Jesus reveals his glory

John 2:1-11

8 August 2010

Woodley Baptist Church

Evening service


Frankly, at first sight, this didn't seem to me to be a very promising passage. I had to preach it recently, and I must confess that my first reaction was, what on earth am I going to do with this; perhaps I'd better ask for a different text.

But that wasn't really an option, so I had to get on with it.

What do you do when you are faced with a passage in your daily reading that just doesn't speak to you? Or you have to lead a study at homegroup and you don't know where to start?

Well, what I do is "interrogate the text". I put it under the spotlight and ask it questions until it gives me some answers. What I want to do this evening is not just preach again the sermon that I preached first time round, but to give you some insight into the sort of questions that can lead us deeper into understanding the Bible.

And the first really good question to ask is, Why is this text here? In this case it turns out to be a very fruitful question.

It's interesting to note that John is very selective in choosing which of Jesus' miracles to record, and, actually, he doesn't even call them miracles. In the literal ESV translation of John's gospel, the word "miracle" doesn't occur even once. He calls them "signs" instead. They are not mere acts, even miraculous acts: they are signs that point to something, that signify something.

John discusses this at the end of his gospel, in chapter 20 verse 30, Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his nameref.

So John has carefully selected his signs, and he's done it with a purpose: that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.

So, when we look at any of the signs in John's gospel we should be asking ourselves, how is this sign pointing to Jesus? What is it telling me about who Jesus is? How is it building faith in me?

So, back to chapter 2, and what, in verse 11, John identifies as the first of Jesus' signs. It's not here to fill space: he's chosen it for a purpose. In this sign, John says, Jesus thus revealed his gloryref.

So that must be our over-arching theme. Why is this text here? John has told us: because it reveals Jesus' glory and thus points us to believe that he is the Christ. Whatever points we draw out should serve this theme.

Next question: how does this sign reveal Jesus' glory? Well, to answer this we will need to ask a few more questions.

Jesus' glory is revealed in his Timing

The first point of the sermon is, Jesus' glory is revealed in his timing. Now how did I come up with that?

It is often the puzzles and difficulties in a passage that end up giving us the most insight. So, as you read, look for the puzzles, note them down and spend some time wrestling with them.

In this case, one puzzling feature is the strange little dialogue Jesus has with his mother. Jesus' mother comes to him in verse 3 and says They have no more wineref.

Now, it was the bridegroom's responsibility to provide the wine for the wedding guests. The celebrations might last several days, and to run out of wine was at best a serious social gaffe, and at worst might result in a claim for damages from the bride's family.

So this is quite a serious matter, but it's not at all clear what Mary wants Jesus to do about it. Nonetheless, over the years she has come to rely on him, to trust him, so she does what comes naturally and brings this problem to Jesus. If only we were as quick to do likewise, we'd spare ourselves all sorts of grief, wouldn't we.

But Jesus' response is perplexing, Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet comeref. What can he mean? How is this a response to his mother?

Well, in John's gospel, when Jesus talks about his "time" — literally his "hour" — he is always talking about his death. In chapter 7, the crowd tried to seize him, but no-one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet comeref. The same thing happens again in chapter 8. Not until chapter 12, at the start of Holy Week, does Jesus finally announce, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorifiedref. And chapter 13 verse 1, Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Fatherref. So this tension builds up through the gospel: the time hasn't come... the time hasn't come... the time hasn't come... now the time has come! Now Jesus is going to do what he came for; now he is going to die.

The point Jesus seems to be making when he distances himself a little from his mother and her request is this: I have a plan, a plan that my Heavenly Father has given me. I am not under your authority, but under His authority. I am working to his agenda, not your agenda. In short, I am not ready to reveal myself publicly yet. Something similar happens with Jesus' brothers in chapter 7, so we know we are on the right lines.

