American Journal of Biblical Theology,
Who is Jesus? What you believe about Jesus, and how you respond to that belief is referred to as your Christology, and it is your Christology that makes all the difference in your relationship with God and the state of your eternal spirit. Jesus, in His words revealed Godís purpose and plan, how He is central to that purpose and plan, and the authority by which He executes it. Godís Word today continues to reveal that same purpose and plan. Like signs on the roadway, God has clearly given us direction and purpose. How have we responded to those signs? Maybe our vision has become blurred and we cannot quite make out what the signs are telling us. Maybe our pride is sharp, and we refuse to believe the signs. Maybe we simply do not bother to pay the signs any serious attention. Regardless of our response to those signs, those signs exist and are clearly discernable, leaving everyone without excuse when they reject them.
Jesusí earthly ministry was one of revealing those signs as He revealed Himself to us. Jesus Christ began his ministry immediately following the experience of his baptism by John the Baptist when Jesus and selected witnesses saw the Holy Spirit descend, and John announced Jesus as the Messiah, directing his own followers to now follow Jesus. Many of these did follow Jesus. They would listen to His teaching, witness His works, and their lives would be forever changed as they would come to know the Messiah, the One who came from the throne of Heaven to save them from their sins, the One who would have the power to bring them to the throne of God.
Jesus' early ministry would also be one of establishing truth. The people of Israel had not experienced a "word from God" for over 400 years since the nations of Israel and Judah were taken into captivity in Assyria and Babylon, respectively. During this, the darkest period of Israelís history, the Hebrews had wandered far from the faith of their ancient forefathers. Their worship had been reduced from a personal faith relationship with God to a complex set of spiritless rules and rituals. Righteousness came to be defined by one's ability to adhere to a burdensome and legalistic religious dogma, continually defined and preserved by the Pharisees and empowered by the priests and Levites.
When John the Baptist began his prophetic ministry of preparing the people for the coming Messiah, many became to believe that the "word from God" had returned in the person of John. His prophesy had a spirit and power of truth in it that was similar to that of Elijah and Isaiah, and his appearance and demeanor was similar to these ancient prophets. When he spoke, he was not teaching the people what the he knew about the scriptures, but rather he spoke the Word of God directly from the heart with the form of authority that comes a relational, intimate, and personal knowledge of God, His purpose, and His plan. When asked of the identity of his source of authority, the this baptizing prophet humbly pointed to the One who was coming, One far greater than he, One who would baptize people in the Holy Spirit with power as opposed to his simple baptism in water, a baptism that was simply a testimony of repentance.
When we come to John's gospel, Chapter 2, Jesus' ministry has just begun. Here we find an introduction to Jesusí identity and purpose.
John 2:1. And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
There has been much speculation as to some deep theological statement made by the use of "three days" in this verse. These were days when the initial group of Jesusí disciples was being formed. The last described act was the calling of Philip and the cascade of followers that resulted. Since it has been three days since that call, it is clear that the event that takes place in the following verses did so in the very beginning of Jesus' ministry. The Baptist had encouraged his own followers to turn to Jesus. Consequently these first few days would be days of introduction. Jesus was just beginning to establish relationships with those followers, and they were trying to ascertain who He was.
Cana of Galilee was the hometown of Nathaniel, was a hard day's walk from Nazareth, and a marriage feast was being held there. We are not told who was being married, or what the specific relationships were between Jesus and the bride and groom, but we are told that Mary, the mother of Jesus was there. John, in his gospel, never refers to the mother of Jesus by her name. John wrote this gospel long after Jesus' crucifixion where Jesus appointed John to be Mary's "son." There is little doubt that John held Mary in the greatest love and respect, and he may have not wanted her identity confused with the other Marys that appear in his writings. For John, the "mother of Jesus" was a grave and respectful title.
A first-century Jewish wedding feast was a significant social event, one of the most important and most common opportunities for the members of a community to come together. A group of family and friends would form a parade that would walk down the streets of the village to the home of the bride and serve as her escort. They would bring the bride to the home of the groom where the ceremony that ended a long period of betrothal would be held. Following the ceremony would be a wedding feast that could last as long as a week. Weddings were often held during the beginning or middle of the week, so that the celebration would include the ceremonies and the feasting as well as the religious ceremonies surrounding the Sabbath celebration. During this entire period, the family of the groom was responsible for the care of the guests including all of the food and drink that would be served. This fact is important to the context of the following events.
