1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 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 10 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.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. 12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.
I want to invite you this morning to a party. It is a wedding party, a wedding celebration. It is, in fact, a feast. If you are going to come along, you will have to be well-rested, because this celebration is a first-century Jewish wedding celebration, and that means it could last as long as one week.
Would you like to go? Good! Let’s go.
The wedding is in Cana, which was probably located on a site that archaeologists call today Khirbet Qana. It is now “an uninhabited ruin about nine miles north of Nazareth, and lying in the Plain of Asochis.”
I do not know who is getting married, and, frankly, that is not our concern. You see, I, and many of you, are friends of some friends of the bride and groom. The unnamed couple has invited our friend Mary, her Son Jesus, and his five new friends, which we learned about in chapter one of John: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and an unnamed disciple (who I suspect may be John, the author of the fourth gospel).
So we are in the house now, and man what a party! There’s a pretty big crowd here. You will have to forgive me, I do not know a lot of these folks. But, look, there’s Mary and a couple of her younger sons. I cannot tell for sure, but Mary may actually be in charge of the catering duties. She seems to be looking over the food and drink aspects of the party.
Up there is the bride and groom. They look so happy, do they not? And yet, the party has been going for a few days already. I wonder if they are about exhausted by all of the festivities! Who knows? They are living on love, right?
Ah, and look over there. Hard to believe, is it not? There is Jesus. Hmmm. That is suprising. I had expected to see Jesus looking somber, unsmiling, looking…well…holy. Having heard some preachers talk about Him, I just assumed that He would be standing with his arms crossed in the corner. But, no! Just look at Him! He is reclining at the table laughing with the disciples and some other guests. Apparently Peter tripped over Nathanael’s foot getting up from the table and spilt his plate in Philip’s lap! That is pretty funny!
Wow! What a scene. Everybody looks pretty happy, don’t they? Man, I just love seeing people in love, don’t you?
Wait a minute. What’s going on? One of the servants is excitedly whispering something to Mary and she looks concerned. They’re having a pretty intense whispering match over there. Now look. She’s brushing past the servants and making her way quickly to Jesus. She’s trying to be graceful about it in the way that we always try to be graceful in a crowd when we have something urgent to do!
Let’s come over here and listen. She’s talking to Jesus. She’s having to raise her voice a bit to be heard over the crowd.
Listen: “They have no wine.” That’s what she just said to Jesus.
He can’t hear her. Andrew is sitting next to Jesus and is telling everybody a joke. Andrew’s one of those guys who doesn’t get how loud his voice is. Jesus is asking Mary to say it again.
“They have no wine!”
Jesus is looking at her now, a look of seriousness coming over his face.
He’s probably concerned because He knows what a big deal this is. Running out of wine at a wedding feast is not good.
No, really, I don’t think you understand this. See, this kind of culture – first century Jewish culture – is what’s known as a “shame-based culture.” It’s easy to dishonor yourself or your guests if you don’t take proper steps to provide for them at a time like this. In fact, I kid you not, you can technically sue somebody if they invite you to a wedding feast and do not provide enough wine and food.
This is a problem.
Look, Jesus is standing up. He’s going to speak to Mary. Let’s listen to what He is saying: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
Did you hear that?
Jesus and Mary are now just looking into one another’s eyes. Mary’s intensity seems to have given way to momentary confusion, then to a kind of acceptance. Jesus just did two very interesting things: He called her “woman” and He told her, “My hour has not yet come.”
He’s not being rude to her, but He’s also not using the normal term of affection for a mother. Jesus’ use of the word “woman” here is roughly equivalent to the Southern use of the word “ma’am”…not exactly so, but maybe that helps a bit.
He says to her, “My hour has not yet come.” When Jesus talks about “my hour” in the gospel of John He is talking about His death on the cross and His great work of salvation.
When he says, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come,” He’s pointing out to His mother that He came to do a job. He came ultimately to give Himself on the cross to save all who will trust in Him. But this plan is God’s initiative, not man’s. The great work of Jesus cannot be prompted, manipulated, controlled, or even begun by the request of man or woman, even the sincere request of Jesus’ own mother.
It’s almost as if He’s saying to His mother, “Mom, you are correct that I have a task to do, but this task does not and will not and cannot operate along human timetables and human initiatives. It cannot begin because you feel that it is time for it to begin. It is something I must do. I must do it because I and I alone can do it. It is a commission from my Father, mom…my real Father. I love you, and I honor you, but my job and its timing and how it’s going to play out is separate from you and from your expectations.”
