Updated: Jan 20, 2019
The very richness of the Fourth Gospel, John’s Gospel, presents those who would study it an exciting challenge. This is because John writes his Gospel at two different levels. First, there is a simple surface story that anyone can understand and retell. Then there is another level, with a wealth of deeper meaning, a permanent truth, for those who have the eagerness to search, and the eyes to see, and the minds to understand.
Seven of Jesus' miracles are recorded in the Gospel of John. The first miracle recorded in John took place early in Jesus’ ministry, in a town called Cana in Galilee, where a wedding feast was being celebrated. Mary, Jesus, and five of his recently called disciples attended (John 2:1-11).
In Palestine, weddings were a huge social occasion. The community celebrated. But, in this story an embarrassing situation arose — the wine ran out. At any time, the failure of provisions would have been a problem - because hospitality in the Middle East is a sacred duty. But, for the provisions to fail at a wedding was a terrible humiliation for the bride and the groom. Wine was essential at a wedding feast. For, ‘Without wine,’ said the Rabbis, ‘there is no joy’. So, when Mary heard that the wine had run out, she went to Jesus, confident of his help, and she ordered the servants to “do whatever he says.” There were six stone water jars at the door - each holding approximately twenty to thirty gallons. These jars were used for ceremonial washing.
At Jesus' command, the jars were filled, to the brim, with fresh clean water. Then the servants were invited to draw from the jars, and take it to the Steward in charge, who found that there was superb wine, not water, in the jars. Jesus had made wine - good wine and lots of it — 120 gallons of it for the wedding feast. This was his first miracle.
The result of the miracle was that Jesus' disciples witnessed it and believed in him. They saw in Jesus, God in human form. A secondary result was that a practical need was met – an adequate wine supply for the wedding feast was ensured, and hospitality restored.
In recording the account of this miracle John had a deeper purpose. This was a sign, an act with both symbolic and spiritual significance. Numbers had important meanings to the Hebrew people. Numbers such as 3, 7, 40 and 70 often occur in our scriptures. The number seven stood for completeness.
The imperfect number of six jars symbolized the Jewish law - which was what was basically being followed in Palestine until Jesus came upon the scene. Jesus became the seventh element and made things complete. The law - or Torah as it was called - showed the people of that time their needs, but provided no means of atonement. Jesus then made things complete by being the element of salvation - the path by which salvation can happen.
The wine in this account represents the enduring joy and gladness of the Gospel that God offers each one of us. There was an abundance of wine—more than enough for everyone. It suggests to us that God’s grace today is more than enough for anyone of us. When Jesus comes into a life, joy comes. New life in Christ can be exhilarating and filled with renewed vitality and deep joy.