John 2:1-11

John 2:1-11

SERIES: The Gospel of John

Joy in Cana

SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus

Introduction:  If you were asked to name three characteristics of Jesus that stand out above all others, what would they be?  Holiness, love, compassion, humility, wisdom, justice, goodness, truth?  I wonder if any of us would list joy or exuberance or happiness.  Frankly, I think we should.  In fact, Jesus had such a penchant for celebrating life that His enemies were given to calling Him a gluttonous man and a winebibber, as the KJV reads in Matt. 11:19 and Luke 7:34.  Now certainly these were false accusations, but there would have been no point in even making them if there weren’t something about His lifestyle that would lend a little credence to the charges.

Let me illustrate my point by reference to one of our current Presidential candidates (and I have absolutely no political motive in this illustration).  The media have made many accusations toward Ross Perot to the effect he is in the race to satisfy his ego.  No one, to my knowledge, has accused him of being in the race to get rich.  Why?  They accuse many other politicians of being in it for the money?  Why not him?  Well, because no one would believe it.  Anyone who has $3 billion certainly wouldn’t be interested in the presidency for financial reasons.  Besides, he’s spending some $60 million of his own money on the campaign.  But the charges about ego have at least some credibility. 

Now I find it interesting that, while many hated Jesus and wanted to get rid of Him, no one ever accused Him of sexual immorality or materialism or megalomania, because He never did anything that could conceivably support such accusations.  But they did find one area they could twist and distort and exaggerate to the point that at least a few were willing to believe them—they accused Him of being a party animal.

What are the facts that opened the door to this accusation?  Well, Luke 7:34 reads, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and drunkard.'”  They took His penchant for enjoying a great meal and a good glass of wine and stretched it into an indictment of gluttony and drunkenness.  The facts are that Jesus was not an ascetic nor a hermit.  He loved people, He loved to have a good time, He avoided the stuffy religious shirts of His day, He delighted in telling stories to crowds, and in our passage today He went out of His way to attend a wedding feast—the most joyous party time known in ancient Jewish society—and even chose this event as the occasion for His first miracle.  Let’s read John 2:1-11:

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.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons

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. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Oddly, there are those who are embarrassed and offended by this story—both liberals and conservatives.  (By the way, I find it intriguing how often the far right and the far left—whether in religion, politics, or economics—are found equally far from Christ).  An example of a liberal’s discomfort with this miracle is found in the following quotation from one scholar: 

“Jesus’ action during the wedding at Cana is not only ethically disputable but even offensive!  After all, miracles should be performed only to aid people in real need and misery, and certainly not to help them out of an embarrassing situation, to cheer them up, or to provide them with a certain luxury.” [i]

Isn’t it strange that a liberal theologian who doesn’t even believe in miracles should be telling the Lord of glory when He should and shouldn’t be performing them!  But fundamentalists have been bothered, too, but for an entirely different reason.  Beverage alcohol was obviously being served at this wedding, and, though not mentioned here, there was, without any reasonable doubt, a great deal of dancing going on.  For Jesus to even be present at such an occasion gives some people pause.  And for Him to be encouraging such behavior by creating wine is almost beyond their comprehension.  I am sure some conservative scholar would dearly love to rewrite Jesus’ response to His mother’s observation that “They have no wine,” as follows:  “Dear woman, it’s about time! Let them drink water.”  One man wrote an entire book to prove that the wine Jesus created was non-alcoholic.  You’d have a hard time convincing the master of the banquet of that!

Of course, all such concerns miss the entire point of this passage.  Look at verse 11:  “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”  Far from leading people into debauchery and ungodly behavior, Jesus’ presence at this party and His miracle of turning water into wine revealed His deity and resulted in generating faith.  Friends, if our thought categories can’t process such a notion, may I suggest that instead of rewriting or reinterpreting the text, it would be better to consider changing our thought categories?

Now the setting of our story is revealed in the first two verses of chapter 2, but we are left in the dark about a number of questions.  Who was marrying whom?  Why was Mary there?  Why were Jesus and His disciples invited?  What caused the host to run out of wine?  

