Turning water into wine – why start with that?

According to the reckoning of John’s Gospel, turning ‘water . . . for Jewish ceremonial washing’ into ‘the best wine’ was the ‘miraculous sign’ with which, for ‘the first time, Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him’ (see John 2:1-11, New Living Translation, unless otherwise indicated). After recording miraculous healings of individuals who were lame or blind, and feeding a vast hungry crowd with a lad’s meagre lunch, John selected as a final sign of the Master’s supernatural ministry his raising of Lazarus to life on the fourth day after his friend had  died (see John 11:0 and 12:0). So why, in contrast to the other three Gospel writers, did John choose to start with this apparently uncharacteristic miracle that seemed simply to prevent a social embarrassment that was neither life threatening nor debilitating – when wine supplies dried up at a wedding?

Why wine? asked an article in ‘Christianity’ magazine. Here is my take on the excellent selection of scriptural references that the author offered by way of an answer to the question that heads this article of mine. Why did Jesus start a ministry of miracles with that one?

Abundant wine was a ‘sign’ – but of what?

Instead of the noun ‘miracle’ John preferred the word ‘sign’. But what does wine signify? It is:

[] a sign of love (Song of Songs 1:4)

‘We praise your love even more than wine; indeed, God’s love is ‘better than wine’ (according to The Passion Translation).

[] and of joy (Psalm 104:14-15)

‘wine to make [people] glad‘.

[] and of blessing (Genesis 27:28)

‘From the dew of heaven and the richness of the earth, may God always give you abundant harvests of grain and bountiful new wine’.

[] in abundance (Proverbs 3:10)

The Lord ‘will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine’.

At the funeral of a  former colleague in the ministry, someone recalled his enjoyment of vintage wine by quoting Isaiah 25:6-8, the text referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:54 regarding the return of Christ, ‘when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory’ (= Isaiah 25:8). Anticipating the day of the glorious resurrection of believers’ bodies at our Lord’s return, the prophet foretold that: ‘In Jerusalem the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove . . . the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.’

What a contrast to the lines, more appropriate to the mourning of a colleague’s death, in Isaiah’s previous chapter, describing ‘a curse consuming the earth’, when ‘The cheerful sound of tambourines is still; the happy cries of celebration are heard no more. … Gone are the joys of wine and song’ (Isaiah 24:6-9).

Pentecost revisited daily

Those who get high on an overdose of alcoholic beverage tend to be loquacious – they can’t stop talking. On that historic ‘day of Pentecost’, when ‘Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm . . . Then, what looked like . . . tongues of fire . . . settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this abililty’ (Acts 2:1-4). No wonder Peter had to ‘shout . . . to the crowd, “Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming . . . “.’ explaining that God had just poured out his Spirit as prophesied by Joel (Acts 2:14-18; and 13:52). That is why you must not get drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead,’ keep topped up daily ‘with the Holy Spirit, [expressing your joy in words by] singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . . And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 5:18-20).

So, let’s see to it that every hour is ‘Happy Hour’!

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