John 2:1–12: Christ's First Miracle (from Sunday, 11/30/08)
*Unfortunately, I was not able to create a complete manuscript before preaching on Sunday, and with the finals due this week through next, I have not and will not be able to complete it for this post. As such, this I don't have quite the development posted that we discussed on Sunday, and I haven't cleaned up the language much, so bear with me. Nonetheless, I hope you will be able to use this for your personal blessing and edification. God bless!
(Every Monday, I post my notes from our youth group’s Sunday School lessons. This is primarily for both the youth and their parents, but everyone is invited to join in. By clicking “youth studies,” you can catch up or review. We are currently going through The Gospel of John.
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Last time, we looked at the “Balance of Salvation.” There is an aspect in which we seek the Savior, and there is an aspect in which He seeks us. This balance is from our view of the world: He doesn’t need us to seek Him to save us, but He does require us to do so.
Today, we will track Jesus and His disciples from Judea in the South to Galilee in the North. Specifically, we are visiting Nathanael’s hometown, Cana, which happens to be only a few miles from where Jesus grew up.
As best as we can tell, the year of ad 26 is winding down at this point, but the date is debatable. This year, Jesus has been baptized in the Jordan, led into the wilderness to be tempted, and given disciples. He will close the year out in Capernaum, but first, He performs His first miracle.
Placing this in the larger context, let’s keep John’s goal in mind (John 20:30-31).
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Everything in John’s Gospel must be read through the lenses of “Jesus is the Christ” and “by believing you may have life in his name.” Here are some points He has already revealed about Jesus:
- He is the Word who was the Creator of all and in the beginning with God (John 1:1–3, 14f).
- He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29, 36).
- He is the one whom the Spirit rested upon, as God prophesied to John (1:32–33).
- He is a rabbi or teacher (1:38, 49).
- He is the Messiah or Christ (1:41).
- He is the one “of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (1:45).
- He is the “Son of God” (1:49).
- He is the “King of Israel” (1:49).
- He is the “Son of Man” (1:51).
Remember, Jesus tells Nathanael that he “will see greater things than these” (1:50). Here, starting in chapter 2, we see Jesus as yet another person: He is the miracle-worker.
Thus, John 2 continues the unveiling that John the Baptist started in the first chapter. There are three things I want to note from this chapter: 1) The Plea, 2) The Plan, and 3) The Proclamation.
I. The Plea
Three days after the events of chapter 1, there is a wedding in Cana. It is no short walk from Judea to Galilee, but they appear to arrive at the wedding on time. Jesus is invited, as were His disciples (v. 2). That Jesus’ mother and He were both there probably indicates that the wedding was one of close family, especially if they were inviting His disciples (extra guests mean more money for catering).
We should note the absence of Joseph. The last time the Bible records Joseph’s presence is when Jesus is twelve and at the temple. Since that point, Joseph is absent from the biblical record. Jesus was known both as a carpenter’s son (Matt. 13:55) and as “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3). All of this suggests Joseph has dead and Jesus had to carry much of the family’s financial burden. That none of the Gospels records his death may indicate that he died long before the start of Christ’s ministry.
Today, it is no strange thing to go to a wedding. However, everyone who has been to a few knows that there are different kinds of weddings—some becoming very raunchy at the reception. This is no different than what it has been throughout the ages. In fact, there was a time when clergy were forbid from attending weddings.
John Calvin writes,
There are some ancient Canons which forbid the clergy to attend a marriage. The reason of the prohibition was, that by being the spectators of the wickedness which was usually practised on such occasions, they might in some measure be regarded as approving of it. But it would have been far better to carry to such places so much gravity as to restrain the licentiousness in which unprincipled and abandoned men indulge, when they are withdrawn from the eyes of others. Let us, on the contrary, take Christ’s example for our rule… (Calvin, 89).
Christ did not withdraw from society. He was no cultural fundamentalist, sitting in His home with His arms crossed and face scowled at the thought of people attending a function involving alcohol. He was with people, sometimes in places religious leaders thought inappropriate. Of course, this does not mean Jesus was someone just looking for fun, either, as He always had a purpose. As MacArthur notes, “Instead of being a voice in the wilderness, Jesus had the more difficult task of mingling socially with the people and ministering to them in their daily activities” (MacArthur, John, 78.).
