Jesus’ first miracle wasn’t just about wine—it was an act of purification from the Messiah, one that saved people from generations of sin and shame.
All of us have things in our lives we aren’t proud of.
These are things that maybe you’ve done or have been done to you. Your parents’ marriage may have fallen apart, and you find yourself still feeling the effects. It may be your marriage wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It might be a sin or addiction that you are ashamed of, something that you wish you could stop. The kind of thing that after doing it, you feel dirty like you need to take a shower. Only, there isn’t really anything you can do to feel clean.
It wasn’t until working on a sermon on John 2 that I began to see the significance of Jesus’ first miracle. A miracle that, according to Tim Keller, can be seen as simply fixing a social oversight, but has so much more going on:
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.”
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 2:3–11
During this time, marriage was an enormous event. The entire town would be invited and the celebration would last for up to a week. This was not simply about the couple, but was a sign of the strength of the town and community.
For the wine to run out was not a simple party oversight. This would be seen as an insult to the town and the guests. The ramifications of this happening could be felt for decades to come in terms of standing in the community, business dealings, and overall appearance. The shame heaped upon this family would be no small thing. In the same way, the shame in our lives that we carry around often comes from things in our families past. We feel the effects of an abusive grandfather we have never met or an alcoholic grandmother who is whispered about.
But Jesus didn’t just change water into wine to save this family from embarrassment and shame.
You see, for the Jewish people, weddings were a sign of the Messiah. Weddings were a picture of his coming, of what heaven would be like. There were also prophecies in Joel, Hosea, and Amos indicating that wine would flow freely over a barren, dry land from the Messiah (Joel 2:24; 3:18; Hosea 14:7; Amos 9:3). This imagery would not be lost on the Jews who saw this miracle.
John also points out that Jesus had them fill up purification jars. This was not what they normally used for wine, as these were the jars the Jews used to cleanse themselves to worship God, to enter the temple, to purify them. Jesus, at a wedding, which is a picture of the Messiah coming, with wine. Using purification jars that are used to make one right with God, turning guilt and shame into joy.
Later in the Gospels, Jesus will bring his disciples together for a Passover meal, hold up wine and declare it to be his blood (Matt. 26:28). Then, in Revelation 21, John tells us that when Jesus returns, it will be as a bridegroom at a wedding (Rev. 21:2).
It is easy for us to miss all this without the history and picture. But, we do another thing that hinders our joy. When we read in the Gospel and Epistles of John about God loving the world or Jesus taking away the sins of the world, we picture “the world,” a globe filled with people. We don’t picture ourselves.
This past Easter at my church, we had a huge cross in a service where we wrote down specific sins that Jesus died for. It was quite an experience listing sins that Jesus has forgiven me of, that Jesus died for. It was a great picture for me to see, Jesus turned my shame into joy through his death and resurrection.