2nd Sunday after Epiphany - John 2.1-11 - January 18, 2014
1) “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.” What kind of glory did Jesus manifest by turning one-hundred and eighty gallons of water into choice wine? In the prologue to his gospel, St. John writes, “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 1:14) The glory that Jesus manifests is His glory as the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Only-Begotten Son of God. By changing water into wine Jesus accomplishes with a word what would take a winemaker years of toil and patience to accomplish. He is able to do this because He is the Word of God in human flesh. He is the same Word by which the heavens and earth were created. He is the Word spoken by the Father in the beginning which brought everything that is into existence. It belongs to God alone to create with His Word. Christ demonstrates that He is of the same essence with the Father by doing just that, bringing something that is out of something that is not solely by the efficacious and creative Word. This is the first way that Jesus manifests, that is, reveals, His true glory as the Only-Begotten Son of God. And at this manifestation of glory, by changing water into choice wine with only a word, His disciples believed in Him. For this is the point of every manifestation of His glory, that He might create faith in the hearts of men.
2) Jesus also manifests His glory as the Only-Begotten Son of God in how the events that led up to this miracle. Jesus and His disciples, the five that He has so far gathered in St. John’s Gospel, attend a wedding feast in which an unthinkable embarrassment happens. They run out of wine. This may seem like a petty problem for us who are removed from the situation by time and culture. But this is a great tragedy for the newly married couple. This lack of wine shows the couple’s poverty. Wine gladdens and rejoices the heart of man. Wine is a sign of God’s favor and abundance in the Old Testament. But at beginning of this union of man and wife the joy turns to embarrassment and the rejoicing turns to murmuring about the couple’s lack. But by this miracle Jesus manifests His great love for His people. He does not want them to begin their marriage in shame, dishonor, and with heavy hearts. Jesus wants to give His people good things! Not only good things, but the best things! So the water turned to wine is not wine from a box, nor it is the cheapest vintage off the shelf. It is the choicest wine, so much so that the steward of the feast tells the Bridegroom, “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!” (John 2:10) Jesus wants to bless this marriage, and every marriage, with joy and gladness. Jesus wants to bestow such wonderful gifts on His people out of love and sheer grace and mercy. So He provides for this couple’s utter lack a super abundance of the choicest wine so that all may rejoice in this union.
3) Christ manifests His glory in these ways, that He is the Word of God incarnate, “God of God and light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” He manifests this by the way in which He changed water into wine. He also manifests His great love for the institution of marriage between a man and woman and His great love for all His creation, that He does not want them to live in sorrow and lack but in true joy and gladness of heart. Faith believes these two things about our Lord and God Jesus Christ, that He is true God and thus able to provide for us in every lack and every need, and that our Lord Jesus Christ is favorable disposed to us, that He is gracious to us and only wants to bestow upon us good things. Faith looks to Christ to provide in every situation, both temporally and spiritually. By turning water into wine Jesus wants to strengthen our confidence in Him, that He is able to do wondrous things for us and that He wants to do wondrous things for us. This is why Jesus’ mother Mary comes to Him when the lack of wine is revealed. Mary demonstrates this faith in Christ to us. She only tells Him, “They have no wine.” Jesus will know what to do and how to accomplish it for everyone’s benefit. Faith never doubts that Jesus is good and so it bold to bring its petition to Him, trusting that He will answer in goodness and mercy.