It is all the more personal that the wedding was probably for someone close to the family. While we don’t know who that was, Mary appears to have inside knowledge, as she comes to Jesus with a problem: the host has run out of wine. It was an outrage to the bride’s family, as well as to the guests, to run out of supplies before the end of the feast. Not simply oversight or mismanagement, this error would have made the groom’s family appear cheap, insulting those gathered. The groom’s family even opened themselves to lawsuits on such an occasion.
Bear in mind the sheer magnitude of the task of planning, however. Some wedding feasts lasted six days, with huge crowds gathered. It is little wonder that there needed to be a “master of the banquet” to help coordinate the catering. This is not a faux pas from which the family could quickly recover, however. Mary wants to help, and she goes to her eldest son.
Why does Mary go to Jesus? At least on the natural level, He had been supporting her, and it’s normal for a mother to go and tell her son to do something. However, Mary had known Jesus’ true identity since before His birth, and it may have been that she wanted Him to reveal Himself. Remember what Mary has already gone through:
- An angel appears to her claiming she will be pregnant, though she is a virgin (Luke 1:30–31, 34).
- An angel appears to Joseph and confirms this (Matt 1:20)
- They know that there is a prophesy concerning the Messiah saying that He would come of a virgin (Matt. 1:23)
- The angel who told Mary about her pregnancy told her that Elizabeth was pregnant—a fact Mary later confirms (Luke 1:36, 40)
- Elizabeth’s husband apparently saw his own vision (Luke 1:22), confirmed later (Luke 1:62–63)
- A host of angels appeared to shepherds watching their flocks by night foretelling the birth of Christ the Lord, shepherds who storm the nativity to worship (Luke 2:8–20).
- A righteous and devout man in Jerusalem named Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, confirms that Jesus is the salvation “of all peoples” (2:25–35).
- A prophetess named Anna began to speak of Christ to everyone awaiting Him “that very hour” (Luke 2:38).
- Within a couple of years, Magi (possibly more than three, and possibly even a small army) note a special sign in the heavens, and appear at the door of Mary and Joseph’s door in > Nazareth bearing gifts and worship Jesus (Matt 2:1–11).
- There are two more visits from an angel to Joseph concerning Herod’s plot (Matt 2:13, 19)
- As a twelve-year-old young man, Jesus appears at the temple—“my Father’s house”—questioning and answering the doctors of the law with astounding knowledge and wisdom (Luke 2:40–51)
- Throughout Jesus’ developmental years, he “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
- John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, seems to fulfill the role of one crying in the wilderness (Matt 3:1–3), and confirms Jesus is the Messiah, the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Except for the final point, even the disciples probably did not know most of what Mary knew about him. In fact, rumors may have been circulating concerning Christ’s legitimacy. It was a common charge among the Jews and pagans that Jesus’ “immaculate conception” was a ruse to cover up Mary’s infidelity, and there is no telling whether stories were already circulating.
Whatever her reason, it is clear that she expected Jesus to do something about the problem.
What was the result of her plea? A seemingly sharp rebuke. The King James Version reads, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come” (v. 4). What did Mary say that deserved this?
First, we should note that the word “woman,” though it can sound mean-spirited (like the husband bellowing “Woman, fix me some supper” from his couch), it need not require such a tone. Perhaps, though, a better word fits the translation here. D. A. Carson writes,
English equivalents are hard to come by. ‘Woman’ is too distant, and possibly too condescending; ‘Dear woman’ is too sentimental. ‘Lady’ is not used much… Bruce (p. 69) suggests the Ulster expression ‘Woman dear’; the expression much heard in the southern United States, ‘Ma’am’, has it almost exactly, except that well-brought-up children in the South address their mothers with that term – and that is precisely how the term does not function on Jesus’ lips (Carson, 170).
“Ma’am” shows respect while possibly replacing a maternal role for another. For instance, the child who says “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” does well, but it would be an odd relationship if the child never said “mommy” instead of “ma’am.” “Ma’am” from the mouth of a son is a sign of respect, but not necessarily a term of endearment even when used in its kindest sense. In a similar sense, Jesus is not disrespecting Mary at all, but He is drawing a line separating the two.
