Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
Deuteronomy 18:15-19 + Romans 12:6-16 + John 2:1-11
Who is Jesus? What is He like? Very few people knew the answer to that question when Jesus first began His ministry. Of course, the Apostle John, in chapter 1 of his Gospel, told us many things about Jesus. He is the Word who was in the beginning with God and who was God. He is the One through whom all things have been made. He is the true light who gives light to all men. He is the Word made flesh. He is the only-begotten Son of the Father who has come to reveal His Father to sinful mankind, sitting in the darkness. All that we learn about Jesus just in the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel.
But all of that was secret. All of that was hidden from view when Jesus walked the earth. It was John the Baptist who first began to reveal the true identity of this Man from Nazareth in Galilee. John the Baptist had baptized Jesus, and then heard the Father speak from heaven, This is My Son, in whom I am well-pleased. So John began to send his own disciples to Jesus. And within just a few days, those first few disciples had learned for themselves that this Jesus truly was the Christ, the Son of God, the King of Israel.
But what would this Jesus do? What kind of Christ would He turn out to be? How would He show His Father to His disciples and to the rest of mankind? St. John tells us that Jesus’ first act, just days after gathering His first disciples, was to…attend a wedding to which He and they had been invited.
Really? This is how the Messiah is going to begin His reign on earth? This is how He’s going to teach the world about God and gather for Himself a chosen people? By attending a wedding banquet? It’s perfect, isn’t it? Jesus shows that He has not come to summon people to some holy jihad, or to some monastic life where His people are to shun human society and go hole up in a corner somewhere or in a church building somewhere. Instead, He honors marriage and the godly celebration of it with His presence. To follow this Christ is not to avoid marriage or having children or being involved in society. It is to participate in the godly vocations of this world without setting our hearts on the things of this world. It is, as Paul says to the Romans, to “rejoice with those who rejoice, to mourn with those who mourn,” always keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Christ.
What else will the Christ reveal about Himself and His Father at this wedding banquet? Who is Jesus? He is the God who allows Himself to be moved by the prayers and petitions of His people. When Mary first told Jesus that they had run out of wine, His answer makes it seem like it hadn’t been His plan to perform a miracle that day. “My hour has not yet come.” And it’s not like running out of wine is a desperate situation that’s worthy of Jesus’ time. And yet, He listens and chooses to help anyway—not because His mother Mary has some extra-special influence on Him, but because all of His people matter to Him and are heard by Him. He is the One who came to earth to address our every need, even the small ones. He is the One who comes to our aid without first checking to see if we’re worthy of it (We aren’t!). He is the one from whom we should expect all good to come, in whatever way He sees fit to provide it. Mary was wise to tell the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Whatever Jesus says, that is what’s right. If He doesn’t say it, you have no business believing it or doing it.
And what do we learn of God in the miracle itself? Who is Jesus? He is the Almighty Creator who works wonders, when and where He pleases, who is not bound to the laws of nature that He Himself created, who is not a slave to science, but who changes the laws of physics at will, to serve His own purposes, changing gallons and gallons of water into gallons and gallons of wine.
This business of changing water into another substance should jar your memory a little bit. It’s not the first time a prophet had changed water into a red substance. Remember Moses in Egypt, the first public miracle Moses performed, the first of the ten plagues? By the power of God, Moses, at the beginning of his public ministry, as his first act of deliverance before leading Israel out of bondage in Egypt, was to change water into blood. It was a terrible sign, a destructive sign, a sign of death. The water became undrinkable and disgusting, and God’s glory was revealed to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt.
Interestingly, a few verses earlier in John’s Gospel, St. John made the comparison between Christ and Moses: For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. In fact, you heard Moses in the Old Testament lesson today prophesy to the people of Israel that The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear. Now look what God does in the Person of Jesus. He puts a divine twist on Moses’ miracle. It’s another changing-of-water miracle, but this time, not to curse, but to bless. This time, all for good. This time, changing water into the blood of grapes, something more drinkable than plain water, something delicious and pleasant, a sign of life, and life to the fullest, a sign that Jesus is the divinely sent Deliverer from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil.
Moses came as a divinely chosen deliverer of God’s people Israel, but he is known especially for being the lawgiver. You shall! You shall not! The one who sins against these commandments shall be cut off from his people. There on Mt. Sinai God revealed His holy Law through Moses and made Israel shudder in fear. And yet still, they failed to keep the commandments. After 1500 years of failure, the divine lesson had been proven over and over again: by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in God’s sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.
But now One like Moses has come. A prophet like Moses, but so much better. He hasn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He hasn’t come to give a new law, but to save sinners from their sins against the law. Remember the last plague in Egypt? The plague of the firstborn and the Passover? God sent His firstborn, His only-begotten Son, not to kill the firstborn, but to die, to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Moses instructed the Israelites to take the blood of a lamb and paint the doorframes of the houses with it in order to escape death. Jesus instructs us to be washed in His blood by Holy Baptism and by faith in His blood once shed for us on the cross to order to escape death and condemnation. Moses, by God’s Word, provided bread from heaven for Israel in the wilderness. Jesus not only provided bread, but was the true Bread that came down from heaven to feed the souls of men with Himself. Moses once sprinkled the people of Israel with the blood of beasts and declared, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you.” Jesus once sat down with His disciples and instituted a meal which He called “My blood of the New Covenant.” Truly Jesus is a prophet like Moses, but better.
One more thing we might consider in this miracle account this morning. When Jesus turns water into wine, it isn’t the $3 bottle kind (like I usually drink). It’s the finest of wines, designed to delight those who drink of it. The master of the feast was amazed. Most people start out with the best wine and then move to a lower quality. But Jesus did the opposite. The people drank inferior wine all along until Jesus came. The wine He created far surpassed everything they had been drinking until then.
So it is in every way. Everything that came before Jesus, including Moses, including the Law, was inferior. Now a better Prophet has come, a better Deliverer, a true Savior. Now the Gospel has come, calling all men to repent and believe in this Jesus. He hasn’t come to make life oppressive. He has come to bring forgiveness and life to His people, by faith alone in Him and His goodness. And just as He once turned water into wine, so He will soon turn all our sorrows into everlasting joy.
Who is Jesus? What is He like? He’s the God who came into this world, not to condemn it, but that all, through Him, might be saved. He shows that today in the simple, gracious, pleasant miracle of changing water into wine. That’s who Jesus is: the One who came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Rejoice that you, by faith, have seen His glory today and have been invited to the feast of His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Even that is just a foretaste of the better things yet to come. Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb! Amen.