John 2:2. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.
We will find that Mary had a prominent role in this wedding feast, so it appears that the relationship between the betrothed, most likely the groom, and Mary was very close. So, when Mary was invited to the wedding, it would be certainly proper and reasonable that her son, Jesus would be invited also. We have no indication of what happened to Joseph the father of Jesus prior to this time, but tradition and scholarship tend to agree that Joseph had died. The recorded interaction between the apostles, the community, and Mary tend to imply that she was treated as a widow.
The invitation of Jesus to the wedding brought with it a complication that those who prepared the wedding could not have predicted. Along with Jesus came his disciples, a fellowship that did not even exist a few days prior to the event. There is no indication of how many people accompanied Jesus, and based upon the circumstance of the following verses, that number might have been considerable. Imagine being the "governor of the wedding" (the wedding planner) and seeing many more people arrive to the occasion than were anticipated? Today such events often require a personal invitation to all guests in order that all can be fully served. A wedding feast in the first-century Jewish community tended to invite guests by family or clan, rather than by individual contact. Consequently, attendance was estimated by the size of the clans invited. Nobody could have predicted that Jesus' small family would show up with such a large group.
John 2:3. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
It is little surprise that soon after the ceremony took place, the family of the groom started to run out of food and drink. In today's culture, such an embarrassing event would be quietly and easily avoided by a telephone call to a grocery store or other wine supplier who would gladly deliver any quantity of food and wine to the home for a price. Such was not the case in Cana of Galilee. Based upon the amount of wine needed, there was probably nowhere that such a quantity could be obtained on such short notice. The family would be embarrassed, and the fault for the shortage would fall on the groom's family.
So, why did Mary speak up in the way that she did? Her statement to Jesus was not just a statement of news. The Greek form of her statement carries with it the certain expectation that Jesus would do something about the problem. Why would Mary feel responsible? Certainly, if the problem was precipitated by Jesus' attendance with a large group of followers, Mary would feel that they shared responsibility with the wedding planner. She was desperate that her family would not be the cause of the groom's embarrassment.
John 2:4. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
When we read the English translation of Jesus' statement, His words sound harsh. However, we are looking at Jesus' words across 2000+ years, multiple language translations, and 10,000 miles of cultural change. In our culture, to refer to a woman as "woman" would be crude and demeaning. However, the word used in the Aramaic language of their culture was a very endearing and comforting form of the word. It was used to address a woman who was dearly loved. Jesus used the same word from the cross when he said, "woman, behold thy son" as he appointed the apostle John the responsibility for caring for her. Some translations replace "woman" with "dear woman" in an effort to more closely describe the closeness and respect that is shown by this address.
The next phrase is also difficult to clearly ascertain as the translation is taken from Aramaic to Greek to English. Again, the demand of Mary in the previous verse was clearly one of her expectation that Jesus would do something to solve the problem, presumably because they had something to do with causing it. Mary knew who Jesus was from the moment that the angel announced His conception to her. Perhaps she had already witnessed Jesusí miraculous power. Certainly, she had an irrepressible faith that firmly held that Jesus could do anything.
However, her request at this point presented a second problem:
Often referred to as the "Messianic Paradox," Jesus was the Messiah, came as the Messiah, and his coming was clearly prophesied, yet during His ministry He did not want people in the region around Jerusalem to know of it. The religious people expected a different kind of Messiah and if the people came to him in any way other than by spiritual conversion, they would try to make Him a political king, an act that would have had complex consequences. Because of this, Jesus' true identity as the Messiah was revealed only to a selected group of faithful followers. Jesus was so humble concerning this title that even John the Baptist was later confused about Jesus' fulfillment of the prophesies and needed reassurance that Jesus was truly the One.
We find Jesus only three days into his ministry, and Mary is making a request from Jesus that would reveal who He was, creating a dilemma that would require Jesus' wisdom as well as his miraculous powers. It was appropriate that the faith of some of his new followers would be strengthened, but at the same time, Jesus could not draw the attention of the public.
John 2:5. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
This little verse reveals a little more about the circumstance. Why would Mary, a powerless widow, have the authority to command the servants of another person's home, particularly in a manner that supersedes that of the wedding planner? This verse emphasizes the closeness of Mary to the family of the wedding party, and she may have been assigned or shared the responsibility of providing the wine that was in demand. If this is true, she would have been doubly embarrassed by its depletion.
