The First Miracle
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John 2:1-2:11 (NIV, NIRV, TNIV, KJV)
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You have seen the commercials showing someone with a mouth full of cookies, as the question was asked: “Got milk?” Well, the question in the story we have read today was: “Got wine?” And the answer was: “No!” The wine was gone. A miracle was needed to save the family, and the new couple, the ultimate embarrassment of not being able to provide enough for their friends. They would be forever remembered in this small village as the ones who failed to take care of the needs of their guests. The supply of wine was already running low when Jesus and his five new disciples showed up. They had been invited, but it was putting an added strain on the diminishing supply of wine.
The Gospel of John is full of symbolism and allegory. The story opens with the words: “On the third day. . . .” The story here is heavy with allegory in which John may have been alluding to Jesus’ resurrection after three days. John is preparing us for what he is building up to throughout his Gospel: that Jesus Christ would be buried, and on the third day he would show up, having risen from the dead. He would then make preparations for the great wedding feast of the Lamb of God, when he would gather together all who would be his guests into the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ first sign would point to his final sign by which he would show his glory.
After Jesus and his disciples arrive at the wedding, Jesus’ mother approached him and said, “They have no more wine.” Some believe that the bridal family may have been his relatives, or perhaps it was even the wedding of one of his younger sisters. They believe she was not asking for, or expecting, a miracle, but was saying, in effect, “The arrival of you and your disciples has caused a problem. Please send some of them to purchase more wine.” But I believe the more likely scenario is that Jesus’ mother has known all along who he was and what he was capable of. She understands that his public ministry began with his baptism and the calling of the first of his disciples. She expects that he will do something wonderful. And so, even over his reluctance to start his ministry before its time, she tells the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”
The first point I would like to make regarding this story is that: Miracles happen when we understand that Jesus cares about our everyday needs. Jesus’ mother knows that he cares about people. He cares about all our needs, not just our spiritual needs. He cares about people being unnecessarily embarrassed. He cares about people enjoying themselves. Jesus is the kind of guy you want at your party. He knows how to have a good time. In fact, in the New Testament, we often see him at parties to which he has been invited, and he is always the life of the party. He enjoyed himself so much that his detractors called him a “glutton and drunkard” (Matthew 11:19). No one ever accused Jesus of promoting a dour, rigid, emotion-stifling religion — just the opposite. Wherever Jesus went there was life and joy. He stated that his life mission was, as he said, that his joy might be in us and that our joy might be complete (John 15:11). He has come to bring his joy, and there is joy everywhere in our world. He is the God of irrepressible joy, and he has come to share it. He offers the wine of joy to all those who are thirsty for life — for those who will come and drink. He takes care of our needs both great and small. There is nothing too ordinary to pray about. He is just as concerned about the little problems of your life as he is the big problems. If he was a little god he would be able to take care of only the major things, but since he is the great God he is, he is able to take care of all the things in our lives. He sees every sparrow each time they land on the ground. He keeps track of the number of hairs on your head. He calls the stars by name. He is a great God who is too big not to be concerned about the everyday things of your life.
There was a popular religious movement around the time of the founding of our country called Deism. Deism was opposed to Christianity’s personal idea of God. They believed that God created the world, but that he wound it up like a clock and then left it to attend to other things. But that is a god who is too small to be God. Our God lives and he reigns. He is so personal he promises to live within us if we only ask him. He is so great he is involved in every detail of the ongoing process of life upon the earth. He designs every snowflake. He calls for the storm and then commands it to be still. He whistles to the birds, calling them to their winter home. He holds the world together with his loving and powerful hands. He knows your name and he knows your need. This is the mighty God we serve.
The second point I would like to make about this story is that: Miracles happen when we understand that Jesus transforms our everyday experiences. Jesus did not come to give us information; he came to give us a transformation. He changes things. He has a way of taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. He did not come to bring new ideas; he came to make new people. The water did not just appear to be wine; it was transformed into wine — the best of wine at that. Some people have trouble believing this kind of miracle, but it is only because they do not understand the kind of God we have. Actually, turning water into wine is something that God does every day. As I was traveling in northern Ohio and New York a couple of weeks ago, I passed several vineyards. I could literally look out the window and see God changing water into wine. The rain falls on the ground, and as the vine draws the water up to the branches, it is transformed into the juice of the grape. When that juice goes through the natural process of fermentation it will become some of the finest wine you have tasted.