This must have been difficult for Mary. After all, she bore Jesus in her womb, delivered Jesus in childbirth, raised Him, nurtured Him, taught Him. Mary is Jesus’ mother. But Jesus had something to do, you see, that transcended His mother. “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
Some commentators point out that in the gospel of John almost every time Jesus appears with Mary He’s distancing Himself from her and her plans so as to highlight the fact that His great mission is to do the will of His Father, not of His earthly mother, or of any man or woman.
Well, back to the party. Mary seems a bit wounded, but she also seems to understand. Look, she’s turning now to the servants. She’s saying, “Do whatever He tells you.” Yes, she understands a little better now. Her Son and His great work cannot be directed by immediate earthly concerns. He is operating in the will of His Father. Mary trusts in Jesus.
Jesus Refills What Has Run Out
Now if you’ll look over there in the corner of our room you’ll notice six large stone jars. The first thing I want us to notice is how big they are! Each one holds twenty or thirty gallons.
What’s Jesus doing? He’s talking to the servants now. He’s saying, “Fill the jars with water.” The servants have filled them up, all the way to the brim.
Now what’s He doing? He’s telling them to draw some of the water out and take it to the master of the house.
What?! I’ve got to tell you, Jesus sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense from my perspective. This is going to be a grave insult to the master when they take him a cup of water.
Watch, they’re carrying it up to him now. Jesus is waiting in the background. The servants themselves seem hesitant. When the master of the house tastes water instead of wine, he’s really going to be hot!
Watch this. He’s putting the cup to his lips. This is going to be awkward! He’s taken a drink now. He’s looking down into the cup. He seems confused. His face looks surprised. Told you! Oh no, he’s yelling for the bridegroom! That poor guy is going to be mortified that he insulted the party’s sponsor, the master of the feast. He’s coming up to the master. Let’s listen: “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.”
What?! Wine? But the servants served him wat…oh man. That isn’t water. That IS wine!
But how did Jesus…
I’ll tell you something about Jesus that I think you need to know: Jesus came to refill what has become empty.
Some of you, this very morning, feel like dry, parched, empty vessels. Life has not turned out like you thought it would. The joy of earlier years, the joy of your marriage’s first love, the joy of being a parent, the joy of being an employer or employee, the joy of friendship, the joy of living…all of these things have slipped away.
Some of you are empty vessels. Some of you are as empty as a desert inside.
But could it be that one of the points of this amazing miracle is for Jesus to remind empty people that He is the God who fills empty things to overflowing? He had these six vessels filled to the brim then He worked a miracle in them.
Friends, Jesus fills empty hearts, heals broken lives, and turns disaster into joy.
But that’s not all that’s happening with these vessels. Did you know that many of the Jews looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and they envisioned His coming in terms of a great feast with overflowing wine? For instance, in Hosea 2 we find:
21 “And in that day I will answer, declares the LORD,
I will answer the heavens,
and they shall answer the earth,
22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and they shall answer Jezreel,
23 and I will sow her for myself in the land.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘You are my God.'”
And, again, in Isaiah 25 the prophet says:
6 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.
So to the Jews a miraculous overflowing of wine signaled the coming of God’s Messiah who would save Israel.
Jesus was doing more here than simply filling up what was empty. He was saying that He Himself is the one who fills the empty hearts.
Are you empty this morning? Jesus can fill your life to overflowing. After all, Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”
Jesus Frees Us From Religious Ritual
But there’s even more happening here. These jars, verse 6 tells us, were jars the Jews used for their rites of purification. That is, they were jars that served a general religious purpose. They were stone jars, which was customary for jars containing water, since earthen vessels would contaminate the water. But they were jars containing water for purification.
Not only was the first century a shame-based culture, it was a purification-based culture. The Jews were forever having to wash themselves so that they might be pure before God. These jars contained water that was used in an effort to meet the demands of the law.
How many times had those in this house turned to these jars for their own peace of mind before God? Before they prayed, before they ate, before they worshiped, they went to these jars for purity and for cleansing so that they might stand before God in good conscience.
These jars represented their best efforts at standing rightly before God. These jars meant a continuous cycle of religious ritual. The jars meant man’s best effort at obeying the law, keeping the rules, being good…and these are the jars in which the first miracle of Jesus is wrought.
Jesus came not only to fill up what was empty, He came to free us from what causes only despair.
It is a tricky thing trying to be clean enough for God. It is a tricky thing trying to wash yourself enough to feel really clean. It is a difficult thing to perform enough rituals to please a perfectly holy God.
