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John 2:1-11 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:52 mins 27 secs

The First Sign: Water Into Wine
John 2:1–11
John Lesson #020
September 27, 1998

John 2:1 NASB "On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there."

How was marriage viewed in Israel at this time? According to the Talmud (Two Jewish sources: the Mishnah was a collection of the teachings of the rabbis from about the 3rd century BC up to about the 1st and 2nd centuries AD; it addressed how to precisely apply the Law of Moses to all the details of life. The Talmud is a commentary on the Mishnah by various rabbis) "he who has no wife is not a proper [whole] man." This is an extension of the thought we find in Genesis that it is not good for man to be alone. In the Talmudic commentary on Leviticus 19:2 the rabbis taught that one means of sanctification of man was through the marriage relationship. We know that is not true, it sounds almost as if it a Roman Catholic idea that people get sanctified by engaging in various ritual activities, including marriage and celibacy. But according to the rabbis marriage was held in high esteem. It was necessary for man to fulfil his role in creation. Remember that the first mandate that God gave man in the garden was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. So first marriage, then family, and then subdue the earth. All of that, of course, take place prior to the fall so we learn from that that marriage predates the fall of man, predates the sin of man, so therefore marriage was not designed to solve any problems related to sin. It is not a problem-solving device.

There were various towns in Israel called Cana and we are not precisely sure where this particular Cana was but it seems that it was the Cana that was located just north of Nazareth. John emphasizes Cana of Galilee as opposed to another Cana in Judea or in Samaria because the wedding customs were slightly different in Galilee than they were in Judea. The text of John 2 accurately reflects what one would see in a wedding in Cana as opposed to a wedding somewhere else in Israel. This would not have been known a century after this. What we learn from this is that it is obviously someone very familiar with the culture and the customs of early 1st century Judea and Galilee who was the author of this Gospel. So it fits with claims of Scripture that it was an eye witness who wrote this as opposed to someone a century or two later.

How did the Galileans go about a wedding? What was their custom? The bride would dress in her father's home. Then the groom who was at his home would send his best man and other friends, who were called the friends of the groom, to her house to pick her up and bring her to his house. She would not know the precise time that they would arrive; she had to be dressed and ready. That is analogous to the Rapture: that we are to be ready for the Lord to come at any time. Then there would be a great procession from the father's house to the groom's house where she was protected and surrounded by the friends of the bridegroom as they brought her to him. When they arrived at the groom's house the first things that would take place would be the signing of the wedding contract, a very detailed legal document. They clearly defined the nature of the relationship between the bride and the groom, and they spelled out every single detail in precise legal language. It was not an emotional event, no butterflies in the stomach, looking deeply into one another's eyes as they proclaimed their love for one another throughout all eternity. After the couple has exchanged their vows they would wash their hands, which was a sign of purification and fellowship with God in the cleansing of sin. Then they would pronounce a benediction. Everyone would then go out and would have a marriage supper. Following the marriage supper there was a toast with wine, a benediction and blessings to God were pronounced, and the couple would then be led in Judea to a bridal chamber by the friends of the bridegroom. But that isn't mentioned in this passage in John 2, so that there was not that formal ceremony in Galilee. What there was, was that the wedding was finalized that night, but they would go directly from the wedding to the wedding feast and begin that. The wedding feast lasted up to seven days, sometimes as long as two weeks. The bride's family was required to provide food and beverage for all of the guests for a minimum of seven days. That was both a social requirement as well as a legal requirement because there are examples in literature that if a family ran out of food and beverage during those seven days then they could be sued in court. So this was a major issue in their culture when they suddenly run out of wine.

" … and the mother of Jesus was there." There we have the basic existential verb that she was there, in the imperfect tense, that Jesus' mother was there as opposed to "and Jesus also was invited." The implication to this is that Mary may have been living in Cana at this time and was probably very close friends with the family who is providing the wedding feast, and so she has a position of responsibility. She would know that the wine was running out. In contrast to this, Jesus had been invited as well as His disciples. John 2:2 NASB "and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding."

John 2:3 NASB "When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, 'They have no wine'." We have seen that this was truly alcoholic wine. It was probably diluted but it was alcoholic and it was good wine because it was the standard practice to have the good wine first. Why would Mary come to Jesus? She has no clue what He is going to do; she is not coming to Him because she thinks He is going to turn the water into wine. Jesus is her oldest son. He has taken the place as the head of the home in some aspects with the death of His father Joseph. Mary is faced with a major social and perhaps legal problem here so she is going to someone she trusts, someone in whom she has confidence because He has good judgment and has the ability perhaps to come up with some solution.

John 2:4 NASB "And Jesus said to her, 'Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come'." That sounds a little abrupt to us in the English, but it is not. He calls her woman. This in the Greek culture at that time is basically what we would say by using the term ma'am. He is giving her a term of respect; He is not being disrespectful or harsh. He is not calling her mother because he wants to emphasize the fact right now they were changing their relationship: "You need to stop thinking of me as your son and begin thinking of me as the man who has the mission of going to the cross and dying for your sins." About six or seven times in the Gospels Jesus uses this phrase, "My time has not yet come, it is not yet my hour, it is not yet my time." Every time He uses that it is a reference to the cross. To understand the dynamics of what is going on here, He is relating the issue with the wine, the absence of wine, to going to the cross. He is performing His messianic duty to die on the cross as a substitute for the sins of the world.

