Below is the text, largely as preached, on John 2:1-12 and Revelation 19:9, 15, about the best wine and the worst wine of Jesus’ wedding feast. The sermon audio is available here. Next Sunday’s sermon will be on Genesis 28, John 1:35-51, and again Rev 19.
We have already begun to see that there are several layers to this story of the wedding at Cana. In some ways, it was just another wedding party. Jesus was the kind of person you wanted at your wedding party. He and his disciples were fun people to be around. At this level the story challenges us that if we aren’t fun people to be around, maybe we are more like the Pharisees than we would like to admit. So the first layer to this story is the most obvious one – the one we might see the first time we read it. And indeed, it was just another wedding party, as Jesus said to His mother, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” In other words, Jesus said it wasn’t His wedding party. But in another way, it wasn’t just any wedding party for it illustrated the relationship of the people of Israel and their Lord. Just as the wine ran out in the story of the wedding at Cana, Israel had run out of wine for her religion had lost all of its joy in the Lord. She had forgotten the joy that comes from knowing God by faith and instead relied on religious ceremonies to be right with God. Again at this level the story challenges us to self-examination but the miracle also gives us hope. Then we discovered another layer of the story is how it foreshadows the cross where Jesus’ blood is the wine of a new covenant. And indeed, it was not yet time for Jesus’ wedding because it was not yet the right time for Jesus to die, as Jesus said to His mother, “My hour has not yet come,” by which He meant the hour of His death. Now we can see how Jesus turning the water into wine is a prophetic signpost directing us to the wine of grace poured out at the cross. At this level the story is the word of God that creates faith. We heard the good news that Jesus—the life of the party—has poured for us the wine of grace that we might rejoice and be glad. And in our excitement we run and tell others about Jesus. Remember that running out of wine at a wedding feast would have brought great shame on the host but again we see that our shame becomes part of our testimony as we say, ‘Come see a man who knows my every sin and knows all my shame and loves me anyway.’ Yet there is one more layer that I want us to add to all these this morning. That layer begins with the observation that this wedding at Cana isn’t Jesus’ wedding and asks the question, ‘Will Jesus’ wedding feast follow the custom of offering the best wine first and the worst wine last?’
- Wedding feasts usually begin with the best wine.
- The unusual thing about the wedding at Cana was that the best wine was served last. As the head waiter noted, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” The reason for this custom is rather obvious – the good wine is more expensive and you can be a better wine connoisseur when you first get started. I don’t know anything about being a wine connoisseur but the wikiHow on “How to Become a Wine Connoisseur,” says that the first step involves four S’s—seeing, swirling, smelling, and sipping. So you might begin by seeing the color of the wine, swirl it around the glass gently to release the pleasing aroma of the wine, smell it for hints of fruit or other flavors, and then take a sip. I would imagine that after a few glasses of wine most people aren’t as discriminating, they forget the four S’s and maybe start slurring them, and even cheap wine begins to taste pretty good. So it makes sense that the bridegroom would have the waiters serve the good wine first. It also makes sense that the head waiter would be able to tell the difference. Unlike the wedding guests, the head waiter isn’t drinking freely. He probably had a small taste of the wine they served at first so that he could identify the different smells and flavors of the drink and help his waiters to help the wedding guests to be good connoisseurs when they just got started drinking. They probably had to be more creative with the second batch of wine, since it was always the worst wine, and the wedding guests would go along with the charade saying something like, ‘Oh yeah, there is a hint of raspberry in that wine,’ or whatever. But this time you can imagine the head waiter looked at the wine and noted it was a beautiful red wine, and he swirled it around to release the fragrance, and he smelled its pleasing aroma, and he took a sip and he thought it was a taste of heaven. We know the miracle that Jesus had performed in turning the water into wine, but the head waiter was simply stunned that the bridegroom would have them serve the best wine last. (And thus what began as just another wedding at Cana, had become the scene of a miracle so that the best wine was served last.)
