Editor's note: This article was originally published in January 2018.
On first read, Jesus’s first recorded miracle may seem a bit trivial. At a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, the Lord turned dirty water into festive wine. In comparison to His later miracles that were deeply moving—cleansing leprosy, healing the blind, raising a young woman from death—this miracle, which seemingly achieved nothing more than to awe a few servants and further enliven a party, seems almost beneath Him.
Yet there He is, granting His mother’s appeal to divinely provide wine at a party. Of all the miracles Jesus could have done, why did He make this inconsequential request the first public display of His power? Why not do something, frankly, more meaningful? However, the more I ponder the miracle of water to wine, the more I see it as perhaps the most fitting of the “beginning of miracles” (John 2:11) from which Jesus could have taught us the ultimate purpose of His life, mission, and divine power.
It was customary in Jewish tradition for a person to wash his or her hands before eating (see Mark 7:3; Luke 11:37–38), and that if he or she were deemed “unclean” by the law of Moses because of bleeding, leprosy, or disease, anything touched without clean hands was also considered unclean: “And whomsoever he toucheth that hath the issue [of Mosaic uncleanliness], and hath not rinsed his hands in water . . . be unclean” (Leviticus 15:11).
Thus, observant Jews would ceremonially wash their hands before and after most activities, including before eating at a party or a wedding. The six large water pots that, presumably, sat at the door of the wedding at Cana were there for the attendees to wash their hands “after the manner of the purifying of the Jews” (John 2:6)—so they would be both physically and ritually clean. Needless to say, although the pots held a lot of water—two or three firkins apiece according to John (about 100 to 150 gallons total)—after dozens of ceremonial hand washings, those weren’t vessels from which you would want to take a long drink, let alone pour the party wine.
Yet Jesus chose those murky, filthy, bacteria-laced water pots for this miracle, and asked the servants to fill them to the brim. Using His divine power, He turned water from those unclean vessels into the finest, best wine of the night (see John 2:10). And therein lies the heavenly lesson: Jesus used the miracle of turning water into wine to send the profound message that He had the power to change the very nature of things—to transform not just the state of liquids, but the state of lives.
“Don’t you see?” He could have said to the amazed servants afterward, “I can take dirty things and make them clean. I can take everyday elements and make them exceptional. I can take things into my hands and change them. And if you come unto me, I can do the same for you. I can take you and transform you from a natural person into a heavenly saint. That’s why I am here. That’s what I have power to do.” Now, tell me if that is not a great first miracle after all.
We know Christ's Atonement can save us from death and sin, but we may not always remember that we can draw on His Atonement for help in other ways. In Christ in Every Hour, gospel educator Anthony Sweat explores six of Christ's divine powers, explaining what they mean, why they're relevant, and what they can do for us as we live life each day. Discover more about Christ's power to cleanse, heal, restore, identify with, strengthen, and transform us, and learn how to draw upon the Lord's grace and power in every hour of your life. Which power of Christ's Atonement do you need today? Or in this very hour?