When all is said and done, our best efforts at religion fall short of bringing us into a relationship with God, don’t they? Some of you have tried this. You’ve run to the jars over and over and over and over again, trying somehow in your own power to be clean. You’ve read the books, bought the t-shirts, sung the songs, quoted the verses, attended the services, dropped money in the plates, been on the committees, attended the potlucks, gone to the conferences, been on the trips…some of you have done it all but you’ve done it in an effort to meet the demands of God, to please God, to pacify God, to make God, in your mind, somehow less angry with you.
Oh, listen to me: religious ritual cannot be a substitute for a real relationship with Jesus.
This is why some commentators even find significance in the fact that there are six jars. The number seven is the perfect number, the holy number, and it’s very possible that this account is pointing to the number of seven. After all, it should be pointed out that Jesus performs the miracle at the wedding of Cana on the seventh day of the gospel of John. In other words, the first day begins in John 1:19-28 with the delegation being sent to question John the Baptist, and it culminates here, on the seventh day, with the creation of wine. This is consistent with John’s drawing on Genesis 1, which we’ve already seen when looking at the beginning of John 1. Jesus performs his first miracle on the seventh day. There are six days of creation in Genesis 1, then the Sabbath. Jesus represents new creation, the beginning of a new way of living life.
But there are only six jars. Six, obviously, falls just short of seven. Again, this may or may not be the case (not every number in the Bible should have a spiritual meaning read into it), but it could just be that the six jars represented the imperfection of the Law and of ritual to save the people of God. The Law, in other words, fell just short of being able to accomplish true peace between God and humanity.
But Jesus takes these six purification jars and miraculously makes them containers of wine. The jars that used to remind the people of their distance from God have not been transformed into vessels of joy, of celebration, of a new day.
Jesus comes to fill what is empty, and to free us from what brings only despair.
Are you tired of empty religion? Then come to the fountain of life and live. Jesus is waiting to give you life.
Jesus Calls Us To a Relationship of Joy
And of course, this miracle occurs at a wedding with wine. This is not insignificant. A wedding and wine. Jesus would link both of these images to Himself in powerful ways. For instance, in Matthew 9:
14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
So Jesus calls Himself the bridegroom and the gospel is likened to new wine put into a new wineskin. In other words, Jesus calls us into a relationship not unlike a marriage and into a new way of living life (new wine).
In John 3, some of John’s disciples will question John about Jesus:
25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
So John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom and His followers “the bride.”
Also, at the end of the Bible, in Revelation 22, Jesus links together the ideas of a wedding and of being thirsty:
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
It simply cannot be denied that the venue for this miracle, the fact that it was performed at a wedding, means something very important. What it means is this: when Jesus calls us to accept Him, He is calling us into a celebratory relationship of fulfillment and away from a despairing cycle of ritual.
Brothers and sisters in Christ: Jesus is calling you to a wedding, and the feast is the gospel and the groom is Christ Jesus Himself, and we are the bride.
Around thirteen-hundred years ago, a Christian we call today the Venerable Bede commented on this miracle at Cana and made the following observation:
“By this sign he made manifest that he was the King of glory, and so the church’s bridegroom…Therefore, let us love with our whole mind, dearly beloved, the marriage of Christ and the church, which was prefigured then in one city and is now celebrated over the whole earth.”
It is true! It is true! You are invited to a wedding in which you are the bride! You are called to come to Jesus.
But may I finally be allowed to remind of you the most powerful image? At the wedding of Cana Jesus turned water into wine to declare who He is and to declare the type of relationship He is calling us to. But the creation of miraculous wine also speaks of the way in which we enter into a relationship with Jesus.
For this is not the only meal Jesus attended with wine. On the night that He was betrayed, Jesus took bread and wine. He broke the bread saying, “This is my body,” and He poured the wine saying, “This is the new covenant in my blood. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
The miracle at the wedding of Cana is not the last time that Jesus would use wine to make a point. He also used it to reveal that He would pour His own blood out on the tree for you and for me. Jesus changed water into wine at Cana. Jesus turned His blood into your salvation at Calvary. Jesus filled the purification jars at Cana. Jesus filled the righteous demands of God at Calvary.
Cana pointed to Calvary, and Calvary points us to a loving God who has given Himself so that we might have life, and have it abundantly.
Would you like to come to the wedding this morning? Would you come to Jesus this morning? He is waiting with open arms.
 Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), p.168.
 Ibid., p.167-168.
 Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament IVa, edited by Joel C. Elowsky (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), p.98.