The story I present to you today is a story, I think, that is deeply loved by many of you. Me too. And it is also connected to my journey to Calvin seminary. At the time I was preparing to go to a seminary, all of my best friends who were also called into ministry had already come to US for their theological education. The schools they were attending were very good. I was the only one left, I wondered, “Is there a good place left for me, too?” I felt worried about the future. God comforted me with the words from John 2:10, “but you have save the best till now.” I trusted God that he would lead me to a place “best fit” me. Like Abraham, as he left his hometown, he did not know what God’s promised land looked like; I did not know what my “best fit” look like until I came here. After I came to know stories from other schools, I knew from the bottom of my heart that, Calvin Seminary is my “best fit.” We are blessed! God is faithful, he keeps his promise to his children. Amen! Alleluia.
Let us turn to the text. Before we get into the Cana story, we should mention the context of the story so that we could understand the story better. At the end of Chapter 1, Jesus said to his disciples, “You will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” It is an image of Jacob’s dream of ladder in Genesis 28 where God made his promise to Jacob and his offsprings to keep them, to bless them to be the blessings of all nations.
The difference is that the Jesus, the Son of Man replaced the ladder. It means that Jesus is the Mediator who connects God and his people so that God’s promise is to be fulfilled.
At Jesus’ time, Israels also called this kind of Mediator Messiah, and they were expecting his coming. When Messiah comes, it will be a new age, new things will happen. What are they? What are the signs of the Messianic age? John brings us to a wedding banquet!
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
Oh, wedding, so sweet and loving, you might think. But it was not mainly about romance as in western culture. It was about celebration and honor. Jewish people believed that when messiah come, there would be a wedding banquet.
Wedding at Jesus’ time was a big deal for the Jews. “After the public betrothal that was far more permanent than a modern engagement, the family announce the wedding date, and elaborate preparations were made for a ceremony that could last for as long as a week.”1 We should notice that it was an agriculture society, not a business world. Everything should be prepared before hand, and nothing was as certain as we expect today. Therefore, the situation of lacking wine in a wedding was not uncommon. But the strange things were how the characters in the story reacted to this situation in the story.
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
It is an odd conversation, isn’t it? Jesus’ mother was suppose to come to the banquet master to address the issue. Jesus was just a guest. And Jesus’ reply surprised us, he called his mom, “woman!” Woman in Greek is just a formal title, without any disrespect. But calling your mom with a formal title is still odd. Then Jesus mentioned “the hour” which means his time of crucifixion. At the time of a joyful wedding celebration, Jesus talked about the death, isn’t that odd?
Anyway, the story continued. We saw Jesus’ mother ordered the servants to do whatever Jesus commanded. We don’t know why she did that. But Jesus acted on that.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so.
I always wonder what those servants were thinking. Why they obey Jesus’ mother, and why they trust Jesus so much. On the way they took the water from the stone jar to the banquet master, did they just want to play a trick on the banquet master? The story looks like a joke at this point.
But finally, the story turns out to be a comedy.
and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
Wa, what an ending! We all sing praise Jesus. Out of his power, he produced enough choice wine; and he saved the banquet, he saved the broom’s family from the shame of lacking wine for their guests.
Is that all? Not quite yet. We should read John’s comments, v.11:
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
In John’s Gospel, John uses the word “sign” instead of “miracle” to describe the powerful performance of Jesus. What is the difference? Simply speaking, signs aim to reveal Jesus’ identity, miracles aim to reveal His power. What identity Jesus is going to reveal in the Cana story?
While I telling the story, I intentionally missed v.6.
Here is an interesting detail:
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
v. 6 stands right in the center of the whole story. Scholars believe that this piece of information provide the most important clue to what John wanted to convey to us. The water Jesus turned into wine was not ordinary water, but the water for ceremonial washing, for Jewish people to purify themselves so that they could be clean before God. Jesus replaced the water for purification of uncleanliness with the wine for celebration of God’s salvation.
Therefore, it is not just about a miracle in which Jesus powerfully transformed the water into wine, it is about the sign of the Messianic age in which the Messiah will replace our humanly religious rituals. Now we come to understand the oddness of the conversation Jesus had with his mom. He is not just a son of a mother, but God’s promised messiah. Here Jesus’ mention of the “hour” in the wedding indicates that when the hour of his crucifixion comes, enough wine will flow for the messianic celebration.
Now Jesus the Messiah is here, we are in a new age. Everything should be different accordingly, as Mark said, “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins…No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
The old wineskin of religious stuff is being replaced!
