Now I already knew that Shelly Schiff is really wonderful person. She is a committed Lutheran. She is intelligent, kind and caring, and it is enjoyable to be around her. Shelly is a great wife and mother for the Schiff family.
But she took things to a whole new level two summers ago and surely earned “Wife of the Year” honors as she encouraged Josh to go to Israel for several weeks for an archaeological dig and travel in the Holy Land. It wasn’t going to cost the family anything, because it was a funded experience available through the seminary. However, it did mean that she was going to have to single handedly keep things running for their family while Josh was gone.
Despite the extra stress it would mean for her, she encouraged Josh to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. And as it turned out we were also the beneficiaries of Shelly’s action, because when the Schiff family was back to visit, Josh did a great presentation sharing what he has seen and learned during his time in Israel.
I mention this because the dig Josh worked on was right in the vicinity of Cana in Galilee – the location of the events in our text this morning. And the focus of the archaeological work was a location where they made the waters jars that are mentioned in our text. It’s basically certain that the jars in our text were made in the location where Josh was involved in the dig, and he showed us a picture of what these jars looked like.
Our text begins by telling us, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.” Cana is located west of the Sea of Galilee, about eight miles from Nazareth and about sixteen miles from Capernaum. We learn that Mary was at the wedding, and the Jesus and his disciples were also invited.
The wedding banquet was, of course, a big part of the wedding celebration. Everyone wants their wedding to go well, with no major problems or mistakes. But the families involved in this wedding were not so fortunate. In fact a crisis of sorts arose because they ran out of wine. This was an oversight that was embarrassing and threatened to leave a bad impression about the whole event.
John tells us that when the wine ran out, Mary said to Jesus, “They have no wine.” Now it seems evident that this statement by Mary was not just an observation. She said it to Jesus in hopes that he would do something about the problem.
Our Lord’s reply at first seems rather brusque. He said, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus reference to “his hour” alerts us to the fact that already at this early stage of his ministry, Jesus’ focus was on purpose for which he had come into the world. On two occasions opponents are unable to seize Jesus because we are told, “his hour had not yet come.” Finally, during Holy Week Jesus said, “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.” In John’s Gospel, our Lord’s reference to “his hour” alerts us to the fact that this event is to be seen in relation to Jesus’ cross.
However, Mary continued to trust that Jesus could, and would, do something. She told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” John says that there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. As we know from Josh Schiff’s trip, they had been made right in the area.
Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” so they filled them to the top. Then he said, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” You have to wonder what the servants thought about this instruction. But they did it, and when the master of the feast tasted what they brought, the water had become wine. In fact, it was wine that was a better quality than the wine that had been served thus far at the wedding banquet.
Jesus turned the water into wine. And then John tells us: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” We have already seen the significant term “hour.” Now John piles up language in which we see that this miracle is about more than just saving people from embarrassment at a wedding.
We note three things. First, John calls the miracle a “sign.” Second, he says that this miracle – this sign – revealed Jesus glory. And third, he says that as a result of this sign, the disciple believed in him.
At Christmas we celebrated the incarnation of the Son of God. John began this Gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then he said about the Word – the Son of God: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Glory in the Old Testament was the perceptible presence of Yahweh. John tells us that he and the other apostles saw this glory in Jesus. And in our text, we learn that the miracle of turning water into wine was the first sign that revealed this glory.
John describes the miracle of turning water into wine as a sign that reveals Jesus’ glory. Jesus reference to his “hour” has already pointed us toward the cross. And John makes it clear that all of the signs by Jesus – all of the miracles – pointed forward to the cross for it is was there that Jesus’ glory was fully revealed. During Holy Week Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” And then John adds, “He said this to show” – literally, to sign by –“what kind of death he was going to die.”
Jesus’ glory was revealed as he died on the cross. It is paradoxical. Our Lord’s most powerful action to save us occurred in the weakness and shame of death on a cross. He cried out, “It is finished” as he died. We learn that to confirm he was dead “the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” Jesus shed his blood on the cross for you, and John tells us in his first epistle that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
We do indeed have sin. We know the ways we put things first, and God second. We know the ways we love ourselves more than our neighbor. We know the ways we hurt and harm others. Because we are sinners, we need the forgiveness that Jesus has won. And we receive it through faith in the Lord who died on the cross. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
In the Gospel lesson, the sign of Jesus turning water into win leads the disciples to believe in Jesus. At the end of the Gospel John tells us, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
In the Gospel we see the signs that reveal Jesus’ glory. We see the signs that point to the great sign of his death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. These signs call forth faith in Jesus Christ. They prompt faith which gives life, because the glory revealed in Christ is about more than just the cross.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ hour and glorification is one upward sweeping movement that includes Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. As he introduces the Last Supper John tells us, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” After narrating the events of the entrance in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, John notes, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” It was only after the resurrection that they understood.
The witness of the Gospel of John – the signs recorded there – reveal the glory of Jesus. They reveal the glory of the One who gave himself on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They reveal the glory of the One who rose from the dead on the third day. The reveal the glory of the One who has ascended into heaven.
This glory is revealed in God’s Word and received in faith. Yet in doing so they call us to us to faith in Jesus Christ who will reveal his glory for all to see. Jesus declared: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” For now, the signs call us to faith in Jesus that gives forgiveness and life. But that faith will bring us to the day when Jesus’ glory will be seen by all as we rejoice in the resurrection he gives to us.