For us to really understand the power of this miracle we first need to understand how symbolic weddings and wine were for the Jewish people. Weddings were not one day events in Jesus’ day, the wedding ceremony and banquet could go on for days and it wasn’t just a time for the family and friends to come together, it was an event for the entire village or community. Because so much food and drink were needed to take care of the wedding guests for several days, the extended family of the bride and groom would come together to help provide all that was needed. So some people believe that when Mary asked Jesus to help provide the wine it was because the wedding was for someone in Jesus’ family. It could have been a brother or sister or a cousin of Jesus, but because Mary asked Jesus to get involved it seems to indicate that Mary and Jesus were in some way related to the bride or groom and so had some responsibility for providing what was needed.
There is also no indication that when Mary asked Jesus to do something that she was thinking he would do a miracle. John says this was the first miracle Jesus did so it seems unlikely that Mary was thinking that Jesus would turn water into wine when she asked him to help, she probably just wanted Jesus and his disciples to go and buy more wine for the guests and tell the servants where to pick it up, but what Jesus thought was that this would be the best time and place to do his first miracle and begin to reveal to his disciples exactly who he was.
Now the reason a wedding was the perfect place for Jesus to do his first miracle is because wedding banquets were often seen as a symbol of the coming kingdom of God – the kingdom Jesus had come to bring into the world. The clearest example of this comes from the prophet Isaiah. Let’s look at Isaiah 25:6-9. So the kingdom of God is seen as a great feast or banquet where there is an abundance of food and wine and since weddings were the largest and greatest banquets that people had, the wedding banquet became symbolic of God’s kingdom. Jesus used this image when he told the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:2. Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. So the idea of a wedding banquet being a symbol of God’s kingdom was well known and by choosing to do his first miracle at a wedding banquet, Jesus was making a statement that would have been understood by those who knew of the miracle. Jesus was saying to them that he had the power to bring God’s kingdom into this world because he was the son of God, the messiah. As it says in John 2, Jesus revealed to his disciples his power and glory.
But it wasn’t just any miracle Jesus did at this wedding; he provided wine – lots and lots of wine. If we go back to Isaiah 25 it says that the coming kingdom of God was going to be a banquet with aged wine which would have been the best wine and that is exactly what Jesus provided. According to the master of the banquet the wine Jesus provided was the best which was surprising because most people would serve the best wine first and then after a day or so it wouldn’t matter to people what you served.
So Jesus fulfills the prophet’s words by not only providing the finest wine but by providing it in abundance. It says that there were 6 stone water jars and each jar would have held 20-30 gallons of water so what Jesus has just provided the wedding guests is about 150 gallons of wine, that’s 2-3 barrels or 900 bottles of wine given at the end of the feast. Jesus has provided an abundance of wine which again was what the prophets predicted. The prophet Amos talked about the coming kingdom of God and said that new wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. Jesus has certainly provided new wine and in such abundance that it does almost flow from the hills.
And it was in the hills that the miracle took place which is a detail we should not overlook. Jesus performed this miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee which is a very hilly region.
|Cana of Galilee|
We didn’t stop in Cana so I wasn’t able to get any good pictures there but what I did notice about the area was how hilly it was. In fact, when people have asked me about my general impressions of the Holy Land my first response is always that it is more hilly or mountainous then I imagined. While there are large valleys throughout Israel, they end abruptly at foothills and mountains that are rugged and steep and it was in that region where Jesus did this miracle. It wasn’t along the shores in Capernaum or in the city of Jerusalem or in the valleys that Jesus traveled through it was in Cana, it was in the mountainous region of Galilee. So again, the words of Amos have been fulfilled, new wine drips from the mountains and flows from the hills. Every detail of this first miracle is important and symbolic and they all point to Jesus being the Messiah who has the power to bring in the kingdom of God.
But there is something else we need to notice here, the wine Jesus provided was for everyone and as Isaiah said, the coming kingdom of God was going to be for everyone – all nations and all people. God’s original purpose in calling Abraham was for him to be a father of many nations and Israel was to be a light to the people and God’s choice of the promised land itself was intentional because it was the crossroads of the world at that time and it was the only place where the message of God could spread to everyone.
Jesus is clearly saying a lot in this one miracle, but there is one more important statement we need to hear. While Jesus could have chosen any number of vessels to fill with water for his miracle, he chose the stone jars that would have held the water for ceremonial washing.
|Stone Jar at Mosada|
These jars would have been used during the days of the wedding feast to wash the hands of the people. Cleanliness was very important for the Jewish people, both physically and spiritually, and there were many laws written about how to become clean and stay clean and when to do it. The law required people to wash their hands before they ate which wasn’t so much to get physically clean but spiritually clean. More rigorous religious communities went so far as to make people immerse themselves in water completely before each meal and one such community was the Essenes, which both John the Baptist and Jesus may have been part of at different points in their life
We visited an Essene community and one of the things we saw everywhere were Mikvah’s or baths that people used to become clean.
|Mikvah at Qumran|
A person would walk into the water and then come forth spiritually clean. While the Essene community practiced this ritual before every meal, most Jewish people just washed their hands or poured water over the hands to become clean and that practice is still used today. When we visited the Wailing Wall there were hand washing stations and this was not to get our hands clean physically because there was no soap there, this was more of a spiritual cleansing.
|Hand washing station at the Western Wall|
At the stations you would turn on the water and allow the water to run over your hands and then you would allow them to air dry and then you made your way to the wall to pray.
