John 2:11
Great Texts of the Bible
The First Sign

This beginning of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed on him.—John 2:11.

1. Having recorded the testimony borne to Jesus by the Baptist, and having cited instances in which the overmastering personality of Jesus elicited from simple-hearted and godly men the acknowledgment of His majesty, St. John now proceeds to relate the homely incident which gave occasion to the first public act in which His greatness was exhibited.

2. The keynote of this Gospel was struck in the earlier verses of the first chapter in the great words, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, full of grace and truth.” To these words there is an evident reference in the language of the text. The Evangelist regards Christ’s first miracle as the first ray of that forth-flashing glory of the Incarnate Word.

3. Again, in the text the prediction of Jesus to Nathanael finds its first fulfilment. Something of the significance of the name “Son of man” is made clear. Heaven opens itself in grace and kindness and sympathy towards men; and He who refused to convert stones into bread to gratify Himself, does not refuse to convert water into wine to assist others—a speaking symbol of His whole ministry.

The threefold comment of the Evangelist is of the utmost importance: (1) This was a sign, and Christ’s first sign; (2) in it He manifested His glory; (3) His disciples believed on Him.


The Sign

“This beginning of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee.”

1. Let us recall the circumstances in which the miracle was wrought.

(1) The exact dating of this first miracle indicates an eye-witness. St. John says that it took place three days after the first calling of Nathanael and Philip; and, therefore, four days after that of Andrew and Peter, of John himself, and, in all probability, of James.

(2) With this band of newly chosen disciples, our Lord had walked from the valley of the Jordan—the scene of His baptism—into Galilee; and He had halted at Cana, the native village of Nathanael. Modern topography inclines to identify this Cana, not, as formerly, with Kefr Kenna, but with Kânat el-Jelil, some six miles N.E. of Nazareth. It is called Cana of Galilee to distinguish it from Cana in Asher, S.E. from Tyre.

(3) A wedding feast was being kept by a poor family of Cana; the members of which were, it is clearly implied, on terms of intimacy with our Lord’s virgin-mother, who had lived for so many years at the neighbouring village of Nazareth. Mary was present; and, as was natural, our Lord and His disciples were invited, probably when the feast, which generally lasted some seven days, had already been continued for three or four.

(4) The supply of wine was running short; and Mary, who, as is clear from her own Magnificat, had inferred from the terms of the Annunciation the unique dignity and the miraculous powers of her Divine Son, applied to Him for help in the emergency. Whether she wished Him to work a miracle, or merely stated the case to Him, leaving it in His hands to act as He saw best, is not clear from the narrative. But our Lord acts as He acted when twelve years old; as He acted at a later date, when His mother and His brethren wished to speak with Him, in the midst of a crowd of persons whom He was addressing. He will not allow that the tenderest of earthly ties can be permitted to affect the solemn and predestined sequence of actions in the establishment of His Kingdom. Even Mary may not hasten His resolves. “Woman, what common interest have we in this matter?” (such is the real force of the original). “Mine hour for action is not yet come.” Mary does not reply; she merely bids the servants attend strictly to her Son’s orders, whatever they might be, in the confident expectation that He will certainly act, though she knows not how. Behind the couches on which the guests were seated, were six vessels for holding water, placed there with a view to that ceremonial washing of hands and vessels before and after meals which was a matter of strict custom among the Jews. Our Lord desired that these vessels should be filled; the amount of water poured into them would have been, speaking roughly, about one hundred and twenty English gallons. St. John, who was an eye-witness, gives these details with great particularity; and his silence implies that our Lord did not mark, either by raising His hand, or uttering any word of command or blessing, the moment of the miraculous change. But it must have taken place immediately on the filling of the vessels, since our Lord, without any pause, desired the servants to draw from the vessels and ask the president of the feast to taste. Then it was that what had taken place was discovered; the president complimented the bridegroom on the excellence of the wine, which, contrary to the usual practice, he had reserved for a late hour in the entertainment. The president did not know the source of the supply, as did those servants who had poured water into and were now drawing wine from the vessels of purification. But that the water of purification had become wine must have been gradually whispered among the company from guest to guest.

2. The manner in which the miracle was performed deserves attention.

(1) Our Lord began His service in the little world of the Galilean and Judæan ministrations, by being on that small stage what God is in the universe—an anonymous, or unknown, or hardly known Being. He came to Cana, perhaps as a stranger, possibly as a poor relation; for it was an occasion when poor relations are in order. It does not appear that He was asked to repeat even a holy word over the feast, for another was appointed master of the feast. The bridegroom and the bride wore their festal crowns; as for Him, while He was in this world, He discarded His aureole, or wore it only on rare days and in retreat, as at the Transfiguration. You might have come to the feast, and marked all the notables, from near and far; He would not be of them: this one is the bridegroom of the day, and this the bride; this the bride’s father or mother; and this the ruler of the feast: and this an anonymous Stranger, one of the Nazareth party; we have not seen Him in these parts before.

(2) All unobtrusively did He proceed. No stir was made in the water. No outflashing of golden splendour startled the guests. No curious eyes were bidden watch the strange phenomenon. No word from Christ announced the accomplishment of a wonder. “Draw out now, and bear unto the governor,” were the simple words addressed to the servants by the Almighty Worker. In the briefest space of time the feat was done. So calmly, so suddenly does Christ work. So does He present the result without revealing the process. The great God hideth Himself and yet worketh most gloriously in nature and in man.

(3) In working the miracle, Christ made use of common things. “There were six waterpots of stone set there.” Christ used what was set there. He observed the greatest economy in the use of the miraculous. He did not create either the waterpots or the water; the miracle was in the act of conversion only.

