Gospel of John (3) — When the Wine Runs Out

This morning, we continue in our study of the gospel of John. In just a few moments, we’re going to be in John chapter 2 if you’d like to be turning there.

I would imagine that your family is like ours in that we are always running out of one thing or another. And one thing we especially run out of when the grandkids are around is milk. Which is not a big deal except that we sometimes run out of milk at the most inconvenient times. Here are a couple of scenarios that you may be familiar with.

You pour yourself a bowl of cereal, maybe put a little bit of fruit on top. Then you open the fridge to get some milk and realize there isn’t any! What do you do when the milk runs out?

Or, even worse, you come home at the end of the day, you open the door, and you smell that wonderful aroma of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. You go to the kitchen and grab a couple of cookies, but of course to really enjoy fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, you need a tall glass of ice-cold milk. So you open the door to the fridge only to find that someone else has finished all the milk. And that’s extremely disappointing, because chocolate chip cookies just aren’t as good with water or juice. You need milk but you’ve run out. What do you do when the milk runs out?

Now, for most of us, it’s not a big problem, unless it’s right before or after a huge hurricane. We just run down to Food Lion or Wal-Mart or any of a dozen other places near our home.

But, I bring all this up because as we continue in our study of John’s gospel, we come to his account of a wedding — a wedding where they ran out of something very important. Not milk, but wine. Wine was a “necessity” in that day. In fact, there was an old rabbinic saying that went like this, “Without wine there is no joy.” And that was especially true when it came to first century Jewish weddings. Wine was part of the joy of that celebration.

But John tells us about a wedding where they ran out of wine and the people didn’t know what to do. But Jesus’ mother did. Let’s listen to the text as we watch this video. John 2:1-11.


Let’s set the context of this story. Verse 1 tells us that this wedding took place in “Cana in Galilee” (John 2:1). Cana was a village that was only a few miles away from Nazareth. Which means the people of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, and the people of Cana were neighbors. They knew each other.

And it appears that Jesus’ mother had an important role in this particular wedding. She seems to have been in charge of the arrangements, sort of a wedding coordinator. And I say that because John tells us that she was personally concerned when the wine ran out and she also had the authority to order the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do.

Tradition tells us that Mary was the groom’s aunt. Some legends even go so far as to say that the groom was the apostle John himself, and that his mother was Salome, the sister of Mary, but that’s just a legend. Other legends tell us that the bride may have been Jesus’ half-sister. But again, the text doesn’t tell us any of that. But, it does appear that there was some sort of a connection between the bride and groom and Jesus’ family.

Now, a wedding in Jesus’ day was a very big deal. The whole town was involved. In fact, the wedding festivities usually lasted for more than one day. They often went on for an entire week! The ceremony itself took place in the evening. Then the young couple was taken to their new home, carried through the streets in a torchlight parade, with a canopy over their heads.

But there was no honeymoon. Instead, the newlyweds stayed at home for the following week and hosted sort of a 7-day open house party, and all of the friends and neighbors were invited.

In those days there was so much poverty and hard work and so little time for fun, that this week of festivity and joy was one of the highlights of life. Everyone looked forward to it, so it was a big deal.

I hope that gives you a good picture of what’s going on in this text. Jesus was attending one of these week-long wedding celebrations. But right in the middle of their joy, something went wrong.

And I’m sure that most of you can relate to this. Even with months and months of planning, most weddings will have at least one glitch – at least one thing that doesn’t go exactly right. We work so hard to make weddings a special time. But life rarely runs as smoothly as we want it to, and that’s especially true of weddings!

And it was certainly true of this wedding. At some point during their celebration, they ran out of wine.

