Episode 47 - The Wedding at Cana - Opening Up the Gospels

In the last few episodes we’ve been looking at John 1, following Jesus’ emergence from the wilderness to his meeting with some young fishermen who would later become his formal disciples. John would not only affirm Jesus’ preexistence and his role as the king of Israel, but also that He would be a sacrificial lamb for the sins of the people. I also talked about Jesus’ first disciples and how from the very first moments of their time with Him, they believed He was the messiah, the rightful king of Israel who would sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem. Today I want to continue with the Early Judean ministry and look at one of my favorite events in the Gospels – the wedding at Cana. Let’s read today in John 2: “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”” (John 2:1–5 ESV) Let’s start by placing this scene geographically and chronologically. Jesus and His disciples are now up in Galilee, the northern region of Israel, specifically in the city of Cana, a town fairly close to Nazareth. Cana is only mentioned in John’s Gospel and is said to be the home of Nathanael. And chronologically, this is now close to a week after Jesus had emerged from the wilderness. John makes this clear by saying “the third day”, which is referring to John 1 verse 43, where Jesus said he wanted to go to Galilee. John started by describing the inquisition from Jerusalem, then the next day, Jesus’ emergence from the wilderness and John’s words about him, then the next day, Andrew, Peter, and John spend the night with Jesus, then the next day, verse 43, Jesus wants to go to Galilee, and Philip finds Nathanael. So what we see at the beginning of John 2, “the third day”, we can safely presume that we are now probably about 6 days out since this all started. So here we are in Cana, a village not all that far from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. And what more joyous occasion do we find being celebrated but a wedding? This is one of the very first things the Gospels tell us about Jesus’ ministry, and already we can see outward differences between Jesus’ ministry and that of John the Baptist. Before we look a bit more in depth at the scene, I want to talk for a minute about what a Jewish wedding would have been like because it’s really quite different from what we would think of in a typical Western wedding with a ceremony and a reception. Though customs varied, many scholars and commentators agree that we can have a general idea of what things might have been like. Weddings up in Galilee would typically have been simpler than those in Judea, just because the population tended to be less wealthy than the aristocracy in Jerusalem and Judea. On the evening of the actual marriage, the bride was led from her father’s home to the home of her bridegroom’s. There would be all sorts of festivity with music as she was covered with her veil and was led by the “friends of the bridegroom”. On the way, everyone would rise to salute the procession or to join it. And once they reached the bridegroom’s home, a formal ceremony would commence, followed by a feast. In some cases, a Jewish wedding feast could go on for a week. Weddings were always highly anticipated because of the way they interrupted the monotony of life and because of something else we all love about weddings – free food! Some things never change, right? Of course marriage was a significant act for the Jewish people because of how it symbolized Israel’s relationship to their God. The prophet Hosea was one of the clearest voices to the nation on how God related to Israel like a bridegroom relates to his bride. So Jesus and his group of 5 young disciples were invited to the wedding. Maybe it was a friend of Jesus’ family that was getting married, which could possibly explain why Jesus’ mother was there too. But as we’ll see, this isn’t just a normal family outing for Jesus. Undoubtedly He had been to some other weddings with his family as he was growing up. Something is different about this one. Well, during the feast, the wine had run out. And this would have been a big deal because of how it would have embarrassed the family in charge. Had they not expected as many guests to come? Did the guests drink more than they had planned for? If you’ve ever worked in foodservice in some capacity, you know about all those dynamics. And I imagine the watchful eye of Mary with the responsible, caring heart that mothers have, making sure everyone is fed well, and then looking around and realizing that the wine’s running out. Or maybe she had an inside connection with the family in charge of the feast, and they came to her saying “you got any ideas on how to deal with this?” Mothers always have ideas, right? However it played out, we can’t be sure. But she did go to Jesus and tell him about the problem. What she doesn’t say is “Jesus, show your power, do your stuff”. We really don’t know what she was thinking when she told Jesus