Jesus Is The Joy-Bringer That Can Transform Our Disappointments
The disciple whom Jesus loved, John, tells us in John 2:11 that the miracle Jesus did in turning the water into wine was the "beginning of signs”. This creative-miracle-sign points us to a beginning that marks a new creation, a new age, a new world, and a new beginning. The miracles of Jesus in the fourth gospel are like flashing streetlights that signify identification, transformation and anticipation.
In our last article we asked why would Jesus choose a wedding and the act of turning water into wine as His first miracle? Our answer was for a number of reasons, and one of them being in order to demonstrate what life in the world that He brought with Him was like. By this, we mean that Jesus brought the life and reign of the kingdom of heaven with Him to earth. One of the obvious and most appealing dimensions of life in the kingdom of heaven is joy. So our first point from the first sign Jesus did was that Life in the Kingdom of God is About a Marriage Feast of Life and Joy.
Secondly, we note how:
Ritualistic Religion Always Runs Dry Just When You Need it Most
John 2:3-6, “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.”
The setting for our text is a wedding reception in Cana, a very small village only nine miles north of Jesus' hometown of Nazareth. A serious and potentially embarrassing problem has arisen for the bride and groom. To run out of food or drink was a major violation of hospitality which would subject the bride and groom to social disgrace that could shadow them for the rest of their lives.
Jesus’ mother, Mary, had probably learned of the problem from the couple, and so she informs Jesus before the rest of the people at the reception find out. She obviously expects him to do something.
The writer of this gospel account, John, wants us to know that these pots were not for ordinary drinking water, but rather water used for "the Jewish custom of purification." Jesus could have put the wine in other containers or he could have created new containers to hold the wine, or he could have allowed the waiters to pour the water into everyone’s empty glasses and then turn it into wine before there watching eyes. However, he chose to perform this miracle in a way that concerned this custom. If you want to understand what the disciples understood about this miracle, you have to understand the “Jewish custom of purification.”
This custom had nothing to do with germs and hygiene. It was a religious custom and was not prescribed by God in the Old Testament, but rather invented by religious leaders who had a profoundly wrong view of spirituality.
They believed that the main spiritual problem was the threat of contamination by contact with bad people. If you touched something that bad people had touched (or even breathed air that they breathed), you could become ritually unclean. Therefore, the solution, the key to spirituality, the main way to approach God was through performing a ritual of cleansing or purification. Observant Jews had to wash their hands in very specific ways several times in the course of a meal.
This mentality is at the heart of most world religions, including (tragically) most people’s understanding of Christianity, that is, you must clean yourself up if you want to be right with and relate to God. Whether by performing certain rituals in the right way at the right time, or by obeying detailed rules of external behavior, or by avoiding contact with certain kinds of people, etc.—the assumption is that you have clean yourself up to come to God.
Jesus’ first miracle implicitly condemned religious self-cleansing. From this point forward, Jesus explicitly rejected and condemned this approach to God. He said you cannot put new wine into old wineskins (Mk. 2:22). He condemned it as superficial and promoting hypocrisy (read Mark 7:18-23; Matt. 23:25-26).
The truth is that Jesus didn’t come to provide an improved method of self-cleansing. He came to fulfill the Old Testament ritual of cleansing with the reality that the only way to approach God is by the perfect cleansing that He Himself would provide. By turning the water into wine, Jesus replaced a symbol of human religious self-cleansing with a picture of his gift of abundant spiritual life.
Notice John tells us that there were six stone pots that were to be used in the Jewish ritual of purification. Six in the symbolism of numbers in scripture is the number of man. These six pots represent the traditional religion of the people of Jesus' day. The Jewish ritual cleansing water pots had run dry. This was a revelation of the spiritual state of the nation of Israel and of all religions that miss the Presence of the glory of God in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A casual sweep of the faces of the saints in the chairs on a Sunday Morning indicates that we are suffering from "diseased joys,"; from the "mumps and measles of the soul."
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was pastor of the renown Westminster Chapel in London, England for many years, was forced from his preaching opportunities for six months due to illness. He said, "For four months I have had the most valuable experience of being a listener. My general impression is that most of our church services are terribly depressing! I am amazed people still go to church; most who go are female and over the age of forty. The note missing is 'joy in the Holy Ghost'. There is nothing in these services to make a stranger feel that he is missing something by not being there. It is as though there is a weight upon us and the minister, feeling this, thinks he must be short. So the people come together in order to depart!"
Ask the typical Christian what God wants of them and they answer, “To live morally, to serve Him faithfully, to give up harmful habits, to help others, pray, witness, to try harder to do better, etc.” But to have this attitude is to miss the very essence of the Christian life. God’s design is that we glorify Him and enjoy Him forever beginning right now. He wants His children to be exceedingly happy. In fact, the Christian faith was designed to be the most exhilarating, exciting, and the most enjoyable existence possible!
Thirdly, we see:
The Sign of What He did Pointed to the Purpose for Which He Came
John 2:7, “Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim.”
Jesus Fulfills the Old Covenant and Brings in the New!
The inaugural sign in John’s gospel stands in vivid contrast with the inaugural sign of the age of the law. As the church fathers pointed out, the first miracle-sign of Moses was turning water to blood. However, this better age—this kingdom age of grace-truth (1:17)—is inaugurated by one greater than Moses, who turns water into wine, giving benediction instead of malediction! We have not come to a mountain blazing with fire, to darkness and gloom; rather we have come to Mt. Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of the first-born enrolled in heaven (cf. Heb. 12:18, 22).
At Cana of Galilee, Jesus gives a sign that the age projected by the prophets has arrived. The Messianic age of gospel-wine—abundant, brim-full, gospel wine, (not Jewish ritual), is here!
The filling of the jars to the brim meant that the Jewish age was over, finished, transformed, and fulfilled. The reality behind the ritual is present; the substance behind the shadows is here; the person pictured is now present! Jesus says at Cana, "The longed for Presence is here. This is the foretaste of the age to come, now; the wine of the gospel; the celebration of the feast of kingdom family and gospel joy. Not blood; not the curse – but wine! The blessing of the best wine of all. And I bring it lavishly, abundantly— more than 150 gallons of the best wine you have ever tasted." Jesus says at Cana, "I have given you a sign of my glory—the glory I have brought into this present age. It is the wine-glory of the age to come in your very midst. Oh, taste and see that this wine is the best of all. Only heaven's cup itself shall be sweeter. This era will grow sweeter and sweeter as you drink more and more deeply from the wine of the gospel age and enjoy God more and more."