Believing in Jesus: The Sign at Cana
Sunday School Lesson for September 15, 2002
Background Passage: John 2:1-25
The Setting of the Sign (2:1,2)
This record of Christ’s first miracle, which John refers to as a “sign,” focuses upon the little known village of “Cana in Galilee,” an otherwise insignificant town located some 8 miles northeast of Nazareth in the despised region known as Galilee. It was the hometown of the disciple Nathanael (21:2) who was present with the Lord on this most significant day.
The setting for this first miracle was a “wedding” to which Jesus and His “disciples” had been invited. Presumably, the disciples mentioned here are those introduced earlier: Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and the other unnamed disciple of 1:35. Verse 1 indicates that Jesus’ “mother” Mary was also present. That she alone is mentioned is probably indicative of the fact that Joseph was dead. It is also possible that she was in some way related to the bride or groom, and may have been serving in some official capacity as an assistant to the wedding director. Such weddings usually began on Wednesdays with the actual feast lasting for seven days. During this period guests would be arriving each day bring gifts and entering into the joy of the occasion.
John records that this particular wedding occurred on the “third day.” It is at least possible that the events thus far depicted in John’s Gospel occurred within the span of one week. If this is the case, the wedding feast takes place on the seventh day, the Sabbath, or the third day from the last event depicted in 1:43. [see Carson, 168].
The Details of the Sign (2:3-10)
Verse 3 records that in the course of the celebration “the wine was gone.” This was a most difficult situation for the young couple, and may indicate that they were from poor families. “Wine,” here meaning the fermented fruit of the vine, was not only considered a staple food item, but was also frequently used in times of joy and celebration. To run short at such a moment was certainly a major social calamity and profound embarrassment. F. F. Bruce notes that for the wine to run short in this way “was a serious blow, particularly damaging to the reputation of the host” .
At this moment, Jesus’ mother came to Him and announced, “They have no more wine.” Clearly she was concerned for the young couple, and she also believed that her Son could in some way intervene in the situation. Did she expect a miracle? Or did she simply cry out in distress not knowing how Jesus would come to their aid? Since this is identified as his “first miraculous sign” (v. 11), it is doubtful that Mary had previously witnessed Christ’s supernatural power.
In verse 4 Jesus’ reply to His mother is, on the surface, sharp and cutting:
indicate Christ’s consciousness of the fact that He was accomplishing a task entrusted to Him by the Father, every detail of which had been definitely marked off in the eternal decree, so that for each act there would was a stipulated moment. When Jesus knew that this moment had arrived, He would act, not before .
In verse 5 the mother of the Lord turns to the “servants” and orders them to “Do whatever He tells you.” This demonstrates that she now understood that she must simply submit to the plan and will of God as it was being worked out in her Son’s life. Thus, she was confident that, though she did not know how Jesus would intervene in this particular situation, He would do only that which would bring glory to God and result in His praise.
The miracle begins to unfold in verse 6 with John’s notation that standing nearby were “six stone water jars,” or large containers used for the ritual cleansing of the hands before a meal (which the Pharisees studiously observed!). Each stone jar had a capacity of “twenty to thirty gallons,” or some 180 gallons in all. It is clear that John gives us such detail in order to highlight the magnitude and scope of the miracle that was about to occur before the crowd at the feast.
In verse 7 Jesus issues a command to have the jars filled up with water. John records that the servants “filled them to the brim.” That is, they were so filled in order to demonstrate that they contained nothing but water, and nothing else could be added. This fact would also serve to display the reality and power of the miracle that was soon to come.
Next, in verse 8, the Lord issues a second command to the obedient servants. He tells them to “draw some out and take to the master of the banquet.” The headwaiter was the man who functioned as the superintendent of the dining room. It was his responsibility to arrange the couches for the comfort of the guests, and to taste the wine and other food to ensure its quality. John again records that the servants “took it to him” in obedience to the word of Jesus.
In verses 8-10 the miracle unfolds. After the servants drew water out of one of the jars and took it to the headwaiter a miraculous change had occurred. The water had “turned into wine.” Not knowing its origin, the “master of the banquet” summoned the “bridegroom” and praised him for setting aside customary practice and saving “the best [wine] till now” (v. 10).
According to verse 11, the miraculous display of Jesus’ sovereign power “revealed his glory” to His disciples, and served to strengthen their “faith in him.” While Christ’s glory would be ultimately revealed at the cross, “every step along the course of his ministry was an adumbration of that glory” [Carson, 175].
The Meaning of the Sign: Reflection and Application
In seeking to understand the meaning of this miraculous sign, several points may be presented for consideration:
· One—That the miracle involves wine is deeply significant since the fruit of the vine is used in the Old Testament as an emblem of the joy associated with the Messianic age. In other words, the sweetness of wine is representative of the sweetness of the gospel itself—the new order that has replaced the old order represented by the stone pots full of ceremonial water. Note the following passages [NASB]:
And they shall come and shout for joy on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the bounty of the LORD-- Over the grain, and the new wine, and the oil, And over the young of the flock and the herd; and their life shall be like a watered garden, And they shall never languish again.
Those who live in his shadow will again raise grain, and they will blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.
Behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine, and all the hills will be dissolved. 14 Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them, They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, And make gardens and eat their fruit.
· Two—As suggested above, this miracle displays Christ as the fulfillment of the ceremonial aspects of the Jewish Law. This is dramatically illustrated by the filling of the stone pots to the very brim. Such observances had run their full course and “so completely fulfilled their purpose that nothing of the old order remained to be accomplished” [Bruce, 71]. With Carson, we conclude “the water represents the old order of Jewish law and custom, which Jesus was to replace with something better” .
· Three—The fact that the wine abundantly provided by Christ was of such superior quality and taste also reveals the glory, satisfaction, sufficiency, and lavishness of the grace He provides to sinners. In this case, the words of Mary—“They have no more wine”—indicate the profound hopelessness of those outside the kingdom of God. Yet, just as wine surpasses water, Christ gives (in abundant measures!) new life to those who have known only spiritual death and darkness.