The Beginning

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 23:50 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The conclusion doesn’t seem to match the content. John’s conclusion to this account in his gospel doesn’t seem to match the content. He says that this, the beginning of Jesus’ signs, He did in Cana of Galilee, and He manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him. He manifested His glory, revealed His glory, made visible His glory. This is an impressive sign: changing a lot of water—maybe 180 gallons—into a lot of good wine. But is it as impressive as feeding thousands of people or raising Lazarus from the dead? What is it about this sign that makes it so significant, that John says it is not just the first in line, but the beginning of Jesus’ signs, and that in this sign is the revealing of Jesus’ glory so that His disciples believe in Him?

Mary tells Jesus that the family has run out of wine. It seems like she and Jesus might be related in some way to the people getting married, since they’re not only invited to the wedding, but Mary has some connection to what’s happening out of sight of the rest of the guests. She knows that they have run out of wine, and she tells Jesus.

Isn’t this the way it is in this world? Even the best and happiest celebrations come to an end. Even weddings give way to the hard work of marriage. We eat and then we get hungry again. We drink and then we get thirsty again. We get sick, we get better, and then we get sick again. Our health runs out. Our relationships come to an end. Our lives come to an end. If there were a single word to characterize this world, it might be “lack.” Insufficiency, not enough.

But there is no lack in the life of Jesus. His life is abundant life. The master of the feast says that most people would use up the good wine first, when people can still taste its quality. Then, when everyone has drunk enough, a lot, a large amount—then you bring out the poor wine because people can no longer tell the difference, or they don’t care. But you, he says, have saved the good wine until now. This happens all throughout the Gospel of John; this has a double meaning. The master of the feast is referring to the wine that he tasted from these stone jars. But the “good wine” that has been saved until now is the revelation of Jesus. Until now, the revelation of God in His Son has been kept hidden. Until now, in the fullness of time, at just the right time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman and born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law. Here is the best wine, the wine of joy to gladden people’s hearts.

Jesus tells His mother that it is not His hour, not the hour of the completion of His work. But that hour would come. In chapter 12, some Greeks come to see Jesus, and Jesus says that now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Now is the judgment of this world; now is the ruler of this world cast out. Now Jesus, lifted up in crucified glory, would draw all people to Himself. There Jesus would come to the completion of His work, finish what began here at Cana: the glory He manifested in changing water to wine would be shown as fully as it can be seen in this world, crowned in glory in the crucifixion.

Interestingly, that is the only other place that Mary shows up in the Gospel of John, marking the beginning and end of His work. Woman, He says, behold your son; and to John, behold your mother. And that’s where the Lamb of God is sacrificed, and when His side is pierced, blood and water flow forth for the cleansing of the world. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, John says (1 John 1:7). He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). And when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, He tells them that they are clean, now. The old symbols of purification and cleansing are filled up and complete. John the Baptist baptized in water to prepare people for the coming of the baptism of Jesus. And Jesus has them fill these purification jars up to the very top as preparation for something completely new. The good wine of Jesus’ revelation has appeared, and He is the one who truly purifies, truly cleanses, truly sanctifies. He marries Himself to us, the Church, in order to present us before Himself blameless, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, pure and holy forever.

In Him, there is no more lack, no more insufficiency, no more running out, no more not enough. We keep thinking that we’re going to find something else to satisfy us, something else that won’t run out or won’t fail us or won’t cease. But there is no such thing outside Jesus. We think, like the Samaritan woman at the well, that we can get some water outside Jesus that will keep us from being thirsty. Or we think like the crowds He fed that there is some bread outside Jesus that will keep us from being hungry. But there is no such thing. It is only from Jesus that the living water comes, water that never runs out, life that never ends. He is the source and the fountain of life that never fails. It is only in Him that there is the true bread of life that gives life to the world.

We know all too well that this world and this age are characterized by lack, by insufficiency, by not enough. But Jesus gives the sign here that in Him we find the abundance and sufficiency that cannot be found anywhere in the things or people of this creation. In His resurrection, He joins us to His eternal, abundant life by water and the Spirit. And that baptism runs right to the fullness of the Kingdom of God. We are waiting for the cry and the trumpet that will announce the beginning of the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Come out and meet Him! His messengers will say. And we will go in with Him into that banqueting hall of joy and celebration. That will be a celebration that has no end, a feast where there is no lack; where joy is never interrupted by sorrow, where health is never interrupted by sickness, where promises are never broken, and where life is no longer limited and ended by death.

Until that day, He leaves us with the hint of that feast, and with its assurance and seal in this meal. His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink, and those who eat and drink in faith will find the end of their hunger and thirst. He is the Life that never dies, and He is the Truth who cannot lie, and the Way that will not be closed. The desolation will be restored and the deserted places will be occupied. As a bridegroom rejoices over a bride, so your God rejoices over you.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/15/22

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