Wine of Purification

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. – John 2:1-11 NASB

What a great miracle this is! We have six stone waterpots set for the Jewish custom of purification. They’re large – 20 to 30 gallons each. That’s around half the size of a 55 gallon drum. These were to be used for the religious observance of purification – not just your average washpot.

Now, John says that he doesn’t tell us all of Jesus’ miracles in this gospel – in fact he only gives us seven. He cherry picked these few for a specific purpose:

30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. – John 20:30-31 NASB

So there is something about this miracle which in particular lends itself to belief in Christ, more than some others. What might that be?

I think the clue is that the wine was made in purification pots. The wine which was originally given at this wedding was of a lesser quality, and was insufficient. They ran out of it before the wedding was over! How like life under the law and life under petty hedonism this is! The pleasures and provision of both are entirely insufficient to satisfy.

Perhaps the way to look at it that the law is the water of purification. The law was given through Moses, not realized (John 1:17), which means it gives an impossible ideal but even Moses can’t live by it. It is ritualistically holding out the possibility of purification but it is colorless, tasteless, and does not really cleanse. It only cleanses as a ritual, an empty observance. It is purification by the idea of cleansing – which implies a focus on the dirtiness of you, and that you will be purified if you will just remove that dirt. You are good and clean underneath all of that dirt, if only you could take a bath.

Jesus comes and replaces this colorless tasteless water of religious purification, and the insufficient and poor wine of hedonism, and makes the good strong wine itself the purifying agent. This seems contrary to common sense though. Here we are at a wedding party, where people have already drunk all the wine on hand, and Jesus gives them more stronger better wine as their purification? How could that work? This is the problem with grace: taking liberties with our freedom has been our problem always. Now, the gospel comes, and its solution is to give us far more freedom? To our fleshly minds, that does not seem like any kind of purification! It seems like a license to wallow in the mud!

And yet this wine was produced in the pots for purification. Lots of it. 150 gallons or more of it! The best and most enjoyable stuff! How exactly does this purify? Why was it made in the purification pots? Is this just an accidental detail? How does it purify anyone to give 150 gallons of really good wine to a bunch of drunk people? Were the pots used simply because they were handy? Perhaps, but everything in John’s gospel means something, and I think this means something. The wine in Jesus’ life clearly represents His propitiatory death. It means the true cleansing from sin and guilt, and it also represents the celebration of a great wedding feast where Christ Himself is the main course (John 6:53). It is the celebration of our release into freedom, our true forgiveness and redemption, and our introduction into the kingdom of grace, which is our purification. Purification is not a colorless adherence to law. It is a wondrous celebration of real freedom in the Spirit. It is the true joy of the real wine of living as the beloved bride of the Prince of Peace, the very Son of God. This joy and this freedom has inestimable power to cleanse – more than the colorless ideal of the law could ever do by holding a standard of condemnation over our heads.

So I think this first miracle, the changing of water into wine in the purification pots, speaks worlds about Jesus’ ministry and the nature of the gospel.

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  1. Fantastic! Love the important detail about purification pots… and how Jesus makes this “colorless tasteless water of religious purification” into something wondrous. Ha!

  2. Nicely put, Jim.
    It reminded me of this wonderful quote by Robert Farrar Capon: “The Reformation was a time when men (Luther and company) went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case” (Between Noon and Three – the Outrage of the Gospel). Brilliant. I also love Max Lucado’s insight in ‘When God whispers your name’ that Jesus begins His ministry in this gospel by going to a party, clearly because people just liked Him and wanted Him there. Thanks, Jim!

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