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“The Beginnings of Belief”

John 2:1-25
Bob DeGray
January 12, 2003

Key Sentence

The man we begin to see in John chapter 2 is the Jesus worthy of our faith.


I. His glory is shown by his miraculous works. (John 2:1-11)
II. His sonship is shown in his righteous zeal. (John 2:12-17)
III. His purpose is shown in his prophetic words. (John 2:18-25)


        Peter the Great, czar of Russia, was someone whose early behavior predicted his future. Growing up only two things intrigued him: ships and soldiers. From the earliest days he played with toy soldiers, commanding and moving them about like the autocrat he would be. In fact so enthralling was this hobby he was finally given a group of cadets to lead, so he pitted them against his palace guards in war games. His other passion was ships, from a bathtub navy to a rowboat navy to the construction of small war vessels that fought duels on the lakes of inland Russia.

        When he became Czar these childhood passions still drove him. He wanted his country to have an army to rival Sweden, then Northern Europe’s dominant power, and a navy to rival England. He hired the best military and naval minds he could find and gave them the biggest budgets Russia could afford. He himself continued to play with these very real weapons, often dressing himself as a low ranked officer and living in the military for months at a time. The result was that when war broke out against Sweden, though initially beaten the Russian forces fought with tenacity until they finally defeated the Swedish at Poltava. On the naval side, Peter founded St. Petersburg to serve as his capital and naval base for a growing fleet, which achieved a measure of sea power not equaled by Russia before or after. So it could be said of Peter that his early interests were a barometer of the greatness to come.

        The same, according to John, can be said about Jesus. In John two we’re going to see two episodes from the early part of Jesus’ ministry. But the greatness to come is shown by these early interests, so that the man we begin to see in John chapter 2 is the Jesus worthy of our faith. We see his glory through miracles that teach spiritual truth; we see his zeal for worship, and we see his commitment to his purposes. The Jesus we see in John chapter 2 is the Lord whose whole life compels us to faith.

I. His glory is shown by his miraculous works. (John 2:1-11)

        John 2 starts with the familiar incident at a wedding in Cana where Jesus turned water to wine. John 2:1-11: On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." 4"Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. 8Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

        Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." 11This, the first of his signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

        William Barclay says “The richness of the Fourth Gospel presents those who would study it with a problem. Always in John there are two things. There is a simple surface story anyone can understand, but there is also a wealth of deeper meaning for those who are eager to search it out.” This simple story begins on the third day after the last event narrated, which was the interaction between Jesus and Nathanael. This is the last of a series of ‘next day’ references that began in chapter one when the Levites and Priests came to see John. Within a week, John had proclaimed Jesus ‘the Lamb of God,’ two disciples had gone to him, and each of those two had found another follower. Now on the seventh day Jesus turns water to wine. During that same week the scene has shifted from ‘Bethany on the other side of the Jordan’ to Bethsaida on the lake shore of Galilee and now to Cana, a town near Nazareth.

        Jesus, his mother and his disciples were all invited to this wedding. Some say the disciples were party crashers who drank all the wine, but this is not implied in the narrative. It’s more likely Jesus and the disciples arrived a day or two before the wedding and were invited as last minute guests. It’s possible that the wedding was for a relative, and also that Mary had some responsibility for the wedding feast, since we’ll see her dealing with the shortage of wine and giving instructions to the servants.

        A wedding celebration in ancient Israel could last a full week, during which the bride and groom were treated as the queen and king of the feast. Nevertheless, the groom was responsible to provide food and drink for the guests, and it would be a great embarrassment to run out mid-feast. So Mary’s statement to Jesus ‘They have run out of wine’ reveals a major need. There has been much debate about what Mary was expecting when she said this. Some have said ‘nothing’ – that she was just telling Jesus about the situation. Others have said she expected a miracle, although it is doubtful that Jesus had done miracles before his anointing with the Holy Spirit. A third line of thinking points out that Mary, who was almost certainly a widow by this time, had simply come to depend on Jesus for help, and so she handed him the problem without knowing how he would solve it.

