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Matthew Henry Commentary on John 2:1-11

From Matthew Henry's Commentary on John 2:1-11.

In the close of the foregoing chapter we had an account of the first disciples whom Jesus called, Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathanael. These were the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb, Rev. xiv. 4. Now, in this chapter, we have, I. The account of the first miracle which Jesus wrought-turning water into wine, at Cana of Galilee (ver. 1-11), and his appearing at Capernaum, ver. 12. II. The account of the first passover he kept at Jerusalem after he began his public ministry; his driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple (ver. 13-17); and the sign he gave to those who quarrelled with him for it (ver. 18-22), with an account of some almost believers, that followed him, thereupon, for some time (ver. 23-25), but he knew them too well to put any confidence in them.

Water Turned into Wine.

1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: 2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. 3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. 4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. 5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. 6 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. 7 Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. 9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, 10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. 11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

We have here the story of Christ's miraculous conversion of water into wine at a marriage in Cana of Galilee. There were some few so well disposed as to believe in Christ, and to follow him, when he did no miracle; yet it was not likely that many should be wrought upon till he had something wherewith to answer those that asked, What sign showest thou? He could have wrought miracles before, could have made them the common actions of his life and the common entertainments of his friends; but, miracles being designed for the sacred and solemn seals of his doctrine, he began not to work any till he began to preach his doctrine. Now observe,

I. The occasion of this miracle. Maimonides observes it to be to the honour of Moses that all the signs he did in the wilderness he did upon necessity; we needed food, he brought us manna, and so did Christ. Observe,

1. The time: the third day after he came into Galilee. The evangelist keeps a journal of occurrences, for no day passed without something extraordinary done or said. Our Master filled up his time better than his servants do, and never lay down at night complaining, as the Roman emperor did, that he had lost a day.

2. The place: it was at Cana in Galilee, in the tribe of Asher (Josh. xix. 28), of which, before, it was said that he shall yield royal dainties, Gen. xlix. 20. Christ began to work miracles in an obscure corner of the country, remote from Jerusalem, which was the public scene of action, to show that he sought not honour from men (ch. v. 41), but would put honour upon the lowly. His doctrine and miracles would not be so much opposed by the plain and honest Galileans as they would be by the proud and prejudiced rabbies, politicians, and grandees, at Jerusalem.

3. The occasion itself was a marriage; probably one or both of the parties were akin to our Lord Jesus. The mother of Jesus is said to be there, and not to be called, as Jesus and his disciples were, which intimates that she was there as one at home. Observe the honour which Christ hereby put upon the ordinance of marriage, that he graced the solemnity of it, not only with his presence, but with his first miracle; because it was instituted and blessed in innocency, because by it he would still seek a godly seed, because it resembles the mystical union between him and his church, and because he foresaw that in the papal kingdom, while the marriage ceremony would be unduly dignified and advanced into a sacrament, the married state would be unduly vilified, as inconsistent with any sacred function. There was a marriage—gamos, a marriage-feast, to grace the solemnity. Marriages were usually celebrated with festivals (Gen. xxix. 22; Judg. xiv. 10), in token of joy and friendly respect, and for the confirming of love.

4. Christ and his mother and disciples were principal guests at this entertainment. The mother of Jesus (that was her most honourable title) was there; no mention being made of Joseph, we conclude him dead before this. Jesus was called, and he came, accepted the invitation, and feasted with them, to teach us to be respectful to our relations, and sociable with them, though they be mean. Christ was to come in a way different from that of John Baptist, who came neither eating nor drinking, Matt. xi. 18, 19. It is the wisdom of the prudent to study how to improve conversation rather than how to decline it.

(1.) There was a marriage, and Jesus was called. Note, [1.] It is very desirable, when there is a marriage, to have Jesus Christ present at it; to have his spiritual gracious presence, to have the marriage owned and blessed by him: the marriage is then honourable indeed; and they that marry in the Lord (1 Cor. vii. 39) do not marry without him. [2.] They that would have Christ with them at their marriage must invite him by prayer; that is the messenger that must be sent to heaven for him; and he will come: Thou shalt call, and I will answer. And he will turn the water into wine.

