one sign, and so a number of applications flow from it … and which application you most need to consider will depend most on who you are and where you are at.
But let me briefly mention four possible applications.
First, some of you here this morning need to take more seriously that Jesus is your Maker … and the central factor in how you spend eternity is how you relate to him.
If you are here this morning and you’re not a Christian, or you’re on the fringe of the Christian faith, or everyone around you assumes you’re a Christian, but you know it’s been a long time since you’ve taken your faith seriously … then you need to consider who Jesus is and how he relates to you.
Because if Jesus was just an interesting religious teacher with some good stuff to say, then there are bigger things to worry about in the world than how you relate to him.
But if Jesus is your Maker, as this miracle testifies, then there is literally nothing in the world more important for you than how you relate to him. Nothing.
Because elsewhere in his teaching Jesus tells us that while the final destination for this world is the joyous wedding supper of the Lamb … he also tells us that not everyone will be there. In fact, many will not be. Many will not be, because they failed to respond to the invitation. They ignored Jesus’s call in this life. They were indifferent to his urges to draw close now and commit their lives to him now. They kept themselves at a distance, and so at a distance they will remain. And on that great day when Christ returns to be with his people, that distance will be made permeant. The doors to the wedding feast will be closed, and many will spend eternity in the outer darkness.
There is nothing in the universe that should be more important for you than how you are relating to Jesus. Have you responded to his call and drawn close to him by faith? Or have you kept him at a distance … a distance you should be terrified that he will honor for eternity if you do not draw close to him now.
So first, some of you need to take more seriously that Jesus is your Maker, and the central factor in how you spend eternity is how you relate to him.
Second, others need to take more seriously what Jesus has already accomplished to draw you into that cosmic wedding feast. When Jesus thought about what had to be done to unite him with his people for eternity, he did not think of how they would have to earn their way to him, or how they would have to pay for their own sins before they got in, but Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.” It was his death he was thinking about.
If you are one who always wonders if you have done enough good deeds to balance out your sins, or if you have suffered enough to pay for your sins before a holy God – if you trust in Christ but constantly doubt your salvation, then you need to remember that it was his hour, his suffering and his death that purchased your way into that cosmic wedding feast.
Some of you need to take more seriously what Jesus has already accomplished to draw you into that eternal wedding celebration.
Third, still others of you need to consider the pattern Jesus sets up here. Now, as I just said, it is Jesus’s death that earns us a place at the cosmic marriage supper of the Lamb. But Jesus’s Way did more than that. It also cleared a Way and set a pattern for us to follow.
Jesus knew that death would come before resurrection, that his “hour” would come before his feast. And he often calls his people to follow the same pattern in the life of faith.
And most of us don’t want that. Most of us would rather just go directly to the feast.
Most of us love our peace, our comfort, and our security (I know I do!), and we don’t want it even threatened, let alone taken from us. But the path of obedience for God’s people is often the path of Christ. And the path of Christ revealed here is that death comes before resurrection, Jesus’s hour of suffering comes before his wedding feast.
Where are you trying to … or maybe even better: where do you feel entitled to … live a different pattern from the one Jesus lays down here? – Where do you feel entitled to be free from the obligation to live a cruciform life?
Some of us need to consider the pattern of life that Jesus sets up here not only for himself, but for those who would follow after him.
Fourth and finally, some of us need to keep in mind where this is all going.
Some of us, far from avoiding the cross, seem to live our lives there – either mentally, or because of the circumstances we face in this life.
When you feel like the way of the cross has engulfed you, it can be hard to keep moving forward. The pain of this world, and the pain of the Christian life, can be what feels most real. And the Christian life can feel like it comes down to duty and a dogged perseverance.
And in a sense those things are true: The pain of this world and of the cross are real. And Christian duty and dogged perseverance are virtues of the faith.
But even so, you need to remember where all this is going, just as Jesus did. The destination is that time when sin and death, where brokenness and pain, are all done away with, and everything sad comes untrue. The destination is that place where God draws close to and embraces his people like never before, and dwells in their midst forever. The destination is love and joy with God and the people of God. The destination is greater than any human being in this life can even fathom.
As you face the suffering and the crosses of this life, you need to hold the Marriage Supper of the Lamb out in front of yourself. You need to remember where you are going. You need to remember what your hope is.
In John 2:1-11 we have so much more than a nifty party trick or a bare show of power. We have here a sign – a revelation of the person of Jesus. He is our Maker. He is the one who will usher in the cosmic wedding supper of the Lamb. He is the one who suffered and died, so that we might live forever with him in joy.
Have you taken him seriously? Have you trusted his finished work? Have you followed his footsteps? Are you clinging to the joy of his promised kingdom?
This miracle should focus our minds on all those questions, and on how we will relate to Jesus for eternity.
Because while many try in the midst of this life to find and grasp at the good wine first … we know that Jesus will save for his people the best wine to the end, that they might drink it there with him in his kingdom forever.
This sermon draws on material from:
Atkinson, Rowan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzNORwik0dY
Brown, Raymond E. The Gospel According to John. vol.1. Anchor. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966.
Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.
Lewis, C. S. “Miracles” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Edited by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970.