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May 20, 2012

Jesus: the Life & Death of the Party

Passage: John 2:1-11

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Life to the Full

Category: New Testament

Keywords: wine, wedding, party, joy, tradition, miracles


Why did Jesus choose a wedding for his first miracle? This message puts us in the sandals of every major player in this story and hopefully opens us up to the heart of God that values people and God's glory over religion and tradition.


Jesus:  the Life…or Death…of the Party

John 2

May 20, 2012


Opening:  .

  • Share a time you remember running out of something (gas, food, drink, money, runway, etc.).   Was there anything good that came about as a result?


Q:  Why can running short/out of something be so embarrassing?

Q:  Why are embarrassing situations so memorable?


Maybe that’s why Jesus chose an embarrassing situation of shortage to signal the beginning of his short 3 ½ years of ministry here on earth.  Turn in your Bibles to John 2. 


I’ve entitled this morning’s Scripture teaching, Jesus:  The Life…or Death…of the Party” because in this text today, we have both.  In the first part we have a wedding party, a real party.  Ancient Jewish weddings make our weddings look like an appetizer to 7-course feast.  And this particular wedding was not lacking for great drinks on the house, at least after Jesus stepped in. 

Then John makes a very abrupt change of tone in vs. 12.  Jesus is going to another “party,” a national one that was held every year in the capital, Jerusalem.   Anyone who was anybody in the nation went to this feast.  And it had some very deep spiritual overtones to it as well.  But when Jesus shows up to this party, it wasn’t so fun having him around.


So let’s read John 2:1-25 (stand). 


Don’t you find it interesting that Jesus choose a wedding party rather than a funeral procession as the first place to reveal the nature of his power, his life work and even his “glory” (vs.11)?  That says a lot about God’s heart for human life.  He’s always all about fresh, new things.  He’s always wanting to join in whenever we’re willing to step out in faith and take on commitments that obligate us to developing more of His nature. 

      Marriage will do that, won’t it?  Lots of other things in life can as well, but marriage is that one truly unique free-will choice that obligates us to grow in the character of Jesus Christ.  Marriage puts two very different people together, in a binding union for the rest of their lives, that will require that they grow in patience, love, integrity, promise-keeping, perseverance, grace, mercy, humility and dozens of other qualities of Christ.  We don’t get those qualities by never being challenged beyond our own capacity.  But marriage will do that.  And Jesus is all in favor of life that presses us into Him.

      NOTE:  I’d like to encourage those of you who may still be single.  In a culture where marriage is really not valued very much anymore, don’t be afraid of marriage.  It was and continues to be God’s plan for the majority of people and much of our growing up in Jesus.  Its diversity is a divine thing.  Don’t shy away from one of God’s best and choicest tools for your growth, your joy and His kingdom.


Back to the story. Jesus chose a wedding to be the very first place where he revealed his glory, according to John. 

      So what was it about God’s glory this miracle revealed?  Keep that question in mind as we work through this text today.   


John begins by giving us the setting for this first miracle.  It’s in “Cana of Galilee,” up north in Israel, somewhere near Nazareth. 


Next he tells us when this took place in his narrative.  Jesus and some of his disciples have arrived on what John calls “the third day.”  Since John 1:19 seems to start a sequence of 4 days that lead up to chapter 2 (1:19, 29, 35, 43 = 4 days), it is possible that this is the 7th day of this particular series of events.  Jesus has already been baptized by John and spent those 40 days in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by the devil. 

      Now he’s starting to gather followers.  But at this point he’s really not seen as anyone particularly special.  He’s not done any miracles yet.  He hasn’t done a lot of teaching yet.  John the Baptist has obviously told people that Jesus is someone special.  But that’s about it. 

      So to understand the impact of this story, wipe clean your mental slate of all that you know about Jesus as a miracle-worker, amazing teacher and redeemer of the world.  Try to see this story through the eyes of the people who were there, most of them seeing him as either the distant relative or friend that he was to them at the time. 


The EVENT is, as we’ve seen, a wedding.  Hebrew weddings were different than our American Christian weddings.

