On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
In previous chapters, Keller defended that some encounters of Christ help us understand that Christ came to the earth as the incarnate God because our world is broken and in a dark condition. Keller now prompts us to think about how things in this world can be put right. In chapter 4, The Wedding Feast, Keller discusses Christ’s miracle of turning water to wine at the wedding feast as recorded in John 2:2-11 and defends that this encounter is not just a miracle but rather is a sign that informs us of who Christ is, his understanding of our need, and the solution he has provide for our need.
To understand the account found in John 2, we must not read with a modern understanding of weddings. Weddings at this time in history were of much more social importance and thus were far more elaborate and elongated than today’s short ceremonies with a reception after. “The purpose of a marriage was not primarily the happiness of the two individuals but instead to bind the community together and to raise the next generation. In other words, the purpose of marriage was the good of the commonwealth” (pg. 58). Weddings of this time culminated in days of festivities and feasting. And wine would be at the center of the feast. This sets the stage for what we read in John 2.
Wedding feasts were supposed to be times of joy and festivities but there is a major issue with the feast in John 2; the wine ran out early in the celebration. Keller defends that this would not only have been considered a breach of etiquette but would have drawn into question the honor of the newly wedded couple. This was a shame filled event. This was a social catastrophe. And it was in this moment of social crisis that Mary approaches Jesus and states “they have no wine” so as to ask him to help in the situation. In response to Mary’s statement, Christ responds in a way that seems harsh and strange to us (more on this in a moment) yet then continues by asking servants to fill six ceremonial jars with water. He then turns the water into wine which makes possible the renewal of the festivities. And why did Christ do this? Keller draws attention to John 2:11; this was not only a miracle, it was “the first of his signs” which “manifested his glory.” Christ turned the water to wine and returned joy to the wedding party as a sign of his glory. This event, Christ’s actions, pointed to his true identity and purpose. Keller’s central question addressed in the chapter is, how does this miracle help us better understand Christ’s purpose in this broken world?
What do we learn of Christ from John 2:2-11:
At this wedding feast there was a person filling the role of master of the banquet. This person's responsibility was to manage the festivities and the wine supply. The human master of the banquet failed. Christ stepped in to show that he is greater than the human manager and that he is the true and great Master of the Banquet.
This wedding was in ruin. The desires of the day (joy, unity, and celebration) were not being met. Christ stepped in to return the source of joy and correct the wrongs of the party. As Keller has already described, our world is broken. We all know this if we observe the workings of the world. But our acknowledgment goes further than this; we also know that we are broken. Just as the couple at this wedding would have been filled with shame, we are too. Although we often pursue things like joy and unity, we so often fail to find true fulfillment and solution. We live in a wonderful creation set to be filled with joy, unity, and celebration; yet that is not our lived experience. Christ’s actions at this wedding were intended to point to the fact that he is the solution for this need. Christ is the one who will renew this creation. His wedding banquet will be great and eternal and will never run dry of joy, unity, and celebration.
The supply of the wine at this wedding would have been due to the financial sacrifices of the families who purchased the wine and food. When Mary draws Christ’s attention to their failing in supplying the wine, he responds in a way that may seem odd or off to us. In John 2:4, Christ responds to Mary with, “What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” This statement seems very cold and direct; this is not how we often think of Christ responding to those that he encounters? So, what’s going on?
This statement helps us understand what is in the mind of Christ in this moment. Christ knows why his heavenly Father sent him to earth. He was sent to be the Messiah and the eternal and perfect sacrifice for all. Do not read anger in Christ’s statement, rather read burden. Christ came to show that all of creation is like a wedding, broken, without joy, and without hope of return to true celebration. Christ knew that he had come to fix this. However, he also already knew that the way, the only way, for joy, unity, and celebration to return would be through his great sacrifice. He knew that in providing the miracle of the wine the timeline to him dying would officially become public to the world around him. Yet, he did it because he is our savior and the true master of the banquet of creation!
Not only is Christ the master of the banquet, but also he is the bridegroom. If he is the bridegroom, then who is the bride? We are! The people he is calling to himself, the people who place their faith in Christ are his eternal bride who he loves and cherishes and will unite himself too. Christ introduced his true identity at a wedding on purpose. He did this miracle with eyes cast to eternity where he, through his sacrifice, would present his bride, us, perfect and holy and one day be united to us for all of eternity in an environment of perfect joy, unity, and celebration.
O, how great of a sign we see in John 2:2-11. Rest in knowing that Christ will make all things right!
(!) Something Helpful:
In reading this chapter, I found it very helpful that Keller challenged the initial reaction that readers often have when they read Christ’s response to Mary in this account. There are passages in Scripture that have often caught me off guard or don’t feel right. If I am to be honest, I sometimes move past these quickly and simply think “that’s odd” or “I don’t get that.” But this is not right or good when we approach Scripture. Scripture is the Word of God which is perfect and holy. We must read it and consider it as it is written. In this case, if I were to just think “wow, Christ was a little harsh in that statement,” I would run the risk of missing the heart of this passage. When you encounter hard passages. I challenge you to rest in them. Spend time in them. Read them multiple times. And in this, ask for God’s guidance in understanding. If you are still struggling or have questions, take them to a brother or sister in Christ and study together. Also, don’t forget your pastors are here to help as well.
(?) Something to Think About:
In this chapter, Keller discusses a 60 Minutes interview of Yehiel De-Nur conducted by Mike Wallace. This interview took place after De-Nur broke down in spasmodic outcries while attempting to testify before the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann who was one of the architects of the Holocaust in World War II. When Wallace asked De-Nur why he broke down, De-Nur said that “he was overcome by the realization that Eichmann was not some demon but was an ordinary human being. ‘I was afraid about myself….I saw that (I) am capable to do this...exactly like he’” (69).
I do not think any of us have difficulty understanding that this world has people who do wrong and some who we would consider evil. We understand that the world is broken and less than desirable at times. But do we make the mistake of believing that all the brokenness and wrongdoing is outside of ourselves? Scripture would defend that we are all broken and in need of a Savior. Do you consider yourself in need of a savior today? Do you cry out to the true bridegroom who has come to unite himself to you for all of eternity, Christ? Are you living in accordance with his word and command?
(.) Something to Do:
John 2:2-11 is a sign to us that Christ has come to make all the wrong things right. It is a sign that he sees us as his bride in the grand wedding of creation. Do not let this go by as simply a cool analogy. Christ sees you as his bride (beautiful, worthy of love, to be honored and cherished). Keller challenges us, in light of this, to live lives accordingly. We as Christians do not have to live lives in response to the current condition of this world. Because of our understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, we can now live grounded in the coming joy of the new heavens and new earth. Try starting your day off with a prayer of thanksgiving, not for the current circumstances of your life, but because of the coming day of new creation. See how this affects you in this broken world.
Questions to Ask Your Cell Group:
Why is it so important for us to see that Christ’s first sign to us of his purpose and identity is grounded in a wedding? What does this tell us about Christ? What does this tell us about how Christ sees us? What response should this compel?
We live in a broken world that does much wrong, but we too are broken and share guilt and shame with the rest of the world. What wrongdoing is in your life? Have you confessed this to Christ?
Do you live with your mind cast to the future promises of Christ? How does living in this way affect you in your present affairs?