(4) The miracle required the co-operation of the servants and a signal exercise of the obedience of faith. The waterpots had to be filled with water, and on an occasion when to offer water to guests instead of wine would seem a serious insult and a bad omen, these servants had to pour out what they believed to be water, as if it were wine. We are not told when the change was wrought, at what precise moment “the conscious water saw its God and blushed.” Probably not all the water in the waterpots became wine, but only that which in the obedience of faith the servants poured out into the glasses of the guests. The practical lesson, however, is obvious; it is this: Fill the waterpots to the brim, leave the miracle to Him. He will not fail in His part if we do ours. The water will be turned into wine, prayer will become communion; faith will become vision; duty will become delight, and even pain a sacrament of blessing. But we must fill the waterpots to the brim. We must give to God full measure.

It is our part to obey God in simplicity; what is commanded we are to do, and while we work He Himself will also work. He may do so in no visible way, as Christ here did nothing visibly, but He will be with us, effectually working. As the will of Christ pervaded the water so that it was endowed with new qualities, so can His will pervade our souls, with every other part of His creation, and make them conformable to His purpose. “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it”; this is the secret of miracle-working. Do it, though you seem to be but wasting your strength and laying yourself open to the scorn of onlookers; do it, though in yourself there is no ability to effect what you are aiming at; do it wholly, up to the brim, as if you were the only worker, as if there were no God to come after you and supply your deficiencies, but as if any shortcoming on your part would be fatal; do not stand waiting for God to work, for it is only in you and by you that He performs His work among men.1 [Note: Marcus Dods.]

(5) It was a surprise to the guests. The ruler of the feast, on tasting the wine, unaware of any miracle, complimented the bridegroom on having acted contrary to general usage. “Every man,” said he, “at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.”

One of the surprises that God treats us to in the course of our life, which will no doubt be also the overwhelming surprise of our first review of this life from the vantage-ground of a larger and better, consists in the disclosure of the way in which our anonymous Lover has been besetting us behind and before, and laying His hand upon us. How many constraints that make for salvation have never been registered in the consciousness or printed off on the memory! how many times there are when qualification for duty is given concerning which we shall by and by hear the voice saying, “I girded thee, though thou hast not known me!”2 [Note: J. Rendel Hurris, Union with God, 12.]

Readers of Cowper’s Memoirs will remember the way in which Theodora, his cousin, pursued him through life with gift and remembrance and token that came he knew not from whence. At one time it was a snuff-box of tortoise-shell with a familiar landscape on the lid, and the portrait of his three hares; at another it was a seasonable gift of money; and tradition tells that upon one occasion, when these nameless tokens reached him, he remarked, “Dear Anonymous is come again; God bless him.” It is difficult to understand how a poet could have been so blind as not to know that such nameless and appropriate gifts never come except from God, and from good women. But even when we lay the charge of want of insight at the poet’s door, we are checked by One who says, “Have I been so long time with you, and hast thou not known me? Have I never looked in at thy window, or left gift at thy door?” Yet oftentimes the expression of the conscious heart has never been raised so high as even to the “Dear Anonymous” of the poet. It is a part of God’s loving way with us that His criticism of our blindness towards Him is a gradual revelation; He can always make us ashamed when He wants to.1 [Note: J. Rendel Harris.]

3. Now consider the significance of this incident. It was a sign.

There are four chief names given to our Lord’s miracles. One of these is wonders. In it their marvellous character is recognized. But it is very remarkable that this word is never applied to a miracle without one of the others to qualify and explain it. It seems as if, to the sacred writers, the marvel was the aspect of the miracle on which they thought it least important to dwell. Another name is works. This is one often used by our Lord Himself, and specially recorded by St. John. To the Master and the beloved disciple the miracles were works of mercy. They were part of that great mission for which our Lord had come to earth—the removal of sorrow and suffering, and so the leading of all to Himself for salvation. Another of these titles is a word meaning power. It is often applied to our Lord’s miracles, and is once or twice translated “miracle” in our English Version, but more often “mighty work.” It exhibits the miracles as acts of power, thus showing them to be the apparent suspension by God of the ordinary laws of nature. The fourth name given to them is signs. This is the word used in the text, and generally by St. John, where “miracle” occurs in the Authorized Version. It is perhaps the most significant and spiritual of all these designations. For it shows the miracles to be the signs of something else, to have something behind them to which they are intended to point. It is hardly necessary to ask what that is. It is the Divinity of Him who wrought them.

(1) This is the day of evasions and attempted explanations regarding all the supernatural events of the Bible. The trend of much of the so-called religious teaching of to-day is toward the removal of the miraculous, both in character and in action, from the Gospel, and the relegation of both the Gospel and its Founder to a place, the highest indeed, but still a place among the religious teachers and systems of the ages. The miracles of healing, and of restoration of bodily function are, in this view, explained as simply the result of superior knowledge of the laws of life, of which it is said contemporary vital science is even now gaining great insight. But here is a miracle inexplicable upon such a supposition; a miracle entering into the domain, as nearly absolute as anything earthly can be, of natural law, where, as in the kindred miracle of the stilling of the tempest, the Power that created, simply controls, and the Infinite masters the finite.

(2) What is a miracle? Bishop Gore, in his Bampton Lectures, has defined a miracle as “an event in physical nature, which makes unmistakably plain the presence and direct action of God working for a moral end.” God, we know, is always present and working in Nature, and man was meant to recognize and praise Him in the ordinary course of events; but, in fact, man’s sin has blinded his spiritual eye, he has lost the power of seeing behind physical order. The prevalence of law in nature, which is its glory and perfection, has even led men to forget God and deny His presence. Now in a miracle God so works that man is forced to notice a presence which is no mere blind force, but a loving personal will; God breaks into the common order of events, that He may manifest the real meaning of nature. Hence miracles are God’s protests against man’s blindness; protests in which He violates a superficial uniformity in the interests of deeper law.