  • It began with a betrothal period--the legal contract or several months (but not more than a year) before the wedding celebration.  This was the legal union but not the physical/sexual/living arrangement union.
  • The wedding celebration that we read about here in John 2 signaled the end of the “betrothal” period and the beginning of married life.  As might be expected, it was marked by a PARTY that ranged in length from a few days to a week.
  • As modern American weddings do, it involved lots of people.
  • The bride was usually fetched from her house and taken to her new home, the home of the groom.  (That home, by the way, was often attached to the groom’s parent’s home.  Welcome to life with mother-in-law.  J) 
  • The big party that was thrown by the groom was probably THE MOST celebratory event in any person’s life, in your friend’s life, in a town’s life.  It was the one cultural/social experience you could count on being fun…as long as everything went reasonably well for everyone involved.


That’s could be why…

1.)    God chose to use marriage as a symbol of his covenant relationship and union with his chosen people, the Jews.  Every wedding in Israel was to remind people of the kind of relationship God wanted with them as His people.

2.)    I believe that is what God still wants to do with every one of us every time we go to a wedding:  remind us of the amazing, eternity-long commitment he has made to us and of the wonderful intimacy and heart-connection we can have with God himself.  Jesus chose to use this wedding as the inauguration event of his relationship with all people.   That’s why marriage actually is the most oft repeated metaphor of Jesus’ relationship with the Church.  (See Rev. 19:7-9—the wedding supper of the Lamb.)


Can we burry the notion that God is a cosmic kill-joy?

Can we quit thinking that serious times are the only times God really loves to “show up” and give us a fresh experience of his presence?

Can we embrace the biblical notion that our God is The Greatest Pleasure-seeker in the universe, delighting in life with his creation that is filled with joy, laughter, humor, feasting, friendship, dancing and celebration???


Life IS filled with plenty of the serious, the somber and the sad.  I’m not denying that.  God will show up and give us fresh experiences of himself in those experiences too.  But that part of human experience is going to be short-lived and temporary.  Crying, sorrow, pain, discipline and repentance, darkness and night… are some day ALL going to be done away with (Rev. 21 & 22).  What’s going to be the enduring, lasting, eternal experience of God being experienced at close range by his people?  Healing, joy, ecstasy, light, love, celebration, worship, dancing, singing, etc.   Maybe that is why Jesus chose a wedding feast as the place to first reveal his glory on this earth.  He never wants us to forget that our destiny is a wedding feast with him.


Maybe it’s time you and I started to learn to celebrate with God more.  We need to learn to party better, to dance better, to sing better, to eat and drink better!  Don’t let some old Pharisee-type rob you of the fresh experiences of celebration Jesus wants you to have when you really walk with the True and Living God. 

      Now we’ve come to a fun part I want YOU to engage in.  Whenever we come to a narrative section of the Bible like this is, one of the many questions we should ask ourselves is, “WHO were the players in this story?”  Then, as much as you are able, look at that story through their eyes.  Try and feel what they must have felt.  Try and think like they did.  Try and see what is unfolding from their vantage point. 


So, WHO are the players in this wedding feast story?

  • The couple
  • The mother of Jesus, Mary, who (by the way) is never referred to as Mary by John in this Gospel, perhaps to keep her from being confused with the other Marys in the Gospels (Jn. 19:25). “Jesus’ mother was there…”—probably helping out with the party.  Looks from vs. 3 like she had something to do with the catering arrangements.  It also suggests that either the bride or groom may have been a relative of Mary and Jesus for them both to be there.
  • Jesus
  • Some disciples: Vs. 2--“Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”  Was probably there with 5 of his 12 already mentioned:  Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael and John (the ‘unnamed disciple’ of 1:35).
  • Servants
  • The “master of the banquet”, probably a sort of master of ceremonies in our modern context. 


Now, I’d like you to group up into bunches of 3-5 people and for 3-4 minutes look at this story through the eyes of ONE of the players, you choose.  Ask questions like,

  • WHO was this person/persons? 
  • How were they viewed by others around them?
  • What might they have been thinking in this story?
  • What were they probably feeling?
  • What did they DO and was that action significant or important in some way?

