Connections 01.20.2019: The Best Is Yet to Come

John 2:1-11

“Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now” (v. 10). That’s what the steward of the wedding feast, who has just tasted the water that Jesus turned into wine, says to the bridegroom.

The steward no doubt accurately describes both the usual wedding feast wine-serving practices of the time and the quality of the water transformed into wine by Jesus.

John also tells us, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory…” (v. 11a). John’s Gospel is unique in its content and intentional in its arrangement, so the placing of this sign at the beginning of John’s account of Jesus’ ministry is significant. Perhaps it tells us something that we need to keep in mind as we read the rest of John’s story of Jesus.

One possibility is that this story guides us to be on the lookout for the new things that Jesus is going to make possible. Maybe we should watch for ways that Jesus will turn bad things good and make good things better. Maybe we should be alert for ways that Jesus continues to reveal God to us. Maybe we should pay attention to how Jesus’ revealing of God to us should affect our ways of living.

Perhaps John wants us to accept right up front that Jesus embodies the best news that has ever come into the world because, as the Word become flesh, Jesus embodies and brings to us God’s grace and truth (1:14).

The truth that John announces with this story is that we’re not going to find anyone who reveals God to us better than Jesus does, so we’d best pay attention to the rest of the story.

Now we are part of the story. We will never find anyone better at showing us who God is than Jesus, but we can always grow toward a better understanding of what Jesus reveals about God. Since what Jesus reveals about God should change our lives (how can it not?), we can always be growing toward better expressing in our thoughts, words, and actions what Jesus shows us about how we should live in relationship with God.

When it comes to knowing God and following Jesus, the best is always yet to come. But our movement toward it is always happening right here and right now.

If we’re always moving toward the best that is yet to come in our relationship with God, the moment we’re in right now should be the best one we’ve had so far.

Discussion

1. Do you have any other ideas about why John placed this story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry?
2. What do you think about the conversation between Jesus and Mary? What might it tell us about their relationship?
3. John soon says that Jesus “would not entrust himself to” people who “believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing” (2:23-25). In light of that, what do you make of Jesus’ disciples believing in him after he turned the water into wine, which John calls a “sign” (2:11)?
4. How does it make you feel to see Jesus intervening in a regular problem like the social embarrassment of running out of wine?
5. What better ways of life might Jesus make available that you have not availed yourself of? How can you move toward doing so?

Reference Shelf

The miracle story consists of the customary three parts.

(1) The problem (when the wine failed, v. 3). This component of the miracle story is expanded by an exchange between Mary and Jesus and by a word from Mary to the servants (vv. 3-5). Mary’s expression of concern about the wine’s running out is based on the expectation that guests at such a marriage feast would assist with supplies. Her word with Jesus is based on the assumption that, in the absence of her husband, the woman would depend upon the resources of her eldest son. Jesus’ reply shifts the story from one level to another, from helping out at a marriage feast where supplies have run out to providing the wine of the new age/eternal life to those in need. His reply (“What have you to do with me?” = Why this interference?; cf. 2 Sam 16:10; 19:22; Plautus, Menaechmi, line 323) indicates that his action to do the latter is not dictated by human initiative, even by those closest to him, but by God’s timing (“My hour has not yet come,” v. 4b; cf. 7:8; 12:23; 13:1; cf. 1:13—contrast Plutarch, Coriolanus 4.5-8: “Marcius’ motive was always to please his mother.”). Mary’s word to the servants brings the story back to the earthly level (“Do whatever he tells you”); she is confident her son will do what is right.

(2) The miracle (the water now become wine, v. 9). This component is expanded by the symbolic actions of Jesus (vv. 6-8). The two commands of Jesus take the story back to a religious level. (a) Fill the six stone jars (stone because stone vessels did not contract uncleanness, Lev 21:29-30), used for Jewish rites of purification, with water drawn from the cistern or well. (b) Draw some more out of the well (antlein, 4:7, 15 = to draw from a well) and take it to the steward of the feast. The Jewish rites of purification (incomplete even when fully implemented) are superseded when the servants draw yet again and take it to the steward.

(3) The reaction to the miracle (the steward’s word, vv. 9-10; the disciples’ response, v. 11). When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, he called the bridegroom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first; and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” The steward’s words of admonishment about a breech in social propriety function in addition at the level of religious meaning. The good wine that Jesus supplies surpasses the benefits promised and provided by the Jewish purification rites. The wine (religious reality) made available by the events of Jesus’ hour fulfills Jewish purificatory ritual. This miracle of water into wine is called a sign (v. 11). It is an act that points beyond itself to spiritual reality. It manifests Jesus’ glory (that which makes him impressive to others, here, God’s power). The disciples, unlike the steward of the feast, see his glory and believe in him (v. 11b; cf. 1:14). The miracle story of 2:1-11 functions as the fulfillment of the prophecy of 1:51 (cf. 2:11). A reading of 1:19–2:11 reveals that the whole is tied together with the same care with which the individual units are composed.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles, rev. ed. (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005) 88-89.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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