When we listen to Godâ€™s word, we must not only hear the words, we must hear them with faith (Heb 4:2). In the same way, studying the signs recorded in Johnâ€™s gospel requires us to use our eyes of faith. Only eyes of faith can see the Lordâ€™s glory for it is veiled to those without faith (2 Cor 3:14-16).
As we study the sign of water into wine in John 2:1-11, let us draw upon our faith so that we may learn the lessons this passage offers to better understand our relationship with the Lord.
RUNNING OUT OF WINE
John 2:3 records a problem that occurred at a wedding banquet Jesus was attending: the wedding participants ran out of wine.
Godâ€™s wine is the best (Jn 2:10), for it is a sign of His blessing (Gen 27:28; Hos 2:8; Jer 31:12; Joel 3:18; cf. Joel 1:10). Wine is also a biblical symbol of joy (Judg 9:13; Ps 4:7; 104:15; Eccl 10:19). For the wedding hosts to run out of wine at the wedding was both shameful and a bad omen: (1) shameful because of the lack of resources; (2) a bad omen because of the symbolic foreshadowing to "running out" of joy.
A wedding feast is a joyful occasion (Isa 25:6-8; Rev 19:7-9). To lose our sense of joy in this life is not so different than running out of wine at a wedding feast. We might compare the "no wine" problem of the wedding banquet to our own loss of spiritual joy in our walk with the Lord.
So why do we lose our joy in the Lord?
We might relate our problems to two types of unhealthy relationships people have with the Lord:
- Those who feel obligated to do "something" for the Lord and are therefore burdened by that obligation (Lk 15:29-30); and
- Those who forsake their sense of duty to the Lord and seek their satisfaction in the world (Lk 15:13).
These unhealthy relationships could be discerned another wayâ€”from the antithesis to Jesusâ€™ teaching in John 4:24. In other words, the burden we feel in our relationship with the Lord stems from our inability to worship God: (1) in spirit and (2) in truth.
COMPLETION OF THE OLD ORDER
In John 2:6, we notice six stone waterpots at the wedding banquet, which were used for the ceremonial washings of the Jews. The six stone waterpots can represent the limitations of man under the law (cf. Gen 1:26-27, 31; Rev 13:18; 2 Cor 3:3, 7; Jer 2:13; 14:3).
The law burdens us because it obligates us to obey its requirements (Col 2:14). But the law is not evil (Rom 7:12); it should be our delight (Ps 1:2; 119:16).
How can we find joy in fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law?
James 2:10 says, "[W]hoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all." Therefore, the law challenges our sinful nature (Rom 7:5).
Now some free themselves from the shackles of the law and choose to live "above the law." But others may actually find comfort in the letter of the law; yet, they obey the law with their fleshly nature and the spirit of the law is unfulfilled (cf. Mt 15:1-9; 23:1-33; Rom 13:10).
The sign of water into wine teaches us about how the Lord came to complete the old ways. After Jesusâ€™ mother told Jesus, "They have no wine," He told the servants to fill the six stone waterpots to the brim with water (Jn 2:7). The filling of the six stone waterpots "to the brim" signifies the completion of the old order, which is Godâ€™s solution to the limitations of man under the law.
John 1:17 says, "[T]he law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Mosesâ€™ first miracle was to turn water into bloodâ€”signifying death (Ex 7:14-25). Jesusâ€™ first miracle was to turn water into wineâ€”signifying a positive transformation (Jn 2:11).
Under the law, we are all guilty as transgressors (Rom 3:19f). But, in the Lord, we find grace and truth (Rom 6:14; Gal 2:14-21). This is the positive change we discover in the sign of water into wine.
THE SPIRIT OF WORSHIP
Today, we no longer live under the law; yet, we may still hold on to traditions and routines that burden our relationship with the Lord (cf. Mt 15:1-9; Mk 7:6-13).
