Jesus’ Chemistry Class

View of Nazareth, with the Basilica of the Annunciation at the center

Gospel of John 2:1-11

1 Two days later there was a wedding in the Galilean village of Cana. Jesus’ mother was there and he and his disciples were invited to the festivities. Phillips  

We must start with a translation issue. The Greek text reads, And on the day third a wedding…. I cannot explain why Phillips calls it two days later when nearly every other translation has three. If we return to chapter 1 and follow the timeline, then add three days, we still do not know when the wedding occurred because we do not know the starting day. For John, that was unimportant.

When we first read these two verses, it seems simple enough, Mary, Jesus, and his disciples (however many there were by then) end up at a wedding. But GJohn packs in a lot. Cana may have been about eleven miles north of Nazareth, with the wealthy city of Sepphoris about halfway between. Those three towns were about halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Today, the location of Cana is still in doubt. Many excavations have failed to match all the written evidence identifying it. Jerome visited Nazareth about 400 CE and reported that he could see Cana, so it may have been much closer to Nazareth than eleven miles.

Today Nazareth is a city of about 80,000 people, about 24,000 are Christian and the rest are Muslims. It is the largest city in northern Israel. See the picture above.

Galilee has always been a farming region, dotted with small villages in ancient times housing the farm owners and workers. Nazareth and Cana were such villages.

Jesus’ mother was there, possibly because she knew or was related to someone in the wedding party. At any rate, she had enough authority to boss around the servants.

Jewish weddings were required to take place on the third day of the week—Tuesday for us. But weddings lasted at least a week. The ceremony came after a long feast, without going into detail, and then the newlyweds were carried through town so everyone could give them best wishes. Here’s the fun part; the couple lived in their new house, wearing crowns as ‘king’ and ‘queen’ and receiving guests all day for a week. And we wonder that they ran out of wine.

3 Then it happened that the supply of wine gave out, and Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.” “Is that your concern, or mine?” replied Jesus. “My time has not come yet.” So his mother said to the servants, “Mind you do whatever he tells you.” Phillips

Most water was dangerous to drink, so wine mixed with water was the main drink. Even among the Romans, drunkenness was rare and frowned on by all, and a drunk Jew was nearly unheard of. Because they drank wine to avoid sickness, they mixed it with at least as much water, even at weddings.

More importantly, wine, like bread, was essential. No one could allow a guest to leave without having their fill of both. They might run out of lamb or the fatted calf, but not wine and bread. For a wedding, that was enough wine and bread for the entire village for a week.

We cannot know from this text why Mary became involved with the wine issue. To me, it suggests that she was close to the wedding party or the master of ceremonies (modern planner). The quick exchange only muddles the issue. Jesus seems to suggest, “Mom, just leave it to the man in charge.” She responds by rounding up several servants.

Something is missing in the Phillips translation; he may have wanted to soften the response. Jesus literally said (in Greek), What to Me and to you, woman? That last Greek word is gune, wife or woman. There are only two other Greek words GJohn could have used, eleutheros—not a slave—and thelus—female. Understand that this exchange occurs behind the scenes, with only the servants possibly hearing what was said. Of course, he could have said, ‘Mother’ or left woman off altogether. Again, this scene rings the bell for John the disciple being there and remembering for six decades. If that is true, John would have been a follower for a week or less; he would hardly know Jesus, and the exchange would have seemed strange at best.

“My time has not come yet.” Jesus has already selected some of his disciples and has probably decided to leave for Jerusalem to kick off his ministry. But his mother asked, so he said, ‘sure.’

In the room six very large stone water-jars stood on the floor (actually for the Jewish ceremonial cleansing), each holding about twenty gallons. 7 Jesus gave instructions for these jars to be filled with water, and the servants filled them to the brim. Phillips

Several things to note here. Large stone jars held purification water because clay jars could cause contamination. The jars stood about four to five feet tall, carved from a solid block of stone. They held water for purification before prayers and meals. Neither the wedding couple nor their families likely owned six jars; they were on loan for something as important as a wedding. Twenty gallons is a rough figure since each jar was a different size.

