Changing Death into Life

At the beginning of John chapter 2, Jesus attends a wedding with His mother and His disciples. During the celebration, the wine runs out, and Mary calls on Jesus to do something about it. He instructs the servants to fill six stone jars with water, and when they draw some of the water out, it has miraculously changed into wine.

Perhaps you’re familiar with this story. But have you ever noticed that the only witnesses of this miracle were the servants and the twelve disciples? Neither the master of the feast nor the bridegroom had any idea where the new and better wine had come from. Another curious thing is that none of the other gospels records this incident. Why does John include it in his gospel?

It’s not just a miracle, it’s a sign.

If you read John 2:11 in the King James Version, you’ll see, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee….” In the Greek, however, as you’ll find in many other translations, the word is not miracles, but signs.

That’s not to say that changing water into wine isn’t a miracle; it most certainly is. The point is that a sign has further meaning; it has significance beyond what appears on the surface.

As an illustration, consider an April evening in 1775, when two lanterns appeared in a window of the Old North Church in Boston. They were not merely lights; they were a sign (“One if by land, two if by sea…”) warning colonial militiamen that British troops were heading toward them in boats.

Having spent more than three years with Jesus, John had no shortage of anecdotes to relate. John wrote, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these 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” (20:30-31; emphasis added).

According to these verses, not only was John selective in what he wrote, he deliberately chose signs that served his purpose in writing—that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ and consequently receive Him as the eternal life.

It doesn’t matter that only a few people knew about it or that it isn’t recorded in the other gospels. John selected it because it’s a sign that illustrates an important principle.

If it’s a sign, what does it mean?

The changing of the water into wine signifies the changing of death into life. Since this is “the first of his signs” (John 2:11), it sets the principle for everything that follows. Jesus (who as we saw in the previous post, is life) is the One who changes death into life!

Let’s reconsider John 2:1-11 as a sign, an allegory (with thanks to the footnotes in the New Testament Recovery Version):

  • The wedding was on “the third day” (v. 1). The third day is the day of resurrection! (See Matthew 16:21; Acts 10:40; and 1 Corinthians 15:4.)
  • A wedding feast “signifies the pleasure and enjoyment of human life”; wine is a symbol for life. That the wine “gave out” (v. 3) shows that human life runs out.
  • The six stone jars (v. 6) represent man, who was created on the sixth day.
  • The water that filled the jars (v. 7) signifies death (as it also does in Genesis 1:2, Exodus 14:21, and other places).

Thus, when John recorded the sign of turning water (death) into wine (life) as the first of the signs performed by Jesus, he was setting the principle by which we can read the rest of his gospel.

Jesus, who is life, changes death into life.

The case of Lazarus is clear; he was dead, and Jesus made him alive again (John 11:41-43). But death comes in many forms; long before it affects our body, it touches our spirit and soul.

We may conduct ourselves according to a high standard of morality, like Nicodemus, but unless we receive Jesus as life—that is, unless we are “born anew” (John 3:3) in our spirit (v. 6)—we will perish with the unrighteous (see Romans 3:23; 5:18).

The Samaritan woman in John 4 couldn’t have been more different from Nicodemus. She had married five times and was living with a sixth man without bothering to marry him. She was thirsty—seeking satisfaction, but never finding it. She came to the town well to draw water to drink, but when Jesus gave her the “living water” (v. 10), she left her water jar (v. 28) and went to tell the whole city that she had found the Messiah (v. 29)!

This principle—that Jesus, who is life, changes death into life—can obviously be applied to our reading and understand of the gospel of John. But “these 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.” This is not an abstract principle; rather, it’s one that we can apply to our daily life!