Report back:  how did this story unfold from the perspective of your chosen participant? 


MARY:  2:3b--What was Mary doing with this statement? 

  • I don’t think she is expecting a miracle.  She hadn’t seen any to this point.  Why would she expect one?
  • Nothing more than what she was probably used to:  leaning on Jesus in their family as the man of the house (after Joseph’s death) and relying on his proven resourcefulness and leadership.  Remember, Jesus was the eldest of a number of siblings (Mt. 12:46-50; Mk. 3:31-34; Lk. 8:19-21) and probably man of the house.  (Interesting implications for his call to each of us to “leave father and mother, sisters and brothers, houses and lands for” His sake.)


[Before we look at what this part of the story is teaching, I’m compelled to address what I think is a whole lot of bad theology that has been drawn out of this passage by certain segments of the Christian Church through the ages.  How the church ever developed the idea that Jesus’ human mother Mary (whose name is never even used in John’s Gospel) is to be themediator” or “go-between”, the one we are to pray to and through if we really want Jesus to answer, is beyond me!  The reality of this text is, if anything, just the opposite…as does common sense experience!

Q…to KIDS:  Kids, do your parents give you everything you ask them for? 

Q…to ADULTS:  As adults, do you give everything your adult mother wants or asks for from you?  All the vacation time, all the phone calls, all the money, all the personal preferences they have about your life???  Men, if you do, I’ve usually found that you’re a “mama’s boy”…no matter how old you are!  J  Ladies, moms…remember this when your children become adults.  At some point you are going to be wanting to control and influence your boys more than is healthy.  If they are adults, even a “informational statement” like Mary was making may need to be rebuked.  (Now that I’ve offended every mother of an adult son…let’s move on! J)]


  • Jesus doesn’t use an endearing term (gynai) when he responds to Mary’s statement.  He could have, but didn’t.  He wasn’t being disrespectful.  He was courteous but certainly not cordial or warmly sentimental.  “Ma’am” as used in the south perhaps comes closest to the sense. 
  • Jesus follow-up statement isn’t a warm, fuzzy one either:  “…why do you involve me.”  Lit.:  “what to me and to you?”  It’s a rather abrupt tone.  Greek scholar D. A. Carson says it is a rather common Jewish idiom that “always distances the two parties” when used (Jdg. 11:12; 2 Sam. 16:10) and has a “tone… [with] some degree of reproach.”  [D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 170.] 
  • If anything, Jesus is showing us that God doesn’t play “family favorites.”  In fact, everywhere you find Mary, the mother of Jesus, popping up in the Gospels, you will find that Jesus is taking pains to put distance between him and her rather than establish her as some mediator between people and himself.  (See “Who is my true mother, brother, etc.” passages:  Mt. 12:46-50; Mk. 3:31-34; Lk. 8:19-21 & Jn 19:25-29.)


But here is the other side of this deal.  While Jesus initially rebuffs and even perhaps rebukes his mother, she doesn’t get offended or give up.  She doesn’t lose faith in Jesus.  She doesn’t go off in a corner and cry or pout because Jesus isn’t doing something the way she may have wanted it done. 



Here is a woman who models what she tells others to do:  do what Jesus says to do!  She kept on believing that Jesus was probably going to give some sort of instruction that may have remedied the situation.  She didn’t know what that would be.  She just knew that her Jesus, her firstborn, knew how to handle crisis situations and that he usually involved other people in the process.  She let him know there was a need she couldn’t meet but she believed he could, if necessary. 


Here’s the ANOTHER STEP to take when you are reading a passage:  Ask yourself, “Given what we can know from this passage, what PRINCIPLES do I need to take to heart in my relationship with God?”  


For example, what universal spiritual principles about life with God can we draw from Mary’s part in this story?


1. Fresh encounters with God frequently come through simply talking with Jesus about a present NEED we have.

Jesus isn’t obliged to do what we want done every time we encounter a problem in life.  That goes for BIG and small needs or wants. 


