Updated: Jan 12
In John 2, John moves on from the call of the first disciples to Jesus’ first sign, or miracle, at the wedding feast at Cana. In v11, John makes clear that this sign is meant to signify the glory of our Lord. There are two primary significations in turning water into wine. First, this miracle signifies Jesus’ divinity. Only God can transform mere water into rich wine, and so by this miracle Jesus is glorified as his divinity is signified.
Second, this miracle signifies the goal of Jesus’ mission. The law was given through Moses, and the jars of water that were filled up were reserved for the Jewish purification rites, for ceremonial washings. But, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:16), and the water for ceremonial washing was transformed into wine for celebration. More than that, the wine of this feast points to the wine of the Last Supper, which points to the shed blood of our savior, which makes possible the wedding feast of the Lamb at the consummation of all things. And so, by this miracle, Jesus is glorified as his mission is signified.
Such is the main thrust of this text, but I want to spend this reflection thinking about the fact that God used the common present, or good, of wine to signify the divinity of the Son and the goal of his mission. To do that we need to begin with the fairly obvious observation that, by turning water into wine, our Lord endorsed the common goodness of wine. It should also be noted that his miracle took place in the context of a marriage celebration and not a “drinking party.” This second observation reminds us that Jesus endorsed the goodness of wine as an accompaniment to the goodness of marriage.
But, back to the wine, it’s significant that our Lord did not turn unclean water into Poland Spring. No, he turned water into wine. Moreover, he didn’t provide plain old wine like a mass-produced Chardonnay, but fine wine, like a rich Bordeaux. That is to say, this was not a miracle that begrudgingly used a common cultural item like wine because there was no alternative sign to signify the finest feast that was yet to come. Rather, our Lord endorsed this present, this gift from God, that is common to us all, by offering the best sign to signify the greatness, the richness, the depth, the delight, the beauty of his own sacrifice for our sins.
And it is quite Scriptural for wine to be the sign in this miracle. Psalm 104 extols the goodness of God in the goodness of creation, giving thanks to God that he provided, among other things, “wine to gladden the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15 ESV). When Paul writes to Timothy, he acknowledges the benefits of wine beyond gladdening our hearts: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim 5:23 ESV). Interestingly, beyond the antimicrobial action of alcohol, the biological components and attendants to the fermentation process have been shown to promote gut health. What Paul knew as a general rule is confirmed by the biological sciences!
At the same time, we need to remember the context in which miracle was performed, a wedding feast, and the purpose this miracle was performed, to glorify the Son of God. These two considerations are crucial for our wise partaking of wine. After all, as Scriptural as it is to acknowledge wine as a common present, it is also quite Scriptural to acknowledge the importance of wise partaking.
Proverbs says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov 20:1 ESV). Prov 23:29-35 is dedicated to painting a picture of the folly of drunkenness in stark, realistic, and depressing terms. It ends with the haunting words, “When shall I awake? I must have another drink" (Prov 23: 35 ESV), which remind us of the folly of being enslaved to our passions.
So, then, there is a common present, wine, that requires wise partaking. We do well to give thanks to God for yeast and the fermentation process for its emotional and constitutional benefits. We do better when we enjoy wine and other fermented beverages with a view towards thanksgiving to God and towards his glory. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). Indeed, whenever we raise a glass in thanksgiving to God, may we remember the shed blood of our Lord, and give thanks that through his blood he has made a way for us to sit at the finest feast, the wedding feast of the Lamb in the new heavens and new earth.