(2.) The disciples also were invited, those five whom he had called ( ch. 1), for as yet he had no more; they were his family, and were invited with him. They had thrown themselves upon his care, and they soon found that, though he had no wealth, he had good friends. Note, [1.] Those that follow Christ shall feast with him, they shall fare as he fares, so he has bespoken for them (ch. xii. 26): Where I am, there shall my servant be also. [2.] Love to Christ is testified by a love to those that are his, for his sake; our goodness extendeth not to him, but to the saints. Calvin observes how generous the maker of the feast was, though he seems to have been but of small substance, to invite four or five strangers more than he thought of, because they were followers of Christ, which shows, saith he, that there is more of freedom, and liberality, and true friendship, in the conversation of some meaner persons than among many of higher rank.

II. The miracle itself. In which observe,

1. They wanted wine, v. 3. (1.) There was want at a feast; though much was provided, yet all was spent. While we are in this world we sometimes find ourselves in straits, even then when we think ourselves in the fulness of our sufficiency. If always spending, perhaps all is spent ere we are aware. (2.) There was want at a marriage feast. Note, They who, being married, are come to care for the things of the world must expect trouble in the flesh, and count upon disappointment. (3.) It should seem, Christ and his disciples were the occasion of this want, because there was more company than was expected when the provision was made; but they who straiten themselves for Christ shall not lose by him.

2. The mother of Jesus solicited him to assist her friends in this strait. We are told (v. 3-5) what passed between Christ and his mother upon this occasion.

(1.) She acquaints him with the difficulty they were in (v. 3): She saith unto him, They have no wine. Some think that she did not expect from him any miraculous supply (he having as yet wrought no miracle), but that she would have him make some decent excuse to the company, and make the best of it, to save the bridegroom's reputation, and keep him in countenance; or (as Calvin suggests) would have him make up the want of wine with some holy profitable discourse. But, most probably, she looked for a miracle; for she knew he was now appearing as the great prophet, like unto Moses, who so often seasonably supplied the wants of Israel; and, though this was his first public miracle, perhaps he had sometimes relieved her and her husband in their low estate. The bridegroom might have sent out for more wine, but she was for going to the fountain-head. Note, [1.] We ought to be concerned for the wants and straits of our friends, and not seek our own things only. [2.] In our own and our friends' straits it is our wisdom and duty to apply ourselves to Christ by prayer. [3.] In our addresses to Christ, we must not prescribe to him, but humbly spread our case before him, and then refer ourselves to him to do as he pleases.

(2.) He gave her a reprimand for it, for he saw more amiss in it than we do, else he had not treated it thus.—Here is,

[1.] The rebuke itself: Woman, what have I to do with thee? As many as Christ loves, he rebukes and chastens. He calls her woman, not mother. When we begin to be assuming, we should be reminded what we are, men and women, frail, foolish, and corrupt. The question, ti emoi kai soi, might be read, What is that to me and thee? What is it to us if they do want? But it is always as we render it, What have I to do with thee? as Judges xi. 12; 2 Sam. xvi. 10; Ezra iv. 3; Matt. viii. 29. It therefore bespeaks a resentment, yet not at all inconsistent with the reverence and subjection which he paid to his mother, according to the fifth commandment (Luke ii. 51); for there was a time when it was Levi's praise that he said to his father, I have not known him, Deut. xxxiii. 9. Now this was intended to be, First, A check to his mother for interposing in a matter which was the act of his Godhead, which had no dependence on her, and which she was not the mother of. Though, as man, he was David's Son and hers; yet, as God, he was David's Lord and hers, and he would have her know it. The greatest advancements must not make us forget ourselves and our place, nor the familiarity to which the covenant of grace admits us breed contempt, irreverence, or any kind or degree of presumption. Secondly, It was an instruction to others of his relations (many of whom were present here) that they must never expect him to have any regard to his kindred according to the flesh, in his working miracles, or that therein he should gratify them, who in this matter were no more to him than other people. In the things of God we must not know faces. Thirdly, It is a standing testimony against that idolatry which he foresaw his church would in after-ages sink into, in giving undue honours to the virgin Mary, a crime which the Roman catholics, as they call themselves, are notoriously guilty of, when they call her the queen of heaven, the salvation of the world, their mediatrix, their life and hope; not only depending upon her merit and intercession, but beseeching her to command her Son to do them good: Monstra te esse matrem—Show that thou art his mother. Jussu matris impera salvatori—Lay thy maternal commands on the Saviour. Does he not here expressly say, when a miracle was to be wrought, even in the days of his humiliation, and his mother did but tacitly hint an intercession, Woman, what have I to do with thee? This was plainly designed either to prevent or aggravate such gross idolatry, such horrid blasphemy. The Son of God is appointed our Advocate with the Father; but the mother of our Lord was never designed to be our advocate with the Son.

