“‘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.”
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.”
We take a lot of pictures in our family. Last Sunday for example, we took the opportunity to get a family Easter picture...or rather, a lot of family Easter pictures. Those pictures are all digital images saved electronically on my computer, but they aren’t the only pictures saved there. Each member of our family is connected digitally, so every picture that every member of our family takes is saved electronically, all in one place…in my photo stream.
As I look through my photo stream, I find a picture of life in our family. It is a collection of photographs too numerous to count. Each picture tells me something about our life together. There may be a picture of some store product which I captured to show my wife. There may be a picture from a field trip. There may be a picture of one of the kids’ homework assignments. And then, there are the family pictures from Easter.
All of those pictures have meaning for our family, but at the end of each year we intentionally choose a few in order to tell a story. Each Christmas we give the grandparents a photo album. Homework pictures, though they tell a story, don’t make the photo album. My picture from the grocery store salad dressing aisle doesn’t make the photo album. All fifty pictures from Easter Sunday won’t make the photo album. We will choose a few, for specific reasons, so we can tell the story of our life together from the past year.
At the end of John’s gospel account, he is telling us that Jesus’ photo stream is filled with countless pictures, not of grocery options and homework assignments, but of signs and miracles. Then he tells us that these are written for a specific reason…that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in his name.
Let that sink in. Because John was limited, either by page count or by hours in the day, he narrowed down the number of signs presented in his gospel account, choosing these signs intentionally from among the many. Now let this sink in…the first sign he presented, so that we might believe and have life, is the sign of Jesus turning water into wine. What might he be telling us with this picture?
Sign pointing to life (eternal)
In John 2, Jesus has come to the party. Please don’t water this down or try to over spiritualize it. The wedding at Cana was a joyous affair, and Jesus came, with his disciples, to enjoy himself. But there was a problem brewing. The wine was running out! Gasp! Mary, Jesus’ mother, found out about the problem and knew it would put a damper on the party, so she went to find Jesus.
His response seems a bit shocking, given our modern English translations. “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” As we read this, let’s get beyond what we may think his tone is implying. There is not an edge to his words, as we might be tempted to read in to them. Rather, he is using a polite formality when addressing her as “woman.” Of greater importance is the statement that his time has not yet come.
Jesus is telling Mary, and us, that though this scene is important, it is not the final fulfillment of his mission. The fulfillment of his mission, and the greatest display of his glory, would come on the cross where he would cry out in triumph “It is finished!” (John 19:30) The whole scene at the wedding party is meant to point us forward to that moment. The words “It is finished!” did not merely refer to the end of Jesus’ life, but to the end of the reigning power of sin and death in our lives.
But, Jesus did change the water to wine. Yes the sign points us forward in the knowledge that Jesus is the God Man, but God chose to record this particular picture in his picture album. I believe he did so, not merely to point us to the promise of life eternal in Christ, but also to give us a picture of life in Christ now.
Picture of life in Christ (now)
Does it make you uncomfortable for me to describe Jesus as the life of the party? Or, does it make you hope that it could be true? In this journey to recapture Jesus, I’ve been trying to rediscover his personhood. In John chapter 2, John gives us a picture of Jesus’ personhood, not with a staged studio portrait, but a candid snapshot from the party.
Though this is not a studio photo, we aren’t capturing Jesus unaware. He isn’t willy nilly with his power, recklessly throwing out miracles just for kicks. No, he cared (and cares) about people. Though the miracle points us forward, the present-ness of the miracle shows Jesus’ care for the host, and his desire for the party-goers to experience the joy of the wedding celebration. And Jesus is extravagant in his care.
Do the math. In my translation, Jesus takes somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of water, and converts it into the best wine. We don’t buy wine by the gallon. We buy it by the bottle. To help you see the abundance of Jesus’ wedding gift, he is giving somewhere between 600 and 900 bottles of the finest wine!
I can just imagine Jesus with a smile on his face as the master of the feast tastes the wine. Don’t you think Jesus enjoyed giving this gift? Don’t you think the people enjoyed receiving it? Look, I am often very quick in offering boundaries as to how we should apply this kind of blessing. I am quick to protect against a straight-line approach leading to some form ofprosperity gospel. But the truth is, this picture gives us a beautiful reminder that Jesus is for JOY.
I don’t know the particular outworking of that joy in your life. I often struggle with it in my own life. I don’t think it means Jesus is going to give you 900 bottles of wine for your next party, but I do believe he is telling us that he cares about our present life. He cared about the party hosts and desired to spare them the embarrassment of running out of wine. He cared about the people at the party and wanted them to enjoy themselves. And, he cares about you and I. He desires for us to experience the joy of salvation, regardless of circumstance…and maybe to see that our circumstance is a gift from him (regardless of how we experience it), and that our circumstances are meant to point us to greater joy.
I think I am coming to see that this is at least part of what Jesus meant when he promised life abundant. I think I am coming to see that this is at least part of what John meant when he said that by believing Jesus is the Christ we might have life in his name. The pictures in John’s photo album point us to life (eternal) in Jesus’ name, and they illustrate for us what it means to have life in Christ (now).
Friends, more and more of my prayer life is taken up with a desire to know Jesus more deeply in this way. I want to see his glory on the cross, and I want to see the smile on his face as the master of the feast tastes the wine. I pray the same for you. May we all enjoy the picture show!