WORD OF GOD SPEAK — SIX STONE JARS
1On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
Third Day is my favorite Christian band. When my favorite seminary teacher Jon Paulien ordained me at Camp Meeting a few years ago, my friend Kim Girdharry sang my favorite Third Day song. It’s called “Offering.” The lyrics go like this: Magnificent Holy Father / I stand in awe of all I see / Of all the things You have created / But still You choose to think of me / Who am I that You should suffer / Your very life to set me free / The only thing that I can give You / Is the life You gave to me / This Is My Offering.
Aren’t those lyrics great? But they remind me of another third day. One in which Jesus hinted to Nathaniel would be rapidly approaching. Jesus had told them in John 1:50 that they would see greater things and according to 1 Corinthians 15, there would be nothing greater than when Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day. Right?
So on the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. The fact that Jesus, His mother, and His disciples were invited to the wedding suggests that it was the wedding of a relative of Jesus. A 3 rd century tradition held that John the disciple Jesus kept on loving, the author of this book we’re studying, the son of thunder and zebedee and brother of James was also the son of Salome, Mary’s sister. This would make Jesus and John the Beloved as first cousins. So it’s possible that not only was John the Baptist Jesus’ cousin, but possibly so was John the Beloved. Which means they may have been at this wedding because John or someone in his family was getting married.
And weddings in that day often started on a Wednesday. Isn’t that weird? According to the Mishnah, a 2 nd century compilation of the traditions of Judaism, the wedding of a virgin was supposed to take place on a Wednesday [Abundant Life Bible Amplifier, John, p.67]. I don’t do many weddings these days on a Wednesday. Earlier in May, my brother in law Frankie married his bride Andrea up in Traverse City. They got married in a little chapel with sunlight filtering through the stained glass of a huge window with a cross in it. It was so beautiful I had to put a picture on my blog and on the screen. Their reception was in a restaurant next to the Grand Traverse Bay where you could see the Friday evening sunset disappear behind rows of pine trees. I should’ve got a picture of that too.
But in this wedding we’re studying today, if it was following tradition, it probably began on a Wednesday. Which means John the disciple’s initial encounter with Jesus at the Jordan described in John 1:35 took place on Sabbath. Which means the day before when John the Baptist made the first of two declarations that Jesus was the Lamb of God, he did so on what later would be known as Good Friday. So what’s the point? The point is John the Baptist pointed people to Jesus on a Friday and Jesus was lifted up to draw all men unto Him on a Friday. Which is not coincidence. Stay with me.
So Jesus and His disciples are at this Wednesday wedding. And then verse 3 says, “3When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine."We don’t know if her unhappiness stemmed from the fact that she was catering this feast or if because guests were supposed to bring the wine and she decided the disciples didn’t bring their fair share, but either way this situation had placed both Jesus and his mother in a predicament. They have no more wine. So Jesus says, “ 4"Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Leave me out of this! What have you to do with me?
And men ever since have been asking the same question right? What’s this got to do with me? Obviously Jesus didn’t want to get involved. Even though it was his mom, whom He loved, doing the asking. It’s interesting: in the Gospel of John, Mary is never mentioned by name. She is simply identified as the mother of Jesus. But when Jesus addresses her, here in John 2:4 and again on the cross in John 19:26, he uses the same word translated woman. The translators of the NIV have added the word “Dear” which contextually is appropriate I think. Because in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus [Antiquities 17:74], a dearly loved wife was called also simply called “Woman.” So obviously this shouldn’t be read as a rude response or blue collar disrespect such as Woman! But really should be translated, “Dear woman...” As always, Jesus treats her with the same compassion He had for her on the cross. Guys, that’s how you should treat women. Amen?
But why was Jesus hesitant to get involved? The rest of verse 4 says, “My time has not yet come.” In the Gospel of John, the hour of Jesus is especially associated with the hour of his arrest, trial, and death. Until that hour comes, no one has the ability to arrest Him. John 7:30 says, “30At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.” John 8:20 says, “20He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.” Same sort of thing with John 13:1 and John 17:1.
