What’s with the Sign of Water into Wine?

The Apostle John is an eyewitness of Jesus Christ. He states his purpose, saying, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). He presents Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel, “the Christ,” as the essentially divine “Son of God.” Then, based on his witness, he intends the reader to experience a profound and life-changing relationship with God (see “eternal life” in John 17:3). Indeed, Isaiah 35:5, written over seven centuries earlier, describes Messiah’s kingdom as a place where the eyes of the blind see, the ears of the deaf hear, the feet of the lame walk, and the tongue of the dumb sing. In John’s gospel alone, the author witnesses Jesus giving sight to a man born blind (9:1-6-7) and new legs to a man who had been lame for thirty-eight years (5:1-8). John the Baptist, when imprisoned for his witness, sent two of his disciples, asking Jesus to affirm His identity. Christ cited this very text of Isaiah, saying, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Luke 7:22).

     

The fourth gospel then recounts “signs,” i.e., miracles that point to a miracle worker, signals to direct the spiritual traveler to his destination. The miracles of Jesus inherently convey a message about Jesus. He fed over five thousand hungry people and announced, “I AM the Bread of Life” (6:35). He declared, “I AM the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5) and then gave sight to a man born blind (9:1-7). He said, “I AM the resurrection and the life” (11:25) and then raised the dead to life again (vv. 43-44). His power to heal deathly illness from a distance (4:46-54), heal paralysis by a word (5:1-9), and even walk on water (6:15-21) demonstrate Him as Lord of all things. But Jesus’ first miracle is most unusual and readers wonder, “What’s with the sign of the water into wine?” (2:1-12). Like the other wonders, this one too points to the person, priorities, and purpose of Christ.

     

Concluding his prologue, John notes, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (1:17), and again, Jesus Himself said, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might have saved” (3:17). The role of law, we know, is to condemn law-breakers. Law, the Bible says, “is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless…” (1 Tim 1:9-11). Indeed, all would seek to be justified in God’s sight by keeping the law are cursed, “for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the law, to do them” (Gal 3:10; cf. Deut 27:26) and again, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).  With this in mind, it is instructive to note that Moses’ first miracle was to turn water into blood (Ex 7:14-25). By it, God condemned the sin and unbelief of Egypt. Jesus, however, turned water into drinkable, health-giving, refreshing wine. (In those days, wine was diluted to kill off deadly bacteria as well as preclude drunkenness). Jesus came to save sinners from the condemnation they deserve as law-breakers. By turning water into wine Jesus showed Himself to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “Neither do I condemn you;” He says to the sinner, “go and sin no more” (John 8:11; cf. Rom 8:1).

       

We may also see Jesus’ sense of priority in the waterpots used for this new wine. These stone containers, each “containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece” (v. 6) were not for drinking water but for religious purification. The fastidious practice of the Jewish religion held that before one ate, he specially washed his hands to cleanse himself from defilement. “Eating with unwashed hands” (Matt 15:2) was therefore about tradition, not sanitation. Jesus often demonstrated less concern for keeping religious notions than for meeting real needs. He healed a man on the Sabbath, for instance, and the Jews persecuted Him “because He had done these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:16)! In the case of His first sign, the host of the wedding was soon to be humiliated before all the guests because the wine had run out. Jesus met the need, which was more important than religious observances.

     

Wonderfully significant, we can also see that Jesus’ first sign anticipated His teaching, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven” (3:3). Christ did not merely add effervescent tablets, making water taste like wine. No way! He essentially transformed water into wine! In the same way, a person must be born again and experience essential life-change. What’s more, the water did not turn itself into wine. Apart from the will of the wine, divine power made the change. Jesus not only came into the world to give grace to those otherwise condemned by the law; He also came to convert the lives of sinners into heaven-bound saints. Jesus alone met a real need and turned water into wine. Our need for new life is also real, but much greater. Jesus lives today to turn condemned sinners into children of God. I invite you to find new life by turning to Him today.     

Scriptures to Memorize: 2 Corinthians 5:17

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