Signs are all around us, aren’t they? Advertising signs for shops, road signs for drivers, and logos for the latest gadgets. You can’t escape them!
The thing about signs is that they point us towards things. They are designed to direct us to some place, warn us about somewhere or remind us about something. So:
- Road signs stop cars crashing or getting lost,
- Shop signs show us where we can buy the things we want.
- And logos help us identity a good mobile phone from a dodgy one.
Between now and Easter we’re looking at John’s Gospel. And John’s Gospel is full of signs. Signs that are designed to point us to Jesus and help us understand who he is.
The signs John shows us in his Gospel aren’t road or shop signs, but miracles that Jesus performed. John describes seven of Jesus’ miracles as ‘signs’ designed to show us who he is and why he came. Signs like feeding the 5,000, raising the dead, healing the sick and giving sight to the blind. And today we’re looking at the first sign Jesus performed – a sign many of us know well – a sign that took place at a wedding in Cana.
The Sign’s content: Water into wine!
Weddings are supposed to be joyful aren’t they? They are meant to be happy occasions when we celebrate the marriage of a man and woman, and wish them a long and happy life together. After the formalities of the wedding service, most wedding days end with a reception, where wine flows, a buffet or banquet is eaten – and when fathers often embarrass their children by taking to the dance floor!
The Bible tells us that God loves weddings too. After all, he invented them! Right at the start of Old Testament, in Genesis chapter 2, we’re told that marriage between a man and a woman is something God-given. And at the very opposite end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, we are told that Heaven will be a lot like a wedding banquet. For God’s people, the world to come will be a time of celebration and joy that never ends.
So it should come as no surprise then that our Bible reading today tells us that Jesus and his disciples attended at least one wedding. It was a wedding in Cana, in Galilee, close to where Jesus had been brought up. It may even have been the wedding of relative, because Jesus’ mother Mary was there too.
But, as we all know, there was a problem. The wine had run out! The groom and bridegroom, the hosts of the wedding, hadn’t brought enough wine, and now it was nearly gone. Without wine, the party would go flat. Not least because in that culture wine was especially associated with joy and celebration – a tangible symbol of God’s goodness and blessing.
So without wine, the whole atmosphere of the wedding banquet would change. It was in danger of becoming more like a wake than a wedding. You can imagine the servants scurrying around, frantically trying to rustle up some spare wine from somewhere. (Unlike my previous parish church they didn’t have the luxury of being located next door to a Majestic Wine warehouse!)
Wisely, Jesus’ mother Mary recognised that her son could come to the rescue. She knew he could redeem the situation somehow. She was right of course, and Jesus turned an enormous quantity of water into wine. Its estimated that there were up to 700 litres of water in those six stone jars – well over one hundred gallons, equivalent to about a thousand bottles of wine!
And it wasn’t just any old wine – we’re told it was top-quality wine, not just cheap ‘plonk’! It was so good that the master of the banquet believed best had been saved until last. It’s important to note that Jesus’ miracle produced a great quality of wine, as well as a great quantity. And it’s the same with all the miracles of Jesus that John tells us about. The signs that Jesus performs in John’s Gospel are always of outstanding quality. For example:
- it wasn’t just few mouths he fed from five loaves and two fish, but over five thousand.
- it wasn’t just a blind man he healed, but a man who’d been blind since birth.
- And it wasn’t a recently deceased person that Jesus brought back to life, but Lazarus who’d already been in his grave for four days!
When you heard the story read just now, did you notice that hardly anyone would have known what Jesus had done? Mary would have known, and so would the servants and his own disciples – but no one else. Jesus probably didn’t want to upstage the bride and groom, and draw attention from them on their big day. But more importantly, Jesus says in verse 4 that his time ‘had not yet come’. It wasn’t yet time for him to go public with his power. His most public acts were still yet to come – culminating in his death and resurrection.
The Sign’s significance: Jesus’ glory is revealed
So what did Jesus’ slightly secretive sign mean? What were his first disciples meant to conclude from seeing him turn water into wine? And what are we meant to learn from it today?
A big clue comes in the final sentence of our passage. John tells us that Jesus’ miracle “revealed his glory”. This sign revealed his identity to his watching disciples – it showed them he was special.
For a start, it demonstrated to the disciples that Jesus was divine. By turning water into wine Jesus performed a supernatural act – an act that only our Creator God could do. It was a suspension of the laws of nature which showed Jesus to be Emmanuel, God with us. As CS Lewis once observed, by turning water into wine within a jar, Jesus was short-circuiting a process that God does every year within every grape on every vineyard.
By turning water into wine, Jesus was also revealing himself as a king – as God’s chosen king. Because Old Testament prophets (including Amos whom we heard from earlier) had all promised that God would one day send his own anointed king:
- A king who would be called the Christ or Messiah.
- A king who would bring God’s goodness, grace and joy to his people.
- A king who would bring such blessings to his subjects that it would be like a river of wine flowing over them.
So by turning water into wine, Jesus was giving his disciples a glorious sign that he was this long-awaited king. The Messiah sent by God the Father to bring abundant blessings to his people. The descendant of David whose reign will never end.
Jesus ability to turn water into wine was an amazing miracle, one we’ve probably all known since childhood. But John doesn’t tell us this story just to amaze or entertain us. It was a sign with a purpose. A purpose to display Christ’s glory, to mark him out as God’s Son and God’s King. We need to look beyond this sign to its source – to the heaven-sent Saviour it reveals.
But like any sign, we can follow it or we can ignore it.
Jesus’ first disciples certainly couldn’t ignore what they had seen. John tells us that they put their faith in him in response to this miracle. In light of what they had seen (and drunk?), they recognised Jesus as one worthy of their loyalty and love, someone deserving their devotion and dedicated service. A Saviour whose abundant, lavish generosity moved them to lay their own time and money at his feet.
But what about you? Does today’s sign create or strengthen faith in you? Does it make you want to be a more devoted disciple of Christ? Does it inspire you to be as generous as God is to us? I hope so. Because the Lord Jesus continues to offer lasting joy to everyone who trusts in him:
- A joy that comes from knowing our sins are forgiven;
- A joy that comes from knowing we’ve become God’s adopted children;
- A joy that comes from having real purpose to our lives;
- And a joy that comes from the certain hope of heaven.
People today look for lasting joy in all sorts of places today, don’t they – whether it be at the shopping mall, in their social club, at the sports stadium, in their chosen career or in their bank balance. But ultimately these things will all fail to satisfy at the deepest level. They all promise much but cannot offer complete contentment.
The lesson from the miracle at Cana is that only the Lord Jesus can bless us abundantly. Only Christ can give us true contentment – and a deep, enduring joy.