Turning water to wine was Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John.
According to 2:1-12, the wine ran out at a wedding. It would have been terribly embarrassing to the groom. Jesus quietly intervened. He instructed the servants to fill the ceremonial jars for purification to the brim.
When the servants brought the water-turned-wine to the master of the feast, he was amazed at the quality. He praised the groom for his lavish treatment of the guests.
But he didn’t know the fully story.
I’ll bet you don’t either.
When you understand the science behind what actually happened, you realize this was a bigger miracle than you might imagine.
Before I spoke on this text at my church, Dr. Jim Williams, sent me his helpful blog. Dr. Williams teaches at IU Medical School, and he explains the science behind this miracle. During my sermon, I read from his blog. Many people expressed how helped and encouraged they were from hearing his perspective. It strengthened their faith. It provided a new dimension to the miracle.
For those of you more scientifically inclined or those who are more skeptical, read carefully:
Well, to give the flavor and feel of good wine, an array of substances must have been in the wine-made-from-water. To begin with, wine has alcohol, sugars, and other organic molecules that make up several percent of its total composition. But the taste of wine has more to do with the sensation of what one smells, more than anything else, and the molecules that give wine its aroma and bouquet are relatively complex structures. Similarly, the ‘feel’ of wine in the mouth comes from other molecules, also relatively complex. And, while we are at it, even the color of wine is due to some very complex molecules.
Thus, in thinking about this miracle, in changing from water into wine, the liquid had to go from chemically simple to chemically complex. In order for the flavor, color, and even texture of the liquid to be sensed by the steward as ‘good wine’ there must have been present a substantial concentration of complex molecules in the new wine.
But the change is really even more dramatic than just complexity. I confess that I have always thought of this miracle as being one of rearranging the atoms of the water to get wine. That, admittedly, would be quite a miracle, but for me it still would involve to some extent the ‘conservation of matter’ law that was drilled into me in my chemistry classes.
But when I listed out the approximate composition of first-century wine, I discovered something that surprised me: Water, even rather dirty water, does not have the correct atoms to make wine. Those sugars, alcohols, aromatic compounds, and colors contain much more carbon and nitrogen than would be in water. In order for the water drawn by the servants to become a liquid recognized by the steward as ‘good wine,’ new atoms would have to be formed within the jars. That is, the miracle of water-to-wine must involve the creation of new carbon atoms, new nitrogen atoms, and a number of other elements (such as a rather large amount of potassium).
To drop away from the chemistry for a moment, let me say it this way: In changing the water into wine, Jesus did a miracle that was more than just a rearrangement of the stuff of the water into something else. It was the making of new stuff. The formation of new atoms is really just like the old lead-into-gold idea that the alchemists are said to have pursued. In modern science, this kind of transformation can be done, but only in giant particle accelerators or special systems like that. It is never something that can be pulled off in the chemistry lab. Atoms always stay the same in the lab. They can be rearranged into different molecules, but they never change into something else. Oxygen never becomes carbon. Hydrogen never becomes nitrogen. Such things cannot happen.
Do you see the implications for this ‘minor’ miracle? Jesus caused the water to be changed into wine, apparently mostly at the urging of his mother, and to keep the bridegroom from being embarrassed about the poor provision for the celebration. But the miracle was, in one sense, not very different from the initial creation itself. Creatio ex nihilo is the Latin phrase used to describe God’s creation of the universe: Creation out of nothing. Something from nothing. Matter and energy where previously there was nothing at all.
Jesus’ first miracle thus ranks with Genesis chapter 1, the creation of matter out of nothing. Water into wine. Creatio ex nihilo.
Dr. Williams helps us to see the true nature of the miracle in John 2. Creating wine from water was a powerful display of Jesus’ power.
The miracle didn’t just save a wedding from disaster. It was the first of many signs demonstrating that Jesus is the Creator-God.
Mark Vroegop is the Lead Pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis, and the author of a new book entitled Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament.