Let’s presume that you’re an unbiased, evidence-based observer.
What would it be like to watch Jesus perform a miracle?
How would you react?
What difference would it make to you?
John tells us about the first sign performed by Jesus and the difference it made for him and others.
The disciples were at a wedding feast with Jesus. The celebration was in full swing when the wine ran out.
John tells us what happened next (John 2:6-10):
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
On the one hand, a problem was solved—wine was supplied. But, on the other hand, a problem was created—how was the wine supplied?
Some deny miracles, so they must explain away the evidence.
One attempt to debunk this miracle is to argue that there must have been some grape residue in the jars. As water was poured into the jars, it mixed with the alleged dregs and, voila, wine—not much different from making a jug of Kool-Aid.
The problem is that this argument ignores what we are told about those six stone water jars: they were “for the Jewish rites of purification” (2:6). Water put into these jars was to be used for “ceremonial washing of hands as well as for the cleansing of drinking utensils” (R. Tasker). Jewish requirements for purification were strict—those stone jars contained no contaminants.
One point I will agree with is that turning water into wine is not necessarily a miracle. Let me explain.
Years ago, our family lived across the street from a vineyard. After the vines were planted, years passed as they matured: the vines were supported, pruned, and watered. Water was sucked up through the roots into the vines and their branches. Eventually, heavy clusters of grapes hung from those branches. The grapes were harvested and crushed; the juice was filtered and turned into wine. Through the processes of nature and human effort over time, water was turned into wine regularly. As such, turning water into wine is not necessarily a miracle.
Off in some corner or backroom during this wedding celebration in Cana, the sign, or miracle, was this: without the intervening processes of nature over time, water was turned into excellent wine instantly.
The quantity of wine is also noteworthy—20 to 30 gallons in each of the six stone jars is about 150 gallons or 568 liters. By volume, that’s more than eight (8) full gas tanks for an average North American car or more than 750 standard wine bottles. This is not a small amount that some sleight-of-hand trick might have produced—it is a huge quantity.
Did people know the source of this bountiful and excellent vintage?
Some knew: “When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew)” (2:9).
We’re not told more, but those servants who had responded to Jesus’ directions knew where the wine had come from, and how it had become wine—they had poured the water into the jars and had drawn out the wine a moment later.
John does not use the term ‘miracle’ when referring to this event—he calls it a ‘sign.’ From John’s perspective, a ‘sign’ was not an occasion for astonishment or amazement, instead a sign puts emphasis on the significance of what Jesus did. Thus John writes that “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (2:11). Each sign resulted in confession (6:14), worship (9:38), or, as in this case, belief (2:11; see also, 4:50; 11:45).
If you had been one of those servants in the back room with the jars, how would you have responded?
Jesus’ act of instantly turning water into wine gave unbiased observers a glimpse of who Jesus is. Jesus could control the processes of nature. At that sign “his disciples believed in Him” (2:11). What did they believe?
We know that the signs that John records for us were “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:31).
This was the first of those signs. The disciple who wrote this recollection for us was present when the water was turned into wine. I wonder what he believed after this first sign. I suspect he was surprised and replayed the memory of that day over and over in his mind and heart. Did he discuss this with the other disciples? Did they wonder how Jesus could have done what he did? Did they begin to view Jesus differently?
Imagine that you were one of those servants who poured water into clean stone jars; you drew out wine from one of those jars a moment later. Would you have doubted your senses? Would you have tried to explain away what you had seen, heard, smelled, and tasted? After that experience, what would you have believed about Jesus?
How does this sign begin to answer our question: “Who is Jesus?”
Next week we journey to Jerusalem and watch a confrontation in the Temple.
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