In the first half of his Gospel, the Apostle John describes a series of signs that Jesus performed in order to show his true identity. These were more than just miracles, they were powerful acts done for a specific purpose: to show that the God of the Old Testament had come in all his glory. John is careful to only include signs that Jesus performed at or near Jewish festivals or institutions like the temple, a well, the Sabbath, and the Passover.
The first sign appears in John 2:1-12, where Jesus attended a Jewish wedding. Jesus showed the unsuspecting wedding guests and his disciples that God had saved the best for last. The first-century Jews believed in God and honored the Scriptures. They took time out for God at least once a week and observed the Sabbath. But God had something better for them.
Jesus attended a wedding on “the third day,” which is a clue that something special was about to happen. At some point in the celebration, the wine ran out. Jesus’ mother, Mary, had some sort of responsibility for the refreshments at the wedding feast so she asked Jesus for help. At first, Jesus seemed hesitant to help, stating that his “hour has not come yet.” Then Mary instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus asked them to do.
There were six stone water pots at the wedding, each with the capacity to hold 20 to 30 gallons of water. Clay pots were more common and affordable, but they could become “unclean,” so the Jews used stone pots for ceremonial washings. The Jews had a complex set of rituals and traditions when it came eating and preparing food (Mark 7:1-4). They would not eat without washing their hands in a special way. This wasn’t about hygiene, but about proving their standing before God.
Jesus told the servants to fill the pots with water and take it to the head waiter. Somewhere between the water pot and the headwaiters’ lips, the water became wine. The head waiter was so impressed that he spoke to the bridegroom saying, “Most people serve the good wine first when people are most thirsty and can appreciate the high quality. But you’ve surprised us, you’ve saved the best for last.”
Contrary to popular opinion, this story is not about alcohol. The use of the stone washing pots and the words of the head waiter in verse 10 tell us the reason for Jesus’ first sign and the point of this story: Jesus as better than the religious rituals or traditions of the Jews. The coming of the Messiah was more important for God’s people than following a set of restrictive practices.
Like the ancient Jews, we have our own set of religious rituals and traditions that have a limited basis in Scripture and little bearing on our relationship with God. Unfortunately, like the Jews, we sometimes enjoy looking down on others because they do not follow our rituals or traditions. When we do we need to personalize this story – Jesus is better than our religious rituals or traditions. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is more important than what we wear to church, how many times we go to church, or how many times we “walk the aisle.” That doesn’t mean our rituals or traditions are worthless, it means they are a means to a greater end – faith in Jesus Christ.
Maybe you need to reevaluate your spiritual life in light of Gospel? Maybe you need to trust in Jesus, instead of some experience or practice? Maybe you need to follow Jesus and his leadership in your life. When you do, will know that God saved the best for last.