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Michelle Bauer ~ When the Wine Runs Out

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. – John 2:1-11

Did you know that the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is around $30,000?  Everyone these days wants a fairy tale, celebrity-style wedding. We have exchanged opulence for the sacred. Everyone once in a while, though, a couple comes along that understands that marriage isn’t just about falling in love and taking the next step.

As followers of Jesus, we believe that marriage is a sacred covenant between two people. In fact, God created marriage as a visual reminder of the intimate relationship that he wants to have with us. We are God’s bride and he is our groom. God not only invented marriage, he performed the first wedding in the Garden of Eden.

When you consider all of that, it’s fascinating to think that Jesus attended weddings while he was on earth.  To have Jesus physically present as a guest at your wedding must have been like having Mark Zuckerberg help you set up your Facebook account!

But that’s exactly where we find Jesus in John 2 – at a wedding. At this point, Jesus is just getting his public ministry up and running. He has been baptized, he has withstood the tempting by Satan in the wilderness and has started identifying his disciples.  And in the midst of all of these ministry-launching activities, Jesus takes a break to attend a wedding.

  1. The wine always runs out.

To run out of wine was a catastrophe.  In a time and place where we have a grocery store on almost every corner, it’s hard to wrap our heads around what a crisis this was. If we run out of soda or hot dogs at our cookout, what do we do? We send someone to the store.  It wasn’t that easy in New Testament times.   Hosts spent time planning and gathering supplies way ahead of time, especially for a party like this. Jewish weddings lasted longer than just a few hours. They could last as long as seven days.  That’s a lot of food and drink to plan for!

Making this situation worse was the fact that Jewish culture placed a high priority on hospitality.  Love and respect was shown by not only inviting guests into your home but by pulling out all the stops to make sure they were well cared for.  To not be able to refill someone’s cup with wine was an insult. It said, “I didn’t care enough about you to plan well.”

So, imagine the horror as the wine begins to run out.  Maybe more guests came than expected. Maybe a clumsy servant spilled some wine on accident. We aren’t told why the wine ran out, only that it did.

I can imagine the hosts of the party frantically whispering about what they were going to do.  They could have pretended everything was fine and filled the wineskins with water and continued to pour hoping no one would notice.  They could have attempted to hurriedly make their own wine. They could have just cut their losses and run, figuring they’d change their identity and never be seen again.

Have you ever been tempted to do any of those things when the wine ran out at your party?  I’m not talking about literal wine.  I’m talking about the panic we feel when the resources we brought to a situation start to run out.  When our “in love” feeling runs out and 50 years of marriage seems like a really long time.  Or our patience runs out and parenting becomes more hard than fun.  Or the ministry we’ve committed to isn’t fulfilling anymore and we are easily irritated by those we are meant to serve. Or school is boring and we’ve only finished the first quarter.  Has your wine ever run out?  Mine has, in a lot of situations.

And when it does I’m tempted to do all of those things: stick a smile on my face and pretend everything is fine and hope no one notices, try to reenergize myself with pep talks in the mirror or when all else fails, just walk away.  Instead, whoever was in charge of the wine at this party does a hard but wise thing. They tell someone. We don’t know who they told first but eventually word got to Mary and Mary knew to take them to Jesus.

The “wine” that we bring to any situation will eventually run out.   It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.” We will get tired. We will get frustrated. We will start to doubt our ability to pull something off. We will want to quit. Some of us have amazing amounts of discipline and will power and can push ourselves for a long time. Others of us have a track record of petering out at the first sign of difficulty.  But eventually, we all run out of whatever we brought to the party.

That’s the bad news but here is the good news – running out of wine is a gift. It doesn’t feel that way in the moment. As we feel ourselves about to burn out it is scary and we are certain it will end in embarrassment.  But regardless of how it feels, it is a blessing. Because running out of wine is what brings us to Jesus and when we ask him to, Jesus will begin to work.

In what situation are you “running out of wine”?  Where have you been running on your own steam and you just know it’s about to run out? You just don’t have one more pep talk in you. Fight the urge to pretend or hide. When the wine shortage comes into the light it can be resolved.

  1. Jesus turns obedience into wine.

As I imagine the scene, Mary has dragged Jesus into the kitchen and filled him in on the situation.  And we witness an exchange between a son and his mom that is so typical. Here is a mom who thought she knew what her son ought to be doing. And here was a son asserting himself as an adult who needed to be tuned in with God’s plan, not his mom’s.

So Jesus says, “I’m not sure I’m supposed to do anything about this…”  But Mary ignores all of that and starts giving orders to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”

If I had to preach this sermon in five words, this would be it. “Do whatever he tells you.”

When your wine runs out and you come to Jesus, do whatever he tells you to do.  In this case, he tells the servants to grab the jars sitting in the corner and fill them up with water.

What are the servants thinking at that moment? This makes no sense. Have you ever had Jesus ask you to do something that to you seems to make “no sense”?   But can you see the kindness in Jesus’ instruction?  He could have said, “Okay, if I’m going to fix this, I’m going to need 2,400 pounds of the best grapes you can find.”  (Which, by the way, is how many grapes he would have needed to make that much wine).  He would have lost them at step 1.

Instead, Jesus takes ordinary things, the things they have at hand – water and jars – and uses them to make something sacred.  The materials weren’t important, what he blessed was their obedience. They didn’t have to go on a search for rare ingredients or even go through a bunch of steps. They had to take ordinary things that were right in front of them and do what Jesus told them to do.  Sounds easy, right? But sometimes it’s the easy things that trip us up. These servants were willing to suspend their skepticism and their opinions and enter into the miracle that was happening around them. They didn’t ask Jesus to explain or defend. They simply obeyed.