Mary would have no idea of what Jesus would do, but it is clear by her statement that she had complete faith and trust in Him in her time of need. A skilled preacher could probably take this one verse, one that seems quite plain, and develop it into an in-depth sermon on placing one's complete faith and trust in Jesus. Here we see an example of simple faith and trust that all Christians would like to appropriate for their own lives. When Mary was in need, she did not run to the wedding planner, nor did she turn within herself and brood over her guilt. She did not run around complaining about the poor preparation of the wedding planner. Nor did she panic. She simply turned to Jesus with her request with the full expectation that He would take care of the situation. Jesus is here today for that same purpose, and we can turn to Him in this same, simple, and sincere way. She saw the solution to her need through complete obedience to the LORD, Messiah, Jesus Christ. We can learn something from her example.
John 2:6. And there were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
Of course, we all in today's culture know what a "firkin" is. For those few who may not be familiar with this unit, a firkin is a unit of volume that comprises approximately nine or ten gallons, a maximum load that a typical man could carry. Consequently, the pots that John refers to were from 20 to 30 gallons each. Since there were six water pots, the volume of these pots together is from 120 to 180 gallons, enough to serve several hundred people.
Some writers and theologians ascribe a great theological significance to the use of stone pots in the event that is about to take place. Storage of water, wine, etc. was done using pots of stone and clay. According to their religious tradition, the Hebrews believed that if an unclean material were placed in a clay pot, it could not be cleansed, and the pot must be destroyed. However, they also believed that stone pots were not contaminated in this way. Therefore, the pots used here were considered clean. These pots were used specifically for the ceremonial practice of cleansing that took place when a guest would enter a home. Certainly, the roads of ancient Israel were dusty, and a guest would be quite dirty after traveling those roads. So, upon entering the home, the guest would use water to cleanse the dust from his or her hands and feet. It is from this tradition that we observe the practice of washing another's feet. Water from the pots was always poured over the hands and feet, so the contents of the pots was always clean. Also, some argue that use of the ceremonial water pots for a practical purpose of ministry exemplifies Jesus' message that the needs of people come before ritualistic practice.
The use of the stone pots might be more practical, however, since they were probably the only large vessels that were both clean and available. The theological significance of their choice might also be reduced by the Messianic Paradox. Jesus did not want the event that was about to take place to become a public spectacle.
John 2:7-10. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. 8And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. 9When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, 10And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
The fact that the water pots were empty reveals the size of the assembly. The pots would have been empty because most of the wedding guests would have arrived and would have completed the washing ceremony. After filling the pots with water, Jesus commanded the servants to take them to the wedding planner. Such a request probably seemed ridiculous, particularly considering the difficulty of the task. However, we may be reminded of Maryís command to the servants to follow Jesusí instruction. Sometimes God may be leading us to do something that does not make much sense to us, though we may find later that Godís purpose was beyond our greatest assumptions.
We see in this act the first of Jesus' recorded miracles when the water was turned into wine. It is an interesting addition to the scenario that the wine would be perfect. When the wine was presented to the governor of the feast, he was astonished at its quality, particularly when it was being brought out after the initial wine was consumed. In their culture, as in ours, the very best wine was always served at the beginning of the feast when the guests were sober enough to enjoy the difference between a fine wine and one of considerably lesser quality.
John 2:11. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
John's gospel describes seven of Jesus' miracles while the synoptic gospels record many more. However, John's treatment of Jesusí miracles is quite different and more developed. The Greek word used by John that is translated "miracles" implies a significant act that points to something. Some translations of Johnís gospel use the word "sign" rather than "miracle" in order to convey this concept. When John presents an account of a miracle he provides, as we see here, an in-depth description of the context of the act, and comments on its purpose as a sign. All of Jesus miracles were accomplished for a spiritual purpose, pointing the witnesses to a deeper understanding of the glory of God.
We will see in John's gospel that there were three primary responses to Jesus' signs.
∑ Some witnessed the signs and went away unchanged.
∑ Some witnessed the signs and turned to God in faith, resulting in lives that were radically changed.
∑ Yet others witnessed the signs and rejected their authority, responding with a desire to destroy Jesus when they saw Him challenging their beliefs.
