The First of Many Signs (John 2:1-11)

One thing that has been constant in the news over the last two years has been parities, firstly being told that we were not allowed to have them, then being told that we could have them but only in a restricted form, and then finally that we could enjoy them fully along as everyone had done a Lateral Flow Test or been double vaccinated! Then over these last few weeks and months, we have listened in as revelations about parties that happened when they should not and guests attending for whom it would have been wiser for them to stay away.

There is an average of 275,000 a year in the UK. While there might be no more stressful a day for families in terms of planning, there is no greater party than that of a wedding: Where the love of two people is marked by their joining under God in front of loved ones; and, then the union is celebrated by all who know and love them in the party afterwards. There is probably a no more single event that has been affected by covid than weddings; I was invited to a wedding in May 2020 that was moved to September 2020 before finally happening in August 2021! However, eventually, the wedding got underway, and everyone could come together to celebrate a new relationship. It was a wonderful day because it was just after the regulations had changed, so for the first time, people were allowed to mix between tables, socialise with people outside their bubbles, and even better – to dance! It was a wedding that had everything, thankfully no one forgot the cake! The day went perfectly, and everyone had a fantastic time together.

Imagine, at that wedding, we had just listened to some wonderful speeches, enjoyed some marvellous food and then it came to the point of some cake. The Bride and Groom are called forward to cut the cake, and the crowds are gathering around them with their phones out and ready to get some beautiful and posed photos when it finally clicks with everyone that there will be no cutting because someone forgot. The cake! Imagine the embarrassment of the moment for the newly married couple and their families, for the people who have been involved in planning and organising the day and for whoever had baked the cake. There would have been embarrassment everywhere, especially after such a long build-up to the occasion. Today, we find ourselves joining Jesus, his mother, and the disciples at a wedding in Cana, an event that would have had the same sense of anticipation as the community built up to it. Everyone would have been there, and everyone would have been looking forward to celebrating the new couple; weddings were significant social events in the local calendar. There was a real pressure to get it right for the grooms family! So, to forget or run low on the supplies of one of the essential wedding components was the worst of situations to find yourself in.

Yet, that is exactly the wedding that Jesus finds himself in, as at the bequest of his Mother and before his disciples, he acts to save the occasion. As we watch the scene unfold and Jesus act for the first time, we (along with the disciples) get a glimpse of his glory, power, and purpose. A glimpse that began a journey of discovery and belief for the disciples on which we are invited to join them today.

John 2:1-3,5-11 NIV

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.”“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 twenty to thirty gallons. 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; his disciples believed in him.

The Problem (1-5)

I would love to have met John (the writer of the Gospel). He is one of the great storytellers of the Church; there is something about how he writes that seems to capture so much of the emotion and the small details around the life and ministry of Jesus. In the other accounts of the life of Jesus, you get a sense of who the authors were, their intended audiences and their similarities. Yet, John gospel is so different to the others. There is so much imagery, symbolism and emotion as you read through the chapters that sometimes you need to stop and go through it again to pick up something you might have missed, to take in all the beautiful truths that John is trying to communicate about the person of Jesus.

Yet, if we are honest, this is the most strange of miracles and passages to use to begin the public ministry of Jesus on his journey to the Cross. This really feels like a strange passage to include because there is nothing significant at stake. No one has died, no one is suffering immeasurably, it’s just an embarrassing situation at a community wedding in which Jesus, his Mother, and disciple are at. The Grooms family have had made a big mistake – they miscalculated the amount of wine they would need – hardly something worthy of the Messiah, the Saviour of the world! Yet, this is the moment by which John, in his Account of the life and ministry of Jesus, chooses to begin to reveal just who this Jesus is for us, and there is logic and reasoning behind his choice.

