Why does Jesus turn water into wine?

This is the first ‘sign’ that Jesus is recorded as performing.

In John’s gospel there are seven specific signs:
Water into wine
Healing of official’s son (John 4:46-54)
Healing of the man paralysed for 38 years (John 5:1-9)
The feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1-14)
Healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41)
Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44)
The death and resurrection of Jesus (cf John 2:18-22)

And John tells us why he has recorded them: in John 20:30-31

“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

So why this one? Why is this the first, and why are we told that this is the first?

‘so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God’

Jesus is shown to be the person who can take ordinary things and make them extra-ordinary. He takes water and turns it into wine.

There are, as always with John, many different levels

1. Jesus is shown as the creator: the one who has the power of creation.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and earth, the first stuff God had to work with was water.  And at the beginning of John’s gospel we are told that Jesus is ‘the one through whom all things were made’.

2. Jesus is shown as the one who brings in the new covenant.

He takes the rituals of Judaism, and he transforms them. Here are jars that are to be used to contain the water for purification. There were strict rules about washing. It is a bit like going into the West Suffolk Hospital.

And Jesus takes these jars which were intended to contain something that was no doubt good in the first place (water for ritual washing), but which had become

• a real stumbling block – so that people thought that relationship with God was about washing themselves in the right way: leads to the shallowness that thinks that religion is all about doing ‘religious’ external things, or it leads to pride: ‘the ticking all the boxes’ mentality
• a burden to people
• they had become a barrier between people; to add to the barriers of circumcision and the food laws. The Jewish people were not simply told to separate themselves from non-Jews, but to serve non-Jews: to bring God’s word and God’s law to them.

And by turning water into wine, Jesus is saying that he has come to turn the water of the old covenant, into wine of the new covenant.

The old covenant, which was good, was about an external law. God tells the people of Old Testament that they are his people, and he gives them his promises and his law – so they know how to live as his people. But now Jesus says, ‘I’ve come to turn that water into wine. I’ve come with better promises and I’m not going to give you an external law. I will put my law in your hearts and minds, so that – when you are facing God – you will want to, choose to obey that law. Nobody will need to tell you to do it because you will freely choose to do it.’

Jesus is saying, ‘I have come to turn water for ritual washing (which is something we put onto ourselves), into wine (something which we drink, which we take into ourselves). I have come to take the old system and to transform it so that it becomes something that is not life-draining, but life-giving.

Of course the people at the feast now have a problem. The jars that they use for ritual washing are now full of wine. So they can’t fill them again with water. The new promises build on the old, but they replace the old.

3. We are shown Jesus Christ, the Lord of life.

Jesus is not a kill-joy. Turning water into wine not only shows us the power of Jesus, but it also shows us how this-life affirming Jesus is.

He produces 150 gallons of wine (if we say each jar contained 25 gallons). That is 909 bottles of wine. It means that if there were 100 people at the wedding, there would be 9 bottles each. And even if it went on for another two or three days, that was quite a few. And this was not of any sort of wine; this was really good wine.

Michael Macintyre talks of the rituals of restaurant eating. They bring you the bottle of wine. They open it for you. They pour a tiny amount and invite you to taste it. Macintyre is very funny on this. It is a joke. Most of us don’t have a clue. We take a sip, and we think, ‘This is wine. White wine or red wine’. And then we look at the waiter and we say with great authority, ‘Yes. Very good’.

On this occasion Jesus did produce good wine, and the master of the feast said, ‘Yes’.

Don’t be life deniers. We are commanded not to abuse the gifts that God gives us, but 1 Timothy 4:4 (and it really is an important verse) states, ‘For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer’.

4. We are shown Jesus as the rescuer:

He is the one who can step in and rescue, when all other resources have failed. And of course, what he does here – when his hour has not yet come – is a small picture of what he will do when his hour does come – when through his death and resurrection he will fully rescue us, save us from sin and death.

That is why Jesus manifests his glory when he turns water into wine. He demonstrates his creative power, he demonstrates what he has come to do, he demonstrates that he is the Lord of life and he demonstrates that he has come to save.

‘and that by believing you may have life in his name’.

I would like to focus on the faith of the servants.

They listen to Mary (and I think when John talks of Mary in John’s gospel, she is both the human mother of Jesus, but she is also a picture of the church, of the whole people of God)

It is very interesting to see how John’s gospel uses Mary. In fact she is never mentioned by name. She is always ‘the mother of Jesus’. She only appears twice. Here (John 2:1-5) and when she is standing at the foot of the cross (John 19:25-27). [She is also mention in John 6: 42, but simply as an aside, when the Jewish leaders say that they know his mother and father.] And in both cases the words that she says and the words that are spoken to her are very significant. Here, she is the one who has faith in Jesus and tells the servants to ‘do whatever he tells you to do’. She doesn’t fully understand what Jesus is about, and Jesus tells her ‘that his hour has not yet come’, but he performs this sign as a way of showing how he will rescue those who put their faith in him. In the second Jesus tells her that she is to be the mother of John and he is to be her son. In other words, the mother of Jesus becomes the mother of the beloved disciple. Yes, it shows us Jesus care for her and for John, but I think that something more is going on here. It does not surprise me that in Revelation 12:1-6, the woman who gives birth to 'a male child, one who is going to rule all the nations with a rod of iron', is identified with the Church. 

They listen to Mary and they put their faith in Jesus. They do ‘what he tells them to do’, even when he tells them to serve water to the master of the feast.

You see, when you put your trust, your faith in Jesus, when you obey him, the most ordinary people become extra-ordinary, and the most ordinary things become extra-ordinary things.

Servants who serve the old wine, which runs out, find that they are serving a new wine which is not going to run out.

And I challenge us. Which wine are you serving people?

We offer people advice about health, education, which TV programmes to watch, which gadgets or apps to buy, what clothes or colours to wear, the books to read, the places to go, the best way to invest money. It is not wrong – it is just so sad that we spend so much time doing it when we could be offering people the new wine.

Jesus speaks of how diligent the children of this world are about the things of this world.

The old wine represents the things of this world. The new wine represents life in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus does not need people who have got it sussed. He simply needs people who realise that the old wine has run out. They have understood that the things of this world will never fully satisfy, will never give real life. And so they come to Jesus, the Son of God, prepared to be obedient.

The greatest need for the church of today is for men and women who will work as hard at being servants of the new wine as they do at being servants of the old wine. We need servants, ministers, of the Kingdom. We do not need qualifications, resources, abilities for this. It is simply about putting your faith in Jesus, listening to him and being obedient to him.

So it could well be today that God is calling some of us to get involved with Town Pastors, whether as people who pray or who go out on the streets. It could be that he is calling us to get involved in some gospel outreach work: Passion for Life, visiting ministry, children or young people’s ministry, running a parents and toddler group with a specifically evangelistic thrust. And it could well be that God is calling some people here to come forward for some form of recognised ministry: lay pastor, reader or even ordination (whether to stipendiary – paid – or non-stipendiary). It could be that God is calling some of us not into those roles, but to give sacrificially so that those who are called to those roles can be released to fulfil them. It is all about sharing in the work of serving this new wine.

Jesus turns water into wine to show who he is, the Christ, the Son of God. He reveals his glory and his disciples 'believe' in him. They put their trust in him. They become servants of the new wine.


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