Turning Wine into Water
Dr. Jim Denison
Recent polls reveal a nation filled with worried people. As the mid-term elections draw near, we are worried about war and terrorism, then about economic issues, taxes and the cost of living, and the moral decline of the nation. Apparently, there is much to worry about.
One in four women and one in six men suffer from clinical depression. Suicide rates have increased substantially in recent years, especially among teenagers. Greatly exacerbating the problem, alcoholism continues to be a tragic problem in this country. For instance, nearly 30 percent of high school seniors have engaged in “binge” drinking in the last two weeks.
There are 4.2 billion pornographic websites on the Internet today. A third of young women in this country become pregnant before reaching the age of 20. Four million teenagers contract a sexually transmitted disease each year.
The story inside the church is not much better than in the larger culture. According to recent reports, only half of all believers say they have experienced a genuine connection with God in the last year. The typical churchgoer will never lead someone to Christ in his or her lifetime. Christians spend less time reading the Bible than talking about personal hobbies and interests. Fewer than one in ten Christian families pray together outside of church.
We’ll learn today the difference between our water and God’s wine. You can have one or the other, but not both. When we’re finished with our study of God’s word, I hope you’ll choose wisely, for the sake of your church and your soul.
Have you invited Jesus to your wedding?
Our story unfolds on a Wednesday afternoon at a wedding. On the previous Sabbath, Jesus called James and John to be his first followers (John 1:39). Andrew and Simon joined him the following day (John 1:40-42). On Monday he called Philip and Nathaniel to discipleship, and “decided to leave for Galilee” (John 1:43). His fledgling group traveled on Tuesday, arriving late that evening or Wednesday morning.
Jesus’ group has come to a wedding, one of the greatest occasions of common life in ancient Palestine. The marriage ceremony was celebrated late Wednesday evening after 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.
So to this village, Jesus came. Cana was 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. It is mentioned twice in John’s gospel, and nowhere else in God’s word.
Jesus could have begun his public ministry in any way he chose. If you possessed his miraculous, divine powers, how would you first tell the world? Would you raise a Lazarus from his grave? Would you feed a multitude of 5,000 with a small boy’s lunch? Would you walk on the sea? Would you open blind eyes? Would you reveal your powers to Herod in Caesarea or Caesar in Rome? Jesus began in an obscure, rural village, by blessing a peasant wedding.
If he would come to their village, he’ll come to yours. Have you invited him?
Who have you put in charge of your life?
Now comes the crisis. Hospitality in the Middle and Far East was and is a sacred duty. When serving as a missionary in East Malaysia I was often privileged to be welcomed into the simplest of village huts. The mother would always set food before me. It might be goat’s milk or bean curd, but it was her best and I was obligated to eat it. (Fish eyes were the greatest test of faith I encountered.) No one in the Palestine of Jesus’ day would think of inviting a guest to their home without providing them a meal. And if the wine or food ran out, such would be a social catastrophe.
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.
So Mary comes to Jesus with this crisis: “They have no more wine” (v. 3). Why him? Because they have nowhere else to turn, and she knows it.
His response seems very strange to our ears: “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come” (v. 4). This was a Jewish idiom which is better translated, “Dear lady, why do you ask me to solve the problem in this way? The time for my public miracles has not yet come.”
She knew that he would meet the need in his own way, so Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She gives him the problem, then trusts him with the answer.
Jesus then used the human to accomplish the divine: “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons” (v. 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.
Each water pot contained about 20 gallons. By transforming this much water, Jesus created 2,000 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.