Every culture of every age has some governing thought they believe will lead to general flourishing for everyone. We will explore one of these today, but I think it is important to understand our own. With the rise of the internet age, we have seen our culture shaped by instant gratification. With the click of a button we can purchase or download what our hearts desires almost instantaneously. We work hard to play hard. Pleasure, comfort, ease, and personal satisfaction have become the driving force in our culture. When we get tired of something we quickly move onto to something else. We are fair to easily pleased. If there is one driving theme in our text today, it is this, “Only in Jesus will we ever find the everlasting joy for which our hearts are longing.”
1. The Complexity of the Problem—John 2.1-4.
The apostle John continues this new creation idea with opening this section of his Gospel by saying, “On the third day.” What is happening on this third day? Jesus has been invited to a wedding with His mom and his disciples. But quickly a complex problem arises for almost everyone there.
Traditional Hebrew weddings were something people would have invested a great deal of time, money, energy, and emotions into. Weddings were usually a week long. Many times extended families lived in the same region or city, so almost the whole town was attending your wedding. Much like modern Asian there is always a cultural undertone of “honor-shame.”
When we put all these things together then what John says in verse 3 carries a lot more weight—READ John 2.3-4. Jesus’s mother, Mary, has a genuine heartfelt concern for this couple. She knows what running out of wine could mean for the rest of their lives. To run out of wine for your guest was considered a shameful act, and something that might change the way people see you for the rest of your life. This is what it means to be a part of an honor-shame culture. Not only were they supposed to have enough wine for their guest, but they were supposed to have enough for a week. To not provide would mean they were not showing honor to your guest and the entire culture.
Now we have to think about this in the mind of Jesus. He has just started gathering His first disciples. Jesus has much to teach them in a short amount of time. While Jesus is God in the flesh He is also fully human. And He is truly having the full human experience. So, when Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2.4), then He is saying to Mary I need to mindful of when I start displaying my glory in my earthly ministry. Once Jesus starts that there is no turning back. He will have set in motion a path toward the Cross. Jesus has much do and teach before He gets there. Jesus puts Himself and others at risk if He starts this display of His glory. So, here we have Jesus attempting to navigate this complex problem. Based on what we know from the life of Christ we can say confidently He cares about the potential shame this couple might face. But He also needs to wise and mindful of what performing miracles might set in motion.
With those factors mind, let’s dig deeper into the burrow of this complex issue. Another aspect to consider in the Hebrew culture is what wine symbolized:
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.—Psalm 104.14-15
For an Israelite “wine” was a symbol of joy. You served wine at a celebration or party as a way of saying, “Isn’t this awesome? Isn’t this a wonderful gift from God?” It was a way of saying God has provided a joyful experience. Symbolically, to run out of wine was to run out of joy. I believe John is laying the foundation for us to see what the writer of Ecclesiastes sees:
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity…I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine…I built houses and planted vineyards for myself…Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.—Ecclesiastes 2.1-4, 11
As you read the rest of this wisdom book the author continues to show how exhaustive his hedonistic pursuits were, and he always comes to the same conclusion. Pursuing the sensory, visual, intellectual, relational, and all other pleasures of this world will end in emptiness. Eventually all earthly “wines” will run out. This has become heightened in our modern context. As I said earlier, with the rise of the internet age we have quicker access or more immediate access to earthly pleasures. But when the pleasure runs out we go looking for another shallow joy to fill up the whole. So while the culture of John 2 was an “honor-shame culture” ours is an “instant gratification culture.” This is the problem Jesus is addressing.
2. The Beauty of the Solution—John 2.5-11.
Being the mother of Jesus, Mary now understands the complexity of what she is asking Jesus to do. Therefore, what she says in verse 5 is an expression of faith—READ John 2.5. Essentially she is saying, “Jesus I trust whatever decision you make.”
Jesus has heard the request, He has weighed the complexity of the situation, and concludes this a good time to begin revealing His glory. Jesus has people grab the 20 & 30 gallons jars for purification water, and fill them to the brim. Jesus turns that water into wine. Our author summarizes the miracle like this—READ John 2.11.
But friends here is the beauty of what Jesus did. While the miracle in and of itself is amazing the symbolism of the miracles is beautiful. The first we need to notice about the symbolism of the miracle is it takes place at a wedding. In the OT the prophets would describes God’s relationship with Israel in the terms of a marriage. Paul picks up on this theme in the NT, and explains in Ephesians 5 that the very idea of marriage was designed by God to reflect Jesus relationship with the Church.
Next we must take notice of the original substance—WATER (John 2.6-7). It is no coincidence that the water jars were normally used for Jewish purification rituals. Jesus has come to provide something better than the OT Law could. Jesus has come to fulfill the Law and implement something better. One commentator put it this way, “Jesus changes the water of Judaism into the wine of Christianity” (Morris, p. 146).
This leads us to our final symbol—the WINE itself. Notice what the “master of the feast” says—READ John 2.9-10. As I told you earlier WINE is a symbol of celebration in the OT. For Jesus to turn water into wine He is giving a glorious sign that embodies what His kingdom is all out. Jesus’ first miracle bought be joy! Jesus first miracle allowed the party to continue. Jesus’ first miracle saved this couple from a life of shame. Jesus’ first miracle is manifesting His glory by showing that what every culture is longing for He will provide.
Any other pursuit than is addictive in nature. And like all addictions these pursuits will rob from you, kill you, and eventually destroy you. And this doesn’t just happen to you, but all the people you care about. But the pleasure that Jesus provides is life giving and everlasting. Jesus reminds of these things later in the same Gospel:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly…These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full —John 10.10; 15.11
Jesus wants our joy to full. He wants to purify our hearts, so that they are overflowing with an abundance of joy. What is the overarching joy today? If it is anything other than Jesus it is destroying you. Make your request known to Jesus like Mary did, and then trust Him like Mary did. My all of our hearts say today, “Do whatever He tells you.” May we ask Christ to give us palates for better joys—better pleasures—for better wine. I think CS Lewis summarizes this very well in his famous sermon, The Weight of Glory:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”