What the Sign Signifies
The Second Sunday after Epiphany| Rev. Rolf Preus| January 17, 2010| St. John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.
St. John 2, 1-11
Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the life of Jesus knows that he changed water into wine. Why? The Bible was written to teach us. The instruction of the Bible is not like the instruction we receive in math or science. It is not mere information to be filed away in the box of our brain labeled “religious stuff” to be accessed if and when we feel like doing so. No, the Bible is God’s Word. It is the words of the Holy Spirit who wrote it. God’s Word has God’s power. When God says it, it is so. God himself teaches us in the words of the Holy Scriptures. He does more than impart information. In teaching us he raises us up out of death into life. He makes everything new. He speaks. He creates. What he creates is always very good.
By changing water into wine Jesus teaches us three things about himself. First, he teaches us who he is. Second, he teaches us what he thinks of marriage. Third, he teaches us that we should do as he says.
He teaches us about himself. He teaches us that he is God. Isaiah gave him the name, “Mighty God.” The angel Gabriel said to Mary his mother, “that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” St. Peter called him the Christ, the Son of the living God. Thomas cried out to him, “My Lord, and my God.” St. John wrote, “The Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh.”
What a radical assertion! It is impossible! It is utter foolishness! It is the most fanciful form of religious myth. These are the reactions, not just of the godless mockers of all things sacred, but also of the most devoutly religious people in the world. The Muslims and Jews are offended by the very suggestion that God became a man. It is demeaning to God, they insist. It is not just an unreasonable and impossible thing. It is an offensive thing. God would not debase himself in such a fashion.
Now it is not up to us to explain how the infinite and almighty God can become a flesh and blood human being. The how is always hidden from our understanding. But that it is so is clearly shown by what Jesus did. He did what only God could do.
There have always been miracle workers able to wow a crowd with impressive and spectacular feats. They use trickery, sleight of hand, misdirection, and assorted other techniques to convince the gullible that they can do miracles. History is littered with such figures. They are usually in it for the money.
But Jesus’ miracles were different. He created. It is impossible for water to become wine in an instant. First it must water the earth, vines must grow, grapes must grow on the vines, grapes must be harvested, crushed into juice, and left to ferment into wine. It takes time. Jesus did it instantaneously. He created something that did not previously exist.
Such are his miracles. He raises the dead. He gives the blind their sight and the deaf the ability to hear. He feeds thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish. These are miracles that show Jesus is God. They are signs. Signs signify something. Jesus’ signs signify that he is who he claims to be: Almighty God in the flesh. As St. John writes after recounting this miracle, “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.”
By changing water into wine Jesus teaches us who he is. He is God in the flesh.
Second, by changing water into wine Jesus teaches us what he thinks of marriage.
When God became a human being he did not at once become a thirty year old man. He became a baby. Indeed, he became an embryo, a fetus, a baby, a little boy, a teenager, and finally a grown man. From the time he was conceived in his mother’s womb he was the almighty God. This is why the Church calls Mary the God-bearer or mother of God. Jesus did not become God by some sort of adoptive process. Jesus was God from his conception.
As God Jesus always possessed all the power that belongs to God. He was perfectly capable of doing miracles when he was a child. Why did he wait? Why did he wait until he was thirty years old? More to the point, why did he choose to do his very first miracle at a wedding? It was to teach us. Just as the sign signified that Jesus is true God, so also the sign signified that God blesses and sanctifies marriage.
St. John points out that this was Jesus’ first miracle. This was the first time he showed his divine power. In doing so at a wedding he teaches us that the blessing he pronounced upon marriage in the beginning still stands. God is ready, willing, and able to bless marriage. God invented marriage. He established it when he made a man and a woman in his own image and joined them as one flesh. He has not and he will not abandon his creation.
True, marriage has fallen on hard times. Husbands refuse to assume their duties as the head of the home. Their wives assume the spiritual leadership over the family. The children grow up learning that religion is primarily for women and children. When boys become men they abandon the Church and presume to live their lives without divine instruction. Wives refuse to submit to their husbands, despising such an arrangement as out of date and demeaning. With God’s Word set off to the side as irrelevant, selfishness is touted as a virtue while humble service to one another becomes a quaint and forgotten value of a bygone era.