Notice Jesus does not argue with his mother. He may be thirty years old, but he knows when to back down.

Jesus ordered each jar to be filled to the brim, not to leave any space. The Greek is metretes duo ay treis, measures two or three. They had a standard bucket to measure the quantity of water, and it would take two or three of them for each jar. We do not know the details, but we can be sure that the servants walked to the town well with some easily carried water jar holding perhaps five gallons. In case you are wondering, that job fell to the women servants. No one would ask even the lowest male slave to carry water. If you do the math, 120 gallons would be a lot of trips, to use the technical term.

8 Then he said to them, “Now draw some water out and take it to the master of ceremonies”, which they did. Phillips

At this point, what had been water is now wine. The well water was perhaps 90% H2O, the rest a mix of things we would not want to drink. But now, in addition to H2O, there is a large concentration of carbon, several acids—tartaric and citric—and tannins formed after some months-to-years of aging. We just watched the servants fill each jar to the tippy-top. Jesus did not slip anything into the water. How does Jesus do something even Houdini could not do?

Jesus did not do it. His Father, who created a universe of a trillion-trillion stars, did the chemistry. That would not have been much of a challenge for the Creator.

Do not forget; John is standing there with his mouth hanging open. Sixty years later, he dares to finally record what he witnessed to be a witness to you and me. It is all these personal touches that make GJohn so unique. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were lucky enough thirty years earlier to write from notes collected from hundreds of interviews of first-hand witnesses. John was the only one of the four to be a first-hand witness.

9 When this man tasted the water, which had now become wine, without knowing where it came from (though naturally the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called out to the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everybody I know puts his good wine on first and then when men have had plenty to drink, he brings out the poor stuff. But you have kept back your good wine till now!” Phillips

KKeep in mind that the master of ceremonies did not even know there was a shortage of wine. He had done several weddings and had never seen anyone be so generous with the good stuff. This wine might be equal to someone opening a bottle of Cheval Blanc St-Emilion, 1947, costing $135,125 per bottle for a Tuesday lunch. Or maybe for Sunday Eucharist.

11 Jesus gave this, the first of his signs, at Cana in Galilee. He demonstrated his power and his disciples believed in him. Phillips

This is the first of his signs. GJohn never calls them miracles, nor are all the signs miracles.

This last sentence is the key to the story. It is the reason GJohn opens with what seems to many people today to be a bit trivial. He does not heal anyone or bring anyone back from the dead. It’s a party.

Look again at the last five words. His disciples believed in him. This explains why John remembered that day for six decades. It is what compelled GJohn and the other eleven to stick with a man who seemed at times to have lost his good sense. It is the drop-jawed, brain-frying vision that none of them could forget. Yet, the only disciples named at this point were Simon, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael, but almost certainly, James and John were there, even if GJohn never mentions either by name.

We should not forget that they were all new boys. They responded to his call and almost immediately walked from Capernaum to Cana to a wedding of people they probably did not know. Jesus may have talked with them some along the way, but, hey, it was party time. Jesus saved the momentous messages for later.

We need to look ahead three years to the night of Jesus’ arrest, but we must go to Matthew to find it. Matthew 26. 26While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” NIV

GJohn does not include this because he places Jesus’ arrest the day before Passover. Nonetheless, today’s sign is connected. The wine of the wedding reminds us of the marriage coming between the Groom, Jesus, and the Bride, the Church. The wine reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The wine, symbol of life, connects to eternal life through Jesus. The whole of the Gospel of John is rooted in this sign.