(3) On the Christian hypothesis, Christ is a new nature. “The Word was made flesh,” and as a new nature it is surely to be expected that He will exhibit new phenomena; a new vital energy will radiate from Him, for the very springs of universal life are in Him. So in Christ we naturally expect the material body to exhibit a far higher degree of subservience to spirit than was ever known before. For be it remembered, Christ’s miracles were not meaningless portents; they were redemptive acts, object-lessons teaching the same lessons of love and mercy as His words conveyed. Given the perfect man, who is Lord of Nature, surely the wonder lies in the limitation of His power, and not in any manifestation of it. Given the required conditions of spiritual life, nothing which does not involve contradiction is impossible. To Him who could work, not merely on nature, but on that substance—spirit and life—which underlies and makes nature, changing water into wine, and stilling a storm, were works as surely according to unvarying law as the natural growth of the vine and the calming of the tempest. We have often to attain results laboriously and painfully, because we work, not on substance, but merely on surface appearances or phenomena, while the Spiritual Man worked directly. The more we contemplate the personality of Jesus Christ and His moral authority and purpose, the more we shall find that His miracles were according to the law of His being; or, to use an expression of Athanasius, they were “in rational sequence.” And if, as Dr. Sanday says, we thus take the personality of our Lord as the true rationale of miracle, “many things will be clear to us that would not be clear otherwise.”

I say, that miracle was duly wrought

When, save for it, no faith was possible.

Whether a change were wrought i’ the shows o’ the world,

Whether the change came from our minds which see

Of the shows o’ the world so much as and no more

Than God wills for His purpose,—(what do I

See now, suppose you, there where you see rock

Round us?)—I know not; such was the effect,

So faith grew, making void more miracles

Because too much: they would compel, not help.

I say, the acknowledgment of God in Christ

Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee

All questions in the earth and out of it,

And has so far advanced thee to be wise.1 [Note: Browning, A Death in the Desert.]

4. It was the beginning of His signs. “This beginning of his signs did Jesus.” Here at this wedding-feast He felt Himself impelled to take the step which altered the whole character of His life. For from a private person He became by His first miracle a public and marked character with a definite career. “To live henceforth in the vortex of a whirlwind; to have no leisure so much as to eat, no time to pray save when others slept, to be the gazing-stock of every eye, the common talk of every tongue; to be followed about, to be thronged and jostled, to be gaped upon, to be hunted up and down by curious vulgar crowds; to be hated, and detested, and defamed, and blasphemed; to be regarded as a public enemy; to be watched and spied upon and trapped and taken as a notorious criminal”—is it possible to suppose that Christ was indifferent to all this, and that without shrinking He stepped across the line which marked the threshold of His public career? The glory that here shed a single ray into the rustic home of Cana must grow to that dazzling and perfect noon which shone from the Cross to the remotest corner of earth. The same capacity and willingness to bless mankind which here in a small and domestic affair brought relief to His embarrassed friends, must be adapted to all the needs of men, and must undauntedly go forward to the utmost of sacrifice. He who is true King of men must flinch from no responsibility, from no pain, from no utter self-abandonment to which the needs of men may call Him. And Jesus knew this. In those quiet hours and long, untroubled days at Nazareth He had taken the measure of this world’s actual state, and of what would be required to lift men out of selfishness and give them reliance upon God. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me”—this was even now present to His mind. His glory was the glory of absolute self-sacrifice, and He knew what that involved. His kingship was the rendering of service no other could render.

All beginnings have a wonderful interest for us. There is a peculiar pleasure in tracing a broad deep river, that bears upon its bosom the commerce of a nation, to its source far up among the mountains, in a little well whose overflowing waters a child’s hand could stop; or in going back to the origin of a mighty nation like the Roman, in the drifting ashore, at the foot of the Palatine Hill, of the ark that contained the infant founders. Institutions, social or benevolent, that have been established for ages, derive a fresh charm from the consideration of their first feeble commencement, and the contrast between what they were then and what they are now. There is a mystery about a cloud coming all at once into the blue sky, a star appearing suddenly amid the twilight shades, a spring welling up in the midst of a sandy plain. It seems as if something new were being created before our eyes. A sense of awe comes over us, as if brought into contact with another world. The miracle of Cana comes into the midst of the previous natural life of Jesus like a star out of the blue profound, like a well out of the dry mountain-side, like a rare, unknown flower appearing among the common indigenous plants of a spot. It brings us out of the narrow wall that hems us round, to the verge of God’s infinity, where we can look over into the fathomless gulf. It is the base of that wonderful miracle structure of the gospel, of which the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the pinnacle.1 [Note: H. Macmillan, The Marriage in Cana, 218.]

5. What special propriety was there in the selection of this particular work to introduce and inaugurate the whole train? It is evident from St. John’s impressive words that he finds a strong significance and a profound fitness in the form His Master chose for the beginning of His signs. He can recall many other signs in which Christ manifested forth His glory; but he seems to see a special reason why this, and no other in that wondrous series, came first. He recognized that it was in harmony with the whole tenor of the revelation of the Incarnate Word that this should be His first miracle. For it gives us the key to all the miracles of our Lord.

(1) No other miracle has so much prophecy in it, no other would have inaugurated so fitly the whole work of the Son of God, which was characterized throughout as an ennobling of the common, a turning of the water of earth into the wine of heaven. We recall the first miracle of Moses, the turning of water into blood, symbolic of that law which, as St. Paul said, was “a ministration of death.” Here the Saviour’s first miracle, a ministration of life, symbolized the turning of the thin and watery elements of Jewish faith into that richer and nobler Christianity which makes saints out of sinners, and a new Paradise of God out of the wilderness of earth.