Now we need to understand that for a Jewish feast, wine was essential. Now, don’t misunderstand. It was not that people were drunk, because in their culture drunkenness was a great disgrace. Proverbs 23:20 (GW) says, “Do not associate with those who drink too much wine.” Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”

So, over-indulging in alcohol was – and still is — a sin. Ancient sources tell us that back then people actually mixed their wine with water to dilute it. Athenaeus wrote that three parts water to one part wine was customary. Pliny said that a ratio of eight parts water to one part wine was the norm. Homer’s Odyssey mentions a ratio of 20 parts water to one part wine. And all of that is to say that in the first century, to over-indulge and get drunk, you had to work really hard at it.

In any case, wine was essential and for the hosts to run out was a very embarrassing thing. You see, hospitality in that part of the world was — and still is — a very sacred duty and for things to literally run dry would have brought great shame to the bride and groom.

This couple was about to experience the ultimate embarrassment of not being able to provide enough for their friends. They would forever be remembered in this small village as the family who failed to take care of the needs of their guests. Some commentators even tell us that lawsuits could be brought against families who didn’t provide adequately during a wedding feast. Can you imagine being sued for not having enough cake and punch at a wedding reception? So, this was a big deal.

And it appears that this family was rather poor. Sueanne and I know what it’s like to get married on a limited budget. We cut corners on our wedding every possible way we could. We even had our wedding cake baked by the cafeteria at Freed-Hardeman College. You know you’re on a tight budget when you get a school cafeteria to provide your cake!

Getting married on a limited budget isn’t easy. And it doesn’t seem to have been easy for this young couple. Maybe they made the minimum preparation necessary for this wedding feast, hoping that everything would work out all right. But it didn’t. They either miscalculated the amount of wine needed or perhaps they just couldn’t afford any more, or maybe more guests showed up than they were expecting. The bottom line is — there wasn’t enough wine.

What do you do when the wine runs out? Mary, the mother of Jesus, knew what to do. She went to Jesus and told him what happened. And I think Mary did this because she recognized who Jesus was. She had seen enough over the years to believe that Jesus truly was the Son of God. So, she said to him, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3) I think she was saying, “Jesus, this would be a really good time for you to do something spectacular and publicly declare who you really are.”

Jesus responded, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” (John 2:4), which sounds a bit rude and disrespectful. I suspect that you mothers would be a bit upset if your son called you, “woman”. “Woman, when will supper be ready?” “Woman, did you wash my clothes yesterday?” I don’t suggest that you kids try this at home.

But, in Jesus’ day, the word “woman” didn’t carry with it this kind of disrespectful, derogatory meaning. In fact, just the opposite. Back then, “woman” was a term of endearment and respect.

It’s the same word that Jesus used when he was on the cross and he looked down at Mary and the apostle John and he said, “Woman, behold your son.” Even outside of the Bible, this word was a title of affection and respect. Think of it as a knight addressing a queen and saying, “my lady” and you get the idea.

Jesus was basically saying, “Mom, don’t worry about it. Just leave things to me, and I’ll take care of them in my own way.”

Notice that Jesus didn’t turn his mother down. He didn’t say, “No,” but neither did he say, “Yes.” Jesus didn’t indicate whether he would or he wouldn’t solve the problem. And I think maybe he was saying to his mother — that’s not for you to decide. And it may mark a significant change in their relationship. Jesus is no longer her “little boy,” obliged to do whatever she tells him to do. He is the Messiah. His submission is to his heavenly Father.

And Mary wasn’t the least bit bothered by what Jesus said. She didn’t argue with him, she didn’t plead with him. Her response was to say to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5). And then Mary left it all in Jesus’ hands and went back to her hostess duties, confident that Jesus would take care of things. Which he did.

“Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. (John 2:6)

So, we have these huge containers of water. This water may have been used to clean the feet of people as they entered the house. Remember that the roads were dusty and so, you needed to keep a good supply of water on hand, especially if you were having a week full of wedding guests.

Or it’s possible that this water was used to wash hands. Before eating, each guest would have water poured over his or her hands. If the feast went on for a number of days, that process would have to be repeated numerous times, so with any sizable number of guests, there would have been a need for a large amount of water.

“Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.” (John 2:7), which makes it clear that nothing but water was put in those containers. No wine was added.

In verse 8, Jesus said to the servants, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” (John 2:8) This guy was kinda like the “head waiter”— the one responsible for the seating of the guests and making sure everything ran smoothly during the feast.

And this is where Mary’s words to the servants are really put to the test. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought how difficult this must have been for these servants. It was one thing to fill up the jars, which was probably a part of their regular responsibilities. But nobody would ever drink this water. You might have washed your hands in it, but not drunk it. In fact, this water may not have even been considered suitable for drinking.

They must have wondered how the master of the feast would react. “When he finds out we’re giving him water and not wine he’s not going to be a happy camper. And then when he finds out where that water came from — he’s going to be furious!”

But, to their credit, they obeyed. And then the master of the feast tasted the water which had become wine, and he said, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:10)

Which means that Jesus didn’t just turn those 150 gallons of water into wine. He turned them into the very best wine. Which was actually a pretty nice wedding gift to the bride and groom.

It’s worth noting that Jesus was perfectly at home in a place of rejoicing like this. Jesus was someone who enjoyed a wedding. I’ve noticed over the years that there is a special moment at the reception when all the tension of preparing and decorating and planning is finally over. The nervousness that the bride and groom had about the ceremony is past. They got through their vows without mumbling and nobody tripped while walking down the aisle. There’s nothing else to pick out, no more invitations to lick, no more dilemmas of who has to sit next to Aunt Myrtle. All the work and stress of the wedding is past.

And there’s this moment when all of this tension is finally gone and everybody relaxes and starts to actually enjoy the reception. They begin to have fun just being together. They start to truly celebrate the love that drew two families together.

That’s the atmosphere at this wedding feast where Jesus is. It’s just pure joy. There’s music, there’s dancing. And I think Jesus was out there on the dancefloor with the bride and groom. He would have enjoyed the food and the fellowship. Because scripture tells us that Jesus liked to party.

And the Pharisees criticized him for it. They said he had too much fun. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Matthew 11:19)

The spirituality Jesus taught was not drab and lifeless. And I think one of the reasons this story is included in scripture is to let us know that Jesus believed in festivity. He enjoyed a good party. Jesus was someone who was filled with joy.

And I think that’s important because there are some people who claim to be Christians, but they just spread doom and gloom wherever they go. If they’ve ever smiled or laughed, you’ve never seen it. But Jesus wasn’t like that. His life was filled with joy and if we truly follow him, if we truly imitate him, we will be filled with joy as well.

In fact, Jesus said in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Like Jesus, we need to rejoice because we have so much to rejoice about!

But that’s enough context. With all of this in mind, I want us to consider this important question: Where do we go when the “wine” runs out? And of course, I’m speaking symbolically. What I’m really asking is this — where do we go when we have a need that we can’t meet on our own? Where do we go when we have a problem so big that we can’t deal with it ourselves? Because I believe this story emphasizes the fact that in times like that, we need to go to Jesus.

And I want to share with you two reasons that we need to go to Jesus.

(1) First of all, we go to Jesus because we know he can do BIG things.

When you and I face the impossible challenges of life, we go to Jesus because we know that he is able to help. We know that Jesus can do the impossible.

And this is a good time for us to be reminded that according to John, the main reason Jesus did miracles like this was to get people’s attention…and to cause them to focus not on the miracle itself but on the miracle WORKER. Miracles were done as signs that Jesus was the Messiah — signs that would lead people to believe in him and to put their faith in him.

Remember what John said at the end of his gospel? “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

And John tells us that this first sign, this first miracle at the wedding feast, accomplished that purpose. “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)

Mary was there, but she already knew who Jesus was. She already knew that he was the Son of God and that’s why she trusted him to deal with this problem. She knew, that as God in the flesh, Jesus had the power to take care of literally anything, so she went to him when a miracle was needed. And we need Mary’s level of faith in Jesus – a faith that leads us to bring our problems, to bring our challenges — even the big ones — to Jesus.

