Second Sunday after Epiphany
Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding of Cana is a bit strange. It’s not like any of the other miracles that Jesus performs in his ministry. No one is sick. No one is blind, deaf, or lame. There’s no storm, no sinking boat, and no demon that needs cast out. No one has died. There’s no real emergency. They are simply out of wine. This is probably embarrassing for the wedding party, but it’s hardly a situation that warrants divine intervention. Yet Jesus chooses this time and place for his first miraculous sign. Here, at a wedding, Jesus first reveals his glory.
What can we learn from this? First, this miracle teaches us that marriage is important to God. The union of one man and one woman is his creation. He married Adam to Eve before the fall, before sin entered the world. Marriage was instituted in Paradise. God blessed their union and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. Jesus’ presence at the wedding in Cana shows us that God hasn’t changed his mind about marriage. Public opinion changes. The Supreme Court may vote to overturn thousands of years of tradition regarding marriage. But God doesn’t change his mind – not then, not now. Not only does Jesus approve of marriage as God created it, he intervenes to save the wedding from disaster.
Second, we learn that Jesus is not a Puritanical prude. He didn’t come to the wedding to be the alcohol police. Certainly, God doesn’t condone drunkenness, but wine is a gift from God that he wants men to enjoy. God created grapes, he made the fermentation process, and he wants us to rejoice in this aspect of his creation. The miracle at Cana has caused a lot of trouble for Christians who think that any and all alcohol is sinful. How do you explain that Jesus created 150 gallons of wine? That’s more than 750 bottles! Many Christians are so uncomfortable with this miracle, they try to say that Jesus made grape juice, or that wine is a metaphor for making a good situation out of a bad one. That’s garbage. Jesus doesn’t ask for permission from the teetotalers. He doesn’t apologize. He simply makes wine – lots and lots of it.
We can also learn from Mary’s interaction with her Son and Lord. In verse three we read, “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no more wine’” (Jn 2:3). We don’t know what Mary’s role was in this wedding. Perhaps she was only an invited guest like Jesus, but it’s more likely that she had some position of authority. Remember, she commanded the servants, “Do whatever he says!” and they obeyed her without question. What’s striking is that she didn’t actually ask Jesus to do anything. She didn’t ask him to make more wine – as if that idea would could even be in someone’s head. She didn’t ask him to send everyone home early, or to run to the wine store to pick up another barrel. She didn’t ask him to rebuke everyone for drinking the first batch of wine. She simply told him the problem, “They have no more wine.” This is as great a testament to Mary’s faith as when she said thirty years earlier, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). She doesn’t know what Jesus will do, or even if he will do anything. But she takes her problem to her Savior trusting that whatever he does will be good. This is the same faith that we confess in one of our great Lutheran Hymns:
What God ordains is always good: This truth remains unshaken. Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, I shall not be forsaken. I fear no harm, For with His arm He shall embrace and shield me So to my God I yield me (LSB 760:2).
And Jesus said to [Mary], “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come (Jn 2:4). To our ears it seems rude and impersonal for Jesus to call his own mother “Woman.” But consider that Jesus does this once more from the cross, “Woman, behold your son” thus committing his mother to the care of the apostle John. There is nothing rude or impersonal here. This is a tender and loving address from Jesus to the woman who bore him. By calling her “Woman” he does not treat with her in a special way. Instead, he deals with her in the same way he desires to deal with every other sinful man and woman – in compassion and mercy. Here we see an allusion to God’s original promise of mercy: the seed of the woman shall crush the head the serpent (Gen 3:15). Mary is that woman, and Jesus is the seed, and he has come to earth for this very purpose: to crush the head of the serpent. But his hour has not yet come. The night before the Crucifixion, Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (Jn 17:1). The glory that Jesus revealed at Cana was but a foretaste of the greater glory that would be revealed, paradoxically, when he was lifted up upon his cross.
And even there from the cross, Jesus had every right to say, “Woman, Man, what does this have to with me?” It’s not God’s fault that the world is broken, full of sin, or that weddings run out of wine. We did not deserve his goodness. We had no right to be his people, to receive his mercy. All of this is true, yet consider Mary’s response. She said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” What great faith! In spite of the fact that this crisis was not Jesus’ problem, she looked to her Savior in faith. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). So Mary and the servants looked to Jesus, waiting upon his word, trusting that it would be good.
There were six stone water jars nearby. Six is the number of imperfection – one short of seven. These six jars were set aside for the ritual washing of the Jews. They knew that sinners have a problem far worse than being embarrassed at a wedding. The shame of running out of wine is nothing compared to the shame and guilt of sin. These jars could hold an incredible amount of water, but all the water in the world cannot wash away the stain of sin. The corruption of our nature runs so deep; it can’t be scrubbed away no matter how hard you try. All human efforts fail, but the guilt remains. The world tries to hide this guilt. They say, “Party like there’s no tomorrow.” But this is a lie and tomorrow always comes. Youth and beauty fade. The wine runs out, the party ends, and the grave opens its mouth for every man and woman born into sin.
“What does this have to do with me?” Jesus asks. Nothing. He alone was without sin. Our crises have nothing to do with him. They are of our own making. And our punishment is not more than we deserve, as Cain said, it is exactly what we do deserve. Jesus did not owe them wine, and he does not owe us grace or forgiveness. And yet, Jesus, out of mercy, took those six jars of water that always came up short, and to that water he added his Word and it became wine. In the same way, Jesus, the living Word, went down into the dirty water of the Jordan that could not wash away sin and it became the life-giving water of baptism. He also took the cup of wine, and with his Word, it became the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins.
The Lord begins his ministry in this way with an extravagant act of waste – because this is how God is. When God makes a universe, he makes one so vast that we can’t count the galaxies, let alone the stars within them. When God plants the seed of his Word, he scatters it everywhere – on rocky soil and good soil alike. And when God makes wine, he gives an extravagant amount of the best wine to people who are in no condition to appreciate it. Some of them will most certainly abuse it. In the same way, God lavishly pours out forgiveness and mercy on wicked sinners, on the undeserving, on you. And many will abuse his grace. God gives it anyway.
You can’t ever run out of this wine. You can’t out-sin God’s forgiveness. His mercy never comes to an end. The wine of his blood was poured out for you without measure. Even the filthiest sinner cannot pollute the saving water of baptism. It seems too good to be true – it’s almost impossible to believe. In fact, it is impossible to believe this good news – unless God performs a miracle. And here in the final verse of our text, we find the great miracle of Cana: “And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). Making wine out of water is no big deal for the God who created the universe out of nothing. But creating faith out of unbelief? That is a miracle! God started with a clean slate when he created the universe, but unbelief is worse than nothing. Sinners are worse than nothing. But God takes unbelieving sinners, and with the power of his Word, he creates life out of death, faith out of unbelief, and children of God out of enemies. You are God’s child. He has given you faith. He has made you alive in Christ Jesus. He has washed you clean in baptism, and has given you his body and his blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. The glory that Christ first manifested at Cana was revealed in full at the cross, and you, his disciple, have believed in him. This is a miracle indeed. Amen.