        Probably to Mary’s surprise, Jesus responds with a gentle rebuke. ‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Some say this wasn’t a rebuke, others say it wasn’t gentle, but I think it was both. The word ‘woman’ is not the rebuke. It was a respectful address, the same term Jesus used to address her from the cross, thus the NIV’s ‘dear woman’. A translator from the South would say ‘ma’am’ and capture it almost exactly. But the fact that he calls her ‘ma’am’ instead of Mom is significant. He seems to be putting distance into the mother-son relationship they’ve enjoyed for thirty years.

        Now that Jesus has been anointed by the Spirit for public ministry, their relationship must change: she must learn to come to him as a believer rather than a mother. Carson cites several verses showing that ‘everywhere Mary appears during Jesus’ ministry, He is at pains to establish distance between them. This isn’t callousness on his part: on the cross he makes provision for her earthly care. But she, like everyone, must come to him as Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

        The rebuke is in the words ‘why do you involve me, my hour has not yet come.’ The phrase literally means ‘what do you and I have in common’ (so far as this situation is concerned)? It always conveys at least a hint of protest or refusal or reproach. Jesus was saying something like ‘What I do now must be sanctioned by my heavenly Father, not my earthly mother. Neither she nor anyone else dares presume to approach him on an ‘inside track’. Jesus will do only what the Father wills in the Father’s time. And when he speaks of his time, or his hour in this Gospel he means the hour of his death and resurrection. In John, that hour is always ‘not yet’ until chapter 12, then in chapter 13 as the passion narrative starts, his hour has arrived. So Jesus is telling Mary that his destiny is something far greater than dealing with water and wine at a wedding - and the hour of that destiny has not yet come.

        Nevertheless, he does deal with the the wine – but he does so as a conscious prelude to his coming destiny. By turning the water to wine Jesus acts out a parable and gives a glimpse of his glory. Many of the miracles in John are visual aids, physical representations of spiritual truth. Jesus may be thinking here of prophecies that saw the age of the Messiah as one in which a feast takes place and wine is in abundance. My favorite text on this is Isaiah 25:6_9. “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine– the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from the earth.”

        Jesus acts out a parable of God’s boundless provision through the Messiah. He orders the large ceremonial washing jars to be filled with water. These jars, which provided water to wash feet on the arrival of guests and hands between each course of the meal, could hold twenty to thirty gallons each. Their purpose - ceremonial cleansing - gives a clue to the meaning of the parable: the water represents the old order of Jewish law and custom which Jesus was to transform into something better. Once filled, Jesus orders the servants to draw some of the water, and it had been changed into wine. The six jars would provide an abundance beyond the needs of any village wedding. Next the wine is taken to the head waiter, literally ‘the head of the table’, who might be the master of ceremonies but is more likely the steward in charge of the feast. He says ‘Most people serve the good stuff first and save the ordinary stuff for the time in the feast when the sense are dulled. But this wine is excellent.’

        That doesn’t mean it had more alcohol content - it would have been against every custom to serve the wine the way we buy it in the bottle, full strength. It was diluted with three to ten parts of water. But even diluted, the wine Jesus made is ‘the finest of wines.’ The one who invented the fruit of the vine would not fail to make the best.

        John rounds out the section by reminding us that this miracle was the first of the signs that Jesus performed. For John these are always signs, never miracles or wonders. They are significant displays of power that point beyond themselves to deeper realities perceived with the eyes of faith. The signs in John are a call for men and women at that time and for you and I now to believe in Jesus and trust in him. John says “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” That’s not just a past tense observation applied to the few disciples with Jesus at the feast: it is a present day reality for you and for me and all who desire to follow him: we are to see his glory, especially as revealed in Scripture, and entrust ourselves to his care.

II. His sonship is shown in his righteous zeal. (John 2:12-17)

        John chapter 2 goes on to give us our first glimpses of Jesus’ zeal - especially for worship of his Father. Listen to John 2:12-17: 12After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. 13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" 17His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."

