Epiphany Two Sermon| Rolf Preus| John 2:1-11| January 18, 2004
Last week we saw how Mary chided Jesus, her twelve-year-old Son, for causing her and Joseph to worry. Jesus responded to His mother’s motherly concern by reminding her that He had to be about His Father’s business. Where else should she expect to find her Son than in the temple? The temple was where God dwelt. God promised to visit His people in the temple. It was the meeting place where God and God’s people would come together in peace.
Jesus teaches us that He is the real temple of which the temples made with stones were only copies. Since the temple is the meeting place between the holy God and sinful humanity, it is in Jesus Christ alone that we can have a friendly meeting with God. Apart from the person of Christ, there can be no personal relationship with God. Apart from Christ, God remains a stranger, and a fearful one at that. In Christ’s person, in Christ’s living, and in His dying, we find our God. In Christ’s person, the Father is revealed. In Christ’s living, the Father is pleased. In Christ’s dying, the Father is reconciled to us. When we find ourselves clothed in Christ by Holy Baptism, we find ourselves to be children of the heavenly Father. He is our Father who loves us. Only in Jesus can God be found, because only in Jesus is pure obedience offered up to God and only in Jesus is all of our sin washed away. Only in Jesus do we stand before God as holy people, cleansed from all sin, and free from all blame.
This is not just a theoretical doctrine to be filed away in our minds somewhere as we go on to ignore it as we live our lives. This teaching that Jesus alone is our righteousness before God is the central teaching of the Christian faith apart from which Christianity is essentially no different than any other religion. It is a tragedy of so many Christian lives that this central truth of the faith is ignored. Jesus as Redeemer is relegated to the back of the bus as Christians try to live out their Christian lives under God’s law. They look to Jesus only to get them to heaven, but they live here below as if the law is their master.
What do you think of when you think of Jesus? Is He the One who accuses us of sin or is He the One who takes our sins away? What are you looking for when you look to Jesus? Are you looking for instructions on how you can solve your own problems or are you looking for the One who covers you with His grace so that no problem you face in life can possibly defeat you?
Most of life’s problems arise very close to home. In fact, it is at home where most of our troubles are centered. Children ignore what their parents say because they think they know better than their parents do how they should their lives. Husbands neglect their wives and treat them as servants, rather than as their own flesh. Wives try to rule their husbands instead of respecting them as head of the home. And then there is the arguing, the fighting, the unfaithfulness, and the unbridled selfishness than rages through marriages and rips them to shreds.
As marriage falls on hard times, more and more people are opting out of it altogether. Of course, if they also opted out of the intimacy that belongs to the marriage bed, that would be one thing. Living a life of celibacy outside of marriage can give men and women the opportunity to serve both God and neighbor in ways that are not available to married couples. But it is often the case that people choose to live as if they were husband and wife when they are not husband and wife. The popular culture promotes every kind of sin against the Sixth Commandment as if true happiness depends on finding new ways to defy God. Cowardly politicians bow down before political lobbies that insist on government protection for such crimes as sodomy and abortion. The “abortion-rights” movement in our country is responsible for the slaughter of tens of millions of unborn children, yet politicians who have no fear of God fear the political price they will pay to stand up for the unborn. The so-called right to abortion is necessary to protect the so-called right of women and men to commit fornication without facing the consequences. But the consequences of a seared national conscience are too real to ignore as our country descends deeper and deeper into irrational hedonism, the unthinking pursuit of unbridled pleasure.
The nadir of our national descent is epitomized in recent efforts to get the State to defend the rights of homosexuals to marry. The absurdity of it all is lost in the midst of frantic efforts to defend marriage by passing new laws. Folks speak of the Defense of Marriage Act. Will the government that defends the right to kill babies and the right to commit sodomy defend the divine institution of marriage? I doubt it. Certainly, we should do our civic duty to support efforts to defend the institution of marriage, but the real defense of marriage will not come from any government instituted by men. Governments of this world can only deal with the symptoms of the problem. Christ alone can address the cause.
And it is Christ’s government, His kingdom, which has come into this world to sanctify and bless marriage. Look at His kingdom as it is displayed at the wedding of Cana. He is in charge. As much as He loves and honors His mother, He makes it clear that she should leave everything to Him and that He will not submit to her schedule. The kingdom of Christ is one in which the King doesn’t derive His authority to govern from those He governs. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. His government is like no other. He does not govern by laying down the law, but by fulfilling it.
