The First Sign

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

— John 2:1-11

The book of John uses seven signs to demonstrate the Deity of Jesus. The first is the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. The others were the healing of the royal official’s son in Capernaum (John4:46-54), the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5:1-5), feeding the 5,000 (John 6:5-14), walking on water (John 6:16-24), healing the man blind from birth (John 9:1-7), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). The first 11 chapters of John are sometimes referred to as the Book of Signs.

The story of changing water into wine and raising Lazarus are only in the book of John. The rest of the miracles are similar to stories in the other Gospels. But these are in the book of John for very specific reasons. Some think it’s a map of the new creation, with seven miracles in tandem with the seven days of creation.

In this first miracle, Jesus converts the water in six vessels used in ceremonial washing. The word tells us they hold 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus made 120 to 180 gallons of wine, and the host of the feast tells us it is better than the wine served first. The host and the guests didn’t know where the wine had come from, but the disciples and the servants knew. The implication is that Jesus did it so that His disciples would believe.

In a Christian wedding ceremony, the preacher usually mentions that Jesus’ presence at a wedding in Cana is His endorsement of marriage. I think that’s true. Later, Jesus would say that even if it’s good not to marry, living as a bachelor isn’t for everyone. Jesus not only attended this wedding, but He blessed this wedding with the wine. Wine is an ancient symbol of God’s bounty, blessing and joy, and we certainly recognize Jesus as the source of new wine. So this story shows that in Jesus, God is generous; God is not opposed to human joy and fellowship; and God is not against marriage. This is all good news for us.

Some thinkers also see this miracle as a hat tip to pagan beliefs. Bacchus was the Roman god of agriculture, fertility, and wine, a very important god to Roman pagans. By turning water into wine, Jesus proved Himself to be superior to Bacchus.

Wine certainly had a different significance in Jesus’ day. It was medicinal, ceremonial, and practical. But it would be very convenient to me if Jesus had avoided drinking wine, instead of making it and using it in religious ceremonies.

Some of you know that the church I last served had a very active recovery ministry, addressing drug and alcohol addiction. That tends to cloud my view of wine and all the references to wine in the New Testament. The Temperance Movement to outlaw alcohol started in the churches. Preaching would be easier for me if Jesus had avoided wine. And you know what that means? That means that compared to Jesus, I’m a stick in the mud. Sometimes I think I can be holier than Jesus. Sometimes I think misery, loneliness and seriousness are more holy than happiness and celebration. So maybe I have something to learn from this, the first of Jesus’ miracles in the gospel of John. Maybe we all can learn something from this.

Have you ever heard of a church or sect that practiced shunning? You know, a church where if someone falls from the faith, gets divorced, or gets in trouble, everybody avoids that person? Jesus wasn’t like that. The Jews in Jesus’ day shunned Samaritans, single women, and the lame. Jesus didn’t shun anybody. If that’s true, then how can we call it Christian to shun people? Jesus welcomed everyone from the woman at the well to the thief on the cross. That’s the example we’re called to follow. But some people want to be holier than Jesus.

Have you ever heard of churches that wouldn’t have fellowship dinners because they thought it was unholy? I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. Jesus was always sitting at the table with His disciples and tax collectors. After preaching all day, Jesus served dinner on the grounds for 5,000 people, and He didn’t check anyone’s membership card. I don’t think Jesus would call that unholy – but some people want to be holier than Jesus.

Of course you know, that doesn’t make sense. We can’t hope to be as holy as Jesus. So when it looks like Jesus is doing something we would avoid, something like healing lepers or talking theology with loose Samaritan women, maybe we need to rethink what holiness is. When we worry about Paul eating with Gentiles or disciples who eat without washing their hands or Jesus letting a strange woman wash his feet with her hair, maybe we need to rethink what holiness is.

Jesus was not about fasting and suffering and shunning people. Jesus celebrated life and fellowship. Jesus enjoyed a good feast. Jesus was generous in blessing others – and Jesus wants us to be generous, too.

Do you know that Jesus told His Disciples to be perfect? He did! But His definition of perfect I different from ours. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

It is not possible to be holier than Jesus, but we need to see what Jesus meant by holiness. Jesus wants us to be perfect, but we need to see what Jesus calls perfect. Jesus says perfect is impartial, loving and generous to others no matter what. Jesus was perfect. God was perfect. And Jesus wants us to be perfect, too. Love the unloveable, bless those who curse, and pray for those who use you. That’s the first sign that we are Christians.

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