Notes on John 2.1-11 Jesus turns water into wine

Well known story told of the Irishman – I don’t know why Irish – who had visited the Catholic shrine at Lourdes. He was going through ‘the nothing to declare’ gate at customs, when he was stopped and the official picked up a bottle he was taking through. ‘What is this?’ ‘Oh’, said the man, ‘that is a bottle of holy water from Lourdes’. The official looked at it and said, ‘funny colour holy water’. He opened the top and smelt, ‘funny smelling holy water’. He took a little sip and said, ‘funny tasting holy water. This tastes of whisky’. To which our hero responded, ‘Praise the Lord, another miracle!’

Those who looked at our website, or at our facebook page, will be aware that the Archdeacon picked up on the fact that I’m preaching from the wrong text from the lectionary today. There will be times when we won’t use the lectionary, but on this occasion I have simply switched Sundays – because of course the story of Jesus turning water into wine is very appropriate for a service which includes the blessing of a wedding.

It is a great story, and thank you to those who did make comments on our facebook page. Yes thank you! They were so helpful that they meant I had to rewrite this talk!

There is so much in this story, and I’m almost tempted to come back and revisit it next week.

It is very significant, because John tells us that it is the first of the signs that Jesus did.

And the fact that it happens at a wedding is important.

It was not just an affirmation of marriage, as many of the Church fathers write, but more than that. 
It happens 'on the third day'. What does that remind us of?
It is a glimpse into the future

John finishes the book of Revelation, the last book of the bible, telling us about a wedding: not any old wedding, but our wedding: the wedding of the people of God, made holy, with the glorified eternal Son of God. (Revelation 21.2). 

Jesus is a guest now. He will be the bridegroom then. And it will really be the best then.

But it is also a sign because it tells us about Jesus: who he is and what he came to do.

1.      This is a story about God’s provision

Wine was essential to a wedding!

To run out of wine is a disaster. The people organising the wedding would have been embarrassed. The family would have been embarrassed. The couple would have been embarrassed.

And yet Jesus miraculously provides for them. The one who was in the beginning, with God, the word of God – who spoke and creation exploded into being – takes water and turns it into wine.

And he doesn’t just provide a few bottles of wine. Jesus was not stingy.
He produced 180 gallons of the stuff.
Jesus is like the Moscow city authorities at Christmas with their lights. They don’t say, we need some festive lights, so we will put a light here and a light there. They plaster the place with lights.

And Jesus did it for a local girl and a local boy at their wedding.

God cares for us, each one of us, even if we know that we are not important.
And he does provide for us – maybe not as dramatically as this – but he gives us what we need.
No, more than that, he gives us far more than we need, he gives us an abundance of joy.

I hope that you can think of times when God has provided for you:

And I’m meaning more than in providing us with this world, with life, with each other, with the gifts of laughter and happiness and music and beauty.
As believers he has given his forgiveness, his presence, the promise of his Holy Spirit,  promise that we will be with him and that we will be transformed into the image of Jesus. He has given us new desires that go along with the old desires, and the new desires – if we let them – start to subvert and transform the old desires.

But here he provides wine – it is very solid and material.
And God does provide for us.
He gives us our 'daily bread'
And he provides for our material needs. Let me give just one personal illustration. In the early 90’s, Alison and myself were exploring the possibility of doing Christian work here in Russia. We contacted a number of organisations and nobody really knew of any openings. And then we had a phone call from someone asking if we could come to a conference in Riga in 2 weeks time. We didn’t have the money, but we felt it right to accept. I would like to say we prayed, but I’m not even sure we did that, but out of the blue, without us saying anything, someone from the church offered to pay for us.

And today, we are thinking about a wedding.
God has provided Olga with Simeon. And he has provided Simeon with Olga.

As a 27-year-old I had never had a girlfriend. It was a not a case of sweet 16 and never been kissed. It was a case of not so sweet 27 and never been kissed! And I was, as you sort of overdramatically do, resigning myself to the thought that I will never be married, and that I would be single and celibate for the rest of my life. And then God provided Alison, who was actually the person that I needed – and who I pray needed me.