This, then, is Jesus' glory: fundamentally he came to die. He didn't come only to perform a few miracles, to heal a few people, to give some profound teaching. Right from the outset, it was his intention, at just the right time, to die for the world. Any understanding of Jesus that doesn't emphasise his death entirely misses the point — we will never know his glory unless we know his death.

Jesus' glory is revealed in his timing — at just the right time he will lay down his life for sinners. He lives his life with his death in view.

Nevertheless, at this wedding, although Jesus declined at this time to declare his identity publicly, he still consents to work a private miracle. And Mary shows her faith in him when she instructs the servants, Do whatever he tells youref.

Jesus' glory is revealed in his Transforming

So we've asked the big question, Why is this text here? And we've seen that it is here to reveal Jesus' glory. And we've looked at one of the puzzles, which led us to see Jesus' glory revealed in his timing.

The next thing I want to look at is the importance of context. Often, having one's eyes open to the surrounding context and Bible context of a passage will help to sort out some of the puzzles and point us to its significance.

We will find that this leads us to point two, Jesus' glory is revealed in his transforming.

So another puzzle: Out of all the miracles Jesus did, when John selected his handful to write about, why did he choose this one? What is the deep significance of this miracle of transformation? Or does he record it simply because it's Jesus' first?

John is too careful a writer not to have intended us to see a deeper significance in this miracle than just a transformation of one liquid into another liquid. And, he gives us some clues.

First is his little side comment in verse 6, Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washingref. Why does he tell us about the ceremonial washing? Is it just a bit of historical colour or something more significant?

Second is the context of chapters 2 to 4. The whole theme of these chapters is renewal. The temple has become corrupted so Jesus clears it out and promises to recreate it. Nicodemus cannot find life through his religious efforts, but Jesus promises him new birth. The Samaritan woman's water could never ultimately satisfy her, but Jesus offers her living, satisfying water. These chapters are all about the renewal and transformation of Judaism.

Third, the Old Testament background context. Wine in the Old Testament is overwhelmingly a symbol of joy and blessing. Psalm 104:15, wine gladdens the heart of menref. Proverbs 3:9 Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the first-fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wineref. Wine is a symbol of joy and blessing.

If we come back to this passage armed with these clues, perhaps we can see more clearly what the sign is signifying.

At this Jewish wedding the wine has run out. This symbolises the spiritual barrenness of first-century Judaism. The joy of worship has run out, leaving only endless ritual and formalism. The expectation of fulfilment has expired, leaving just the drudgery of religion. The source of blessings has dried up, leaving only oppression.

These six stone water jars show us the extent of the ritual formality that they had fallen in to—they seem to be going well beyond what the law actually required in terms of ceremonial washing.

So Jesus commands that these jars be filled to the brim, verse 7. The old religion is filled up and completed. And then he makes the transformation: this vast quantity of water for ritual washing is transformed into wine that gladdens the heart.

And not only is there a huge amount of it, it is better than anything that has gone before! Verse 10, 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 nowref.

Jesus' glory is revealed in his transforming. He transforms formality into freedom, religion into gladness, the pious po-faced religious service into a wedding party!

This was prophesied by Isaiah when he was talking about the Messiah to come, Isaiah chapter 25 verse 6, On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of winesref. Jesus is fulfilling this prophecy. He is the transformer.

Perhaps your religion has become joyless. It has become a formality, a sterile ritual. Coming to church is like attending a party that's fallen flat. There's no gladness in your experience; you are just going through the motions. It's more effort than exaltation. Perhaps you once knew the sheer joy of salvation, but that's now just a distant memory. Perhaps your experience has always been barren and lifeless.

Well, Jesus came to transform all that. That's a sub-Christian experience.

If your faith is joyless, then you need to get to know Jesus better. You need to get to know the man who, as the first thing he did with his disciples, took them to a week long wedding party.

We should not be content with a feeble experience of faith—Jesus is into abundance, and he gives us the really good stuff. He transforms the mundane into the glorious: so ask him to do that for you.