(2) The turning of water into wine was a sign of the character of all the works of goodness and wisdom under the Christian dispensation, by which humanity, suffering from the effects of sin, was to be raised into higher states of truth and righteousness. It combines in itself all the elements of Christ’s miracles. It is a work of mercy; it is an emblem of a higher spiritual blessing; and it is a prophecy and a specimen of that new genesis, under which all things shall be restored to the primeval goodness and blessedness. Like an illuminated initial letter, which contains in itself an illustrated epitome of the contents of the whole chronicle, it appropriately begins the series of Christ’s beneficent works by a beautiful picture of the nature and design of them all.

(3) In this first miracle we can see what was the motive always of Christ’s miracles. He did not work miracles to win men’s belief in His mission. On the contrary, we are told that it was one of His temptations, a temptation constantly resisted by Him, to use His power for this object without any other motive. It was the reproach He cast upon the people that except they saw signs and wonders they would not believe. He would never work a miracle merely for the sake of manifesting His glory. Whenever the unsympathetic, ignorant crowd clamoured for a sign; whenever with ill-concealed dislike they cried, “How long dost thou make us to doubt? Show us a sign from heaven, that we may believe,” He was silent. To create a mere compulsory consent in minds which had no sympathy with Him was never a sufficient motive. Was there a sick child tossing in fever, was there a blind beggar by the roadside, was there a hungry crowd, was there even the joy of a feast interrupted: in these He could find a worthy occasion for a miracle; but never did He work a miracle merely for the sake of removing the doubts of reluctant men. His miracles were His kingly acts, by which He suggested what man’s true life in God’s Kingdom should be and will be. They were the utterance of what was in Him, the manifestation of His glory, the glory of One who came to utter the Father’s heart to His strayed children.

Dear Friend! whose presence in the house,

Whose gracious word benign,

Could once, at Cana’s wedding-feast,

Change water into wine,—

Come, visit us, and when dull work

Grows weary, line on line,

Revive our souls, and make us see

Life’s water glow as wine.

Gay mirth shall deepen into joy,

Earth’s hopes shall grow divine,

When Jesus visits us, to turn

Life’s water into wine.

The social talk, the evening fire,

The homely household shrine,

Shall glow with angel-visits when

The Lord pours out the wine.

For when self-seeking turns to love,

Which knows not mine and thine,

The miracle again is wrought,

And water changed to wine.1 [Note: James Freeman Clarke.]


The Glory Manifested

“And manifested his glory.”

This word glory, whether in its Greek or its Roman shape, had a very definite meaning in the days of the Apostles. It meant the admiration of men. The Greek word is derived from a root signifying to seem, and expresses that which a man seems or appears to his fellow-men. The Latin word for glory is expressly defined by Cicero to mean the love, trust, and admiration of the multitude; and a consequent opinion that the man is worthy of honour. Glory, in fact, is a relative word, and can be used only of any being in relation to other rational beings, and their opinion of him. What the Romans thought glorious in their days is notorious enough. No one can look upon the picture of a Roman triumph without seeing that their idea of glory was force, power, brute force, self-willed dominion, selfish aggrandizement. But this was not the glory which St. John saw in Christ, for His glory was full of grace, which is incompatible with self-will and selfishness. The Greek’s meaning of glory is equally notorious. He called it wisdom. We call it craft—the glory of the sophist, who could prove or disprove anything for gain or display; the glory of the successful adventurer, whose shrewdness made its market out of the stupidity and vice of the barbarian. But this is not the glory of Christ, for St. John saw that it was full of truth. Therefore, neither strength nor craft is the glory of Christ. For the glory of Christ is the glory of God, and none other, because He is very God, of very God begotten. In Christ, man sees the unseen, and absolute, and eternal God as He is, was, and ever will be. And the true glory of God is that God is good.

He was always in possession of glory, but He did not always manifest it. Generally it was veiled. It was only on rare occasions that He withdrew the veil and allowed it to flash forth. The sun always has glory, but not always do we see it; but it is made manifest when the gate of day is opened, when nature is sunned into one beauteous picture. The musician always has glory, but he manifests it when he elicits from his instrument the most delicious harmonies. Jesus had glory when His power was silent and inoperative, but He manifested it when He changed water into wine. He then showed that He was Lord of nature, that nature was His servant and subject to His commands.

He believed that all things were one big Miracle, and when a man knows that much he knows something to go upon. He knew for a certainty that there was nothing great and nothing little in this world; and day and night he strove to think out his way into the heart of things, back to the place whence his soul had come.1 [Note: Rudyard Kipling.]

To the wise man, the lightning only manifests the electric force which is everywhere, and which for one moment has become visible. As often as he sees it, it reminds him that the lightning slumbers invisibly in the dewdrop, and in the mist, and in the cloud, and binds together every atom of the water that he uses in daily life. But to the vulgar mind the lightning is something unique, a something which has no existence except when it appears. There is a fearful glory in the lightning because he sees it. But there is no startling glory and nothing fearful in the drop of dew, because he does not know, what the thinker knows, that the flash is there in all its terrors. So, in the same way, to the half-believer a miracle is the one solitary evidence of God. Without it he could have no certainty of God’s existence.2 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]

We are more sure that God was in Christ when He said, “Rise up, and walk,” than when He said, with absolving love, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee”: more certain when He furnished wine for wedding guests, than when He said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” O, a strange, and low, and vulgar appreciation this of the true glory of the Son of God, the same false conception that runs through all our life, appearing in every form—God in the storm, and the earthquake, and the fire, no God in the still small voice; glory in the lightning-flash, no glory and no God in the lowliness of the dewdrop; glory to intellect and genius, no glory to gentleness and patience; glory to every kind of power, none to the inward, invisible strength of the life of God in the soul of Man 1:1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]

In what respects, then, did this first miracle manifest the glory of Christ? What was there in it to stir the thought and attract the adoration and trust of the disciples? Was it worthy to be the medium of conveying to their minds the first ideas of His glory they were to cherish? And what ideas must these have been?

