Signs of Jesus from the Gospel of John

Water to Wine

John 2:1-11

Teaching t09861


This morning, we begin a series on seven miracles in the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is the fourth book of the New Testament, and John was a disciple of Jesus, eye-witness of these events, and author of 5 New Testament books (Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Revelations). John organizes the first half of his gospel (chapters 1-12) around seven miracles performed by Jesus.

Someone said that John’s gospel is “shallow enough for babies to wade in, but deep enough for elephants to drown in.” There is a marvelous clarity and simplicity that makes John easy to grasp. But there is also a depth and profundity that produces ongoing awe and delight. This is especially true of the seven “signs.”

On one level, these miracles were personal, supernatural expressions of Jesus’ love and ability to meet these people’s physical or social needs.

But they were also far more than that. They were "signs" (sumeia). As the word "sign" suggests, they are "attesting miracles," pointing beyond themselves to Jesus' divinity and his unique ability to meet our spiritual needs. At the end of his gospel, John makes this crystal clear (read 20:31).

Such is the case with Jesus' first miracle, recorded in John 2:1-11. On one level, he rescues a newly married couple from social disgrace by supernaturally changing water to wine. But this same miracle teaches reveals that Jesus is far more than an emergency caterer. Let's take a look . . . 

The Setting

The setting is a wedding reception in Cana, a very small village only nine miles north of Jesus' hometown of Nazareth. Read 2:1-3.

This was a serious problem for the bride and groom. In ancient Near Eastern villages, wedding receptions were key social occasions—often lasting up to a week. To run out of food or drink was a major violation of hospitality which would subject to couple to social disgrace that could shadow them for the rest of their lives. And there was no easy way to remedy this situation, since you couldn’t send someone out with your Visa to the local grocery store to buy more of those cardboard boxes of wine!

So Mary, who probably learned of the problem from the couple, informs Jesus before the rest of the people at the reception find out. She obviously expects him to do something.

Read 2:4. This sounds awfully disrespectful to Mary and insensitive to the couple—like "Hey old lady, what do I care about your plans? I don't have time for this." Actually, Jesus' answer is neither disrespectful nor insensitive.

On the one hand, my translation (NASB) has not done a good job of communicating the sense of "woman" (gunai). The NIV does a better job here by translating "dear woman." It was a term of endearment and respect.

As to the rest of Jesus’ answer, Jesus is evidently responding to Mary’s real intent in making her request.

“My hour” refers to the time when Jesus would publicly manifest himself as the Messiah. Mary, who knew Jesus was the Messiah, evidently saw this situation as the opportunity for Jesus to perform a dramatic miracle that would introduce him as Messiah.

Jesus refuses to handle the situation this way. “What have I to do with you” is a Hebrew idiom that means in this case “I have plans that are different than yours” or “I’ll handle this my way, not your way.”

Mary responds properly (read 2:5). She expresses her trust in him by deferring to his judgment on how to handle the situation. By doing so, she serves as a model of how we should approach Jesus in our requests to intervene: feel free to ask, believe that he is willing and able to help—but then trusting him to handle it in the best way vs. demanding, manipulating, etc.

And Jesus does intervene—not in a public way, but in a quiet, behind-the-scenes way so that only a few people realized that he saved the day . . .

The Miracle

Read 2:6-9. Imagine the bridegroom’s angst when the headwaiter called him over! Read 2:10. Instead of being rebuked for his poor planning, he is praised for his ingenious and lavish generosity! "Most people serve the Yellow Tail first, and then when the guests have drunk freely (so that their taste buds are dulled), they introduce the Gallo to cut costs. But you started with the Yellow Tail, and you’re ending with the Rothschild's!" How did the groom react to this compliment? Did he express shocked surprise? Did he shrug and say, "It's nothing, really?" John doesn’t tell us in his highly compressed account.

At any rate, the result was that Jesus in a very quiet way rescued the bride and groom from disgrace—and supernaturally produced over 120 gallons (60 cases; 750 fifths; 2400 4 oz. glasses) of fine vintage wine. This was far more than the guests (probably no more than a few dozen) could drink, so the considerable amount of leftover wine became a "liquid asset"—Jesus' wedding gift.

