Epiphany 2 • John 2:1–11 • January 17, 2016
By David I. Lewis
Today’s gospel lesson records the beginning of the miraculous signs (αρχη των σημειων) which Jesus did as recorded in the Gospel of John: Jesus changes gallons of water into excellent wine (καλος οινος). How preachers and commentators have interpreted the significance of this event has varied. For instance, some argue that this miracle proves Jesus’s divinity, it shows his approval of the institution of marriage, or it shows his genuine concern for others in sparing his host public embarrassment. According to the narrator, however, the significance of this miraculous sign is summarized in 2:11, and so a sermon on this text should focus especially on what is said there.
According to 2:1 this event took place “on the third day” (τη ημερα τη τριτη). Beginning with John 1:19 (where the narrative of John’s account begins after the prologue of 1:1‒18) there are a series of four days that follow in progression. One the first day John (the Baptist) gives testimony before some priests and Levites. The next day John testifies that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” On the next day Jesus calls Andrew, another disciple (John the Apostle), and Simon Peter. And on the next day Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael. Already Jesus’s disciples recognize that he is the Christ (1:41) and that he is the Son of God and King of Israel (1:49).
If this is the third day after the calling of Philip and Nathanael, then it is the seventh day of this progression of days. This “week” will reach its glorious conclusion on the seventh day at the wedding in Cana when Jesus performs the first miraculous sign.
Jesus, his disciples, and his mother attend a wedding feast in the village of Cana. A problem arises when the hosts run out of wine, a circumstance that would bring great embarrassment to the bridegroom. When Jesus’s mother tries to involve him, he initially rebukes her because “[his] hour has not yet come” (2:4). Nevertheless he tells the servants to fill six stone water jars (used for purification) with water and then to draw some of this and serve it to the master of the feast. Not only has the water become wine, but it is such excellent wine that the master of the feast is compelled to comment to the bridegroom that he has atypically saved the best wine for last. Apparently no one else knew about this miracle except for Jesus, the disciples, and the servants who drew the water.
The significance of this event is then summarized by the narrator in 2:11: “This, the beginning of the miraculous signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” This is the first time John uses the term σημειον (“miraculous sign”) in his account. As “signs” the miracles in John’s Gospel point to who Jesus is—the Christ and the Son of God (20:30‒31), the only One from the Father whose glory the disciples beheld (1:14). This “sign” led the disciples to believe in Jesus. In this same way this sign is to direct the hearers of this account to Jesus that they too would believe in him.
In his commentary Don Carson argues that when Jesus refers to “his hour” (2:4) and then when the narrator later speaks of Jesus “manifesting his glory” (2:11), a literary connection is made between this miracle and Jesus’s glorification in his death and resurrection.¹ Thus within the narrative of John this first miracle is a prolepsis and foretaste of the conclusion of Jesus’s ministry. The interpreter may then further see that this miracle is also proleptic of the end of the age, for, according to the prophet Amos, that time will be marked by an abundance of wine (see Am 9:13?14). In this miracle we see that the end times have come ahead of time in Jesus. This event also gives us a foretaste of things to come both later in Jesus’s earthly ministry (his resurrection) and then when he returns (the fulfillment of the messianic age).
Considerations for Preaching
One important theme during the season of Epiphany is that divinity was revealed and manifested in the flesh in the person of Jesus. The turning of water into wine in this lesson does point to Jesus as the one/unique God from the Father who has made all things known (1:18). As the first disciples were, we too are invited in this text to witness Jesus performing this miraculous sign—willing water into excellent wine—to believe in him, and to experience life in his name. With this miracle we also are given a foretaste of Jesus’s ultimate glory revealed in his death and resurrection and then finally when he will return to restore all things. Blessed with life given by Jesus today (Jn 10:10), we anticipate further blessings on the last day when, among other things, there will be an abundance of excellent wine as we celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb in his reign that has no end.
¹ D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 171.