John 2:1-11: Washing Water into Glorious Wine

Water into Wine (610x351)On the third day, a wedding was taking place at Cana in Galilee.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there with her Son, with His new disciples.  And to us, the Gospel writer, John, makes the point, telling us that the wedding was on the third day.

During creation, the third day was when God spoke vegetation into existence, including grapes.  “Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation, including seed-bearing plants and fruit trees, each kind containing its own seed!’  And it was so” (Genesis 1:11).

On the third day, we also see God fulfill and resurrect.  As Prophet Hosea said, “After two days, he will restore us, on the third day he will raise us up, so we may live in his presence” (Hosea 6:2).  On God’s calendar, momentous and pivotal events take place on the third day.

And of all the places that Jesus could have chosen to do His first miracle, He chose a simple, small town.  But it wasn’t just any old one-horse town.  It was Cana in the backwoods of Galilee, up north, in the hinterlands.  That was where the backward folks lived, often with rural, uneducated accents, a land filled with half-breed Israelites and religious heretics.

Yet, it was as Isaiah had prophesied 700 years earlier.  “The people who walk in darkness have seen a bright light; for those living in a land of deep darkness, a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).  It was there, encircled by Gentiles, in the Galilee of the nations, where Jesus first showed His glory, at Cana in Galilee.

It’s a perfect set up: The location, timing, and event.  And what better event for Jesus’ miracle than at a wedding?  In His Old Covenant with Israel, God often referred to His relationship with His people as a groom and bride.  Again we hear from the Prophet Isaiah: “For just as a young man marries a maiden, so your sons will marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).

But during this wedding at Cana, where Jesus was a guest, impending disaster awaited.  The wine for the wedding celebration would soon be running out.  The party would have to end prematurely.  Back then, that was no mere social gaffe, but one of looming embarrassment.

On the third day, the wine ran out, but the feast was still going nonstop.  Maybe, an unexpected number of guests showed up at the last minute.  Maybe, Jesus’ disciples added just enough extra people to the party, causing the wine cellar to be drained.

So, Mary gets involved.  She tells her son, Jesus, “They have no wine.”  And then Jesus responds in a snippy way, at least to our ears and sensitivities.  He says, “What’s that to us, woman.”  What a strange way for Jesus to speak to His mother.  To our ears, Jesus even seems downright rude.  But He’s not, not if you if you were a Jew living in the 1st century.

“Woman” was a title of respect and dignity, a formal term.  The next time Jesus would address Mary in that way was at the cross.  That’s where He formally entrusted Mary to the care of His Apostle John: “Woman, behold your son.”

Jesus also told Mary, “My hour has not yet come.”  His hour would be the hour of His glory, the hour of His death.  After all, that’s why Jesus came.  He came to die as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And in His dying, that’s when He takes care of everything else, as well.

So, even this sign of changing water into wine will cost Jesus His life.  For His miracles don’t come cheaply.  Each miracle that Jesus does tells us about Him and what He has come to do.  Each miracle that He does points us to His cross of death!

Yet, Mary is confident that Jesus will do something.  We don’t know why.  Perhaps, Jesus had done something to signal His willingness to help.  So, Mary says to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Those are the last words of Mary that Scripture records.  “Do whatever He tells you.”  And to this day, that is still good advice from the mother of our Lord: “Do whatever Jesus tells you.”  For example: “Trust in me.”  “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  “This is my body, this is my blood.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

There were six large stone jars at the wedding feast.  They contained water for the Jewish rites of purification.  When full, they contained about 180 gallons of hand-washing water prescribed by God’s Law.  “Fill the jars to the brim,” Jesus says.

Like the jars that would be filled with water, Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  He came to fill them to the brim with His perfect life as living water come down from heaven.

And then Jesus says, “Draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”  Jesus says nothing else and takes no further action.  Jesus doesn’t lift a finger.  Just fill the jars with water, and then draw some out.  “Do whatever He says.”  It all rests on Jesus–and the washing water instantly became wedding wine!

And this was no wine-flavored water or Welch’s grape juice.  No, this was the best wine to be had.  Astounded, the steward stammered, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely (that’s a polite way of saying after they’re drunk) then the lesser wine is served.”  But here’s the clincher: “You have kept the good wine until now.”

