August 11, 2002

Wine Is The New Covenant Better?

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: John Scripture: John 2:1–11


Wine Is The New Covenant Better?

John 2:1-11
Sunday, August 11, 2002 
Pastor Randy Smith

The narrative before us this morning is possibly amongst the most well-known and favorite stories of the Bible. It seems fairly simple to interpret at first reading; however, as the history of exegesis testifies, few biblical accounts have received greater degrees of interpretation. What is the main point that John is trying to communicate to his readers? What would the Holy Spirit wish us to know as we depart from this sanctuary in 45 minutes? How can we specifically apply this text to our Christian lives?

To answer these questions, I would like to walk you this morning through three specific steps as they are listed in your sermon notes. First , I'd like to lay a foundation by answering some key questions surrounding the background of this text. Second , with the historical background in place, I'd like to show you what I believe is John's main point. Third , with the main point discerned, I'd like to leave you with some practical application.

Let's read this wonderful account together. John 2:1-11, "And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the wedding. And when the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, 'They have no wine.' And Jesus said to her, 'Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come.' His mother said to the servants, 'Whatever He says to you, do it.' Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, 'Fill the waterpots with water.' And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, 'Draw some out now, and take it to the headwaiter.' And they took it to him. And when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, 'Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now.' This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him."


In order to correctly interpret this text and therefore rightly apply this text, we need to properly understand some of the background that is concealed to our 21st century mind. I will present it in the form of 7 questions.

1 • How was a wedding conducted in 1st century Palestine?

Though much of this information is far from complete, a Jewish wedding was one of the grandest events in an individual's life. It seems the wedding followed a period of betrothal. A betrothal was similar to an engagement, but taken in a more serious manner. It was a solemn pledge, dissolved only through divorce proceedings. After the betrothal, the groom and his friends at night made a procession to the bride's house. Together the bride and groom would head back to the groom's house where the wedding banquet was held. After the wedding itself, a feast was conducted that would often last up to a week. Our account in John 2 finds us in the middle of this feast.

2 • Why was it such a tragedy when the wine ran out?

Wine was an essential element at the Jewish wedding. The reason was not to promote drunkenness, but rather because wine was a cultural symbol of joy and celebration. Therefore a shortage of wine brought a major damper to the festivities. The groom and his family, responsible for the feast were subjected to tremendous shame and liability, even to the point of a lawsuit! This was the awful predicament in which Mary and the other attendants at the wedding found themselves. A quick trip to the liquor store back then was out of the question. They needed wine and they needed it fast! One commentator captured this dilemma well in words, "The childhood dreams of the ideal wedding were about to dissolve into a nightmare."

3 • Why did Mary turn to Jesus for help?

Though the answer to this question seems fairly obvious to us, we must remember that John says in verse 11 that this miracle was the "beginning of His signs." There are some non-biblical accounts of miracles that Jesus performed prior to His baptism, but the validity of these stories is doubtful. For example, the infancy Gospel of Thomas records a story about Jesus when He was 5 years old. It was said Jesus was playing with some other children beside a brook one Sabbath when He fashioned 12 sparrows from clay. A Jew reported the violation of the Sabbath to Joseph who came and rebuked his son. In quoting the text itself, "Joseph called out to Jesus, 'Why are you doing these things which ought not to be done on the Sabbath?' Jesus clapped His hands and called out to the sparrows, 'Be off!' And the sparrows took flight and flew away chirping."

Nevertheless, despite the fact that Mary probably never witnessed a miracle from Jesus, she did have the revelation from Gabriel prior to His arrival. She did encounter the virgin birth. And she did experience a sinless child. Maybe, as all of us with children would agree, the latter should have been the greatest indicator that there was something remarkable about her son! Bottom line, Mary was desperate and she hoped that there was something her first-born Son could do.

4 • Was Jesus rude in addressing His mother the way He did?

After being asked by Mary to help, Jesus replied in verse 4, "Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come." First of all it is important to note that the term "Woman" is not disrespectful in the original Greek. It was a courteous, affectionate title of respect. It could better be translated, "Woman Dear," or "Ma'am." Interestingly, John never records Jesus (or anyone) referring to Mary by her personal name. As a matter of fact, the only other account where Jesus speaks to her in this gospel is 19:26, when He says from the cross, "Woman, behold, your son!"

But more germane to our main point, Jesus appears to be creating some space between He and His mother in verse 4. The Semitic idiom of, "What do I have to do with you," was commonly used to distance two parties. In other words, "Mother, what is common between you and Me."

Now that Jesus had entered His public ministry, everybody must subordinate himself or herself to the Father's plan for His life. Nobody had an "inside track." Nobody could alter His agenda. All who approached Him must approach Him as the Messiah. Mary learned a difficult lesson this day (maybe this was the sword that would pierce her heart). He is not subordinate to her, but rather she is subordinate to Him. Her intentions, as noble as they were must take a backseat to His Messianic vocation and the hour for which He came.

It seems as if Mary was quick to learn. Her response in verse 5 of "whatever He says to you, do it" is spoken more from the perspective as a believer than a mother.

5 • Did Jesus make wine or unfermented grace juice?

Despite the mild rebuke of Mary, Jesus still produced the wine. It was not due to the bond between a mother and a son, but rather resulting from the faith of a believer for the manifestation of His glory. Yet the question has arisen in light of all the evils concerning alcohol…did the Son of God really produce wine at this festival?

Many who believe the Bible calls for total abstinence adamantly argue that Jesus only produced grape juice. The text speaks to the contrary. Look at verse 9, "And when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine , and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, 'Every man serves the good wine first , and when men have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now ." Based upon a literal reading of the text, there can be little doubt that Jesus actually produced fermented wine. To say that it was grape juice gives total disregard for the cultural expectations.

Additionally, the event is recorded as a miracle. In no time at all, Jesus produced approximately 180 gallons of wine! With the right substances, I can change water into grape juice…that would be no miracle! However, to change water into quality wine, bypassing the time of fermentation, requires nothing short of a miracle. Therefore I believe Jesus produced wine at this wedding.

6 • What was the alcoholic content of wine during this time?

Water during this time was polluted. More often than not, wine was added to purify the water. The ratio was between 20 parts to 1 part water to 1 part wine. Often the average was 3 parts water to 1 part wine. This was the wine served at the Lord's Supper and I believe this is the wine that Jesus produced at the wedding. Anyone who drank unmixed wine, similar to our wine today, was considered a Barbarian. Therefore, the wine back then was not comparable to the wine served today, for the alcohol content was greatly different. It would be better to say that they drank purified water mixed with wine than to say they drank wine itself. One scholar said, "In New Testament times one would need to drink 22 glasses of wine in order to consume the large amount of alcohol in 2 martinis." Another scholar humorously remarked, "In other words, it is possible to become intoxicated from wine mixed with 3 parts water, but one's drinking would probably affect the bladder long before the mind."

7 • What are the purpose of Christ's signs?

Verse 11 says, "This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee." Though changing water into wine is no doubt a miracle, John prefers to call it a "sign." Why? A sign, as you are well aware, is something that points beyond itself to something greater. For instance, we have a sign out front that says, "The Grace Tabernacle." But the sign is not the church. We don't gather at the sign; we gather at the place to which the sign points. In the same way, Christ's miracles surely demonstrated His divinity, but in a greater way they pointed to something more significant, something more meaningful than the miracle itself. The looming question we have before us this morning is, what was the purpose of this miracle? Why did Christ change water into wine? What was the significance of the sign, and what was it pointing to?


Allow me to move on to point #2 as we work toward answering that key question. I believe the main point of the narrative must be discerned from the "sign." That's why I disagree with the direction of many preachers. Let me give you a few examples. First example, since Jesus attended this wedding and chose this wedding for His first miracle, He approves of the ordained institution between a man and a woman. True, but not John's main point! Second example, since Jesus spent time with the secular public, we too should be committed to unbelievers for the purpose of evangelism. True, but not John's main point! Third example, since Jesus produced fermented wine at the wedding, there is nothing wrong with a Christian's moderate use of alcohol. True, although I would wish to qualify that, but not John's main point. Fourth example, since Mary went to Jesus for the miracle, we too must go through Mary to speak to Jesus. Absolutely untrue, there is no biblical evidence to support this and obviously this is not John's main point.

So, we are back to our thesis. What is John's point of this narrative? To what greater reality did the sign point which enabled Christ to manifest His glory whereas the disciples might believe on Him? I believe we have two clues in the story itself.

First we need to consider the 6 stone waterpots mentioned in verse 6. According to that verse, these vessels, each able to contain 20-30 gallons of water, were used for purification according to the customs of Israel. Since washings and codes of purity were essential, large basins of water were provided to wash ones hands and clean the vessels required for the feast. You may recall the Pharisees rebuking Jesus in Mark 7 because His disciples did not follow theses customary traditions of the elders (Mk. 7:1-9). In that account Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for neglecting the commandment of God in favor of the tradition of men.

Now in a subtler rebuke, Jesus took these stone waterpots and literally defiled them by turning the water into wine. His purpose was to show that someone greater to the old covenant and the traditions had arrived. Someone who would transform the water of Judaism into the wine of Christianity. Someone who would fulfill the old order and replace it with the new that is far superior.

Let me see if I can tie this into the symbolism in our narrative. Just as the waterpots were filled to the brim with inferior water, the time of the old covenant had run its course. Now that the fulness of time had come (Gal. 4:4), a new age was inaugurated. The superior "new wine" (as Christ called His teaching) had arrived. This new wine was produced in abundance; this new wine was saved for the end, and this new wine was "much better" than the old wine. Attention should not be focused on the old waterpots of purification, but on Jesus who brought true purification from sin.

The gospel writers make the superiority of Christ very clear. He brings a new birth and a new form of worship in spirit and truth. He is greater than Solomon (Mt. 12:42), greater than Jacob (Jn. 4:12), greater than the Temple (Mt. 12:6), greater than Jonah (Mt. 12:41), greater than Abraham (Jn. 8:53), greater than the Baptist (Jn. 1:27) and greater than Moses (Jn. 1:17). Moses turned water into blood for His first sign whereas Jesus turned water into wine for His first sign. There can be no doubt…Jesus is the best wine saved for these latter days! He has fulfilled the Old Covenant and has brought a better covenant with better promises. The old is obsolete and all attention must be focused upon Him.

A second clue from our narrative this morning comes from the substance Jesus produced…wine. Though wine often brings negative connotations in the Christian community, in both the Old and New Testaments, wine often brought a much different imagery. In a day and age when water was scarce, wine represented sustenance and life. Genesis 27:28-"Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, And of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine ." Wine was a symbol of joy, festivity and celebration. Psalm 104:15-"And wine which makes man's heart glad." A contemporary rabbinical saying said, "Without wine, there is no joy." Abundant wine was considered a sign of blessing from God." Amos 9:13-14- "'Behold, days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine , and all the hills will be dissolved. Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them, They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine , And make gardens and eat their fruit.'" Joel 2:24-"And the threshing floors will be full of grain, And the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil." Finally, wine pointed to the arrival of the Messiah and the coming of His kingdom. Isaiah 25:6-"And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine , choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine ."

It was prophesized that in the kingdom the wine would flow liberally. When Jesus produced such a large quantity of wine, it was an indication that the Kingdom of God had arrived (Jer. 31:12; Hos. 14:7; Am. 9:13-14). And this Kingdom though it is here now, will be fully realized when the Messianic age is consummated at Christ's return and we will enjoy the great wedding feast with our Savior in heaven. It will be a feast, a celebration when we will again drink of the fruit of the vine with our Savior. "And He said to them, 'I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.' And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, 'Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes'" (Lk. 22:15-17).

Though much of this second point assumes an understanding of the Old Testament imagery of wine, there was little doubt in the disciples' minds that the large quantity of wine was a sign that the Messianic age had arrived. The Kingdom of God was at hand, and joy which the wine also symbolized was to be realized and experienced at it's fullest.


There is much we can apply from this message, but as I move to our final point this morning, I want to ask you a specific question. As a New Testament believer, as a member of the long awaited New Covenant, as a child of the Messiah enjoying all the privileges of His kingdom…are you realizing and experienced the joy that Christ symbolized in His first miracle?

The Old Testament prophesized it and the New Testament expects it. Jesus promised it, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full" (John 15:11). The Holy Spirit produces it, "But the fruit of the Spirit is…joy" (Gal. 5:22). The Kingdom characterizes it, "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). And the Scriptures command it, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice" (Phil. 4:4)!

Our joy is not based upon circumstances, for they are too unpredictable. Our joy is not based on religion, for it is often dead and lifeless. Our joy is based on a relationship with Jesus Christ where we experience the fulness of His joy, deep and everlasting.

You might be saying, Pastor, I don't have that joy, but I want it in my life. First I would ask you, do you know Jesus Christ. Are you a child of His? Second I would ask you, are you abiding in Christ? Even as a Christian, did you know the joy of Jesus Christ is not guaranteed? We must yield to His lordship and realize our joy only comes in that which brings Him joy. And in order to experience what brings Him joy, we must obviously be conformed to His image.

Consider the apostle Paul. Was he a joyous man? Absolutely! But according to the biblical account, he was continually beaten for the name of Christ, he had poor health, he was frequently criticized, he was without a wife and children, he was deserted by most of his friends, he was poor and he often lived in a tent. Even one historical account (Acts of Paul ) describes his appearance as "a man of small stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked." And we think we have it bad! Nevertheless, we must ask the question, what brought this man so much joy and why are so many American Christians, though abundantly blessed, struggling with depression?

Turn to the book of Philippians. I chose the book of Philippians not only because Paul wrote it, but also because it contains the words "rejoice" and "joy" 16 times in 4 short chapters. Philippians 1:3-5, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. What brought Paul joy? Prayer and others participation in the gospel!

Philippians 1:15-18, "Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice , yes, and I will rejoice ." What brought Paul joy? The proclamation of Christ!

Philippians 2:1-2, "If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." What brought Paul joy? Unity in the church!

Philippians 2:17-18, "But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me." What brought Paul joy? Ministering to others at the sacrifice of self.

Philippians 2:27-28, "For indeed he (Epaphroditus) was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly in order that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Therefore receive him in the Lord with all joy , and hold men like him in high regard." What brought Paul joy? The well-being of the saints

Philippians 4:1, "Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved." What brought Paul joy? Christian fellowship.

Philippians 4:10, 17 "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity… (17) Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account." What brought Paul joy? Financial stewardship to Christ's work.

So when a Christian comes to me lacking joy, my counsel is never an examination of the circumstances (the world depends on these for their joy). My counsel is always an examination of the individual's heart. In staying with Philippians, are they serving the Lord? Are they participating in church fellowship? Are they sharing the gospel? Are they committed to biblical financial stewardship? Are they promoting unity in the body? You see our joy in Christ is not mystical; it comes from abiding in Him and being conformed to His image.

Our joy is not from the world or our circumstances, but rather a Christ saturated life characterized by a perpetual walking in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes us like Christ. His desires become our desires, and His delights become our delights.

Let's bring this full circle. In the Bible wine often brings the imagery of joy. Jesus at the wedding produced an abundance of wine which symbolized not only the superiority, but also the abundance of joy of the New Covenant. Therefore, when we want to experience joy, we don't turn to the sign, alcohol, we turn to the source, Jesus Christ. His joy overflows within us as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Ephesians 5:18 tells us how to have this joy. "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit." Alcohol as we all know brings a myriad of potential problems. Alcohol never truly satisfies. It's joy (if I can call it that) is limited and temporary. We are not to be controlled by a substance; we are to be controlled by the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ which produces the deep, abiding and eternal joy that satisfies the longing of every human heart.

The purpose of the gospel of John is for people to believe in Christ and have eternal life in His name. This miracle is clearly another account used by the author to fulfill His purpose. Our narrative this morning concludes in verse 11 by saying, "This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him ."

Do you believe John's eyewitness? Do you want eternal life? Do you want everlasting joy? Then put your faith in Christ.

And Christian, I encourage you to please God and receive maximum joy from the blessings of the New Covenant by submitting to Christ. Allow the Holy Spirit to bear fruit as He conforms you to the image of Christ.

other sermons in this series

May 9


The Priority of A Disciple

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:18–25 Series: John

May 2


From Fishermen To Shepherds

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:15–17 Series: John

Apr 25


Fishing For Men

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:1–14 Series: John