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The First Sign

The bride is the main attraction at modern weddings. First-century Jews focused on the groom. But at the wedding of an unnamed couple in Cana it was one of the guests who took center stage. The account is recorded in John 2:1-11.

The Sign
Jesus and His disciples—men who had been with Him only a very short time—were invited to a wedding. The wine ran out (wedding feasts of that era often lasted seven days or more). Jesus’ mother called it to His attention. What did she expect? She knew who He was, yet He had never worked a miracle.

Jesus mildly rebuked Mary, saying that His hour had not yet come. Jesus’ “hour” in John’s gospel usually refers to His crucifixion (7:30; 8:20; 17:1). Here it refers to showing Himself to be the Messiah. Jesus was willing to do something, but He would manifest Himself only in keeping with the Father’s plan.

Jesus’ first miracle was to make more wine from water. He staged it so as to avoid any charge of fraud or trickery. He began with six stone waterpots, not empty wineskins. These were filled to the brim, allowing no room for additives. Servants did the filling and drawing, hence there could be no “slight of hand.” And the headwaiter, an unbiased, uninformed observer, judged the effect. He expressed surprise that the host had saved the best wine until last!

The Effect
Jesus’ miracles were not primarily for the physical benefit of the recipients. The term sign indicates that they were to communicate. They were proofs of who He was (Acts 2:22). “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory . . . ” (v. 11).

Beyond Jesus’ first followers, Mary, and the servants, it is uncertain how many people were aware of this miracle. This first sign was intended as a confirmation for these early converts. John says its effect was, “His disciples believed in Him.”

A Mistaken Use
People in Jesus’ day who saw or heard about His miracles often missed their point. It is not surprising, then, that about the only thing some today see in this account is justification for alcohol use. Is it there?

Wine is from oinos, a generic word for grape juice whether intoxicating or not; context determines which. It was a staple in Palestine, used as commonly as grain (cf. Rev. 6:6). Modern wines are mixed with alcohol to enhance the intoxicating effect; theirs were often mixed with water (typically one part wine, three parts water), greatly diluting intoxicating effects.

Surely Jesus would not have ignored the frequent warnings of Scripture against intoxicants (Proverbs 29:23ff; 20:1). The head-waiter’s reference to the guests having “drunk freely” merely implies satiation, not necessarily intoxication. “It is a shame that anyone should pretend to quote the example of Christ as an apology for being a modern tippler” (B. W. Johnson).

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