Do you believe it is possible to become so preoccupied with the obligations of the law that the spirit of the law is forgotten? (Mt 5:21f, 27-48.)
Many people believe that if they do certain works they are "good Christians" and, by default, close to God. Yet good works, while "good" on some level, do not guarantee our closeness to the Lord (cf. Lk 18:9-14).
Instead, good works often feed our pride and self-righteousness (Mt 6:1-4)â€”leading us to compare our righteousness against others (cf. Lk 15:29-30; 18:11-12). We must be wary of a self-confident pride that glories in the law of obligation, lest we fall into the pitfalls of pride (cf. Prov 16:18; Col 2:18, 23).
Perhaps it is human nature to compare. But what can we truly compare against one another? Bible knowledge? Riches and wisdom?
As rich and wise as you may be, there is always potentially someone richer and wiser. Therefore, human comparisons are relative, and it misses the point: the Lord alone possesses complete "fullness." Jesus said, "Fill the waterpots" (Jn 2:7). After Jesus fills the waterpots, we realize the old ways have been completely filled and there is nothing left to compare.
When we acknowledge that we are incomplete, we draw ourselves towards the true spirit of worship. For when we acknowledge the Lord, we begin to recognize our human limitations. As we realize our human limitations, we begin to understand there is nothing to boast about before the Lord or against one another. That is when we can progress to the spirit.
Like beating against stone, we find in the law a hard teacher of humility. Stone will crush us before we break it. For despite our best efforts, we will never be able to meet the righteous requirements of the law.
Through the realization of his limitations in the flesh, apostle Paul understood he needed to rely on the Lord (Rom 7:15-25). Today, we need to realize what apostle Paul did.
Truth in Worship
True worship means having the right focus. As Christians, we know we need the Lord; yet, many of us still seek our satisfaction in the world. The lie of this world is that we can find our satisfaction apart from God.
Finding our satisfaction in this world can be compared to being drunk with the wine of this world (Eph 5:18; Rev 17:2). But the other extremeâ€”asceticismâ€”has "no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Col 2:23). The Lord does not want us to be an extreme person, for this implies imbalance and impairs the proper direction of our relationship with the Lord.
THE WATER, THE INFERIOR WINE, AND THE GOOD WINE
Now John 2:1-11 implies three distinct choices of "drinks": water, inferior wine, and good wine.
Water is the most common drink. Most people drink water in their day-to-day life and not wine. In the context of John 2:1-11, water represents the old ways; we might go so far as to say "old habits." However, we must take care not to over-analogize. Generally speaking, old ways may include the old ways of worship (Jn 4:20-21), the old temple (Jn 2:19ff), and the old traditions (Mt 9:14ff).
Inferior wine (Jn 2:10) represents those things that can never spiritually satisfy a person (Jn 4:13; 6:27). However, good wine is the better wine (Jn 2:10); it represents the blessing that comes from the Lord and serves as a sign of the completion of the Lordâ€™s blessing (Mt 26:29).
As we consider our drink choices, letâ€™s remember that the problems we face in our relationship with the Lord often stem from our inability to worship God in spirit and in truth, which we should view as two sides of a single coin.
Drinking water, the old ways, can be compared to our inability to worship in spirit. Our inability to worship in spirit can be paralleled to the ritual of worship that comes about when we become complacent in the old ways and routines of our worship. Even worse, we may actually think our old ways of worship are pleasing to the Lord when, in fact, they are not (cf. Jn 2:13-17).
In terms of applying the teachings of the "water" from John 2:1-11, some believers might say, "We should be content to drink water when we run out of wine." In other words, we should be content to just continue in the old ways (cf. Mt 9:16f; 21:12, 15, 23; Jn 2:18). This mentality is what keeps us from tasting the new things of the Lord, for this mentality best captures what it means to be spiritually complacent and to value form over substance in our worship.
Drinking the inferior wine, the wine of this world, can be compared to our inability to worship in truth.