        As we look for time markers in John we will often see the phrase ‘after this’, which indicates an indefinite time. We don’t know if it was a day, a week or a month after the wedding feast that Jesus went down to Capernaum with his mother and family and disciples. We do know that early in his ministry Jesus established Capernaum rather than Nazareth as his base of operations. It could be that the family was already moving to Capernaum, which caused Jesus to chose it as his headquarters.
        Capernaum, ‘the village of Nahum’ was a major fishing village on the north west shore of the sea of Galilee, about 16 miles from Cana, the home of Peter, Andrew, James and John. Because it was on the lake, one always went down to Capernaum, just as one went up to Jerusalem. In this case Jesus only stays a few days before he does go up to Jerusalem for Passover. The other Gospels only mention one Passover at Jerusalem, the one during which Jesus was crucified. But John mentions three Passovers and several other feasts in Jerusalem. One of the reasons John’s Gospel is so different from the other Gospels is this focus on the ministry in Jerusalem. The others focus on the ministry in Galilee, therefore on different events and sayings.

        So Jesus goes up for Passover, at the end of March or beginning of April, to remember the night when the angel of death ‘passed over’ the Jewish homes in Egypt. While in Jerusalem Jesus purifies or cleanses the Temple. Since the first three Gospels report a temple cleansing at the end of Jesus’ ministry, many commentators argue that John has moved this account to the beginning for some theological reason. Others argue that the account has been misplaced in the other Gospels. Only a few will accept the implication that this event happened twice, but that’s probably the best answer. There are a lot of similarities between the accounts, but there are also significant differences: the second cleansing followed the triumphal entry. The second cleansing also led to a decision by the Jewish leaders to kill Jesus. It seems to me Jesus got away with this twice, because the first occasion was unexpected and the second occasion was supported by public acclaim at the triumphal entry.

        Jesus arrives at the temple and sees men selling cattle, sheep and doves, while others are exchanging money, all in the temple courts. Recognize that none of these activities is wrong or unexpected. People had to be able to buy sacrificial animals and they had to be able to exchange common currency for temple currency, to pay the temple tax. Jesus would not object to the selling and exchanging in themselves. One theory is that he objected to the prices being charged. That’s possible, as Jesus was sensitive to oppression of any kind. But it’s more likely he was objecting to where this was being done. For years these things had been done outside the temple, but now the merchants were set up in the temple court reserved for the Gentiles, and that is what Jesus objects to: “How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!”

        Jesus has his eyes set on his Father and his heart set on worship, and he finds, in the place worship should have been paramount, that commerce is the only thing going on. In the court of the Gentiles, the only place non-Jews could worship God, there is noise and bustle, bargaining and bleating. I think Jesus was appalled, not just for himself, but on behalf of the Gentiles who deserved a place to worship, and on behalf of his Father, who deserved worship. So he made an improvised whip and drove the sheep and cows from the marketplace. He turned over the tables of the money changers - imagine the scramble that caused. And he told the people selling doves to move on.

        In doing this, Jesus is in harmony with a number of prophetic voices. Zechariah foretold that when the day of the Lord came, there would no longer be a merchant in the house of the Lord. God said through Malachi “Suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple, the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap . . . . he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.” The purification was another visible symbol of what Jesus had come to do – he came to provide cleansing so men could worship.

        Here at the beginning of his ministry we catch a glimpse of the zeal that drove Jesus forward. The disciples, at some later time, compared this to David’s claim in Psalm 69: “zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” That’s how Jesus felt. He was zealous for worship. He was zealous for the Gentiles - it was their place of worship. And he was zealous for his Father, that he receive worship. Don’t you like this guy? Jesus was no wimp, no pushover, and he was not one of these religious folk who are more dead than alive. He turned the water into wine for a celebration, and he was sold out zealous for worship.

III. His purpose is shown in his prophetic words. (John 2:18-25)

        There’s one more thing we see as Jesus’ ministry begins - and that is that he always has the end in mind. He knows his purpose and he knows his destiny. Verses 18 to 25: 18Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." 20The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. 23Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

        The people who question Jesus are probably either temple authorities or representatives of the Jewish leaders. They ask Jesus for a miraculous sign to prove his authority. A more godly group would have recognized that the act carried it’s own authority. They had no sense of the justice of what he had done. They had no concern for true worship or for the Gentiles. Yet their demand shows a suspicion that they’re dealing with a prophet sent from God. They weren’t looking for legal authority but spiritual authority, just as earlier they had asked for John’s spiritual authority for baptism.

