“The Wedding at Cana” (John 2:1-11)
It is sometimes the case with a biblical text that one can draw various points from it without exhausting all the points that are there to be had. I think that is the case with our text for today, Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, from John chapter 2. There are a number of points or sub-points we can draw from this passage without getting to what I think is perhaps the main point. So let’s see how that goes now with this story of “The Wedding at Cana.”
So Jesus is going to a wedding. It’s at Cana in Galilee, not that far from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, or from Capernaum, where now he was making his headquarters. How he got invited to the wedding is not directly stated, but it may have been because his mother was a friend of the family. So Mary is there, Jesus is there, and Jesus brings along his disciples.
So one point or sub-point we could draw from this is that Jesus is affirming God’s institution of marriage. That he is blessing this marriage by his presence. Just as Jesus is present at Christian weddings and blesses Christian marriages to this day. That is true. But that’s not all there is to this story, not by a long shot.
Now another point, this one about Jesus’ mother. She finds out that the big wedding celebration, which, by the way, would last for days–she finds out that they have run out of wine. That’s not good. That would be a disaster, an embarrassment, and would really put a damper on things. So she goes to her son, Jesus, and asks him if he can do anything about this. Apparently, she realizes that her son has the authority and the power, from God, to do some pretty amazing things. And she trusts her son to do the right thing in this situation. So she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” That is faith speaking. “Do whatever he tells you”–that’s pretty good. It shows Mary to be a model of faith, a role model for the church. Would that we all had the faith of Mary to say about Jesus, “Do whatever he tells you.”
But there’s more to this story than that. Well, OK, let’s look further. So Jesus addresses the situation of the need for more wine at the party, and–poof!–there, he makes some! Now one point we can draw from this is that Jesus approves of drinking wine. He’s OK with that. He even provides wine for this celebration. Jesus is no teetotaler. There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful in drinking wine or other alcoholic beverages. It’s not OK to get drunk, but it is OK to drink. The Bible says in Psalm 104 that the Lord gives wine “to gladden the heart of man.” And so wine is a good gift from our creator to be used and enjoyed, but not to be abused. Well, that’s a point we can draw from this, but it’s not the main point.
So Jesus turns water into wine, and, there you go, no more wine shortage. What we see is that Jesus clearly has power from heaven to do this mighty miracle. No one else could do this. Jesus is at least, minimum, a prophet sent by God. But wait, more, he is the very Son of God come in the flesh. We read in the beginning of John’s gospel that this eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word, the Logos–that he was in the beginning with God, and that through him all things were made. So now as the Word made flesh, the Son of God incarnate has the power of creation at his command, demonstrated here in his turning water into wine. Very important point. But that’s not all. There’s more to the story.
And the “more” to this story is found in some of the details that John provides in his telling of it. Notice, the water that Jesus turns into wine–where does it come from? John tells us: “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.” Now John didn’t have to tell us that much detail. He could have just said, “Now there were some large water jars there, and Jesus turned the water in them into wine.” But we’re told more than that. There were six of these large stone water jars, each of them holding twenty or thirty gallons. And Jesus has the servants fill each one of them to the brim. This emphasizes how abundant, super-abundant, is the gift Jesus is going to give. That’s how Jesus does things. Always more than we can expect or imagine. He is rich in his grace toward us. Full to the brim. Always more than we can measure.
So that’s one thing that this mention of the six water jars tells us. But John gives us even another detail. He says that these are six stone water jars used “for the Jewish rites of purification.” Now he didn’t need to mention that, but he does. Jesus chooses to use, and John chooses to tell us, that these are water jars for Jewish rites of purification. The Jews would have various self-ablutions, various washings, to render themselves ritually clean and to get rid of certain types of uncleanness. And with these, they often would go even beyond what God had commanded for Israel. We read elsewhere in the gospels, that the Jews, the Pharisees, would have particular washings–hand-washing, for instance–to make themselves clean. Thus the presence of these six stone jars for ritual purification.
And these are the vessels that Jesus is filling full. And then he replaces them with different content, the new wine in old wineskins, if you will. Or in this case, the new wine in old water jars. Do you get the point? Those old Jewish rites of purification are passing away. They pointed ahead to the new and only way of purification, which is through what Jesus provides. Jesus fulfills–Jesus fills full–what the old covenant pointed ahead toward. He brings in the new wine of the new covenant.
Here is your purification, dear friends! It is in what Jesus provides. It is in what Jesus gives. And what does he give? Jesus gives his own body into death for your purification. Jesus sheds his own blood for your forgiveness. This is how you are clean. This is how you are forgiven: through Jesus giving himself for you, to be your purification.
Notice how Jesus says at this point, early on in his ministry–he says, “My hour has not yet come.” Not now, not yet, not at Cana. But that hour will come. For that is why Jesus has come. To accomplish our cleansing, to accomplish our purification, at the cross. Later in this gospel, toward the conclusion of his ministry, Jesus will say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. . . . Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. . . .And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” And then John adds, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” In other words, Jesus is about to be lifted up on the cross, and this is why he came, and this is how he will be glorified, and this is therefore his “hour.” It wasn’t yet at Cana, but it will be at the cross, and Cana is a sign pointing us to the cross, where Jesus will provide all the purification the world will ever need, in super-abundance, through his holy blood.
Friends, you need the purification that only Jesus can provide. Your sins would condemn you, and you cannot wash them off on your own. The Pharisees tried that, and it didn’t work. Pilate tried that, and it didn’t work. The only cleansing that does work is the purification that comes through Jesus’ blood. “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin,” John writes in his epistle. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” So confess your sins to God, dear friends, for he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And with this cleansing, this forgiveness, this purification that only Jesus can provide, what is the result? The answer: Life. And joy. And celebration. Think of it. Where do life and joy and celebration all come together most beautifully in human experience? At a wedding. Here are two lives joined into one. Here is the promise of more life to follow, with the prospect of children to emerge from this union. And a wedding is about the most joyous kind of celebration we have in our experience. It’s a great party. There is wine to gladden the heart. And in biblical weddings, the joy and the feasting and the celebrating goes on for days. It’s no wonder that Jesus so often in his teaching compares the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast, a wedding banquet.
And so it is that Jesus chooses to do this miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding. It’s a sign. It’s the perfect setting for demonstrating the life and the joy that Jesus is bringing through his death and resurrection. Notice, John mentions, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana.” And there will come another “third day” when Jesus will rise from the dead and the celebrating will begin! The celebrating continues to this day, and it will never end. Death cannot stop it. Life is the outcome, the life that Jesus bestows on us in super-abundance.
So come to the party! You are invited. It’s the wedding feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which will have no end. Not just for a week, but for an eternity, this party will go on. Jesus saves the best wine for last. He gives it free of charge. And always more than we can measure.