“The Sign of the Wine” (John 2:1-11)

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 17, 2010

“The Sign of the Wine” (John 2:1-11)

What is the purpose of a sign? The purpose of a sign is to point beyond itself. The sign is designed to tell you something about what’s coming up or what’s inside or what it’s pointing to. The words or images on the sign convey a message intended to catch your interest and attention and to tell you what to expect. The other day I saw a sign with some golden arches on it, and there was an image of a French fry standing up and then two sandwiches in buns. The shapes were arranged to look like they read “$1.00.” And so by interpreting the sign, I could tell that if I went to a McDonald’s, these were some of the items I could get on their $1.00 value menu.

A sign pointing beyond itself to send a message about what’s to come: That’s what’s going on in our text for today, the account of the wedding at Cana. There Jesus performs a miracle that tells us something about what he’s up to. It catches our interest and tells us what to expect from him. And that is why this miracle is called a “sign.” It points beyond itself and tells us what you and I can expect from this Jesus. Today we consider “The Sign of the Wine.”

You know the story–well, at least some parts of it. But it never hurts to review an account from the word of God, so let’s do. Our text starts: “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.” Interesting, isn’t it, that the story starts out, “On the third day.” Sounds like something we know from another context also, something else that will be great and joyous “on the third day.” Now this great and joyous event is a wedding, and Jesus and Jesus’ mother and Jesus’ disciples are there, so we know something significant is about to happen.

“When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’” Cana, we have a problem! Running out of wine at a wedding banquet, where hospitality and conviviality are everything–this is not good, this reflects very badly on the host. Jesus’ mother presents this problem to her son, and implicit is that, because he is her son, he will do something to remedy the situation. This does say something positive about the expectation of Jesus’ mother, that she knew her son had the power and the connection to God to fix it. But at the same time, it also seems that she has a slight misunderstanding that Jesus needs to correct.

“And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me?” You see, it’s not just because she is his mother that Jesus will do what she says. Notice, Jesus addresses her with the term “Woman.” That is not a disrespectful term with which to address a lady in the first century; however, it is unusual for a son to address his mother in that way. Jesus seems to be indicating that their relationship in this situation will not be one simply of mother and son. And his question, “what does this have to do with me?” or more literally, “what to me and to you?”–this also establishes some distance between them. Jesus may deal with the situation of the wine, but it will not be just because his mom asked him. There’s something more going on here.

Then we get this very cryptic statement, “My hour has not yet come.” More on that later. Our text continues: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” Well, now that right there is a pretty good policy to follow in life, isn’t it? If Jesus tells you to do something, whatever it is, you’re usually on the right track if you listen to him and do what he says. Jesus’ mother speaks the response of faith in a nutshell.

Or in a water jar, to be precise. “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.” OK, water jars–fill them with water. Makes sense. We’ve run out of wine, but at least let’s get some water for the guests to drink. “And he said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it.” Huh? Now that’s funny. It’s just water. Why would you take some for the master of the feast to taste? He usually would only oversee the tasting of. . . .

The wine! That’s right. Take some to the master of the feast, because Jesus has turned the water into wine! “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 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.’”

Well, now, there you have it. The wedding at Cana, the water into wine. Good show, Jesus, way to go. Nice miracle, nice display of power. And it is that. It does show that this man Jesus has the power of God at his disposal. But is that all it is? Or is there something else going on here?

Notice that John, the gospel writer, calls this a “sign”: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” This miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana–this was a sign, and signs point beyond themselves. Signs tell us something of what to expect or what’s coming up or what the sign points to. So the question becomes: How do we read this sign?

Let’s read it by paying attention to some of the details that we might otherwise gloss over. Maybe they are significant. In the first place, notice the vessels in which the water is placed. “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification. . . .” That Jesus chooses to use these vessels–you know, he could have just refilled the empty wine vessels–that Jesus uses these six stone water jars, and that John chooses to mention that they were used for “Jewish rites of purification,” that seems to be significant. If we read the sign, it’s saying that Jesus has something more to offer than the old Jewish rites offered. That he, Jesus, is the fulfillment of what those purification rites pointed ahead to. And if we look at it that way, I think we are reading the sign aright. For Jesus is the author of a new covenant–the fulfiller of the old and the beginner of the new. Jesus brings in something new that is greater than the old.

What else? The wine is itself a sign, and the sheer staggering amount of it! That Jesus chooses to create wine, and that he provides it in abundance–six water jars full, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. . . . That comes out to 120 to 150 gallons of wine! Jesus is not chintzy in the blessings he bestows! “I have come that you may have life, and have it in abundance,” Jesus says elsewhere in John.

Add to that the fact that it is wine. Wine, in the Bible–and in most cultures, for that matter–wine is associated with joy. “Wine gladdens the heart,” the Bible says. You have wine at happy, joyful celebrations. And so it is here, at this wedding feast. But the sign of the wine points to more that just the joy at Cana that day. Jesus brings in the abundant, end-time joy of the messianic kingdom. The Old Testament prophets spoke of an overflowing abundance of wine–and with it, great joy–at the coming of the promised Messiah. A prophecy from the end of the Book of Amos is a good example: “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches”–that’s a way of saying the Lord will send the Messiah, the great son of David. And what will happen when the Messiah comes? “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”

So now, can you read the sign? By providing this great abundance of wine, Jesus is signaling that he is indeed the Messiah, now arrived on the scene, to usher in the great messianic age of joy and blessing. It’s here! He’s here! Jesus the Messiah. This abundant outpouring of wine sends the message.

Dear friends, Jesus has this joy and this blessing for you! The new wine of his kingdom is here for you today! Take and drink. This is good wine, the very best wine. Jesus saves the best for last. The wine that Jesus gives is his own blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

You see, this sign manifested Jesus’ glory, and in John’s gospel, Jesus’ “glory” always is connected with his being lifted up on the cross. That is his hour. Early on in his ministry, here at Cana, Jesus says, “My hour is not yet come.” But this sign of the wine points ahead to the time when that hour will indeed come, when Christ is glorified by his death and resurrection. It will bring glory to God and to his Son, when Jesus bears the sin of the world and takes it away, by being lifted up on the cross. There, when Jesus dies, and the water and the blood come rushing from his side–there is our cleansing and our purification. God’s glory is manifested chiefly in showing mercy, and that is what Jesus has for you, O sinner: the mercy you need, in the forgiveness of sins.

You receive that mercy and that forgiveness here in this feast, the wine and Christ’s blood in Holy Communion. And this, in turn, is a foretaste of the feast to come. There is a great wedding banquet coming, my friends, a time of unending celebration. You and I are invited. This wedding feast will never end. The wine will never run out. The joy will be eternal, and the joy is already here. It’s already beginning.

The feast is ready; come to the feast. The sign of the wine tells us that, points us to it. Jesus gives us the good wine, the best wine, in plentiful abundance. The joy and the blessing and the life are just what we need. “And Jesus manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

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Published in: on January 16, 2010 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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