John has already introduced us to Jesus in the theological sense, helping us to understand why he came and who he is: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”1 Then we have seen the one who came to prepare the way and the transition from him to the Messiah as John testified concerning Jesus: “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”2 Jesus prepare for his public ministry as he called his disciples to follow him. Now we see the beginning of the public ministry of Christ when he would proclaim the coming Kingdom of God in word and incarnate it by deed. The wedding feast at Canna marks the beginning of this section in the Gospel of John (John 2:1-12:50), which is often called the book of signs because it centres around the seven signs of Jesus public ministry. This (semi-public) Sign (because only the servants, disciples and Mary seem to have Knowledge of the source of the wine) begins the cascading (public) revelation of Jesus (who he is and what he came to do) until his great revelation via the Cross. Everything moves to that moment; thus, each miracle and teaching moment in the chapters before (2:1-12:50) help us to understand a different aspect of the person and work of Jesus so that we can be confident in all he came to do John ac is and the hope of all who might put their trust in him. This is a moment for us to stop and consider: “Just who is this Jesus of Nazareth, the man who turned water into wine?”

The Wedding Scene (1-3)

John begins this passage by separating it time-wise from the calling of Nathaniel and Philip, three days have passed, and Jesus with his disciples joins his Mother at the wedding of someone in the community. Weddings were major community events that could last up to a week, and everyone in the locale would have been invited and expected to attend. As such, there was huge social pressure on the groom’s family – as they were responsible for organising the wedding – to put on a celebration that would be remembered – the party of the year! There would be nothing worse on such an occasion than to run out of one of the most vital components for such a celebration – the wine! Today’s equivalent would be a couple forgetting to pick up their wedding cake on the day! The standard drink for those days that people would have taken with everything, so to run out of something so common was suggestive of a poorly organised and planned event and would have left the couple facing huge social stigma. As one commentator notes:

“To run out of wine for the guests would have been an embarrassment to the groom and may have even opened him to a potential lawsuit from the relatives of the bride”

We know no details about the couple who were getting married, simply that their party was going so well and the thing had been so poorly organised that the worst had happened. The supply of wine had been miscalculated, meaning people were about to get frustrated. Thankfully (and unknown to the party), the Mother of Jesus has a solution as she points out to Him: “They have no more wine.” It is not so much a question from Mary to Jesus, but a statement – a statement spoken because she knows her son has the power to do something about it. She speaks from a position of Knowledge and belief.

Now is not the Time (4-5)

Jesus’ response to his Mother can feel almost dismissive or harsh when we hear it read in English; it should be heard as more of a strong statement than anything condescending. Via his response; “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” it would seem that Jesus disagrees that this unfortunate situation has nothing to do with him! However, mis mother Mary seems to choose to ignore him, hearing none of what he says as she commands the servants to heed the words of heroin: “Do whatever it is he tells you.” Now, let us be clear> Jesus is not being forced to do something he does not want to do. He is God and will act as he pleases; The expression “my hour has not yet come” is key to this passage and the whole of John’s Gospel as it reminds us to frame everything through the lens of the Cross and Christ’s glorification on it. While that hour had not yet arrived when he would give us blood so that we might know the abundance of life and joy. John also uses this passage to present Jesus as a sort of Bridegroom, the one who in the future will claim his Bride (The Church). Yet, that is all to come after the great revelation John builds and points – the Cross. At this point in his ministry, Jesus is reluctant to reveal too much of his nature and purpose because he knows how the people will react and what they will expect to form him. The world longed for a Messiah, but they did not understand how the Messiah of the Lord would save them, so they looked and waited for a political one. The cascading revelation of Jesus is because the world could not handle the fullness of his truth, and the counter-formative ways of his Kingdom, or the illogical of his crown, nor could handle the illogic of his greatest victory and the ultimate display of power and victory on the Cross.

The Act (6-10)

Yet, Jesus acts for the first time publically with purpose and intent towards his mission, not just because his mum told him to! He does so for the benefit of the disciples (and us as we read) so that they can begin to see who He is. Jesus commanded the servants to fill six large stone jars that would be used for the Jewish Purification rites as he commanded the servants to “Fill the Jar with Water.” The servants did as Mary told them as they filled the jars up to the brim (7) what I love about this moment is there is nothing fancy about it! No hocus-pocus, no great prayer up to heaven, no song and dance: Jesus simply commands the servants to take a cup, dip it into one of the purification jars and bring it to the Master of the feast. The one who would have been appointed by the grooms family to organise and oversee the preparation and execution of the wedding. The one who would have faced ultimate embarrassment because of the lack of organisation and whose head would be on the line when the line finally ran out! How glad the Master was to taste that wine.

