It’s hard to think of a more important decision most of us have to make than the decision to marry. Next to your birth and death, this is the biggest event of your life. Unlike your birth and your death, you have to make a decision who you will spend the next 50 years. Let’s throw in the fact that the average wedding in Australia is estimated to cost $65,000 (‘Bride To Be’ magazine), it is likely to be the most expensive party you will have to host. So you want to get it right. But it’s a great day as well. It’s the closest any of us get to being famous. You are the one people want to photograph. You are the one people want to be photographed with. More importantly, you get served first every time. People make speeches about how wonderful you are. The only other time they will do that is at your funeral, and you won’t be there to enjoy it.
But things can go wrong on a wedding day. For Sandy and I, it was the fact that 98% of the wedding photos did not turn out. At one wedding I know about, the church service was at 1pm, the reception was at 6pm, and by 8pm half of the guests were in emergency at Nepean Hospital vomiting from food poisoning.
In today’s passage, John 2:1-12, the wedding disaster was that the wine ran out.
Jesus, the one who gave the gift of marriage, is now attending a wedding which he has gifted humans with. Verses 1-2:
On the third day, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. (NIV)
In the wedding of Cana, you don’t even get a chance to say how nice the bride looks. For attention is taken away from the couple getting to married, to one of the guests, to someone on the outer, to Jesus. The whole world has been looking in at this wedding for the last 2000 years, and the bride and bridegroom aren’t even given a name. We take a peek into this couple’s great day, and all we are allowed to see is Jesus in his glory.
This reminds us that each and every marriage is a sign post pointing to Jesus and his marriage to the church. Accepting the proposal of your lover to get married is one thing; accepting the proposal of the Lord Jesus to follow him is the most important day of anyone’s life.
In one way, this is a strange miracle. In John chapter 1, we were told that God had become human, got on his knees, and became one of us. So what do we find God in the flesh doing? What is his first big event? Was it healing the sick, casting out a demon, or calming a storm? No—Jesus changes water into wine. God breaks into this world like never before, and guess what he is doing? He is found making grog for a wedding party in the western suburbs of Israel. To be more precise, Jesus has turned H2O into CH3CH2OH. Jesus sidesteps the whole process that takes months and years—the planting, weeding, spraying, picking, and processing—all the waiting, effort, and time. He bypasses the whole lot, and within a moment, water becomes wine. Jesus kicks off his spectacular ministry by changing ‘Perrier’ into ‘Don Perrignon’.
I guess you could say, “Big deal! Let’s face it, 98% of wine is already water, anyway.” Jesus has only had to make a little ethanol, create a bit of carbon, and add it to the water. You either have what it takes to do that or you don’t. And it is true that changing water into wine is not any harder than raising a dead man to life! You either have got control of the elements, or you don’t Jesus could juggle atoms like a clown juggles balls. All things were created through him (John 1:3). Even his mum—who was out of line—knew that. Look at what she told the servants, in verse 5:
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (NIV)
That is Mary’s one command in the whole New Testament. “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” It’s a good one. Jesus is the one in charge.
The servants then fill six stone jars with water, each carrying about 100 liters. The wedding went from being a very dry affair with no wine to having an unexpected 600 liters of the very best wine. Notice that it happened without a word. It happened without the steward or the other guests even knowing. But the servants knew, and the followers of Jesus knew, and of course you know, too. You have been let in by the Gospel of John. You know that it was no magic spell, no slight of hand. Jesus didn’t have 600 liters up his sleeve. It didn’t fall off the back of the truck. Rather, God had stepped into the situation, and his name is Jesus.
It was so shameful to run out of wine at an ancient middle-eastern wedding, that there are court cases where the in-laws are sued for running out of wine. My mum lost the deposit on a wedding reception for my sister’s wedding—hundreds of dollars—because she feared that the reception place would not provide enough food.
Take Jesus out of the situation, and the situation is hopeless. Put Jesus into it, and the shame goes away.
Something About Mary
Notice how Jesus never calls Mary, ‘Mother’. She is always ‘woman’ in the Gospels. This way of speaking is respectful, but keeps a polite distance. Notice the firm way Jesus speaks with her, verses 3-4:
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.” (NIV)
The phrase translated, “Women, why do you involve me”, can more literally be translated, “Woman, what to me, to you.” It’s what the demons say to Jesus in Mark 5. Jesus is saying to him mother, “At this point, you and I have nothing in common.” And Jesus then says, “My hour has not yet come.” The reference to the ‘time’ or ‘hour’ means that Jesus is working to a plan—the plan of his Father. That is why Jesus puts Mary in her place. The plan will not driven by his earthly mum but by his heavenly Father. He is running on God’s agenda and nobody else’s. The time for going fully public was not yet. That time will come when Jesus will enter into his fullest glory in his sin-bearing death when he will clear the debt between us and God, and in his death-destroying resurrection and return to his Father.
But Mary did get one thing right: she knew that Jesus was in charge. Look at verse 5:
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (NIV)
Mary has only ever given one command and it is this: “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus doesn’t just change water into wine, but he changes enemies into friends. He expects to be in charge of our lives and our relationships. He says, “Live for me, because I died for you.” He says to you, “Women, love your husbands and respect them, because I died in your place.” He says to you men, “Take care of your wives. Make sure they feel safe, and make sure they flourish under your watch, because they are mine.” He says to all of us single or married, divorced or widowed, “Find your contentment in me and in the now. Seek first my kingdom and my righteousness. Whatever you feel you have missed out—a spouse, health, wealth—you have gained far more than you have lost.”
