Epiphany Two Sermon | Rev. Rolf Preus| 2003| St. John 2:1-11
There is nothing so very remarkable about God changing water into wine. He’s been doing it for thousands of years. He causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine and the vines to grow and produce fruit. He causes the crushed grapes to become good wine that makes glad the heart of man, as the psalmist says. (Psalm 104:14-15) What is remarkable is not God’s power to change water into wine. Rather, it is the manner in which He did so. He did not choose to do so according to the laws He set down to govern what we like to call “nature.” Instead, he chose to do so by means of a miracle. It was not just any miracle; it was the very first miracle Jesus did.
St. John writes in the prologue to his Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1&14)
It was thirty years after the Word became flesh that He first revealed His glory as the only begotten Son of the Father. Today’s Gospel Lesson concludes with these words: “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.”
Why did He wait so long? Before the wedding at Cana, Jesus lived a sinless life as the holy child of Mary, but he gave no evidence that He was God. Fraudulent Gospels that weren’t really written by Christ’s apostles laid claim to all sorts of bizarre miracles done by Jesus as a boy. He supposedly made birds out of clay, tossed them in the air, and turned them into living birds to the delight of his friends. But our Lord’s miracles were never done for cheap entertainment or just to show off. Yes, they did prove his divine power and glory, but they showed much more than that. Jesus’ miracles showed His divine concern for those who benefited from them, and not just for them, but for us as well. The fact that Jesus chose to reveal His divine glory for the first time at a wedding tells us much about what God thinks of marriage.
In the beginning, God made them male and female and He blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” Even after the fall into sin, God blessed marriage. The very fact that God promised to destroy the power of Satan through the birth of a Child shows us that God has always honored the holy vocation of Christian motherhood. Every Christian woman from the time of Eve onward has known that God would bring salvation to the world by bringing a holy Child into the world through a virgin woman. The “seed of the woman” mentioned in Genesis 3:15 is none other than the virgin born Son of God, Jesus. Here in our text and again while suffering on the cross Jesus addresses his mother as “woman.” To our ears this may sound less than fully respectful. But it is actually an expression of profound respect. When Jesus calls His mother “woman” He is honoring her as the one to whom Elisabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, said: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42) Jesus honors Christian motherhood by honoring marriage. When the Creator became flesh within the Virgin’s womb and joined His creation, He did so in order to bless that holy estate into which God, in the beginning, placed motherhood. He joined our own flesh and blood to sanctify this holy institution from which our flesh and blood comes.
It is from marriage that children come into this world.
Of course, those who deny God as Creator will deny as well His divine creation. They will regard marriage as a purely human arrangement and deny its divine origin. Everyone knows where babies come from, but it seems that fewer and fewer understand why God has placed this special intimacy solely within the permanent and unbreakable bond of holy marriage.
God made marriage and the family the foundation of all civilization and culture. God made a man from the dust of the ground and a woman from his rib and then joined in marriage the two who had been one so that they were one once more. This was not a temporary arrangement. Moses commented on the original marriage by writing, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Jesus gave us the authoritative interpretations of Moses’ words when He said, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6)
Jesus chose not to reveal His glory for the first time at a gathering of the high and mighty political leaders. He chose not to reveal His glory for the first time at a gathering of illustrious clergymen or renowned scholars. He chose to reveal His glory for the first time at a wedding of one man and one woman.
In that time and place a wedding was a days long affair. The ceremony itself was held at night after a time of celebration. Then, after the liturgical rites were completed, the bride and bridegroom would enter the home and be treated as royalty for several days. They didn’t leave for a honeymoon as is common today. They stayed put and entertained neighbors and relatives as if they were, for the moment anyway, king and queen. Drunkenness was virtually unknown among the Jews. Public drunkenness was considered disgraceful behavior. But it was equally unthinkable to have a celebration without wine. With the wine gone, the wedding celebration could not continue. The bridal couple did not just face a mild and temporary embarrassment. They faced a heart-breaking personal disaster. These were folks who worked long and hard for little money a wedding celebration was a very important social event.
Mary could see disaster looming. She went to Jesus for help. Why Jesus? She knew who He was. The angel had told her some thirty years earlier. She knew He was the Son of God, but she had yet to see Him prove it. He had hid His glory under a cloak of humility. Nobody forced Him to. He did so willingly. Mary knew that her humble and dutiful Son would not want the bridal couple to be publicly humiliated. So she laid their need before Jesus. “They have no wine.”
