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John 2:1-12 Study Guide: From Water to Wine

Community Group Study Guide — From Water to Wine
John 2:1-12

Main idea:
Jesus begins his formal ministry with his first sign, turning water into wine at a wedding feast. This sign points to his miraculous power and that a new covenant is beginning. 

Study Information:
John 2:1-12
Three days after calling the first of his disciples, Jesus goes to a wedding in Galilee in the small city of Cana. This begins a new section in the Gospel of John that is bookended with events in Cana, this wedding feast and the “second sign” of healing an officials son’s in Cana (John 2:1, John 4:46). Nathanael, whom we just met at the end of John 1, was from the city of Cana and we do not get an overt mention to this wedding invite through Nathanael, but it seems like a likely connection. At this point Jesus is there with his mom and at least 5 disciples (Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael and an unnamed disciple who is likely John). These Jewish wedding feasts were quite different than what we have today. In the ancient world they were like a long family reunion. Over the course of seven days friends and family would gather for feasting, dancing and celebration. If you’re married, could you imagine spending that much time and money with the folks you invited to your wedding? We do not know which day of the wedding celebration Jesus and his disciples arrive but a crisis pops up during their time there. The wedding host had run out of wine and Jesus’ mom, Mary, approaches him with this problem. This may not seem like a huge crisis to us but in the ancient world it was a sign of social embarrassment to not provide hospitably for your guests. Jesus knows what his mother is asking from him and gives a somewhat short and direct feeling response back to her, “Woman what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus will reference his “hour” or his appointed time 12 times in the gospel of John which most often points to going to the cross. The idea here is that there is a particular time and place for the fulfillment of Jesus’ ministry and now is not that time. Likewise, he calls her “woman” and not mom, and in our english translation it seems rude or abrupt but it is much softer in the Greek. Jesus probably responds this way here to tell her and us, that what he does is not dictated by family, friends or the will of people but it is based on his mission from the Father; so his response to this request is not because of how she asked or who she is but rather because it is in line with his mission from the Father. Everything even family is subordinate to Jesus’ mission. 

Jesus instructs the servants to gather six stone jars that each held a 20-30 gallons of water which means he creates 120-180 gallons of wine in this miracle. These stone jars were used for purification rituals, so when one sinned and was ritualistically unclean they would wash and purify themselves with this water. This was a big part of the Old Covenant Law of Moses to symbolize what it meant to be unclean and restored. These servants fill the jars with water up to the brim and then they took some of the liquid to the master of the feast and he tasted the wine and said it was better than the wine they first served. Jesus creates an abundance of win as a way to show an overflowing amount of blessing and grace. The text indicates to us that as the wedding feast went on they served lesser and lesser quality wine because people would not be able to really tell the difference, and yet here at the end of the feast the wine is better than any they had before. John calls this the “first of his signs” that he did to manifest his glory (John 2:11). His disciples responded by believing and continuing to follow him, which was not always the case with the crowds who saw the miracles. 

What are we to make of this miracle and why would this be the “first of his signs?”

Jesus points to the New Covenant
Out of all the possible miracles Jesus could do, why was turning water into wine the first sign in the Gospel of John? Why not start with the raising of Lazarus from the dead or part the sea of Galilee as the “new Moses?” Jesus showing up to a wedding and providing an abundant blessing fits with what he is trying to communicate about himself early on in his ministry. Historically, God gave his people Covenants to communicate how he’d work through his people, bless them and how he had called them to be in relationship with him and one of the images used for God’s covenant people was the image of marriage. The prophet Hosea prophesied that God would be a husband to his people and God picks up this image for the church as the “bride of Christ” (Hosea 2:16-20). Jesus showing up to a wedding and performing this first sign is a foreshadow of him promising to bring a New Covenant, a theme that gets picked up in John 3 and the conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus that one must be born again by the Spirit which was a promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31. Jesus takes something used for Old Testament purification rituals, jars for water, and fills them with an abundance of wine which was a sign of blessing. The Gospel of John will make this connection overt when Jesus is referred to as the Bridegroom (John 3:27-30). This miracle points to what Jesus will do on the cross as he reconciles a people to himself through his blood and does so in a way filled with extravagance abundant grace. 

The Point of the 7 Signs
John 2:11
The first half of the Gospel of John is structured around seven signs/miracles with the resurrection of Jesus being the eighth sign. John does this to testify to what he laid out in John 1:1-18, the Eternal Word took on flesh and is demonstrating that he has power to overturn evil and to bring about new creation. Jesus did these things to manifest his glory and point to his divine nature and power over sin and death. These signs will be things like turning water into wine, healing the paralyzed, walking on water and raising the dead. All of this is meant to bolster our faith that Jesus is more than just a good teacher, but rather God the son who entered creation to undo the effects of sin and death and to make a pathway towards eternal life. John’s goal for writing this gospel was so that we may believe and have life in his name (John 20:30-31). These signs validate Jesus’ testimony and foreshadow to who he really is. Turning water to wine points at Jesus’ abundant provision and that he is creating a new people for himself with a new covenant and that we’re invited to participate in that with him.

Jesus responds to the problem at a wedding in Cana to save the host from embarrassment and to point to his identity as the one who has come to bring about a New Covenant. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read John 2:1-12

What details from this story stand out to you? (Where is he, how much wine does he create, what does his mom ask of him, how does the master of the feast respond?) 

How does Jesus respond to his mom’s request and what does this show us about his mission and purpose?

What are some reasons Jesus begins his ministry with turning water into wine?

How do the seven signs help bolster our faith and understanding of who Jesus is so that we may believe and have eternal life in his name?