I’m very aware that talking like this raises many questions.
What about those of you who are single now – whether by choice or by circumstances – and who would dearly love to meet someone, but it hasn’t yet happened?
Does that mean that God has not provided for you?
Far from it.
First of all, let God be in charge of the timing. Here, as Giles pointed out, he kept the best till last.
But the problem is that we are often blind to what God is providing for us. We have our own agendas and we don’t look to see what he is actually giving us.
For instance, our world tells us that we need to have sex if we are to be fully human.
That is rubbish.
But because of that lie we downplay so much the importance of platonic friendships.
And we treat people who don’t have a partner as if they are somehow lacking something, when actually the bible speaks of singleness as a precious gift, possibly more precious than marriage.

John Stott, who was a Christian writer, and single all his life, writes: ‘We shall not become a bundle of frustrations and inhibitions if we embrace God’s standard, but only if we rebel against it. Christ’s yoke is easy, provided that we submit to it. It is possible for human sexual energy to be redirected (‘sublimated’ would be the Freudian word) both into affectionate relationships with friends of both sexes and into the loving service of others. Multitudes of Christian singles, both men and women, can testify to this. Alongside a natural loneliness, accompanied sometimes by acute pain, we can find joyful self-fulfilment in the self-giving service of God and other people.’’

One of the interesting things about this wedding at Cana is that most of the guests would not have known that a miracle had taken place. They had one sort of wine, and then the servants brought some different wine. Yes, it was good wine, very good wine, but probably all they said is ‘Where can you get this from?’ They just took it for granted, assumed it was life, after all, wine is served at weddings. And they were blind to the provision of God.

Look again, not at what you don’t have, but at what you do have – and I think you may begin to see the abundant, joy giving, provision of God.

2.      It is a story about God’s transformation

Jesus turns water into wine.

At a theological level Jesus is saying, I have come to take purification water, Pharisaic Judaism with its law and its rituals, its do’s and its don’ts, and I have come to transform it into utter joy

Jesus does that: he takes the ordinary (good) and makes it extraordinary.

He turns five stones beside a brook into giant killers, which set a people free from slavery.
He turns five loaves of bread and 2 fish into a meal that feeds 5000 famished people
And even today he turns the bread we break into, to use Paul’s words, a participation in the body of Christ.
He transforms gifts, so that they take on a completely new dimension.
Someone with an ability to play music begins to see that it is a gift of God, and they offer it to him to be used for his service, and it is transformed.
Someone with the gift of hospitality – they’re always inviting people around or taking them out for meals – begins to realise that their love of people is a gift from God, and so they offer it to him to be used in his service, and they discover that God opens up completely new areas of ministry

He transforms circumstances.
Olga, on facebook, wrote how Jesus has turned her salt tears into sweet ‘wine’.
Jesus can take our pain, our mixed up relationships, our grief and despair and emptiness and lonliness and he can transform them into that which brings joy
Paul writes, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God’ (2 Cor 1.3)

And Jesus, and I think this is what it really is all about, transforms people.
He takes ordinary men and women and and transforms us into sons and daughters of God.

We see that: people who are transformed. I can think of at least 4 people in this church who I know have been met by Jesus and have begun to be transformed in the last year or so.

3.      It is a story of God’s blessing.
Jesus blesses a young couple at their marriage.

He not only saves them from embarrassment,
but he makes their wedding an event that
a)      brings great joy to the guests,
b)      has been spoken about for 2000 years,
c)      points to who Jesus is and what he came to do.

Olga and Simeon, forgive me for saying this, but I suspect that people will not be speaking about your wedding in 2000 years’ time. Wouldn’t it be great if I had got that wrong.
What we do pray though is that by the blessing of God, your marriage will bring not only joy to both of you, but also joy to many other people – your family and friends, those who you meet, and those among whom you live, work and minister.
And we pray, that by God’s blessing, your marriage will be one that always points to who Jesus is and to what he came to do.

And how did all this happen?
Why did this wedding become so special?

Very simply, it was because two, maybe three, people listened to Mary and did what Jesus said.
Mary says to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’, and they – even though he told them to do something that was simple, but utter madness and guaranteed ridicule and instant dismissal – did exactly what he said.

They’re the heroes of this story. We’re not told their names. We’re not told what happened to them after this. But they stepped out in faith and put their trust in Jesus’ word.

We really cannot overestimate the significance of even just one or two believers taking God at his word and doing what he says, especially if it seems foolish or counter intuitive and if it means stepping out in faith.

It might be something big – like moving countries, or beginning a new work, or making the decision to get married.
Or it might be something small: like praying for someone who we don’t like, speaking the truth when we have been lying, or simple daily costly obedience.

But when we do that, God will be honoured, people will be blessed and we will know joy.


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