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The Life of Jesus - Series 2: Episode 6

Jesus turns water into wine

| Martin Charlesworth
John 2:1-12

At a village wedding in Cana the wine runs out. Jesus did not want to go public at that time but performs the miracle of water to wine, described by John as a sign. Marriage is endorsed. Teaching is given on alcohol.

At a village wedding in Cana the wine runs out. Jesus did not want to go public at that time but performs the miracle of water to wine, described by John as a sign. Marriage is endorsed. Teaching is given on alcohol.


Hello and welcome to Series 2 and Episode 6: ‘Jesus Turns Water into Wine,’ at a wedding ceremony in Cana. We're going to be in John 2: 1 - 12.

Introduction and Recap

Before we do that, we need to remind ourselves of the flow of the story. The place we're talking about is Cana. It's a village in central Galilee - not a very significant place, not a very big place, probably a few hundred residents at the time of Jesus. The context is that Jesus has spent quite a long time, a number of weeks or even months, away from Galilee. He went down to a place called Bethany to meet John the Baptist and this place was much further south, out of Galilee, towards Jerusalem. He went down on the main road and when he met John the Baptist he was baptised (we looked at that in previous episodes). We saw the remarkable way the Holy Spirit came down on him in the form of a dove and his Father spoke from heaven, affirming his Son. Then we read about how Jesus went into the Judean wilderness for about six weeks (40 days) to be tempted by the devil. He returned via Jerusalem to Bethany again where John had an encampment and disciples and followers, and people coming and going - large crowds gathering to hear him preach and some of them to be baptised. That was the context of the baptism period of Jesus and Jesus then returned to Bethany, after being in the wilderness, and John identified his mission by saying on two occasions, as recorded by John, “Look the Lamb of God.” We discussed what John meant by that in previous episodes: pointing to Jesus' sacrificial death coming in the future, as the central part of his mission. Just before this episode, while still down at Bethany by the River Jordan, we read the story of five people who had been followers of John the Baptist - although all of them almost certainly came from the Galilee area. They'd travelled down and were following John the Baptist (that's Andrew, Simon called Simon Peter, John, Philip and Nathanial). We read how they met Jesus down at the baptismal site in Bethany and how they were drawn to follow him. At the end of our last section, we read how Jesus decided he would return to Galilee after being away for quite a number of weeks and he invited these five to come back with him; to leave John the Baptist doing his work and preaching and baptising, and to follow Jesus rather than following John the Baptist.

He returned to Galilee with five followers. He hadn't started any public ministry in Galilee - the last time he was there he was leaving home and going to be baptised. What had happened further south in the country was unknown to most people. Jesus had lived a quiet life for something like 30 years in Nazareth, which is a village near Cana, with his family in the family business - looking after his family and conducting his business and living a godly life. He disappeared down south to Bethany, got baptised and all the other events I've just described to you and now he's returning to Galilee.

A Village Wedding

We know from the rest of the Gospels that from this point he goes public in a really big way - he's just about to do that - but before he does, he's invited to a wedding. I'm going to read the account of the wedding but before reading it, I want to try and capture the scene. These villages, in those days (and small towns), usually had only a few hundred residents. They were very small places by modern standards. Many of you reading this will live in much bigger places than the villages of Galilee. Archaeology tells us roughly how big they were at that time. In a community of a few hundred, an event like a wedding is a cultural event - a community event - that affects more or less everybody. People come out to see the bride and the groom. The invitation to the wedding reception usually incorporates most people in the community of the host, if the bride's father is generous. This reminds me of an experience I had some years ago travelling in Romania in a rural location and being invited to a wedding in one such village, and in fact being invited to speak at that wedding, realising that virtually everybody was involved - they were either there, or they were onlookers or they had provided something for the wedding, or they were celebrating alongside on the road - it was a community event. In traditional communities in different parts of the world that's still the case; you can experience weddings like that in different parts of Asia and Africa, Latin American in rural contexts, but not so much in the developed world and in the Western world. It's something like that, that I want you to have in your mind as we go to Cana now and we see this extraordinary event that unfolds.

Suddenly, in the middle of this wedding, there is a crisis during the ceremony and the host is threatened with real embarrassment. I know what that feels like because I have been the host of three weddings, of my three daughters, and responsible for everything that goes on there. Let's read the account, it's John 2: 1 - 12:

‘On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons (that's from about 80 to maybe 110 or 120 litres) . Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “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.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. (and they stayed there) for a few days.’

John 2:1-12, NIV

These feasts tended to go on for a number of days and people came in and out of the celebration - so a wedding would not just be on one day in that culture. Obviously a crisis came when the wine ran out, something which was a cause of huge embarrassment potentially, and so Jesus' mother intervenes and asks her son if he can do something about it - which shows the level of faith she had in him before he even started his public ministry.

Not the Right Time But . . .

