The aged apostle sighed as picked up his quill and stared at the piece of parchment in front of him. Slowly, his hand wrote out the words, “the elder.” It was his typical way of addressing himself at this time in his life.
How much time had passed? It seemed like just yesterday he was the youngest member in a band of twelve men who toured the countryside with Jesus. The memories brought a smile to his face. Oh, the wonders they had witnessed. The teachings they had received. The ministry they had done. The lives they had seen forever changed by the man they called the Messiah.
His life had certainly changed. He had been a simple fisherman when he first heard of Christ. He and his brother, James, would cast their nets on the Sea of Galilee. But they left it all behind when Jesus called them to follow him. He chuckled as he remembered the nickname Jesus had given them: “the sons of thunder.” Looking back, it was a good fit. After all, the two brothers had once asked their Lord to rain down thunder on an unhospitable Samaritan town.
James. He still remembered the sinking feeling in his stomach when he learned his brother had been put to death at the hands of King Herod. He wondered at the senselessness of it all. The others in the band had soon followed. Peter. Andrew. Thomas. Philip. Matthew. Even the apostle Paul was gone. They had all left this earth and entered into their eternal reward. Only he remained. John . . . the last of the twelve.
Perhaps you can relate to this feeling of being alone. This dark sense of isolation and powerlessness. This belief that you are all on your own, with no backup or support in your time of need. Well, if you know that feeling, I can tell you that you are not alone. I don’t mean that you are not alone in knowing that feeling. I mean that you literally are not alone.
Actually, John would tell you the same. Just picture the aged apostle. He is now pastoring a ragtag collection of Christ followers in Ephesus. His hair is silver. His skin wrinkled. But his eyes are filled with hope. Yes, many of his friends are gone, but that has not stopped him from sharing the gospel. John still loves to tell about those days when he travelled with Christ.
The miracles that John relates run the gamut from a wedding oversight to a violent execution. The stories fill us with wonder. But as we listen to them, we need to be careful to see them as John intended—not as entries in a history book but as samples from God’s playbook. John wrote down these miracles not to impress us but to urge us to believe in the presence of Christ.
As he stated, “These [stories] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” When we believe in Jesus, we have life. Abundant, robust, and resilient life. We find strength beyond our strength. We accomplish tasks beyond our capacity. We see solutions beyond our wisdom. And we are never, ever, alone. For as Jesus has promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Those words meant everything to John. I imagine he carried them with him throughout his days as he saw his friends and coworkers departing this world one by one. It’s a message he and his congregation needed to hear frequently. You are never alone. And don’t we need to know the same? When life gets dark and stormy and we are facing an onslaught of challenges, we need to know that God is with us in those big crises of life. But beyond this, we need to trust that he is with us in the small things of life. Which brings us to the first miracle that John relates.
The setting was a wedding in Cana, located four miles northeast of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. John states, “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.” The people in first-century Palestine sure knew how to throw a party. None of this wedding and reception in one evening. John tells us that Jesus and his band arrived on the third day. Weddings lasted as long as seven days, and the food and wine were expected to last just as long. So we can understand the stress in Mary’s voice when she said to Jesus, “They have no more wine.”
Now, you have to admit that as far as miracles go, this is setting the bar pretty low. Yes, in that culture it would have caused extreme embarrassment for the host to run short of wine. The memory of the happy couple would be marred by the event. The host family would carry a stigma of shame. The families invited to the wedding would be angry, to say the least, at this lack of concern for them as guests. In that day, hospitality was reciprocated. If you threw a party and went to great expense for your guests, they expected you to do the same.
Still, this was far from a life-and-death struggle. Of all the needs of people on the planet, bone-dry wine vats at a wedding don’t even tip the scale. So why would John start things off with a sign that seems so—ordinary? It’s a good question. Perhaps even one that John’s listeners asked. I can picture him smiling as he recounted Mary’s words: “they have no more wine.”
