Sermon, October 25, 2020 | Grace Reformed Church
We return to John this morning, and are now getting to chapter 2. To set the stage a little bit here we should remind ourselves of what we learned in the first chapter, because the things that are here in the second and following chapters are not here by accident. Remember that John is not like the other gospels. The synoptic gospels all attempt to record history, try to get as much detail about Jesus’s life and ministry as they can. In Matthew we get lengthy discourses about various teachings that Jesus certainly shared on more than one occasion. There are compendiums of teaching, collections of parables that they share with each other, et cetera.
But John, we need to keep in mind that John assumes his readers have all of that information. His mission in writing this gospel is not just to add a few more stories, or share the same ones over again. No, his mission, as he states at the end of the book, John 20:30-31:
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
His mission, remember, is to convince you, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the Son of God. Everything he records in this gospel is meant to support that thesis. And we saw a lot of that already in chapter 1. John began his gospel with a prologue that called Jesus the Word, and Light, and said in no uncertain terms that Jesus was God and created everything, and was made man. But the prologue wasn’t proof that Jesus was God, it was just stating emphatically that he was. So at that point, we still have to take John’s word for it.
And then in the rest of the first chapter, as John the Baptist and the first disciples bear witness to Jesus, they also call him the Christ. So there is some evidence to support this thesis that Jesus is God—the witness of men. But that’s not the main thing. That’s not the primary evidence that supports the thesis. The evidence that we’re waiting for is what John brings us here. Back to that passage from chapter 20, John says “Now Jesus did many other (what?) signs.” Jesus performed signs in the presence of his disciples, in the presence of people. And John says that these many other signs are not written in this book, but these (signs) are written that you may believe. It is the signs that point to Jesus as the Christ. And in the book of John, here in chapter 2, we come to the first sign John records. John actually records, as we go through the book, he records exactly seven signs that prove Jesus is the Christ. And intermingled with the signs Jesus declares himself to be, and there are more witnesses to him as the Messiah, but it is the signs that John says primarily prove him to be the Messiah.
So let’s read about that first sign, a sign that is not recorded in the other gospels, reading from John chapter 2, the first 12 verses. Listen, this is God’s Holy Word.
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.
The Word of the Lord.
Along with all of the commentaries, I read several sermons on this passage before writing my own, and that’s good to do, because pastors make various observations. One of my favorite that came up was, boy, how would you feel if someone wrote a story about your wedding, dedicated a decent amount of text to it, described parts of it in detail, and the author failed to mention who got married? That is a bit curious, a big story, a news report about a wedding, and we don’t know who it’s for!
Well, of course we know why that is, because this isn’t a story about a wedding, is it? It’s a story about the Messiah, and the actual people who got married are of little consequence to it, strange as that is. It’s a story about Jesus. John does a good job, as we’ve already seen in chapter 1, of keeping his entire gospel remarkably Christ-focused, and we see that again here.
Like I said before we read the passage, this is a sign, a sign that points to the reality of Jesus being the actual Messiah, a miracle that he performs, a sign that he is who he says he is. And it is a curious story, is it not? A little surprising—of all of the ways that Christ could possibly have chosen to deliver his first miracle, this is the one he chooses. But as we look more closely, as is usually the case, the sign is deeper and more symbolic than we realize, and it is completely appropriate and meaningful. Let’s walk through the story here to get a little more context, to see what’s really going on here.
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.
Simple enough, but this simple sentence lets us know a few things. First, that this Cana place was three days’ journey from where the previous events took place, we are now seven days, then from the day John the Baptist declared “Behold, the Lamb of God!” And there is dispute over where this actually was, because there are actually several places in the area that were called “Cana,” and there is dispute over which one it was, and it’s even possible that it was a Cana we don’t even know about.
The other thing we know right away, is that this is likely a very close relative of Jesus’s who is getting married (even though we don’t know who), because not only is Jesus invited, but also his five disciples along with him. And what’s more, Mary, Jesus’s mother is there. Not only is she there, when there is a problem, it seems that she is the person who has to take care of it. She is the one commanding the servants. If she were merely a guest, she wouldn’t feel the same responsibility. This lends credence to the idea that it was a close relative, because Mary is involved in the planning, in the care of the wedding feast. And at this feast of a close relative, we have a problem. Mary comes to Jesus and tells him that the wine has run out. And how does Jesus respond to that news? I find it rather curious, don’t you?