There are just a few things I want to draw out of this remarkable story. Jesus didn't seem that keen to be drawn in, he'd arrived as a guest. He'd only just come back from travelling. He'd brought his disciples with him (probably the five that I just mentioned to you, we don't know of any other disciples he'd formed at this stage; it's unlikely there was anyone else). When his mother asked him to help, he says, “My hour has not yet come.” John's Gospel uses this expression and recounts Jesus using it on a number of occasions, later on, mostly to refer to his mission to suffer and die but in this context, probably it means the hour of, or the moment of, launching his public ministry in Galilee - which he hadn't yet done. It's Jesus saying that ideally he didn't want to go public just at this point; he wanted just to be involved in the social occasion, and then he was going to go on (and we find out later on from the other Gospels that Capernaum, the place mentioned at the end of this story, is going to be Jesus' base). It looks like he's going to go from there to establish his base and then start preaching, travelling and healing. “My hour has not yet come.” Despite that fact, he wanted to help and he helped in this miraculous way by producing a phenomenal amount of wine - vastly greater than they could possibly need because, as I indicated to you, these stone jars carried probably in excess of a hundred litres each, which produces a phenomenal amount of wine.

John describes this as Jesus' first miracle. In fact, he uses an interesting word here which is unique to John: he describes Jesus' miracles as ‘signs’. John doesn't tell us about very many of Jesus' miracles. Some of his major miracles (recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke) are not mentioned in John at all. He just highlights seven miracles. This is the first one; in John 4, the son of a royal official is healed in Capernaum; in John 5, a paralysed man is healed at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem; in John 6, Jesus walks on water and then he feeds the 5000; in John 9, he heals the man born blind; and in John 12 he raises Lazarus from the dead. These are the seven miracles that John highlights and he gives them a unique description. He describes them as ‘signs’. He knew there were hundreds and hundreds of other miracles, but they aren't his focus. We'll talk about signs just a little more in a moment. This was a dramatic event and Jesus' provision was phenomenal. I'm not quite sure what they did with all that wine! There was certainly enough for the day but there was enough for many other wedding celebrations as well!

A Sign/ A Miracle

Who was this sign for? It was probably for his disciples, and says ‘his disciples believed in him’. In other words their faith was strengthened when they saw this miracle. They'd already met him down at Bethany, as I described earlier, and trusted him but this strengthened their faith. He probably did it for his mother, as a blessing to her; he probably did it for the family, as a blessing to them and the local community; and he probably performed this miracle as a sign to the people of Galilee - a story they could tell (along with many other stories that would follow shortly afterwards as remarkable miracles took place). This story, here, tells us that Jesus is a miracle worker - not just a healer. There's no healing at stake here; there's nobody sick. This is a joyful celebration of a marriage - but there is a need and the miracle comes. As we encounter Jesus of the Gospels, we see he is indeed a miracle worker. Time and time again he performs all sorts of different miracles and if we want to really engage with the Jesus of the New Testament we're engaging with someone with supernatural power to perform miracles - signs of God's grace to us.


Having told the story briefly and thought through some of the implications and enjoyed the kind of humour of the occasion, which I hope you can enjoy with me - that sense of remarkable intervention, the embarrassment followed by the joy, and the sheer quantity of wine produced - it's kind of like an overwhelming response to the need. Having enjoyed all those things and thought about them, I want to make some reflections on some of the deeper significance of this story.

First of all, Jesus' attendance at a marriage is worth reflecting on. In many church traditions, the liturgy for the marriage service involves a statement about Jesus blessing the institution of marriage through his attendance at this wedding, so it's probably worth just thinking about this a little more. When we go back into the Bible, we notice from the very beginning (Genesis 2: 24) that the coming together of one man and one woman in a marriage of heart, soul and body and permanent commitment was God's original creation, or intentional plan, for all mankind - not necessarily anything to do with faith or Christianity, but to do with being human and the best thing for us. Monogamy: one man, one woman, a permanent commitment - that was the ideal. Jesus, himself, refers to this when asked a question about marriage much later on, which we'll study in more detail as this story unfolds but in Matthew 19, when asked a question about divorce in verse 4, very interestingly, he makes the following statement:

‘“Haven't you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”’

Matthew 19:4-6, NIV

The details of the discussion of the divorce question we'll leave for a future episode but I want to point out that Jesus goes back to Genesis 1: 27, and Genesis 2: 24, to outline that it's God's plan for mankind in general, men and women should marry and, if they do marry, that it would be one man and one woman, and for life is the ideal. God is interested in marriage: he blesses it; he wants it to prosper; he wants it to be the basis for a secure family life; and for the bringing forth of children. This is the normal thing that many people will experience - for their blessing and also for the wider family and community. When Jesus comes to a wedding in Cana, he is endorsing marriage and he's not really saying anything about the necessity of faith in a marriage. Faith in a marriage is a wonderful thing; Christian marriage is a wonderful institution but here we're talking about marriage as a general institution in creation for the blessing of all people.