“You have kept the best for last.”  And the steward was right.  God has kept the best for last, pouring out the finest vintage at the end.  Everything in this event points to the last–to Jesus’ cross: the day, the hour, even Jesus calling His mother, “Woman.”

Why was the best kept for last?  It’s because God’s vintage wine is Jesus Himself, poured out for the life of the world in His death.  The water that poured out from His side fills the baptismal font with washing water, washing our sins away and giving us a clear conscience toward God.  The blood that poured from His side fills the Communion chalice with wine from heaven, giving to us the medicine of immortality.

“For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).  This changing of hand-washing water to wedding wine reveals that someone greater than Moses had finally arrived.

The Law of Moses, represented by the six stone jars of washing water, cannot bring joy to the wedding feast.  They can give you clean hands, but not pure and joyful hearts.  Besides, who wants to drink bath water anyway?  The Law can’t save us.  Commandment keeping can’t bring us life, any more than 180 gallons of bath water can gladden the hearts of wedding guests at a feast gone dry before its time.

The Law of God, without the Gospel, leaves us dry and joyless, overcome by a list of dos and don’ts.  That doesn’t mean the Law is bad.  It’s not.  But it can only clean the hands, at best.  The Law can only tell you what pleases God, but then it leaves you high and dry, powerless to do what it says.  The Law can’t purify the heart of a sinner.  And that’s the problem.

Perhaps, you’ve experienced it for yourself.  You read the 10 Commandments and try to follow them in your heart, mind, and body.  As promising as you may feel when you first read them, you soon find yourself becoming weary and frustrated.  You might even find yourself getting angry and judgmental as you rack and stack how you are doing against everyone else.  And there is no joy.  The Law with all its measurements and condemnations has sucked the joy out of your life.

Your life becomes like a wedding feast that has gone dry.  And some might expect Jesus to say, “Good, they’ve had enough to drink.  Let them sober up.”  We’d expect Jesus to say, “You need to shape up and keep the commandments.  You need to work harder and improve yourself.  Be all that you can be.  Do what I do.”

But that’s not what Jesus does.  Instead, He surprises us.  He fills the Law up with Himself.  He’s like those jars filled to the brim with water.  He fills up the Law of Moses with something greater than Moses–His own perfect, sinless life!  And then He draws out something incredible–not more rules to follow–but a joy-filled wine.  That’s the vintage wine of His blood, given and shed for you on the cross.

Indeed, God has saved the best for last–and for you!  “The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  And you, as baptized believers, are privileged to taste the Lord’s vintage in His Supper, to have a foretaste of the marriage feast that never ends.

At Cana in Galilee, on the cross, and even here in His Supper, Jesus reveals His glory to you.  He is here to feed you with the Bread of His Body.  He is here to gladden your hearts with the wine of His blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.  He brings you eternal joy, overflowing and unending, all so you might believe in Him and live.  Amen.




  1. Jesus’ hour and “on the third day” do point to the end of this Gospel, to Jesus’ departure and return to the Father. And the contrast in Jn. 2 between the Jewish water of purification and Jesus’ new wine likewise point to the difference between the law of Moses and the grace and truth that comes through Jesus. The new wine is a sign of the glory Jesus has, and of what he will give in the future.

    Similarly, in Jn. 1:31-34 is a contrast between John the Baptist, and his baptizing with water, and the one on whom he sees the Spirit descend and remain; this one will baptize with the Spirit. Likewise in Jn. 4 is a contrast between the well water of the Samaritan woman and Jesus’ living water; in 7:38-39 Jesus says his living water is the Spirit, which will be given to his disciples after he is glorified (after his hour to return to the glory of his Father comes). Thus the major teaching of Jesus at the end (in Jn. 14-16) is about the gift he will leave his disciples after he departs, the gift of the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth; this is especially the grace and truth that comes through Jesus.

    While Jesus’ hour has not yet come in Jn. 2, he goes ahead and gives new wine anyway as a sign (another liquid metaphor) of his great future gift, when his hour comes.

  2. After listening to a Calvary Chapel sermon on the radio driving into work this morning, it was refreshing and reassuring to read your sermon on the same text from St. John. What a contrast in the two messages. Thank you for the clear message of Law and Gospel. May the Lord bless your ministry in the proclamation of the Gospel.