1. It was the glory of creative power.—In this first miracle, Christ enters physical nature as its King, who can use it for His high ends. Never before has He wrought a miracle, but in this first command to nature there is no hesitation, no experimenting, no anxiety, but the easy confidence of a Master. He is either Himself the Creator of the world He comes to restore to worth and peace, or He is the Delegate of the Creator. We see in this first miracle that Christ is not an alien or a usurper, but One who has already the closest connection with us and with all things. We receive assurance that in Him God is present.

The growth of every seed is a work of creation.2 [Note: Luther.]

In every grape that hangs upon the vine, water is changed into wine, as the sap ripens into rich juice. Christ had been doing that all along, in every vineyard and orchard; and that was His glory. Now He has come to prove that; to draw back the veil of custom and carnal sense, and manifest Himself. Men had seen the grapes ripen on the tree; and they were tempted to say, as every one of us is tempted now, “It is the sun, and the air, the nature of the vine and the nature of the climate, that make the wine.” Jesus comes and answers, “Not so; I make the wine; I have been making it all along. The vines, the sun, the weather, are only My tools, wherewith I worked, turning rain and sap into wine; and I am greater than they. I made them; I do not depend on them; I can make wine from water without vines, or sunshine. Behold, and drink, and see my glory without the vineyard, since you had forgotten to see it in the vineyard!”1 [Note: A. A. Brockington, The Seven Signs, 28.]

An Eastern fable says that a boy challenged his teacher to prove the existence of God by working a miracle. The teacher, who was a Brahmin, procured a large vessel filled with earth, in which he deposited a kernel. In the place where the kernel was put a green shoot soon appeared; the stem put forth leaves and branches, which soon spread over the whole apartment. It then budded with blossoms which, dropping off, left rich ripe fruits in their place. In the space of an hour the little seed had grown into a noble tree. The youth, overcome with amazement, exclaimed: “Now I know there is a God, for I have seen His power.” The priest smiled, and said, “Simple child! that which you have seen is going on every day around you, only by a slower process. Every cocoanut, every pineapple, every banana, every mango, every guava, is a manifestation of Divine power, and would be considered by us miraculous if not so common. If the stars appeared only once in a thousand years, how we should wonder and adore! The thinking brain, the beating heart, the vibrating nerve, the forests, fields and flowers, the earth and sea teeming with living organisms, ranging from the jelly-fish up to man, the vast universe, with its starry worlds, its glorious constellations, its planetary systems all moving to the motions of the Divine will, are one great miracle. He who created still sustains. The hand that made all things still holds all things up. In God we live and move and have our being.”2 [Note: L. Crookall, Topics in the Tropics, 41.]

Sick of myself and all that keeps the light

Of the blue skies away from me and mine,

I climb this ledge, and by this wind-swept pine

Lingering, watch the coming of the night.

’Tis ever a new wonder to my sight:

Men look to God for some mysterious sign,

For other stars than those that nightly shine,

For some unnatural symbol of His might:—

Would’st see a miracle as graud as those

The Prophets wrought of old in Palestine?

Come watch with me the shaft of fire that glows

In yonder west; the fair, frail palaces,

The fading alps and archipelagoes,

And great cloud-continents of sunset seas.3 [Note: Thomas Bailey Aldrich.]

2. It was the glory of spiritual truth.—To see this is harder than to discern the presence of creative power; it requires higher faculties in the soul. Yet most assuredly Christ’s first miracle meant something more than a natural wonder brought about by, and indicating the presence of, superhuman power. It was, besides this, a parable and a prophecy; it was a discovery of laws whereby the King of the new spiritual empire would govern His subjects.

(1) In Christ’s Kingdom, as at Cana, nature is ever being silently changed into something higher and better than it was when He came to visit it. Its poor materials are being gradually transfigured. Christ sits down at the board at which mankind feasts on the good things provided by the Creator; and when nature fails, as, if unassisted, she must fail, to satisfy man’s deeper wants, grace does the rest. The water of man’s natural character is constantly made wine by grace. Easy good-nature becomes charity towards God and man; well-exercised reason or far-sighted judgment is heightened into a lively faith which deals with the unseen as with a reality. The natural virtues, without losing their original strength, are transformed into their spiritual counterparts; and religion bestows a grace, an intelligence, an interest in life, a consistency and loftiness of aim, which are recognized by those who do not comprehend its secret. When a man who has been aimless, selfish, discontented, ill at ease with his work, and with all around him, suddenly becomes light-hearted, cheerful, active, ready and rejoicing to spend himself for others; full of the qualities which are as welcome to man as they are approved by God; of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance—how is this to be accounted for, but by His Presence who proclaims, “Behold, I make all things new!” He does not destroy what was good in the old, but He enriches it by His invigorating and transforming power, turning the water of nature into the wine of grace. Now, as at Cana of Galilee, men see the result; they do not see the process by which it is reached.

(2) At Cana of Galilee, too, we note not merely the secret transforming power of Christ in His Kingdom, but the law of continuous improvement which marks His work. The words which the president of the feast addressed to the bridegroom were an unconscious utterance of high spiritual truth. “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse.” That is the way of the world; that is the history of the life of animal pleasure, and even of the life of mental pleasure, when a man’s horizon does not extend beyond the grave. A time comes when the keenest enjoyments of the past pall upon the taste; when the finest faculties are sensibly giving out, and everything heralds decay. “But thou hast kept the good wine until now.” That is the rule of Christ in His Kingdom; a rule of continuous progress from good to better, from better to best, if man will only will to have it so.

Whenever we make a grateful review, let it mean instant commitment to a better future. If the mercies of God have blessedly beset us, let us not build “Three Tabernacles,” that we may abide; but rather, like Paul, call the places where our mercies meet us “Three Taverns,” then push on, thank God, and take courage. Every attainment is to be a footing for new attempts, and every goal a point of departure. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”1 [Note: M. D. Babcock, Thoughts for Every-Day Living, 15.]

