Teaching series from John

God's New Program

John 2:1-22

Teaching t05616


John organizes the first half of his gospel around seven "signs" (sumeia) performed by Jesus. These "signs" were real miracles which helped real people. But they were also far more than that. As the word "sign" suggests, they are "attesting miracles," meaning that their true significance is not in the miracles themselves, but in what they reveal about Jesus as God's provision for our spiritual condition.

Chapter 2 records the first of Jesus' seven "signs" (changing water to wine) and connects it with another act by Jesus (cleansing the Temple). The key to understanding these two actions is Jn. 1:17 (read). Through Moses, God brought in the Law, or the Old Covenant. Through the Law, God taught his people certain important truths which were to prepare them for their Messiah. As the years passed, the Jews lost sight of this purpose and gradually corrupted the meaning of the Law--as we will see. But Jesus has come, not merely to reform the Jewish religion, but to fulfill and replace it altogether with God's new program of "grace and truth" (the New Covenant). Let's see how he does this in this chapter . . . 

Water To Wine (vs 1-11)

Read vs 1-4. This sounds awfully harsh! After all, Mary was only asking Jesus to help their hosts!

"Woman" (gunai) was a term of respect--"Ma'am." "What do I have to do with you?" is poorly translated; makes it sound like Jesus was rejecting her personally. As the NASB margin says, "What to me and to you." This idiom is communicating not Jesus' rejection of Mary, but of her suggestion on how he should handle this situation. He is saying: "I'll handle this my way--not your way."

She evidently wanted him to take this opportunity to publicly display his Messiahship. But Jesus insists that this is not the proper time to do that (vs 4b). His "hour" to do that would not come until his death and resurrection. Jesus does choose to intervene in this situation, but he does so in a quiet, behind-the-scenes way so that only a few people realize what he did.

Mary responds properly (read vs 5). She defers to Jesus and entrusts him to handle the situation as he deems best. By doing so, she is a model of how we should approach Christ in our requests to intervene: feel free to ask, believe that he can help, but then place it in his hand and trust that he will answer in the way that is best.

It is unfortunate that Mary has been elevated beyond her scriptural role. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, teaches that she was immaculately conceived, a perpetual virgin, co-redemptrix who participated in accomplishing our forgiveness, and the compassionate mediator to which we can pray in hopes that she will get Jesus to grant our request. [1] None of this is taught in the New Testament. Mary was a godly woman, but God seems to have anticipated this kind of unhealthy veneration and included several statements in an attempt to head it off (Jn. 2:1-5; Lk. 11:27,28; Mk. 3:32-35). Such thinking is pagan superstition, not Christian spirituality. Praying to Mary is neither biblical nor necessary. We can have our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That's what this passage is all about . . .

Read vs 6-11. Here is the first "sign"--Jesus saved the wedding party from disgrace by miraculously changing the water into fine vintage wine. But what is the spiritual significance of this "sign?"

The key is vs 6. John wants us to know that it wasn't ordinary drinking water, but rather water used for "the Jewish custom of purification." They undoubtedly had other containers that could have held water; Jesus could have created the wine out of nothing and the containers to hold it. But he chose to perform this miracle in a way which affected this custom. This custom had nothing to do with hygiene. It was a religious custom originally instituted by God in the Old Testament, but was corrupted and distorted by later religious leaders.

In the Law of Moses, God commanded the priests to undergo a water cleansing before they came into his presence in the Temple. This was simply a symbolic way of teaching people that one must be cleansed of sin in order to draw near to God. As the priests cleansed themselves and approached God with animal sacrifices for the people's sins, they foreshadowed the work of Christ, who would live a sinless life and thus qualify to present his own life as a payment for our sins (Jn. 1:29).

But over the centuries, the religious leaders had corrupted this beautiful symbol of God's plan of salvation so that its meaning was totally distorted. They taught that our main spiritual problem is outside of us: from foods, objects, people (even air contaminated by Gentiles!), and that therefore our main spiritual remedy is external ritual cleansing. EXPLAIN EATING CLEANSING RITUAL: no wonder they needed 120-180 gallons of water!!

This is the heart of the religious mentality--externalism: focusing on the externals and trying to keep the outside clean. Both Christian "religion" (sacramentalism) and non-Christian religion (macrobiotics; acupuncture; yoga; etc.) focus on the externals as the key to spirituality. Jesus rejected this whole approach to God. He declared that the real spiritual problem is internal (Mk. 7:18-23), which we are powerless to cleanse by ourselves. What is needed is an internal change which effects transformation from the inside out (Matt. 23:27,28). This is exactly what Jesus came to offer, as this "sign" teaches . . . 

