November 2010 - Vol. 44

Water Into Wine

How Christ Transforms Us
by Don Schwager


John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, tells us that Jesus did many signs in the presence of his disciples. John recorded seven of these signs to strengthen our belief that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Jesus’ first sign took place at a wedding reception in the town of Cana, which was very close to Nazareth in Galilee where Jesus grew up. What does this sign tell us about about Jesus? And what is its significance for us? 

From skepticism to belief
John locates his account of Jesus’ first sign by telling us that it occurred on the third day. 

On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples (John 2:1-2).
What is the significance of the third day? This is three days after skeptical Nathaniel’s first encounter with Jesus. Philip had encouraged Nathaniel to “come and see” for himself who this Jesus was. 

You shall see greater things!
When Nathaniel meets Jesus, Jesus does something out of the ordinary. He reveals something personal about Nathaniel that only Nathaniel would have known. And then Jesus makes a claim: “You shall see greater things than these." And he says to Nathaniel, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man"  (John 1:50-51).

Jesus in so many words told Nathaniel, “You don’t just have to believe my words, what I am saying here. I am going to perform signs that will back up the truth of what I’m saying and prove that I am who I claim to be.”

If someone makes that kind of claim to you, you are going to closely watch whatever he does to see if he can make good on the claim. You want to find out if he is genuine or just an imposter or maybe deluded and crazy.

Turning failure into blessing
Three days later Jesus takes his disciples to a wedding reception and there he does something quite out of the ordinary, right in the middle of the celebration – and during a very embarrassing moment for the bride and groom. When Jesus' mother presses Jesus to do something about the situation, Jesus seems to put her off. But she knows her son very well and understands that Jesus will handle the situation that way he thinks best.

When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 
Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast." So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now" (John 2:3-10).
Why did the wedding party run out of wine in the middle of the feast? Perhaps Jesus contributed to this embarrassing failure by bringing a group of his disciples to the feast at the last minute. But Jesus had a purpose in turning a wedding feast fiasco into a blessing beyond reckoning. He not only wanted to bless a newly-wed couple all those at the wedding banquet as well. Everyone received in abundance the best of wine. John describes Jesus’ first public miracle as a sign. It is more than simply a demonstration of his power to change nature. It is a sign of what he has come to do – to transform the lives of all who will believe in him.

Bridegroom of the new Israel
Why did Jesus pick an ordinary wedding feast in a little out-of-the-way town to perform his first sign and to launch his public ministry? A wedding feast in nearly every culture is a very big event, often the biggest celebration that people experience, because it brings families, neighbors, and sometimes the whole town together. For many people it is the happiest and most memorable occasion in their life. 
For the people of Israel, the wedding feast had a special spiritual significance as well. It came to symbolize God’s special relationship and covenant with the people of Israel. The Old Testament describes God as the Bridegroom of Israel and presents his covenant relationship with the people of God as a spiritual marriage (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:14; Hosea 2:16, 19-20). One of the most powerful images of heaven is the wedding banquet (Revelations 19:7-9). The Bible ends with the invitation to this marriage feast. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’” (Revelations 21:17).

So when Jesus chooses a wedding feast for his first sign, he is giving us a hint about something that will become more explicit when John the Baptist describes Jesus as the betrothed bridegroom of his people (John 3:29). In the other Gospels Jesus also alludes to his role as the bridegroom of the new people of Israel (see Mark 2:18-20; Matthew 9:14-15; Matthew 22:1-14; Matthew 25:6) when he invites both Jews and Gentiles to share in his heavenly banquet at the end of the age (Luke 13:29).

Changing water into wine 
What is so special about Jesus changing water into wine? Any good winemaker knows how to take a watery substance such as grape juice and turn it into wine. First you wait for the grapes to grow and mature. Then you pick the choicest grapes for the best wine you want to make. You crush the grapes into a mush. Then you add some water, yeast, and sugar. You allow this mixture to ferment over a period of several weeks. During that time you skim off the solid material until you are left with pure liquid – wine. Wine must be slightly aged to be drinkable – white wine must sit for half a year, and red wine for a full year. Some of the most famous wines are aged for many years. 

Jesus didn’t turn the water into a fruity grape juice, or into ordinary table wine. He instantly produced the finest and most expensive of wines – a fine vintage wine that would normally take years to age.

He didn’t produce just enough wine to satisfy the embarrassed bride and groom and guests. He produced 120 gallons! Abundance indeed.

The instantaneous turning of water into wine shows Jesus’ supernatural power to transform natural things – what is physical and material – into something of a higher order.  He has the same power which God possesses – to create, transform, and change creation itself.

The gift of abundant life
If Jesus can change water into wine for an embarrassed wedding couple, how much more can he change us through the transforming power of his Holy Spirit. John tells us that “all who received him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12,13).

Jesus gives us abundant life. This sign at Cana points to his power not simply to improve the quality of our lives but to change and transform us to be like him – people of joy, peace, and love who do not fear death, but who know and experience even now the taste of eternal life – the life of God’s kingdom. 

He gives us everything we need to live as his disciples – as sons and daughters of God.

Jesus blessed a nameless couple in Cana, not only with his presence, but with his power. He will bless us as well, not only with his presence, but with his healing love and life-changing power.

Let go of pride and fear
What might hold us back from allowing Jesus to change and transform us? Perhaps you feel that your faith is weak, or that you are unworthy to receive God’s favor and gifts. Perhaps you struggle with anxiety or despair because your life feels hopelessly out of control. Jesus knows our struggles and weaknesses better than we do. And that doesn’t stop him from offering us freedom and transformation through the gift and working of his Holy Spirit. 

Paul the Apostle reminds us that God chooses to work in and through fragile and cracked vessels, such as us, to reveal the power of his glory and love.  “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

If there is anything holding you back from trusting in Jesus, let it go – give it to Jesus. Let go of fear – fear of losing your life. Let go of pride – wanting to always be in control and get things to go your way. And let go of unbelief – the stubborn refusal to accept Jesus on his own terms and to deny that he has the words of eternal life. Be like Nathaniel and choose to follow the master – to the wedding banquet and beyond, to even greater things.

[Don Schwager is a member of The Servants of the Word and the author of the Daily Scripture Reading and Meditation website.]

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