3. It was the glory of sanctifying all things natural.—Remember what had gone before this. The life of John the Baptist was the highest form of religious life known in Israel. It was the life ascetic. It was a life of solitariness and penitential austerity. He drank no wine: he ate no pleasant food: he married no wife: he entered into no human relationship. It was the law of that stern and, in its way, sublime life, to cut out every human feeling as a weakness, and to mortify every natural instinct, in order to cultivate an intenser spirituality—a life in its own order grand, but indisputably unnatural.

(1) It was Christ’s glory to declare the sacredness of all natural relationships. The first public act of His life was to go with His disciples to a marriage. He consecrated marriage, and the sympathies which lead to marriage. He declared the sacredness of feelings which had been reckoned carnal, and low, and human. He stamped His image on human joys, human connections, human relationships. He pronounced that they are more than human—as it were sacramental: the means whereby God’s presence comes to us; the types and shadows whereby higher and deeper relationships become possible to us.

(2) It was His glory to declare the sacredness of all natural enjoyments. It was not a marriage only, but a marriage-feast, to which Christ conducted His disciples. Now we cannot get over this plain fact by saying that it was a religious ceremony; that would be mere sophistry. It was an indulgence in the festivity of life; as plainly as words can describe, here was a banquet of human enjoyment. The very language of the master of the feast about men who had well drunk tells us that there had been, not excess of course, but happiness there and merry-making. Neither can we explain away the lesson by saying that it is no example to us, for Christ was there to do good, and that what was safe for Him might be unsafe for us. For if His life is no pattern for us here in this case of accepting an invitation, in what can we be sure it is a pattern? Besides, He took His disciples there, and His mother was there; they were not shielded, as He was, by immaculate purity. He was there as a guest at first, as Messiah only afterwards: thereby He declared the sacredness of natural enjoyments.

He comes, the Man of Sorrows, with the gift of joy in His hand. It is not an unworthy object—not unworthy, I mean, of a Divine sacrifice—to make men glad. It is worth His while to come from Heaven to agonize and to die, in order that He may sprinkle some drops of incorruptible and everlasting joy over the weary and sorrowful hearts of earth. We do not always give its true importance to gladness in the economy of our lives, because we are so accustomed to draw our joys from ignoble sources that in most of our joys there is something not altogether creditable or lofty. But Christ came to bring gladness, and to transform its earthly sources into heavenly fountains; and so to change all the less sweet, satisfying, and potent draughts which we take from earth’s cisterns into the wine of the Kingdom; the new wine, strong and invigorating, “making glad the heart of man.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

(3) Christ saves not from, but in, life’s common paths. He shares the joy at Cana, the sorrow at Bethany. Heaven and holiness are not here or there. They are where Jesus is, and Jesus walks the ordinary levels of life. The ascetic life of abstinence, of fasting, austerity, singularity, is the lower and earthlier form of religion. The life of godliness is the glory of Christ. It is a thing far more striking to the vulgar imagination to be religious after the type and pattern of John the Baptist—to fast—to mortify every inclination—to be found at no feast—to wrap ourselves in solitariness, and abstain from all social joys; yes, and far easier so to live, and far easier so to win a character for religiousness. A silent man is easily reputed wise. A man who suffers none to see him in the common jostle and undress of life easily gathers round him a mysterious veil of unknown sanctity, and men honour him for a saint. The unknown is always wonderful. But the life of Him whom men called “a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners,” was a far harder and a far heavenlier religion.

To shroud ourselves in no false mist of holiness: to dare to show ourselves as we are, making no solemn affectation of reserve or difference from others; to be found at the marriage-feast; to accept the invitation of the rich Pharisee Simon, and the scorned Publican Zaccheus; to mix with the crowd of men, using no affected singularity, content to be creatures “not too bright or good for human nature’s daily food”; and yet for a man amidst it all to remain a consecrated spirit, his trials and his solitariness known only to his Father—a being set apart, not of this world, alone in the heart’s deeps with God; to put the cup of this world’s gladness to his lips, and yet be unintoxicated; to gaze steadily on all its grandeur, and yet be undazzled, plain and simple in personal desires; to feel its brightness, and yet defy its thrall—this is the difficult, and rare, and glorious life of God in the soul of man. This was the peculiar glory of the life of Christ which was manifested in that first miracle which Jesus wrought at the marriage-feast in Cana of Galilee.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]

4. It was the glory of condescending love.—The graciousness which Christ showed at that marriage-feast is neither more nor less than the boundless love of God, who could not live alone in the abyss, but must needs, out of His own Divine Charity, create the universe, that He might have somewhat besides Himself whereon to pour out the ocean of His love, which finds its own happiness in giving happiness to all created things, from the loftiest of rational beings down to the gnat which dances in the sun, and, for aught we know, to the very lichen which nestles in the Alpine rock.

(1) We may see in Christ’s condescending love at Cana a ray of that love which redeemed the world. He was present, in all senses, as one of the guests; and His conduct at the feast was marked by the tenderest consideration for the feelings of the poor family, who were making the best of their brief day of festive joy. He saved them from the disappointment of being unable to entertain their friends; He added somewhat, we may well believe, to their household store besides; but He did this in such a manner as to hide His hand, and to lay them at the moment and before the guests under no embarrassing sense of obligation towards Himself. What is this but the glory of God’s own bountiful Providence? Man, when he would assist his brother man, too often parades his benevolence; God gives us all that we have so unobtrusively that most of us altogether forget the Giver. We are the spoiled children of His love; we credit chance, or good fortune, or our own energy or far-sightedness, with the blessings which come only from Him. Yet He does not on that account inflict upon us the perpetual sense of our indebtedness.