3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Words are important here, and you may notice that John does not name Mary. He refers to her all three times here not as “Mary,” but as the “mother of Jesus.” Yet another example of John keeping this story totally Jesus-focused.
But we need to understand how big a problem this is. Wedding feasts could go on for as long as a week, and if the wine ran out, that was a big deal. We don’t have the same context today, if the wine ran out at a wedding reception, we might think it odd, but we’d probably shrug our shoulders and move on. But in this culture, in this time, it would have brought shame on the couple. This lack of hospitality would have brought shame to the entire family, and Jesus and Mary were part of that family. Mary’s coming to Jesus is not matter-of-fact, it’s a bit desperate.
And Jesus says to her, “Woman.” Now, that sounds a little harsh to our ears, but trust me it is not in context a harsh or insulting designation. In fact, it is the same title that Jesus gives to Mary when he is hanging on the cross, recorded later in this book, when he hands his mother to John for protection and safe-keeping. But words are important, and he does say “woman,” and not “mother,” doesn’t he? And the next thing he says is pretty dismissive, too, “what is this to me? What does this have to do with me?” If we’re thinking in human terms, we think, “a lot, Jesus! Your entire family is about to be shamed because of this problem, your mother, and you by association. You should be jumping to help at this problem!”
But in these two things, calling his mother “woman” and implying that this problem is not his, is he not already beginning to show his ascendency? This is the beginning of his ministry, and he is declaring in a way that his concerns are far beyond his immediate family. And, though he continues to owe her respect and honor, his mother, in an ultimate sense, is like any other woman in the world, is on that same level, in that same position, of a sinner in need of grace. And to emphasize that even further, he immediately reminds her and us that we always need to be thinking bigger by saying that “his hour is not yet come.”
There is debate about what hour is speaking of specifically there, whether he is talking about his ultimate sacrifice on the cross, that hour, or the hour of his performing miracles. Either way, it is a mild rebuke to his mother, a mild rebuke that she must not presume on him anything, that his timing is perfect, and he will do what he wills when he wills it.
But still, even after this exchange, Mary is convinced that this family crisis will be averted by Jesus himself, that he will act. And she responds to the rebuke with humility, no longer trying to get Jesus to do something on her schedule. She tells the servants, don’t do what I say, do whatever he says. There’s a lesson in there for us, isn’t there!
And then we have the first miracle of Jesus recorded in the book of John. The first sign that points to the Messiah. And it is a miracle!
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew),
This has caused some controversy at times for several reasons. There are some, who don’t want to believe in any miracles, who want to explain them away in rational terms because they reject the supernatural, but all of their arguments are silly. It’s been suggested that there were dregs of wine in the bottom of these pots, and when there was water put in, it mixed with the dregs and the water then tasted like wine. That is of course preposterous, because there is no way that dregs could flavor thirty gallons of water to the point that they would be mistaken for wine, much less good wine. Ridiculous. Another suggestion was that everyone at the party was sarcastically joking about the water was like wine, and it was all a big joke: “ha, ha, look at this ‘wine’ we’re drinking!” Again, ridiculous. No, this really was water turned to wine.
And then there’s the controversy from people who cannot imagine that Jesus would produce an alcoholic drink, because those are, by nature, evil. And because of that, sure, it was a miracle, but it must have just been grape juice that he made. Again, ridiculous. We have to take the bible at its word and believe that this was a miraculous doing by Jesus, and that what he actually made was wine, fully fermented juice. Wine was a very common drink, enjoyed daily by most people at the time, we have no reason to think that the word “wine” means anything other than what we think of today as wine.
