Please read John 2:1-11 in your favorite Bible. Then call your mother.
President Abraham Lincoln once summoned an Army surgeon to the White House. The major assumed that he was to be commended for some exceptional work. During the conversation Mr. Lincoln asked the major about his widowed mother, how she was.
“She is doing fine,” the surgeon responded.
“How do you know?” asked Lincoln. “You haven’t written her, but she has written me.” Lincoln continued, “She thinks that you are dead, and she is asking that a special effort be made to return your body.”
At that, the Commander-in-Chief placed a pen in the young doctor’s hand and ordered him to write a letter letting his mother know that he was alive and well.
Abraham Lincoln was a man of rare courage, but even he was unwilling to disappoint somebody’s mother! In our passage today we will look at the example of an even greater man - Jesus Christ - who was unwilling to disappoint His mother.
Mary demonstrated a resolve to help that jump-started Jesus’ ministry.
1. Mary saw a problem and knew Jesus could solve it. (1-5)
A practical-minded person might not see it as a big problem, but the wine ran out before the guests did. In that culture, weddings were celebrations lasting several days. Running out of wine was potentially a big embarrassment to the bridal party, a feeling to which Mary was sympathetic. Honor was a much bigger motivator in their culture than it is in our culture.
You might want to say Mary was just observing the problem, not dropping hints or being a stage mom in any way, shape, or form. But that is not what the text leads us to believe. There are three observations that support this interpretation of Mary’s role in the miracle.
First, Jesus’ reply is rather pointed. (4) We shall examine His reply in three parts: one, “DEAR WOMAN” is still an affectionate and respectful address, but it takes Mary’s status as mother off the table; there is no nepotism or privileged status coercing Him to do as she asked. “WHY DO YOU INVOLVE ME?” is a question that proves Jesus understood Mary’s words as a request, not a mere statement of fact. “MY TIME HAS NOT YET COME” means this was not the moment Jesus had chosen to begin His public ministry; making wine was not the kind of miracle He had in mind. This was a statement of fact from Jesus’ perspective, but either Mary disagreed and thought this was a good first miracle, or she was more concerned about saving the newlyweds the embarrassment of running out of wine.
What was Jesus’ choice of events to begin His public ministry? In John’s gospel it was apparently the very next thing He did. Jesus went to Jerusalem and clear out the temple (read John 2:12-25). Interestingly, on that occasion, the Jewish leaders demanded Jesus do a miracle to prove He had authority to take that aggressive action.
A second bit of evidence supporting Mary as a stage mom is the fact that her instructions to the servants clearly put Jesus on the spot. (5) She did not know HOW Jesus was going to solve them problem, only that He COULD. That’s why her instructions to the servants were vague. After saying this, I see Mary walking away, leaving it in Jesus’ hands. Her words and actions imply a tactful and respectful approach to her son. Rev. Stephen Hartdegen commented: “It was altogether fitting that the first of Christ’s followers to manifest this faith in His divinity should be His own Mother.” (p. 11)
The third bit of evidence is the most convincing: Jesus did the miracle; He did what his mother hinted should be done. (6-10) Though it was not, in Jesus’ opinion HIS TIME to launch His public ministry, Jesus honored His mother by obeying her request. To be fair, part of this is the culture. When we recall the Old Testament penalty for dishonoring one’s parents - death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) - we get a glimpse into the priority of obeying one’s parents in that culture.
2. Jesus used miraculous means to solve the problem. (6-10)
Jesus had no financial recourse to solve the problem; Mary knew this as surely as she knew He had divine power. A miraculous solution was clearly going to follow.
As He would in the miracles of feeding thousands of people, in this miracle, Jesus used what He had at hand. Verse six says there were STONE JARS NEARBY were that contained water provided for the ceremonial washings that were part of Jewish faith and practice. This was up to 180 gallons of liquid! Jesus ordered these JARS filled with water and they were refilled, up to the BRIM. (7) Notice that at no time did Jesus touch the water or the JARS. This detail makes the miracle a bit more miraculous in the sense that there was no possible physical means of Jesus’ changing the water.
He told the servants to take some liquid out of one of the jars and take it to the MASTER OF THE BANQUET. (8) At that point He referred to it indirectly; not using the words WATER or WINE. This meant the servants must have wondered what good it would to take a dipper full of water to the MASTER.
The MASTER OF THE BANQUET was unaware of the proceedings in vs. 1-8; he had no idea where the dipper full of wine came from and assumed the groom had reserved this delicious wine for the tail end of the celebration. He was enthusiastic about the quality of the WINE. (9-10) This indicates Jesus did more than supply wine, He supplied the BEST wine! This detail, along with the quantity of wine produced, is an example of the grace and generosity of God at work.
What does the MASTER’s word BEST mean in describing this wine? Should teetotalers be concerned about Jesus producing an alcoholic drink? That is not an easy question to answer but thankfully it has little import on the meaning of this parable. Consider the following and make up your own mind:
- It was customary to dilute one part wine with three parts water; if the MASTER tasted diluted wine, we don’t need to be too concerned about alcoholic content.