Leland Wong is an evangelist to Chinese people in America, and he puts three Biblical texts at the top of his letterhead: Joshua 10:13, “The sun stood still.”

2 Kings 6:6, “The iron did float.”

And Psalm 48:14, “This God is our God.”

“The sun stood still…the iron did float…this God is our God.” I like that! And maybe we would do well to have our own personal letterhead printed up with those verses on it, because it’s true. There is no problem that is too big for our God to handle.

As God himself put it in Jeremiah 32:27, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” And, of course, the answer is no. Our God can do anything! And the more we believe God can do, the more we’ll attempt to do for him.

Do you believe that our God is truly omnipotent, all-powerful? Is He powerful enough to heal your marriage? Is he strong enough to provide your physical needs? Is our God able to make you an effective parent? Can he help you do your job—can he help you with the challenges of your career? Can he help you find a job?

I believe the words of the children’s song that Jared often leads before worship – “Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing our God cannot do!”

In fact, God can even miraculously transform your life…just as he transformed that water. In fact, if you think this miracle is all about water and wine, you’re missing the whole point. Our God is in the transformation business. What Jesus really came to do, and what he has the ability to do, is to transform people.

Jesus didn’t just come to give us information; he came to give us transformation. He changes things. He has a way of taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. And he wasn’t just able to change water to wine. He was able to take men like Peter, James and John who messed up time and again, and transform them into men of God, apostles.

In I Corinthians 6, Paul goes through a long list of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God – fornicators, idolators, and so on. Then he says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:11).

He says you have experienced the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. Whenever Jesus comes into a person’s life, there comes a new quality which is like turning water into wine. And as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, we become a “new creation”.

And so, when the wine runs out, we go to Jesus because we know he can do big things. Jesus has unlimited power — enough power to handle any problem we face no matter how big it is.

But we don’t just go to him with our BIG needs. We go to him with our little problems as well…

(2) …because we know Jesus CARES about the LITTLE things of our lives.

Keep in mind that Jesus did this first miracle in a tiny Galilean village. He wasn’t surrounded by vast multitudes. It wasn’t done to raise the dead or to feed a multitude. Nobody’s life hung in the balance. This was not an emergency situation which demanded immediate and dramatic action. It was simply done to save a poor family from embarrassment.

And I think that shows us that God cares about every problem we face— big or small. Our prayer list here at Cruciform is filled with some big problems — things like heart trouble and cancer. But it’s also filled with little problems, like parents who are struggling their kids, or students taking a test in school.

We go to Jesus with our big problems because we know he has the power to handle them…but we go to him with our little problems as well because we know that he cares about us.

Some people have the idea that God is kinda like the President of the United States — he is a person with so many demands on his time, so that he cannot possibly respond to every individual request. Who are we to “bother” God with our little problems?

But if that’s our idea of God, then we’ve got it all wrong. I Peter 5:7 says, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” The New Living Translation says, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” And I really like what the Phillips translation says, “…for you are his personal concern.”

This first miracle in Cana shows us that Jesus – the Creator and Sustainer of this universe — was concerned about somebody’s wedding reception. This was an ordinary wedding with common, ordinary people. The bride and groom aren’t even named, probably because nobody would have known them anyway.

Which I think is important because most of us are insignificant people, as far as the world is concerned. We sometimes wonder why God would have any interest in reaching down into our lives. We need to be reminded that Jesus takes great delight in helping insignificant people who have a need.


May God help us to have a faith strong enough that our first reaction to BIG problems is to turn to him. But, may we always invite his help in the little things as well, knowing that he truly cares May we reach the point where we are able to commit ourselves to inviting God into ALL of our lives. And we the welcome the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

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