(2) We have a token of His love in that He supplies the deficiencies of earthly sources. “The mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.” The world’s banquet runs out, Christ supplies an infinite gift. These great waterpots that stood there, if the whole contents of them were changed, as is possible, contained far more than sufficient for the modest wants of the little company. The water that flowed from each of them in obedience to the touch of the servant’s hand, if the change were effected then, as is possible, would flow on so long as any thirsted or any asked. And Christ gives to each of us, if we choose, a fountain that will spring up unto life eternal. And when the world’s platters are empty, and the world’s cups are all drained dry, He will feed and satisfy the immortal hunger and the blessed thirst of every spirit that longs for Him.

(3) The revelation of the glory of the Son is not limited to the knowledge of the fact of His being, and of His presence in the midst; it is a knowledge of the way in which He works, and an imitation of the same. At Cana of Galilee He was pleased to add to the world’s joy; He took compassion upon people whose cups were empty or half empty, and the more compassion, perhaps, because they were acting as if the cups were not empty. He made up that which lacked, and looked into the faces of the guests and said, “Lacked ye anything?” and every one could have answered, “Nothing, Lord, nothing!” Hard by, on a neighbouring hillside, is a second town, little known but for His presence, where He occupied Himself in subtracting from the world’s pain; from Nain to Cana is a very short journey geographically: how far is it in everyday life? When there is a wedding in one street, there is always a funeral in the next. Christ attends both, because to add to the world’s joy and to subtract from its pain are the alternating currents of the Eternal Love; and it is in these ministries, which belong to one sacred Person, who is equally at home in either, because eternally occupied in both, that we see the glory of the Son, who would not tell us by precept to rejoice with them that do rejoice and to weep with them that weep, unless He had furnished the perfect example that corresponds to the perfect precept. Nevertheless, we do not chiefly, and certainly not only, call Him the Man of Sorrows, for His highest title is the Master of the Feast, the Bridegroom.

(4) This first miracle is emblematic of the whole redemptive work of Christ. Is it possible that while He first put forth His power to restore the joy of these wedding guests, He should not have seen in the wine a symbol of the blood He was to shed for the refreshment and revival of men? The Baptist, whose mind was nourished with Old Testament ideas, called Christ the Bridegroom, and His people the Bride. Must not Jesus also have thought of those who believed in Him as His bride, and must not the very sight of a marriage have set His thoughts working regarding His whole relation to men? It is to the marriage supper of the Lamb, of Him who was slain, and has redeemed us by His blood, that we are invited. It is the “Lamb’s wife” that St. John saw adorned as a bride for her Husband. And whosoever would sit down at that feast which consummates the experience of this life, terminating all its vacillation of trust and love, and which opens eternal and unlimited joy to the people of Christ, must wash and make white his garments in this blood. He must not shrink from the closest fellowship with the purifying love of Christ.

Dr. Johnson, on a famous occasion, pronounced that “this merriment of parsons is mighty offensive,” which is the judgment of Josephus repeated in another age; and Dr. Davidson’s imagination of the child Jesus as “grave, retired and sad” is in the same key. In a half-comic way, that has given the law for men’s behaviour in church, where they sit with such preternatural solemnity of countenance, as if religion were, of all interests, the most depressing. But think of Francis, that troubadour of Christ, with his wealth of sunny inspirations, with song and laughter and flowers woven in with that perpetual ministry to the Lord and His poor; was that unevangelical? Or think of Pascal, when his eyes were opened, elated to such an extent that his sister had to ask what his spiritual director would think of such a gleeful penitent? Or, above all, think of Jesus and the disciples, these children of the bride-chamber, who lived one day at a time, and found each as it came the very flower and glory of days. I suspect that true souls are always hilarious, and that one step towards the restoration of the evangel in the Church would be the breaking of this tradition and the letting in of the sun. Dr. Davidson says of Mohammed that he had that indispensable requisite of a great man, he could laugh with all his might. And in a follower of Jesus something like that is still desirable.1 [Note: W. M. Macgregor, Jesus Christ the Son of God, 115.]


The Resulting Faith

“And his disciples believed on him.”

There is nothing more remarkable in the Gospel of St. John than the clearness with which it brings before us the moral side of miracles. They are emphatically “signs” or “works”—facts which lead us to look deeper into the mysteries of life as samples of the silent, unnoticed action of God. And they are represented not only as signs and works, but also as tests of faith. Christ manifested His glory, “and his disciples believed on him.”

1. “His disciples believed on him.” It is not said that those who were before unbelieving were overpowered by what they saw and forced into faith; it is said only that those who had already followed Christ cast themselves, so to speak, upon Him with an absolute trust when they recognized the workings of His Divine power. The outward event might be disregarded or explained away or cavilled at; the inner meaning was discernible only to the spiritual eye. The wedding guests for the most part, so far as we know, went away unconscious of the meaning of what they had witnessed, but the disciples believed.

2. “His disciples believed.” Those who had welcomed Christ and followed Him now believed on Him. Their “belief” was a response of the soul to Him as one having the glory of God. It was not necessarily a full recognition of Jesus for what He was, but it was the personal trust that makes ever-increasing knowledge possible. And as the disciples’ faith grew, so would their spiritual insight and understanding deepen more and more.

(1) This was not the beginning of their faith. Jesus had already cast the unearthly spell of His purity and beauty upon them, and drawn them to His side as the magnet draws the iron. They had forsaken all and followed Him.

(2) Nor was it the miracle that first produced their faith. They had already believed, not as the result of any display of supernatural power, but before any miracle had been done. Had it not been for this preparedness as the result of previous belief, the miracle of Cana, wrought as it was, so quietly and naturally, would not have produced such a profound impression upon the disciples. But brought thus into a state of quickened sympathy with Him, they understood the significance of the miracle, and their faith was rewarded and confirmed by it. They knew more perfectly who He was, and confided in Him more implicitly. The miracle was wrought in themselves; the water of their previous weak faith was changed into the wine of a nobler, a more devoted faith, which, working by love, purified their hearts, and enabled them to overcome every obstacle and temptation as they followed Jesus in the way.