- The expression TOO MUCH TO DRINK needn’t refer to drunkenness; it merely means the guests’ tastes were blunted by the food, or the passing of time, or getting used to the good stuff.
- An emphasis on the alcohol content is something we bring to the text; it is not a concern for John.
- The Greek word for wine here is oinos. It is the same word used in Ephesians 5:18 which commands us to not get drunk on wine. The language does not permit us to claim it was merely “grape juice.”
- In our own time, no one serious about wine judges the quality of a wine by its alcoholic content.
- People understandably don’t want Jesus to be making a beverage that might be misused for drunkenness, but that’s imposing a problem in our culture upon the ancient culture. To be fair, these same people don’t voice a concern about Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes because it might’ve led to the sin of gluttony. (Drunkenness is no worse a sin than gluttony.)
- The Bible’s teaching is against the abuse of alcohol (causing drunkenness) not the use of alcohol. Alcohol has no inherent moral quality; it is how it is used that creates moral outcomes. Some Scriptures present alcohol in positive terms (Ecclesiastes 9:7; Psalm 104:14-15; Amos 9:14; Isaiah 55:1.) Other Scriptures identify the abuse of alcohol (drunkenness/addiction) as sinful (Ephesians 5:18; Proverbs 23:29-35; 1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19).
- From “A Theology of Wine” by Joe Thorn, on a February 14, 2017, “What is Wine?” we read, “Wine is the fermented juice of crushed grapes; an alcoholic beverage that can lead to intoxication if consumed in excess. Most of us know what wine is, though some teachers have attempted to explain that the wine in Scripture is sometimes wine, and sometimes grape juice. The plain truth is the best biblical scholars argue consistently and clearly, that not only is the ‘wine’ of the Bible alcoholic, maintaining unfermented grape juice would be a virtual impossibility. D.F. Watson states it plainly in The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels in his article, Wine, when he says, ‘All wine mentioned in the Bible is fermented grape juice with an alcohol content. No non-fermented drink was called wine.’"
- The availability of unfermented grape juice was severely limited as it was subject to spoiling. In our time, grape juice is widely available because a guy named Welch perfected the pasteurizing of grape juice. He was looking for a way to preserve grape juice that churches could use instead of wine.
- In Acts 2:13, the crowd hearing the speaking of tongues that accompanied the Filling of the Spirit (2:4), tried to explain it away by saying they had “too much sweet wine.” This is a clear reference to fermentation which - at that time - would have been necessary to preserve newly-pressed grape juice.
3. The significance of Jesus’ solution. (11)
John’s account does not leave it to us to decide whether this miracle was “important” or not. We’re not allowed to accuse Mary of misusing Jesus’ power for a trivial purpose, merely to avoid the embarrassing of the bridal party.
Instead, John supplies three reasons this miracle was “legit.” One, it was the FIRST of seven MIRACULOUS SIGNS, supernatural acts that verified His testimony about Himself, that He was the Son of God. Two, the miracle was a revelation of HIS GLORY. The changing of water to wine revealed the divine half of Jesus, shining the light of God in a sin-darkened world. Three, the miracle caused His DISCIPLES to PUT THEIR FAITH IN HIM.
These three observations put a high theological value on this miracle. I would assign it an importance equal to the other miracles that a person might naturally consider more important (in Lazarus’ case, Jesus’ miracle really was “a matter of life and death”).
Mary demonstrated a resolve to help that jump-started Jesus’ ministry.
In an article entitled, “What Creates Leftism? Affluence Plus Secularism,” Dennis Prager wrote,
“Marrying and making a family have always been sources of meaning to the great majority of people. However, like religion, the American family is also in steep decline.
“For the first time in American history, according to Statista, as of 2020, nearly half of all men in America (46%) have never been married, and 41% of American women have never been married. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 85.4 million Americans 18 and over have never been married. There are presently 130 million unmarried American adults.
“Worse yet, as Dr. Bella DePaulo of the University of California at Santa Barbara wrote in Psychology Today, ‘Half of all solo single people don’t want a romantic relationship or even a date.’”
This demographic is troubling because family is one of the chief things in which a person can invest to contribute to society and to get beyond self. I’m not saying singleness is a problem, it’s a symptom of our culture’s march away from things that bind us together. In culture as well as in nature, a solitary individual is easier to pick off; the herd provides physical, emotional, and spiritual security. We have come so far down this road I find myself a bit nervous about even bringing up the subject.
But here’s the thing that Scripture and biology both affirm about mothers: everybody’s got one. Our relationship with our mother, as illustrated by our passage this morning, is supposed to be, one of the things that compels us to seek God and to join with Him in advancing the cause of righteousness in our world. All of the societal forces that atomize us, individuate us, separate us from one another, these are contrary to the word and will of God. May Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Grandparents’ Day and Children’s Day serve a greater purpose than greeting cards and sentiment; may they serve as reminders how desperately we need one another. May we be motivated to encourage each other to love and good deeds, just as Scripture commands.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, John, Merrill C. Tenney
Hartdegen, Stephen (1960) "Marian Significance of Cana ( John 2: 1-11)," Marian Studies: Vol. 11, Article 8, Pages 85-103. Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/marian_studies/vol11/iss1/8