Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
John 2:1-11 + Amos 9:11-15 + Romans 12:6-16
On this Second Sunday after Epiphany, as we’re getting to know Jesus the Man as Christ, the Son of God, hear John’s words to the crowds as he points them to Jesus, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And then hear him say the same words again the very next day a bit more privately to a few of his disciples. “Look! The Lamb of God!”, he says, and points his disciples to Jesus. They went to him to learn from him, to learn who he was, what he had to teach them, and why John proclaimed him the Lamb of God. After spending just one day with him, they were convinced: Jesus is the Messiah! – the Savior promised by God in the Old Testament.
But what kind of Messiah would he be? They had just met him; they barely knew him. And so the first thing Jesus does, on the very next day, is to take them along to a wedding up in the town of Cana, in Galilee, where Jesus and these first disciples were from. He takes them to this wedding, where he performs his very first miracle, changing water into wine. This is the occasion, this is the miracle Jesus chose to begin teaching his disciples about himself.
Changing water into wine at a wedding banquet may not seem like a miracle worthy of Jesus – or like a miracle that has much to teach you. But the truth is, you can learn a lot about Jesus by this first miracle. Jesus’ first miracle at Cana in Galilee shows his disciples and us the kind of Messiah he will be.
THE KIND WHO GOES TO WEDDINGS
First of all, it shows us that Jesus is the kind of Messiah who goes to weddings. That was a real contrast, for Jesus’ first disciples, from their previous teacher – John the Baptist, who lived out in the desert and wore camel skins and ate bugs, who was only serious all the time, who spent all of his time, 24/7, secluded from society, preaching and warning and baptizing.
Now here’s the Messiah himself, and he begins his divinely appointed ministry to the people of Israel by going to a party. Jesus would be no ivory tower Messiah – more blue collar than white collar; not part of the religious elite, not full of himself, not snooty, not aloof. He would be always heavenly minded, but at the same time, fully at home among his people in their day-to-day activities.
Jesus shows his disciples that to be holy – as he was – means to be set apart from sin, but it doesn’t mean being set apart from people. That doesn’t mean he would have any part in drunkenness or carousing or erotic dancing, but he was fully in favor of celebration, joy and merriment.
By attending this wedding banquet, Jesus blessed and honored the callings of average people and especially the institution of marriage, marriage as God created it to be – the lifelong union of one man with one woman. He blessed and honored these earthly celebrations with his presence and with his help.
It’s the same Messiah who goes to weddings today: who accompanies his people in whatever their calling may be: in the ups and downs of married life, in the workplace, on the street, at the store. He doesn’t hide here in the church building, although he is here among us in a special way in Word and Sacrament. Jesus isn’t allergic to people – he accompanies his friends in times of joy – like wedding celebrations, and also in times of tragedy, when sickness strikes or a loved one dies. That’s the kind of Messiah he is.
THE KIND WHO LETS HIS FRIENDS EXPERIENCE NEED
He’s also the kind of Messiah who lets his friends experience need. Jesus could have prevented the wine from running out at this wedding banquet. But he didn’t. Instead he waited, waited until the all the wine was gone and the guests were getting grumpy and the groom – probably a poor man who spent his last dime on this once-in-a-lifetime banquet – was about to be embarrassed. He let his friends experience this need, this lack of wine, and he waited until someone would look to him for help in their need. In this case, it was his mother, praying for those who had invited her, “They have no more wine!”
Jesus lets his friends experience need still today, sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller. He could miraculously replenish the food in our pantry as soon as we take something out; he could make it so that our bodies never got sick, never got old; he could make gold coins fall from the sky and fill our bank accounts so that we’d never need anything from him ever again.
But he doesn’t, and he won’t. That’s not the kind of Messiah he is. He lets you suffer want, face affliction, endure hardship, and get old. Not because he likes to see you suffer, but because you so easily forget about the “sin of the world,” including your own sin – not sins, actions, evil deeds, but sin – the complete corruption of your very self, which condemns you before God and brings hardship in to your life. Through those hardships, Jesus wants to teach you that you do need him, throughout your earthly life – not just to provide for your bodily needs, but to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – including yours, and wipes it out before God so that, by faith in him, you are no longer condemned. You need the kind of Messiah who will be your Helper, not your cheerleader, not your self-help coach, because you can’t help yourself, not a bit. You depend on God’s Messiah for everything. He wants you to pray to him in every need, to call and to cry out, so that he can step in with his forgiveness and with his providence.
THE KIND WHO WANTS TO HELP – ON HIS OWN TIMETABLE
And he does! But he is the kind of Messiah who wants to help – on his own timetable, as he knows best. His answer to his mother, Mary, was rather harsh, wasn’t it? “Woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.” As the son of Mary, Jesus was obedient to his mother. But as the Messiah, Jesus was the one in charge. Neither Mary nor Jesus’ disciples were to get the impression that the Messiah asks “How high?” when his mother says, “Jump!” He knows when to help and how to help.
Still, even though it seemed like Jesus was saying no to her, Mary’s faith kept expecting good things from Jesus. She kept looking to Jesus for help and expected him to help, when he was ready, in the way he saw fit. She didn’t know when or how that would be, but she told the servants there to do whatever he told them, because faith overcomes a harsh reply and knows that beneath it, there is a loving Messiah who has good plans for his people.
When you pray for Jesus to help, you must pray humbly, never placing your will above his will, always being ready to accept whatever he, in his wisdom, chooses to give. His answer to your prayer, at first, may seem like a “no.” It may seem like things are getting worse before they get better. But he shows you here what kind of Messiah he is – the kind who does want to help, in spite of how it seems. He wants you to trust first and see later. Have faith in him and expect only good things from him.
THE KIND WHO IS POWERFUL, GRACIOUS AND HUMBLE
Because when he acts, he is the kind of Messiah who is powerful and gracious and humble. How easily, how effortlessly Jesus forces the laws of nature to yield to his divine power! When his time did come to help, 150 gallons of water turned into fine wine in the blink of an eye. Jesus took that which was ordinary and merely sustains life and graciously turned it into a wedding present for his friends, into something festive that brought joy to life and to the people there at that wedding banquet.
It was also a miracle that heralded the arrival of the Messiah, the Savior of Israel, as Amos had said, “New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.”
But see how humbly he did it, without fanfare or trumpets heralding his gift. Only the servants and his disciples knew who deserved the thanks.
The same is true today. Most of the people in the world who enjoy the good things of this life don’t know that Christ is responsible for it. Most people don’t know his almighty power that clothed itself in humility when he became Man, or the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who wasn’t content to let you live a few years here on earth and then die in your sins, but made himself the sacrifice of atonement for all sin to give you the gift of forgiveness and everlasting life. That gift is intended for all people, but only those who know him as the Messiah will receive it.
Now, in his power, grace and humility Jesus, our Messiah still provides the basics that we need each day – without fanfare, without trumpeting his gifts. But how often doesn’t he also provide all the extras that make life not just tolerable, but enjoyable? Now, in true power, grace and humility, this Messiah that we have turns ordinary water into the cleansing bath of baptism, and he turns ordinary bread and wine into a joyful banquet of his body and blood, a banquet that is a foretaste of the great wedding banquet we’ll enjoy with him in heaven when Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church, begin their great wedding celebration. That’s the kind of Messiah he is.
THE KIND WHO GIVES THE BEST AT THE LAST
He’s the kind who gives the best at the last. The host of the wedding banquet in Cana was amazed when he tasted the water that had become wine. It wasn’t just OK wine. It was the best. And that was unusual. Most grooms at the time of Christ put out the best wine at the beginning of the multi-day wedding feast, starting out the banquet with a bang but letting it end with a fizzle. But not when Jesus is there, not when Jesus steps in to help. Jesus wanted his disciples to know, right from the beginning, that’s not the kind of Messiah he would be. He would make it worth their while to stick it out to the end, where the best part would be waiting for them.
So, you who know the kind of Messiah you have in Jesus, you stick it out to the end, too, OK? If you think you know joy in this life, you haven’t seen anything yet. Or if all you know is pain here, you still haven’t missed out. If you think your glory days have come and gone and that all that you have to look forward to is a life winding down – you just wait and see. The best part is still waiting for you. Because Jesus is the kind of Messiah who, when he comes, will take all the bitter trials of life and all the sweet joyful moments, too, and change them into something better at the last, into the finest of wine that makes everything else seem as tasteless as water. The best part is still unseen, waiting to be revealed when Christ Jesus himself is revealed from heaven.
Really? All of that from Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine? Yes, all of that and much more. In this one miracle, God has given you a taste of the kind of Messiah Jesus will be. This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. Keep following him, you disciples of his, and you put your faith in him, too. Amen.