Perhaps one of the most well known miracles is when Jesus turns water into wine. This account tends to lead us into issues of great controversy and debate. We get so caught up in arguing, that we overlook the impressive miracle and the simple truths that are embedded in the chapter.
The miracle in which Jesus turns water into wine takes place in a small city called Cana in the region of Galilee (John 2.1). If you look at a map, you will find Galilee in Northern Palestine. In Galilee there were cities such as Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Nazareth. Nazareth was where Jesus grew up. It was in this region that we have Cana. It was the city of Cana where this wedding took place, and where Jesus turned water into wine.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there. It is implied that Mary was the one who worked behind the scenes to make sure the wedding went smoothly like a wedding planner or coordinator. At this wedding, Mary, possibly the wedding coordinator whose job is to make sure that the wedding goes smoothly, discovered that they were out of wine. She goes to Jesus and presses Him into service.
When you give thought to this miracle in which Jesus turns water into wine, the first things that come to mind are those issues surrounding the wine itself.
As we wrestle with these questions we miss the important lesson that this account teaches. So let’s take a close look at these verses and see the significance of the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine.
To summarize, Mary comes to Jesus and tells him that there is a problem. They have run out of wine. Jesus replies, “What do you want Me to do about it? What does this have to do with Me?” Mary then goes to her servants and she says to them, “You see that Man over there? Do exactly what He tells you to do.”
The Jews had formal, ceremonial washings. Before they would eat, they would engage in this ceremonial washing of their hands. Like a surgeon, they would hold their hands up, and they would be ready to eat.
There were six water pots that were there at the wedding for this purpose. According to verse 6 above, these water pots contained 20 to 30 gallons each. That makes about 120 to 180 gallons of water total.
Jesus told the servants summoned by Mary to “Fill the waterpots.” The word “fill” carries the idea of filling to full capacity. If you had a cup and you filled up to the point where one more drop would make it overflow, then you have captured this idea of “fill.”
They drew from the water pots and took it to the master, and he did not know where this wine originated. However, he commented that the wine made by Jesus was good quality.
What Kind of Wine did they have at the Wedding?
Before we go any further to consider this magnificent miracle, let’s consider the question related to the kind of wine that was at the wedding. When Jesus turned water into wine, what kind of wine was it?
Think about this very carefully. I believe it is foolish to conclude that Jesus never drank wine. I believe it is foolish to conclude that His disciples never drank wine. But I believe that it is equally foolish to conclude that Jesus drank the same kind of wine that man drinks today.
The word wine comes from the Greek word “oinos” and is defined as “juice from the fruit of the grape.” It specifically referred to grape juice.
We cannot allow our prejudices and preconceived ideas to influence our understanding of the text. All we know from the text is that they ran out of grape juice, and Jesus turned water into grape juice.
Was it intoxicating or was it just straight grape juice? You cannot tell by the context, and you cannot tell by the word. We just don’t know.
In some passages you can tell the definition of the word by the context, but in this passage, the context does not tell us anything about the word. In order to understand this passage we need to go to the cultural setting and examine what other passages say on the subject before we can come to an accurate conclusion here.
The Cultural Setting in which Jesus Turned Water into Wine.
In that time period, as we look at the cultural setting, we learn that it was their practice to drink grape juice at weddings.
The grape juice could be kept from fermenting. They had a process in which they could have prevented this wine from being fermented wine. I'm not saying that they did because we don't know. I am saying that they could have. We are not forced into a conclusion that this was fermented and intoxicating drink.
Furthermore, there was a common practice in which they would water down the grape juice. If it was fermented, it’s possible that it would be so watered down that it would not have any intoxicating properties.
Were they drinking wine that was intoxicating? I don’t know. What was it that Jesus made when He turned water into wine? Was it intoxicating? The context by itself doesn't tell us.
What about this phrase in John 2.10 that the ”guests were well drunk?” More on this in a moment.
Other Scriptures to Help Understand the Wine Jesus Made from Water.
The context, by itself, does not have enough information for you or me to determine whether or not the wine was intoxicating? To help, we would need to go to some other passages. Maybe this passages from Proverbs 23 can help answer the question.
What kind of wine is the writer referring to?
What you and I are reading about is someone who is drinking intoxicating wine. It says in verse 23 not to look on the wine. He does not say to only have a little bit. He does not say to limit yourself to only one glass. He says not to even look at it. Now that sounds like abstinence to me. How does this compare with what we find in the New Testament?
We read in Peter about fleshly desires that war against the soul. Through divine inspiration, Peter tells us that we are to abstain from that kind of thing.
Would it not be fair to say that intoxicating drinks fall into the category of fleshly desires? Is not the wise man saying in Proverbs 23 that this is a fleshly desire? He says not to even look at it.
With an understanding of the cultural background and with a look at some other passages in the Bible, I am convinced that Jesus did not make wine that was intoxicating. Jesus would not make anything that the Law of God would condemn. He would not offer anything to a crowd of people that would turn them wicked and evil and make them guilty of sin. No doubt Jesus made grape juice that was not intoxicating.
We need to keep that in mind. The passage says that Jesus did something that, in our culture, is used to justify drinking. Is it okay to drink alcohol? It is argued that if Jesus turned water into wine, then it must be okay to drink alcohol. We need to know what this passage actually says.
This is not a passage that condones drinking alcohol. Let’s not make the Bible say something that it does not say, but teach the truth.
When the wine that Jesus made from water was brought to the master, he was surprised and did not know where it came from. He says that they usually start out with the good wine, and when the guests are well drunk, then the inferior wine was brought out.
The idea of “well drunk” does not mean that they were intoxicated, but that they were full. Let’s be careful not to read something into this that isn’t there.
Usually, they start out with the good wine. When everyone has consumed enough, then they bring out the inferior wine. Such was not the case here. You have this feast, and the guests are fed and given wine. When they are full and sit back and hunger and thirst is satiated, then they brought out the good wine. They saved the best for last.
That is the end of the account. We don’t read anything else about what happened at the wedding or about the details of the wedding. This is it. But by divine inspiration, John interjects the point that God wanted made.
Too many take this passage in which Jesus turns water into wine and draw the wrong conclusion. They conclude that since Jesus is the Son of God that means that drinking alcohol is not a sin. They are trying to use the Bible to justify something that the Bible condemns. All along they have missed the whole point of this account!
What is the point? Jesus turned water into wine. He took water and turned it into something that was special. He did something that nobody else could do. He performed a miracle and that was the beginning of Jesus showing the world who He was.
Jesus took what was ordinary and turned it into something extraordinary. Jesus never did anything mediocre. He takes something and turns it into the best. He can do that with you. It does not matter who you are or where you came from, the blood of Jesus can turn you into someone who is lost to someone who is saved, someone who is imprisoned by sin to someone who is free from sin. Jesus can take ordinary you and turn you into a child of God.