Sign 1: What Sign?

Sign 1: Jesus turns water into wine. John 2:1-11

Over the summer, we are going to study parts of the Gospel of John. John records 7 miracles in his gospel even though Jesus performed many more. John calls these 7 miracles “signs”. Each signs shows something specific about Jesus as the Son of God. By calling them signs, John wants us to focus on their significance rather than the marvel of the event. So what is the significance for changing water into wine at this wedding? Why should we care what happened 2000 years ago at a party?

Much of the Gospel of John contains symbolism. What he writes has meaning on the surface, yes, but it also holds a deeper meaning for us today. The gospel of John was the last of the four gospels to be written. John had many years to reflect on Jesus and he told his gospel from that vantage point. This does not diminish the gospel at all. In fact, he saw deeper truths in the life and death of Jesus because he had spent many years living as his disciple, reflecting on everything that Jesus had said and done. So John carefully wrote his gospel account, working diligently to convey as much of the revolutionary teaching and life of Jesus as he could.

So let’s read through the account. It begins with “On the third day.” This indicates that this event shifts from one era to another, it echoes the death and resurrection of Jesus, who rose from the dead “on the third day.” A shift in the world order is being announced here.

Weddings were typically week-long drinking parties, with wine being the available drink.

The location of Cana is significant in its insignificance. Signs happen in insignificant places. One does not have to go to Jerusalem to witness the works of God. Mary and Jesus were invited – this wedding might have been extended family or close friends.

To run out of wine is a major oops. Family and friends would be very outraged and offended by those who could not carry off a wedding properly. So Mary, in an indirect way, says to Jesus, “They have no more wine.” She knows her son. She knows that he can do something about this. He pushes back. Nonetheless, she tells the servants to do whatever he says. (This is good instruction for us today too, by the way.)

Jesus changes six stone jars of water into wine. That is about 180 gallons – or 4 bathtubs full! And it is really good wine! In the Old Testament (Jewish writings before Jesus), an abundance of wine is used as a symbol of the fulfilment of time. There are several references to this, one being Amos 9:13 The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. So Jesus changing water into an abundance of good wine in this story tells the reader that something new is happening. A new era is coming. The shift is from law to grace, scarcity to abundance. That is the substance of “Sign 1”.

John’s account of this event finishes with the observation that “and his disciples believed in him.” This sign was primarily for them. It is early in the Gospel of John, being the first sign, so getting the disciples on board with Jesus’ mission is step one: makes sense. But what about the other people at the wedding? The servants who filled the stone jars, the host, the bridegroom: they were at least somewhat aware that something unexplainable had happened. A miracle had occurred and they were not affected by it. The rest of the guests just kept drinking, not even noticing. Something new has come into the world and yet most of the people there are oblivious! A miracle occurred and most of them just kept on drinking.

Jesus revealed his glory and the disciples believed. They were transformed from fishermen to Jesus’ disciples, they answered the call because they understood what had happened, the significance of it. And yet, existence goes on as before for the majority people, for the rest of Cana, Israel, the world.

So why is this important today? Jesus ushered in a new era – a shift from living under the law to living under grace. It is no longer “you must do such and such” but rather, “I already took care of that. It is done” We live in a time of grace if we accept Jesus’ sacrifice. Believing in him as the disciples did then, means we shift our thinking and our hearts to a new perspective. Actually, we allow God to make that shift in us. Our outlook on the world changes from law to grace. Not all at once, but bit by bit. Becoming a follower of Christ is a journey. Often there is a first day, when you say yes to the whole idea. Sometimes it’s because of an event like the disciples experienced – a miracle, but it doesn’t have to be.

Christians believe that the answer to strife in the world is love. To live in the abundance of God. To know there is enough for all, so that hoarding and greed will go away. Fear is the opposite to love. When we fear that there isn’t enough, then we hoard. That’s the way of the world. And there are Christians who are caught up in the world as well. Like I said, it’s a journey and none of us have arrived. As St. Augustine first observed, what Jesus did at Cana was really no more than a speeded-up version of what he does every year on a thousand hillsides as vines silently turn water from rainfall into wine. Millions of people enjoy that wine every year without for a moment recognizing God is behind all of that. It’s a reminder that we serve a God whose generosity is over the top. It’s a reminder that God is also often content to watch people—sometimes even Christian people who should know better—from afar as they soak up the goodness of his creative work.

Doesn’t it amaze you that Jesus’ miracle happened within earshot of people who never knew anything unusual had happened? Might it amaze you, when you shift your life outlook to believing in Jesus that that will mean we see divine glory a lot more often in our lives than we do otherwise? When there’s food at the foodbank, when the homeless are housed, when children without decent shoes get nice new sneakers from a local clothing ministry, when the despairing are comforted by a word of hope, when the sad can dry their tears with the gospel comfort of the resurrection to come: when we see these things happening in our churches and in our communities and in our families, then we are seeing the glory of God as God continues to guide us back to that for which he created us to begin with.