[2.] The reason of this rebuke: Mine hour is not yet come. For every thing Christ did, and that was done to him, he had his hour, the fixed time and the fittest time, which was punctually observed. First, "Mine hour for working miracles is not yet come." Yet afterwards he wrought this, before the hour, because he foresaw it would confirm the faith of his infant disciples (v. 11), which was the end of all his miracles: so that this was an earnest of the many miracles he would work when his hour was come. Secondly, "Mine hour of working miracles openly is not yet come; therefore do not talk of it thus publicly." Thirdly, "It not the hour of my exemption from thy authority yet come, now that I have begun to act as a prophet?" So Gregory Nyssen. Fourthly, "Mine hour for working this miracle is not yet come." His mother moved him to help them when the wine began to fail (so it may be read, v. 3), but his hour was not yet come till it was quite spent, and there was a total want; not only to prevent any suspicion of mixing some of the wine that was left with the water, but to teach us that man's extremity is God's opportunity to appear for the help and relief of his people. Then his hour is come when we are reduced to the utmost strait, and know not what to do. This encouraged those that waited for him to believe that though his hour was not yet come it would come. Note, The delays of mercy are not to be construed the denials of prayer. At the end it shall speak.

(3.) Notwithstanding this, she encouraged herself with expectations that he would help her friends in this strait, for she bade the servants observe his orders, v. 5. [1.] She took the reproof very submissively, and did not reply to it. It is best not to deserve reproof from Christ, but next best to be meek and quiet under it, and to count it a kindness, Ps. cxli. 5. [2.] She kept her hope in Christ's mercy, that he would yet grant her desire. When we come to God in Christ for any mercy, two things discourage us:—First, Sense of our own follies and infirmities "Surely such imperfect prayers as ours cannot speed." Secondly, Sense of our Lord's frowns and rebukes. Afflictions are continued, deliverances delayed, and God seems angry at our prayers. This was the case of the mother of our Lord here, and yet she encourages herself with hope that he will at length give in an answer of peace, to teach us to wrestle with God by faith and fervency in prayer, even when he seems in his providence to walk contrary to us. We must against hope believe in hope, Rom. iv. 18. [3.] She directed the servants to have an eye to him immediately, and not to make their applications to her, as it is probable they had done. She quits all pretensions to an influence upon him, or intercession with him; let their souls wait only on him, Ps. lxii. 5. [4.] She directed them punctually to observe his orders, without disputing, or asking questions. Being conscious to herself of a fault in prescribing to him, she cautions the servants to take heed of the same fault, and to attend both his time and his way for supply: "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it, though you may think it ever so improper. If he saith, Give the guests water, when they call for wine, do it. If he saith, Pour out from the bottoms of the vessels that are spent, do it. He can make a few drops of wine multiply to so many draughts." Note, Those that expect Christ's favours must with an implicit obedience observe his orders. The way of duty is the way to mercy; and Christ's methods must not be objected against.

(4.) Christ did at length miraculously supply them; for he is often better than his word, but never worse.

[1.] The miracle itself was turning water into wine; the substance of water acquiring a new form, and having all the accidents and qualities of wine. Such a transformation is a miracle; but the popish transubstantiation, the substance changed, the accidents remaining the same, is a monster. By this Christ showed himself to be the God of nature, who maketh the earth to bring forth wine, Ps. civ. 14, 15. The extracting of the blood of the grape every year from the moisture of the earth is no less a work of power, though, being according to the common law of nature, it is not such a work of wonder, as this. The beginning of Moses's miracles was turning water into blood (Exod. iv. 9; vii. 20), the beginning of Christ's miracles was turning water into wine; which intimates the difference between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ. The curse of the law turns water into blood, common comforts into bitterness and terror; the blessing of the gospel turns water into wine. Christ hereby showed that his errand into the world was to heighten and improve creature-comforts to all believers, and make them comforts indeed. Shiloh is said to wash his garments in wine (Gen. xlix. 11), the water for washing being turned into wine. And the gospel call is, Come ye to the waters, and buy wine, Isa. lv. 1.

