Jesus’ divinity was first demonstrated here on earth through His act of turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. This transformation of one liquid into another entirely different was, in itself, a miracle. Without understanding the context into which this story fits, however, much of its significance is missed.
Last weekend, my friend Courtney and I ventured up into the North Bay for a relaxing Saturday spent among the serene rolling hills and lush vineyards of Sonoma County. Living mere hours from world famous wine country but having never been, we decided it was time to make the trip, and do a wine-tasting while there. We wanted a tour that would be not only scenic but informative, and ended up booking with Chateau St. Jean in Kenwood.
Our experience was excellent. The vineyard’s name was reflective of the regal treatment we received, and the whole thing could not have been more relaxing. Our table was situated on a sprawling veranda overlooking rows upon rows of growing grapes, and the continuous chirping of birds supplied us with a delightful soundtrack. Mike, our sommelier, (I feel so fancy saying that word) was very knowledgeable, and took time to carefully explain everything and answer our many questions. This was fortunate, because we had absolutely no idea what we were doing.
The thing is, as the different wines were brought out for us to taste, I could tell generally which ones I did and did not like, but I couldn’t articulate why. I didn’t know what I was looking for, what made one wine distinct from the next.
He asked for our thoughts after the first glass and all I could come up with was “yeah, it’s good, and I think, smooth?”
Mike was not impressed.
He smiled, then began to explain to us the different properties of wines—acidity, tannic, smooth, dry, sweet. He explained that fruit gains flavor the longer it remains on the vine and because of this, can begin to take on qualities resembling pear, honeysuckle, butter, cream, spice, lavender, espresso, rose petal, lemon, or other things, even though those ingredients are never added to the wine. As Mike taught us about the fermentation processes of different wines, describing and defining the resulting categories of flavor, I started to taste the nuance of those flavors more.
It was as if having a name for the qualities of the wine invited me into a fuller experience of those qualities, and of the wine itself.
Mike shared with us that he used to own his own vineyard and because his daughter had grown up around wineries, she had become the best wine profiler he knows. For any wine, she could readily spout off at least ten different adjectives, and not just basic ones, but descriptive.
The smell of shells after the nuts have been removed from them, and all that’s left is a hint of dust.
No matter how obscure her descriptors, though, she was always spot on. Once she’d give it, his response would always be, “Oh yeah, I completely get that.”
The time Mike’s daughter had spent around wine, it had given her an innate familiarity with its intricacies.
More than that, her knowledge of the characteristics and categories of wine had increased her capacity to experience its fullness.
I realized that for someone like myself who was relatively new to wine, I needed someone who was familiar with it, like Mike or his daughter, someone who’d spent time around it, to help me understand, to inform me. Without this, I would taste it, yet miss many of its qualities.
I think it’s the same with God.
The entire essence of Scripture is God’s revelation to us. In its pages, we uncover His character, and His intended design for the lives we live. There’s so much richness and nuance and intricacy woven through the words comprising the Word, waiting to be discovered.
But without the proper categories, the context of understanding, there’s so much we miss.
Jesus first miracle is the turning of water into wine at a wedding. But as I learned in Dr. Williams’ Gospel of John class at Biola, there is so much more to this story happening beyond the surface.
Just before the miracle, Jesus’ mother Mary summons Him, informing Him that the wine has run out. In that honor-shame based culture, if wine ran out at a wedding, it would bring immense shame upon the family throwing the wedding, shame that would last a lifetime, and be extremely difficult to recover from. To not prepare enough for your guests would be considered unimaginably offensive, even grounds to be sued. This family was in a crucial position.
John 2, where we find this story, tells us that “there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.” It was these jars of water that Jesus turned to wine, amounting to 120-180 gallons total. An abundance. Scripture also tells us that the miracle wine was the absolute best quality, even though cheap wine was generally reserved for the end of the evening. The significance here is that not only does Jesus protect this family, removing their shame, He elevates them to a place of honor.
The wine also serves as a powerful symbol of the New Covenant. Amos 9:13 prophecies that in days of the Kingdom of God, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” Jesus’ miracle of the abundance of wine serves as an announcement of the arrival of the New Covenant, a proclamation that “The Kingdom is Here,” and with it, a new means to cleanliness. Because the water was gone, replaced with wine, also gone was the people’s means of becoming “ceremonially clean.” No longer would cleanliness be achieved through rituals, but through Jesus Himself.
This seemingly “simple” miracle carries so much BEAUTY when we understand its context. It shows us that Jesus came to remove our shame, to restore us to a place of honor, and to cleanse us by His own holiness. It shows us Jesus’ heart. As Dr. Williams would say, “Wine at a wedding…wow.”
Scripture is meant to reveal to us who God is. When we understand the context and overarching story of Scripture, our ability to glean from it such knowledge is that much greater.
And as our knowledge of who God is increases, so does our capacity to experience Him in our every day lives.
There are so many intricacies to God’s character that He desires us to intimately know. God is so good, and His beauty so intoxicating, yet it’s easy to but barely skim the surface, missing the unimaginable depths He summons us to uncover.
We will never exhaust our capacity to know God, because He is infinite. But what a beautiful truth that we can spend our whole lives growing in our knowledge, uncovering layers to know Him more deeply.
God invites us to taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34:8), to drink deeply of His goodness so that we may be filled. In fact, knowing Jesus is the only way we can be filled, and He is offered to us freely—we need only drink Him in.
P.S. If you’re looking for an incredible resource to understand Scripture better, I HIGHLY recommend The Bible Project. I’ve been following along with their plan this year, and it has completely transformed my personal Bible reading and taught me so much. They make videos for each book of the Bible, as well as videos tracing certain themes like “Holiness,” or “The Image of God,” or “Heaven and Earth,” throughout the Bible. These videos provide context, so instead of reading about a random battle in the Old Testament and wondering what it has to do with anything, you can understand exactly how it fits into the story of what God is doing in this earth, and its relevance to His work today both corporately and individually. Definitely worth checking out!
Beyond thankful for this beautiful friend and the gift that she is to my life. Thankful for car rides filled with heartfelt conversations and crazy music videos, and for the work God is doing in each of our lives that we get to encourage one another in.
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Hello I’m Kaci!
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Wine in the Old Testament is also a symbol of joy — the joy that I see all over your face in these photos…the joy of the Lord is my strength!! Awesome.
I remember being in your class almost 3 years ago now, praying for that joy as we were learning about it. God is faithful!!! 🙂 forever thankful to you for uncovering for me a whole new layer of understanding Jesus
Great insight, and sounds like a fun trip.
Thanks Brittany! 🙂