Topical Scripture: John 2:1-11
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning
In the summer of 1994, the Associated Press reported a robbery which ended in a very unusual way. In Conway, Arkansas, Cindy Hartman was awakened by the telephone. As she started to answer it, she was stopped by a burglar. The burglar tore the phone cord from the wall and told her to get in the closet.
Cindy dropped to her knees to pray. She then turned to the robber and asked if she could pray for him. She told him that God loved him and so did she. She told the man that she forgave him for what he was doing.
How did this hardened criminal react? He fell to his knees beside her in prayer and asked her for forgiveness. He told the other burglar with him that they could not steal from a Christian family, so they unloaded everything they had taken. He borrowed a shirt from Cindy and removed his fingerprints. He then removed the bullets from his gun and gave it to Cindy. Not that she wanted it—she had all the protection she needed.
Webster defines a miracle as “an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws and is hence thought to be due to supernatural causes, especially to an act of God.” Cindy Hartman would agree. How can we receive such help in our lives?
This week we are continuing our series on the miracles of Jesus. We all need the help Cindy Hartman found. Perhaps the burglar is in your house right now.
Where do you need the miraculous power of God in your life today? Keep that problem or burden in mind as we study together. It may be that at the end of our story, it will include you.
Invite Jesus to your home
Our text begins in a most inauspicious way: “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee” (John 2:1).
Cana was a village so insignificant that its location has not been determined with absolute certainty. Most archaeologists identify it as Kefr Kenna, 3.5 miles from Nazareth, though other locations are also possible. If Jesus would perform a miracle there, he will do so anywhere, even where you live today.
Our story unfolds on a Wednesday afternoon, the fourth day of the Jewish week, at a wedding. This was the day for the marriage of virgins, as prescribed in the Jewish law.
The marriage ceremony was celebrated late Wednesday evening, following an all-day feast. Then the couple was led to their new home under the light of flaming torches, with a canopy held over their heads. For a week they wore crowns, dressed in bridal robes, and were treated and even addressed as a king and queen. In lives filled with poverty and hard work, this was a joyous celebration for the entire village.
Why did Jesus come? “Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding” (John 2:1b-2). Our Lord came because he was invited.
Jesus cared about the simple problems of simple people. He thrilled to fill their lives with his joy. He still does.
Call to mind that place where you need the touch of God for your life, your work, your family, your marriage today. Then make this simple decision: invite Jesus into your home. Ask him to join you at that place of need. He is waiting to come. In fact, he’s already standing at the door (Revelation 3:20).
Ask Jesus for help
Hospitality in the Middle and Far East was and is a sacred duty. Nowhere was such hospitality more mandatory than at one’s wedding.
The entire village was there. Families saved for years to provide for the occasion. To run out of wine would be a nightmare beyond contemplation. It simply wasn’t done. Such a failure could not be tolerated. If you invited friends and family to Christmas dinner but ran out of food to feed them, you would be embarrassed. If you were a bride or groom in Jesus’ day and ran out of wine, you would be humiliated for the rest of your life.
But this is precisely the catastrophe that occurred: during the feast preceding the marriage ceremony, “the wine was gone” (John 2:3a). And so Mary turned to her Son with the simplest prayer in all the Bible: “They have no more wine” (v. 3b). She quietly and simply put this problem into Jesus’ hands. Mary’s recorded words in Scripture are few; these guide us as we use our own to speak to her Son. We can give him our every need, with the assurance that he wants to hear and help.
But Jesus’ response didn’t seem to agree: “‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My time has not yet come'” (v. 4). His words seem harsh until we step behind the English into the Greek used by John, and then the light comes on.
“Woman” is the literal translation of Jesus’ Greek word. Most translations carry it just this way; the NIV tries to soften it by adding “Dear,” a word not found in the original text. But such an attempt is well founded. For Jesus’ word was a great title of respect and courtesy. Augustus used it to address Cleopatra, and Odysseus used it for Penelope, his much-loved wife. Jesus made it his typical way of addressing women (Matthew 15:28; Luke 13:12; John 4:21; 8:10; 20:13). His title for her conveyed his respect.
As did his reply. “Why do you involve me?” was a Jewish figure of speech and meant here something like, “We are looking at this problem in different ways” or “we stand on different grounds.” It can be rendered so positively as to say, “The problem is taken care of.”
This phrase makes even more sense when combined with what follows: “My time has not yet come.” Jesus’ “time” refers here to the hour for public manifestation of his Messiahship. Later it will relate to his death and resurrection (John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 17:1). In this setting Jesus means something like, “The time has not yet come for me to show the world my power, but I will solve this problem another way.”
When did you last ask Jesus to change your “water” into “wine” for his glory? When did you last trust him as fully as Mary did in our story? She didn’t tell her Son what to do or how to do it—she simply stated her problem and trusted him to solve it. And he did.
Jesus always gives us what we ask, or something better. He meets our need, in his own time and way. His answers may not come when we want them, or in the way we expect them. But our Father promises to meet all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
Here’s the simple condition: we must ask. Define that place where you need the help of God most. Are you waiting on God, or is he waiting on you?
Then do as he says
Mary is the overlooked hero of this story.
We have already seen her vital role in her Son’s first miracle. Mary was apparently the first to recognize the problem at hand, or at least the first to do something about it. She came to the right Person, in the right way. Now she responded to her prayer with the right action: “His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Mary had authority to order the servants, but none to order her Son. And she knew it.
