In 1983 I witnessed a disaster of a wedding.  Angela and I were standing up with another couple that we had gone to Bible College with and it was like the pastor just didn’t care.  He dropped papers, fumbled through his readings and forgot names. It was horrendous.  And as a young pastor I determined that I would do my best for any wedding I performed.  After all this is to be one of the most important days in the life of a young couple.

And over the past 37 years I think I’ve done that, as far as depends on me.  But as I tell most couples that I am marrying, “Every Wedding has a Story.”  And some of them are funny, actually after the fact most of them are funny, but they aren’t necessarily seen as funny at the time, especially if you were the bride. 

I’m sure the story with this wedding was how they hadn’t ordered enough wine and half way through the festivities the proverbial well ran dry.  And that would have been an embarrassing wedding story, although a week later it probably wouldn’t have made a difference.  But what happened after they ran out of wine, that became a great wedding story. 

Most people are familiar with the story or at least the concept and wide brush strokes of “Water being turned into Wine.”   Very early in the ministry of Jesus, this is actually his first recorded miracle, Jesus and his apostles get invited to a wedding party.  Now we would think of this as the reception, but in that culture and day this was the wedding. 

There was probably no ceremony, the couple probably didn’t recite vows to one another and make promises they might or might not keep.  In that day and age it was decided, either by the couple or their parents that they would be married, and they announced it.  Bob and Sue are now married.  And then they celebrated, there was a big feast and apparently not enough wine.  And it was during this feast that we read these words: John 2:3 The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”

And then if we keep reading John 2:4 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

And I’m sure at that point he assumed the discussion had ended.  But just because he was thirty didn’t mean that Mary was any less his mother, so she does a mother thing.  She puts Jesus on the spot, she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever my son tells you to do.” 

Man, you gotta hate when someone does that to you.  My mind wonders how Mary knew that Jesus could do anything; think about it, this is his first miracle supposedly.  But maybe it was just his first public miracle; I mean there had to be a reason that Mary thought Jesus could do anything about the fact that there was no more wine.  I wonder if there were times at home she ran out of flour or sugar or wine and Jesus did “something” about it.

And so he did do something about it, if you know the story he had the servants get together a bunch of big stone jars and fill them with water and after they were filled he told them to dip some out and take it to the master of the feast.  And it was wine and not just any wine apparently it was really good wine. And there wasn’t just a little bit of it, we are told that each of those stone jars would have held somewhere between 20 and 30 gallons, so between the six of them there was at least 120 gallons of wine.  Jesus must have been operating on the premise of “Go big or go home.”

This is week three of our asking for a friend series and this week the question that we received online was: Why did Jesus turn the water to wine and not grape juice or sparkling cider?

And it’s a great story, it reveals a lot about Jesus character and his personality, that he was concerned about his mom’s feelings, that he was at a party and apparently enjoying himself that he would take the time to make sure that the couple special day wasn’t ruined.

But you know sometimes I wish that John had skipped this story, it would have saved me from answering a lot of questions through the years and it would have made it easier to justify the Wesleyan church’s stand on alcohol. 

Now at this point some of you have perked up and are thinking “The Wesleyan Church has a stand on alcohol?” 

Yep, we’re agin, and we’ve been agin it for 150 years. And we’re not just a little bit a’gin it we’re a lot a’gin it. 

It was part of our membership commitment for 150 years and it is still a part of our leadership commitment for Pastors and those who serve in elected leadership positions in the denomination, the district and the local church. 

Our leadership covenant states:  To demonstrate a positive social witness by abstaining from all forms of gambling and by ab-staining from using or trafficking (production, sale or purchase) in any substances destructive to their physical, mental and spiritual health, such as alcoholic beverages, tobacco and drugs (other than proper medical purposes of drugs)

Guess that says it all. 

Some of you are still sitting with your jaws in your laps so apparently you didn’t catch that session of “Discovering Cornerstone.”  Yep, we’re a’gin smokin’, drinkin’ and gambling.

Why do we abstain? To demonstrate a positive social witness.

But often times when people find out they say, “but Jesus drank wine and he turned the water into wine.”  Amazing how much bible knowledge people have when it’s in their interest. 

