Christ’s glory revealed at a marriage supper

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Sermon for Epiphany 2

Deuteronomy 18:15-19  +  Romans 12:6-16  +  John 2:1-11

In this Epiphany season, we follow the light of Scripture as it shines on Jesus and reveals the saving truth about Him. On Epiphany, January 6, we followed the light of Scripture just as the wise men followed the light of the star, to see Jesus as the Savior of both Jews and Gentiles. Last Sunday the light of Scripture showed us Jesus in the Temple, where He was found in the Word of God, going about His Father’s business. This past Monday—every year on January 13—the Church remembered Jesus’ Baptism when He was about 30 years old, where the light of Scripture reveals Him being ordained directly into His ministry by the voice of God the Father as the Father claimed Him as His beloved Son who came to fulfill all righteousness, to unite Himself to sinners in the waters of Baptism, and to make us well-pleasing to God by faith in Him.

Today our Gospel shines the light on Jesus again as Jesus performs His very first miracle and reveals His glory to His disciples.  What will be the very first manifestation of Christ’s glory? How will Christ choose to show His disciples what kind of Messiah He will be, what kind of a ministry He will have?  By changing water into wine at the marriage supper at Cana.  There’s lots for us to learn from that.

By the time of the wedding, Jesus had recently been signaled by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Andrew, John and Peter, Philip and Nathanael had recently been introduced to Jesus and already convinced that He was the Messiah.  What will the Messiah’s first act be to manifest His glory to His new disciples? It turns out all of them, together with Jesus’ mother, had been invited to this marriage supper, and that’s where Jesus decides to go.

That decision, all by itself, says something.  It says, first of all, that Jesus endorses marriage, which is no secret or surprise, since He was there in the Garden of Eden, and through Him Eve was created for Adam, from Adam, and presented to Adam to be his wife.  And God promoted and protected marriage throughout the Old Testament, especially in the 6th Commandment.  It’s no surprise that Jesus honors marriage; later in His ministry He would defend it—this life-long union of one man and one woman—and speak accusing words against anyone who would adulterate it or forbid it or end it sinfully.

But here in our Gospel Jesus demonstrates with His actions that marriage is a good and godly institution—an estate that is blessed by God and pleasing in His sight.  He upholds the institution of marriage and also the gathering of friends and family to celebrate the marriage.  Jesus, the Son of God, is not ashamed to make a marriage banquet or supper the first place He goes with His disciples.

What else do we learn from this?  That Christ has not intended for His people to live some Stoic, somber existence, to go around with scowls on their faces and a sour demeanor, as if godliness were a matter of going off to live in a monastery.  The kingdom of heaven is not about being grumpy or somber, nor is it about being too pious or holy for things like weddings and wedding feasts.  Christians can use the things of this world and enjoy them and participate in godly institutions, as long as we don’t become more attached to them than to Christ, as long as we don’t let godly enjoyment turn into godless debauchery or disobedience to God’s Word.

Then what happens at the marriage supper?  They run out of wine.  It’s not the end of the world.  But wine is for celebration and festivity, and the celebration would be cut short if the wine ran out too soon.  (Yesterday I attended a Jewish Bar Mitzvah. And guess what the very first thing was that they brought out for the meal. Wine.) Maybe the newlyweds’ money didn’t go far enough to provide wine for all their guests in Cana.  Maybe they would be dishonored in the eyes of their guests. It’s not the end of the world, but it was a momentary need that would result in glory for Jesus and in blessedness for the attendees.

Mary finds out about the shortage and she tells Jesus about it.  It’s a relatively minor need, but she’s confident to approach Jesus with it, and she shows us that we, too, can approach Jesus with our needs, whether they’re great or small.

Jesus’ reply sounds like a ‘no.’ Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.  He seems disinterested and unwilling to help, and yet His next actions reveal that He isn’t disinterested at all and is willing to help.  So why the negative reply? Jesus often pulls and tugs at faith to exercise it and to build it up. He forces us to trust that He is good and merciful at heart, even when it appears on the outside that He doesn’t care.

That’s an important lesson for Christians to learn, that God is merciful and compassionate, even when He appears distant and unconcerned.  We know that because He’s told us that’s how He is, gracious and compassionate and forgiving.  It’s not faith in God or trust in God if God has to prove Himself to you over and over and over again, if you won’t believe He is merciful until you see it with your own eyes.

Mary shows us what faith looks like in the face of apparent rejection, and the Holy Spirit shines the light on her response in order to increase our faith, in order to teach us, “Yes, Jesus is your Helper and your Savior! Don’t let His appearance fool you.”  Mary hears Jesus’ apparent refusal to help and still expects Him to do something.  She says to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” She doesn’t know how He’ll help.  She leaves that up to Him entirely.  “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  Because whatever Jesus says is right.  Whatever Jesus says, He says for our salvation.

And what does He say about your greatest need, about the need that is at the root of all your other needs, about the neediness caused by your sin?  He says, repent! Recognize your own failures, your own selfishness, your living to please yourself rather than God, to serve yourself rather than your neighbor. And however you have failed to honor God’s institution of marriage, whether by ending one sinfully, or by living in one with anything less than selfless love and devotion, or by sharing your bedroom with someone to whom you are not married as a trial run to see how well you get along before committing to marriage—to these and all sins what Jesus says is, repent!

And trust Me, He says.  I have not come to earth to destroy sinners.  See, here I am at a marriage supper, of all places.  I have come, not to destroy, but to save.  Trust Me, He says.  I will take care of your sin and suffer for it and die for it and bury it deep in the earth, where the Law cannot find it, and not even God’s eyes will see it ever again.  Trust Me, He says. With Me there is forgiveness and God’s favor.  Apart from Me, there is only death.

Well, the servants at the marriage supper did “whatever Jesus told them to do,” which was to take six large stone pots and fill them with water, and then to draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.  And, just like that, at the Word of Jesus, ordinary water was transformed into something extraordinary—into wine that amazed the master of the feast because it was better than any of the wine than had gone before.

That’s what Jesus chooses for His first miraculous sign—changing water into wine, taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, into something that gladdens the heart and is meant for celebration.

That’s a perfect description of what this Messiah is all about. As he says in John’s Gospel, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  Of course, in order for that to happen, He will have to give His life on the cross.  Mankind’s sins against God’s holy Law cannot go unpunished.  The sinner must die.  So Christ died the sinner’s death so that we may have life by faith in Him.  And the life He gives—it’s about joy and peace. It’s about God’s favor and love.

So Jesus takes ordinary water and combines it with His Word and calls it Baptism. And He promises that this washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit does something miraculous—more miraculous than turning water into wine.  It reaches into the spiritual realm and washes away sin and brings a person into God’s house.  Then He takes ordinary men—common fishermen, originally, like Jesus’ first disciples were—and turns them into His ambassadors on earth, authorized to forgive sins and to retain sins in His name.  Then He takes ordinary bread and wine and blesses them with His Word, so that they are now His own body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, bringing Jesus here to our Sunday morning celebration just as truly as He was at the marriage supper at Cana, with the forgiveness of sins and with life more abundant.  And even with that, this Holy Supper is still only a foretaste of the great supper that awaits in heaven for all who have trusted in Jesus, the marriage supper for Christ and for His Bride, the holy Christian Church.

This is how the Messiah, the Christ, is revealed to us in our Gospel.  Not as a new law-giver, like Moses, come to tell you how to improve yourself and earn God’s favor, but as the Savior from sin and as the Giver of grace.  Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!  Let us rejoice in this supper to which we are called, and in the Messiah who has called us to celebrate. Amen.

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