John 6:1-15 ESV
Still turning water into wine here…
Mary, despite not actually asking her son to fix the problem of the wine running out, clearly shows a trust in him to be able to do something. So when Jesus says to her “What’s that for us?”, “His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” So Jesus looks around and notices there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. He notices these six stone jars, or water pots. These water pots are empty, they are for the mikvahs. They use these water pots to fill the mikvahs. If we ever were to visit Jerusalem, you will see these around. Mikvahs are dug into the ground, into the stone, with steps leading into him. What they are is baptistries. They are not bathtubs, they are not ancient hot tubs. They are used for ritual purification. Several times a week. an observant Jew would properly fill his mikvah with the proper kind of water blessed, by the rabbi. Then he would go down into the water, repeat the prayers, dunk himself seven times, and observe the rituals that he might be ceremonially pure.
So at this wedding we had some of these stone water pots used for filling the mikvah. They are empty. Each one has between 20-30 gallons of capacity. If you fill six of them it’s between 120 to 180 gallons of water, so let’s call it 150 gallons here. So Jesus tells says to the servants “Fill the jars with water.” To which I can imagine these servants rolling their eyes. “Oh brother. Another super religious guy. Instead of partying all night we’re all going to have to go down to the mikvah and get baptized again.” But they do it. It’s going to take a while. Remember, they don’t have hoses or spigots to use and easily fill these things up. This required drawing the water out of the well, it takes a lot of time and effort to draw 150 gallons of water.
“And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” Ok Jesus. Sounds a little strange. But they do it anyway. They take water out of the stone jar for ritual purification. They put it in a wine cup and take it to the chief steward, but somewhere in transit, somewhere along the way, a miracle happens. The water has turned to wine.
The steward doesn’t know anything that’s been going on. He just knows the wine has run out. But the servants come to him, “Here you go, try this out.” “So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “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.” Think about the baffled bridegroom. He has no idea what the steward is talking about. All he knows is that he’s heard rumors that they are running out of wine, and all of a sudden now there’s tons of it. The master of the feast is poking him in the side, grinning – “Oh, you’ve really fooled us! You kept the very best wine until now!” To which the bridegroom said what? “Praise the Lord!!??”
But Jesus has done it!! The little wedding in Cana of Galilee, on the verge of catastrophe, suddenly is supplied with 1000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. And Jesus gives a wink to his mom. “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” John 2:11 NLT. And John says Jesus revealed his glory. Jesus revealed his glory, which means his beauty. Imagine being one his 6 disciples there. Imagine following this rabbi, just starting to follow, then you see the sign, you see the water turned to water.
And Jesus revealed his beauty. This is a beautiful story. There is something fun, something whimsical about this story. Later, most of Jesus’ miracles are framed in a life and death scenario. A leper, his life ebbing away. Disciples in a boat, threatened with imminent death from a storm. Here’s a little girl who’s in fact already died. There’s a deep, dark frame around a lot of Jesus’ miracles. But this one, there’s none of that. Yes, we might want to save the family from social embarrassment, but there is no way this is crucial to anything. This is just a whimsical miracle, where Jesus, in order to keep the wedding going, gives a sign. It’s not just a party trick, it’s a sign.
What’s the sign pointing to? In the Old Testament, the abundance of wine was often symbolic of God’s favor and blessing. Likewise, ruined vineyards and a scarcity of wine was symbolic of the absence of God. So as the prophets began to imagine the time when God would come through his Messiah, anticipating the day when messiah would come and bring the righteous reign of God with all of its blessing and abundance, they use language like this – “…the vats shall overflow with wine…” Joel 2:24 ESV, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” Amos 9:13 ESV, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine…” Isaiah 25:6 ESV. It’s as if they are saying Oh, and the rivers will flow with wine…
That’s the anticipation, the prophetic vision. So, in a beautiful and artistic way, Jesus, in turning the water to wine and providing an abundance of it, has announced that the reign of God at last has arrived. Remember, in the story, the steward says to the bridegroom But you have kept the good wine until now. John’s gospel is very sophisticated. It’s as if he knows and trusts his readers will read this over and over in a thoughtful way, and he hides all these gems in it. So, Jesus is also the bridegroom, is he not? Jesus is the bridegroom…
So think of it like this – in previous days, in earlier times Israel had had some good wine. In the days of Moses, when they are brought out of Egypt, and God is present in a cloud by day and fire by night, giving them the Torah, they had some good wine. In the days of David, when the kingdom was coming and the sweet psalmist of Israel was reigning and ruling, they had some good wine. But then, the exile. For about 500 years, all you could say is, they have no wine. The wine has run out. The good days are gone, they have no wine.
But now…JESUS IS ON THE SCENE!!! Not only is there wine, it’s the best wine!!! We can say, We had some good times with Moses, we had some good times with David, but the BEST has been saved for now!! AMEN!