In the same way, Jesus doesn’t demand that we hunt up magical ingredients to replenish our souls. He uses the ordinary things of our lives to do his work.  He uses things like forgiveness, rest, prayer, exercise, books, conversation, communion and music.  He turns our willingness to obey into wine that will keep us going in whatever situation he has led us into.

Are we willing to obey even when it doesn’t make sense or there’s not a clear connection between what he’s asked us to do and the outcome we are hoping for?

The servants filled the jars, drew out a ladle full and walked it over to the master of the banquet.   And somewhere in that process Jesus turned the water into wine.

  1. Jesus didn’t just give them wine, he gave them himself.

And not just any wine.  The master of the banquet is so amazed by the quality of this wine that he interrupts the groom’s celebration to have a conversation about it. “… you have saved the best for last.”

In this culture, hosts started these long parties with the good stuff while people were sober and could appreciate it. Then as the event went along and people started to get a little tipsy, a host would start to water down the wine to make it stretch or bring out a lesser quality wine.

I do this in my spiritual life too. I start something – a relationship or commitment, with lots of energy and excitement and then as it goes on I feel myself getting tired and resentful. I run out of wine. Pretty soon, I’m bringing out the watered down wine or stale chips to my marriage or children or my ministry.

The master of the banquet is amazed that the hosts would end the party with better quality wine than they started with.  “…you have saved the best for last.”  Jesus doesn’t make cheap wine to just get them through with the minimum embarrassment. He makes the best wine they’ve had so far.

Jesus didn’t just meet this need with quality but with quantity as well.  Verse six tells us that the servants filled up six jars which could hold 20-30 gallons each. Let’s err on the conservative side and say that Jesus made 120 gallons of wine.

Maybe a visual will help.

You know these bottles that we put on top of water coolers? They hold five gallons of water. Jesus made enough wine to fill 24 of them.  Or maybe this helps…120 gallons would fill over 600 wine bottles.

That sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it?  He doesn’t just provide enough. He brings an abundance.

See why it’s a gift when our measly amount of homemade wine runs out? In the moment it feels scary and we are out of control. But if we are willing to tell Jesus “I’m empty” and we are brave enough to obey, we get to partake in his abundance.

As I studied these verses, I found myself following the imagery of the wine.  Remember at the last supper with his disciples, Jesus offered them a cup of wine and told them it was his blood which would be poured out for them. He was using wine as a symbol to represent himself. Jesus didn’t just give this newlywed couple some crates of wine. He gave them himself.

When we run out of wine, Jesus himself is willing to enter into our situation and bring with him all of who he is. Now we aren’t running on our ability to love or extend grace. We have tapped into God’s supply of love and grace.

Verse 6 says that Jesus pointed to a specific set of jars that he wanted the servants to use – jars used for ceremonial washing.  Old Testament Law had given the Israelites lists of things that were considered clean and unclean. When a person came into contact with something or someone that made them unclean they went through a purification process that made them clean again.

By the time we get to the New Testament, though, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law had convinced everyone that they should assume they were always unclean. So, every household had these stone jars on hand to hold the water they needed to go through the burdensome process of making themselves and everything they touched ceremonially clean.

We aren’t just talking basic cleanliness and hygiene here. The religious rulers had expanded on God’s law to the point that it became ridiculous.  That’s why one household needed that many large jars for holding water.

Do you see the connection? Jesus took these jars that symbolized burden and effort and a sense that you were never fully clean and he turned them into things that held joy and abundance. The ceremonial washing rituals cleaned just the outside of a person but the wine that Jesus made entered into a person and mingled with their body chemistry.

Jesus didn’t give them wine, he gave them himself and all that comes with being mingled with God including freedom from the burden of having to keep going when you just can’t anymore.

When we run out of steam, Jesus offers us himself. He is the provision that keeps us moving ahead.  That’s how we can begin the second half of a 50-year marriage with renewed commitment.  Or how we can finish a school year better than we started. Or remain present with a child who is struggling.  Because when Jesus shows up with his wine – it is always the best and there is always more than enough.

Jesus performed his first public miracle at a wedding. As John summarizes the event in verse 11 he refers to this miracle as a sign. A sign designed to announce to those who witnessed it that Jesus is the Messiah – the One they’ve been waiting for. He used this event to reveal who he really was. And the result was that his disciples put their faith in him.

That’s the whole point.  God replenishes our wine not just so that we can stay married of get good grades or keep our jobs.  These are all good things but we’ve got to think bigger. He makes wine in the face of our drought to reveal his glory so that people can believe.  This isn’t just about us… it’s about building his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus’ glory is not revealed when I grit my teeth and pretend.

Hanging on by sheer will does not build anyone’s faith.  But when we confess our lack and allow him to work through our obedience, then the miracle happens.

Jesus was at this wedding and able to fix this problem because he’d been invited. So that’s where we need to start. Have you invited Jesus to be a part of your life? Have you invited Jesus to be involved in every part of your life? Now is a great time to surrender. What is that last piece you are holding on to? Will you let it go?

Maybe you need to admit that you are running out of wine.  Maybe you’ve been pretending that everything’s fine while you scramble trying to figure out how to get more wine.  Now is a great time to just say, “I’m empty…”

Are you struggling with obedience?  Has God told you what to do and it just doesn’t make sense? Are you trying to figure out how filling jars with water creates wine?  Maybe this is the time to let go of your need for an explanation and make a decision to obey.