Another reflection would be that this story affirms ordinary life. This is a very ordinary occasion: an ordinary family, in an ordinary village, sending out an ordinary invitation to Mary from a neighbouring village, and her family, to come and join them for a wedding celebration. It's an ordinary community event and Jesus loves to be involved in such events. One question that arises in people's minds when they consider this story is concerning alcohol. Alcohol is a complex and challenging issue for us and may well be a challenge to you personally, or in your family, in your society, or even in your country. We know that many people are addicted to alcohol with tremendously destructive consequences so we need to work out what we can learn from this story concerning alcohol. Alcoholic drinks were never forbidden in Judaism and in the Old Testament. There were some people who chose to be teetotal - not to drink - for religious reasons or maybe for social or personal reasons. Wine was a common part of ordinary life of Jews throughout their history. Vines and grapes grew in their culture, as in all Mediterranean cultures, and they enjoyed the benefits of alcohol. There were some, as I said, who were teetotal - interestingly enough, John the Baptist was one such person. Luke 1:15, states it clearly - but in stating it, he was an exception. He was set aside for a particular purpose and he gave up some social privileges in order to fulfil his prophetic ministry.

What are we to make of this? Jesus himself consumed alcohol in moderation, from time to time. He was happy to join in parties and celebrate with people and he did this, very clearly, in this incident here in Cana and even produced miraculously more wine than they needed for the occasion! When we look into the New Testament further, and we look at the Early Church and we look at the writings of the Apostles, like Peter, Paul, James and the others, we don't find any call to Christians to universally avoid alcohol or become teetotal or to create a rule that this is how Christians should be in Church. This is an important thing to state because it has become the habit in some cultures, where alcohol is a particular problem, to try and defend the Church and make it more secure and help people by banning alcohol altogether. The New Testament does not take this route and so we do need to think carefully about it. Although drunkenness and the over-consumption of alcohol is firmly criticised in the New Testament, and is never experienced in the life of Jesus or his disciples, at all, as far as we can say . So what can we say concerning alcohol? What can we learn? For Christians alcohol is permitted; self-control is essential and there are occasions when alcohol may be avoided altogether - perhaps out of personal preference, perhaps out of the spiritual calling (a feeling that God calls us as individuals to avoid alcohol), perhaps to help us avoid being dependent on alcohol, perhaps because we are helping other people who have a problem with alcohol (and that's a very good example of a time when it's good not to be involved drinking any alcohol), perhaps even because in our area of mission alcohol is a big social issue or social problem or perhaps even banned in our society (that's a good reason to avoid consuming it). This story warns us against creating a universal rule, a teetotal culture. There's nothing in the New Testament that suggests that we should do that. In fact, it could be in danger of becoming a law that becomes a burden and becomes unhelpful. The New Testament suggests to us that overcoming temptation to lose control in different areas of life, like for example eating food and drinking alcohol, is to be done through the leading of the Holy Spirit and through a clear discipline of self-control (where things like alcohol are occasional pleasures but are by no means central to our lives and we don't depend on them in any way). It's worth making that little detour to discuss alcohol in this context because this story sits very uncomfortably with us unless we can really work out what our general attitude towards alcohol should be.

In my own experience, I consume very little alcohol and as I travel and mix with people for whom alcohol is an issue I would automatically cease to consume alcohol and it would not be an issue at all in my own mind. On the other hand, if I'm celebrating in the community, I can drink very small quantities of alcohol with no sense of guilt but with a sense of joy that God created wine and other drinks for our enjoyment (or he enabled us to create them for our enjoyment) which is exactly what Jesus indicated by the miracle that he performed here at the wedding in Cana.

My final comment, by way of a reflection, is to reflect on the actual miraculous action and to think that miracles are ‘signs’ is very helpful. John is basically saying that a miracle is pointing to reality beyond itself - it's obviously a blessing to those who receive it, but it points to something more. In this case, it points to God's power to provide - and there are a number of miracles in the New Testament that show God's power to multiply and provide, notably the feeding of the 5000, and the similar account of the feeding of the 4000, where food (bread and fish) are multiplied on an enormous scale to feed thousands of people. God is a God of provision and Christians should use stories like this to increase our faith that God is able to provide the material things that we need. I want to encourage you to take that as a major learning point from this study. If you have areas of material need, financial need - which many of you, undoubtedly, will have - can I encourage you to pray and seek God for his miraculous provision for you? He responds to the prayer of faith and the prayer of faith is stimulated by the Scripture, by the Word of God. We see Jesus here performing his first ‘sign’, according to John's way of expressing it, and it is a sign that our God is a God of provision. Even when we are in a very tough situation, we can call on him and he can miraculously do what no one else can do for us.

So thank you for reading and I hope that last point is an encouragement to those for whom that's a key issue in their lives.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Imagine Jesus had been invited to a wedding in your culture. What could he do to make the occasion better?
    2. How important is marriage in your society? Why is God interested in marriage?
  • Discipleship
    1. What do you think about alcohol? Does this make you, your church or your friends any problems? How can these be resolved?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Why do you think Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine?
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