        On the face of it, Jesus offers them a powerful miraculous sign to prove his authority. “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.” Anyone who could do that must be assumed to have the authority to regulate temple practices. But of course there was no way the temple leaders could test Jesus’ claim, because they would never destroy the building that had taken 46 years to build just to call what they considered a bluff. It’s interesting that this claim, which is not recorded in the other Gospels, was used in the other Gospels to accuse Jesus at his trial. Of course they said that he had planned to destroy the temple, which was a false accusation: he only said that if the authorities did destroy it, he could raise it up.

        But there is more here than just a clever response. Jesus makes destroying the temple a powerful symbol. John explains that what Jesus was talking about his own body, that body in which the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.

        The tabernacle was the symbol of God’s presence, and Jesus was God made present. In the same way the temple was the symbol of God’s presence, and Jesus means that his body was the temple in which God was present. But ‘if you destroy this temple’, which they did, by crucifixion, ‘I will raise it up in three days’, in his resurrection.

        John is the first to admit that neither he nor the other disciples understood any of this at the time. It was only after Jesus was raised from the dead that they recalled what he had said. After his resurrection they truly believed the words he had spoken and the Scriptures that pointed to him. Furthermore, after the resurrection they recieved the Holy Spirit, and Jesus had promised that the Spirit would explain everything to them, and bring to mind what Jesus has said. So the disciples remembered this moment and recognized that Jesus was already heading for the cross. He knew what people would do to him: destroy him. But he didn’t shrink back. He went toward this destiny with a sense of purpose because he knew long before anyone else that only by his death would he bring life and light to those who believed in him.

        So we’ve seen Jesus in his creative power, we’ve seen Jesus in his godly zeal, and we’ve seen Jesus in his knowledge of his destiny. These early episodes are enough for us to know that he deserves our trust. But we’ve also seen that at the time no one understood a lot of what was happening. Yes, the people of Jerusalem heard of his miraculous signs, like turning water into wine and apparently some others John has not included, and they believed in his name. This was the right thing to do, and for some it may have been very sincere. But John makes the point that Jesus didn’t count on their faith. Verse 24 says that “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.” He knew that even the faith of the disciples would falter at the end, and he knew that most of those who seemed to believe in him now would fall away when he began to teach hard things. So while some may have counted on him, he didn’t count on them. He knew what was in their hearts.

        The point is that Jesus is different. We can see that he is different even in these first few events of his public ministry. And the difference means that we can place our faith and trust in him even when we cannot trust any other human being. We need to trust and we can trust, because unlike anyone else, he is trustworthy. We look around us at the people we know, and we recognize that in big or small ways they do always fail - and they do often fail us. But when we look at Jesus we see a man worthy of our faith.
        What have we seen? In the earliest part of his ministry we have already seen several key things that will be developed over and over again in this gospel. Just as people could look back on Peter the Great’s youth and see what he would care about throughout his life, so people could look back on the early ministry of Jesus and see what he would care about throughout his ministry.

        First of all, his ministry would be characterized by power. But not raw power: it would be characterized by signs intended to show spiritual truths. That will culminate, in chapter 11 with the raising of Lazarus from the dead to show that Jesus was the resurrection and the life. Those spiritual signs start here: with the simple act of turning water to wine, Jesus showed he was the abundant source of life and of celebration.

        We have also seen his characteristic concern that the Father be honored. Jesus wanted people to be obedient to the Father, as he was, and he wanted people to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The cleansing of the temple shows that zeal right at the very beginning of his ministry. Jesus is no pushover, but a man of conviction and what he really wants is what’s really right and really good for us.

        Finally, from the very beginning, we see that Jesus knew his purpose and his destiny. He was the temple men would destroy, but which he would raise up on the third day. He was the sacrifice that would cleanse men from sin, and he knew from the start what his end would be. His whole life, his whole ministry moved toward his hour, his death on the cross, and he never took his eyes off the goal. This is the Jesus we’re going to get to know in this Gospel. Sometimes a wonderful caring friend, often a teacher whose mysteries are hard to unfold – but always a man worthy of our faith.