Being the creatures of curiosity we are, it is fun to speculate about such things, and early church history provides us with some interesting possibilities.  A very early preface to the Gospel of John suggests that the wedding was the Apostle John’s own, and since his mother Salome was Mary’s sister, this would account for Mary’s position at the wedding, as well as for the invitation of Jesus.  The fact that Jesus brought His new disciples with Him might even account for the fact that the wine ran out early.  We can’t be sure, but I would say all that is possible. 

What is clear is that a Jewish wedding always started on Wednesday and lasted for seven days.  There was a strong element of reciprocity about weddings, with the guests expected to bring appropriate gifts and the bridegroom’s parents expected to entertain in a suitable manner.  In fact, it was possible to take legal action against a guest or against a host if they failed to live up to their responsibilities.  Inasmuch as wine was viewed as a necessity at every Jewish wedding, this family faced not only an embarrassing situation but even a possible lawsuit for running out of wine.  Which brings us to the first of three points that seem to constitute the theme of this story,

Jesus’ first miracle reveals His personal concern.  

Concern for people and their happiness.  Jesus’ concern for people and their happiness is seen in His very attendance at this wedding.  He doesn’t decline the invitation because He has sermons to write or books to read; people are His priority.  What interests them interests Him.  James Boice writes,

“This is the first of many stories suggesting that Jesus was always welcome among those who were having a good time….  He did not condemn those who were enjoying themselves, and He was not jealous of them. As a result, He was welcome at their gatherings, and those who had invited Him listened to His teachings.” [ii]

It’s a sad thing indeed to hear many unbelievers share the perspective that Jesus is a killjoy.  They don’t want to become Christians because they’re having too much fun, and they’re afraid that receiving Christ will put an end to it all.  Where do they get such an idea?  Not out of the Bible!  They get it from professing Christians, who terminate their friendships with unbelievers as soon as they’re converted, who define their faith as a list of things they no longer do, who immediately suspect that anyone having a good time is doing something illegal, immoral, or fattening, and whose own lives are often woefully destitute of joy.

It’s time, friends, that we start living our theology. We’re always quoting Jesus’ claim, “I have come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly,” but if we were on trial for enjoying life, would there be enough evidence to convict us?  Not on our faces, I’m afraid.  

But Jesus had personal concern not only for people in general and their happiness; He also had …

Concern for His mother and her desires.  Mary is the one who makes Jesus aware of the problem of the depleted wine.  She simply says to Him, “They have no more wine.”  A simple statement, yet it says a lot.  It says, first, that Mary was a normal Jewish mother and, as such, probably had ambitions for her exceptional son, the Rabbi.  We might even read between the lines:  “They have no wine, Son.  This might be a perfect occasion for you to prove yourself to be the promised Messiah.”  While she had apparently never seen Him perform a miracle (since this is called His first), she had not lived with Him for 30 years without failing to realize His unique relationship with God; at the very least He could plead with God to help them solve the problem. 

But her statement about the depleted wine tells us also that Mary knew better than to demand anything from Jesus.  It was sufficient to just mention the problem and then say to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  The fact that Jesus ultimately did something about it indicates His personal concern for Mary and her desires.  But that concern was not without limits or parameters, which brings us to the second theme of our passage.

Jesus’ first miracle reveals His spiritual priorities.  

To operate by God’s timetable and no one else’s (4).  Notice Jesus’ initial response to His mother’s observation that “they have no wine.”  He says, “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.” [iii]  Some of our English translations come across here as harsh, perhaps even sarcastic.  But that is not accurate.  What Jesus is offering here is a mild rebuke.  “Dear woman” is an address of respect, yet it does not convey the same personal affection that “mother” would have.  It is a clear indication to Mary that there is now a new relationship between them, as Jesus enters upon His public ministry.  No longer will He refer to her as “mother,” and no longer must she think of Him as merely her son.  The intimate relations of the home at Nazareth are no longer applicable as the Son of Mary has now assumed His role as Son of Man. 