The transition from this sign to attacking the Temple must have shocked the new believing disciples.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

Behold, the Lamb of God

Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON from Pixabay

Gospel of John 1:29-51

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! ESV

This is John the Baptizer speaking. Remember that the Baptizer had to answer hard questions from the Temple leaders and did not claim to be anyone special, except that he was called to witness to the coming Messiah. The very next day Jesus walks down the bank of the river. It think it is safe to say that the Baptizer could be heard by those who had come to hear him preach. ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’

We should know first that the title of Lamb of God was not used in the OT. In fact, it appears here and in GJohn 1:36, but no where else in the Bible. Revelation has many phrases regarding the Lamb as a title, but not that specific title. While the lamb image is associated with the expectation of the coming Messiah, it is more related to the Messiah leading the flock than as the sacrifice.

Because the title does not appear in Acts or the letters, we can assume that the early church did not make much use of it. Over the centuries we have developed a solid OT background for the Lamb of God as the Passover lamb for all sinners. In reality, we misuse the Passover lamb image somewhat because Jesus more directly represents the sin offering and the annual scape goat offering, though we seldom speak of Jesus as a goat [unless we mean greatest of all time].

It is helpful to look again at 1:18. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

We need to read this as:       No one has ever seen God.

                                                The only God who is at the Father’s side.

                                                He has made him known.

Verse 18 is the setup for verse 29. We cannot see God, but we can see Jesus who is also God as John demonstrated in the opening of his Gospel. The Baptizer has a sophisticated understanding of the Messiah, well ahead of the Temple leaders, and Jesus’ soon to be disciples.

30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ NET

The Baptizer is repeating what he had preached from the start of his ministry. He speaks in the way of OT prophets, claiming only to speak the words God has given him. He does not claim to be special.

The Baptizer had followers, some of whom were disciples. Disciples were young men (usually in their teens) who asked a rabbi to take them on as students. They lived full time with their master and helped him in all ways—cooking, running errands, etc. An important part of being a disciple was to always listen to the lessons and commit them to memory. Before printing became prevalent, people grew up learning how to remember what people said, even word-for-word. For them, it was not unusual to hear a long story as few as three times and have it word prefect.

Back in verses 26-27 The Baptizer told the Temple authorities, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not knoweven he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

Now the Baptizer goes a step farther in his description of Jesus, he existed before me.’  That is not new for we readers of GJohn. He has already stressed that the Messiah has always existed, even before creation.

31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” ESV

The Baptizer says he did not know Jesus before seeing him approaching for baptism. He must have forgotten that they met when Mary visited Elizabeth. It is fair to ask if cousins in a small country might have spent some time together as they grew up. That would be especially true if Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem for the feast days when the Baptizer’s father would have been serving in the Temple.

The Baptizer may be saying that he did not realize that cousin Jesus was the Promised One. However, he repeats the phrase in verse 33.

This is the first time Israel is mentioned. GJohn wants us to understand that Jesus’ ministry is to the direct descendants of Abraham. The rest of the world will hear the Gospel from the followers of Jesus.

32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” ESV

The Spirit—Holy Spirit—was well known to OT readers. Jews had no problem with the Spirit being from God and with God. They understood that the Spirit was the only way God could visit on earth. They knew the Spirit was involved with the creation of the universe. They knew that if they dared to look inside the Holy of Holies in the Temple, they would not see anything physical. It was only the Spirit of God that filled the room.

When the Bapitzer said he saw the Spirit ‘like a dove,’ again, that was a common image from the OT. It is especially connected with the doves that Noah sent out to find dry land. A white dove with an olive branch became the symbol of peace as well as a representation of the presence of God.

All four Gospels include the Spirit and the dove. Luke alone says that the dove appeared ‘in bodily form.’ For Jewish listeners, the distinction was nearly meaningless because they understood the power of the image of the Spirit coming onto a person to be the same as seeing an actual dove alight on the person.

Looking back to verse 29, we see that the Baptizer recognized Jesus before he baptized him. Then he says he did not know Jesus before he saw the dove.