- Of course, Jesus’ own wedding feast begins with the best wine—His blood. The blood of Jesus is the most expensive wine ever poured. It was a priceless sacrifice of the purest human being to ever live. Even the aftertaste of His blood is good. The blood of Jesus is also sufficient for the sins of the world. There is enough for everyone. The prophets spoke of the end-times when there would be a super abundance of wine. Thus while the wine at the wedding at Cana ran out, Jesus turned somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of water into wine. Naturally, we aren’t meant to compare the first wine that the guests drank at the wedding at Cana to the blood of Christ. No, we are meant to compare the water that Jesus turned into excellent wine with His blood. (So Jesus’ own wedding feast begins with the best wine. He even observed other wedding customs. For example, one thing that a groom would do is to go and prepare a room for his bride and when she is ready he comes and gets her. Sound familiar? Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3). Thus we might expect Jesus also to follow the custom of putting out the best wine first—His blood—and then making the worst wine last.)
- Wedding feasts normally end with the worst wine.
- We have already seen that this was the custom in ancient Israel.
- Jesus’ wedding feast is no different. John writes in Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” and then in verse 15 (Revelation 19:15) he adds, “From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” Thus John tells us that Jesus will make wine again. The first time He made wine was when He turned water into wine that foreshadowed the good wine of the Lord’s Supper – the wine of grace. However, in Revelation 19 Jesus makes wine again but this time it is the wine of the wrath of God. In the context of Revelation, the wine of the wrath of God is for “the great prostitute…with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk” (Rev 17:1-2). In Revelation, sexual immorality represents spiritual unfaithfulness and the great prostitute is the unfaithful church who conspires with the government to persecute the faithful. In other words, after the prostitute and her lovers in powerful government positions are drunk, Jesus serves the wine of the wrath of God Almighty. Warren Gage says it this way: “Having served the better wine of grace in the Gospel, Jesus serves the worse wine of wrath in Revelation, after the unrepentant are drunk” (emphasis his). (And so Jesus fulfills the custom of serving the best wine first at the wedding feast and the worst wine last at the wedding feast.)
- But until the end of the wedding feast, we can excitedly invite others to join us in drinking the better wine of grace.
- Of course, we are inviting people to drink responsibly rather than to get drunk on the wine of grace. The most obvious way to get drunk on the wine of grace is to take advantage of the delay of Christ’s return to do evil. Evil things like the murder of children and the persecution of Christians – imagine the most horrible sins you can. To get drunk on the wine of grace in that way is clearly to drink judgment on yourself – but so is relying on keeping the law for your salvation. Paul, the former Pharisee, says that the Pharisee is also “storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom 2:5). To drink irresponsibly and thus to get drunk on the wine of grace is, as Paul tells those who relied on hearing the law (cf. Rom 2:13) for their righteousness, to “presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom 2:4). In other words, both the prodigal while he was squandering his property on prostitutes and the righteous elder brother Pharisee while he was working in the field were getting drunk on the wine of grace. On the other hand, to drink responsibly is to enjoy the Lord’s Supper after examining yourself to see that you are in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 11:28-29). To drink responsibly is to be “righteous by faith” in Christ for “the righteous-by-faith shall live” (Rom 1:17). Think of it this way—it is a paradox because we usually think of drunkenness as what happens when someone breaks the law of God by drinking to excess—but it isn’t how much of the wine of grace that we drink that determines whether or not we are getting drunk on it but rather it is the way that we drink the wine of grace that determines whether or not we are getting drunk on it. The two ways we can drink the wine of grace are to drink with faith in Jesus or to drink it up in unbelief. So we are inviting people to join us in drinking the wine of grace responsibly—which is not to be confused with trying to keep the law against drunkenness while we drink by limiting our intake—to drink the wine of grace responsibly is to drink by faith. (But a day is coming when there will not be any more wine of grace for the unbeliever. A day is coming when the unbeliever will drink the wine of wrath.)
- The wine of grace tastes a lot better than the wine of wrath will taste. The wine of grace is a source of joy for the believer in Jesus. In our excitement we want others to join us in drinking the wine of grace, which is the blood of Christ. However, the prodigal and the Pharisee in their unrepentance might also enjoy the wine of grace, despite the hangovers and other symptoms of drunkenness, but unless the prodigal repents and unless the Pharisee repents, both will also taste the wine of wrath. Actually, it is worse than tasting bad wine – their blood will be the worst wine as the Lord will tread on the faithless in the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. They are guilty of the blood of Christ and He will come with justice. This is bad news for those who are perishing. But this is good news to the faithful who suffer at the hands of the wicked but live by faith. Let’s raise our glass and bless the Lord. Amen.