This request by Mary is not a life-threatening issue.  Sure, this would have been a HUGE social embarrassment to the groom if Jesus hadn’t done something.  But then, only Jesus knew what was really needed at that time. 

  • Maybe the groom needed some humbling.
  • Maybe the guests had had too much to drink already, were greedy and needed strong cup of coffee?
  • Maybe meeting this need had almost nothing to do with what Mary or the groom or the guests wanted done.  Maybe Jesus just did it because it was TIME for him to begin to go-public with who he was (the Son of God) and what he had come to do (die for the sins of the world).


Honestly, we may not know. 

  • All we know is that God invites us to “cast all our care on Him because he cares for us” (I Pt. 5:7). 
  • All we know is that God told us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6).


Fresh encounters with God frequently come through simply talking with Jesus about a present NEED…and trusting him with the results.

ILL:  I had an experience about 4 years ago that reminded me of this truth.  I was in the waiting room at Fairchild AFB as the body of one of our fallen brothers, Jim Craig, arrived two weeks ago.  Very sad time.  We’re all wondering, “Why didn’t God protect Jim more.”  We all know he protected him through two very dangerous tours of duty…sometimes in clearly miraculous ways.  But why not now?

      As got to talking with one of the women there whom I had known from a previous church but hadn’t seen for over a year or more.   She asked me if I remembered praying for her father who had been in a coma due to a serious heart condition several years before.  She went on to tell me that she really believed God had healed her father at the time, brought him out of a coma and given him another year or so of life just so he could come to faith in Jesus before he died. 

      It’s sometimes very difficult to “leave the results to God.”  But we’re not God.  We’re not even his earthly mother! J  We’re called to make our needs and desire known and then to wait and trust God’s response. 


If we begin to get the attitude in life that God must meet us when, where or how we want rather than simply trusting him to handle circumstances we need his help in as he sees fit, then we will stop having fresh encounters with Jesus.  All we’ll feel is bitterness, anger, frustration and hurt about why God isn’t dealing with life around us like we want.  That’s disastrous!  That’s not what Mary modeled or what the Holy Spirit is teaching in this story. 

Fresh encounters with God frequently come through simply talking with Jesus about a present NEED…and trusting him with the results.


  • Write down the specific needs you feel presently in your life that you’re not sure how to solve, meet or handle and that you would like to see God meet with you in. 
  • Decide what you will do with those needs, concerns, etc.  Will you bring them to Jesus, release them to him, and be content to still exercise faith in Him regardless of how he chooses to deal with them…or will you become demanding, hurt, upset if he does not choose to do what you think needs to happen? 


Mary’s next words (2:5) are the only command we ever have from Mary to other people. So if you’ve been raised in a Chr. tradition that venerates Mary, then, for Mary’s sake, at least obey the one command we have in the Bible from her to other people: 


PRINCIPLE:  Fresh encounters with Jesus come when we’re willing to do whatever he tells us to do…no matter how insignificant, odd or impossible it may look like to us.



  • Don’t read back into this story what you already know, i.e. the ending of a miraculous provision of wine.
  • Next thing:  Jesus tells the servants to simply fill the big, stone jars that held water for “ceremonial washing”. 
    • Held from 100-150 gallons of water.
    • Were used throughout the celebration to do what? For “ceremonial washing”.  Just in case you’re thinking a simple washing of the hands once after visiting the bathroom, guess again.  The Rabbis had developed a portion of their Mishna that dealt only with the purification of “hands” and “vessels”.  Just the “vessel” purification consisted of 30+ chapters while purifying “hands” took up 3 chapters! (I’ll bet that was exciting reading! J)  [Alfred Edersheim, The Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah, book III, p. 357.]


STOP:  If all you knew about this story up to this point was what the servants knew, what would you be thinking? 

  • Jesus is really concerned about ceremonial washing! 
  • We’re going to be getting a whole lot of plats, cups and hands dirty around here still! 
  • Who needs more ceremonial washing if the wine has run out and the party is about over?