(3) The disciples did not stop at this rudimentary state of faith, in which they merely believed in Jesus. They continued to believe in Him; but to this they added in later life many and illustrious spiritual attainments. But great as were their attainments in faith, knowledge, righteousness, and grace in after life, they were all rendered possible by this simple faith.

Saint Cyran was always dwelling on the difference between bodily and spiritual medicine. A broken leg might heal completely, or a fever be successfully fought; and then, as he says with a stray touch of humour, the doctor would be mucli annoyed if his former patients took to haunting his consulting-room. But in spiritual medicine the patient never got free of his Physician, nor was it fitting that he should.1 [Note: Viscount St. Cyres, Pascal, 230.]

3. “His disciples believed on him.” Only in two places does this expression “on him” occur in all the Synoptic Gospels; and the Apostle Paul, whose vocabulary it more closely resembles than that of any other Scripture writer, but very rarely uses it. It denotes the absolute transference of trust from one’s self to another. To believe on or in a man means so much more than simply to believe him. In believing a man we confide in the mere truthfulness of his lips; we believe that he is incapable of telling a falsehood. But in believing on or in a man, we trust the man’s whole being and life, we confide in himself. The disciples of Jesus not only believed the words of Jesus, from whose lips no guile could come; they believed in Himself as the fulfilment of all their hopes and expectations, their highest ideal of the truth. A deeper confidence than they could have in themselves they had in Him.

(1) Perhaps there were those present who believed the miracle of whom it could not be said that they believed on Him. The faith of the disciples had passed from a belief in the act to a belief in the Actor. Jesus Himself stood prominently forth in their faith. As yet they knew little of Him and of His future plans; He had not told them who He was; He had given them little, if any, teaching; and thus their faith at this time was not enriched with the larger conceptions of Him which they had at a later period. It was an elementary faith; but it had the most vital and vitalizing element, because it was faith on Him.

(2) The ground of their faith was the knowledge they had acquired of Jesus. Faith finds its root in knowledge; credulity in ignorance. Jesus had let a little of His glory shine forth in a beautiful act of power. That act gave a clue to a right knowledge of Him. By it the disciples were able to form some conception of the kind of Being He was. And that knowledge enabled them to have faith in Him. Jesus wrought the faith by the agency of His glory; without this self-revelation the faith would never have come; the faith was thus His gift. And because of what they did know of Him, they believed in Him for what they did not know. That is the way in which we, by understanding something of God, can believe in Him where we do not understand Him.

Christ required then, as He requires now, a faith based on reason and not on miracles. Consequently, a miracle does not prove the truth of a doctrine; for the doctrine must first commend itself to the conscience as good, and only then can the miracle seal it as Divine. “Miracula sine doctrinâ nihil valent.” Therefore we must look in every miracle, not only for the Divine power, but also for the Divine wisdom and goodness. A miracle is not a wonder, but a sign, so that the inward meaning is more important than the outward form.1 [Note: G. F. Terry, The Old Theology in the New Age, 179.]

4. If the disciples believed on Him when they saw Him furnish these wedding guests with wine, shall we not believe, who know that through all these ages He has furnished the pained and the poor with hope and consolation, the desolate and broken-hearted with restoring sympathy, the outcast with the knowledge of God’s love, the sinner with pardon, with heaven, and with God? Is not the glory He showed at this marriage in Cana precisely what still attracts us to Him with confidence and affection? Can we not wholly trust this Lord who has a perfect sympathy guiding His Divine power, who brings the presence of God into all the details of human life, who enters into all our joys and all our sorrows, and is ever watchful to anticipate our every need, and supply it out of His inexhaustible and all-sufficient fulness? Happy they who know His heart as His mother knew it, and are satisfied to name their want and leave it with Him.

All power, properly so called, is wise and benevolent. There may be capacity in a drifting fire-ship to destroy a fleet; there may be venom enough in a dead body to infect a nation:—but which of you, the most ambitious, would desire a drifting kinghood, robed in consuming fire, or a poison-dipped sceptre whose touch was mortal? There is no true potency, remember, but that of help; nor true ambition, but ambition to save.2 [Note: Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive (Works, xviii. 478).]

The First Sign


Brockington (A. A.), The Seven Signs, 21.

Broughton (L. G.), Table Talks of Jesus, 7.

Champness (T.), New Coins from Old Gold, 1.

Davies (J. Ll.), Sermons on the Manifestation of the Son of God, 109.

Green (T. E.), in Sermons on the Gospels: Advent to Trinity, 109.

Greenhough (J. G.), in The Miracles of Jesus, 17.

Grimley (H. N.), Tremadoc Sermons, 77.

Harris (J. R.), Union with God, 3.

Kingsley (C.), All-Saints’ Day Sermons, 320.

Liddon (H. P.), Christmastide in St. Paul’s, 368.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: John i.–viii. 110, 114.

Macmillan (H.), The Marriage in Cana of Galilee, 215.

Miller (J.), Sermons Literary and Scientific, ii. 156.

Mills (B. R. V.), The Marks of the Church, 181.

Norton (J. N.), Short Sermons, 315.

Paget (F.), Studies in Christian Character, 209.

Pearce (J.), The Alabaster Box, 38.

Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, ii. 220, 235.

Terry (G. F.), The Old Theology in the New Age, 165.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons in Christ Church, Brighton, i. 90.

Vaughan (R.), Stones from the Quarry, 160.

Webster (F. S.), The Beauties of the Saviour, 71.

Westcott (B. F.), Peterborough Sermons, 216.

Whitworth (W. A.), The Sanctuary of God, 149.

Christian World Pulpit, xxv. 17 (Barry); xxxv. 56 (Rowsell); liii. 93 (Jones); lxiii. 106 (Salmond).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

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