October 3rd 2010

Water Into Wine

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied, ‘My time has not yet come.’”
John 2:1-4 (NIV)

John tells an interesting story that took place near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He went to a wedding and turned water into wine. At first glance this miracle seems unimportant, more along the line of a magician’s trick than dealing with human suffering like Jesus’ other miracles. John knew about more of Jesus’ miracles than he had room to write about, and yet he chose this one as the first to mention in his book: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

How does this miracle help achieve John’s purpose—to help us believe that Jesus is the Christ? How does it show that Jesus is the Messiah, rather than a mere magician (as the Jewish Talmud later claimed him to be)?

Weddings were the biggest and most important celebrations among the first century Jewish people—a week-long party that displayed the social status of the new family in the community. Weddings were such joyous occasions that when people wanted to describe the blessings of the messianic age, they often used a wedding banquet as a metaphor. In some of his parables, Jesus used the image of a wedding banquet to describe the kingdom of God.

At this wedding, the wine ran out early, something of a disaster for the host. Mary told Jesus about it, and he responded in an unusual way. He said, “Why do you involve me?” In other words, what does this have to do with me? “My time has not yet come.” Even so—even though his time had not yet come—Jesus did something anyway.

In this way, John lets us know that what Jesus is doing is somehow ahead of its time. The messianic banquet is not yet here in its fullness, and yet Jesus was already at work. There happened to be six huge water containers standing nearby—the kind the Jews used for ceremonial washing. Each held more than 20 gallons of water—far too heavy for picking up and pouring. Jesus turned all this ceremonial water, whose sole use was for the ritual purity of those who were cleansed by it, into wine of the highest quality.

What Jesus did at Cana was far more than solve the problem of an embarrassed host who ran short of wine. The ceremonial water represented the Law of Moses, by which sinners were judged guilty and condemned to death. The wine, however, symbolised the blood of Jesus, by which sinners are judged forgiven and called to new life in Christ. John included this miracle because it symbolised a transformation from the Law of Moses to the new and better covenant in Jesus’ blood.

The point of the miracle is that the death penalty imposed on sinners by the Law of Moses is overwhelmed by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, by which the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit forgave and removed all the sins of humanity through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension on our behalf. And the ritual purity provided by the Law is overwhelmed by the true righteousness of Christ offered to the Father on our behalf and in our place.

John wants us to understand that the spiritual cleansing that comes by Jesus’ blood supersedes the ritual purity of the Law, as well as any other means we might think we have of being righteous before God. Just as Jesus transformed the ritual water into wine, so he transformed the relationship between humanity and God, replacing the Law that kills with new life in him.

Holy Father, you help us to understand your way, your love and kindness towards us, through the actions of Jesus. Today we can only bow our heads in acknowledgement as to what you have done for us in extending to us your mercy and grace. Help us, we pray, to take such understanding to heart and to walk with you in your love every day. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Study by Joseph Tkach 

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