The gospel records of Matthew, Mark and Luke are termed the “synoptic” gospels, in that they basically record events from a similar viewpoint. The gospel of John stands alone in a different style of portraying the life of Christ. As a disciple of Jesus, John was able to record Christ’s ministry from a very personal viewpoint, and his account contains more of Jesus’ actual words than the other gospels.
John’s writing embodies the love that this disciple, the one who was faithful unto Jesus even unto accompanying Him to the cross, had for his Lord. The account is rich in symbolism and evocative language. If there is a central theme, it is relationships. Through a number of vignettes, John describes the interaction that Jesus has with a wide variety of people, and the effect He produces. This is no sterile account of events, but rather an invitation for the reader to enter into that relationship with Jesus that God has so lovingly prepared for us.
After the introductory chapter and the calling of the disciples, the first event that John chronicles is that of a wedding feast, where Jesus is called upon to solve an embarrassing problem. The wine has been depleted, and Jesus turns the water in some stone jars into wine.
I believe that John is not merely describing an event here. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the Bridegroom. His church, the people of God throughout the world, is referred to as His bride. This initial story then is not just a chronicling of a miracle, wonderful as that miracle was. It is rich in symbolism.
When we celebrate communion, remembering Christ’s suffering and death, we use wine to symbolise the blood of Christ. So sacred is this process, in fact, that we do not say “this symbolises Christ’s blood” but we repeat Christ’s words of Matthew 26 “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”. Wine, therefore, represents the blood of Jesus. Note that in verses 3 and 4 of John’s account, in response to Mary’s reporting of the situation to Jesus, He replies, “Why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.”
Jesus knew that they were only talking about wine for the wedding feast. He physically provided the best wine, and symbolically, through His crucifixion, He would provide us with the choicest, most costly wine. Like the “living water” that he offers the woman at the well, a few chapters further on in John’s gospel (chapter 4), Jesus reminds us that He alone offers, in the face of our temporary problems, eternal, life-changing, deeper gifts.
It’s always interesting, when studying a Bible passage, to look at the stories which precede and follow. The story of Jesus changing water into wine is preceded in John’s gospel by an account of Jesus calling His disciples. It is followed by the account of Jesus clearing the temple courts of the moneychangers, proclaiming “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days,” – a further reference to His crucifixion and resurrection. When taken in sequence, we could consider that Jesus is calling His church, His Bride, established in a covenant through His blood, and He wants it to be His church which acts in ways that bring His Father honour, reflecting the price paid for it.
The wedding feast of Christ and His bride, symbolised by the wedding feast in this story, is yet to be completed. The church is the bride of Christ now, but the time of Christ’s return has not yet occurred. The book of Revelation is resplendent with descriptions of the joy that awaits in heaven when, after a period of great suffering and evil in this world, Christ will come to claim His own and defeat the forces of darkness that have overtaken the earth.
By turning water into wine, Christ showed His generosity and kindness to a wedding party whose needs He met. I’m sure that there was great joy and celebration on that day. But He also demonstrated His ability to meet the needs of a thirsty, hurting world so desperately in need of a Saviour. He invites every man and woman to be part of His church, His bride. There is no greater love affair, no greater joy or reason to celebrate.