Oh no, what every pastor dreads, it's time to preach on John 2: "But how could Jesus do this to me; did he even think through the difficulties that would arise when he turned water into wine? So many troubling questions? Maybe we can just leave out this chapter entirely, no one will notice?" Sadly, the nature of the church beast is to read John 2 and then quickly jump to argument and dispute concerning the questionable alcoholic content of the wine. (Was it grape-juice? Low alcoholic content: 10 parts water and 1 part wine, or maybe Jesus changed it for medicinal reasons so the guests at the party wouldn't get sick?) Only in America does this issue stir such passionate debate. I spent a year in Russia and they served champagne for lunch in the kindergarten teachers lounge while we were showing the "Jesus Film" and no one gave it a second thought...no big deal.
This debate reminds me of a wedding I attended 10 years ago: while getting some punch for my wife and I, a church member was standing next to me watching as the bar tender was serving beer from the tap. He turned to me and quietly muttered under his breath, "Look, the devil is staring at us out of that cup." I looked at him and said, "I didn't know plastic could hold him so easily; don't worry, I think the devil has better places to be tonight."
So, is the devil in the drink?
And if he is, what does Jesus have to say for himself when he made over 150 gallons of the "best vintage" wine to keep the festivities going at a wedding party? How could Jesus, the holy one, make something that could cause someone to sin? (And while we are asking, was Jesus promoting gluttony when he fed the 5,000? Was he promoting adultery when he let a prostitute wash his feet with her hair?) Surely there must be an answer that makes everyone happy? Well...there isn't. Here is why...
1) Jesus made actual alcoholic wine, there is no way getting around it. (Ephesians 5:18 uses the same Greek word for wine as John 2 -- and this verse offers indirect proof that this wine is fermented because you can get drunk on it.)
2) True lovers of God are not to get drunk on it, for it is sin & you won't inherit heaven. (1 Cor. 6:10) So a word to the grace abuser: Stop being a drinking hero and bragging about your ability to hold your liquor (Isaiah 5:22), and please don't let alcohol find you for a fool (Proverbs 23:29-35). What God asks of us is to allow him to reveal Christ in our lives (Gal. 1:15-16), and we do this by becoming a godly noble adult who exercises self-control (Gal. 5:23). So grow up and quit glorying in your shame (Phil. 3:19).
3) The final truth that is often missed and forgotten is that wine actually is a gift, it is given to lift the heart of man (Psalm 104:15). In our zeal to prove our purity and our capacity for self-denial through praise-worthy human effort, we disallow and condemn some things that God wanted us to have for good. The question in everything we do is the matter of, "Am I exercising 'proper use' or 'abuse?'" Did you know it is possible to drink too much coffee and Mountain Dew? (I know the pounding headaches of "abuse" first hand).
So this debate will continue to rage, people will continue to argue it till God's kingdom comes. But what is lost in the smoke of the on-going cannon fire is that discerning the exact level of alcoholic content in the "best vintage" wine has absolutely nothing to do with the message of John 2. In our myopic fuss we miss the point of the story completely! Jesus turning water (ceremonial jars for purification) into wine is a statement of how he now offers his new life to us by grace. He has come to totally fulfill the law, just like he had the water pots filled to the brim; and now he asks you to draw out of his completed work on our behalf, this new, substantial, "best vintage" life by faith (Isaiah 12:3).
I once heard a person say, "I wish Jesus never turned water into wine because it makes things so complicated." Consider that statement a second, someone has the gall to question the decisions made by the Lord of Glory! Who do we think we are?
If Jesus wants to turn water into wine, I think he knows what he is doing. Why can't we simply learn to fall on our knees in worship and wonder, "What a wonderful, creative, dangerous God!"