Thursday, July 7, 2016

P1 Understanding Jesus' miracle of turning water into wine - John 2:1-11

John 2:11 "This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him."

When we study God's word, one of the principles for Bible study is what is called: "the principle of first mention". In John's Gospel, we find what is Jesus' first miracle or what he deems "sign": namely the turning of water into wine. Why this miracle? What is its significance? Such questions and their answers yield to us essential clues to identifying the Person and work of Jesus - the Son of God. 

The significance of miracles in pointing us to Jesus' identity
We can define a miracle as follows: "An irregular event that is done by God that includes visible signs, which done in a religiously significant context, serves to attest the message, the messenger and meaning of God's work." Unlike the typical definition one hears about miracles as being so-called "violations of the laws of nature", a miracle is simply the involvement God undertakes in, with and through the laws of nature. 

The idea of a natural law defines how physical laws typically operate in the context of causes and their effects apart from the intervention of an intelligent agent. The law of gravity describes what occurs when we, say, drop an object from a given height. The object that is dropped from a given height will fall at a certain rate of speed that is measured in feet per second per second. But now, if we include someone in the experiment and they catch the object, has the law of gravity been violated or repealed? No. With the inclusion of an intelligent agent, we find the course of the object altered and yet the laws of gravity still remain intact. So it is with God's Divine intervention by way of miracles in our world. 

Jesus indicates on several occasions that the miraculous served to validate His claims and identity:

John 10:25 "Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me."

or again, John 14:10 "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves." 

In Matthew 11:2, the miracles of Jesus were part of the testimony used to bolster the sagging faith of a disillusioned John the Baptist. Then of course we cannot forget the most important miracle of all - Jesus' resurrection from the dead - that lies central to the Christian Gospel. Truly we can say that Christianity is a movement built upon the miraculous in orbit around the Person and work of Jesus Christ. 

So why would turning water into wine be Jesus' first miracle?
As one turns to John 2:1-11, a couple points need to be made in thinking upon Jesus first miracle. First, this miracle signifies the beginning of the New Covenant age as predicted in the Old Testament. Hence,  Jeremiah 31:11-12 For the Lord has ransomed Jacob And redeemed him from the hand of him who was stronger than he. 12 “They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion, And they will be radiant over the bounty of the Lord
Over the grain and the new wine and the oil, And over the young of the flock and the herd; And their life will be like a watered garden, And they will never languish again.” 

Or again, Joel 2:23-24 “So rejoice, O sons of Zion, And be glad in the Lord your God; For He has given you the early rain for your vindication.
And He has poured down for you the rain, The early and latter rain as before. 24 The threshing floors will be full of grain, And the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil.”

Secondly, the New Testament indicates that this imagery of New Wine was indicative of the inauguration of the New Covenant age. Hence, Mark 2:19-22 “And Jesus said to them, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. 22 No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Simply put, the old wine skins represented the Old Covenant fabric of Israel, incapable of handling the “new wine” of the New Covenant revelation that would be mediated by the Lord Jesus. The Apostle Peter would come to cite Joel 2 in his explanation of the miracle of Pentecost. In responding to the charge that the early followers of Jesus were full of wine, Peter notes that they were not drunk, but rather were receiving the promised Holy Spirit, the manifestation of the outpouring of the “heavenly new wine” as it were of the New Covenant age.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is Mediator of the New Covenant 
As the transforming of water into wine signified the in-breaking of the New Covenant age, it only stands to reason that the Lord Jesus be none other than the Mediator of the New Covenant. Just as Moses mediated the Old Covenant and had been first attested by the miracle of turning water into wine (Exodus 7:14); so it would seem only appropriate that Jesus, the “New Moses”, would turn water into another substance – wine.

As Mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus wanted to communicate how, unlike the Old Covenant, which commanded change from the outside in and yet couldn’t deliver such, the New Covenant could deliver spiritual change from the inside out. Just as wine by nature is the by-product of the transformation of grapes and their juice into something else, the New Covenant promises enacted by Jesus would make available supernatural change of heart (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

The conversations that sometime occur as to whether the miracle of Cana was Jesus’ endorsement of public drinking and even drunkenness on the one hand, or making plain grape juice on the other threaten to obscure the main purpose of this miracle. Whatever we can say about the miracle and the wine Jesus produced, it was unlike any wine. It was “new wine”. The Greek word used for “wine” could cover a whole host of grape-based beverages. To conceive of Jesus endorsing a situation that would result in the shameful behavior of people at the wedding of Cana would run counter to what He was communicating. As with any text of scripture, in as much as contemporary discussions must be in conversation with the text, such conversations must yield to the main point of the text at hand, especially if the main point of the passage is not made clearer by current events. We find that other scriptures which speak on a given subject may be better suited to addressing the specific concerns raised by contemporary readers of God's Word. 

If anything, the sign of the turning water into wine must be connected to the Old Testament predictions and New Testament explanations of the in-breaking New Covenant age. After all, Jesus so emphasized this dawning of the New Covenant age in and through Himself that He made it the center piece of His first miracle and the Lord’s Supper meal (Luke 22:20). 

More tomorrow.....

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