Wine and Fish


Study 1. ‘Wine and Fish’

The eight signs in John’s Gospel

John records eight of these wondrous deeds performed by the Lord Jesus and they are all signs, not wonders or mighty works. He was concerned with the significance of those acts which underline the deity of Christ, His Godhead and His divine nature.

John 2. 11. ‘This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory’.

John 4. 54. ‘This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee’.

This enumeration indicates that we should go on numbering them and it also emphasizes their significance. We are informed that they are recorded and arranged in the form of an introversion, namely that the 1st corresponds with the 8th, the 2nd with the 7th, the 3rd with the sixth and the 4th with the 5th; so there are four pairs.

Primary signification, interpretation and application

Primarily, all these signs evidence the nation of Israel’s need, its condition of helplessness and death, and God’s ability to meet that need and restore it from its lost state. All other truths must be by way of application, not interpretation. All of these signs:
(i) come fromGod
(ii) point men toGod
(iii) lead people to faith inGod

In our first study we shall consider: The First changing water into wine, John 2. 1-11.
The Eighth the huge haul of fishes, John 21. 1-14.

In the first there was no wine and therefore no joy and in the last there was no food and therefore no sustenance. Human resources failed in both instances, but Messiah met all needs!

Water into wine, John 2. 1-11

Jesus and His disciples were included on the guest list for this wedding feast; it is always a sound plan to include Him on all our ‘occasions’ great or small; His presence enhances the event and brings blessing. Most importantly, His presence is vital, not only on the wedding day, but throughout life.

The wedding feast (‘reception’ in our terminology) would have taken place in the bridegroom’s home and would have lasted for anything up to a week. The bridegroom’s family would have been responsible for providing all refreshments and any breakdown in supplies would cast a slur on them – possibly involving them in a lawsuit! Wine was the normal beverage provided, though it would have been diluted with water, as intoxication would have been frowned upon.

On this occasion the family was facing embarrassment and disgrace, as the supply of wine became exhausted prematurely, Mary, Jesus’ mother, trying to be helpful and conveyed the information to Him, perhaps hinting that He could do something about it! The scriptures, while telling us that future generations would call her blessed, make it clear that Mary is not to be venerated. Jesus mildly rebuked, but did not insult her, as might appear from the English. He said, in effect, ‘Lady, your time of authority over me as my mother is over. It is not yet time for me to act’. She accepted His rebuke and told the servants to obey His instructions. This suggestion is valuable advice for anyone at any time, ‘Whatever he tells you, do it!’

Anyone seeing the stone water-pots at Cana today (not necessarily the same ones of course) would agree that they are huge! Authorities are not in total agreement regarding the measurement of a firkin, but a conservative estimate of the total quantity of fluid in the six pots would be a minimum of 120 gallons (or 546 litres). By the time the servants had taken the water to the ‘governor’ (i.e., today’s Master of Ceremonies), it had been transformed into the most excellent wine. The scenario was suddenly changed from one of disaster into one of triumph.

That first sign manifested the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and illustrated the signi-ficance of all eight signs!But what is its application for today?

Wine in Scripture often speaks of joy. Therefore, if there is no wine, there is no joy: an abundance of wine speaks of an abundance of joy. Some people have plenty of fun and frivolity in life, but it is only a passing phase of effervescent happiness. What happens when the music stops, the people have gone, the fizz has evaporated and everything is flat? Happiness depends on mood and circumstance.

Joy, on the other hand, is a truly Christian experience. The Lord Jesus Christ came into this world that we might have life in all its fullness, John 10. 10, and He indwells us. His purpose is that true disciples will experience His joy in them and that their joy will be full, John 15. 11. His presence transforms our lives, as is beautifully expressed by the hymnwriter, G. Wade Robinson,

Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green,
Something lives in every hue,
Christless eyes have never seen.

Birds with gladder songs o'erflow,
Flowers with deeper beauty shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His and He is mine.

