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. (ESV)
In creating Adam and Eve, the first husband and wife, the LORD God instituted marriage, saying: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). And now, in attending a wedding, our Lord Jesus shows that He honours the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. But that is not why St. John includes this episode in his gospel. And the miracle of changing water into an abundance of great wine is not just a display of divine power. There is more going on here. John relates what happened that day at Cana for one main purpose: so that we might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God. At the end of his gospel, John explains why he wrote of the Cana wedding and all the other events of our Lord’s earthly life: 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 (John 20:31).
The Cana wedding is one of those moments when Jesus gives us a sign that reveals Him as our Salvation! All throughout his gospel, John talks of Jesus performing signs. And concerning the changing of water into wine, John tells us: This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him. Now, what is a sign? We often think of a sign as something that symbolically stands in the place of something else. A sign with a red circle and a diagonal line means that some activity, like smoking, is forbidden. Perhaps the most interesting sign I have ever seen was along the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, an area popular with both families wanting to enjoy the beach and adults wanting to enjoy the party atmosphere. The sign simply had the words “Please no” followed by exclamation points and all kinds of punctuation marks, just like how a comic strip shows a character cussing. Those grammar symbols represent real words that are better left unspoken. It was a cute way of reminding adults that they were entering a family zone and that they should refrain from using coarse language in the presence of children.
For St. John, a sign does not symbolize anything. Rather, in John’s gospel, signs point to and are somehow linked to something that is hidden from ordinary sight. In short, John’s signs reveal Jesus as our Salvation. Jesus’ true identity was hidden from ordinary sight, but the signs pointed to the truth of the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, who took on our flesh and lived among us. Yes, the miracles in John’s gospel reveal Jesus, who, while fully human and like us in every way, except without sin, is also fully God. These miracles are signs that reveal Jesus for who He really is, namely, the Word made flesh, who created all things and who upholds all things in Himself. They reveal the glory of the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.
St. John’s gospel is full of signs that point us to Jesus. The changing of water to wine. The healing of the sick. The feeding of the 5,000. The raising of the dead. These were all signs that pointed to and revealed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. But sadly, John reports that though [Jesus] had done so many signs before [crowds of people], they still did not believe in Him (John 12:37). Not only did the crowds reject the true signs of Jesus, they also demanded other signs, saying to Jesus: So what miraculous sign are you going to do, that we may see it and believe you? (John 6:30, EHV). The crowd asked this question right after Jesus had multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000. And now, the crowd is saying: “Jesus, your feeding us was wonderful and mighty, but this sign was for us insufficient. You need to give us something more if you want us to believe in you”.
The crowds in John’s gospel are not the only ones who sought for signs other than the ones provided by our Lord Jesus. We, too, are an evil and adulterous generation seeking after all kinds of signs (see Matthew 12:39; 16:4) other than the signs Jesus has given us. We often seek Jesus in our circumstances, expecting Him to spare us from afflictions and to give us only pleasant experiences. And we also seek Jesus in our trying in our own strength to keep God’s Law, to do good works, by which we expect to somehow win God’s favour. But our problem is that we seek for signs of God’s favour outside of Jesus.
You and I are awfully good at seeking for signs of God’s favour outside of Jesus. And because of our sinful sign-seeking, we cannot find comfort in what Jesus has already given us. We have contented ourselves with poor wine that has a stale taste and, when digested, leaves us feeling wretched, when all along our Saviour Jesus is distributing His excellent wine that consoles sinners with the Gospel promises which endure forever. God grant us all His precious gift of repentance, that we may be forgiven of our sinful sign-seeking and learn to look for God’s favour only in Jesus in the true signs—the Word and Sacraments—that point us to Jesus.
Our Lord Jesus starts His public ministry by attending a wedding and changing water into wine. Those six stone water jars are for the Jewish rites of purification and the old covenant. The jars are empty, signifying that the Law cannot save us. Jesus has these jars filled with water as the Law demands, just as He will fulfill all the Law and Prophets perfectly, to the brim. The hour has now come for Jesus to reveal Himself to His disciples. And so, He gives a sign. He changes water into wine, signifying that the old covenant has been replaced by the new. The law was given through Moses; grace and truth [come] through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). As sin reigned in death, [so now God’s] grace… reign[s] through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (adapted from Romans 5:21).
The signs in John’s gospel—the changing of water to wine, the healing of the sick, the feeding of the 5,000, the raising of the dead—all these signs reveal something that you would not otherwise know about or recognize in Jesus. These signs reveal Jesus as One greater than Moses the lawgiver. These signs reveal Jesus as the Word become flesh to dwell among us, the Word whose hidden glory is the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (see John 1:14). And all these signs point us to Good Friday. When the mother of Jesus informs Him that the wedding wine has run out, Jesus’ first response is to say My hour has not yet come. The hour of which He speaks is the time—actually the six hours—He hung on the cross dying for a world of sinners.
When John calls the changing of the water into wine the first of our Lord’s signs, John also means that this miracle is the primary, the chief, sign that points to all that our Lord Jesus is going to do for us on the cross. At Cana, Jesus gives great wine to those who have run out of wine and who have no way of getting more. This first and primary of our Lord’s signs reveal His character and His ministry to sinners. Through His death and resurrection, our Lord and Saviour Jesus gives His good and wonderful gift of salvation to those who in no way deserve to be saved and who have no way of saving themselves.
Notice that Jesus gives the new wine only after the old wine is completely gone; He waits to the very last moment when the lack of wine is felt by all present, and there is no counsel or help left. This shows the way of divine grace; it is not imparted to one who still has enough and who has not yet found his or her need. For God’s grace does not feed the full and satiated, but the hungry. Those who consider themselves wise, strong, and pious, and who think they can find something good in themselves—they miss out on God’s grace, for they have no desire to come to Christ to receive His grace. But thanks be to God, you have come this morning as a poor, miserable, sick, and foolish sinner before God. And so, you receive God’s grace in Christ Jesus in an abundance that is greater than your sin.
Jesus died on His cross and was placed in His grave. It is finished. His hour had finally come—the hour in which He would fully manifest the glory which He first began to display at the Cana wedding. Still, that is not the end of the story. Three days after dying for us, Jesus gives us His greatest sign. The grave is empty. He is not there. Jesus lives! He has filled and kept the Law to the brim, and now our cup of salvation runs over. Jesus replaces the Law and the old covenant with a new and better wine. We are not purified by the Law, but by the blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
The risen body of Christ is the beginning of the new order of things. In Him and through Him, creation is renewed. The Jesus who changed water into wine now does something similar in Holy Baptism: He transforms us into new creatures. As Scripture says: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have been born again, so that we can see the Kingdom of God, now by faith, one day by sight (see John 3:3). In Baptism, we are buried with Jesus into death to sin, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. And since we have been united with Christ in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His (adapted from Romans 6:4-5).
That day in Cana, our Lord Jesus manifested His glory. His glory is not found in His control over nature, in His power to change water into wine. His glory is found in His giving the good and wonderful gift of salvation to undeserving sinners. The glory manifested at the Cana wedding points to the glory which will be manifested on the Good Friday cross, from which our Lord and Saviour Jesus will embrace a whole world of lost sinners, bearing our sins, suffering our condemnation, dying our death, all so that we may be united to Him and transformed into a new creation. And now, Jesus reveals that His life and death are yours. Every Lord’s Day, Jesus reveals that His body was given for you and His blood was shed for you for the remission of your sins. Jesus reveals to you His glory, the glory of His death for your salvation. Amen.