Left The Best Till Last
The steward took some of the wine and tasted it. It sat well on the palate. It had an elegant bouquet—I have no idea what I’m talking about. If I’m in a pub, I order a shandy—25% beer and 75% with diet lemonade. I took a friend to the restaurant he chose—he had let me stay in his unit for three weeks. They had a ‘sommelier’ someone who has studied for three years to tell you what wine to have with what meal. Anyway, he came over and said, “I recommend this red with your meal.” I said to him, “Mate, it doesn’t matter, because I’m putting lemonade with it.” You should have seen his face. It was as if I told him I had just slept with his wife.
The steward or sommelier of the wedding at Cana can’t work out why such good wine is being handed out at the end of the wedding. John 2 verses 9 to 10:
And the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 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.” (NIV)
Why was the best wine saved till last? You start with the good stuff and when the palate gets numb and the head starts to get a bit foggy from the wine, you bring out the cheap stuff. In my day, it was ‘Spumantee’ and that wine lived up to its name. The steward gives us his verdict on this wine—excellent, 5 star! Notice two things about this miraculous sign.
First, the wine Jesus creates is the very best. You would expect that because whenever God created anything, it is always good.
Second, Jesus doesn’t make just enough for the party—he has made far more than they need. Sixty liters would have been enough, but he makes 600 liters. This is an over-the-top miracle. They have got wine coming out of their ears. Just like the feeding of the 5000 with five loaves and two fish, and after everyone was full, the disciples pick up twelve baskets left over, so also this miracle has got the fingerprints of God all over it. Here was a sneak preview of heaven, where every need is met, and where every longing is satisfied. When Jesus came, he dragged a little bit of heaven with him wherever he went. Jesus here is giving us a snapshot of the age to come, when there is more than enough. God has arrived and those at the wedding are tasting the future.
What is stopping you from trusting this Jesus?
With Jesus the good times don’t end. He makes the wine, and it’s so good! The wine does not run out. Jesus is reversing the natural order.
In this world, everything is winding down. That is the principle of ‘entropy’ at work in our world. Things go from order to chaos, from life to death, from full to empty. But with Jesus, the old has gone, and the new has come. With Jesus, the wine goes from running out to running over. With Jesus, shadows are replaced by realities.
The large quantity of wine Jesus made was code for when God would restore his people and bring salvation to the world. So Amos 9:13 speaks of the days that are coming, declares the LORD, when new wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. Wine has always been a mark of the good life that God offered Israel in the promised land, and also the good life of the new heaven and earth.
You are hard pressed to say that drinking alcohol is a sin from this passage. It’s getting drunk or getting stoned that is the problem, no matter whether the law says it’s OK or not. Being ‘drunk’ is not determined by whether a person vomits. It’s determined by when others tell you that you are drunk. I think the government is right to have a zero alcohol level for ‘L’ and Red or Green ‘P’ plate drivers, .02 for truck, bus, or taxi drivers, and .05 for the rest of us. This is not a bad rule. And if that is too much alcohol for you to drive, then it’s too much to have for you to talk. If driving a car is dangerous when you’re drunk, so is talking when you’re drunk. If you can’t stop drinking, then wait for the new kingdom wine for you to enjoy.
The stone jars were specifically mentioned to be used for purification. The thus represent and capture the ethos of the Old Covenant. John 2:6:
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. (NIV)
Although they were meant for ‘purification’, the problem was that they did not actually purify. But Jesus comes along, and the water becomes wine. These old jars are filled up with the new wine. In the words of Paul, the old has gone and the new has come.
John chapter 2 begins with, and John chapter 4 ends with, events in Cana of Galilee. In each account, we are reminded of how the old is being replaced by the new. God had left the best till last. What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him (v. 11). This is the first of seven signs in John’s Gospel. The first was the water to wine the last will be his resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. In this sign, in the turning of water to wine, you see the goodness of Jesus, and they trusted in him. The disciples believed.
What is holding you back from trusting this Jesus? For some, it’s not having the information. The guests and the steward, the bride and the bridegroom, none of them knew from where the wine had come. They enjoyed this party but this was a party that was going to end. They enjoyed the wine but this wine would run out. For Jesus turned 600 liters of water into wine so that they could believe in Jesus.
God speaks of another wedding where Jesus is not just on the wedding list, but Jesus is the groom and his people, the church, are his bride. Revelation 19 verses 7 and 9:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready […] Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (NIV)
There is just one wedding that you really don’t want to miss out on. It would be terrible to know for eternity that on the other side of a wall is a wonderful party—where Jesus and his people are laughing and loving—and you are not there, and the only reason you are not there is because you thought you had too much to lose in becoming a Christian.
The bridegroom has spoken and his name is Jesus. He has made the proposal to you: “Come and taste that the Lord is good.” It’s why in our church’s extended vision statement, we say, “We believe that we have reaped where others have sown, and that others will reap where we have sown. Along the way we will take time to enjoy life, laugh a lot, love deeply, and delight in God’s good creation. When all said and done we will remember that we have only done our duty and nothing more. As we wipe the sweat from our brow, we will know that it is God who gives the increase.”
We want you with us, enjoying that new heaven and new earth. Jesus came that you may have life to the full. Even if there were no eternal life, it would still be the better life.
We know that you are good, and that goodness was evident in creation. You, Lord Jesus, are indeed good, and you are God, for you turned water into wine. The old has gone and the new has come. Your glory abounds. Some here today are tasting that you are good for the very first time. For the rest of us, we never cease to be amazed that you have come that we may life and have it to the full.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.