"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Three Views on Man's Condition | Main | Robert Traill - Justification Vindicated (excerpt) »

    Images of the Savior (6 – His Turning Water to Wine)

    John 2:7-11 Jesus says unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he says unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And says unto him, Every man at the beginning sets forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but you have kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

    When God called the worlds into existence, fully completing his great and glorious work in six days, and on the seventh ceased from his labors to rest in the joy of his mighty accomplishment, he was establishing a pattern to be followed by all of creation, and his chosen people in particular. Hence, when he called forth a people unto himself, redeeming them out of Egypt, he commanded them to sanctify the Sabbath day, consecrating it for joyful rest at the completion of six laborious days. This the Israelites in large part failed to observe; but even when they did observe it, the imperfection of the Sabbath ordinance must have been strikingly apparent. Just as the blood of bulls and goats, being incessantly offered, never sufficed to take away the sins of the people (Hebrews 10:4), so the Sabbath celebrations, recurring constantly, never sufficed to usher in a joyous rest that would be forever unmarred by the subsequent intrusion of wearisome labor. The Sabbath rests were at best but a foretaste of something greater and more conclusive.

    As it was with the Israelites, so it is with all of creation. The whole world groans and travails under a wearisome curse, and longs for its time of restoration, the final Sabbath day of eternal peace and jubilation (Romans 8:19-22); and just as the rest of creation, we too press on to the kingdom through the utmost difficulty, groaning within ourselves for the final redemption of our bodies (Acts 14:22; Romans 8:23). What precious hope it must kindle in our hearts to realize that there is indeed a restoration coming! Jesus came to make all things new (Revelation 21:5); he came to turn our labor into rejoicing (Matthew 25:20-21); he came to purchase us as a bride for himself, and to bring us unto his joyous marriage feast (Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:6-9). How it should thrill our hearts, not only that Jesus came to restore all things, but that he came to do so for us! It is one of the most precious truths in scripture that Jesus is our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 3:10-15). It is eminently fitting, therefore, that Jesus’ first miraculous sign, the turning of the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, gives us a glimpse and a taste of these very realities. This is the manifestation of Christ’s glory: and as the disciples, when we see it, we ought above all to believe on him (John 2:11).

    The social humiliation and embarrassment which was about to devastate the bridegroom of the wedding at Cana may be more clearly understood upon the recognition of a few cultural customs of the time. In the first place, the provisions of the wedding feast were fully the responsibility of the bridegroom, and especially that of the wine, symbolic of the joyous celebration inherent in a wedding. If the bridegroom should fail to provide sufficient wine for the invited guests, there would not only be outrage and public shame, but there may be good cause for legal action to be taken by the incensed members of the family of the bride. Through whatever lack of insight or imperfection in planning, the bridegroom of this particular wedding feast was about to suffer the humiliation of being shown insufficient for the carrying out of the wedding celebration. How felicitous it was that, on the brink of this disaster, even among the invited wedding guests, was the one Bridegroom who always contains every sufficiency within himself. This is the Bridegroom who utterly fulfills the joy of his guests, as John the Baptist was later to declare of him (John 3:29). It was to this true Bridegroom that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was about to turn.

    Jesus’ first response to his mother may be difficult to understand: “Woman,” he addresses her, as if abrogating any claim she should have upon him by virtue of her relationship, “What have I to do with you,” as if to say, “Why are you attempting to involve me with this concern of yours?” Then, in justification of this abrupt dismissal, he informs her, “My hour is not yet come,” that is, the hour of his accomplishing the great work of redemption, and entering into the glory which he had won for himself and us. Mary, presuming upon her familial status with Jesus, requested wine for the wedding celebration; and Jesus, remembering that the bountiful flowing of wine was prophesied as a joyous effect of the Messiah’s completed work (e.g. Amos 9:13-14; Isaiah 25:6; Jeremiah 31:11-14); and recognizing that the time had not yet arrived for him to complete this great work; thus responded to his mother, indicating to her that it was not yet the appointed hour for him to provide the prophesied wine of joy, because the more sorrowful Messianic work of the cross had yet to be accomplished; and furthermore, that as he was now in his public ministry, she had no more claim to his blessings than anyone among whom he walked. She, as all others, must approach him in simple faith, as the long-awaited Messiah come to redeem the world (Matthew 12:46-50).