When Jesus is on the scene, good things are about to happen. Why was Jesus at this wedding? Because he was invited! Hey, remember that carpenter guy over in Nazareth? He did some work for us, he’s a cool guy. What’s his name? Oh yeah, Yeshua of Nazareth, 101 Olive Street, Nazareth. And just because they invited Jesus, they got the miracle. So when you’re going through your struggle, your thing, your situation, your problem, and you’re going through it, invite Jesus. JESUS, want to come to my party, my mess, my marriage, my addiction, my life, my business, my thing? I got this thing going on Jesus, want to come? And don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him. Because you never know what Jesus is going to do. Think about it, nobody would have thought I know what to do, we’ll invite Jesus and he’ll perform a miracle and turn all this water into wine. Nobody would have ever dreamed that up. Only Jesus. So don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him to your thing. Because where Jesus shows up good things are about to happen. But Jesus tends to show up where he’s invited.
So invite him.
So, last week, I asked the question, “Does God bring the famine?” You may not agree with me, but my answer to this question, again, is an emphatic NO! In fact, as we see with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of God, wherever he is, nobody goes hungry, everyone gets what they need.
What, exactly, is famine? Famine is nature out of balance. The necessities are scarce, hard to come by, while luxuries are ironically and mockingly in abundance.
I’m going to contrast the picture of famine in revelation with the picture of Christ as he feeds the 5000. “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”” Revelation 6:5-6 ESV. This is the back horse of…famine! It’s rider has a pair of scales in his hand. We hear a voice crying out – “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” A denarius is a days wage. If we remember Jesus’ story of the laborers in the vineyard, all the laborers, whether they worked one hour or 12 hours, received a denarius, a day’s wage (I know…that’s not FAIR!! I thought Jesus made everything FAIR???!!!). A quart of wheat would be considered starvation (famine) for a family, all for a days wage. What is necessary for minimal everyday living here is unavailable (or barely available) while the luxuries (oil and wine) are plentiful, abundant. This is what greed does. We exploit the earth, leaving it depleted and poor, in order to make ourselves rich. We glorify our greed as a “higher standard of living“. We use this sacred phrase to excuse our own everyday insanity. We work by the millions in inane jobs we don’t like, making machines and products which pollute the air we breathe, we jet around from one place to another in projectiles traveling at lethal speeds (killing and maiming millions btw – I’ve read that this number is higher than all the wars fought on the earth), so that then we can sit before our electronic gods that instill in us all forms of flesh fantasies in an attempt (almost always successfully) to convince us that we must have these oil and wine luxuries and therefore have no choice but to go back to the jobs we hate to make our “products” and keep the circle going round and round.
Eugene Peterson defines famine as “the condition in which we have most of what we don’t need and almost nothing of what we do need.” Paul Goodman says this. “What do we need? We don’t need constant stimulation, poisoned food, carcinogenic air, or useless work for which we are highly paid.” Very few of us believe there is a famine in the land, but there is. In certain places, we see the pictures that come from the imbalance of greed which conspires to make the famine obvious to all. But those bloated bellies and spindly limbs which are literal fact for some are a gruesome parody of the lives of most of us.
But the rider of the white horse also does his work. “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” Revelation 6:1-2 ESV. The same Lord who teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” is at work, right now, restoring balance to the earth and the people living on it to sanity. He brings us by the tens of millions to his table of bread and wine each week to teach us to live by grace and not by greed. He is the conquering white horse rider who overcomes the red, black and green horse, but he does not change his methods. His white horse is a symbol, a product of our believing imagination. The ways Christ conquers are still the Palm Sunday donkey, the sacrificial lamb, and the mocked and crucified Messiah. His means have not changed. Christ has not given up on donkeys, lambs and crosses, he is NOT replacing them with horses, spears, swords OR bombs. No, this picture in Revelation is a validation that the the means Christ has chosen to accomplish his will and work out his salvation are in fact, against all appearances, victorious.
And what does he do when there is seemingly not enough food for 5 men, let alone 5000? He blesses the bread, breaks the bread, and gives them not only what they need, but above and beyond until their cups overflow and they are sending the excesses back!! “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalms 23:5-6 ESV. Our cups are always overflowing, nobody is going hungry in the presence of Christ.
And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” It’s getting late Lord, I say it’s every man for himself, send these people out of here so we can find something for ourselves to eat!! But no, we are to feed them. It’s not every man, woman, and child for himself. We say we trust him, but do we trust him? Do we believe that our “not enough” is really more than we need? Do we believe that what starts as five loaves and two fish can really feed 5000 men plus women and children, and somehow we will have more when we finish than when we started? And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.”
Mark 6:30-44 ESV
“When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!””
Revelation 6:5-6 ESV