Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Julius, 1794-1872

The Miracle of Water into Wine

To begin our journey into the miracles of Jesus, let's look at the difference (if there is one) between a miracle and general natural phenomena. Ever since our species has been able to wonder and ponder the cosmos, we have asked a number of important questions about the nature of things, mostly based on what, how and why. Aristotle had exactly four questions he asked when pondering the phenomena of nature. They have been called Aristotle's Four Causes.

Aristotle believed that in order to understand the way the universe works, we must examine four kinds of causes: the material, formal, efficient and the final cause. Science still looks at the material and the efficient causes. What is it made of (material) and how does it work (efficient). Sadly, we've dropped the formal and final causes from our sciences, because those causes imply design (formal) and purpose (final), both of which ultimately imply a creator.

The Miracles of Jesus are also phenomena as well. While in a sense the miracles have a supernatural cause, they should be able to be understood using Aristotle's Four Causes. Some may argue that we don't need to understand Jesus' miracles. They are what they are. And I would agree that somethings just can't be known. However, the miracles that were recorded tell us a story. There is a story in each of them that we need to hear. So, let's take the first miracle of Jesus as recorded by John in his gospel when Jesus changed water into wine.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2: 1-11

Water into Wine
Material: Water
Formal: Best wine
Efficient: obedience
Final: Revealing the glory of the Jesus; disciple's faith
Aristotle's Four Causes

Using Aristotle's four causes let's examine this miracle. First, we can quickly note the material cause which is the water which was poured into six large stone jars.

Next, we can ask what the formal cause is. What is the form into which the water was changed? The formal cause was wine, not just wine, but as we learn from John, it was the best wine. The master of the banquet commented, "But you have saved the best till now." I find the formal cause most interesting because of the implication of design. The idea of the "best wine" pre-existed the miracle. Mary and Jesus had the form of wine as an idea. There was literally a force that drew, attracted, compelled, and changed the water into the form of wine. There was a gravity behind the idea of wine. That force that caused the transformation is what Aristotle called the efficient cause. Unlike natural phenomena, where efficient cause is built into the laws of nature, a miracle's efficient cause emerges from beyond the natural laws. The cause is supernatural. Jesus altered reality and the water became wine. Exactly how that happened is not known, but we do have some clues to the supernatural laws that govern miracles.

The efficient cause is where the science-type gets caught up with Jesus' miracles. The scientist will say that there is nothing supernatural and ask for a natural process in which water could instantly turn into wine. Otherwise, they will attribute the miracle to a sleight of hand, mythology or chance. But the efficient cause of a true miracle is not any of these. Jesus was the efficient cause. He changed the water into wine. However, we mustn't leave it there. There's more to it. There are supernatural laws. Let's look at the role the servants played. Their obedience could be considered a supernatural law to the efficient cause. Mary told the servants to "do whatever he tells you." She taught the servants that obedience is critical. Miracles are all about creation's obedience to God's authority. In fact, natural processes are also about obedience to the natural laws. If water didn't obey gravity, we'd be flooded out by the oceans. The water obeyed Jesus and became wine.

I must add that Jesus obeyed his mother as well. It certainly doesn't sound like he was ready to start his ministry, does it? "Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come." I expect that Jesus was not indifferent to his mother's request, but that he was humbly reluctant. We know that the character of God is to give good gifts to his children. It is his will that we are given "good gifts to those who ask him." Mary, his mother, asked for a good gift, and Jesus obeyed his mother. The servants obeyed Jesus. The water obeyed Jesus.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:9-11

Now I don't think obedience is the only supernatural law being played out here. We will find others as we examine other miracles closely. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that the key characteristics of the Christian are hope, faith and love. Are these required for miracles to occur? Interestingly, it seems that obedience is simply a response to faith and love. All of these laws seem inseparable and work together.

Lastly, when we examine the purpose of this particular miracle, what would Aristole call the final cause? We read that the miracle "was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him." So, was the miracle all about the belief of his disciples or God "revealing his glory"? Probably both. But also the entire miracle, so simple as it was, may ultimately have been about consecration of the world. His disciples belief was an important step to the redemption of the world. Consecration is all about making the unsacred, sacred. As we will see as we examine other miracles, Jesus takes the fallen creation and ugly human lives and turns them around for God's purposes. The miracles of Jesus are about consecration of the entire universe back to God. And with the servants at the wedding of Cana and with his mother Mary, it is our job to obey, believe in him, and to help Jesus consecrate his world.

Tags: commentary, miracles