Mary is no longer a maternal ruler over Christ. In fact, this Son is now going to assume the Lordship position. This is to be expected: Mary needs a Savior just as much as anyone else.
The next part of Jesus’ response is just as tricky to translate. Some translations read “what does this have to do with me?” (ESV). The NASB and the ISV render it “what does that have to do with us?” It does not mean that Jesus is flippant about the situation: “Don’t you know who I am, and you want me to worry about a supply problem at a party?” It simply means that Jesus hour has not yet come for Him to unveil Himself before everyone.
And He doesn’t. Few will know that a miracle has taken place by the end of the night.
II. The Plan
Jesus was not saying He was not going to help. He was saying that it is not time to reveal Himself publically. Mary understood that Jesus would still help, so she says “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5).
Calvin has the interesting insight that these water pots, being used for ceremonial cleansing, were there at the wedding “under the pretense of religion,” a mere “display” (Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 87). Possibly the Jews used them for washing themselves and utensils (Mark 7:3–4), but that they “engaged in a superfluous ceremony of their own invention” (ibid.). This makes the usage of these pots by the Lord to turn water into wine more interesting.
The wine Jesus was about to make was “real” wine however, and not to be considered the modern equivalent of Welsh’s Grape Juice. (Some in my Baptist tradition have taught that the wine of Jesus day was non-alcoholic grape juice.) Without modern conveniences like refrigeration, it is difficult to keep grape juice from fermenting into something alcoholic. Plus, wine was a staple beverage of the day, as water needed a bit of alcohol to make it safe to drink. That Jesus admits to drinking wine and was accused of being a drunkard (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34) makes it very likely that the wine He drank, and made here, was alcoholic.
On the flip side, we should note that the wine was usually of a weaker variety. Water was mixed with wine to bring it to between one-third and one-tenth its normal potency, weaker than the average beer. We should also note that drinks today are not made for the purpose of water-purification, but for the purpose of making one intoxicated. Thus, it is not improper to see a difference between the wine of Jesus’ day and today.
It is interesting to note that He creates wine, something that evidences age.
- Seeds have to be planted
- Seeds grow into vines.
- The vines bear fruit.
- Workers in the vineyard gather the grapes
- The grapes are placed in the presses
- Only after the long fermentation process that grape juice becomes wine.
If it is not a lie for Jesus to create wine from water, then it was not a lie for Him to create a mature universe.
If these pots were between 20-30 gallons a piece, then Jesus just made between 120-180 gallons of wine.
But it is wonderful that a large quantity of wine, and of the very best wine, is supplied by Christ, who is a teacher of sobriety. I reply, when God daily gives us a large supply of wine, it is our own fault if his kindness is an excitement to luxury; but, on the other hand, it is an undoubted trial of our sobriety, if we are sparing and moderate in the midst of abundance; as Paul boasts that he had learned to know both how to be full and to be hungry, (Phil. iv. 12.) (Calvin, 88).
II. The Proclamation
The master of the feast did not know about the miracle. All he knew was that this was some good wine! Interestingly, it did not come through the efforts of man, but from the hand of God. It is a hint as to the kind of food and drink that awaits us in glory.
Note the human way: “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” (v. 10). This is common sense. Why pull out the good stuff after everyone’s senses are beginning to dull? The master of the feast is complimenting the bridegroom and his family for what he perceives to be lavish generosity.
What an incredible turn of events: the family that was about to endure sneers were now enjoying applause.
But at no time did Jesus stand up and say, “I did that.” In fact, there is no indication that Jesus received any recognition. Though done in a public place, this miracle was known to few. Far from trying to create a public spectacle, this miracle was apparently only intended to strengthen the faith of those closest to Him, not to gather crowds.
Cana was higher in altitude then Capernaum. He goes with His mother and brothers. We will note that His brothers disbelieve Him later, but right now they seem to be connected.
Reread John 2, and then read 2:12-35 again before December 14. Then, answer this question: What was the point of Jesus turning water into wine? You may want to write down your answer so you remember it on Sunday. I won't ask you to turn it in, but I will expect to have a good discussion with you! So, come prepared.