But the connection between the hour and the glory of Jesus is first seen at the wedding of Cana. So in case you’ve missed John’s clues so far: point number one is: Cana points to the cross. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But what happens in Cana sends the reader to the cross. The wedding takes place on the third day as does the resurrection of Jesus. The hour and glory of Jesus are repeatedly tied together. Only in 2:4 and 19:26 at the cross does the mother of Jesus appear and when she does both times Jesus respectfully calls her woman. And then there is the wine.
There has been much said and written about wine in the Bible. Is it fermented or unfermented? Alcoholic or non? But lost amidst these theologically entertaining discussions is our most important point. The cross. Which is what the wine in Cana was obviously referring to! Which is why Jesus later compared wine to the blood that He would shed on the cross. So while there are abundant scientific, social, spiritual and Scriptural reasons for abstaining from fermented wine and even from socially drinking it, using this passage to prove that isn’t convincing to me. Because the word for wine is neutral in the Greek. It cannot be determined if the wine was fermented or not based on this passage. It’s simply not what John was talking about. The cross is more important than Cana. He’s using wine as another clue to point his readers from Cana to the cross.
But wine in the Bible was not just pointing people to the future. An abundance of wine was also pointing people to the past. Because John’s audience would have been familiar with the passages in the Old Testament describing the inauguration of the kingdom of God—all of which describe an abundance of wine. Isaiah 25:6 says, “6On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.” Jeremiah 31:12 says, “12 They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD— the grain, the new wine and the oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more.” Amos 9:13-14 says, “13 "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. 14 I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.”
Instead of using the abundance of wine in these Scriptures as nearly all the other Bible writers do to apply to some future inauguration of the kingdom of God, John is using them as living parables to positively convey point number two: the kingdom of God has arrived! That day is here. It has begun. And so important is this understanding of the inauguration of the kingdom of God that John repeats it. This time negatively using the emptiness of six stone jars in Cana to symbolize the emptiness of a life lived apart from Christ.
Let’s keep reading. John 2:5 says, “5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Which is still great advice right? James 1:22 says true Christians are good hearers and doers. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Verse 6 says, “6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. 8Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." 11This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”
And those six stone jars were huge. Each one held up to 30 gallons of water. And if it’s true, as one commentator suggests, that 100 Jewish men could be ceremonially cleansed by 1 cup of water, those six stone jars represented the obsessive compulsive ceremonially cleansing of up to 280,000 Jewish men! How do you figure? I didn’t. Dee helped me. She said there are 2 cups in a pint, 2 pints in a quart, and 4 quarts in gallon. So that means there’s 16 cups in a gallon. And if the servants filled six stone jars with 30 gallons each, and if 1 cup of water could ceremonially cleanse 100 men, I multiply 16 cups per gallon x 30 gallons x 6 jars = 2,880 cups x 100 men per cup and that’s what I came up with. Someone want to check my math on that? Those empty stone jars were designed to hold enough fresh water to ceremonially cleanse 280,000 men. Way more than would be attending that wedding. Way more than probably lived in Cana, Nazareth, and Bethsaida combined! Obviously, these folks took their ceremonies seriously!
But just as obviously, Jesus took our cleansing even more seriously. Going so far as to be willing to die on the cross for us. Providing through his shed bled way more than what would be required for just the wedding party. Because you see it wasn’t just His mother whom He had compassion upon. It was also us. Even when we’re just as mixed up as the folks at that wedding. Majoring in minors. Emphasizing the wrong things. Devoting more of our time to ceremonies and rituals instead of service and relationships. Not talking about Jesus. I’m not going to fly off on some tangent beating my church up or those of us raised in it. I’m sure you can find your own fill in the blanks there.
But what I will point out, number three I believe, is that lives lived apart from the miraculous presence of Christ, even good lives lived abstaining from alcoholic beverages, are just as empty as those jars. They may look full. And impressive. But inside, they’re broken vessels. Inadequate. Unable to rival the joy and peace that knowing and growing closer to Jesus provides.
So point number four therefore, no pun intended, is knowing Jesus is better than knowing Moses or Elisha. Moses turned water into blood as one of the plagues on ancient Egypt in Exodus 7:14-24. Elisha transformed the bitter water of Jericho into water that was sweet to the taste and useful again in 2 Kings 2:19-22. And particularly interesting to me anyway was a similar story about water and blood in 2 Kings 3:12-25 describes. Read that one when you get home this afternoon. In that episode, a bunch of kings visit the prophet Elisha looking for a word from the Lord. Elisha’s response to them was much like Jesus’ to his mother. “What do we have to do with each other?” But just like Jesus would compassionately do later, Elisha agreed to work with these kings anyway and at his advice, water miraculously appeared but was thought to be blood by the enemy [1 Kings 3:22-23]. The enemy rushed in thinking the 3 allianced kings killed each but were in for a rude awakening when they got there and found the united armies of Israel waiting for them. And by this means, Israel won a great victory over Moab.
