It’s sometimes nice to have a glass of wine. On festive occasions like birthdays and weddings, we enjoy it too. This is as true today as in the time of Jesus. Already then, wine was a part of most weddings.
In John 2, Jesus goes to a wedding in Cana. We don’t know why exactly He was invited. Maybe it was a second cousin from Galilee who was getting married. Perhaps it was because Jesus was already esteemed as a rabbi, someone to honour with hospitality. In that time, the tradition was to invite as many persons as you could afford to feed, even distant associates and friends of your friends. A wedding was an opportunity to show generosity.
Jewish weddings went on much longer than ours today. It wasn’t unusual to have a wedding feast that lasted for several days. And a long feast, of course, with a lot of guests, requires a good supply of drinks.
But at this feast, the wine runs out. Maybe more guests had come than expected, or there was a heatwave and people were thirsty. Whatever the case, running out of wine would bring shame to the bride and groom and their families. This wedding was on the brink of social disaster.
This is why Jesus’s mother Mary feels badly and reports the problem to her son. It’s early in his ministry, but Mary is confident that He can do something about it.
For Jesus’s miracle, He’s going to use six big pots full of water. The text says they contained “twenty or thirty gallons apiece” (v. 6). How much is that? If you’ve ever taken a bath, and filled it pretty full, you probably used somewhere close to thirty gallons, or 100 litres. So Jesus is about to make six bathtubs-full of wine!
Now, we know that Jesus doesn’t actually need ‘raw materials’ for his miracles. Later He’ll feed 5000 people from next to nothing, so surely He could have made enough wine by just multiplying the last mouthful of wine in the last wineskin.
But there’s a message in these waterpots. John says that they were there, “according to the manner of purification of the Jews” (v. 6). They were for ritual washing. Because in the course of daily life, even at a joyous wedding, the contamination of sin was all around God’s people. So people would repeatedly cleanse themselves by splashing water over their hands.
Those waterpots were a reminder that we get dirty, constantly. We are polluted deep within by sin, by the perversity of our thoughts and the wickedness of our desires. It’s the kind of filth that big buckets of water or hand sanitizer can never remove.
But now Christ has come, and He’ll show that the customs and regulations of the law are fulfilled. Soon there won’t be a need for the external washing of religion. In his hour, Christ will bring a real cleansing, a true washing of soul and spirit forever.
First, though, the wine. Once the waterpots are filled, Jesus says, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast” (v. 8). When he samples it, it’s no longer water, it’s wine—good wine, like the best vintages from the finest vineyards of Galilee. The master of the banquet is shocked, thinking that the kitchen staff have found a secret reserve. And of course, he’d be even more shocked to learn that this wine was little more than H2O a few minutes before!
Try to appreciate the miracle of it. If you’ve been on a winery tour, you might know that winemaking takes a lot of time: from harvesting to crushing and pressing, to fermentation and clarification, and then aging and bottling. It’s not a process that can be rushed—going slower is better.
But in an instant, Jesus has produced something that is already aged: compressing years into milliseconds.
And it means the wedding feast can go on uninterrupted and in high spirits.
In a way, the story is straightforward enough: wedding disaster averted, everyone goes home happy. But doesn’t it seem a strange display of glory? Why would Jesus make this his first miracle? He doesn’t raise a child from the dead or remove illness from some broken body, but He provides quality wine for a roomful of guests at a country wedding! It might’ve been socially obligatory to serve wine at a wedding, but this was no physical necessity.
So why this sign? John says that by it, “Jesus manifested his glory” (v. 11). He revealed his glory so that from this moment, the disciples believed in him. For they knew the Scriptures and about the coming age of the Messiah. There were many aspects to the coming redemption, of course. But when the Messiah finally came, there’d be wine—lots of wine!
“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD in Amos 9:13-14, ‘when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman, and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills…My exiled people will be plant vineyards and drink their wine.”
In Amos’s day, the people were poor and oppressed, so God described their salvation with earthly, physical images they could understand. One day their desolate and barren land would again be blessed with abundant livestock and produce. In the grain and new wine, Israel had sure symbols of God’s grace.
So when the disciples looked at all that fine wine, and saw the man who made it without an effort, they knew this: God’s promised salvation is finally here! This must be the Christ, who makes the vintage overflow, and the best wines run like a river. He is the true bridegroom, and He brings joy and plenty for God’s people.
Three years later, Jesus again poured out good wine for his people. It happened at the Last Supper, when He gave the cup of blessing to his disciples. And that is still our privilege: We can thirst for God, and the crucified Christ satisfies us. We can bring our emptiness to God, and the resurrected Christ fills us.
To those who love him, the Bridegroom gives this promise: his great marriage feast is coming. At that feast there won’t ever be the disappointment that it’s coming to an end, that the joy is running out. There will be blessedness unending, more goodness than you imagined possible. There, Christ said, He’ll drink the wine new with us in the Kingdom of his Father.
That’s something to look forward to—a feast to get ready for.