The question, “Why do you involve me?” in the original means literally, “What have I to do with you?” or “What do we have in common with one another?”  This statement also, like the address, “Dear woman,” is designed to challenge Mary to rethink their relationship.  I’m sure it recalled to her mind the time 20 years earlier when Jesus as a young lad stayed behind in Jerusalem to teach the teachers in the temple.  When rebuked by His parents, He replied at that time, “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” 

Now two decades later He is still on a different track and a different time schedule than she is, or anyone else, for that matter.  He is totally devoted to doing His Father’s will, not His mothers’, and if He is going to respond to her inquiry at all, it will not be through pressure, subtle or otherwise.  It will be because His heavenly Father wants Him to.

Now if Mary got that message, as I believe she did, isn’t it rather curious that she responds as she does in verse 5, where she says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you?”  I believe this response is best explained by the fact that while she realizes she has no right to tell Him what to do, He will nevertheless do what is right.  She recognizes that while He is independent, He is not indifferent.  

There is a lesson here for all of us.  Jesus is our Lord and sovereign—He is not a genie whom we can order around or a power we are free to manipulate.  And yet while He is sovereign, He is also sensitive, and He wants us to bring even the insignificant problems in our lives to Him.  When we do, we had best follow the advice given here: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Verse 11 reveals a second spiritual priority of Jesus in this first miracle.

To reveal His glory (11).  Of course, this event did not reveal Jesus’ glory in all its brightness, for the constant theme of John’s Gospel is that before the cross Jesus was not yet glorified (7:39), but even this early in His ministry we are able to glimpse something of the glory to come.  We can see that this is no ordinary man; His deity shows through the veil of His humanity. 

A third spiritual priority is also given in verse 11.

To generate faith in His disciples.  It’s not clear from the record of this story just how many people at the wedding are even aware that a miracle has been performed.  The master of the banquet certainly recognizes the unusually high quality of the wine, but the text makes it clear he doesn’t know the source of it.  The servants know, and we can safely assume that Mary and the disciples know, but as with nearly all of Jesus’ miracles, the number of observers is small, and the purpose limited.  Jesus’ goal is never to stir up excitement or to attract a great following; it is always to elicit faith in a targeted audience.  Here He has five new and immature disciples who need to be established in their faith, and that is accomplished. 

Now the third major theme of our story is that …

Jesus’ first miracle reveals His transforming power.  

He transforms empty water jars into vessels filled with wine of superb quality, and He transforms empty religious forms into living faith.

He transforms empty water jars into vessels filled with wine of superb quality. (6-9) The miracle itself is revealed in verses 6 through 9.  The six stone water jars most likely hold between 120 and 180 gallons altogether.  Jesus asks the servants to fill the empty jars with water, which they do.  John notes carefully that the jars are filled right up to the brim, probably to dispel any notion that anything might have been added to the water to make it seem like wine.  Then He simply asks them to draw some and take it to the master of the banquet.  This man is so impressed with the wine that he whispers to the bridegroom, “Hey man, you’re something else!  What most people do is to bring out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink and therefore can’t tell the difference; but you have saved the best till now.” 

The actions of our Lord in performing this miracle are very impressive, for there are no actions at all.  Everything is accomplished by His creative word.  It is a visible and contemporary reminder of the words in Gen. 1:3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.'” Mary had said, “Whatever he tells you to do, do it,” and as the servants obey the words of Jesus, the water becomes wine.

I do not know at what exact point the water turned to wine, nor how much of the water was turned to wine—whether one cup or one pot or all six pots—but the most natural reading would cause us to believe the bridegroom had at least 120 gallons of choice wine on his hands.  Quite a wedding gift!  What I know for sure is that when Jesus does something, He does it right.  He is in the business of taking that which is good and turning it into the best, taking a little and turning it into much.  Another example is found in the feeding of the 5,000, where He started with 5 loaves and 2 fish and ended up with 12 basketsful of food after everyone had eaten their full. 

And still another example is when Jesus found the discouraged disciples who, after fishing all night, had caught nothing.  He told them the problem was they were fishing on the wrong side of the boat.  Now I’m not a great fisherman but I know the side of the boat doesn’t make that much difference.  But when they obeyed Jesus, He performed a miracle to give them a boat full of large fish, 153 to be exact.  That’s more than I’ve caught in my whole life.  But it’s quite in keeping with the way Jesus does things.  Here in John 2, He transforms empty water jars into vessels filled with wine of superb quality.