We have no guarantee against difficulty, disease or death, but we have the glorious assurance that, when life’s journey on earth is ended, we shall be ‘absent from the body and to be present with the Lord’, ‘which is far better’, 2 Cor. 5. 8 KJV; Phil. 1. 23 KJV.

The huge haul of fish, John 21. 1-14

Here we have the record of the eighth sign – the crowning one, which is often overlooked! It is another example of emptiness and failure being transformed into fullness and triumph through the Lord Jesus. It again highlights His glory, the supremacy He has over His creation and His deity as the Son of God.

Following Jesus’ resurrection, seven of His disciples met on the shore of Lake Tiberias (read ‘Galilee’, it is the same place), including Peter who, in spite of his ‘fall’, still seemed to be acting as leader of the group. He proposed a fishing expedition, to which they all agreed. A popular view of this event suggests that it was spiritual back-sliding, returning to a former way of life before their commission to become fishers of men! I do not agree with that assessment. Peter and the others had obeyed the Lord’s instruction (through Mary Magdalene) to meet Him in Galilee. He wasn’t there when they arrived; possibly they had spent hours on the beach in the hot sun, maybe they hadn’t eaten for several hours so there may well have been physical necessity. In any case the Lord didn’t rebuke them for what they had done, but used the incident to teach them a final lesson before He returned to heaven.

However, Peter’s proposition to make good use of the waiting time, before they actually met the Lord, apparently fell flat on its face! They toiled all night and caught nothing! (It still happens to fishermen, so I am told!). Why is it that our best efforts often seem to achieve nothing? Why do the bags we use have holes in and we lose our income as soon as it has been acquired? See Hag. 1. 6.

What was the disciples’ reaction when the stranger on the shore (it was only afterwards that they realized who He was) instructed them to try again by casting their net on the right side of the boat? Whatever their thoughts, they obeyed His command – a salutary lesson for us, too.

What a turn around in their experience! From nothing by their own efforts to an overwhelming quantity with the Saviour’s help – 153 large fishes (please do not be tempted to surpass the ingenuity of past mathematicians in seeking the figure’s significance! Fishermen are just interested in statistics – size, type, quantity, quality, weight – including the one that got away!).

The disciples did not break their nets in hauling the catch ashore, but they did break their fast in style on the beach, consuming a breakfast ably cooked and served by the Master Himself!

What is the application of this sign for us today? Jesus is able to change nothing into an abundance. Human effort can never meet our deepest need – only Christ can meet both present and eternal needs, see also John 6. 35.

Now none but Christ can satisfy,
No other name for me;
There’s love, and life,
and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee.
J. McGrananhan

To be continued.

The most commonly used word to describe the mighty works that the Lord Jesus performed is miracles, but it is only one of the three words used in the New Testament. They all come together in Hebrews chapter 2 verse 4, ‘God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles’, see also Acts 2. 22. Each of the Greek words employed has its own particular significance:

  • dunamis – power, a mighty work (manifestation of power). It is used 38 times in the Gospels - 13 in Matthew, 10 in Mark, 15 in Luke, but not once in John.
  • teras – wonder(s), the effect produced on those who witnessed it. Strictly speaking, this is the only word that should be translated miracle. It is used only 3 times in the Gospels, once each in Matthew, Mark and John.
  • semeion – sign(s), the significance of the work (in itself), or the reason, object, design, and teaching intended to be conveyed by it. It is used 48 times in the Gospels – Matthew (13), Mark (7), Luke (11) and John (17). In some versions, including the AV, it is often mistranslated as miracle(s)! (The Companion Bible, S. Bagster and Sons, Appendix 176.)
  • There was purposeful, divine selection in the mighty works recorded by John in his Gospel, ‘These (signs) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so that by believing, you may have life in his name’, John 20. 30-31.

It is these signson which we shall focus our attention in these articles.


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