I think this is actually the point: the ordinariness of it all. Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” In everything—not just the big things—let your requests be made known. Mary certainly modeled this. She didn’t worry that the size of her request was too small to be answered. She simply connected the problem with the provider.
The result was miraculous provision and restoration of what had been lost. But before that restoration took place, there is an interesting moment that deserves some attention. John tells us, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’” While scholars debate exactly how Jesus’ response should be interpreted, the closest translation seems to be, “Mother, your concern and mine are not the same.” No antagonism intended. But also not the reaction that Mary wanted.
Apparently, Jesus carried an appointment book. He had a specific time in mind when he planned to reveal his power to the world. This day in Cana was not that moment. He had gone to the wedding simply to attend a wedding. His to-do list for that day did not contain the entry, “Turn water into wine.” Hence, Mary’s request was met with hesitation.
Maybe you’ve experienced the same. Perhaps you, like Mary, have explained your shortage to Jesus. “Lord, I don’t have enough money. I don’t have enough time. My tank is on empty. The doctor says it’s bad news. It’s been twenty years, and I’m still single.” Whatever the need, you’ve pleaded your case. But you didn’t receive the response that you wanted. Maybe you feel as if you didn’t receive a response at all. No solution from Jesus.
In those moments, how do you respond? Well, I like to look at how Mary responded. Did she stomp away in a huff? Did she declare that Jesus no longer loved her? Did she say, “All these years of doing your laundry and cooking your meals—and this is the thanks I get?” She could have reacted in any of these ways—and more. But she simply turned to the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Mary made it clear that Jesus was the king of the wedding. Thirty years of living with Jesus had taught her that he knew what he was doing. She had faith in him. She trusted that while he might not do exactly what she asked, he would always do exactly what was right. Her belief in him gave her the strength to say, “Whatever he chooses to do, I accept it.”
Mary’s demonstration of faith caught Jesus’ attention. Not only that, but it changed his agenda. John relates what happens next: “Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the waterpots with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.’ And they took it.”
Notice here that Jesus sets up another opportunity for faith. The servants watched water go into the waterpots. When Jesus told them to “draw some out now,” there was no reason for them to expect anything but water to come out. Jesus was basically saying, “You just poured water into those jars. Now go take some of it out, bring it to your boss, and tell him it’s wine.”
Many of us would hesitate at these words. Yet remarkably, the servants followed Jesus’ instructions. Their faith mirrored Mary’s. The resulting miracle brought about not just an abundance of wine but good wine. John tells us that when the master of the feast had tasted it, he called the bridegroom and said, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”
Remember, this celebration had been going on for days. Most of the party guests were already drunk. Cooking wine would have been good enough to satiate the partygoers’ thirst. But it was not good enough for Jesus. He wanted to do abundantly more than was asked. Something powerful happens when we likewise present our needs to Christ and trust him with the results.
So let me ask you: have you made your requests known to God? Have you made a prayer out of your deficit? Jesus will tailor a response to your precise need. He is not a fast-food cook. He is an accomplished chef who prepares unique blessings for unique situations. A precise prayer gives Jesus the opportunity to remove all doubt about his love. Your problem becomes his pathway. The challenge you face is a canvas on which Christ can demonstrate his finest work.
Maybe you’re in the middle of something painful even at this moment. Maybe it seems like you’re all alone. Maybe it seems as if God isn’t aware of what’s happening—and even if he is, maybe it feels like he doesn’t care. We all know those feelings. We’ve all been there. But John’s story of the wedding at Cana points out the truth that we are never alone. Jesus cares about us in the great and small things in life. He even cared about empty wine ladles.
— Max Lucado, author of You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God’s Presence and Power video study and book
How to Use This Study
Join Max in this unique six-session Bible study through the miracles in John’s Gospel. As you do, you will find that Jesus is right there with you and cares about every aspect of your life. You will realize you are stronger than you think because God is nearer than you know. Learn more here.