Wine Into Water: A Party for the Ages

God’s cosmic work of salvation is occasioned by an abundance of the best wine.

Jason Micheli / 1.14.22

In the Gospel of John, Jesus does not begin his ministry not by preaching or teaching, not by casting out demons or curing disease. Jesus doesn’t lift up a single, lowly poor person or speak one syllable of truth to power. Instead, Jesus kicks off his redemptive work by being Mary’s plus one at a wedding party, a celebration where Jesus, in a pinch, proves he’s an even better bartender than Tom Cruise in the 1988 film Cocktail.

There were six stone jars at the wedding venue in Cana, John reports, each with an approximate capacity of twenty-five gallons. Back in Middle School, I was the Doogie Howser of Home Economics. My Italian grandma was a chef. I’ve got knife skills. I’ve got all the mother sauces memorized. I’m a pretty good cook. So, that’s four quarts to a gallon. One quart equals roughly six glasses (cabernet glasses) giving you a minimum grand total of 2,160 glasses of wine-that-had-been-water.

That’s a lot of wine. And this isn’t any of the boxed swill they sell at the grocery store. Jesus transforms water into top shelf Pinot. Pretty impressive party trick, Jesus.

It may seem like a strange way for John to begin the story of our salvation, but allow me not to show my work and simply trust this workaday preacher when he tells you that there is so much top shelf stuff here for us, the friends of the Bridegroom, to serve a world in desperate need of a party.

How about: You are justified, not by anything you do, but by the gracious doing of Jesus Christ. That’s here at this marriage supper.

Jesus takes this system of making ourselves blameless and acceptable before God — that is, the jars used for the ritual of purification — and he transfers it to himself. Jesus takes these means by which we’re able to meet God and he makes himself in charge of it. It’s a sign. John wants you to see here at the get-go of his Gospel what you’ll hear later in his Gospel — that the only way you can meet God is by the gracious doing of Jesus Christ for you. He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” He is your justification. And it’s on the house. By His Grace. And for those who are not perfect and without blemish, that’s good news.

There’s so much good stuff on tap here for us to serve.

Try this vintage: Not only are you blameless before God and acceptable to God — no matter what you’ve done or left undone — by grace through faith you are credited with what Jesus Christ alone has done, as though his singular faithfulness is your very own. That’s in here, too, at this marriage supper for us to see and for us to serve. The master of the feast says to the groom, “Everyone brings out the best wine first and then the cheap wine last, but you have saved the best wine for now when they’re drunk.” Even more crazy, the bridegroom and his family, who failed to purchase enough wine for the celebration, they end up getting the credit for what Christ has done. The party planner tastes the wine that had been water, John says, and he chalks it up to the bridegroom’s extravagance. They get the credit that Christ alone merits.

As though, they had done it themselves.

There’s so much good stuff to serve here.

Like the wine — Jesus takes the water that was necessary because of sin, and He transforms it into two thousand glasses of the finest vintage vino. It’s a sign. According to the prophets Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, the arrival of God’s cosmic work of salvation will be occasioned by an abundance of the best wine. John wants you to see that the incarnation of Jesus Christ into our world is God making good on God’s promise to the prophet Isaiah.

When Israel languished in exile, convicted of their sin and convinced God had abandoned them for breaking their vow to him, God chooses a marriage supper, a wedding party, as the image for how God would redeem his sinful people and reconcile all of Creation. And when you realize this wedding party at Cana is meant to point to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, New Creation, Heaven, Eternal Life, the whole kit and caboodle of everything God ever spoke into existence — only when you see that this wedding is a sign of that marriage super can you begin to laugh at the outrageousness of God’s indiscriminating grace.

By the time his mother nags him to do something about the father of the groom’s party foul, all the guests are already three sheets to the wind. That is, Jesus makes the best wine for drunk people to drink. He pours bottomless glasses of top shelf wine for people too drunk to appreciate drinking it. He takes the water from the stone jars and transforms it into gold medal wine for people too drunk to appreciate what the Bridegroom has done (much less earn it).

Amid the many things Jesus said and did, I think Cana reminds us that, when it comes to the gospel, the Bridegroom has the shelves fully stocked. Even the loneliest, shabbiest church in Christendom has got so much good vintage five star stuff to serve the Bridegroom’s guests our texts are literally overflowing.

A hundred and fifty gallons of wine that had been water. It’s a pretty impressive trick, Jesus.

But not to be outdone, we friends of the Bridegroom so often manage to pull off the more difficult feat of transforming the Gold Medal wine of Grace into the tasteless, odorless, joyless, ordinary, everyday water of the Law. Again and again, we pull off the trick of turning the Gospel into Iocaine Powder. Jesus kicks off the salvation of the world by turning water into wine, but we’ve pulled off the more impossible trick of turning his wine back into water.

Jesus can turn water into wine, sure, but look at us. We’re like David Copperfield walking through the Great Wall of China. We’re able to turn Christ’s wine back into water.

And, Jesus just did it at Cana that one time — that’s it. We turn his wine into water, again and again and again and again with every “ought” and “should” we attach to his promise that needs only nude faith.

Given our amazing powers of transformation, I think our only hope is that not only is Jesus a crazy Bridegroom, he’s a terrible bouncer. The one who’s happy to lavish high dollar wine on drunk people to drink also thinks it’s terrifically good fun to let us all cut in line at the entrance to the party and to cut the cover charge to the rock bottom price of absolutely free.