But those two points are ones that we need not belabor here, because they are easy to dispense with and distract us from what is really going on here, and what it means to us. The water becoming wine shows us important things about Jesus. Remember, John records this for us as a sign pointing to the Messiah, and point it does, the whole story. And John records in verse 11 that it was effective to the people there. He says,
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
This purpose of this miracle was not to save Jesus’s family from public shame because of a lack of hospitality. It was not to do some sort of party trick. It was, as God tells us through John, it was to manifest his glory. And what is the result of that? Belief. An increase in faith in his disciples, and in us. So it’s not helpful for us to try and figure out ways that this could have been something else, or that it was a trick, or that it wasn’t really wine for this and that reason. No, this sign is here for us to increase our faith. And it should.
So here, three applications that we can draw out of this story. First, that God works as he wills, not as we will. The wisdom of men is folly, is it not? We see that in this story, and touched on it already. Mary came to Jesus presuming that his motives and his wills were aligned with her own. She wanted to 1) save the family from shame and 2) wanted it done now. And Jesus responded 1) there are bigger things at play here, cosmic things, and 2) God’s timing is perfect, wait for it.
I think this is a great lesson for us, because we’re all a little like Mary here. We get so easily bogged down in the minutiae of our lives that we forget the bigger picture. I feel like I say this a lot, but it is something we clearly need to hear a lot, especially in America. God blessed this country, our culture with an unbelievable optimism, despite how we might feel less optimistic on a daily basis. It is an optimism that drives us to think, to operate as if nothing is impossible. It’s well summarized in that famous quote by Bobby Kennedy, right? “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.”
That’s our culture, more than any other in the history of the world, that optimism. But, as we lowly sinners are always inclined to do, we so often let that optimism spill over into arrogance. We want God to bless us now, with what we think will be a blessing for us. But that wisdom is folly.
There’s that silly phrase bandied about in Christian circles, “let go and let God.” And it does have theological problems, because God is going to do what he wills whether you let go or not, right? But if we are thinking about it correctly, there is some truth about our attitude in that. We need to let go of our wisdom and humble ourselves before God’s wisdom. So in a way we do need to let go. Let go of ourselves and accept the will of God as he wills it.
We stumble over our will all the time. Is this how we would have manifested our glory? No way! Jesus chooses to do his first public miracle in the middle of Jerusalem for all to see! Nope. He does it at a family wedding in a small town that we’re not even sure we can find. Not in a pure city like Jerusalem, but in a bit of a backwater, full of Jews and gentiles. It is on this point that we see the people in the gospels continually confounded – that Jesus is not who they expected and did not operate like they expected. And we are no different today.
So we need to reorient our minds, pray that God certainly does as we pray not my will, but yours be done. We have to believe that. Because you know what? It’s not a sad thing, a bad thing. We need to celebrate God’s will. We get to enjoy, revel in God working as he wills, not as we will. That’s great news.
Second, we see in this story that the gifts of God are great gifts, they are abundant gifts. Jesus didn’t stop at making the water into wine, but the best wine! God’s gifts are excellent. And even one glass would have been a miracle, but he made over a hundred gallons! God’s gifts are abundant. Just as God does not stop in his forever, daily blessings as he upholds the entire creation all around us, so he would not withhold his only Son as a sacrifice for us on the cross. Let that sink in. The magnitude of that gift.
I had originally planned a more plain title for this sermon, something about a wedding, but earlier this week I changed it to what it is now: “I’ve been doing this for a long time.” Maybe you were puzzled by that and thought I was talking about preaching for a long time or something. No, it’s not that. In doing this miracle, Jesus reminded us of another truth about him, about his glory, and that is how he shows it through this creation. And how his upholding of the creation is a great gift.
Because you see, this isn’t the first time Jesus turned water into wine. He’d already been doing it for thousands of years, as he sends rain on the earth. Water that soaks into the ground and is drawn up by the roots of the vine. And then through the constant miracle of photosynthesis gives life to that vine that turns that water into grapes. Grapes that people smash and then leave, where they transform from juice into wine. And before we give the winemakers too much credit, if those grapes weren’t picked, they’d fall off the vine and become wine all by themselves.
No, Jesus has been turning water to wine through natural means in the upholding of the creation for as long as it’s been around. In this instance, he showed his glory over the creation by doing it this time with supernatural means. It’s all his, and all under his control. And he’s constantly blessing us with it, and we should never ever forget that. Like I said, the gifts of God are great gifts, they are abundant gifts.
