“…the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.'” – John 2:3
We inevitably remember the Wedding Feast at Cana as the story of Jesus’ first miracle. John normally used the word “sign” to designate Jesus’ mighty acts, because he wished to emphasize the particular message clothed in the miracle. The water-to-wine miracle was Jesus’ first sign, but it was not the first display of his supernatural capacity in John’s gospel. He’d already displayed a miraculous knowledge of Nathaniel in chapter 1.
Jesus never indulged anything remotely like magic, and his miracles were never random or without a message. Every sign was like a little parable telling of his person, power, and purpose. The episode at the wedding also carries a lesson about prayer, because the emergency was met by a miracle summoned by a prayer. The prayer was a marvel of succinctness hidden in the form of an observation. It was prayed by Mary who summed the situation up in four words:
“…they have no wine.”
We hear only an observation; Jesus, however, hears a request. How else are we to understand his answer in John 2:4: “Woman what am I to do with you, My time has not yet come?”
We will be helped in our understanding of the Gospels if we remember that Jesus seldom responded to words alone; he responded rather to thoughts. Have you ever noticed how sometimes Jesus appears to utter a non sequitur—i.e., an answer apparently unrelated to the question or a comment apparently out of place in the context? We see this again later in chapter two when the authorities in Jerusalem challenge his right to cleanse the Temple. Jesus’ response to them was a little mysterious: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). But he was responding to their thoughts, as they were already thinking that he must die for opposing them.
We frequently use our words to throw a cloak over our true thoughts, but Jesus cuts through the artifice to address the real issue. Back to the wedding passage: if it were anyone else but the Lord, we would be tempted to think Mary was being treated with undue abruptness. After all, she was simply making an observation—or so it seemed on the surface. But the Lord is never interested in the surface. When he speaks to us, deep calls to deep. His response to Mary signals that what his mother may have wanted was some sort of disclosure of his full identity and office. The moment may have seemed propitious to her. But that the moment was premature is evident from his answer: “My time has not yet come.” When she speaks we can only hear an observation, but we can be sure that he heard a request. Characteristically, she responds to his apparent rebuff with faith: she alerts the servants to be ready to obey his every command.
While we only hear a “no” in Jesus’ answer, Mary hears a “yes.” This is obvious from her response. She actually gives the servants the best counsel ever given in the history of the world: “Whatever he says to you: DO IT!” (John 2:5).
Perhaps Jesus did not do everything her heart could wish for. But he did something. And he met the need of the hour.
Now here is a remarkable thing and a lesson for every believer. What is our response when we believe God is telling us “no?” What do we do when we suspect he may not give us exactly what we want? The lesson from Mary, as relayed through her instructions to the servants, was simply this: if we think God is saying “no” to us, we must be sure we are still saying say “yes” to him. If we are disappointed, it is all the more urgent to ensure that he is not disappointed.
Can we truthfully say that it is more important that we do what the Lord wants us to do, than he do for us what we want him to do? It’s no use pretending: our prayer life will only sustain one great burden. And while it’s certainly permitted to pray for God to act on our behalf, it’s a bad symptom if that one theme dominates our entire agenda.
Let us be confident that even if we can’t be sure he will give us what we want, he will do something. And that something will be a good thing and a better thing (though we may not see it) than what we asked. Let the burden of our prayer life be a determination to do what the Lord wants.
When we reach that place in prayer, we will witness the power of God. Indeed if we reach that place, we will have already witnessed it. The supply will be filled. The celebration will continue.
Ronnie Collier Stevens, a native of Atlanta Georgia, graduated from the University of Georgia and Dallas Seminary. He has pastored churches in Munich, Moscow, and Budapest. Ronnie and his wife Jane live in Moscow, Russia where they are full time Missionaries with Entrust.