Q – I am always intrigued by the first time something happens; the first words a person says, my first bike, first car, first punch in the nose. In John 2 we have Jesus’ first miracle.
Is there a significant reason why this is His first?
Jim – Your first punch in the nose? Did it have anything to do with your first words? J
Well, we’d certainly be hard-pressed to say that there was no significance to Christ’s first miracle. That would be a tough position to defend, eh?
You know, I try not to be overly interpretive in my approach to Scripture, but this first miracle is just so chock full of symbolic elements that they’re hard to ignore. So, allow me a bit of leeway and I’ll show you what I mean.
First off, we have to be familiar with the concept of “oinos,” the Greek word translated “wine” in John 2:9. Jesus used wine to represent several things in His ministry. Most prominently, of course, was the correlation between the wine at the last supper and the blood He would spill for the remission of sin.
But, for the moment, we need to be familiar with the “new wine.” The Pharisees – the “old guard” of the Mosaic religion – were constantly accusing Christ of failing to live up to their legal standards. In Matthew 9 they found Him once again eating with publicans and sinners. So, they asked his disciples why He chose to do so. He didn’t wait for them to reply. He answered for Himself –
“But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matt 9:12-13)
That’s the context. Jesus and the Pharisees were at odds. They argued for the “letter of the law” and He argued for mercy on behalf of sinners. Then the disciples of John the Baptist came and asked Him why they and the Pharisees fasted regularly while His disciples were never seen to follow suit –
“And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” (Matt 9:15)
Again, He drew a division between Himself and the faith He promoted versus the Old Covenant standards. He was introducing a new law, a higher law. He was the new Lawgiver, the One predicted by Moses. (Deut. 18:15) But, He also knew that those who were committed to the Old Covenant would never understand the New.
“No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.” (Matt 9:16)
That’s a bit of common sense, but Jesus used that truism to demonstrate the gap between Himself and the Pharisees. Old cloth begins to unravel. And, if all you do to a whole in an old garment is sew a new patch of cloth over it, the new will hold up and pull on the old until the tear is made worse. His point was obvious. He was not trying to fit into the Old Covenant. He was creating and introducing the entirely New Covenant. He was not attempting to patch up the Old by introducing new elements. He was casting off the old entirely in favor of the new.
Then, He posited a parallel example –
“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (Matt 9:17)
Every translation except the KJV rightly interprets Jesus’ words to refer to “wine-skins,” not “bottles.” When making wine, the juice from the pressed grapes was placed into a sealed pouch during fermentation. And, the skin had to stretch as the gasses expanded in the pouch. But, you could only use that pouch once. If you put new wine into an old wineskin, the pressure to expand would burst the seams, ruining both the skin and the wine. But, if you use new wineskins, you preserve them both.
So, once again, Jesus was not arguing for a re-interpretation of the Old. He was not introducing new understanding of the Law or Mosaic regulations. He came to bring a New Covenant of salvation by grace through faith. It was a completely different and unique theological concept. And, the “old guard” simply didn’t understand.
But, whether you’re viewing the old/new cloth or the old/new wine, Jesus was clearly and obviously arguing for discontinuity, not unification. And, that’s a point that theologians often miss, overlook or ignore. Many writers, preachers and theologians claim that Jesus was simply expanding on our understanding of the original Law. And, they introduce elements of the Law into the Covenant of Grace. But, Jesus argued just the opposite. New cloth could not save old cloth. New wine was not to be poured into old wineskins. New cloth was used for new garments and new wine developed in new wine-skins. That way, the whole garment or the whole wine and skin, were preserved.
Okay, with that bit of groundwork established, let’s look at His first miracle.
“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When 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, And 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. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” (John 2:1-11)
I have heard preachers observe that Jesus worked His first miracle in order to keep the party going. While that may have been the peripheral effect, it was not His primary purpose. And, of course, the theology that springs from the idea that Jesus was simply aiding and abetting drunkenness gets pretty murky.
The first thing that intrigues me about this story is that Jesus had already called His disciples, yet they were still close enough to Mary that they would all attend a marriage together. And, it doesn’t say who got married. But, this couple had the Prince of Life on their wedding invitation list. That’s interesting. And, He attended! In the course of His ministry, Jesus used the type of marriage to describe His union with His Church. He was very “pro-marriage.” And, I think His attendance there showed His support for the sanctity of such unions.
Anyway, obviously someone failed to plan ahead. The governor of the feast – what we today call a wedding planner, or even headwaiter – either didn’t expect so many guests or the bridegroom skimped on the wine purchase. But, they ran out. They were still feasting and wine was the Middle-Eastern drink of choice. So, news of the lack of wine reached Mary and she told Jesus.
Now, that’s an interesting fact, eh? You know, Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she would bear a child conceived by the Holy Spirit of God. And, he knew she was a virgin when He was born. But, the general populace reckoned Joseph to be the father. And she’s waited all these years – more than 30 now – for Him to show Himself for who He was and vindicate her claim of miraculous birth. But, here He is sitting at a wedding, being nondescript. From Jesus’ response, it’s clear that she was not simply informing Him about the wine shortage, she actually wanted and expected Him to do something about it. And, the implication is that she wanted Him to do something dramatic. His response tells the story.
