I have found the account of Jesus at the wedding in Cana to be very instructive in thinking about various subjects, and I offer the following thoughts as help to other believers.
You probably know the story already: There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited. During the wedding celebration, Mary came to Jesus and said, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus responded to his mother with a curiously formal tone, ‘Madam, what has that to do with me or you? My hour has not yet come.’
Mary then said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he says.’ (I imagine that she spoke this while rolling her eyes, but that is probably just my own emotions about what it must have been like living with a perfect human being.) Jesus told the servants to fill up some large water jars with water and they did. The total volume of water was something over a hundred gallons, and Jesus told them to draw some out and give it to the steward of the feast.
The steward, who likely was a friend of the groom who was directing the celebration, did not know where the new wine came from, but the servants who took it to him did know. Upon tasting the new wine, he called the bridegroom to the attention of all, and said, ‘Everybody serves the good wine first; and when the guests have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.’
To say it another way, the steward tasted the liquid given to him by the servants, and declared it to be ‘the good wine.’ Now I ask, What does that mean about the liquid that he tasted? What was it made of?
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.
May your faith in the Lord Jesus be strengthened by this thought. Amen.