The Son of God sanctified virginity by being born into this world from a virgin mother. He sanctified marriage by working His first miracle at a wedding. Virginity before marriage and fidelity within marriage are clearly required by God’s law. Since our dying culture advertises its contempt for divine law it might be tempting for us Christians to think that the solution to troubles marriages today will come from laying down the law. But when Jesus enters into the Christian marriage and family, it is not to lay down the law.
This is symbolized by the miracle. The New Testament actually uses the word “sign.” The fact that it is a miracle shows us that Jesus is God. He does what only God can do. He creates good wine out of water. As in the beginning God looked upon the world that He had made and judged it to be very good, so in this first miracle of God become flesh the master of the feast pronounces the wine very good. The miracle proves that Jesus is the Creator.
But it is more than a miracle. It is a sign. It signifies the fulfillment of the law and the blessing of the gospel. The law is symbolized by the water in the six stone waterpots used for the outward purification of the body. Six falls short of seven. Seven is the number of God’s blessing upon this world. Six is the number for labor that cannot get the job done. God rested on the seventh day because he got the job done in six days. His rest was well deserved. But we work and we work and we work and the work is never finished because there is something wrong with us. Our rest on the seventh day is not deserved. And we cannot rest until we find our rest in Christ.
As we labor in our marriages to serve and honor the husband or wife we come face to face with our own selfishness at a deeper level than we care to admit. Since we don’t care to admit it, we put one another on trial because it is easier for us to point the finger than it is to confront our own failure. This is especially so when our failure repeats itself over and over again.
It is in marriage especially that this profound selfishness is so clearly seen. But it is not only in marriage. As the father and mother live and act, so the children learn and so the community learns and so the nation learns and so it goes. But the root of the problem, which is our sinful hearts, grows in the home. When Jesus chooses in His own time and in His chosen manner to change water into wine, He teaches us that He is the answer to every trouble facing marriage and the family.
He chooses water that symbolizes the law. He changes it. The water is no more. There is only wine. Jesus does not come to lay down the law. He replaces the law with the gospel. The wedding feast was going to be a catastrophe. The law brings to us catastrophic results. It brings God’s curse. It brings God’s judgment. It condemns us all. But look and see what Jesus does! The water is gone. Only wine remains. When Christ comes into your marriage, there is no condemnation anymore. There is no judgment of your failure. There is no catastrophe. There is nothing but the pure and excellent wine of God’s good pleasure. As wine symbolizes a happy heart and a joyful celebration, so Christ comes and gives us happy hearts and a deep joy beyond human description. He drinks to the bitter dregs the cup of divine retribution against sinners. He willingly submits to the Father’s will that He drink up the cup of wrath. In so drinking, Jesus takes God’s wrath against us away. We never have to drink that cup.
We drink instead from the wine of God’s favor. When we confess in the Creed that we believe in the forgiveness of sins we are also confessing that we believe in the forgiveness of sinners. God forgives us. It is not as if He forgives the things that we do but still holds it against us somehow that we did those things. No, He is pleased with us. He is favorable toward us. He celebrates with us the joy of our being His children who are free from all blame because Jesus drank the cup we couldn’t drink and has given us in its place the wine of divine gladness.
The pure, holy, and sinless celebration is reserved for heaven when all sinful desires are forever purged from our hearts. But here on earth we are invited to see Jesus as the bridegroom who gave up His life for His bride on the cross and then washed her in Holy Baptism to make her His holy bride. We are the bride of Christ, the Communion of Saints, the children of the heavenly Father. The sins that bring such suffering into our marriages, our homes, and our personal lives are the very same sins that our Lord Jesus has washed away by His blood. In sanctifying our marriages and homes, Jesus provides us with a foretaste of the marriage feast in heaven. There, as we are confirmed in the holiness of God Himself, we will forget all of the sins and failures of which we were guilty. Today we trust in the forgiveness of sins while we live under the shelter of the cross. In heaven the grace of God will shine clearly and forever. The joy of that eternal celebration will never diminish as Christ and His holy bride will rejoice in each other throughout eternity.