that they were out of wine. She might have just meant “hey, can you and your friends go find some wine somewhere?” But Mary was aware of everything that happened at Jesus’ birth, she did know what was spoken about Him, that He was “Christ the Lord”, so maybe she did know what He was capable of? From the rest of the evidence in the Gospels, it seems like she probably didn’t know, but who knows. That’s a question I’m going to ask Mary in the resurrection. Jesus goes on to say “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” The word “woman” seems pretty harsh in translation, but the Greek word actually is a term of respect and affection. I don’t believe Jesus was rebuking His mother at all here, that’s not what the Greek word would be used for. But what’s so interesting is that the word Jesus used is not what a son would typically call his mother. Just the way Jesus is speaking to her here indicates that something is changing as He begins His public ministry, and the relationship that He had with His mother is not what it used to be. Let’s keep going in John 2: “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.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:6–11 ESV) Oh I just love this scene. We know how the story goes, and the details are pretty clear from the passage, so I just want to highlight the significance of what’s going on here. There’s just so much to meditate on and to prayerfully ponder. Think about it – the feast was a large event, and if all 6 of the water jars were full and were changed into wine, we’re talking at least 150 gallons of wine. And not only was there a large quantity of wine, but the wine was of an extraordinary taste, so much so that the master of the feast specifically went to the bridegroom during the celebration to make a comment about it. And for Jesus to do what He did says so much about who He is. Let’s look at a few points. First, it highlights his power. Remember, we’re not just looking at a man anointed by the Spirit here. Jesus didn’t have to pray in order to turn the water into wine. Why? Because He’s God in the flesh. He’s using his creative power here, the same power that formed the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1 and the same power that gives life and breath to everyone who was attending the wedding. This really happened, it isn’t just a parable or a fairy tale. It was a real demonstration of Jesus’ divine power. So if this is the Maker of all things, the God of Israel we’re looking at, what does it say about His about His heart? So often we’ve pictured Jesus as an emotionless person who only approves of solemn church services but this scene shows us something completely the opposite. What’s so striking about it is that Jesus doesn’t condemn the wedding celebration but actually enhances it with a ton of awesome tasting wine! The other thing that this scene demonstrates about what God is like is that He’s kind. We see that kindness fleshed out in the way that Jesus had concern for the family. If the wine had run out, they would have been so embarrassed in front of all the guests. But Jesus made sure that didn’t happen. He used His power to uphold their honor and dignity before their friends and guests. John goes on to say that this was the first of Jesus’ signs where He manifested His glory. I love that Jesus performed miracles but what’s more important than the miracle or the sign is what happened as a result of the sign – John says His disciples believed in Him. The sign stirred confidence in something that was true about Jesus. It wasn’t just a random thing Jesus did to be nice – of course that’s part of it, but the reason why John even recorded it is for our own hearts – that faith would be stirred in us and that we would believe that Jesus is truly the son of God. I love miracles but we can’t forget that the bigger purpose of the miracles is to strengthen faith in Jesus. Now I just have to mention something here – though we’re almost out of time for this episode. I think it’s just remarkable that Jesus, the very Lord of Glory, enhanced a marriage feast with wine at His first coming. This is exactly what the prophet Isaiah says He will do for all people in the future: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.” (Isaiah 25:6–7 ESV) Oh, what was Jesus thinking as he was eating and drinking at the wedding with his family and newly found disciples? For us, as we look back, wasn’t he just whispering of the things to come? There’s so much to meditate on in this passage. Here’s a few points to get you going: 1) What was it like for the couple who got married to think back and remember that God in the flesh was actually at their wedding? 2) What would it have been like to recline at a table with Jesus – to watch Him talk, laugh, and enjoy the celebration of the couple’s marriage? And what does this say about what God is like? In the next episode we’re going to continue in John 2 and head south to Jerusalem to look at the cleansing of the temple.