There is so much lost in the quickness of how the story is told: Imagine being those servants who went to all the effort to fill the jars, carrying water from the well and pouring it into six purification jars. As they acted, wondering how this would help solve the problem of no wine: Then, imagine being those same men as they carried over what they thought to be a glass of water to the Master of the Feast and wondered what sort of rollicking they would get as they did so. Yet, to their surprise and delight, the moment the Master sipped the supposed water, his face changed from distress to delight, and the weight lifted off his shoulders as he realised there was more wine! Not only that, but it was the best wine he had ever tasted as he called over the Bridegroom to question his sanity: “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!” The Master of the Feast could not believe the logic of the wine he supposed that the Bridegroom had followed: that you would serve the fine wine first and then as they guests loosened up serve the less desirable stuff; it was a wedding by the ways of the word. Yet for the Master of the feast, the groom had done something counter-cultural and unbelievable! Perhaps, even here Jesus is displaying for us – and John the writer illuminating – the counter-cultural way of the Cross; and the upside-down ethic that he would call his disciples to live.

The Result (11)

John concludes the first public act of Jesus concerning his messianic Identity as verse eleven acts as a sort of summary verse of a miracle so nuanced and subtle in its outworking that those who benefited from it did not even realise. The Master of the Feast did not even know where the wine had been drawn from, neither the Bridegroom nor any families, only the servants and the disciples. Yet, this moment is key for us as we look to Jesus and John wants us to consider it and its implications. As we conclude, we note how John describers the miracle of Jesus here as the first of his signs, not simply as an isolated act. The word “signs” calls our attention to the fact that Jesus miracles were not simply physical acts done to improve desperate situations but symbolic in their essence, acts that point to a spiritual truth about Jesus. Thus, for us today, the water to wine miracle is a sign that points us to a specific aspect of the truth of Jesus. This Sign was so powerful that we are told that the disciples believed in him in response to it. Hence, as we question who this is and how must we respond to him? In the disciples, we see the right answer – beliebeliefim. So what does this Sign point us to today:

The Identity of Jesus: This Miraculous act and everyone would follow it point to the true identity of Jesus that had thus far been hidden – his Messiahship. That he is the Son of God, who came as a light into the darkness of our situation and sin, so that through his light, life and love we might (through faith know God). He has no other identity, no other way by which to see him, know him or make him known. As CS quipped in Mere Christianity, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” Thus, we must ask how we see him? John specifies that after this Sign, Jesus’ disciples began to believe in Jesus; its the only logical response, so how do we respond to him?

Christ as the Bridegroom: John seems to subtly present Jesus in the role of the Bridegroom as he relates to the servants, fills the water jars and provides abundantly for his guests. Jesus is the better Bridegroom who will serve and love his bride, the Church! The Jewish wedding symbolising the messianic Kingdom to come that would be consummated on the last day at that Great wedding when Christ would come for the bride he died for his Church! What a joyful moment that will be. The wine adds to the imagery as it symbolises the joy and blessings of that Kingdom for all who, like Jesus, see the true identity of Jesus and believe in him.

The Abundant Giver of Life: The final symbol for us to consider is that of the miracle itself. The very fact that Jesus was so easily able to turn Water into Wine shows us his authority as Lord over creation; he is the one who can command all things and control all things. Yet, equally, it shows us that Jesus is the Abundant life-giver who provides abundantly and graciously for the needs of his people both now and in the Kingdom to Come

  1. The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised (1984). (1984). (electronic edition., Jn 1:4–5). London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  2. The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised (1984). (1984). (electronic edition., Jn 1:34). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

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