There was a song back in the 70’s – “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…” It’s still true – signs are everywhere shouting for our attention, demanding we respond to their message. Some are very important:
Warning signs (Do Not Enter, One Way, Reduce Speed) – we ignore them to our peril.
Others are informative (Population, Elevation, Places to Eat)
Still others are instructional (Road Construction Ahead, Slower Vehicles Stay Right, 55 MPH)
And of course, others give direction (Glenwood Springs Next Two Exits, Rifle 25 Miles, and the most popular one around Glenwood: Detour)
Suppose you were driving down a street and saw taped to a telephone pole a hand-lettered sign: “Turn Here Grandpa,” and it had balloons on it. Other than making you smile, would it mean anything to you? Not unless it was your grandkids who made it and you were coming to visit them.
When John’s Gospel tells us about Jesus’ miracles he always calls them “signs.” And the reason he calls them signs is that they are more than just a miraculous event to impress and amaze people. As I said three weeks ago, turning water into wine wasn’t just to help out a family from a social blunder; feeding the five thousand wasn’t just so that the crowd wouldn’t go away hungry; raising Lazarus from the dead wasn’t just because he felt sorry for Mary and Martha at losing their brother. Every miracle pointed to God, if you were looking. There imbedded in every miraculous “sign” was the unmistakable message, “you are witnessing the work of God!”
John focuses our attention on eight of these miraculous signs. Now, John himself will tell us that Jesus did many other miracles, 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. These eight miracles are signs to get you to turn here and follow them down a path of faith in Jesus.
Now, lots of people will see these signs just as a bunch of random spectacular events – interesting, but with no point other than to entertain and amaze. Many of those who ate the loaves and the fish at the feeding of the five thousand, went away thinking “That was a great meal, do you suppose he’ll feed us again tomorrow if we come back?” They saw the miracle but missed the sign.
John will note that tragic mistake often in his Gospel:
4:48 – Jesus scolded them, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never believe.”
6:26 – “You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”
12:37 – “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe him.”
Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels begin Jesus’ ministry with his baptism and temptation. In John it is at a wedding celebration in little Galilean town named Cana.
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.” 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 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.” This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:1-11)
In case we have too somber a picture of Jesus with a sour look and a distaste for being around people, John says Jesus and his family and his disciples were invited to a wedding.
Now understand, in a small town Jewish wedding, it wasn’t a Saturday afternoon affair that you showed up at, watched them say “I do,” ate a piece of cake, threw some rice, and a couple hours later are heading for home. A wedding celebration lasted a week and everybody in town was invited. It was a more than a ceremony, it was a community celebration. And Jesus wasn’t standing on the sidelines with a disapproving look on his face. He was in the middle of it, dancing and raising a glass of wine to toast the couple.
But after a few days, an embarrassing situation occurs – they run out of wine. This isn’t just a social blunder; this is a reputation ruining faux pas. It’s not just embarrassing, it’s humiliating. Hospitality was a sacred duty. People will talk about it for years to come, everybody will look down on them.
Jesus’ mother hears their dilemma (she may have even been related to the family – after all, it is a small town). She takes it upon herself to fix the problem, and so she gives Jesus one of those motherly looks and says, “Jesus, fix it.” He says, “Why are you getting me involved, it’s not time yet.” And what he means is that he is on God’s schedule – this plan has been in place since the beginning of time, and a precise moment was chosen when he would step into the public eye, and this isn’t it.
I want us to see that Jesus does not act randomly or haphazardly. In Galatians 4:4, Paul writes, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” God chose the moments when everything was in place, when it was Jesus’ time – to be born, to reveal himself, to go to the cross. There will be nine more occasions in John’s Gospel when Jesus will say, “My time has not yet come,” or “My hour has not come.” When Jesus acts, he acts purposely and in accordance with God’s perfect timing. But you know how mothers can be.
Mary ignores his protest and gathers several servants around and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” I’m pretty sure Jesus sighed and said, “Yes, mother.”
Jesus tells the servants to take six water jars that were sitting close by and fill them up with water (and that will be close to 180 gallons) and take them to the master of ceremonies. The master of the banquet tastes the wine and exclaims, “Wow, that’s the best wine I’ve ever had!” And he calls the wedding couple over and applauds them, “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.”
A little side note – Jesus created wine, not grape juice. And it wasn’t just wine, it was the best wine. We need to be careful not to take Jesus out of his cultural context and explain away things that don’t need to be explained away.
Now, what you need to see is that Jesus didn’t wave his hand over the water or chant some incantation. He never touched the water – there was no sleight of hand or magic involved. The servants draw the water from a well at Jesus’ command, and then take it to the master of the banquet.
The master of the banquet is unaware of what has just taken place or where the wine has come from. He was simply impressed by the taste. In fact, John tells us that the only ones who were in on the miracle were the servants who drew the water and delivered it to the master. That’s not to say that they kept it a secret, because that’s not the kind of thing you keep to yourself. By the end of the day, no doubt, everybody had heard what Jesus did.
[And so, John finishes the story by saying, “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” From this point on Jesus becomes a public figure. People hear of his miracles, they begin to follow him to see what he might do next (and that includes both fans and foes). And the miracles will have the intended effect as his disciples begin to put their faith in Jesus.
If John uses the term “signs” to describe Jesus’ miracles, we need to ask what they are pointing to. What is the significance of his miracles, because it becomes obvious that Jesus didn’t walk the countryside from city to city healing every sick person, stopping every funeral to raise every dead person, he didn’t fix everybody’s problems, so there is obviously a selectiveness to what Jesus does and why he does it.
John doesn’t tell us about Jesus the wonder-worker, but Jesus as the one who transforms lives. In the very next chapter, in a conversation Jesus will have with Nicodemus, he will tell him about the necessity of being born again, of starting over. In chapter 4, he will change the life of a Samaritan woman who brings an entire city to hear Jesus.
Did you notice as John tells us about this miracle, that he adds the descriptive note about the water jars? He says, “the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing.” The Jews had long relied upon their ritual observances and their precise keeping of the law for their righteousness. But it was a threadbare system. It lacked the power to cleanse anyone of any sin.
And it is precisely the water in these jars that Jesus will change into new wine. In Matthew and Luke’s Gospels Jesus tells a parable about putting new wine in old wineskins and how inadequate they are because they are hard and brittle and will burst.
And though we don’t want to read more into the miracle than John intended, it’s significant that he begins with the story of turning water into wine. And it is an amazing miracle to transform one thing into another. But if you remember back in chapter 1, John told us that Jesus was there in the beginning, and “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Long before Jesus changed water into wine, he created water in the first place. Those molecules that he transformed from one substance into another – he’s the one who designed and created those very molecules in the beginning. So, if you want to talk miracles, the first, to me, seems infinitely more amazing than the second.
This miracle demonstrates in a very powerful way that Jesus is lord over his creation. With a word he creates, with a word he transforms. Creation is under his control. Other miracles will demonstrate his power over sickness and demons, over life and death. There is nothing in all creation that is not under Jesus’ lordship, and these miracles are intended to bring you to that conclusion, and to bring you to believe that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Posted on Sun, October 9, 2016
by John Roberts