Exodus 40:34-38; Ezekiel 10:18-19; John 2:1-11 (text)
October 25, 2015 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Dear Congregation of Christ: In the introduction to the Gospel of John, I mentioned that the Apostle John arranged his book not chronologically. He usually followed up an event in Jewish life, particularly their ceremonial feasts, with Jesus’ teaching concerning himself as the fulfillment of those feasts and institutions such as the temple.
This is what John does in the story about the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Although this story is well-known to all who are familiar with the Bible, it is more than just a story about Jesus’ miraculous work of turning water into wine. Several questions are often asked and even debated. Why was Jesus in a wedding feast at the beginning of his public ministry? Why did Jesus choose this as his first “miracle”? Was Jesus disrespectful of his mother? Does this story tell us that Mary is a mediator between Jesus and his disciples? Why did Jesus say, “My hour has not yet come,” but then very quickly turns water into wine? Is Jesus giving his approval to drinking wine?
Today, we will study the first miracle that Jesus performed under the theme “The Wedding at Cana: Much More Than a Miracle” under three headings: first, More Than Water into Wine; second, More Than a Show of Power; and third, More Than an Emergency Response.
More Than Water into Wine
True Christians do not doubt the historicity of this story. Two frequently asked questions are why Jesus was attending a wedding feast, and why did he choose turning water into wine as his first “sign.” Notice that John does not use the word “miracle,” but the word “sign.” The original Greek word translated as “sign” often means an event that indicates or confirms an intervention by God and that God is at work in that event. The word “miracle” is actually from the Greek word dunamis, which really means “power” (as in dynamite). So these two words have different meanings, as in Hebrews 2:4, where it says that God bore witness to his gospel “by signs and wonders and various miracles.”
The village of Cana is a short distance from Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus’ family. Mary and her relatives most probably knew people in Cana. It would seem from Mary’s concern about the wine running out that she was one of the guests assisting in the wedding feast. At this time, as seen from John 1 and Matthew 4, Jesus also has his first five disciples with him, since they are all from the area.
In those days in Jewish communities, weddings are the most important celebrations of the year. People look forward to celebrating the couple and their families for usually seven days of eating and drinking. This is much like remote villages in the Philippines, where everyone will come to a wedding feast, invited or not. In Jewish wedding feasts, the abundance of food and wine reminds them of joyful and abundant life when the Messiah comes. And this is most likely the reason why Jesus chose this event to perform his first sign. This is why Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Why would John also mention that there were “six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons”? These jars were not there for just holding water for the household’s daily needs, but for Old Testament ceremonial purification (Lev 6:28). Water from these vessels is even called “holy water” (Num 5:17). Jews had a tradition of washing their hands before they eat, not only to clean their hands. Mark 7:3-4 also says that this tradition includes “the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.” The word for “wash” here is the Greek word baptizo, commonly translated “baptize.” So the word “baptize” here could never mean “immersion,” since it is impossible to immerse dining couches.
I mentioned in the introduction to the Gospel that John uses narratives of Jesus’ presence in Jewish institutions and festivals to teach that Jesus is fulfilling them. In this event, his use of water from the jars for ceremonial purification is his way of revealing that the time of ceremonial purification has ceased. And the time of the purification from sin through the work of the Messiah has come. He has touched the jars, and it cannot be used again for ceremonial cleansing (Lev 11:33). The old covenant is passing away, the new covenant is coming. This is why Paul says that in Christ, a believer “is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). The righteousness that he brings is like “new wine” in fresh wineskins (Matt 9:17). In this regard, the implications are significant. The old priesthood is disappearing with his coming as the great High Priest. In our next sermon, the temple, with its purification ceremonies, will be destroyed because he is the new Temple.
Not only does this sign inaugurate new beginnings for Israel and the world. It also anticipates the abundant life that Jesus brings.
More Than a Show of Power
Mary seems to be the one responsible for making sure that everything goes well with the wedding feast. So she approaches her firstborn son, “They have no wine.” This was not just an embarrassment, but a disgrace. It would be like inviting friends for a party, and food runs out before everyone has eaten.
This conversation has generated a few questions. Jesus answered Mary somewhat harshly, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” This could also mean, “How does this concern you and me?” Was Jesus disrespectful when he addresses his mother as “Woman”? In those days, “Woman” was a formal address. He uses the same address for the woman at the well (4:21), the adulterous woman (8:10), his mother at the cross (19:26), and Mary Magdalene at the tomb (20:15). And Jesus as the Messiah will not act under anyone’s authority, even her mother’s, but must instead act according to his Father’s commission to him. So there is no basis for thinking that Mary is a mediator between Jesus and believers.
