The Second Sunday after the Epiphany—17 January 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Reading from Holy Scripture: John 2:1–11 (ESV)
1 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.
The thing about a sign is that you need to be able to understand what it means. For instance, you’re driving along a road, and you see a sign with a picture of a deer on it. If you don’t understand the meaning of the sign, you might be surprised when a deer jumps out in front of you.
It is important to be able to read the sign and know what it means. That is also true when it comes to looking at the things Jesus does in the gospels. The miracles He performs are called “signs”. The thing about a sign is that it points to something beyond itself. The miracles of Jesus point to something beyond the miracles themselves; they are signs pointing to who Jesus is and what He came to do. The signs tell us about who Jesus is, His character and His identity, His nature as the Son of God come in the flesh, His office as messianic King and Lord and Saviour. The miracles of Jesus—the signs He performs—also tell us something about the nature of His mission to save us. The signs tell us about the new age that Jesus inaugurates by His coming. And the signs tell us about how He is going to do that, how He is going to bring the new age about by His death and resurrection.
The sign of our Lord changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana wasthe first miracle Jesus performed during His public ministry. So let’s find out what this sign is pointing to, what it tells us about who Jesus is and what He came to do and what that means for us. Let’s read the sign.
First, the miracle takes place at a wedding. That is significant. Weddings back then could be big and elaborate affairs. Just as today, people pull out the stops for a wedding feast. No expense is spared. For a wedding and a wedding feast, you want only the best, top quality. Everything must be just right.
That is the way it is with Jesus. This sign tells us that. Only the best, that’s what Jesus provides. You have kept the good wine until now, that’s what the wine expert testifies. Jesus brings in the best
stuff. This is the real deal. And it does not come cheap. Oh, it comes free for us. But it does not come cheap. The blessings Jesus bestows come at His own great expense. He has redeemed me, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. The cost was precious, that is, full of great price. The unsurpassable price was the blood shed on the cross by the very Son of God. Nothing could be of greater value than that. So the help that Jesus gives, the good wine at the wedding feast, comes absolutely free as a gift to us, because it cost Christ absolutely everything. Jesus Himself bore all the great cost. All by grace: “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”
The reason people are willing to pull out all the stops for a wedding is because it is an event of such great joy. It is, or it is supposed to be, a truly once-in-a-lifetime event. A wedding is about as joyous an event as we can have in this life. It signals the start of a new life together for that couple. New life, new hope, and great joy—all of these are basic to the idea of a wedding.
That is how it is with Jesus. This sign tells us that too. Jesus brings the highest joy we can imagine. Jesus also brings new life and hope for the future. Eternal life, everlasting life. Even death will not part us, for Jesus gives us new life even now. He puts us into a new relationship with God. And He puts us into a new relationship with one another. Yes, in bringing us into His church through Holy Baptism, Jesus has made us God’s children and His brothers and sisters in God’s holy family.
So it is no accident that Jesus performs this sign at a wedding. Because a wedding, a wedding feast, is a very appropriate image to use when talking about the new reality that Jesus brings about. The Bible uses this image of a wedding banquet many times to describe what God promises to His people and what Jesus then brings about. Jesus Himself begins a parable by saying that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast (Matthew 22:2). And in Revelation, heaven is pictured as the marriage supper of the Lamb in His kingdom, which will have no end. Jesus gives us a foretaste of that feast to come here in the Lord’s Supper.
So this sign takes place at a wedding, a wedding feast, to be specific. What the sign points to, then, is that Jesus pulls out all the stops, He spares no expense, to bestow His gifts upon us. And it is the occasion for great joy, the highest joy we can imagine, because of the new life and new family He creates. A wedding feast is just about the best experience we know in this life to convey joy—so Christ chooses just such an occasion to tell us something about what He is doing.
That’s where the wine comes in. Wine is a drink common to all times and cultures, and in all times and cultures it carries an association beyond just something to drink. Wine has the universal meaning of joy. Wine gladdens the heart, the Bible says. Again, that is the way it is with Jesus. The wine Jesus provides conveys joy to our souls. And this is the very best joy, even as the wine Jesus provides is the very best quality. You have kept the good wine until now.
But there is even more going on here with this sign of the wine. It is a sign that Jesus is fulfilling certain Old Testament prophecies, prophecies about the arrival of the messianic age. Listen to a few of these:
Joel 3:18: And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine. . . .
Amos 9:13: “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when…the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”
Isaiah 25:6-8: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever.
You see what the Old Testament prophets Joel and Amos and Isaiah were prophesying? They were saying that days were coming when there would be a great provision of wine for God’s people, the wine of course being understood as meaning a time of great joy. Indeed, there would be an abundance, an overflow, of this wine. It will be all over the place, nothing held back. And when will all this take place? What is being referred to by in that day or the days are coming? It’s referring to the coming messianic age, the new age that will break in when God’s promised Messiah, the promised Deliverer, finally arrives.
Well, guess what? Here He is! The abundant provision of wine is the sign. Remember, this was at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, His first sign. Jesus signals His arrival as the Messiah, and the arrival of the new age of blessing, by providing this great superabundance of wine. Six big water jars full, filled to the brim. Each holding twenty or thirty gallons, it says. Imagine, six stone jars, each with 20-30 gallons. That’s 120-180 gallons! That’s a lot of wine! Really good wine, too, even when the wedding feast must have been mostly over. Do you see what Jesus is signaling? He brings a superabundance of blessing, more than enough! Jesus would later say, I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance (John 10:10).
This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him. Can you read the sign? The sign of turning water into wine at the wedding manifests, shows forth, several things about who Jesus is and what He comes to do. First, it happens at a wedding, an occasion of great joy, when no expense is spared. Second, Jesus provides wine, likewise conveying great joy, signaling that Jesus brings in the messianic age of blessing, and that He does this in abundance, more than enough.
Oh, and there’s one more thing that this sign says: Simply, “FOR YOU!” Jesus your Saviour spared no expense in laying down His life for you, to give you an abundance of salvation, a salvation far greater than your sins and the troubles of this world, a salvation that gives joy, hope, and life in abundance, now and at the eternal wedding banquet. Amen.
adapted from a sermon from Pastor Charles Henrickson