    From Mary’s reaction, we must suppose that she understood at least the essence of what Jesus had labored to communicate to her. Immediately thereafter, we see her invoking the simple obedience of faith, instructing the wedding servants to do without question whatever Jesus should command. In Jesus’ response to Mary’s new attitude of genuine faith, we ascertain that, although the fullness of the Messianic benefits still awaited Christ’s completed work, yet in his presence alone was the real essence and the true beginning of all the long-awaited blessings. Jesus came to destroy all the effects of sin and the curse; and, although the final victory was only won on the cross, yet as soon as he began to walk upon the earth, we see a down payment, as it were, a small yet vital commencement of the great work of restoration that would soon encompass the entire world. Every disease that Jesus healed, every demon that he cast out, every blinded eye that he opened, foreshadowed the great victory of his cross. And here, at the occasion of his first miraculous sign, we encounter a glimpse of the impending, blood-bought reality of the glorious wedding feast that would soon flood the entire created order of things with the wine of unceasing joy and celebration. What Jesus gave a taste of, here at Cana, he will consummate with us in the kingdom, when he again drinks with his disciples the cup of fellowship and rejoicing, filled to overflowing with sweet wedding wine (Matthew 26:29).

    We must be careful not to overlook the manner in which this first miracle of Christ was carried out: first, he commanded that the vessels hitherto employed for the ceremonial washings of the Jews be filled to the brim with water. Then, at his command, the substantially inferior water became wine of the highest quality, and a great cause for rejoicing. We may learn from this that, just as the vessels for ritual cleansings were filled to the brim, so the time of elaborate ceremonial shadows was fully completed. The old pictures of blessed Messianic realities, that had never been effective in themselves, were hereby to be done away with forever. What was to replace them was the essence itself, the joyous truths behind the types and symbols. What was merely water in the anticipatory and imperfect state of the old dispensation was about to become true wine by the advent of Christ to this earth. Jesus’ coming had made old the Jewish waters of purification. The new wine of sweet fellowship with Christ was henceforth to flow instead in full bounty upon the world. The shadowy era of hopes and symbols is here giving way to the daylight of realized blessings in Christ. Jesus is just now beginning to bring to fruition the realities of his great redemptive task of making all things new.

    In this wondrous miracle, Christ made his glory manifest, so that his disciples rejoiced and believed on him. God grant that we may do the same. All who are weighed down by the burdens of life, wearied, struggling, ready to give up hope, feast your eyes upon Jesus, come down from heaven to provide for us the delightful wine of fellowship with him! He has accomplished the great realities of joy and blessing and fellowship and forgiveness by the blood of his cross. His blood has become for us who believe the true wine of life. The table is set, the marriage is announced, the invitations are given: let us be beating the hedges and byways, calling out all the hopeless sinners of the world to come and find true joy and everlasting fellowship in our Immanuel, our God come down to dwell with us (Matthew 22:2-10). Oh, let us never forget our beautiful Savior! Whenever we are tempted to despair, let us look ahead to the day in which all of us who hope in Jesus will raise our voices in a mighty chorus, joyfully proclaiming, “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come” (Revelation 19:6-7). “Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9). “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

    Posted by Nathan on September 15, 2006 08:20 PM


    As I was reading your comments about Mary I was thinking about her actions at Cana and the Catholic Marian doctrine of her sinlessness. I would argue that Jesus, by adressing her as woman (as you have also suggested) was establishing that He was not speaking to her as son but as Lord and when He said, "My time has not yet come," He was further establishing that it would be inappropriate for her to ask Him to intervene, but by forcing His hand, Mary sinned. Mary did not recognize or obey Jesus as Lord and made a situation in which He, by honoring His mother and not sinning Himself, was obligated to act in a way which was contradictory to His stated desires. I understand the many caveats necessary to the Reformed understanding of Sovereignty and God's secret will, but does it seem reasonable that this is an instance of Mary's sin?


    I'm not sure whether or not I would call Mary's first request a sin, but at least it reveals an imperfect understanding of Jesus' ministry. But regardless of this case, there are firm theological grounds for rejecting the Marian doctrine of sinlessness. The universal involvement of mankind in the sin of Adam, our first federal head (see Romans 5), would be a starter, as well as clear statements such as we find in Romans 3 regarding the utter sinfulness of every single human born of Adam's line (with the sole exception of Jesus, of course).

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