"Cleanliness is next to godliness." That’s a phrase I’m sure most, if not all of us, are familiar with. But where did this statement come from? Some might immediately assume the Bible, and to you, I would say you are PARTIALLY right!
While the exact phrase is not found in the Bible, the concept is clearly expressed in multiple ways all throughout scripture, especially in the Old Testament, when instruction is given for things such as circumcision, handwashing, foot washing, and even bathing. That tells us that for the Hebrew people, cleanliness wasn’t “next to godliness,” but it was absolutely part of it. The standards God established concerning cleanliness for the Israelites touched on every aspect of their lives. So much so that we see this long heritage of cleanliness customs show itself discreetly here in John 2 as we read about the wedding in Cana.
Verse 6 says, “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification…” But before we dig too much into those jars and their significance, let’s take a step back and catch up to this point in the story.
As the story unfolds, we find that Jesus has been at this wedding celebration for three days along with His disciples, His mom, and all of the other wedding guests in attendance. It was on this third day that disaster struck, and the wine ran out.
Now to fully grasp the significance of this crisis, we need to look at some background into first-century Jewish weddings. These weren’t small affairs with carefully selected guest lists. No. At that time, weddings were considered essential community events.
You see, most children were betrothed early on in life, and then when they approached marrying age, they would enter a year-long betrothal period, at which time they lived separately - the groom preparing a home with them with his father. The whole village would be invested in this betrothal and what we could liken to the “engagement” process. Then, when a year's time had passed, the groom, along with his wedding party, would kick off the wedding celebration by parading through the town in a nighttime procession to collect his bride and her wedding party and lead her back to his home.
Clearly, this party was a BIG DEAL, and so the fact that they have run out of wine on day three of what is likely a 7-day celebration after a whole year of hype and anticipating was not the news anyone wanted to hear, especially the family of those being wed.
It is in the height of that panic in swoops….nope, not Jesus….Jesus’ mama, Mary! Mary comes to Jesus and says, “HELP! We are out of wine!” And then instructs the servants to do whatever He asks of them! Not only is this the account of Jesus’ first miracle, it may also be the first written account of a man being voluntold to do something. ;)
And that brings us back to those six stone jars. It was after a brief exchange with His mom we find that Jesus instructs the servants to fill those stone pots with water, and then He proceeds to work this incredible miracle of turning water into wine.
So why did John include such a seemingly useless bit of information about “stone pots”? Why do they matter? Wouldn’t it have been enough to just say, “Go get me some water?” Well, stone pots like these were a staple in Jewish homes at the time and represent what the law of these people had become. Over time, the commands God had given Moses in the Old Testament as a way to help teach His people proper ways to stay clean - guarding them from unnecessary sickness and disease as well as equipping them with processes with which to approach the alter or the tabernacle (Exodus 30:17-21) - had been grossly elaborated upon, creating a culture based on man-made tradition as opposed to God ordained directives. Making these pots of water more of a sign of holiness at times culturally than did lives that truly honored Him and believed in Him.
You see, John wanted to make it clear to everyone that Jesus didn’t just perform a miracle at the wedding, but He was breaking down a barrier that had been erected between Him and His people - a barrier we could call religion - and He did so using the very pots that had been synonymous with human tradition and religious ritualism.
We have spent most of our time today looking back on the customs of the day and the purpose behind this great miracle, but as we close out our time together, I want to take a moment to read this account retrospectively. You see, when we look back at these events from our perspective today, we can see their importance in the light of a much bigger context - Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The law had been given to Moses, and it was important, beautiful, and meaningful. But, as the master of the banquet so powerfully stated in verse 10, “the best wine had been saved for now,” or as some versions put it, “until this moment.” God’s plan to redeem and reconcile His creation was about to be revealed - in the perfect way and at the perfect time. Not just rescuing a wedding celebration but rescuing His people. Rescuing you. Rescuing me.
So today, as you read through this story of Jesus turning water into wine, a story many of us have likely read or heard many times over the course of our lives - I challenge you to look at it through a different lens. Not just seeing it as important because it was Jesus’ first miracle but rather because it was setting the stage for the life of hope and freedom that we are now able to experience as Christians when Jesus broke all the social and societal norms through His sacrificial death on the cross.