[2.] The circumstances of it magnified it and freed it from all suspicion of cheat or collusion; for,

First, It was done in water-pots (v. 6): There were set there six water-pots of stone. Observe, 1. For what use these water-pots were intended: for the legal purifications from ceremonial pollutions enjoined by the law of God, and many more by the tradition of the elders. The Jews eat not, except they wash often (Mark vii. 3), and they used much water in their washing, for which reason here were six large water-pots provided. It was a saying among them, Qui multâ utitur aquâ in lavando, multas consequetur in hoc mundo divitias—He who uses much water in washing will gain much wealth in this world. 2. To what use Christ put them, quite different from what they were intended for; to be the receptacles of the miraculous wine. Thus Christ came to bring in the grace of the gospel, which is as wine, that cheereth God and man (Judg. ix. 13), instead of the shadows of the law, which were as water, weak and beggarly elements. These were water-pots, that had never been used to have wine in them; and of stone, which is not apt to retain the scent of former liquors, if ever they had had wine in them. They contained two or three firkins apiece; two or three measures, baths, or ephahs; the quantity is uncertain, but very considerable. We may be sure that it was not intended to be all drank at this feast, but for a further kindness to the new-married couple, as the multiplied oil was to the poor widow, out of which she might pay her debt, and live of the rest, 2 Kings iv. 7. Christ gives like himself, gives abundantly, according to his riches in glory. It is the penman's language to say, They contained two or three firkins, for the Holy Spirit could have ascertained just how much; thus (as ch. vi. 19) teaching us to speak cautiously, and not confidently, of those things of which we have not good assurance.

Secondly, The water-pots were filled up to the brim by the servants at Christ's word, v. 7. As Moses, the servant of the Lord, when God bade him, went to the rock, to draw water; so these servants, when Christ bade them, went to the water, to fetch wine. Note, Since no difficulties can be opposed to the arm of God's power, no improbabilities are to be objected against the word of his command.

Thirdly, The miracle was wrought suddenly, and in such a manner as greatly magnified it.

a. As soon as they had filled the water-pots, presently he said, Draw out now (v. 8), and it was done, (a.) Without any ceremony, in the eye of the spectators. One would have thought, as Naaman, he should have come out, and stood, and called on the name of God, 2 Kings v. 11. No, he sits still in his place, says not a word, but wills the thing, and so works it. Note, Christ does great things and marvellous without noise, works manifest changes in a hidden way. Sometimes Christ, in working miracles, used words and signs, but it was for their sakes that stood by, ch. xi. 42. (b.) Without any hesitation or uncertainty in his own breast. He did not say, Draw out now, and let me taste it, questioning whether the thing were done as he willed it or no; but with the greatest assurance imaginable, though it was his first miracle, he recommends it to the master of the feast first. As he knew what he would do, so he knew what he could do, and made no essay in his work; but all was good, very good, even in the beginning.

b. Our Lord Jesus directed the servants, (a.) To draw it out; not to let it alone in the vessel, to be admired, but to draw it out, to be drank. Note, [a.] Christ's works are all for use; he gives no man a talent to be buried, but to be traded with. Has he turned thy water into wine, given thee knowledge and grace? It is to profit withal; and therefore draw out now. [b.] Those that would know Christ must make trial of him, must attend upon him in the use of ordinary means, and then may expect extraordinary influence. That which is laid up for all that fear God is wrought for those that trust in him (Ps. xxxi. 19), that by the exercise of faith draw out what is laid up. (b.) To present it to the governor of the feast. Some think that this governor of the feast was only the chief guest, that sat at the upper end of the table; but, if so, surely our Lord Jesus should have had that place, for he was, upon all accounts, the principal guest; but it seems another had the uppermost room, probably one that loved it (Matt. xxiii. 6), and chose it, Luke xiv. 7. And Christ, according to his own rule, sat down in the lowest room; but, though he was not treated as the Master of the feast, he kindly approved himself a friend to the feast, and, if not its founder, yet its best benefactor. Others think that this governor was the inspector and monitor of the feast: the same with Plutarch's symposiarcha, whose office it was to see that each had enough, and none did exceed, and that there were no indecencies or disorders. Note, Feasts have need of governors, because too many, when they are at feasts, have not the government of themselves. Some think that this governor was the chaplain, some priest or Levite that craved a blessing and gave thanks, and Christ would have the cup brought to him, that he might bless it, and bless God for it; for the extraordinary tokens of Christ's presence and power were not to supersede, or jostle out, the ordinary rules and methods of piety and devotion.

