Part 2 of Notes from a 1st Century Pastor

I hear that he can turn water to wine
Any man that can do that, oh, he’s a good friend of mine.

So the country song by Mark Chesnutt goes.

I had never understood the point of Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine. Healings, feeding the multitudes, calming the sea — I think I understand these. But water into wine?

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. –John 2:1-2 ESV

That Jesus performed this miracle is a bit odd — although I’ll get to that shortly — but perhaps even more curious is his mother’s insistence. Mary mentions to her son the problem, that the wedding hosts had run out of wine.

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” –John 2:3 ESV

I don’t know if they just had planned on fewer guests. Maybe some people never got around to RSVPing but decided to attend anyway, forgetting that … well, the ol’ man throws back wine like it’s water. Maybe the hosts thought the party would have ended sooner, but the band was well into their fourth rendition of “The Electric Slide,” not to mention their rousing variations on “Hava Nagila.” Whatever the case, the wine vats were drying up and the guests were not.

So Jesus’ mama, in the way only a mother can, insists that Jesus do something about it. But he quickly dismisses her concern.

And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” –John 2:4 ESV

But she dismisses his dismissal.

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” –John 2:5 ESV

You might know the rest of the story. Jesus tells the servants to fill six water jars, each holding some 25 gallons. After they were filled, he commands them to draw some out and take it to the host. No magic words. No abracadabra, no hocus pocus.

The wine, it turns out, is a superb vintage, aged all of 23 seconds. Jesus saves the day.

But why?

Understand that wine in Scripture symbolizes joy, blessing, and (to me) community. I think of that part in It’s a Wonderful Life when George and Mary present the Italian couple with gifts, including bread and wine, at their housewarming party. I also recall Billy Joel’s words in “The Piano Man”: “They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone.”

You see, drinking becomes a sin when the intent is to get drunk, either to experience a chemical high with others (or alone) or to escape from reality. In Scripture we see that wine wasn’t given for this purpose. Interestingly, wine points to a reality to come. Not an escape but a robust prophecy with hints of oak and blackberries.

The ESV Study Bible notes that “the wedding party’s running out of wine may be seen as symbolizing the spiritual barrenness of first-century Judaism.” I believe this was Jesus’ first miracle because he was ushering in the Kingdom. He had just promised Nathaniel that he would see greater things (as we saw in Part 1) God’s Kingdom was coming to earth; his will, as it was done in heaven, would be done on earth. The miracle was a foreshadowing of the great feast, the wedding reception of the Lamb and his bride, the Church (see Revelation 19:9).

Turning water into wine was a metaphor for the spiritual life the Holy Spirit would bring, life made possible by Jesus’ defeat of death. Jesus might have also wanted the party to go on a little longer, for he seemed to enjoy such feasts. I mean, 150 gallons of wine. That could ensure at least one more Chicken Dance.

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