Vs. 8—The water Jesus turned to wine was that recently drawn by the servants in the vessels used for ceremonial cleansing. 

      If this is the case, what becomes of ceremonial cleansing for the rest of the wedding celebration?  It’s over.  It’s “messed up” with a bunch of really good wine.  You can’t use wine to cleanse yourself or wash dishes ceremonially.  How would that set with the Pharisee types?! J  

Out with some very important religious ceremonies. 

      In with some completely non-religious party-making.

Out with serious and stuffy.

      In with more merry-making and feasting. 


PRINCIPLE:  Fresh encounters with Jesus come when we’re willing to let go of “our religious rule” and do whatever he tells us to do…no matter how insignificant, odd or impossible it may look like to us.


God has a lot fewer hang-ups about a whole lot more things than we dare to look at.  Fresh encounters with Jesus are going to seriously blow some religious circuitry.  They always have.

  • How well received was Jesus by the religious establishment of his day?
  • How well was John the Baptist received?
  • How well was the early church received in Jerusalem?
  • How well was Martin Luther received by the Roman Catholic Church when he nailed his 95 thesis to the church door at Wittenburg, Germany in October 1517 and started the Protestant Reformation that swept Europe and changed the world?
  • How well was Charles Wesley received by the religious establishment when he started preaching to tens of thousands of miners in the fields of England rather than in the Church of England?
  • How well was Pentecostalism received by mainline Protestantism after the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 led by African-American Pastor William J. Seymour? The revival was characterized by speaking in tongues, dramatic worship services, and (oh no!) “inter-racial mingling.”

The world is sick of “different for the sake of different.”  But they have never grown tired of fresh encounters with God by people freshly filled with God himself.


If we really want “fresh encounters” with God in our lifetime, we really need to confront whether or not we are willing to let go of some stuff we may have been trained or raised or grown to think is very important but which God needs to replace with some “new wine” if we are to experience Him.


PRINCIPLE:  God likes to work through and reveal himself to unlikely people. 

  • Who were the most important people besides Jesus in this story?  The servants, of course.  Most people that day probably didn’t even know their names, yet Jesus chose to make them the instruments of his first miracle. 
  • Who had the most to lose if it was not a miracle?
  • What was at stake for them?
  • Who had to work the hardest that day?


PRINCIPLE:  God usually uses our participation to accomplish his miracles.  Most of the miracles Jesus performed involved the faith-actions of others…whether it was Jairus seeking healing for his daughter OR three friends carrying their buddy to Jesus, cutting a hole in the roof of the house and letting him down in front of Jesus.

  • Jesus could have filled those jars by the word of his command, but he didn’t. 
  • He could have made wine without water…because he made all the water we have anyway.

APP:  What is God asking you to do so he can fill it with his miraculous power?  His working?  What’s the need God is asking you to do something about?

  • Step out into some ministry opportunity?
  • Speak up to someone about their need of Jesus Christ?
  • Set aside some time daily out of your busy schedule to be with Him?


ILL:  The Monday afternoon neighborhood walk.  Every time we’ve had some wonderful encounters. 



Do you suppose that Jesus wanted to change people’s image of where God’s heart was at times like this, about what pleased God when some young, insecure, newlyweds were trying to get started? 


Here is God himself, in disguise, in human flesh, the very Being who created marriage itself as a human picture of the love God enjoys in himself in the Trinity, watching this poor, nervous, unprepared groom just about have a social melt-down of horrific proportions.  Instead of caring a whit about the “religious stuff” of ceremonial washing, Jesus decides to show off the heart of God in an abundantly dramatic way…by making 150-200 gallons of the best wine people had tasted yet!


How do you picture your Heavenly Father?  One who is rigidly demanding adherence to a bunch of religious tradition nobody likes but everybody seems to be addicted to…OR a Daddy who just wants to give his kids the best wedding day possible…and the guests one heck of a fun time of celebration???


PRINCIPLE:  All the while, know what Jesus is doing? God is doing things for us even when we’re not aware of it.