The Signature Miracle
If you were God, and if you decided to enter our world as one of us, what would you choose as your first miracle to show people who you are and what you are capable of doing?
Would you choose for an opening miracle to walk on water? Or to miraculously feed thousands of people? Or to give sight to a blind man? Or to heal a paralytic? Or to raise a child from the dead?
As impressive as these miracles were, not one of them was chosen as the first miracle Jesus performed.
In John 2:1-11 we discover that the first miracle Jesus performed was to turn water into wine.
As it so happens, Jesus is at a wedding in Cana when the wine for the wedding celebration runs out. Jesus’ mother brings the problem to Jesus’ attention. He replies, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
It almost sounds like Jesus is groaning inside, “Darn it, Mom, I had something more dramatic in mind for my first miracle!” But the truth is that this miracle did not catch Jesus by surprise. It was not pushed upon him, depriving him of a better start to his ministry. This miracle is actually like a ‘theme statement’ for all that Jesus intended to do with his time on earth.
Let me explain….
This ‘theme-statement’ miracle took place in the midst of a wedding. It took place in the context of a celebration of love and joy. Jesus came into our world to bring about such a reality between us and him. Listen to some of the things he said toward the end of his life to summarize his ministry: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10); “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9); “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
Writing about Middle Eastern weddings at the time of Jesus, William Barclay points out, “In a life where there was much poverty and constant hard work, this week of festivity and joy was one of the supreme occasions.” Wine was a vital part of the celebration. Drunkenness was looked upon as a disgrace, so the wine was watered down. But the provision of wine was considered a sacred duty, The Rabbis taught, “Without wine there is no joy.” With the wine having run out, Jesus provided that which kept the joy and the celebration going (while also protecting the newlyweds from disappointment and embarrassment).
For the making of wine, Jesus used the jars that were set apart for the religious requirements of hand washing. By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had carefully detailed the various laws of Scripture. In the end they had a rule pertaining to every aspect of life. For example, they had broken up the issue of work on the Sabbath into 39 distinct categories. One category dealt with the type of burden one could “carry” on the Sabbath. It was decided that no brooch could be worn on the Sabbath, and that one could not even carry a needle in one’s robe. Some things were not so easy to decide upon, though. At the time of Jesus, they were still arguing over whether a person could wear his artificial teeth or his wooden leg on the Sabbath. Jesus came into our world to replace rituals and religious requirements with something much better—a loving relationship with God (like the intimacy of the marriage that was being celebrated that day)
Strict religious requirements have the tendency to make us feel that we are never good enough and that we never quite measure up, so we had better keep trying harder. By using those particular water jars—displacing the water that was intended for religious ritual with wine that was used for the joyous celebration of love—Jesus was making a ‘theme statement’ about his reason for coming to earth.
In The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom, Henry Nouwen writes, “Keep reminding yourself that your feelings of being unwelcome do not come from God and do not tell the truth. The Prince of Darkness wants you to believe that your life is a mistake and that there is no home for you. But every time you allow these thoughts to affect you, you set out on the road to self-destruction. So you have to keep unmasking the lie and think, speak, and act according to the truth that you are very, very welcome.” Strict religious requirements (like the required hand washing) spread the message that we are not welcome; Jesus came into our world to stress that we are welcome (like wine at a wedding)!
When Jesus’ mother told him about the problem with the wine running out, he told her, “My hour has not yet come.” She understood that he was not insisting that it was not yet his time to do miracles. Instead, he was stating that the hour had not yet come for the celebration of restored love and joy and intimacy between God and us. The miracle performed here (providing wedding wine) looked forward to what would be accomplished at Jesus’ death, when he would make it possible for us to come into the joyous celebration of his eternal love!