Jesus has them fill these waterpots to the brim--and then he changes the water into wine. In this miracle, he does two things:

He puts this religious practice out of business. They are no longer able to perform this man-made, superstitious ritual. Thus, this miracle is a condemnation and rejection of this form of spirituality.

He replaces this approach to God with a symbol of a whole new approach to God. Whereas the water was a symbol of external cleansing, wine is a symbol of God's gift of internal transformation. Wine was associated in the Old Testament with life and joy (Judges 9:13; Psalm 4:7; 104:15 >> JEWISH TOAST: "To life!"). You consume it into yourself, and it affects you from the inside out. By making an abundance of fine vintage wine, Jesus communicates that he is the Giver of abundant life.

God doesn't want you to relate to him by trying to clean yourself up on the outside; he wants to give you internal spiritual life which will change you from the inside out (see 2 Cor. 3:18). This is available to all who personally receive Christ . . . 

Cleansing The Temple (vs 12-22)

Read vs 12-17, mentioning there were two Temple cleansings. When I was a kid, I was taught that this means we aren't allowed to sell stuff or make noise in the church sanctuary. Right? Wrong!! The problem was not that commerce was occurring in the Temple. For one thing, they weren't in the "inner sanctuary"--they were in the outer court. The real problem was that the commerce was corrupt.

The Law required that Jews offer unblemished animal sacrifices to God at Jerusalem at Passover (Deut. 16:6). This was another beautiful symbol, foreshadowing how Jesus would one day offer his perfect sacrifice for our sins at Jerusalem (Jn. 1:29 >> 1 Cor. 5:9). But the religious leaders taken advantage of this law to exploit the people. The priests always seemed to find something wrong with their animals, so they had to buy them from these guys--at an exorbitant price. Then there was the matter of their currency. The priests said only Tyrian half-shekels were acceptable, so they had to change their money here--at an exorbitant rate. Of course, the priests received a nice share of the profits. [2]

Does this sound familiar? People who want to know God being bilked by the very ones who should have been leading them to God! They had perverted a beautiful symbol of how God would forgive his people into a way to line their pockets. Some things never change. No wonder Jesus was enraged! In doing this, Jesus also fulfilled the Messianic prediction in Mal. 3:1-3.

But what is the spiritual significance of this act? The key is the confusing interchange that follows (read vs 18-22).

The Temple was the house of God. It was where God dwelt in a symbolic way, and where God's people could learn certain important truths about him.

But Jesus is the actual dwelling place of God (Jn. 1:14 - "the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us . . . "). The true Temple has shown up at the symbolic Temple. This is why Jesus answers as he does in vs 19. He was not only telling them that his resurrection would be the proof he is the Messiah; he is also telling them that he has come to replace the old Temple with his body. Even killing this new Temple wouldn't keep it from replacing the old one.

The rest of the New Testament develops this even further. Those who believe in Christ are now indwelt by his Spirit, and we become the "Body of Christ"--the true Temple (see Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4,5). Jesus has come to replace the Temple with all of its priest and sacrifices and rituals with himself dwelling personally in the hearts of those who trust him.

Where does God dwell now? Not in buildings!  This is why we never call our meeting places the "house of God." We are the house of God! The church is not a building--it is the people in whom Jesus dwells. The whole idea of "holy places" is now profoundly out of step with God's new program. He wants to come and live inside your heart! You don't need to go to a shrine or a building to meet him! He wants to come and indwell you personally. Will you let him do this by receiving Christ??


So Jesus introduces God's NEW PROGRAM of NEW WINE and a NEW TEMPLE. Next week, we'll see how Jesus explains to a seeker that this NEW PROGRAM is entered via a NEW BIRTH . . . 


[1] See the official Roman Catholic citations in S. Lewis Johnson, "Mary, the Saints, and Sacerdotalism," Roman Catholicism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), pp. 120-127. Pope Leo XIII (1891): "Nothing is bestowed on us except through Mary . . . Therefore as no one can draw near to the Supreme Father except through the Son, so also one can scarcely draw near to the Son except through his mother."

[2] See Earl Palmer, The Intimate Gospel (Waco: Word Books, 1978), pp. 37,38.