And lastly, we should remember that signs like this one are here in scripture for a purpose, and that purpose is exactly what John set out to do with including this story. This sign is here to increase our faith. Remember that we were already seeing that this story is told, like all the others, in a very Jesus-centric sort of way. Think bigger, this wasn’t just a really neat party trick that saved Jesus’s family from some public shame. What do we hear after it’s all over, after the master of the feast has tasted the wine, where does the story go? It doesn’t say anything summative about the party – and the feast went on, and the bridegroom was pleased, and the mother of Jesus was satisfied. None of that. It says “and his disciples believed in him.”
And don’t think that is just talking about the five disciples that were with him, though they certainly did increase in their faith after seeing this happen. No, this sign is here to increase the faith of us all, and it should. We put our faith in silly, powerless things all the time, but here is one, Jesus, who has power over creation, who can miraculously turn water into wine. It’s not a party trick, we’re told this was done to manifest his glory.
And of course, to increase our faith even more, there is always greater symbolism attached to the signs, the miracles that John has for us here in his gospel. This act of transforming water fulfills the past and reminds us to look forward to the future. When was the last time God miraculously transformed water? I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t positive. In order to save his people God transformed the waters of Egypt into blood. Moses transforms water and it is a curse, Jesus comes and transforms water into an abundant blessing. And of course Jesus will use wine again as a symbol in the last supper, when he instructs us all to use wine as a remembrance of him, right?
I think that is one of the neatest things about this whole scene, and should help us in our faith for sure. Because with the wine of this wedding in Cana and the wine of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is reminding us of the great wedding feast to come. It’s no wonder that his first miracle, at the start of his ministry, right here, is to provide abundantly for a wedding feast. There are many ways that he could have manifested his glory, but here he does it at a wedding feast, by providing an abundance of blessing for it. And is he not, right now, preparing abundantly, lavishly, setting the greatest table, for the marriage feast to come, when he will sit down at the table as the bridegroom with us, the church, as his bride.
We are to never forget that, yet we do all the time! And I’m preaching this to myself as much as any of you gathered here. This week, and forever, really, let’s remind ourselves to be heavenly focused in our lives. The next time you feel like there is something in this life that you deserve but you don’t have, remember the feast to come. The next time you are disappointed in this life, remember the feast to come. Jesus’s ultimate purpose is always to bless us, and that may be with richness and ease in this life, but just as often with want, and with trials.
Remember the wedding feast. Yearn for it. Celebrate the Lord’s supper as we will next week and let it truly be in your mind and your soul a taste of things to come, of that heavenly banquet. Jesus loves you, and he’s preparing a table for you there. That will give you strength to handle whatever comes to pass in this life!
To close, I’ll remind us that it’s Reformation Sunday, a time when we remember men and women that God raised up in the church to purify it, and that was not without struggle. There were many martyrs. There were actual wars fought for decades over the purity of the church. And we’re in that war still, maybe more acutely now than we were even a decade ago. There are many people who claim Christ and at the same time embrace the world. Claim Christ and then embrace the things that would give them standing in culture.
That’s not faith, is it? Faith is keeping our eyes solely fixed on Jesus and the blessings he’s already promised. Then the importance of the world and all of its things – all that fades into the background. When Luther stood before the Diet at Wurms he had a choice. He could recant of all he had said and written against the Catholic church and be safe. It was to embrace the world and be safe, be celebrated, or to look to Jesus. And with his life in Jesus’s hands, and likely to be lost he said, “here I stand, I can do no other.” We face this every day, with less immediate danger for sure, but we face this. Run to Christ, not the world, because he has overcome the world, and he has greater things in store for all of us.
Amen, let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father,
You bless us and provide for us so lavishly each and every day that we struggle to describe it. Help us to remember that every gift comes from you, everything that we have is a blessing you bestowed on us. You are the keeper, the maker of the wine, and your love knows no bounds, but rather is poured out on us each and every day. Move our hearts by your Spirit to greater faith in Jesus, faith that prepares for us a place at that great table. In Jesus’s precious name. Amen.