By the way, what does this miracle tell you about Jesus' attitude toward people enjoying a good time—including social drinking? How different from the Jesus I grew up hearing about (KILL-JOY; MORTICIAN)! Of course, the Bible warns against drunkenness and enslavement to alcohol—and those who cannot observe these limits shouldn’t drink at all. But appropriate social drinking was blessed by God in the Old Testament and by Jesus here.

The "Sign"

But this isn’t the only point of Jesus’ miracle. Read 2:11. The disciples realized that this miracle was a "sign" that revealed Jesus’ uniqueness so that they entrusted themselves to him as the Messiah. What else did they see in this "sign?"

The key is the way that Jesus performed this miracle 2:6 (read again). In a very compressed account, John gives us lots of detail on this issue. John wants us to know that these pots were not for ordinary drinking water, but rather water used for "the Jewish custom of purification." Jesus could put the wine in other containers; he could have created new containers to hold the wine; he could have created it directly into people’s empty glasses. But he chose to perform this miracle in a way that affected this custom. If you want to understand what the disciples understood about this miracle, you have to understand the “Jewish custom of purification.”

This custom had nothing to do with germs and hygiene. It was a religious custom—not prescribed by God in the Old Testament, but rather invented by religious leaders who had a profoundly wrong view of spirituality.

They believed that the main spiritual problem was the threat of contamination by contact with bad people—“sin kooties,” if you will. If you touched something that bad people had touched (or even breathed air that they breathed), you could become ritually unclean. So the solution, the key to spirituality, the main way to approach God was through performing a ritual of cleansing or purification. Observant Jews had to wash their hands in very specific ways several times in the course of a meal.1 No wonder they had so many water-pots on hand for the reception!

Does this sound familiar to you? This mentality is at the heart of most world religions, including (tragically) most people’s understanding of Christianity. You must clean yourself up if you want to relate to God. Whether by performing certain rituals in the right way at the right time, or by obeying detailed rules of external behavior, or by avoiding contact with certain kinds of people, etc.—the assumption is that you have clean yourself up to come to God.

Jesus’ first miracle implicitly condemned religious self-cleansing. By filling these waterpots with water and then changing the water into wine, he made it impossible for anyone at the reception to ritually purify himself. From this point on, Jesus explicitly rejected and condemned this approach to God. He said you can’t put new wine into old wineskins (Mk. 2:22). He condemned it as superficial and promoting hypocrisy (Mk. 7:18-23; Matt. 23:25,26).

Jesus didn’t come to provide an improved method of self-cleansing. He came to replace this with a radical new way to approach God. By turning the water into wine, Jesus replaced a symbol of human religious self-cleansing with a picture of his gift of abundant spiritual life.

Wine was associated in the Old Testament with God’s presence which brings joy and life (see Psalm 4:6,7; 104:15). Even today, Israeli’s toast their wine with “To life!” By making an abundance of fine vintage wine, Jesus communicated that he is the Giver of abundant spiritual life that brings joy to all who receive him (Jn. 10:10).

More importantly, the Old Testament predicted that when Messiah established God’s kingdom, he would provide a lavish banquet for his people—including an abundance of fine aged wine—to celebrate his victory over death (Isa. 25:6-8). The heart of God’s kingdom is personal relationships—living in God’s presence and celebrating this with God’s people. Jesus’ first miracle was a foretaste of this banquet. Through it he was saying, “I am the Messiah, and I am offering you a secure and personal relationship with God right now.”

SUMMARIZE: You don’t have to clean yourself up to come to God. You can come to Jesus just the way you are and receive his gift of spiritual life that will assure you of God’s forgiveness and enable you to experience God’s life-transforming love. It’s as easy as drinking a glass of wine—just call out to Jesus and say, “I believe you are the Messiah who came to forgive me and make me alive to God. I now take this gift into my heart.” Will you receive this gift today?


1 The largest and most elaborate of the six books of the Mishnah are devoted to the subject of purification--12 tractates of 126 chapters and 1001 separate sayings. The first tractate of this section contains 30 chapters (the most elaborate of the whole Mishnah). The tractate on hands alone contains 4 chapters. See Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), p. 357.

Next Week: John 4:46-54 - Healing a Royal Official’s Son

Copyright 2004 Gary DeLashmutt