4) And it is right there, at that spot, that Christ manifests His glory in one final way. Christ is good and gracious and able to give us abundantly more than we could ever ask. But Christ is also wanting to instill in us a greater faith than we have now. So He replies to His mother, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:5) Jesus turns His back on His mother’s petition. It’s as if He had said, “Woman, this is a petty, small, and earthly concern that has nothing to do with the reason I came into the world. I have much more important tasks to accomplish than helping a poor couple out at their wedding. This really isn’t my problem, you deal with it yourself.” The unbelieving heart will hear this and back away from Jesus. The doubting heart will be wounded by Jesus’ abrupt and harsh answer. Even the faithful heart could be taken back by Jesus’ austerity. But Mary presses on. She tells the servants at the feast, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5) So Mary teaches faith to our hearts. Mary does not let Jesus’ brusque answer drive her away from Him or deter her faith. She outright ignores His short answer and faith moves on, ever clinging to Jesus because faith knows that Jesus is good and gracious, that He is able to help and that He wants to give good things to us. Faith does not relent when Jesus says, “What does this have to do with me?” Faith does not retreat from Jesus, thinking that Jesus may NOT be good and gracious and willing to help. Faith does not pack its backs and go home because faith can ONLY see Jesus as good and gracious, able and willing to help.
5) Then Jesus relents. It is at this point, when Jesus, through His mother Mary, has taught us the nature of faith, that He goes on to do His first sign and reveal His glory. He does not reveal His glory first and then teach us faith. That sort of faith would whither at the first cloud in the sky obscuring God’s goodness. That sort of faith would shrink back when the glory was later hidden beneath Christ’s lowliness and suffering. Faith ought never to be based on the miracle or on the sign, for sometimes miracles and signs don’t happen, or we do not see then for what they truly are. Faith can only rest upon Jesus, who He is and His goodness and favor. This is why is impossible to one of Christ’s Christians without believing He is, as Thomas would later call Him, “My Lord and My God.” (John 20:28). If Jesus is not God then He is not able to do anything you ask, nor is it ever godly and proper to ask anything of anyone who is not God Himself. In fact that would be idolatry. This is also why it is most difficult to pray when we feel that God has abandoned us, that Christ has turned His mercy away from us so that the light of His countenance has ceased. Faith can only believe that Christ is God Himself and that Christ is only good and merciful. So Christ manifests His glory in this: that He wants to be known as God incarnate and wants to be looked upon only as good and gracious.
6) It is at this point that we find ourselves so often. We see our great lack. A great need of body or soul drives us to pray to the Lord for we know that what we have been taught is true, that “The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (Psalm 103:8) The Lord promises to hear our prayers when He says through the prophet David, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (Psalm 50:15) Jesus tells us in His Word, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) Yet when we approach Jesus with our lack and the petitions of our hearts, so often we feel as if He will not answer us. In prayer it can often seem as if Jesus is turning away from us, saying, “What does your concern have to do with me?” When prayer goes seemingly unanswered for days, weeks, or years, we may be driven to think on our own worthiness to pray. There the Devil wants to show us our sins and declare us unworthy to ask anything of God through Christ. When after prayer we do not feel the peace of God, what are we to do? We not to doubt, trusting our feelings of sin, unworthiness, or feelings that God has turned His face from us. This is not what He teaches us to do at the wedding in Cana. He teaches us that faith clings to Him all the more. Dr. Luther preached this about this text, “We honor God as good and gracious, even if he acts and speaks otherwise. For in this way feeling is killed, and the old man perishes, so that nothing but faith in God’s goodness remains, and no feeling. For here you see how his mother retains a free faith and holds it for as an example to us. She is certain that he will be gracious, although she does not feel it. She is certain also that she feels otherwise than she believes. Therefore she freely leaves and commends all to his goodness, and fixes for him neither time nor place, neither manner nor measure, neither person nor name. He is to act when is pleases him. If not in the midst of the feast, then at the end of it, or after the feast. My defeat I will swallow, his scorning me, letting me stand in disgrace before all the guests, speaking so unkindly to me, causing us all to blush for shame. He acts tart, but he is sweet I know. Let us proceed in the same way, then we are true Christians.”
7) Dear Christians, Christ manifests His glory to you in these six stone water pots, the glory that is His as the Only-Begotten Son of God who is able to help you and willing to give you aid. Do not trust your feelings, which come and go, wax and wane, shift and switch. Trust the Word of God and all the promises therein, and place your confidence only in the Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, that He is good and gracious. He is Lord and God, and He is gracious Lord and God. Amen.