The first known miracle of Jesus was in the community of Cana as recorded in John 2. According to verse 11, “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” So this was meant to be recognized as miraculous pointing to His messiahship– His glory— His power… helping His disciples to have greater “belief in” or “trust in” or “allegiance to” Him.
But why did Jesus have bottles filled with water? Presumably, power that can transform water into wine almost instantly would not be much different from the power to transform air or “nothing” into wine. Of course, if one estimates that wine as a liquid is about 1000 times more dense than a gas at standard temperature and pressure, one might assume that the transforming water to wine is only about 0.1% as impossible as transforming air to wine. But as soon as one turn signs into a math game of levels of impossibility, we have missed the point of the story.
Here are some things to ponder.
1. Having the servants put water in the jars helped His disciples recognize the miracle. After all, that seems to be the point of the story based on verse 11. The action was, in part at least, as a sign to His disciples. Putting water into the bottle probably would convince neither the bridegroom nor the servants since they almost certainly already knew that there was no wine in them. It wasn’t a sign for the guests of the feast since it seems as if they were kept in the dark about what was going on, to maintain, and increase, the honor of the host. However, the disciples needed the sign and by having the jars filled with water (presumably in the presence of the disciples) they would understand something they did not know before.
This is, of itself, inadequate. Jesus could have shown to the disciples that the jars were empty, and then transformed this emptiness into wine. So lets think more.
2. Miracles in the Bible almost always have a human element to them. God usually, does miracles tied to the activity of a person or persons. Often that human activity is seemingly superfluous… like building a big big boat for the deluge, or it could be striking a rock, or building a big altar and pouring jar after jar of water over it, or dunking seven times in a muddy river. Even the Creation, a miracle that seems to be beyond the possibility of human involvement has Adam’s involvement. Adam is called upon to name what God has created, and he gives up a rib for God to create Eve, the final act of creation in the story.
In the Cana story, Jesus did not do the miracle with no human involvement… and He did not simply fill the bottles Himself. He requested that some people participate in being part of the miracle.
3. To me, the most important thing here is that using the water demonstrates something that empty pots would not show. Starting with water instead of nothing shows that Jesus can do something better than create… He can transform. It is important that God can create (we owe our existence to that fact). But since we already exist… have already been created… it is a bit more relevant in the now the question whether we can be transformed. Can we be sanctified? Can we be resurrected? Can we be glorified?
As Christians we are to be like the jars described here in John Chapter 2. We are to be living human signs or miracles of God’s ability to transform. Additionally, we are to join God in this activity… utilizing “means” (as William Carey would say) to be part of God’s activity of transformation.