The Gospel according to John begins with allusions to the creation story at the beginning of the Bible: “In the beginning...” So when the Gospel reports that the first event through which Jesus revealed his glory took place “on the third day” (John 2:1), it is perhaps worth asking what happened on the third day of creation.
On day one God had created light and thereby time. On the second day, he had created the firmament to divide waters below and above, thus making space by differentiating what had been before just one unified matter.
On the third day God did, for the first time, two things. First, he let waters gather together so that dry land would appear, then he summoned earth to produce grain and fruit trees. I find this interesting for two reasons.
(1) For the first time God works with what already exists. On the first two days it was “Let there be...(light, a dome)” but now we hear “Let the waters...(be gathered)” and “let the earth...(put forth vegetation)”.
This is of course also what happens in the miracle at Cana. Jesus did not snip his fingers over a few empty jars to let wine materialise out of nothing. He first asked for those jars to be filled with water. And then he turns the water into wine.
God does sometimes have to create ex nihilo (out of nothing). But he LOVES to be creative with what is there. We see this in Jesus many times. He feeds thousands from five barley loaves and two fish – why, when he could have fed the multitude by creating food out of thin air (I mean from nothing)? Because he loves to be creative with what is there.
The glory of God is not simply his power. God’s glory is his love and his generosity. We see in this story that Christ came to bring life in all its fullness (wine, not just water) and we get a glimpse here not only of his creative power but his desire to get others involved in his work.
(2) The second thing that impressed itself upon me when I reflected “on the third day” in Genesis and in John’s Gospel is that the third day is the creation of grain and fruit which, among other things, with human co-operation will one day become bread and wine. Before the third day there was only water!
Psalm 104 speaks about how God provides grass for the cattle and crops for people to cultivate and “wine to gladden the human heart” (v15). How does God give wine? God gives the fruit, the sunshine, the water and human ability to cultivate the vine stock and to turn grapes into wine. God loves to co-operate with us.
Christ reveals his glory to make something new and beautiful and enriching out of the ordinary stuff of life.
Looking beyond the creation story, it is quite common in the Bible, and especially in the book of Genesis, for something new or exciting to happen on the third day:
· On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. (Gen. 22:4)
· On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. (Gen. 31:22)
· On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males (Gen. 34:25)
· [Having put his brothers in custody] on the third day Joseph said to them, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God: (Gen. 42:18)
The third day comes up in only one chapter in the second book of the Bible, namely in Exodus 19:10–17 which is the day on which the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai “in the sight of all the people” – surely a potent text to have in the back of one’s mind when reading about the revelation of glory in John 2.
The third day is truly a special day. It deservedly made it into our creeds.
Is there a message to “the third day”? Well, let me hazard a guess. The third day is not straight away, immediately. Not like the day of repentance which is always TODAY. “Today, when you hear his voice, harden not your hearts!”
The third day is not straight away but it is before the week is half way over and in this sense sooner rather than later. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of our need for endurance, For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay” (Heb. 10:37), alluding to Habakkuk’s vision.
If something is said to happen “on the third day” it does not happen straight away but neither does it happen in the distant future, say “the eight day” – the beginning of the new creation.
A “third day” attitude to the revelation of the glory of God in Christ may be one which is both content to wait (something may not happen immediately) and expectant in the knowledge that Jesus can sue the ordinary, even embarrassing circumstances, to reveal his glory in the middle of the week, as it were.