Read John 2:1–12.
If someone were to ask me about the miracles of Jesus, I might start by telling them about the time He raised Lazarus from the dead, or maybe how He fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fish. There was the day He walked on water, and those demons He cast into that herd of pigs. Oh—and that violent storm He calmed. And that’s not even mentioning all the people he healed—the sick, the lame, the blind, the deaf, that guy whose ear got cut off.
When John sits down to put pen to papyrus and record the first of Jesus’ miracles, he picks the time Jesus made extra wine—really good wine—for a wedding party full of people who were already somewhere between buzzed and drunk.
This wedding isn’t a punch-and-cookies-in-the-church-basement kind of affair. This is a Jewish wedding—an all-out party. And in the first century, a wedding like this could go on for days. A wine shortage is a big deal. If the libations were to run dry, it would be the sort of thing people talk about for years to come.
Not on Jesus’ watch. He has the servants fill six stone water jars to the brim with ordinary water, then He instructs them to give the master of the banquet a taste. The master is so impressed with the wine he’s just sampled, not knowing where it came from, that he pulls the bridegroom aside to compliment him: “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).
John calls this miracle a sign, the first of seven such signs in his Gospel. Miracles are one thing, but signs are miracles that point beyond themselves. They’re more than just evidence of God at work; they’re given so that we might receive a message from the Lord. So what is the message Jesus wants us to hear by turning water into wine at a wedding?
Let’s start with the stone jars. Most of us read right past that detail. Jesus has to put the water somewhere, right? Yes, but he didn’t have to use these stone jars. He could have filled the old wineskins with water or multiplied the remnant drops in people’s cups. He could have had the servants use pitchers or bowls or a dozen other things. But Jesus had them fill the stone water jars that were normally used for ceremonial washing.
Anything that would touch the food would get a once-over with the special reserve of water in those jars. It could clean the outside of hands, cups, and bowls, but it could do nothing to purify a person’s heart. The wine Jesus replaces it with, on the other hand, would fill people up on the inside. And that is Jesus’ concern: what’s going on inside of us.
The wine is the first clue to the kind of life Jesus wants us to have. One of the reasons John includes seven signs in his Gospel is so that “you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). What sort of life does Jesus offer? Well, according to this sign, it’s like being filled up with the very best wine.
There is abundance in such wine. There is joy. There is freedom.
While the Bible includes plenty of warnings against drunkenness and the misuse of alcohol, wine is primarily a symbol of joy and celebration. Consider some of the positive ways wine is depicted in Scripture:
- The presence of wine was considered a blessing from God (Deuteronomy 7:13; 11:14; 33:28).
- The absence of wine was considered a curse (Deuteronomy 28:39, 51; Isaiah 16:10; Jeremiah 48:33; Hosea 9:2; Joel 1:10; Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15; Zephaniah 1:13; Haggai 1:11).
- God invited His people to drink wine and rejoice in His presence (Deuteronomy 14:23, 26).
- God commanded and accepted wine offerings from His people (Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5, 7, 10; 18:12; 28:7, 14; Deuteronomy 18:4; 1 Samuel 1:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5; Ezra 6:9; 7:22; Nehemiah 5:11; 10:37, 39; 13:12).
- Wine was given to gladden our hearts, to bring cheer to us and to God (Judges 9:13; Psalm 104:14–15).
- Wine is specifically named as a blessing of the age to come (Isaiah 24:6; 62:9; Jeremiah 31:12; Amos 9:14; Joel 2:24-25).
Wine is a celebration of life. That’s what Jesus has in mind as He makes gallons of the stuff from water. The miracle is an invitation to lay down the burden of man-made rules and the tyranny of keeping up appearances, and instead to have our hearts gladdened by His presence, to take hold of the new life He offers—and to celebrate.
Is that the way you think of the Christian life? As a celebration? Or is it more like the life of the Pharisees with their rules for every occasion? John could have chosen any number of miracles to highlight as Jesus’ first sign, but he chose this one. He wants us to see life with Jesus as a reason for gladness, for joy, and for celebration.
Drink up. The wine is ready—and it’s really, really good.