John 2:1-12 Water to Wine

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

In the first chapter we have seen how John introduced the Gospel with a highly theological prologue (1:1-14). He then immediately balanced this with a very human eye-witness picture of how he and other disciples of John the Baptist moved on to being disciples of Jesus (1:15-51). He now turns to the first of two miracles, which he calls signs (2:11, 4:54, see 6:14, 20:30). Both occured in Cana, the home of Nathanael, which was only five miles away from Nazareth (2:1, 4:46, 21:2). The other signs are not identified, but we might guess that the writer had seven miracle-signs in mind:

1 - Water to wine at a wedding (2:1-11)

2 - A royal official's dying son (4:46-54)

3 - A man paralyzed for 38 years (5:1-9)

4 - Five thousand fed (6:1-14)

5 - Walking on water (6:16-21)

6 - A man blind from birth (9:1-7)

7 - Lazarus raised from the dead (11:17-44)

Instead of the miracles which are briefly mentioned in the other Gospels, John has selected these signs to help us grasp how the Messiah's miracles worked. And each miracle has a special function in the overall purpose "that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (20:31).

2:1 The journey from Bethany across the Jordan (1:28) to Cana (2:1) would take several days, so this "third day" cannot follow chronologically (see the comment on 1:29, 35, 43). It could have been the third day of the week. A Tuesday wedding would allow time for the preparations after the Saturday Sabbath, and allow the wedding celebrations to go on the next day. There would then be time for the guests to walk two days back to other parts of Galilee.

2:2 Cana was only five miles from Nazareth, and Jesus mother Mary was asked to be in charge of the catering. Also one of the Messiah's first disciples, Nathanael (1:45-51, 21:2), came from there So it is not surprising that Jesus' other early disciples were invited.

2:3 Hospitality was very important, especially at a wedding. So for Mary the wine running out would have been a calamity and totally humiliating.. But there is no hysteria, no scene, no tears, no threats "Do something or I will have a nervous breakdown," not even "I'm embarrassed to death." All Mary did was to say "They have no wine." Nor did she tell Jesus how to solve the problem. "Go quickly round the village and beg them for some spare wineskins."

2:4 The word "woman" ("lady") was not a rude expression. God is never in a hurry, and Jesus is certainly not going to be rushed. He had a clear sense of the "hour" or time for each event (2:4, 4:21,23, 5:25,28, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23,27, 13:1, 16:32, 17:1).

2:5 Mary is very much in charge of the arrangements and she tells the servants who worked for her to obey his orders.

2:6 The superabundance of what was provided is indicated by John noticing the exact volume of the six jars holding twenty to thirty gallons each. Obviously the first thing to notice about God is that he is on the side of joy. And the Messiah loves a party, especially a wedding. That suggests that church is not a place to be miserable once a week.

2:7 Jesus told the servants to do what was in their power to do, which was to draw 120 gallons of water from the well. And Jesus quietly waited till they had completed the task, filling the jars "to the brim." Similarly in our church life we first tell the Lord what is lacking. "My friend looks miserable . . . He is under pressure in the rat race . . . Our children's work has no workers."

Then we do what is in our power to do by way of very ordinary service. And the Messiah takes the ordinary (water) and does the extraordinary (the very best wine). Which is why Paul ends one of his prayers "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory" (Ephesians3:20-21).

Normally vines are planted, they take up water and nutrients through the roots. Grapes are mainly water that is given a flavor. Grape juice was then hung in skins to ferment. Normally the whole process took several months. The Messiah who created vines and grapes in the first place (1:3) speeded up the process for this special occasion. But it was also a sign, as Amos prophesied, that when the Messiah from the line of David comes "the mountains will drip sweet wine, and all the hills will flow with it" (Amos 9:11, 13-14).

It seems that the water in the jars did not actually change to wine till it was ready to be poured from the jugs. A similar miracle occured (in the jug) when Elijah the prophet told the widow of Zarephath (near Sidon) that "The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail" (1 Kings17:14). On another occasion one of Elisha's band of prophets died, and his widow said that her children were about to be sold a slaves. All she had was a jar of olive oil, so he told her to borrow as many jars as she could and keep pouring the oil into them. She could then sell the jars of oil and pay her debts (2 Kings 4:1-7).

It used to be argued that such miracles defied the laws of science. Now we know that the "laws" of science are only statistics of the way things have regularly occured in the past. Anything is possible in the modern world of quantum mechanics. The miracle is that God chooses to do it, usually in response to prayer, at exactly that time (see comment on walking on water, 6:19). This means that any miracle can be explained away as a coincidence. This often happens when someone is miraculously healed (see the attempt to do this with the blind man, 9:13-33).

2:8 Then the servants were told to draw water from the stone jars in jugs and take them to the Master of Ceremonies. He may have known the wine was running out, and he may have wondered whether this new wine was up to standard. So he tasted to check it. From the point of view of the guests there was no hiatus, and even the master of ceremonies didn't know where the wine came from.

2:10 The Master of Ceremonies was impressed by the superb quality of the wine. So he called the bridegroom out from among the guests, and made a joke about inferior wine being served later in a party. But he had to admit "You have kept the good wine until now." Obvious lessons are that it is a good idea to invite the Messiah to a party, and that Christians are not called to be wet blankets. We should be able to contribute joy to all occasions.

Drunkenness is totally inappropriate for Christians (Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:10, Ephesians 5:18). In contrast to John the Baptist who abstained from wine and all rich foods, Jesus ate and drank like ordinary people (Matthew 11:18-19). There was bread and wine (the food and drink of the poor) at the last supper, and these have continued at least as symbols at communion services to this day..

2:11 John lists this as the first of the "signs" chosen for his Gospel ( the second was when the royal official's son was healed "at the point of death," 4:46-52. See the list of signs given above).

Under 1:14 we noted that the glory of a daffodil bulb is its appearance as a yellow flower in the spring. The Gospel will need seven signs, much teaching and explanation, and the account of the crucifixion and post-resurrection appearances, to convey different aspects of the glory which John himself saw. Faith may begin by being impressed with one aspect of the Messiah's glory, but there is much more needed for a deep established faith (2:22, 23, 4:39, 41, 42, 4:53, 7:31, 8:30, 9:38, 10:42, 11:45, 12:11, 12:42). This is why it is regular meditation on all that the Gospels tell us about the Messiah's glory that gives us the assurance of faith (Colossians 2:2).

John's Gospel does not offer a simple once and for all easy believism. Many of Jesus baptized disciples will fall away (6:66). Some of Jesus' closest disciples only came to certainty at the last supper (16:29-30), but Jesus immediately warns them that they will soon be stumbled (16:31). Judas, one of his believing disciples betrayed him, and Peter denied he had ever known him (Luke 22:57-60). Even after the resurrection Thomas refused to believe the witness of the other disciples who had seen Jesus' resurrection body (20:25).

2:12 Possibly as a result of the attempt to lynch him when he preached in Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30), Jesus moved to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:13, Luke 4:31). This may have been an exploratory visit, and it seems his mother and brothers retained the family home in Nazareth (Mark 6:3). But most of Jesus ministry was in the area of Capernaum and the city of Bethsaida just across the Jordan.

2:14-25  The Temple