Long story short: knowing Jesus is better than knowing Moses or Elisha because the blood of Jesus not only gives us victory over what Revelation 20:6 calls the 2 nd death, it also gives us access to a new deliverance and a better Exodus. From spiritual slavery dependent upon our efforts to please man to spiritual freedom dependent upon Christ’s finished and accepted effort to please God. While Moses turned water into blood to authenticate his authority with Pharoah and the Eyptians, Jesus performs a similar miracle to authenticate a far greater authority. While Moses delivered his people from a mere earthly death and bondage, Jesus delivers His people from the second death and according to John 10:10 gives them an abundant life worth living in the meantime.
Like Moses, Jesus is threatened at birth by a hostile king who ends up killing all the babies but the one he really wants to destroy. Like Moses, He saw the glory of God . Like Moses, He fasted for 40 days. Like Moses and Jethro, He appointed 70 disciples and appointed 12 as special apostles or tribes. He gave the law in a sermon on the mount. He fed multitudes in the wilderness. He was lifted up on the cross as Moses raised up the bronze serpent in the wilderness. And Jesus spent some time in Egypt but came out of Egypt just as Moses and the Israelites did.
No doubt, knowing Moses and Elisha and the prophets and remembering God’s mightiest acts are great good things. But knowing and growing closer to Jesus is better! John was trying to tell us that the most important thing as cool as it was didn’t happen in Cana, it happened at the cross. John was trying to tell us that the kingdom of God is already here. That’s why the abundant life worth living can be yours. Your empty useless jars can be filled! But only if you hear and do what Jesus says. And fill them with the right thing. Which is more and more of Him.
I’m not beating up Judaism. Or those who practice it. 1 Timothy 1:8 says, “8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” When Moses and the prophets and the laws of God are rightly used, they lead people to Jesus. That’s why Jesus said in John 5:46 “46If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” I’m just suggesting, that like Nathaniel, those who are led to Jesus become a new Israel. We begin to talk more and more about Jesus. We glory not in ceremonies but service. Not in Jacob or Moses or Elisha. But in Jesus. The author and finisher of our faith. I know Jesus told his mother that His time had not yet come. And some of you may feel the same way. I’m not quite ready to give my life to Jesus. My time is not yet come. If that’s what you think, please notice that somewhere between verse 4 and 11, Jesus decided His time had come after all. Because after the servants filled those six stone jars with fresh water and took them to the master of the banquet, the master of the banquet was shocked at the quality not of the water but of the wine. And the guests were impressed with the abundance of it.
Today I pray that you too will change your mind. That you will catch the clues and see the importance of the cross. The nearness of the kingdom of God. The fulness of a life worth living. And the significance of making that decision now. Is that your desire? If it is, would you trust that decision with me? I’m not big in altar calls and won’t be making one now. But if based on what you’ve heard today, you’re at all interested in learning more about an abundant life worth living, in becoming not just a hearer but also a sincere doer, would you let me know somehow? I’ve given you my card. If you didn’t get one, I’ll give you one on your way out. You have my numbers. You can reach me 24/7. You can email me. Blog me. Write me. Call me. But don’t let this moment pass you by. Seize it for the miraculous moment it is. The living word of God actually speaking to you! And decide right now to do something about it in response. Tell me or someone else what you decide this week. And we’ll be here to cheer you on and commend you for making the best decision you could ever make.
Our father in heaven, thank you for pointing us once more to the cross. For reminding us through the shed blood of Jesus that our place in your kingdom is sure. Would you please remind us of that on the days we feel empty inside? When we’re tempted to think it’s about our performance? Our ceremonies? The things we do. Would you please send the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives, our church and community, and give us an abundant life worth living? Full to the brim and overflowing with service and love for you no strings attached? Give us the courage to be good hearers and doers. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.