There is something wonderfully surprising and enigmatic about this miracle. It has been said that the Word became flesh, and here he is in the real world, our world: it is a commonplace scene, a wedding, and a fairly mundane need, the booze has run out (albeit that there might have been considerable shame attached for such a failure in hospitality). John has obviously been very carefully selective in his material (cf. John 20:20-21), but we might have thought he would include a more spectacular miracle to open with. Certainly the first chapter has built up our expectations, including in the final verses of the chapter expectations about what we will “see”. Yet though Jesus’ glory is revealed here (according to v.11), it is revealed in a veiled way. It is a “sign”, and of course signs are not meant to draw attention to themselves so much as to point beyond themselves. We will only understand why John includes this story in his Gospel as we see the significance of what Jesus does. Verse 11 is so obviously key to the passage that I would suggest starting there, then looking to see how Jesus’ glory is revealed, and then the response we are being encouraged to make.
On the surface this miracle demonstrates Jesus’ compassion and concern for the bridegroom, whose responsibility it was to provide for his guests throughout the often week-long wedding celebrations, and it’s a demonstration of his power, the kind of creative power that belongs to the Creator (cf.1:3). But there were surely many other miracles that more clearly reveal his compassion and power. If it were simply about that then this might well seem rather extravagant – 600 litres of fine wine is 800 bottles, far more than was needed to preserve the man’s reputation. It is this extravagance, noticed in terms of the quality at least by the master of the banquet, which is a clue to the significance. A number of OT prophecies spoke of the coming messianic age as being marked by an abundance of fine wine (eg Isaiah 25:6-8, Joel 3:18, Amos 9:13-14). This miracle is a sign therefore that the kingdom of God has come: it speaks of much more than a embarrassing crisis being averted, but of God’s coming to put right a broken world. In the last study we saw how Jesus was recognised as the Messiah; this sign announces his arrival.
The most puzzling thing to our ears is his response to his mother in verse 4. “Woman” is not how we would normally address our mothers, but clearly it did not imply the cool detachment we might suppose: he addresses Mary in the same way as he hangs on the cross, where he is showing her wonderful love and care (20:26). More important is his comment “My hour has not yet come”, because reference to that hour recurs throughout the Gospel, referring to his death and resurrection. It suggests therefore, that whilst this miracle in one sense announces the arrival of the fulfilment of the ages, yet it is really only a foretaste. Yes, the Messiah is here, but only as a result of his death and resurrection will the eschatological blessings this sign points to be poured out. John has spoken of him as the one who will baptise with the Spirit, but first he is to be the Lamb of God. This miracle speaks therefore of the abundance of blessing that is given to his people now because of his death, and points forward to another wedding feast when he returns and the fullness of blessing we will enjoy then.
The disciples show the response that should be ours to such a revelation of Jesus’ glory: they “believed in him”. Such faith seems also to be exemplified in the story itself in how people respond to Jesus. So Mary lays the need before him, without dictating what he should do, and trusts him to respond in the way that is best. (Given how Catholics give Mary far too exalted a position, it is striking that the only recorded command of hers that remains comes in verse 5 – “Do whatever he tells you”.) The servants’ obedience to Jesus’ strange instruction is perhaps a further example of what faith should look like. The Messiah is here: we should trust and obey.