Jesus encouraged her to leave it to Him. His hour to help had not yet arrived. He could not do what He came to do if He placed Himself under human authority in doing it. The task of redeeming the world and saving sinners is a divine task. Only God can do it. When the God-man was in the process of doing it He could be submissive only to His Father in heaven. As a boy in the home and as a man in the nation Jesus submitted to the authority of His parents and the government. As the Redeemer of the world, He submitted only to the authority of His Father.
Mary knew this. And she knew as well that Jesus would help. This is why she told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. She had every confidence that her son was also the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus told the servants to fill six waterpots with water so that they contained between 120 and 180 gallons of water. That’s a lot of water. He commanded them to take a sample of the water to the master of the feast. They did. He was amazed at the water that had become wine. It was an excellent wine, the very best wine. He had no idea where it came from, but the servants knew.
There is a spiritual meaning here that we should consider. Jesus is the heavenly bridegroom and the church is his holy bride. He came down from heaven to become her Savior. He gave His life for her, shedding His blood for her, purchasing her as His own. He continually cares for her until the end of time.
Mary is a symbol of the church. The church instructs her servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Ministers of Christ submit to the authority of the church by submitting to the authority of Jesus. Mary willingly submitted to Christ, her Son. His will must be done. So she instructed the servants. So the church must instruct her pastors. Don’t make up your own religion for us, but rather give to Christ’s holy bride what Christ Himself has purchased for her. Give to her the pure gospel and the holy sacraments and in this way Jesus will bless His holy bride throughout the ages to the end of time.
The six waterpots represent the Law of Moses that can only purify outwardly, but not inwardly. The Jews would wash their hands and their feet with the water. They were forbidden to eat without washing their hands by means of a certain ritual. The six water jars symbolize the fact that outward obedience to God’s law cannot bring God’s blessing. The perfect number is seven. Six falls short of seven. The law cannot make us holy. It can only remind us that we are not. But Jesus takes what falls short and He fulfills it. He gives them good wine, the best wine. He gives His church the wine that is His holy precious blood by which He once and for all redeemed His church from all her sins and washed her clean to be His holy, pure, radiant church.
She looks ugly at times. We see her ugliness as God’s people refuse to live as they should. The Holy Christian Church remains an article of faith. We believe it, but we cannot see it. The church’s holiness is hidden underneath much sin and weakness.
And so it is also with the marriages and homes of Christ’s people. There is ugliness. Husbands care first of all for themselves and neglect to care for their wives. They don’t honor them as Jesus does His church. They take instead of give. They make demands instead of sacrificing themselves as Jesus did. And we see wives, who instead of submitting to their husbands as to the Lord Jesus criticize them, boss them, and give them grief. On top of these daily failings, we see marriage attacked within our increasingly godless culture where “God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth” has given way to a god of relativism and uncertainty. It’s a god whose only teaching is that there is nothing eternally true. And so unmarried folks live as if they are married when they are not. Married couples live as if they were single. Divorce is considered an option for marital conflict. Openness to sexual perversions too disgusting to mention in God’s house is daily paraded before our children’s eyes by an entertainment industry dominated by people wholly ignorant of Christianity.
Well, if we can see all this, think of what God can see! He, to whom nothing is hidden, sees what is wrong with marriage in America. He sees what is wrong with marriage at River Heights Lutheran Church. And He insists on blessing marriage in our day, as at the wedding of Cana. He brings the forgiveness He purchased by His blood into our homes and makes it ours. He not only washes us clean in Holy Baptism daily, but he enables us also to see ourselves as saints and so to treat one another. He who changed water into wine can surely change our cold hearts to love Him and one another. And He does. He made good wine, plenty of it, more than enough to meet the needs of that wedding celebration. And so He does for us today. There is no need He won’t fill. There is no sin He won’t forgive. There is no loss that He won’t replace with the riches of His grace. He loves marriage and He loves children. Jesus has joined Himself in permanent and unbreakable union to His Holy Christian Church. That is a marriage made on earth as He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. That is a marriage that will culminate in the eternal joys of heaven where no sin or sorrow can ever enter.