For the Jews, the old wineskin is the regulations for purification which they think will purify themselves before God.
For us, my dear family, if Jesus is fully present in our midst, what are the humanly religious stuff might be replaced?
- Worship liturgy? I am not against liturgy, actually a big fan of it now. But do we think our well-design liturgy will automatically bring us to God? Not! Jesus speaks clearly, we should worship God in the Truth and Spirit.
- Systematic theology? I like theology, that is what I came for. But do we think our perfect theological system would bring you to God closely? Not! Our intimacy with God comes from the daily walking with God in love and obedience.
I just name two issues that might need to be replaced. You may think of other issues. At this point, I think it is good to take a pause, come to God to confess our sins, and ask for his forgiveness. Here is a litany to help us.
Prayer of Confession：
And hear the assurance of our God:
out of His fullness we have received grace in place of grace already given.(John 1:16)
Jesus does not only replace the stone jars for purification, he also fill them abundantly. We are told the servants filled the six stone jars “to the brim”. It is an image of abundance. Each stone jar can hold 20-30 gallons of water, totally there were 120-180 gallons of wine Jesus has made.
That was more than enough to satisfy the guests. And we felt the amazement and thankfulness of the banquet master for the good wine, “you have saved the best till now.” Such an image of fullness provokes us to recall John has declared in the beginning of the Gospel, which I just have said, “out of His fullness we have received grace in place of grace already given.” Jesus is the Messiah of abundant grace.
Today I stand before you as a Child of God, also as a child of First Church. I want to witness God’s abundant grace upon me and my family through you.
In the past five years, my family has gone through quite a few trials. A severe car accident in Boston; Zoey was admitted to the emergency room at least 4 times, she also suffered from depression for a long time; Moses had seizers two times; Missie had a recent decompression surgery on her brain. Among all the trials,
you have blessed me and my family with all kinds ways. We were nourished spiritually and physically, even financially. I just want to name a few of them. Pastor Randy meet with me every month, supporting me. Every Sunday our kids are taken care of, so we can listen to God’s Word and be encouraged. When we were in the hospital, you were there too. And every thanksgiving, you never forget to bring basket to us. Thank you. Because of you, we truly experience Jesus is the Messiah of abundant grace.
Now We are leaving for China 45 days later. As I reflect more on all the blessings we have enjoyed and are still enjoying now, sometimes I felt tempted to stay in the states. Why not? It is the choice wine God is offering! And if I return, will there be choice wine waiting for me? Yes! Really?
Will I be offered cheaper wine in China? No! Really?
I doubted it sometimes, but God always reminds me and encouraged me with his words. Here he says, “you have save the best till now.” Again God’s Word become a promise for my future.
Firstly, our situation will be the best in God’s sight.
Back in China it may be a different kind of “best”:
- We may not have such freedom to worship God, but we will treasure the freedom we gain in Christ.
- We may not breath fresh and clean air, but we will remind ourselves to rely on the fresh breath of God.
- We may not be served as much, but we will delight in serving others.
Secondly, I believe you as my home church will be with us always.
I trust you you will never abandon us as the saying says “out of sight, out of mind.” I trust you you will continue to be a blessing to us in your prayers. With your prayers and love in Christ, you will “save the best” for us.
It will not be the end of our journey with you. This page of story come to an end, the other page will begin. And I hope for the best.
I have a dream, not just for me, but for us. In the past, we are well taken care of; in future we will work together hand in hand in God’s kingdom in terms of mission. I hope as we serve together, our relationship will grow deeper and our joy in Christ will increase more. Don’t you have a dream for your children who you invest so much? Of course, you do. And does my dream sounds good to you? I hope so. And I believe it is for this dream that God brought me here and will bring me back soon. And I pray that this dream will come true. If not, we know that in our Lord Jesus Christ Jesus has given us the best. One day, when together we meet Jesus face to face in the new heaven and the new earth, we will have exceeding joy and amazement like the banquet master, exclaiming, “You have saved the best till now.”
Will you pray with me?
Dear heavenly Father, thank you for being such a generous God that gave your one and only Son Jesus to us so that we can have eternal life through him. You are a God of saving the best till now. We praise you! And we trust you! In Jesus name, we pray!
May God bless you and keep you, may God make his face upon you, and be gracious; may God turn his face toward you, and give you peace.
- 1.Gary Burge, NIVAC, John. ↩