You can imagine how much water it would take with all the people coming to the wall at all times of the day and night and it would also have taken a lot of water at the wedding banquet Jesus attended. During the celebration which could have been going on for days, there would have been a lot of meals which means there was a lot of hand washing which meant you needed to have a lot of water on hand which is why there were so many jars. Since it was late into the feast, many of those jars now stood empty, but Jesus didn’t use those jars because they were convenient – he used them to make a point.
By using the jars that held ceremonial water that made people clean to provide the new wine, Jesus is saying that the old way of making people clean has been replaced by something new and better. The old rules are now gone, the old regulations are not what make people clean, there is a new covenant, new wine, and what makes people clean isn’t pouring water over your hands but believing in the son of God. Jesus doesn’t have to say this because again this was proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah. Let’s go back Isaiah 25:9. So it is trusting in God that brings salvation. The old way of connecting with God was by following the rules and regulations –washing your hands – but the new way was going to be through faith and trust in God and the one God sent as his Messiah, Jesus Christ.
So Jesus is saying a lot in this miracle and the disciples seem to understand some of it because it says they believed in him, they put their faith and trust in Jesus. Jesus performed this miracle to show people that he had the power to bring in the kingdom which as a call for people to place our faith and trust in him. This first miracle is the announcement that God is starting something new and for us to experience the power of God and for us to experience the life God wants for use we don’t follow rules – we follow Jesus.
We just spent 3 weeks talking about what it means to follow Jesus, it means sacrifice, service and salvation, but what does it mean for us to believe in him? As we have heard before, it’s not believing in our head that Jesus is the son of God, it is believing in our hearts and allowing that belief to shape how we think and speak and live. Believing in Jesus means trusting him with our whole being and allowing every area of our life to come under God’s control. It means allowing God to redefine our priorities – how we spend our time, treat our family, behave at work, spend, save and invest our money and what we allow into our eyes, ears and minds through entertainment and culture. Think of believing in Jesus as belonging to him and living as if we are actually connected to him so that whatever we are doing we are doing with him.
Belong to Jesus, doing everything I do with Jesus… I don’t know about you, but thinking about this a little unsettling because there are many thoughts I have and things I do that I would be ashamed and embarrassed if I knew Jesus was there, but Jesus is there. There is nothing hidden from him, so he is already there in those dark places of sin and shame, but he is there not to condemn but to forgive. Jesus is there not to pass judgment but to bring healing and the reason we know this is because at a wedding in Cana, Jesus turned water to wine.
We’ve looked at this miracle symbolically, now let’s look at it practically and personally. There was a wedding feast and the family was about to run out of wine and while that might seem like a small thing to us, it would have been a huge embarrassment for the family. To run out of wine at a wedding would have brought shame upon the entire family which is why Mary asked Jesus to do something in the first place. Mary is trying to save her family from public shame and ridicule and instead of thinking that this problem was beneath him, Jesus had compassion for his family and does something. He rescues them.
And Jesus rescues us. This is not just a symbolic miracle announcing God is doing something new in Jesus, this is a miracle that shows us Jesus cares about what is going on in our lives no matter what the issue is. It might be something big like we saw last week with sickness or illnesses that isolate us from others or it might be something we might think is small and inconsequential, or something even dark and personal, but if it is important to us – it is important to Jesus. And this miracle shows us that no matter what we may be embarrassed about or ashamed of, God forgives and Jesus comes to rescues us restores us. Jesus brings us a new life and a clean life.
I met a young man in Lewisburg who claimed the power of this miracle for his life. He had accepted Jesus and yet he struggled to live the life of faith he wanted to and he often ended up ashamed of things he did as part of his fraternity, and he wasn’t alone. Many Sunday’s we met college students in worship filled with regret and shame for decisions they had made the night before – but the message we always shared with them was the message of this miracle. Jesus forgives us. God rescues us from our shame and is willing to show us a better way to live.
What we need to do to claim this power for living a new life is to do what Mary did, ask Jesus for help. If we turn to Jesus we will find new life. If we turn to Jesus when problems overwhelm us and temptation leads us astray – we will find God’s grace and the strength to live a better life, the best life God has for us. Mary knew where to turn and this miracle shows us that Jesus really is the one to turn to for help. So let us turn and believe in Jesus and allow God’s grace, power and priorities to reshape our lives.
The Miracles of Jesus ~ Water To Wine
1. Jesus turning water to wine showed His disciples that He was the Son of God and because of this they put their faith in Him. What does it mean for you to put your faith in Jesus? How has your life changed because of this?
2. In what areas of your life do you need to Jesus to be in control?
What can you do this week to re-prioritize your life in these areas according to the principles of God’s kingdom?
3. By providing wine for the wedding banquet, Jesus took away the shame of His family. What shame and embarrassment do you need God to wipe away? In what areas of your life do you need God’s cleansing and forgiveness? Ask Him for help today.
For further study: To really understand the power of this miracle we need to understand the symbolism of weddings, wine and God’s abundance on the mountains. Review:
• Isaiah 25:6-9
• Amos 9:11-15
• Jeremiah 31