In his book The Last Word, author Thomas Nagel writes, ‘I want atheism to be true, and I am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It is that I hope there is no God. I don’t want there to be a God, I don’t want the universe to be like that.’
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30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
What reasons did John give for writing his biography of Jesus?
John made the identity of Jesus a major theme of his book. Who do you think Jesus might have been? How did you come to this conclusion?
In ancient Jewish thought, the Christ or Messiah was a promised leader of the Jewish nation, who would defeat the nation’s enemies and lead the people into an era of peace and prosperity.
The first public encounter that John presents us with is Jesus at a wedding with friends and family. Weddings in first-century Palestine were even more significant and lavish affairs than they are today. Marriage meant more than the joining of two individuals. A wedding marked the bride and groom’s entrance as adults into their community. The celebrations usually lasted for at least a week. It was the responsibility of the groom to provide all that was necessary for such a hugely important social occasion.
2On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’
4 ‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’
5 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from eighty to a hundred and twenty litres.
7 Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 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.’
11 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.
The wedding has run out of wine. How might the bride and groom feel if there was no wine at their wedding feast, especially in a shame/honour culture?
If the wine was finished, what would the wedding crowd conclude about the groom in particular? What would the bride’s family conclude about their new son-in-law?
In the Hebrew Bible, wine represented joy, so its absence at a wedding would be disastrous. Jesus’ reply to his mother isn’t as stark as it first looks, but it is quite puzzling, especially when he says, ‘My hour has not yet come’ in verse 4. Jesus seems to be a man who knows his destiny and sees his whole life heading towards a particular moment.
Although Jesus is reluctant to step into the limelight at this point, why do you think he does something quite miraculous to help the couple?
Each of the six stone water jars would contain 80–120 litres, the equivalent of 700–1,000 bottles of wine. Describe the master of the banquet’s impression of the wine. How will this wine change the party?
What does the master of the banquet conclude about the groom? Does the groom deserve the credit? How would the bride and groom feel about what Jesus has done for them?
The water jars contained water for ceremonial washing. Before each meal Jews would wash, symbolic of washing away their sins before receiving what God had given them.
As such the water in the jars was a continual reminder of their guilt and need for cleansing. Given this background, what might be the significance of Jesus turning this water into the most beautiful wine?
Jesus quietly rescued a wedding and saved a desperate couple from disgrace. But his disciples (or followers) saw that his actions pointed to something far more significant about him. They would be familiar with ancient Hebrew texts such as the following from the prophet Isaiah (c.700 BC):
On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. (Isaiah 25:6–8)
Isaiah imagines what it will be like when the Lord Almighty, God, comes to the world. What will God do and for whom?
Imagine that you are one of Jesus’ disciples. You have grown up in a Jewish household, with a text like this ringing in your ears. Having just tasted the new wine from Jesus, what might you think about him?
Isaiah is looking forward to a day when God himself will come to heal the world. Isaiah pictures this healing as the richest banquet imaginable. Other Hebrew texts speak about a particular person through whom God will do all this – the Messiah we were introduced to earlier. Could Jesus be the one who will fulfil all these hopes and dreams?
Some people hope there is no God because they perceive religion to be life-diminishing. Given what John has said about Jesus bringing life, what does this first encounter suggest about the life Jesus gives to those who believe in him? What does this suggest about who he is?