Jesus also adds, “My hour has not yet come.” John’s Gospel uses “hour” to refer to the time when Jesus sacrifices himself on the cross. We see two examples: “So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30); and “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (John 13:1; see also John 12:23). Jesus will do this sign and many others not only to satisfy a need in a wedding feast, but to fulfill the work of saving his people from the whole world. His death on the cross will provide far more than wine to satisfy guests at a wedding feast.
This takes us to another significant meaning to this sign. The amount of wine he created from water is about 120-180 gallons, more than enough to make the whole village drunk! But what he wants to show is that the Messiah has come, and there is abundance and joy in his coming. And although this joy and abundance has already come for all believers, it will be completed only when he returns. He told his disciples at the Passover supper, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:29). Jesus was referring to the coming great wedding banquet in heaven, “the marriage of the Lamb,” after he returns and brings the Church, his Bride, to his heavenly home (Rev 19:6-8).
This abundance of wine recalls the prophecies about the abundance that the Messiah would bring to his people: “and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil” (Hos 2:22); “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it… they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit” (Amos 9:14). Are you looking forward to that great day when we will all gather together in that great wedding feast of the Lamb, full of rich food and aged wine? It will be a most glorious event!
John adds at the end that Jesus, in doing this first sign, “manifested his glory.” In John 1:14, he introduces the Word who had become flesh, and says, “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” All of these signs showed the glory of Jesus as the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the Universe.
In the Old Testament, God showed his glory in the pillars of fire and cloud during the Exodus from Egypt. He also showed his glory in the Tabernacle and Temple. The cloud of glory hovered over the temple assured the people that the Lord dwelt with them. But in our reading in Ezekiel 10:18-19, the glory-cloud left the temple, a sign that the Lord has left his people to be exiled to Babylon, and the temple would be destroyed. From that day, God’s glory did not appear again to Israel until Jesus came showing his glory to the people through his signs and powerful works.
None of these appearances of God’s glory in the Old Testament can compare to the glory of Christ. When Peter, James and John saw his glory at the Mount of Transfiguration, they were terrified at the brightness of his appearance (Mark 9:6). When Jesus appeared to John in his glory, John “fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17). His glory is the glory of God the Father himself, even “before the world existed” (John 17:5).
More Than an Emergency Response
Jesus not only showed his divine power and glory, but he also showed himself as the gracious and merciful God who provides abundantly for his people’s needs. He cares about your needs, big and small. As big as running out of wine in a wedding feast, or as little as providing daily food and drink.
John also says at the end that his disciples believed in him because of this sign. Do you believe only because he provides for your needs? Or do you believe even when the cupboard does not have enough food and drink for your family, when you have major health problems, or when your relationships are in trouble? If God feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the fields, how much more will he feed and clothe you who are his treasured possession? He knows all your needs that not even “a hair of your head will perish” without his consent (Luke 21:18).
Jesus rebuked the people who followed him after he fed them, saying that they only follow because their stomachs are full. They were looking for food and wine, but not for the Bread of Life and Living Water. The Jews were always looking for miracles, but not the sign of the Messiah himself. Let us be mindful that in this age, we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). Jesus also rebuked Thomas for believing only after seeing, saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Only when Jesus returns that we will see him face to face, and we would not have to see miracles to believe. Because we walk by faith, we will see, hear and touch his glory.
Beloved Friends in Christ: By showing that ceremonial purification was becoming obsolete, Jesus was also showing that he is much better than Jewish traditions. The Jews clung to their traditions, their laws, their ceremonies and their temple. We too cling to traditions, old ways, fearing new things. Reformed churches have a traditional saying, “Reformed and always reforming.” This has become an excuse for bringing all kinds of innovations and new teachings to the church, especially in the worship service.
But what is left out is the rest of the saying, “Reformed and always reforming, according to Scriptures.” Almost all of you came from non-Reformed upbringing. So even if you have done many things the same way for years, even decades, you must rethink them if you become convinced that they are not according to Scriptures. If you have always sung certain hymns, you must look at the words. The same is true with many “contemporary” music. If the words we sing are unbiblical and not fitting for worship, we must not sing them. And the Psalms give us the confidence that we are singing the Word of God, fitting for worship. If you have never had a second service on the Lord’s Day, but the Bible says it is beneficial for our souls, then we must add it to our Lord’s Day. If you have always had grape juice for Lord’s Supper, we must use wine instead, for the Bible tells us that wine – and bread – are the elements to be used in this sacrament.
When Jesus upended Jewish traditions and ceremonies, he showed that he came to bring us new things, “new wine in fresh wineskins,” so to speak. He came to make you a new creation by faith alone in him alone. He has done his ultimate sign, of him crucified on the cross, for your salvation. Believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and you will be saved. Believe in all that the Word of God reveals about him. Believe that he forgives all your sins because he has paid for all of them on the cross. Afterwards, the Word of God assures you that you will be a guest in that great wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven.