John 2, Saving the Best for Last
Our Bible is divided into two Testaments (Covenants), the Old and the New Testament. The Old Testament gives us the history of Israel from the time of Abraham and his family, then Moses and the birth of the nation of Israel. After the Exodus from Egypt, God led the Hebrews to Mt. Sinai where God made a covenant with them. The deal made was that God would make the Hebrews into a great nation that He would bless, God would give them His perfect holy Law, and they would become His mediators to the whole world. The Hebrews’ part of the deal was that they had to obey His Law. The core of God’s Law was the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me”. The second command was that they were not to even make idols of any kind and must not worship any kind of idols. The rest of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy were devoted to many other laws—criminal, ceremonial, and social. Unfortunately, it was not long before they broke the most important laws, and the bulk of the Old Testament is about the apostasy of Israel and their failure to keep God’s covenant with them. Israel well represented the human race in exhibiting our universal sin nature and inability to live up to God’s standard. The lesson here for the human race is that we can’t do it on our own. We were made to thrive in an intimate relationship with our loving Creator. Alienated from God because of sin, we all need help—we need a Savior. We need something better that only God can provide.
The New Testament Covenant of Grace is God’s provision for our great need. What we couldn’t do for ourselves in the Old Testament, God has done for us in the New Testament. Only through Christ can God’s perfect holy standard required of us be fulfilled. God took on human flesh to make the perfect sacrifice of infinite value so that all our sins could be forgiven, and we can be judicially declared by God as righteous. The Gospel of John is all about revealing who Jesus Christ is, and what He came to do. The Old Testament Law was good, righteous and holy, BUT the New Testament of grace is better. The Apostle John used seven signs (miracles) to point out who Jesus is—100% God and 100% man in the same person. These signs that Jesus did were clearly visible and witnessed by many respected and credible men and women, and these miracles could only be done by the power of God. The first miracle that John recorded in John chapter 2 was Jesus turning about 120 gallons of water into wine. It was purely a creation miracle that only God could do. The climax of the drama at the wedding was when the headwaiter, unaware of the miracle, pronounced the wine as better than all the rest. The headwaiter said, “You have saved the best for last”. This was the great imagery of God saving the best covenant of grace for last. The Old Covenant of Law came first and it was good, but the New Covenant of grace came last and it is best. Jesus replaced the old with the new and best.
The main way we know about miracles is through credible eyewitnesses. The 18th century philosopher/skeptic David Hume said, “No testimony may be received which contradicts a uniform experience. Miracles violate the laws of nature. The assertion of 12 men is not enough to overthrow the law of nature”. Nevertheless, consider that there need be no contradiction within nature but by the counteracting cause of the God who created the laws of nature. God exists before the creation and God exists outside of the creation. Therefore, God is not limited by the natural laws that He created. Therefore, the real argument is about the presupposition of the existence of God. Can’t the testimony of 12 men of good reputation establish a fact for which no other than a supernatural explanation may suffice? The fact is that Hume’s argument actually proves the power of God is the only source of true miracles.
The Wedding in Cana
In John 2:1-11, the scene shifts from the Jordan River to three days later in Cana, a small town not far from Nazareth just west of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and all His disciples were invited to the wedding, and Jesus’ mother Mary was there acting as the host. Weddings were the major social events for small towns in 1st century Israel. Middle Eastern weddings were typified by at least a year of engagement, then the groom would come for the bride and take her to his parents house for the ceremony and lengthy banquet. The groom was responsible for all expenses and the party could last several days. Traditionally it was Jesus’ sister getting married, so Mary was more than just a guest. Neither Mary nor Jesus wanted the in-laws to be embarrassed by running out of wine, plus Jesus brought all His disciples who were probably drinking the wine. I even wonder if the wine ran out because Jesus’ entourage guzzled it down, after all Peter and the boys were all rugged outdoorsmen/fishermen, and we all know about them (I’m kidding).
In John 2:3-5, an embarrassing crisis threatened the party—they ran out of wine! This embarrassing faux paus would be a social catastrophe. Mary approached Jesus for a solution. Jesus’ reply was not meant to be mean, but it signaled a major change in their relationship. He had been her obedient son, but now God had called Him to his ministry. We don’t know if she expected Him to go to the 7-Eleven for the wine or create it Himself, but Jesus’ reply “what do I have to do with you?” revealed that they had different purposes. She was only interested in the party, but He would do the miracle to reveal His Glory and deity to His disciples (see v.11). In v.6-8, Jesus sent the servants to get six large waterpots with instructions to fill them to the brim with water, which they did. We are talking about a lot of water here, between 120 and 180 gallons all of which became excellent wine by Jesus’ command. To get some perspective, today a standard bottle of wine contains 25 ounces. If I am doing my math right, Jesus created about 2400 glasses of wine. What were six 30 gallon waterpots doing there? The text tells us they were there for the Jewish tradition of purification. The Mosaic Law called for the priests to ceremonially cleanse themselves, but by the first century ceremonial cleansing had become a part of religion for everyone. This is interesting that Jesus would use the old system of law to reveal the New Covenant of Grace. Paying attention to detail we see that Jesus was explicit that the pots be filled to the brim. This makes it clear that nothing could have been added, and it was a pure transformation miracle.
Wine or Grape Juice ?
There has been a considerable debate in the church for 2000 years about what exactly Jesus created. Was it real wine or was it grape juice? Another popular theory is that in those days it was common to add a little wine to the drinking water to purify it, so the wine here is diluted. Let me add my explanation—it was real pure wine. First of all since the pots were full to the brim, they could not be diluted. Secondly, the headwaiter says in verse 10 that this is “the good wine”. He made a pronouncement that normally people serve the best wine first until people are inebriated, then they serve the cheap stuff because then nobody notices. Your English translation may say “when men have drunk freely”, but I checked the actual original Greek phrase and it means inebriated. Also I read six different commentaries that confirmed this. In another interesting story found in Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:33-34, the Pharisees criticize Jesus and His disciples for drinking real wine that is capable of making them drunk. Jesus’ reply was “The Son of man has come eating and drinking, and you say ‘Behold a drunkard…”, yet John the Baptist drank no wine and you didn’t like him either. I think the admonishments in the Bible are prohibiting getting drunk, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk with wine for that is dissipation”.
What the Headwaiter Said to the Groom
In John 2:9-10, neither the headwaiter nor the groom knew that a miracle had occurred, so imagine their surprise when this massive supply of very expensive wine was provided. The headwaiter was no doubt a “sommelier”, meaning a wine expert, because he immediately recognized how special this wine was. This guy unknowingly testified to the miracle by commending the groom because normally, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then he serves the cheap stuff; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Good wine is always aged to perfection, but the Lord brought it into existence instantly. In the same way the Old Covenant of Law came first and it was good, but the New Covenant that Jesus was presenting came last and it is best. Jesus replaced the old with the new and better.
A Miracle with Meaning
In John 2:11, we find the purpose and meaning of this miracle of turning wine into water. The author lays out two purposes that reveal who Jesus is and the response of His disciples. First of all, this miracle revealed His glory as God in the flesh. It put His deity on display. Men can fill water jars, but only God can turn it into the best wine. Secondly, His disciples “believed in Him”. They had followed Him and identified Him as the Messiah and the Son of God (Jn.1:49), but now they had personally experienced these truths. They saw, heard, and tasted the miracle. Jesus’ deity had invaded their lives. For us, up to this point you may think your life has been good or just OK, but now believe in Him, and live for Him because He saves the best for last. Just as 2 Cor. 5:17 tells us, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come.”