Our God is in the transformation business. The world wants us to get a new hairdo or a new wardrobe. Society wants us to get a better job or learn a new skill. People want to lose weight or get a face lift. But Jesus does not want to change your looks, he wants to change your heart. He doesn’t want to give you a new suit; he wants to make you a new person. He does not want to rearrange you; he wants to transform you. You want to look better on the outside, and he wants to make you new on the inside. And when that transformation takes place, it will show on the outside. When Jesus changed the water into wine, he did not just change the color and fool the people’s taste buds — he actually changed the water into wine. When the water was turned to wine, the shame of the bridal family was turned to joy. The mood of the party was transformed. And Jesus’ disciples were transformed. The Bible says, “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”
Here is what Jesus really came to do. He came to transform people. Jewish custom was focused on the importance of being ceremonially clean. The water jars were mostly empty because each guest had been given water to wash their feet and hands as they arrived, but this was not so much for cleanliness as it was for ritual purity. The jars of water were there in order to fulfill the Old Testament requirements for ceremonial washing. In John’s way of mixing events with metaphor, the jars represented the Old Testament law and its inability to make a person truly clean. When Jesus came into contact with these jars used in ritual cleansing, he transformed their contents. He filled the jars with his new wine. The deadness of the Old Testament law was made alive with the wine of the new covenant that Jesus came to bring. Wine is the symbol of God’s grace that comes into our lives undeserved, and transforms us from the inside out. He says, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5). The old system of having to live up to an impossible legal code has been replaced by the wine of God’s grace which washes our sins away. We are cleansed on the inside. This is not just symbol; it is substance. Our sins are not just taken away, we have a changed heart that desires to love God and live for him. He places within us holy desire.
There is no limit to his grace. What Jesus gives is never just enough, it is always more than enough, with plenty left over. He did not give just enough trees; he gave more than enough. He did not create just enough mountains; he created more than enough. He did not give just enough ocean; he gave more than enough. He did not give just enough life and joy; he gave more than enough. When I was camping in the wilderness of the Adirondack mountains, I saw beauty in the most unexpected places. I saw an Iris growing where a tree had been uprooted. I saw flowers growing out of rocks. I saw blossoms that were so intricate and beautiful that it could take your breath away. In the depths of the ocean where no one has ever been, God paints his creatures with exotic color and beauty. Below the ground, where no one has yet gone, God places gold and precious stones. He is extravagant. In very ordinary places he creates extraordinary beauty. Let Jesus touch you, and see if your life is not filled with new beauty and wonder — new flavor and fragrance. See if it is not like wine that gladdens the heart of man (Psalm 104:15). Jesus is in the business of turning water into wine, sinners into saints, fear into courage, sorrow into joy, defeat into victory, despair into hope and death into life.
The third point I would like to make concerning this story is that: Miracles happen when we understand that Jesus extravagantly provides for our everyday requests. There were six jars containing between 20 and 30 gallons apiece. So, at the very least, the jars contained 120 gallons of wine, and as much as 180 gallons. That is a lot of wine. There is no way the guests could have consumed that much wine. Why did Jesus give so much wine? Because he is an extravagant giver. He never gives just enough; he always gives superabundantly. What the guests had tasted cautiously before, they now drank in abundance. This is the same thing Jesus did when he fed the multitude. He multiplied five loaves and two fish so that 5,000 men and their families were fed. And when everyone had eaten their fill, there were twelve baskets of bread and fish left over. He gave them more than they could possibly eat. But that is the way God gives.
Paul experienced this kind of extravagant grace, for he said, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:13-14). Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). We may be poor according to this world’s standards, but we are rich toward God. We may have nothing, but have everything. For we have an extravagant God who lavishes us with his blessings. I like the way The Message translates Psalm 145:16. It says, “Generous to a fault, you lavish your favor on all creatures.”
God’s grace means that he is generous to a fault. This means that you can ask him for anything. The Bible says he gives “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). He loves to bless, or as the hymn says, “He comes to make his blessings flow.” To a dying thief on a cross he gave the gift of paradise. To a woman caught in an immoral act he gave the gift of God’s amazing grace and forgiveness. To a grieving father he gave back a child from the grip of death. To the one who denied him he gave the keys of the kingdom. He is lavish with his gifts. And to you who come with your requests, he gives the promise of abundant life here and now, and beyond this world, eternal life.
You remember in the story that when they filled the jars, they filled them to the brim. And when the master of the banquet tasted the wine his eyes lit up. He could not believe what he was tasting. He said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now” (John 2:10). Jesus always saves the best till last. The world puts its best up front and things go downhill from there. But when God shows up things go from good to best. John wrote: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:16). We have been filled to the brim with the blessings of God. One day as we enter his kingdom we will be treated to sights we never dreamed possible. Absent will be everything we have feared, and present there will be the best of everything here and much, much more. Heaven is where the deepest longings of our lives will be met. We will hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:23). Rapturous joy will overtake us and we will say, “You have saved the best till now!” The Bible assures us, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The best that the world has to offer now is only a hint of what is yet to be. The difference will be as different as water is to wine.
It is interesting that Jesus waited until their resources had run dry before he performed the miracle. Only when the people came to the end of their supply were they ready to receive what Jesus had to give. John Piper, in an article entitled “The Present Power of a Future Possession,” said, “The cost of food in the kingdom is hunger for the bread of heaven, instead of the white bread of the world. Do you want it? Are you hungry? Or are you satisfied with yourself and your television and your computer and your job and your family?” Likewise, the cost of the new wine that Jesus is offering is thirst. Are you thirsty? Do you want something more? If so, when you come to Jesus you have come to the right place, for he is the God of abundance and life. He gives extravagantly. To receive this wine you have to come to him with your thirst. As you stand there with your empty life, follow the instructions of Jesus’ mother when she says, “Do whatever he tells you.” If you do, something wonderful is about to happen — a miracle.
Rodney J. Buchanan
July 8, 2001
Mulberry Street United Methodist Church
Mt. Vernon, OH