And then if they are really trying to make a point, they say “Well I guess Jesus couldn’t serve on your leadership team then.”

So right off, I will concede that it would appear that Jesus did indeed drink wine, and I will not even try to insult your intelligence by trying to convince you that what he turned the water into was not actually wine but was simply grape juice.  As one pastor said, “Jesus turned the water into wine and for the past two thousand years we’ve been trying to change it back.” 

So, because I do field those question periodically, I thought this would be a great time to answer the question; Why did Jesus turn the water to wine and not grape juice or sparkling cider?

It Was a Different Time 

Imagine living in a time when the water supplies were used for bathing and washing clothes and there was no effective way of treating waste water, that’s a fancy term for sewer.  And then add to that a lack of refrigeration and you can understand what Palestine was like 2000 years ago.  Matter of fact very similar to the conditions in many third world countries today.  Which would explain why we drink so much bottled water and Coke when I lead trips to Africa.

There was a pretty good chance that drinking the water would kill you or at least make you sick.  Pure water was a rare commodity and there weren’t a lot of other options, there was simply no reliable method to keep juices, whether cider or grape juice from going off after period of time and so the most practical solution was using the antiseptic qualities of alcohol.  Wine could be stored and carried for almost indefinite periods of time without the fear of it going off and it could be added to water to kill any harmful bacteria that would be present.

2000 years ago, they drank wine because there weren’t many if any options, today there are.  You can go to a tap and get a glass of clean safe water.  You can go to your fridge and get a glass of cold milk or juice.   If you need to take a beverage on a trip there are hundreds of safe options.

Two thousand years ago there weren’t other options for safe drinking.  Today there is.

It Was a different Place  Again we need to move ourselves from where we are today to where Jesus lived two thousand years ago.  The culture of wine was different.  As I said before it was an important part of everyday life simply because it was a safer alternative than water.  Because of that it was a part of daily life, it was drank with meals and was part of celebration.  Jesus was probably brought up drinking wine from the time he was a child. 

However within the culture of the day it was not something you did for recreation, it was not something you did to get drunk, as a matter of fact getting drunk was a social taboo, pretty much in line with how people feel about those who drink and drive today.  Drinking wasn’t a solo activity nor was it a team activity, they didn’t have taverns and it wasn’t about getting high or seeing how much you could drink. 

Our cultures view on drinking today could probably be summed up by writer Stephen King in his autobiography “On Writing” who wrote : “I found the idea of social drinking ludicrous – if you didn’t want to get drunk, why not just have a coke?”  And in a separate interview he said “I never understood social drinking, that always seemed to me like kissing your sister.  To this day I can’t imagine why anyone wants to be a social drinker.”

Maybe a little extreme, but still it is what it is.  Because when you get right down to it there is no difference between why you take a drink and why someone else smokes a joint or snorts a line of coke.  Because it relaxes you or makes you feel good.

In the scriptures there is no clear prohibition from drinking, but there is against drunkenness.  As a matter of fact, it’s not a just a little thing.  In Galatians 5:19-21  When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

That’s pretty harsh, drunkenness will keep you out of heaven.  And listen to 1 Corinthians 5:10-11  But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.  I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

And so, because I’m not exactly sure where that line would be for me, or whether when I got close to the line I would be able to keep on this side of it, I will not drink. It’s like Francis Scott Fitzgerald wrote “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”

Keith Drury is a retired professor at Indiana Wesleyan University and one of the Wesleyan’s churches great theologians and philosophers of today, in one article about alcohol he wrote: 3. Abstinence is a clear line.  OK, OK, I know the Bible doesn’t forbid alcohol. It condemns drunkenness. But drunkenness is a foggy thing. When does a social drinker get drunk? After one drink? Three? Six? A dozen? See? I can’t say for sure. Most Bible students agree that drunkenness is sin, but when does the drinker get drunk?  

So, I think I’ve come up with a solution: I call it the Sin-d-cator. And when you are drinking you can periodically check yourself and see what your blood level alcohol content is.  Perhaps the simplest way to know what the safe level is would be to stay in line with the Provincial limit for driving while impaired.  So here in Nova Scotia it would be .08. 

Culturally today wine specifically and alcohol in general is viewed very differently than it was in Jesus’ day.

It Was a different Brew 

Historically speaking the wine that Jesus drank 2000 years ago wasn’t a whole lot different than the wine that is around today.  Somewhere between 3 and 11% alcohol content, but we are told by those in the know that in that culture the wine was very seldom drank straight up, instead it was mixed with water, usually 2 to 3 parts water and 1-part wine.  

And there was nothing stronger than wine, when the bible speaks of strong drink it would have been unmixed wine.   Add to that that distillation was not discovered until about 1500 A.D. so much of what people drink today would have been completely foreign to Jesus and his friends.

To compare the wine that Jesus drank with what can be found in many homes today would be the equivalent of comparing the donkey Jesus rode to the car in your driveway.

Dr. John MacArthur says “…since anybody in biblical times who drank unmixed wine (9-11% alcohol) was definitely considered a barbarian, then we don’t even need to discuss whether a Christian should drink hard liquor–that is apparent!”

So, if you are going to use the “They drank wine in the Bible” as an excuse to drink than you should be willing to only drink what they drank in the bible.  And there are absolutely no biblical grounds for drinking hard liquor at all, none, zip, zero, nada.

And the reason I don’t drink is Just Because In my 38 years in the ministry I have stood at the coffin of a teenager killed by a drunk driver, I have sat across the desk from women abused by drunk husbands and have seen marriages dissolve because of  alcohol abuse. 

And I will not support an industry that destroys lives, wrecks marriages and kills people.  And more than a little bit is personal, I have drank and I come from a family that drinks and more than one of my family has a drinking problem. 

And I guess to a certain degree I feel like Civil War General Stonewall Jackson who wrote:  “I like liquor – its taste and its effects – and that is just the reason why I never drink it.”

And I don’t ever want to be someone’s example to drink, you might be able say that Denn drove you to drink, but you will never be able to say that you drink because Denn does.  

And that was an example that I never wanted to set for my kids.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome and told them, Romans 14:21  It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble.

And that was why the Wesleyan church adopted their stand on alcohol.  The church was reaching people who struggled with alcohol and the church didn’t want them to see other believers drinking and it being a stumbling block for them.  Instead they wanted Wesleyans to demonstrate a positive social witness.  And we have people in our church family at Cornerstone who struggle with booze, and I don’t want to be a stumbling block for them.

And I know some of you are sitting there with your arms crossed, maybe not on the outside but on the inside and you’re thinking, don’t throw stones fat boy, gluttony is a sin too.

Point taken, but I’ve never known anyone to hammer back a dozen big macs and then get into their car and run over a kid.  I’ve never met someone who polished off a big plate of nacho’s and went home and beat their wife or who missed work in the morning because they had too much to eat the night before. Or went to an all you could eat buffet and ended up in a stranger’s bed.

And I know that if there was no alcohol that the world would be missing some things; like white people wouldn’t be able to dance, Country music wouldn’t have any new material and YouTube wouldn’t be nearly as funny.  There are over 125 million videos on YouTube that are referenced by the word drunk.  

We would have to lay off half of our police force because I don’t think I would be out of line to say that at least 50% of the complaints that our police officers have to respond to would be alcohol related.  You would never enjoy the adventure of wondering what you said and did at the company Christmas party.

Can I stand here and tell you the Bible says not to drink?  Nope but here is what it does say Proverbs 20:1  Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise.

And we are told in Ephesians 5:18-19  Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,  singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.

And I know that Jesus drank wine.  And if you are going to follow his example, he also had a great prayer life, he studied the word of God, he fasted, and he tithed. 

Am I saying that you can’t drink?  That’s not what I do as your pastor, I challenge you on your behaviour and point you to the word of God.  And you might be saying “Denn I don’t agree with you on this point.”  Well don’t let that keep you from coming back, if the only people who came to Cornerstone were people who agreed with everything Denn said not even Angela would come.  There are times I’m not even sure I agree with everything I say. 

If you drink though I’d challenge you to ask yourself why you drink and what would be missing in your life if you gave it up. 

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