By Dr. Mark Scott
Jesus was a worker of wonders. He worked miracles for several reasons. He wanted to prove who he was (Mark 2:10). He wanted to demonstrate that the kingdom had come (Matthew 12:28). He wanted to show compassion (Mark 8:2). He wanted to reward faith (Matthew 15:28). He wanted to fulfill prophecy (8:17). He wanted to display the works of God (John 9:3) and the glory of God (11:4).
Jesus also wanted to give previews of coming attractions. He worked miracles to give us a glimpse of Heaven where there would be no more mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4). In his miracles Jesus pulled back the veil of eternity and let us look, albeit briefly, into a perfect world. Miracles were quick fixes, but they were part of his salvific work. Everyone Jesus healed got sick again. On another wedding day the wine perhaps ran short again.
Historical Backdrop: No Wine
On the third day (there are several third-day stories in the Bible) a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Cana was not far from Nazareth. Perhaps Mary was related to the wedding couple. Mary, Jesus, and the disciples were all in attendance. Perhaps more people came than were expected. Perhaps the wedding celebration lasted longer than normal. Regardless of the circumstances, the wine ran out. In a shame/honor culture this was a social taboo.
We may not know what Mary expected Jesus to do (since he had worked no miracles up to this point) when she said, “They have no more wine.” But the remark seems to be more than an indicative statement. Maybe she was saying, “Jesus, can you do something about this?” Some think Jesus was rude to his mother, but the tone of voice makes all the difference. Consider the direct address, “Woman.” Jesus’ concern is that the situation forces his hand to act miraculously before he was ready to do so. After all, his hour (a key term in John’s Gospel) has not yet come. Mary did not feel rebuffed since she said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” If Jesus fixed it, the wedding couple and their families would be grateful.
Prophetic Backdrop: Abundant Wine
This section of the text tells about the actual miracle of turning water into wine. This was no slight-of-hand magician’s trick. It was an honest-to-goodness miracle. Jesus used what was at hand—large empty water jars that were used for ceremonial (not hygienic) washing. The jars were of different sizes and thus the estimate of 20 to 30 gallons each. Jesus had the servants fill them to the brim with water. This ensured that no other substance was added. Evidently the water turned into wine in the jars. The servants took the water/wine to the master of ceremonies of the banquet. He tasted the wine and was overwhelmed with its quality. He remarked about the wine’s quality to the groom. But there is something bigger here. One way that the prophets predicted the time of the Messiah was with figures of speech dealing with an abundance of wine. The following texts indicate that when the Messiah comes wine would flow down the hills (vineyards) in abundance (Isaiah 25:6; 55:1; Jeremiah 31:12; Joel 2:24; 3:18; Amos 9:13-15; Zechariah 10:7).
It’s Not About Wine
John 2:11, 12
Several of the biblical narratives have morally objectionable things in them for some of us. But if the emphasis is placed on the alcohol in this account, we have all but missed the point. Verse 11 is the high-water mark in the narrative. Jesus worked the first of his signs at this wedding in Cana. The New Testament vocabulary for miracles is this cluster of words: power, sign, wonder, and work. John’s Gospel uses sign and work. A sign is a miracle, but one that specifically points to something beyond itself. So it’s not about wine. The wine is a symbol that points to a greater spiritual reality, namely the Messiah.
This sign became the means by which Jesus revealed his glory. Glory means God’s weighty presence and his shining brilliance. It is a key term in John’s Gospel (1:14; 12:28; 17:5; 21:19). The result of this was that the disciples believed in him. Believe is also a key term in John’s Gospel (20:30, 31). It never appears in the Gospel in its noun form. For John, believing was a verb, a response to the Messiah.
After this first miracle, Jesus went down to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee with his mother, his half brothers, and his disciples. They probably needed a few days to process what they had witnessed. Was the wine and the whole wedding feast a preview of something yet to come (Revelation 19:6-10)?
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.