In terms of applying the teachings of the "inferior wine" from John 2:1-11, we might think of "inferior wine" as a false substitute. A misdirected worship is one that attempts to find satisfaction in the wrong placesâ€”in those things that cannot satisfy. For example, inferior wine might be: alcohol to alcoholics, worldly pleasure to pleasure-seekers, knowledge to the seekers of knowledge, money to the greedy, etc.
If we are ever seeking our satisfaction in the former things, we will never know the true satisfaction the Lord provides for us in His new creation.
RENEWED JOY IN THE LORDâ€”THE GOOD WINE
After the waterpots were filled with water Jesus commanded the servants: "Draw some out nowâ€¦" (Jn 2:8). What the servants drew out, however, was not water but a good wine.
The gospel is compared to a good and beautiful seed (Mt 13:24). Likewise, the good wine brings something good and beautiful for us to enjoy.
When Jesus told the Samaritan woman about living water, she asked, "Where do you get that living water?" (Jn 4:11.) Similarly, we might ask, where can we get the good wine?
Many read John 2:8 and assume the good wine was drawn from the stone waterpots and not from the original source that filled the waterpots. However, regardless of oneâ€™s interpretation of the physical source of the good wine, the good wine was actually drawn from a much deeper "well" than any physical source could provide.
As humans we tend to focus on the physical but God is more concerned with the spiritual, because what we see is temporary but what we cannot see is eternal (2 Cor 4:18). The Lord was not concerned about physical wine (Jn 2:4), for Jesus turned water into wine for us and not Himself. We must see beyond the physical source as we study the sign of water into wine.
The Lord is the true source of the good wine, for He is the source of all blessings (Jas 1:17; Jn 3:27). He is the source of that joy we may have lost because we chose to drink water, the old ways, instead of the good wine. He is the source of that satisfaction we may no longer experience because we chose to drink the inferior wine that can never satisfy us.
Application of the Good Wine
Earlier, we noted the burden of the law is that it obligates us to obey. We related this burden to obey to the things that burden our worship in spirit and truth. So we asked the question: how can find joy as we fulfill the lawâ€™s requirements? And we gave the answer: we will find our joy in the Lord when we draw out the good wine.
The process sounds so easy on paper, doesnâ€™t it? "Just draw out the good wine and all your problems will be solved." It reminds of us of how easy it is to encourage others, in the face of their problems, to "just read the Bible and pray." But is it truly that easy to draw out the good wine? (Jn 2:8.)
To do whatever the Lord commands is not always easy (cf. Jn 2:5). When Jesus commanded the servants to fill the large stone waterpots to the brim with water it was not an easy task. It is hard for those of us with modern-day plumbing to understand the difficulties of drawing large quantities of water in Jesusâ€™ day. Yet, that is what the Lord required.
The Bible says, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Sam 15:22). Although a sacrifice is precious in the eyes of the law, in Godâ€™s eyes obedience is much more precious.
Sometimes, obedience requires a heavy price. This price of obedience may be more difficult to give than to sacrifice because we give away ourselves in obedience but we give outside of ourselves in sacrifice.
In the words of the parable in Luke 15:11-32, is the prodigal son and the embittered faithful son both fated to feel so alien to their loving father and his commandments?
Many of us, in our relationship with the Lord, come to the Lord on our own terms with high expectations. Sometimes it feels like we come to an empty spring. But is it true that the Lord is an empty spring? Or is there something more, something else, that is hindering us from obtaining our joy in the Lord?
The answer to these questions may seem far away but, in truth, the answer is very near (Rom 10:8). The answer lies in faith. In faith we obey, we draw from the true Source, and we see Him face to face. In faith, what used to be our burden is complete and transforms into our blessing.
May each of us seek this type of faith in the Lord, so that we might again discover our joy in the Lord and taste the completion of His blessings in our spiritual life. Amen.