Water is an excellent beverage, but there are times when the occasion cries out for something more.  Ellen Dykas wrote last week from her ministry place in Russia, “What I miss most about home: my family; all the children in my life because I know they change so rapidly; my church; Pastor Mike’s fabulous sermons (no, she didn’t really add that); and big, ol’ frosty Diet Cokes with crushed ice!”  I suspect that if Ellen had been there at the wedding in Cana, Jesus would have turned one of those jars of water into Diet Coke.  But whatever He touches, the result is good and delightful. 

He transforms empty religious forms into living faith. (6)  Most Bible scholars suggest that there is more to this story than meets the casual glance.  John uses symbolism heavily throughout this Gospel, and this chapter is no exception.  The six stone water jars, for example, are seen as symbolic of first-century Judaism, and by extension, 20th century religiosity.  Notice that John makes a special point of the fact that the jars are the kind used by the Jews for “ceremonial washing.”  What would be the point of that observation if He were not trying to draw a parallel with the religious status quo?  And what is His point?  Probably that the religious forms of His day are as empty as those water jars—totally inadequate as a means of salvation.  But He is able and willing to fill those empty forms with living faith.

Conclusion:  By way of conclusion this morning I would like to offer just a few points for us to ponder.  First, when the grace of Jesus is poured out, there is enough and to spare for every need.  He is never parsimonious.  He is not interested in just improving lives, like our politicians are forever promising.  He does not come into a situation to add to it but to transform it.  Sir Wilfred Grenfell was appealing for volunteers for his missionary work in Labrador.  He said he could not promise them much money, but he could promise them the time of their lives.  That is what Jesus promises us—not promotion, but transformation. 

Secondly, Jesus’ presence sanctifies ordinary human events. A wedding party, dancing, merrymaking, a glass of wine—each of these can be as empty as those stone water jars.  But when Jesus is present, when His glory is seen and sought, the mundane aspects of human life become acts of worship, while the fun and festivities become celebrations of exhilarating joy.  The world’s banquets will eventually run out of cheap wine, but Jesus provides a substitute of superior quality and abundant supply.

If your life is dull, stale, and flat, it’s not Jesus’ fault.  It’s because you’re following at a distance or have failed to observe and imitate how Jesus lived.  He is not the “pale Galilean” of monastic tendencies.  He is the Lord of Life. 

Friends, it’s time to party a little, to quit counting every stupid calorie and fat gram, to stop stewing about the cards that life has dealt us and start enjoying health and family and friends.  It’s time to quit moaning about what’s going to happen to this country if so-and-so becomes President.  It’s time to realize that God is still in control and Jesus is still on the throne.  His gifts and blessings get better every day, and, if that weren’t enough, He has saved the best for last.  In heaven itself I am sure that all His people shall exclaim in beautiful chorus, “Thou hast kept the best wine for now.” 

I know of no reason why a person wouldn’t be drawn to the kind of Jesus we see in John 2:

One who enjoyed the celebration of life.

One who was sensitive to even the embarrassment of a friend.

One whose power is unlimited.

One whose glory cannot be veiled.

One who can take the dull and tasteless and turn it into something beautiful and exhilarating. 

Won’t you believe in Him today, as His disciples did?

DATE: October 25, 1992


Jesus’ mother

The hour


[i] H. Van der Loos, The Miracles of Jesus, 590.

[ii] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John, Vol 1, 199.

[iii] The reference to “his time” or “his hour” in verse 4 is intriguing, because it appears frequently in John’s Gospel—always pointing to His death.  Consider the phrase through these early chapters of John in 2:4, 7:6, 7:8, 7:30, 8:20.  Jesus was a man with a purpose, and nothing is going to interfere with His appointment at Calvary—not a wedding, not the unbelief of His brothers, not a feast, not even the opposition of the religious leaders.  But finally in John 12:23, as the Triumphal Entry is about to commence, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  At that point, too, nothing could interfere. 

John 2:12-25