Jesus' glory is revealed in his Transferring

So, we've asked, Why is the text here; we've unpacked a couple of puzzles by looking at the context. My last question for this evening is, Where is the gospel? One of my core beliefs about the Bible is that it is like a stick of rock: wherever you cut it you find the gospel. Sometimes very clearly, sometimes dimly, but the saving grace of God is always there. So where is the gospel in this passage?

The answer shows the value of simply reading and re-reading the text. It wasn't until I'd been through the passage 20 or 30 times that this point hit me between the eyes. It wasn't flagged up in any of the commentaries I looked at. There is no substitute for prayerfully reading and re-reading the passage.

So, where is the gospel? This will give us our third point, Jesus' glory is revealed in his transferring.

Have a look at verse 9, the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise 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."ref

But he hadn't, had he? He'd been hopeless.

The bridegroom had failed. He hadn't done his job; he'd let the wine run out. When he gets summoned before this character called the "master of the banquet" or the chief steward, imagine how he's feeling. This great occasion has been ruined because of his failure. For years to come he'll face ridicule and shame from his wife's family. The whole community will know about it; he'll never be taken seriously again. And now he's been summoned to his first telling off.

So the groom is bracing himself, preparing his excuses. But, unbelievably, when the bridegroom faces judgement at the hands of this character, he doesn't get a strip torn off him. He gets praised, and lavish praise at that! Praise, fundamentally, that he didn't deserve.

Only the servants and the disciples know the truth. As far as the steward and the guests are concerned the bridegroom has done a good job. Not just a good job: a fantastic job! He's apparently provided really choice wine, not any old plonk fit for the end of a wedding. And plenty of it.

There's no sign, is there, of Jesus popping up and saying, actually, I did all this, I saved the day: just give this idiot what he deserves. No, Jesus is content to let this groom take the glory. Jesus is happy to transfer the praise and glory that should be his and make it the groom's.

And that's what he does for us, isn't it? It's a super little gospel picture.

Every one of us is like this bridegroom. In religious terms our lives are failures: we've failed to do what we ought to do. Our spiritual resources have run dry. We've got nothing to offer anyone, least of all God. Like this hapless groom, when we get summoned, we deservedly face condemnation.

So what's going to happen when you and I face the Judge of all things to give an account of our lives? I'm not looking forward to him judging me on my record. I'm well aware of my failures.

It would be a surprise, wouldn't it, for any of us when we face up to God, and he looks us over, and checks his records — it would be a shock if what we heard were: that was a life well-lived; that was a glorious life; well done, good and faithful servant!

That's certainly not what we deserve. But, like the bridegroom, that's what will happen if we invite Jesus into our lives. Jesus reveals his glory by transferring his glory into our lives. When we stand before the Father, he sees his Son. What Jesus did for this bridegroom is a lovely gospel illustration.

Are you a failure? I am! Without Jesus I would be utterly terrified to be held accountable by God. But if we make Jesus our Lord he clothes us in his glory. He both transfers his glory to us and wipes out our failure. That's why he lived to die: in his death he bears our sins, but he does more than that, he transfers his righteousness to us.


So here is Jesus revealing his glory in the first of his signs. The glory of his timing: he came to die at just the right time for sinners like you and me. The glory of his transforming: he transforms empty, dried up religion into joy-giving abundance. The glory of his transferring: like this hapless bride groom, he transfers his glory to us; he clothes us in his righteousness.

These disciples can only have glimpsed a little of this at the time, but nonetheless we are told that, verse 11, they put their faith in himref. The sign had achieved its goal. In the words of chapter 20, they had believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing gained life in his nameref.

So, I hope it's been interesting to get an insight into how a preacher interrogates the text. And I hope you can have the confidence to do the same in your own Bible reading.

Finally, there is one very important question that I haven't had time to look at, but that we must never omit. That is the question, what am I going to do about it? How will I apply this to my life?

So that's your homework. How is your life going to be transformed by the glory of Jesus this week?