Turning water into wine

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Here is a phrase, like “David and Goliath” or “the writing is on the wall“, that doesn’t strictly occur in the Bible.  Instead it arises as a short-hand to describe a famous story.

This story is from John 2:1-11.  It’s the first of Jesus’ miracles as John records them.  And according to verse 11, by turning the water into wine Jesus “manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”

I often imagine what it felt like for Jesus to be a guest at this wedding feast in little Cana.  Engaged couples who sit through someone else’s wedding can’t help but have a critical eye for detail.  When the service orders are smudged, or the flowers are wilting, or the speeches are shoddy, they make a mental note to do better for their own wedding.

Well Jesus, as the ultimate Bridegroom, has His eye firmly fixed on the final wedding banquet at the end of history.  He longs for the day when He will be united to His bride, the church.  And so at this wedding in Cana, I wonder how He felt as this bridegroom and the so-called “ruler of the feast” (v9) were presiding over an unmitigated disaster.

If the wine runs out in our modern weddings it’s a cause for embarassment and disappointment.  In the first century it was utterly shameful – a terrible reflection on the groom and his family.  If Jesus does not step in here, major doubts will be cast – not only over the groom’s ability to host a banquet.  A major question mark will hang over the groom’s ability to provide for his new bride.

And so Jesus steps in.  Reluctantly (v3-4).   Jesus knows that “manifesting” His glory will release the handbrake on His public ministry.  It will set in chain a series of events that will lead to the cross.  Nonetheless He rises to the occasion.  And does far more than anyone could ask or imagine.

Consider, the quantity of wine produced here.  Verse 6 tells us of the raw materials Jesus was working with:

“six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.”

A firkin is about 10 gallons.  So we’re talking about 150 gallons or 570 litres of water.  Jesus turns it into the equivalent of 760 bottles of wine.  And not the cheap stuff either.  The “ruler of the feast” calls it “good wine” (v9-10).  Jesus here proves Himself to be the true Bridegroom and Ruler of the Feast.  And with such a superabundance that the Jews around Him couldn’t fail to draw the link.  You see Isaiah spoke of the days of the Messiah in which

the LORD of hosts [shall] make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.  (Isaiah 25:6)

And Amos promised:

the mountains shall drop sweet wine.  (Amos 9:13)

And here in little Cana, the Messiah shows up to flood this wedding with a “feast of wines.”  This is one aspect of the “glory” which Jesus manifested here.  Wine means the new age of the Messiah’s reign.

But it also means blood.  In fact, right from Genesis, wine is called “the blood of the grape” (Genesis 49:11).  And at the end of His life, Jesus would pick up a cup of wine saying “This is my blood.”  (Matthew 26:28)

Think now of what Jesus has done in this miracle.  He has transformed water used for “the purifying of the Jews” and made it into the blood of the grape.  The old cleansing ritual is gone.  Jesus replaces it with a reminder of blood.  Because this is the way He will bring in His new age of blessings and feasting.  Through His blood, Jesus will make us clean and bring us to the ultimate banquet.

The bridegroom from Cana failed to provide.  He is a picture of all us inadequate husbands.  But the one thing this couple did right was to invite Jesus to the wedding.  The Bridegroom from heaven does not merely make up the shortfall.  He floods them with a superabundance of new life and true cleansing.  He provides lavishly and lovingly for His bride, the church.  And He makes us hungry for that Wedding Feast to come.  Without Jesus we’re drinking water.  With Him, it’s wine.

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