The very first miracle of Jesus is recorded in John 2. Jesus has just appeared publicly at his baptism at the Jordan River, and three days later Jesus performs his first sign.
People generally recognize that first impressions are pretty important. A bad first impression can make or break relationships, business ventures, even careers. I remember when a new restaurant went in here in town replacing one of our favorites, and my wife and I went on a date to check it out. The meat came out a bit burned and tough, the shrimp was bland and flavorless, and worst of all when we got the check, it was a pretty spendy meal and we left still feeling hungry. Suffice it to say, we’ve never gone back, and we don’t recommend it to our friends. It was a bad first impression.
But this is why the first miracle of Jesus is so significant. As Jesus began His ministry what did He want His first impression to be? You might expect him to cast out a demon or heal a blind man or walk on water, but the very first thing He does is attend a wedding. He goes to a wedding, and by some kind of significant oversight or accident they have run out of wine.
In order to understand the crisis of this situation, you have to understand how weddings worked in those days. A wedding wasn’t just a simple ceremony for two people and their closest friends or family members. A wedding was a community event. In less transient cultures and communities, everyone knows everyone (and if you’re not careful, everyone is related to everyone!). But this wasn’t just a cultural thing: Israel was the covenant people of God. They had been given a particular calling as God’s special people and to pass His promises and mercy to their children.
When a man and woman came of age and came together to be married, not only was this the culmination of years of love and care and instruction, but now it was the moment in which it would all begin again. In other words, an Israelite wedding, a covenant wedding is one that effects and impacts the whole community. It’s not merely a celebration of the couple. It’s a celebration of the covenant, a celebration of the promises of God and the hope of future generations.
And this is actually all connected to what wine represents in the Bible also. The Bible certainly warns against the abuse of wine. The Proverbs say that wine is a mocker and a brawler, and that many sorrows follow drunkards. It sparkles in the cup and then bites you like a serpent. Nevertheless, the Bible also teaches that God gave wine to man to make his heart glad (Ps. 104:15).
Likewise, wine is a picture of the blessing of God. One of the tithes that God commanded Israel to pay was a festival tithe, money they were required to set aside in order to throw a party which was to include choice cuts of meat, wine, and whatever their hearts desired (Dt. 14:26).
This is why salvation is pictured with wine. Isaiah promised: “And in this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees. And He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Is. 25:6-8).
This helps to explain why a wedding running out of wine was such a travesty, such a scandal. One of the feasts at the heart of the covenant community that celebrated God’s promises to give life and to swallow up death and wipe away every tear – that feast was lacking one of the central symbols of that festal joy. And this begins to explain why Jesus chose this moment to perform his first miracle. When the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana, Jesus saw it as the perfect opportunity to display his glory, to demonstrate who He is and why He has come. John says that there were six waterpots sitting there at the wedding feast that the Jews used for purification. The waterpots held 20-30 gallons a piece.
Part of the Old Covenant regulations included many washings for ceremonial uncleanness – this was meant to constantly remind God’s people that they were sinners in need of cleansing to be right with God and one another. At that moment the waterpots were empty, and Jesus told the wedding attendants to fill them up and draw some out and take it to the Master of the Feast. When he tasted it he was amazed and called the bridegroom who was responsible for providing the wine for the feast and complimented him on the decision to save the best wine for last.
This is why Jesus chose this as moment to make his first impression to demonstrate who He is and why He came. He is the Great Bridegroom. He is the Lord of the Feast. He came in order to turn the old water of purification into the wine of celebration. He came to take our sins away and fill us with festal joy.
James, that wedding wasn’t the last time Jesus provided wine for a feast. On the night of His betrayal He took a cup of wine, gave thanks for it and shared it with His disciples saying that it was His blood shed for the remission of sins. When Jesus did that first miracle, He was foreshadowing what He came to do. He came to wash His Bride with His cleansing blood. Now, you are not the literal savior of Denise. Jesus is her savior just like He is your savior. Nevertheless, you are commanded to love Denise like Jesus loved the Church. This means that you need to think of your sacrificial love for Denise like wine making. You are called to be a Feast Maker. The pattern that Jesus gives us and the one that Paul reiterates is that you have a task of cleansing your wife in such a way that she becomes more and more lovely and joyful. Paul says you do that by washing her with the water of the Word. This means you lead your wife not by your whims but by the Word of God. You read the Bible and talk to your wife about. You read it with her and discuss it with her and apply it in your lives. You prioritize being members of a local church where you gather together in covenant community to hear the word read and preached. But you aren’t just obsessed with words and ideas, you are called to lead your wife further in to the joy of following Jesus. You will know you are leading your wife well when it is obvious to everyone around her that her heart is truly glad. James, Jesus made somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of really fine wine at that wedding in Cana. That’s a really good party, and you are called to fill your home with that kind of joy.
Denise, you are a lovely bride today. And as a wife to James, you are called to picture and imitate the Bride of Christ, which is the Christian Church. The Bible summarizes this task with two words: respect and submission. As you well know in our day, talk of a wife submitting to her husband conjures up images of servitude and oppression. This is unfortunate, but it is a result of not understanding what the Bride of Christ is like. The Church has not been saved by Jesus in order to cower and mumble. The Church was saved by the blood of Christ to stand at His side as a glorious, fearsome queen. In the Song of Songs, the bride is pictured as an armory, a tower with a thousand shields of warriors, as lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army streaming with banners (Song 4:4, 6:4). That is the kind of glorious submission you are called to. It is full of strength, full of wisdom, full of courage, full of grace, and it is all of those things because you are not called to mindlessly do whatever James says. Rather, you are called to follow James as he leads you to follow Jesus. And at the center of that communion is a feast with wine. Think of your submission to James like receiving a chalice full of the best wine you can imagine from his hand. He’s called to lay his life down for you, to serve you, to protect you, and that kind of love is like the finest wine that God intends to make your heart glad. So receive that love, and respect your man.
In Ecclesiastes, the wise man exhorts all people to go eat their bread and drink their wine with merry hearts because God has already accepted their works (Eccl. 9:7). This is the basis of all Christian joy and merrymaking. God has already accepted us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are not trying to earn God’s favor. We are not trying to be good enough to get invited to His party.
No, His party is for the riffraff, for the lonely, for the failures, for the broken, for sinners. If you think you’re good enough to be a Christian, then you aren’t, and if you know you aren’t, then you are. That’s what grace does; Jesus fills our emptiness with His fine wine. James and Denise, as you begin your lives together, may Jesus fill your cups to overflowing and may your table be a place where the joy of knowing Jesus continually flows.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.