He started with, “What does this have to do with me?” He understood the pressure she was putting on Him. But, He also knew that once He was publicly identified as the Messiah, the process toward the cross would begin. He continued, “My hour is not yet come,” or “My time is not yet.”
That’s very telling. She obviously wanted an open show of His power. And, why not? This was obviously a huge gathering, a big wedding. All the important people from His home area would have been in attendance. She wanted Him to do something they’d all remember and then she’d be known as the mother of the Messiah. But, He wouldn’t have it. “My time is not yet.”
Jesus also had to deal with this same issue with his brothers after the flesh –
“After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world. For neither did his brethren believe in him. Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come.” (John 7:1-8)
But, when the time came to offer Himself up, He said –
“And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.” (Matt 26:18-19)
So, the implication of Mary’s words become quite clear. She wanted Him to show Himself, but He was not inclined to oblige. It wasn’t time, yet. The time was coming – but, it wasn’t yet.
Her next words imply that she acquiesced to Him. But, leaving the door open, she told the servants who were nearby (as you would have at any highbrow wedding) to do whatever Jesus said. She left it up to Him. And He – quite kindly – managed to satisfy His mother by supplying the lack while keeping His cover intact.
Now, by the way, just for the sake of argument. Catholic dogma claims that Mary holds a place in Heaven where she can plead to her Son on behalf of the saints who pray to her. In fact, they say that He cannot refuse the paps that suckled Him or the arms that held Him. So, it is not only fair game, but advisable, to pray to Mary. But, in this text we see Him not only turn her down, but correct her. And, she in turn says that the servants ought to do whatever He says. She acquiesces to His will; not the other way around. (I threw that in free – no extra charge.)
Back to the story. Like at every good Jewish feasts, there were water pots available for ceremonial cleansing. The Jews would never eat until they had washed (Mark 7:1-4). And, during the meal there would be several washings. Now, the details count. There were specifically six waterpots. Six is the number of man throughout the Bible. One is the number of God. Seven is the number of perfection or completion. Add God’s one to man’s six and you get completion. (More free stuff.)
Now, the six waterpots are also made of stone or clay. Clay pots figure prominently in Jeremiah’s teaching about the Potter’s House (Jer. 18). And, Paul picked up the idea of God as the potter in his letter to the Romans (Rom. 9:21). Clay pots are figurative of men under the hand of God, being formed into whatever the potter desires. So, you have these six (the number of man) clay pots (the figure of man) which are full of the water of ceremonial washing which typifies the effort to clean oneself by following the commands of Moses. The types are inescapable, to my mind.
We don’t know how much water each pot would hold, but they had about 20 or 30 gallons each. So, Jesus told the servants to fill them to the brim. Of course, it’s no big stretch to see Jesus commanding the infilling of the six clay pots as typifying Jesus commanding the complete infilling of men withthe Holy Spirit, the “living water.” (John 4:10-11, 7:38)
Now, if the story had ended there, I would not be drawn to this form of interpretation. I would have simply thought it was an interesting narrative. It’s the next sequence of events that really cries out for understanding. Jesus was quintessentially a teacher. He would not have done something this subtle and yet unfathomable had He not been teaching something.
Without explaining a thing, He told the servants to draw liquid from the filled pots and take it to the governor of the feast. Had they merely handed him water, it would have been considered an insult or a joke. After all, this was water used for washing dirty hands and faces, not for drinking. And they, being instructed by Mary to do whatever Jesus said, followed His directive. Pretty brave.
So, the governor tasted the new wine – “oinos” – and was shocked. He didn’t know where it had come from. He heard that they were out of wine. So, he called the bridegroom, whose job it was to provide for the guests, and said, “Most people start with the good wine (to make a good impression) and after everyone has drunk plenty and their senses are dulled, they pull out the cheap stuff. But, you’ve done just the opposite. You’ve kept the best wine until now!”
You see, Jesus didn’t just make old wine or cheap wine. He made new wine – the best wine. But, no one knew where the new wine came from. The master of the feast, the bridegroom, the guests, all were befuddled. But, not everyone was in the dark.
The servants knew.
Those who followed His command knew what happened. Not everyone knew. Not everyone understood that a miracle-worker was in their midst. Not everyone saw the miraculous occur. But, the people who Jesus wanted to have know knew. His disciples, His mother and His servants all knew. It was subtle. It was secretive. But, it was powerful and it taught a powerful lesson.
Six stone pots, running low and containing the muddy water of ceremonial cleansing were filled to the brim when Jesus commanded it. And, they were then the subjects of an inner miracle that occurred away from the eyes of prying men. The infilling turned to new wine – the New Covenant, the blood of the New Testament – and the governor of the feast, administrating over the affairs of the wedding, openly admitted its superior quality.
Once again, the Old was replaced by the New. And, that took a miracle. And, the miracle produced an inward change. And, the inward change required infilling, resulting in the fullness of the New Covenant of grace.
And, the servants knew it.
That was His first miracle as He began to manifest His glory. And, His disciples – the very people He was teaching – believed on Him.
That’s just pretty darned cool.
So yes, mi amigo, I would say there was plenty of significance to His first miracle.
Wouldn’t you? 🙂