So we have to stop and see a little about what is going on here in terms of the symbolic aspect of wine. The picture that is presented here is of Jesus as the source of joy and happiness. This is one of the themes that run throughout the prophecies of the coming Messiah throughout the Old Testament, that with the Messiah will come perfect blessing, perfect joy and perfect happiness. The sick will be healed, those who are lame will be restored to use of their limbs, the blind will be given sight, there will be joy for all men under the reign of the Messiah. So the picture here at the wedding in Cana is a picture of Jesus as the source of happiness and joy. This is further illustrated by the joint use of two other symbols, the wine and the wedding. Wine throughout all of Scripture is used to illustrate the joy of the Lord. The psalmist said that God has given man wine for the joy of his soul. John is talking about what happened among Jews at a Jewish wedding in Cana but he is addressing the gospel to the Gentiles. The Gentiles also, especially the Greeks, had a tradition of associating wine with joy.

Another element at the wedding feast that is important for our understanding is the enormous water pots that hold about 25-30 gallons of water. Why would there be these large stone water pots there? John 2:6 NASB "Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each." The Jews were obsessed with their relationship with God, so that emphasized spiritual and moral cleansing. We reading Mark 7:1-4 NASB "The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, {thus} observing the traditions of the elders; and {when they come} from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)" They were obsessed with physical cleanliness because it related, they thought in a misinterpretation of the Mosaic Law, to spiritual cleanliness. So the water here speaks of a relationship with God: water for purification, for cleansing, so that they could have a relationship with God. The water is symbolic to the Jew of fellowship with God and thus to be cleansed means that you have a relationship with God and then have joy. So for the Jew there is also the connection between the water and joy. Joy is what ties all of these different elements together: the wedding, the wine, and the water. They all come together under the theme of joy and inner happiness.

So Mary comes to Jesus and says they have no wine. But Jesus said: "It is not my time. I provide joy that comes with the death of Messiah on the cross." He immediately takes this wedding event and ties it to the redemptive solution at the cross in His mission as the Messiah. That is what John is doing writing this. He is saying this wasn't just something miraculous that he did in Cana, but this signifies His role as Messiah, that just as he transformed the water, a Jewish symbol of joy into wine, a Gentile symbol of joy, in order for there to be wine at the wedding so everybody can continue with the wedding feast and the celebration and exemplification of joy, He is demonstrating in this first sign that He and he alone is the source of joy and happiness. This demonstrates His messianic credentials. That is what is going on in this episode.

So Mary is right when she comes to Jesus because she knows that her son can do something. But she is wrong in that there is also this element that she is pushing Him a little bit. There is another application of this, and that is for those, especially among Roman Catholics, who think that Mary has some kind of "in" with God. One of the latest developments in Roman Catholic theology is the idea that Mary is an intercessor with Jesus, so we don't pray to God, we pray to Mary and somehow she has pull with Jesus, and she is going to convince Jesus to answer our prayers. But what we learn in John 2 is that Mary doesn't have any pull with Jesus. She comes to Him for a favour and he says: "What do I have to do with you?" And her name is not even mentioned here, that is how far back John is pulling us away from the significance of Mary. He is going to solve the problem to demonstrate His credentials but as messiah, not as her son. She has no real sway with Him and by calling her woman instead of mother he puts here in her place and she takes it. She shows tremendous maturity here because she realizes the implications. John 2:5 NASB "His mother said to the servants, 'Whatever He says to you, do it'."

There are six stone water pots. Notice the detail. John wants us to understand every detail. This is what an eyewitness account looks like; he is not giving us generalizations.

John 2:7 NASB "Jesus said to them, 'Fill the waterpots with water.' So they filled them up to the brim." Normally when you have a big container and you are going to fill it with water you fill it up to about an inch or two inches from the top. But notice what the text says: they filled them up to the brim. In other words, nobody is going to be able to come along later and say that what happened was they filled the water pots up halfway and then somebody poured the wine in.

John 2:8 NASB "And He [Jesus] said to them, 'Draw {some} out now and take it to the headwaiter.' So they took it {to him.} [9] When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, [10] and said to him, 'Every man serves the good wine first, and when {the people} have drunk freely, {then he serves} the poorer {wine;} {but} you have kept the good wine until now'." The groom was accused of hiding it, keeping it from everyone. So all of this details goes to show a) that it was alcoholic wine b) that it was excellent wine. A side point: What has to take place in order to turn grape juice into wine? Fermentation. Fermentation takes time, and what we learn here is that the Lord Jesus Christ created the wine instantly, good wine with all of the appearance of having been aged. But when God creates something it has the appearance of age. Let's apply that to the original creation. When God created the earth and restored the earth in Genesis 1:2 to the end of the six days of restoration, it had the appearance of age. In other words, if you saw Adam five seconds after God had created him, he would look to us as if he was thirty or forty years old. He would look like a mature man. A tree would have all of the appearance of age. So when scientists come along and try to date the earth it will give the appearance of being very, very old, but that appearance is deceptive because when God creates things they are created mature.

So what is important here?

John 2:11 NASB "This beginning of {His} signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him." Remember that John was with James and Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration where Jesus removed that invisible cloak that shadowed His eternal glory. They saw Him for who he was as the Lord of the universe and as the Son of God in all of His radiant glory. John does not have that conception of glory in the Gospel of John. It is not what he is talking about here. When Jesus was at the wedding in Cana and He turned the water into wine nobody saw anything. Most at the wedding didn't know that Jesus had turned the water into wine, and yet it says His glory was manifested. In the Gospel of John there is a different conception of the glory of God, not the brilliant flashing forth of the essence of God but of a God who cares about the mundane problems and cares of human existence. Here Jesus almost in obscurity was meeting the needs of people. There is nothing there to emphasize Him or His ministry but he is providing for the needs of people and it is symbolic of His messianic role as the one who supplies joy and eternal happiness.

So if we want to have real joy and happiness and contentment it doesn't start with the details of life, it starts with a relationship with Jesus Christ. The more focussed we are on who and what Jesus Christ is, the more we can experience that tranquillity, contentment and joy that is ours only through a relationship with Christ.