Marriage suffers and Christians suffer in it. Looking to the standards of an increasingly amoral popular culture, Christians are caught up in it and lose their Christian bearings. Adultery enters in, leading to divorce and broken homes. Men and woman become cynical about marriage so they forego it entirely, living as husband and wife without first becoming husband and wife.
No wonder people think that marriage is broken. And where is God in all of this? He’s where he’s always been. In the beginning, God made them male and female and blessed them. In the beginning. It was the first institution of God. It’s appropriate that Christ’s first miracle was at a wedding. He came to sanctify what was corrupted. He came to make our marriages holy. Jesus chose to reveal his divine glory for the first time at a wedding. By changing water in wine Jesus teaches us what he thinks of marriage. It is very good and no amount of sin can change God’s mind about that.
Third, by changing water into wine Jesus teaches us that we should do as he says. Mary told him that they had no more wine. Jesus appeared to rebuff her. But he didn’t. He told her to leave it to him. She believed him. So she told the servants to do as Jesus said to do. She said to the servants of the feast, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
Mary is the God-bearer. She carried God in her womb. She gave birth to God in the flesh. As the mother of God she is also a picture of the Church. She tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says to do. And so the Church tells her servants to do whatever Jesus says to do.
Mary is the God-bearer because she bore God in her womb. The Church is also the God-bearer because she has the gospel and the sacraments of Christ and these holy means of grace bear God to us in our need. These treasures give God to us. Mary doesn’t tell Jesus what to do. She submits to him. Though she is his mother, she submits to him. So also the Church. The Church doesn’t tell Jesus what to do. Rather, she tells her servants to do whatever Jesus says to do. Jesus tells them to preach the gospel he taught and to administer the sacraments he instituted. And he tells his Church to listen to the gospel and believe it and to receive the holy sacraments as treasures bestowing eternal salvation.
We certainly can’t find God on our own. Jesus is the only one who can bring us back to God. Only God in the flesh can do so. There was only one person at the wedding at Cana who could turn water into wine. Only Jesus could do that. When he told the servants to take water that had been used for ritual purification and to bring it to the master of the feast they did as Jesus told them to do. They didn’t turn water into wine. All they did was to carry out Jesus’ instructions. Jesus turned water into wine and blessed that wedding.
The groom had failed adequately to prepare. Not only did Jesus save the celebration, he made better wine than anything the groom could afford. He honored that couple.
And he honors us. We come to church burdened by our sins. We have sinned by what we have done and by what we have failed to do. Husbands have sinned against wives and wives against husbands. Children have dishonored their parents. Christian brothers and sisters have engaged in back-biting and malicious judging. If left to ourselves our homes would be a wreck. But he who established marriage and the home in the beginning comes into our marriages and homes and makes everything right again.
Turning water into wine did not cost Jesus a thing. But sanctifying our marriages and homes cost him dearly. For that, he had to suffer. He bore the guilt of all sinners. He suffered for the sins of adultery, self-willed rebellion, selfishness, greed, and every other source of marital and family destruction. He bore the curse of sin and thus obtained forgiveness for every sinner.
The water for ritual purification could not take away any sin. But the water of Holy Baptism most certainly does because Jesus has joined it to the blood he shed for us on the cross. The wine that makes the heart glad is only a temporary blessing. But the wine that is Christ’s blood gives us the forgiveness of all our sins. It provides us with spiritual joy that enables us to rise above the failures of our families and find refuge in heaven.
The sign of changing water into wine signifies who Jesus is. He is God. The sign signifies his love for marriage. Indeed, he so loves this holy institution that he chose to make us, his Church, his holy bride, dressed in his own righteousness, beautiful in the covering of his innocence. The sign signifies that we must do what Jesus says. This isn’t an order of divine law. It is the invitation of the gospel. “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus says, “And I will give you rest.” “Take eat, take drink, this is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you for the remission of sins.” Take Jesus at his word. He remains our Immanuel: God with us. And he will never forsake us or our families. Amen