So should we. Hers is exactly the right kind of faith: do whatever Jesus says. For he will always give us something to do. Our Lord has created a kind of divine-human partnership with his creation. As we work, he works. Our partnership began at the beginning: God created the Garden of Eden but expected man to till and work it. If our Creator made the fields, he could certainly have made them produce. But he did what only he could do and called mankind to do what we could do.
When we act in faith, our Father responds in power. Our faith does not earn his power—it positions us to receive what God already wants to give. But no one can put a gift into a clenched fist, not even the Almighty Lord of the universe. We must trust him enough to be willing to receive the grace he wants to give. Such faith does not earn but receive the miracle of God.
So it is here: Jesus will turn their water to wine, but they must fill the jars first. “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons” (John 2:6). “Ceremonial washing” was vitally important to the Jews of Jesus’ day (see 2 Kings 3:11; Mark 7:3; John 13:4-10; John 3:25). It was the physical means by which they ensured that they were spiritually clean while living in this fallen world.
Before eating or entering into religious activity, they would wash their hands as carefully as any surgeon today: the hand was held upright, the water poured over it so that it ran down to the wrist. Then the hand was pointed down and water poured so that it ran from the wrist to the fingertips. Each hand was washed in this way, then each palm cleansed by rubbing it with the fist of the other hand. No Jew would think of eating without this ritual; thus the water-pots at the wedding feast.
The water-pots each held two or three “measures,” an amount approximating nine gallons (Josephus, Antiq. 8.2.9). Each pot thus contained about twenty gallons. By transforming this much water, Jesus created two thousand four-ounce glasses of wine. Using the customary dilution of two parts wine with three parts water, Jesus provided enough wine to last the entire wedding week.
How did he do it? “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet’. They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine” (John 2:7–9a). When they worked, he worked. They did what they could do, and he did what only he could do.
To experience the touch and power of God, first we invite him to join us at the place of our need. Next, we give that need to him in simple faith. Now we listen for his instructions. He will guide us into the next step we are to take. He will lead us as we study his word, worship him, pray to him, and experience daily life. He will show us what we are to do, so that he can then do what only he can do.
His instructions may make no sense to us at the time. Providing wine for a wedding feast by filling ceremonial pots with water would not have been logical for anyone watching these servants or their Master. Faith is required to experience the power of God. Will you trust your greatest need to Jesus, and allow him to ask anything of you in obedience? Until we come to that place, we may not see his power. When we do, we will.
Expect the best
The servants took their water made into wine to the “master of the banquet,” the superintendent whose duty it was to arrange the tables and food. This wine taster “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 the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now'” (John 2:9b-10). And both men were astonished.
Now we are in position to assemble the facts which prove our story a miracle:
Jesus used ordinary pots of water which were in clear view of all. He or his disciples could not have exchanged the water for wine before this miracle, as would have been possible if the pots were in a closed and hidden room.
The pots were large and six in number, so that they could not have been brought to the wedding by the disciples without the notice of the crowd.
The pots were filled to the brim with water, so that no wine could have been added later.
Jesus never touched the water turned into wine, but only the servants.
The servants took this water directly to the master of the feast, not to an intermediary who could have switched it for wine.
The master of the feast, the resident expert on wine, pronounced it excellent.
Neither he nor the groom were drunk, and thus would know the quality of the wine.
Jesus did what his mother asked, and even more. She would have been happy with enough wine of normal quality to continue the wedding feast. He gave the wedding party enough wine for the entire week, and of excellent quality as well. When we give our need to Jesus, we must expect him to give us his very best, always.
What is that place of need in your life today? Know that God knows your hurt and is working to help. Do as he asks, then expect him to do what only he can. According to his purpose, in his time, and for his glory, he will.
A side note
I cannot conclude these sermon notes without stating that Jesus’ miracle should not be construed as condoning alcohol abuse or alcoholism. In his day water, wine, and a kind of beer were the only beverages available. Wine, with its fermentation, was typically the healthiest drink. It was commonly diluted, as we have seen, so that alcoholism occurred very seldom. And drunkenness was strongly condemned by the culture of the day: “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). The Bible warned: “Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (Proverbs 23:31–32).
Alcohol abuse in the first century could not lead to drug abuse, or to the death of innocents. Drunk driving was of course impossible. Alcoholism was far less common, and much less disastrous for society at large. Teenage drinking was not allowed. And so Jesus’ creation of wine is in no way parallel to the alcohol industry or alcohol use in our day.
Today, drunk driving is the leading cause of death among American teenagers. Alcohol use so often leads to abuse, and often to drug abuse as well. For these reasons, and to protect my witness, I practice total abstinence from alcohol, and would urge other believers to do the same. By law, no underage person must ever be permitted to drink alcohol. And parents should set an example of godly purity for their children.
Believe in the power of God
Here is how John summarized Jesus’ miracle: “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him” (John 2:11).
One day God will turn all water into spiritual joy: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:1–2, emphasis added). On that day we will drink from that cup which is “the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20; cf. v. 17). On that day we will receive the Lord’s Supper from the Lord himself, as the bride of our Groom. And that day will be joy indeed.
Meanwhile, we can trust God to turn our water into the “wine” we need, whenever we need it. Jesus Christ “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What he did for the peasant wedding at Cana of Galilee, he waits to do for you and for me.
When next you have trouble believing that it is so, remember the words of St. Augustine: “I never have any difficulty believing in miracles, since I experienced the miracle of a change in my own heart.” If he could turn your sinful heart into his Spirit’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16) and save your soul from hell for heaven, what can’t he do today?