Fourthly, The wine which was thus miraculously provided was of the best and richest kind, which was acknowledged by the governor of the feast; and that it was really so, and not his fancy, is certain, because he knew not whence it was, v. 9, 10. 1. It was certain that this was wine. The governor knew this when he drank it, though he knew not whence it was; the servants knew whence it was, but had not yet tasted it. If the taster had seen the drawing of it, or the drawers had had the tasting of it, something might have been imputed to fancy; but now no room is left for suspicion. 2. That it was the best wine. Note, Christ's works commend themselves even to those that know not their author. The products of miracles were always the best in their kind. This wine had a stronger body, and better flavour, than ordinary. This the governor of the feast takes notice of to the bridegroom, with an air of pleasantness, as uncommon. (1.) The common method was otherwise. Good wine is brought out to the best advantage at the beginning of a feast, when the guests have their heads clear and their appetites fresh, and can relish it, and will commend it; but when they have well drank, when their heads are confused, and their appetites palled, good wine is but thrown away upon them, worse will serve then. See the vanity of all the pleasures of sense; they soon surfeit, but never satisfy; the longer they are enjoyed, the less pleasant they grow. (2.) This bridegroom obliged his friends with a reserve of the best wine for the grace-cup: Thou hast kept the good wine until now; not knowing to whom they were indebted for this good wine, he returns the thanks of the table to the bridegroom. She did not know that I gave her corn and wine, Hos. ii. 8. Now, [1.] Christ, in providing thus plentifully for the guests, though he hereby allows a sober cheerful use of wine, especially in times of rejoicing (Neh. viii. 10), yet he does not invalidate his own caution, nor invade it, in the least, which is, that our hearts be not at any time, no not at a marriage feast, overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, Luke xxi. 34. When Christ provided so much good wine for them that had well drunk, he intended to try their sobriety, and to teach them how to abound, as well as how to want. Temperance per force is a thankless virtue; but if divine providence gives us abundance of the delights of sense, and divine grace enables us to use them moderately, this is self-denial that is praiseworthy. He also intended that some should be left for the confirmation of the truth of the miracle to the faith of others. And we have reason to think that the guests at this table were so well taught, or at least were now so well awed by the presence of Christ, that none of them abused this wine to excess. Theses two considerations, drawn from this story, may be sufficient at any time to fortify us against temptations to intemperance: First, That our meat and drink are the gifts of God's bounty to us, and we owe our liberty to use them, and our comfort in the use of them, to the mediation of Christ; it is therefore ungrateful and impious to abuse them. Secondly, That, wherever we are, Christ has his eye upon us; we should eat bread before God (Exod. xviii. 12), and then we should not feed ourselves without fear. [2.] He has given us a specimen of the method he takes in dealing with those that deal with him, which is, to reserve the best for the last, and therefore they must deal upon trust. The recompence of their services and sufferings is reserved for the other world; it is a glory to be revealed. The pleasures of sin give their colour in the cup, but at the last bite; but the pleasures of religion will be pleasures for evermore.

III. In the conclusion of this story (v. 11) we are told,

1. That this was the beginning of miracles which Jesus did. Many miracles had been wrought concerning him at his birth and baptism, and he himself was the greatest miracle of all; but this was the first that was wrought by him. He could have wrought miracles when he disputed with the doctors, but his hour was not come. He had power, but there was a time of the hiding of his power.

2. That herein he manifested his glory; hereby he proved himself to be the Son of God, and his glory to be that of the only-begotten of the Father. He also discovered the nature and end of his office; the power of a God, and the grace of a Saviour, appearing in all his miracles, and particularly in this, manifested the glory of the long-expected Messiah.

3. That his disciples believed on him. Those whom he had called (ch. i.), who had seen no miracle, and yet followed him, now saw this, shared in it, and had their faith strengthened by it. Note,

(1.) Even the faith that is true is at first but weak. The strongest men were once babes, so were the strongest Christians.

(2.) The manifesting of the glory of Christ is the great confirmation of the faith of Christians.

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