Last week we talked a little about expectation – the people had certain expectations of John the Baptist, and though he had to dowse those associations that people were making (that he would fulfill their expectations), he left the expectation of the Messiah intact. People were primed for the one who would come after him. I asked that you consider the kinds of things that you anticipate hopefully, or with eager expectation. Today we catch a glimpse of one such event – a wedding!
I’m not sure what kind of expectations you have of weddings. There’ll be some people who are committing their lives to each other – there will be some person, duly appointed under the government to legalize that arrangement – there will be on-lookers – there will be a reception afterwards. What else do we expect at weddings? Well, weddings were somewhat different in Jesus’ day. One marked difference was that the reception, or the wedding feast, lasted for a full week. That’s a long time! Imagine stocking up on the food and drink for a week-long wedding reception!
This is where the problem, the tension, of the account comes up. They’ve run out of wine. Now, Mary becomes aware of this, and she lets Jesus know, and leaves the servants at the wedding feast under His charge so that He can do some problem solving. He had never done this before – this was His first miracle. He may have solved many problems before, but never miraculously. He may have been a great help to Mary up until this point – the Church’s tradition has it that Joseph had passed away and that Jesus had cared for His mother and siblings – but the help that Mary was looking for from Him this time was going to come in a way unprecedented. It’s important that we keep in mind that Jesus hadn’t yet fed 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, or 4000 with 7 loaves and “some” fish. This is something new.
What, then, was on hand? There were large jars. The fact that they were water jars was beside the point – the need was for something that would hold wine. Water jars fit the bill! So Jesus told the servants to fill them with water. Again, water is what is on hand. Jesus uses the container and the liquid that are on hand. Not to mention the servants that Mary left with Him. He might just as easily have sent them away and summoned some miracle-men, or magicians, or others who were experienced with such things. But Jesus wasn’t looking for a parlour trick. He wasn’t looking for some cheap facsimile. He was going to perform the real thing. Water into wine.
It’s a completely natural process, isn’t it? Vines do it every day! They gather moisture from the ground, they produce grapes, juice ferments into wine. A completely natural process – but Jesus will bring it about in a not-so-natural way. He doesn’t conjure anything over the water jars; He doesn’t add some reagent to the water. He simply has the servants scoop some out and take it to the MC. As far as we can tell from the account in John’s Gospel, Jesus is never even near the water physically, Himself. But this is a real miracle. The water has become wine – it has become good wine – it has become better wine! In this, Christ manifests His glory – we see His gloriousness in His love and care, and yes – in His miracles. When Moses turned the water of Egypt into blood, he didn’t manifest his glory, but God’s; when Peter and Paul and Elijah and all the rest performed miracles, they made God’s glory manifest. Only Jesus performs miracles as manifestation of His own glory – perhaps hidden, like the sun behind clouds, for a time while He was taking care of His family, but now the glory is revealed; now the clouds roll back and the light of His glory is exposed.
The Scripture tells us that the disciples, who knew what had happened, who caught that glimpse of His glory, believed in Him. I guess the servants probably did, also, as they were witness to the miracle as well – but the passage doesn’t say so. So here’s the question before us: what does Jesus turning water into wine, to keep the party going, say to us? Let’s pause. Do you remember what happened after Jesus fed the 5000? In John 6 the crowd tries to crown Him king, and shortly thereafter, when they come to Him again, He declares: “You are looking for Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill.” (v. 26).
Consider that for a second: when Jesus fills people’s stomachs openly, elsewhere, they either try to make Him conform to their idea of who He is and what He should do, or else they can’t get past the fact that their stomachs have been filled to the significance of that reality. And you may also recall that when Jesus performs miracles and asks people to keep it quiet, they instead spread the news all over the region. So this one time, Jesus does a miracle in secret and not everyone knows about it; this one time Jesus provides for people’s stomachs and they won’t try to make Him fight Rome. Just this once.
Instead, here’s the fallout. The disciples, and I can’t help thinking the servants, also: the people who know what’s just happened, believe. They see it, and they believe in Jesus. Not see it and believe it – see what He does, and believe in Him. We all know that faith, or trust, or belief in anything is only as valid as its object: you can have very great faith in very thin ice, and still break through; you can have very little faith in very thick ice, and it will support your weight. The result is dependent on the object of faith, and so it is with Jesus. That day, the servants and the disciples – but not the steward of the ceremony or the married couple – came to know Jesus’ power; they saw His glory; He revealed Himself to them.
Now, John tells us that this was Jesus’ first miracle. We recognize that this is Jesus’ first miracle. But today we also want to recognize that in each of our lives Jesus’ first work, His first miracle, is the work of salvation: transforming the plain old water of human life to the new wine of abundant living, in Him. In justification we are declared righteous: this is like being grafted to Jesus, the true vine, in whom we are made ready and able to receive the nourishment of true life. But we aren’t declared righteous and left as we are.
Certainly the disciples believed in Jesus when they saw the miracle, but that wasn’t the end of the story of their faith – their first faith, and them as they were then. Rather, while faith begins with conviction based on evidence (in this case, the water had become wine), that faith continues in the confidence of a heart convinced of Jesus’ worthiness, and that faith is ultimately expressed in the character and conduct of the one who holds it, which is changed to conform to Jesus.
And so here we see the start of faith for the disciples, but we also know the same in our own lives: In Christ, God has accepted us as righteous – we have been justified – but the work doesn’t finish there. The Holy Spirit transforms that we become righteous. When we first come to faith and are justified, this is what God does for us; when we grow in faith and are sanctified, this is what God does in us. When we are justified, we are put into a right relationship with God; the process of sanctification is about the fruit of that relationship growing in us, and out from us. We are grafted to the true vine, and the evidence of that grafting is the growth of grapes, and ultimately, the fermentation of wine. What significance does Jesus’ turning water to wine at a wedding in Cana have for us, today? Jesus still turns water into wine; He takes our ordinary lives and transforms us into the new wine of His Kingdom.
So, how does this transformation come about, in the human heart? How does Christ’s work to change our regular water into the new wine of His Kingdom happen in us? This is what Paul is writing about in his letter to the Corinthians, in the passage we heard today: the Holy Spirit, who came upon Jesus at His baptism (which we heard about last week), who is the power of God at work in and through human lives to develop us according to God’s will. The Holy Spirit moves in the lives of believers, gifts them to enhance natural skills, and empowers supernaturally for God’s purpose. May we know the transformation of the Spirit. May we be new wine in the world.