Let me state the obvious; GJohn does not record the actual baptism of Jesus. We have nearly identical descriptions from the Synoptics and John had other objectives, namely, to emphasize that John was a witness. While the Synoptics record that God said Jesus was His son, only GJohn has the Baptizer saying, ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’

Matthew 3 on baptism of Jesus. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” NIV

Mark 1 on baptism of Jesus. At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” NIV

Luke 3 on baptism of Jesus. 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” NIV

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. ESV  

It was in verse 29, the first verse for today, that the Baptizer first called Jesus the Lamb of God. This time the Baptizer semes to be thinking out loud more than making a theological statement. I get the sense in this reading that he was sitting with his disciples, perhaps eating lunch. Even great prophets got to take rest breaks.

What is new is the response of two of the Baptizer’s disciples. They would have watched the baptism of Jesus the day before and had probably thought about him overnight. For what ever reason, they left the Baptizer and followed Jesus.

As we read this section, it seems the two did not have a clear reason for following Jesus. They were intrigued, but not necessarily with any intent to leave the Baptizer. Perhaps they just wanted to go back and tell their master what they found out.

Jesus, as we read so often, knew who they were and why they followed him, but allowed them to explain themselves. Now, think about the question they asked. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Really? What they really wanted to ask was, ‘Are you really the Lamb of God?’

We have no idea how long these two had been following the Baptizer. We also do not know what else the Baptizer said to his disciples about Jesus. I would guess Jesus was the talk around the campfire the night before.

I wanted to use the ESV for this whole segment not because it is the best translation, but because it seems to maintain the feel of the First Century a little better than some others. I especially wanted to include the ending of verse 39, for it was about the tenth hour. The concept of hours existed in ancient times, but minutes is a more modern invention. For Jesus and the gang, daylight was divided into 12 hours and night into 12 hours. They knew that the seasons messed with the length of the hours, but that did not matter, especially since the latitude at Jerusalem is equal to San Diego, California.

In their minds, the first hour started as the sun rose, in the sixth hour the sun was overhead, and twelfth hour ended as the sun set. The tenth hour would be roughly 4 PM for us.

Why is it important for us to know it was the tenth hour, you ask? How did the author of the Gospel of John know the time? There were only three people involved; we know Jesus was one and we will see very soon that Andrew was there; the unnamed disciple was the third. It should be no great leap of faith to guess that the unnamed disciple was the author of the Gospel. We will keep bumping into this little detail as we read the Gospel because John is never named, and yet, the author seems to know details that only an eyewitness would know, especially if the eyewitness was one of the four in the inner circle of disciples. But we only know those four from the other Gospels. GJohn does not name either John or his brother James.

40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). ESV

Now we have Andrew going to find his brother Cephas. We are left to wonder what happened to the other disciple with Andrew. Many, including me, believe that John was the unnamed and that he went with Andrew because they both had brothers manning their respective fishing boats. I believe that Andrew and John were the younger brothers and that they brought the older ones to Jesus.

Petros—from which we get Peter—is Greek meaning Rock. Cephas is Hebrew and Aramaic meaning Rock. So, the leader of the Apostles was named Rocky.

 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” ESV

Now we have 4 named disciples. GJohn only names one more about halfway through the Gospel, Thomas. Seven disciples go unnamed. OK, I am wrong. John names Judas 11 times, but only one of the two Judas disciples, not to mention Judas the brother of Jesus. Oh, and Nathanael is called Bartholomew in the Synoptics and Acts. You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

Moses is mentioned in GJohn seven times, this is the second (1:17). We will also see seven miracles and seven “I ams.” Remember that seven is one of the perfect numbers in Hebrew tradition.

To call Nathanael an Israelite identifies him with the older nation under King David, as opposed to the Judean or Jewish designation representing only one tribe. His presence under a fig tree harks back to Genesis 3:7, Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselvesNIV

When Jesus describes angels ascending and descending between Heaven and Jesus, Nathanael is being identified with Jacob and his dream in Genesis 28:11-17. Jacob was called Israel, but he was deceitful while Nathanael was without deceit.

When Jesus says, truly, truly, the Greek word is amen, repeated. GJohn alone has Jesus repeating the amen. In contrast, all four Gospels record Jesus calling himself the Son of Man, eleven times in GJohn, one short of the perfect 12.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence