John 2:1-11 (2nd Sunday after the Epiphany—Series C)
“Water, Wine, and Glory”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
January 17, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel appointed for the day, from John 2:
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.
2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
Our Gospel lesson today is a very well-known historical narrative. If you spent even the smallest amount of time in Sunday School in your life you would have at least heard about Jesus’ first miracle—changing water into wine at the wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee. When my beloved son Aaron was a small boy, he would come to pastor’s conferences with us. There were water goblets on the table, but to Aaron, it was wine. He would wave his hand over the goblet and say, “Look, I made wine like Jesus.” It was quite cute. But as familiar as we are with the historical truth of the text, that Jesus really did change water into very fine wine, in good Lutheran fashion we have to ask, “What does this mean?” This morning, then, I want to look with you at the theological significance of this “beginning of His signs which Jesus did” and how it points us ultimately to the glory of the cross. Journey with me now from water to wine to glory.
Water. Essential to all life, it makes up ¾ of the planet and about 60% of our bodies. So water is indeed significant for us. But it is also important theologically. Water is used for cleansing and for purifying. Before God met at Mt. Sinai with His people newly rescued from slavery in Egypt He commanded, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Exod. 19:10-11 ESV). Through the prophet Ezekiel God promised to the exiled house of Israel, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezek. 36:25 ESV).
In the everyday lives of God’s Old Testament people, water was used for cleansing and purification. This washing would be performed whenever someone became “unclean.” Uncleanness could be contracted in various ways, by contact with the carcass of an unclean animal such as a pig, a raven, or a lizard, or by touching a human corpse. Uncleanness was also connected with skin diseases, with eating or lying down in a house with rot in its walls, and with contact with bodily fluids. Uncleanness meant that a person was excluded from the place of worship and from close contact with other members of the community. Uncleanness could usually be remedied by washing with water and waiting for a period of time. Although most devout Jews performed washings before praying, the Pharisees when even further, applying the stringent purity demanded of priests in the temple to life in their own homes, which involved elaborate washing of cooking utensils and personal purification (Mark 7:3-4).
Ritual washings, then, were an integral part of the processes by which God’s people cleansed themselves from physical and moral defilement. But as with God’s people of old, so with God’s people today. There is a deeper defilement that must be dealt with, that cannot be taken away with a mere washing with simple water. I’m talking about the uncleanness of sin. Ritual washings, for which the water in the six stone jars was used, must be done over and over again as uncleanness occurs over and over again. Surely, there must then be a better way to deal with the uncleanness of sin that separates us not only from one another through hatred and discord, but also separates us from God Himself through hatred and willful rebellion against His perfect commands. So what could replace the system of Jewish ritual purification? Water is changed into wine.
The change of water into wine indicates that the former purification is being replaced by another, different, yet grater purification. This wine purifies and cleanses.
Wine was associated with joy and festivity in the Old Testament, a constant element in the ideas of peace and prosperity. The psalmist writes, “[The Lord causes] the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man” (Ps. 104:14-15 ESV). Wine was also an image of the blessedness of God’s covenant love toward His people. “He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, . . . in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you” (Deut. 7:13 ESV). In the grand visions of the new creation, Isaiah and Amos write, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (Isa. 25:6 ESV). “The mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit” (Amos 9:13-14 ESV). The promised Messiah-Savior would, according to Genesis 49, “wash his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes” (Gen. 49:11 ESV).
Wine—a symbol of salvation and its gifts—yet connected already at the beginning with the terminology of blood. Thus a greater purification than with water, a better purification with wine in a new covenant of God’s love found in the blood of the Messiah-Savior, Jesus Christ. “Our Lord Jesus Christ on the night in which He was betrayed, . . . took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup [of wine] is the new [covenant] in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.’” As God washed Israel at Mt. Sinai to purify them, so by the shedding of His blood in His death Jesus makes us clean. 1 John 1:7 makes it explicit that the blood of Jesus is the “water of cleansing” from all uncleanness: “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7 ESV).
It is Jesus’ shedding of blood that actually brings us to His hour of glory. The hour that had not yet come at the wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee does come at Jesus’ Passion—His suffering, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead. But it is the bull’s eye of the cross in which we see Jesus’ glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. We read in John 12, “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’” (Jn. 12:20-24 ESV).
Jesus’ hour of glory is the giving up of His life into death, the shedding of His blood to cleanse and purify us from the uncleanness of sin so that we might be at peace with God, no longer at odds with Him. It is the very blood of the new covenant which Jesus poured out on the cross that He gives us to drink in, with, and under the wine in Holy Communion. Even as the bread is a participation in the Body of Christ, so drinking of the cup of wine is a participation in the Blood of Christ for our forgiveness, life, and salvation from sin and every uncleanness of thought, word, deed, and desire. (1 Cor. 10:16)
The changing of water to wine by Jesus the Messiah-Savior points us to the glory of His cross, the shedding of His blood, and the cleansing from sin that we receive as a gift of His grace. Thus John calls this “the beginning of the signs which Jesus did”—signs pointing us to the cleansing glory of His death for us, Jesus’ blood shed for us for our forgiveness, and His victory over sin and the grave that we too share in His resurrection. As we now prepare ourselves to eat the bread that is His Body and drink the wine which is His cleansing, purifying blood, hear again the invitation:
Come, join in Cana’s feast Where Christ is honored guest.
He welcomes all who come to taste The wine His hands have blessed.
Come, friends, and share the feast; Here drink the wine supplied
By Him who is both guest and host—For us the crucified. (LSB 408:1, 4) Amen.