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Abundant Wine and Extravagant Grace

January 17, 2016
Rev. Terry Martinson


THEME: Only on the surface level is “The Wedding at Cana” a story about wine for the party. At a much deeper level it is about the abundance of grace that Jesus offers us.



  • The gospel story for today is a familiar story – a wedding story – a “miracle” story – recorded only in the gospel of John…
  • There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, a tiny village not too far from Nazareth where Jesus lived…
    • Jesus and his disciples were invited guests, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, may have had a hand in making the arrangements for the celebration… Jewish weddings in Jesus’ day were gala occasions that lasted the better part of a week… they were community celebrations.. everyone was invited.
    • At such wedding celebrations, the wine flowed freely… “Without wine,” said the rabbis, “there is no joy.”  Drunkenness was never a concern… drunkenness would be a disgrace… wine was very much a part of their culture… the guests actually drank their wine diluted with water.
    • Hospitality, for Jewish families, was a sacred duty… though they lived simply, the hosts of a wedding celebration were expected to provide plentiful food and wine – enough to last for a full
  • week. To allow the provisions to run out would bring terrible shame upon the bride and groom and their families.  <Barclay – p. 82>
  • We don’t know why, but at this wedding party the wine did run out…
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, intervened – and again, we don’t know why.
  • Mary said to Jesus, “They have no wine.”  Jesus replied, “Not my problem!”
  • But Jesus turned to the servants and said, “Fill those stone jars with water.” Each jar held about 20 gallons, and there were eight of them. The jars were usually used for “baptism” or for ritual cleansing in accordance with the Hebrew tradition.
  • Then Jesus told the servants to draw out a ladle and take it to the chief steward for his approval… he sniffed it – it had a good nose… he swirled it – it had good legs… he tasted it – it was a full-bodied red…  and he nodded his approval… “This is very good wine! The groom has saved the best for last!”   (Wine Spectator even gave it a 93 rating J)
  • 160 gallons of wine… Jesus produced 160 gallons of wine… there was abundant wine – enough for everyone and then some!
  • The abundance of the wine that Jesus provides reflects the extravagant grace of God – always enough for everyone and then some!



  • We often read this familiar story without really paying close attention to it…
  • This story really isn’t about the wedding or the reception…. Nor is it about Mary and her relationship with Jesus, as some have suggested…. It isn’t about the disciples who, after all, only began following Jesus in the paragraph immediately preceding this one.  <DPS>
  • And as much as we might call this “the miracle of changing water into wine,” it isn’t about the super-abundance of wine, either.  <DPS>
  • In fact, John doesn’t even refer to it as a miracle. He calls it a sign. In the entire Gospel of John, you will be hard pressed to find a “miracle.” In John’s gospel the miraculous works of Jesus are all referred to as signs.  <DPS>
  • A sign points to something beyond itself… it leads us somewhere… a sign directs our attention away from the event or the miracle to that which is more important… In this case, as in every other case in the Gospel of John, the sign points us to Jesus, whose glory we are witnessing…. But the sign is easy to miss.  <DPS>
  • Jesus did this sign – changing the water into wine – without any fanfare, in a tiny little village that is next to impossible to locate on a map… he didn’t call attention to what he was doing, nor did he talk about it later… and it appears that the disciples were the only ones who knew how the huge jars of water were suddenly transformed into fine wine… the guests, the groom, and even the chief steward had no idea where this really good wine had come from. Usually the best wine was served first.
  • Always in the Fourth Gospel there are two things to look for. There is the simple surface story that everyone can understand and re-tell; and there is the deeper meaning – the story behind the story - for one who has the eagerness to search, the eye to see, and the mind to understand.”  <Barclay>
  • It is only on the surface level that this story is about the wine at the wedding. At the deeper level, it is the story of the extraordinary grace that Jesus offers us.
  • We refer to the changing of water to wine as a “miracle” – the first act of Jesus’ ministry – his very first miracle.
  • A “miracle” is a sign that points to God…. If you can accept that definition, then you will know that you are surrounded by miracles daily!
  • What we call a “miracle,” John calls a “sign”… The Gospel of John is sometimes called “The Book of Signs” – especially chapters 2 – 12…  in these chapters Jesus performs a number of signs that reveal his glory. Most scholars believe that Jesus works seven signs in this section of the gospel. (You may wish to look for them in your reading.)
    • A sign is more than a demonstration of power…
    • A sign reveals something – a sign points to the truth!
    • At Cana, the sign points to Jesus’ glory…
    • The purpose of Jesus’ signs is to inspire belief…
  • The Gospel of John records these signs for a reason: “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” <John 20:31>
  • The purpose of the signs is to reveal Jesus as the Son of God. It is not enough to acknowledge him only as a worker of miracles, a compassionate healer, and a teacher. Jesus is the Messiah – the Savior.
  • But John makes it clear that not everyone who witnesses these signs will believe in Jesus.



  • So what is the message of this sign for us today? What is the story behind the story?
  • The story behind the story of the Wedding at Cana is the story of the extravagant grace of God.
  • When I taught Confirmation Class, I focused one lesson on sin and grace… I taught the teens that sin is anything that separates us from God and that grace is the undeserved love of God that wipes the slate clean.
    • We don’t have to earn or even deserve God’s love… God loves us unconditionally simply because we belong to him…
    • God embraces us with his love even when we do not deserve it – even when we have allowed a wall of sin to separate us from Him.
    • The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) is a wonderful illustration of the grace of God… God welcomes us with open arms, as the father welcomed home his wayward son.
  • God’s grace is extravagant… it is more abundant than the wine at the wedding at Cana… it overflows…
  • Our relationship with Christ and our Christian faith are to be abundantly full of the grace of God… true faith is being filled with the fullness of God’s grace, love, Spirit and truth. <Markquart>
  • Through the grace of God, Jesus comes to us, inviting us to live in a world where he has transformed that which is ordinary into that which is holy… <Sermonwriter>
    • He takes bread – ordinary bread – and says, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  <Luke 22:19>
    • He takes a cup – an ordinary cup – and it becomes a chalice in his hands. He invites us to drink saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” <Luke 22:20>
    • He invites us into the water of baptism – ordinary water that, because of Jesus, becomes cleansing water – holy water – birth water to usher us into a new life.” <Romans 6:3-11>



  • At the wedding feast, Jesus turned water into wine – 160 gallons of excellent wine… in this small, out of the way town – a town not even mentioned in the Old Testament – this event serves as a sign pointing us to Jesus… and it is only recognized by those who trust him.
  • John wrote, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”  <John 2:11>
  • What shines through in this story is the glory of Jesus Christ, and the only reaction that is emphasized is the belief of the disciples… <Raum>
  • Do you trust Jesus enough to recognize the signs of his presence around you?



  • The Daily Study Bible – The Gospel of John – William Barclay
  • Life Application Bible Commentary – John – Edited by Tyndale
  • Sermon preparation materials – John 2:1-11 – from Desperate Preacher  (
  • Sermon preparation materials – John 2:1-11 – from Sermon Writer  (
  • “The Lord is Better Than We Deserve” – a sermon by The Rev. Dr. Richard D. Raum
  • “180 Gallons of Grace” – a sermon by Edward F. Markquart
  • The Marriage at Cana: Gospel Analysis – a Bible study by Edward F. Markquart
  • Weekly Seeds – United Church of Christ for the week of January 11 – 17   (