∑ We see that this sign was accomplished in a manner that we will see repeated in the others:
o First, the miracle was initiated to address the need of an individual or individuals. Though the depletion of the wine at Cana was not a life-or-death need, Jesus responded in a compassionate manner in order to prevent the embarrassment of the governor of the feast and of his own mother. Each of the miracles that John presents were initiated by a need and met by Jesusí compassion.
o Second, Jesus' miracles always had the added element of Godly purpose in that they were signs of the truth, and signs that Jesus was the Word made flesh. It is unclear who recognized that the water had miraculously turned to wine, but it was clear to those who presented it that that Jesus did it. Jesus identity as the One who has authority over even the physics of this universe was revealed, yet to a select few. This was the first recorded sign that Jesus is the Messiah.
It might be instructive for us to consider the purpose of a sign. When my wife, Ann and I lived in southwest Germany from 1973 - 1975, we greatly enjoyed driving around the region and visiting the ancient castles and ruins. We also liked taking part in the 10- and 20-kilometer community walks through the countryside that were referred to as volksmarchen. These were located at various rural villages that were scattered around remote areas of central and western Europe. We traveled by automobile to these villages with very little use of a road map. We depended largely on the excellent application of signs that were posted on the highways. We only needed to know the general direction in which to travel, and once we got pointed in the right direction, we simply followed the signs. In two years and 25,000 miles of travel around Germany, Luxemburg, Belgium and the Netherlands, we rarely looked at a map, yet we were never lost. We did, however, make use of the signs.
We always have a choice on how to respond to a sign. Consider, for example, that you are driving down a road at a high rate of speed and you encounter a sign in the road that states, "Turn Back. Bridge out ahead." If we continue in the same direction at the same rate of speed, death is certain. What are our choices.
∑ One can ignore the signís warning, simply rejecting its authority and die in astonishment when the car plummets into the canyon with the testimony, "I didn't think the sign was for real."
∑ Others might see the sign and think, "I can simply speed up, and based on my own skill, I can jump that bridge." Like for the one who ignored the sign, the valley floor approacheth, and the end of the journey will come with fear, anguish, and great calamity.
∑ Some may be so busy with the distractions of this life that they simply do not notice the sign, falling to their death in ignorance.
∑ Finally, others who see the sign will recognize that they are heading for death, and simply turn around.
Through Jesus Christ, God has given us a sign. God has revealed to us that we are heading for the pit, the gap between earth and heaven is not passable without the bridge of the Cross of Calvary, leading one only to an eternity of separation from the love and power of God if we choose to ignore the Sign and reject Him. At Cana, disciples saw the sign and in witnessing the provision of the wine they understood that it was a manifestation of God's glory in Jesus Christ. As a result, they believed in who Jesus was, their faith was defined, and they were saved from the pit. We can respond to Jesus in the same way as we not only recognize who He is (even satan knows who He is) but also respond in faith, trust, and obedience. Consequently, we can respond to the Sign that God has given us in a multiple of ways.
∑ One can ignore the Sign that God has given us, signs that point to His glory, our lost state, our need for redemption, and the opportunity for salvation that is found in Jesus. Like ignoring the road sign, this person charges head-long through their life, heading toward the end of their own choosing. Those who simply ignore God's sign will be astonished at the judgment when they find that they were so foolish.
∑ Others might observe and attend to the Sign that God has given us even to the point of hearing the gospel, and simply reject it based on their unwillingness to be submissive to God's plan and purpose. They might point to their own good works as evidence of their goodness, unwilling to recognize their sinful and fallen state. They think they can jump the gap on their own power It is these who will hear God say at the final judgment, "I do not know you."
∑ Others might not even see the Sign that God has given us because they are distracted by the little gods of their own world. They serve as their own authority in their lives as they give control to the icons of their own making, including power, possessions, and pride. They are too focused on the things of this world to give any consideration to the things that will follow it. They too will be astonished when the ďLambís book of life is readĒ and their name is not included.
∑ Finally, others who see the Sign will recognize that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and all that the scriptures reveal about Him are both true and are fully fulfilled in Him. Jesus is the way to salvation, He is the very truth of all creation, and He is the life everlasting. Only by placing our faith and trust in him, as Mary did when confronted by the crisis in Cana, will we find the true peace and joy that comes with the knowledge of our eternal security with God.
As we remember the miracle that Jesus performed at the wedding in Cana, let us be reminded that Jesus is the Messiah, the One who came to reconcile a fallen people to a holy God.
The issue at the wedding is not the wine. The issue is the Sign. The sign points to the Messiah who is with us, Emmanuel, Jesus Christ. Let us respond to the sign that God has given us with faith and repentance as He turns us in the direction of His own purpose.