The First of His Signs

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“This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Three days after He called His first disciples, Jesus arrived with them at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, a small town about nine miles north of Nazareth. Jesus’ mother was also there. We don’t know what connection they had with the wedding except Jesus’ mother was close enough to the bride and groom to be involved with the serving and to assume some authority over the servants.
Then the wine ran out. To be sure, it was not a crisis or an emergency, but it was embarrassing, a major first century social faux pas. Why they ran out of wine doesn’t matter. The text does not say, so we leave it alone. What does matter is that the stage was set for the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus’ mother came to Him. “They have no wine,” she said. She told Him of the need, fully expecting Him to do something about it. But do what? We aren’t told specifically, but we cannot rule out that she hoped for a miracle. Remember, this was the virgin mother who had learned from an angel that she would bear the Savior. This was Mary, who, from infancy, pondered the things about Jesus in her heart. She believed in Him as the One sent from God.
“Woman, what does this have to do with Me?” Jesus says. “My hour has not yet come.” It’s a strange way of putting it, but it’s not meant to be rude. Jesus’ reply was not disrespectful, but rather hyper-respectful, polite and formal. Jesus did not address Mary as mother and He did not permit her to pull her apron strings on Him. He was Lord to her, even as she was His mother. “Woman” is a title of respect and dignity. The next time Jesus addressed Mary this way was at the cross where He entrusted her to the care of John, “Woman, behold your son.”
Jesus never hurries, nor lets others hurry Him. He waits for His hour and then meets it. Sometimes that hour meets our expectations, often it does not; and if there is going to be a conflict you know whose agenda is going to prevail. Here is a case when both lined up. Mary wanted to fill and immediate need and avoid embarrassment, and she spoke as His mother. Jesus needed to reveal Himself as the Messiah to strengthen the faith of His disciples, and He spoke as her Savior. Their purposes were essentially different, although His would also satisfy hers. Their timetables differed to, by a little. He was bound to act at the hour set for Him by the Father in heaven. In the Father’s time Jesus would work a miracle. Also in the Father’s time, three years later, Jesus would lay down His life for lost sinners.
Mary believed and trusted Jesus. She ordered the servants of the feast, “Do whatever He tells you,” We pause at these words, thinking how important they are for everyone to this day.
Mary’s faith was well placed, and the scene was set. “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing.” For ritual purification the Jews washed their hands before and after eating, and they washed the cups, pitchers, and kettles for the dinner. It was part of the washing prescribed by the Law, which soon would be no longer necessary.
Jesus came to fulfill the Law with His own perfect life and obedience. So He told the servants to “Fill the jars to the brim.” And then He said, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” Nothing else. No further words, no actions. Jesus didn’t life a finger. Just told them to fill the jars with water, then draw some out. “Do whatever He says,” was Mary’s mandate. It all rests on Jesus, and the servants’ obedient trust in His word. What happened was that washing water became wedding wine. Immediately, not by a process of fermentation as happens with ordinary wine, but in an instant, without the intervention of a middle man or a the stomping of a single grape, but solely by the Word of Jesus.
And this is no cheap stuff, either. It’s vintage wine, the good stuff. 98 on the Wine Spectator ratings. “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.” The Lord provides many good things, but He always saves the best for last!
The account of Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana is often used as an example of the high place Jesus gives to the sanctity of marriage or how He often gives much more than we sinners either desire or deserve. While it is true that Jesus does honor marriage—after all, He is the one who instituted and sanctified marriage—and while it is also true that Jesus gives to all His creation, both the evil and the good, much more than they deserve—St. John does not tell this story of Jesus at the wedding feast for those reasons. St. John relates what happened that day for one purpose and one purpose alone: “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” (John 20:31).
St. John tells us in our text, “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11). With this sign, Jesus’ disciples trusted Him; they took Him at His word. Notice, not everyone believed in Him, but His disciples did. That’s the way Jesus’ signs work—they end up dividing believers from unbelievers, scandalizing unbelievers and strengthening the faith of those who already believe in Jesus as the Messiah.
The miracle alone doesn’t create faith in Jesus; it only creates faith in miracles. But the disciples made the connection, that this Jesus whom they followed was the Lord of creation, the One who called forth plants and vegetation (including the grapes) on the third day. He is the One who created and orders all things, who is the Word in the flesh dwelling among us. He does what only God can do in a way that only God can do it. He does it with signs.
That word “signs” is significant. So let’s take a moment to ponder it.
We often think of signs as a symbol that stands in the place of something else. For St. John, this is not the case. For John, the word “sign” really means something that points to something else. A sign does not merely demonstrate a power to elicit awe and wonder; a sign confronts man with God’s presence in such a way as to demand faith and obedience. Quite literally, the Greek word that we translate as “sign” here means “mystery.” So these signs reveal something that you wouldn’t otherwise know or recognize unless it was revealed to you.
Martin Luther tells us God gives signs as something visible for our faith to hold on to. So it is that the Lord’s holy gifts of Baptism and His Supper, manifested in lowly water, simple bread, and wine, are signs. They point to Jesus because they are inextricably linked to Jesus. They are signs of Christ Jesus’ real bodily presence among us as Creator and Redeemer.
Jesus’ miraculous signs point to Him and reveal Him as the Son of God. These signs point to spiritual truth of the Christ, the Anointed One who took on our flesh, lived among us, and experienced everything that we experience. They reveal Jesus, who, while fully human and like us in every way, except without sin, is also fully God. These signs are visible manifestations that reveal Jesus for who He really is, the Word made flesh, who created all things and who upholds all things in Himself. They reveal the glory of the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.
This is how Jesus has chosen to reveal Himself to you and to come to you, in signs in which His Word resides. But there is a problem. The problem is not in the signs. The problem is that these are not the signs we would choose. We are an evil and adulterous generation, which seeks after all kinds of signs, just not the signs Jesus has given us. Therefore, we would seek Jesus in heartfelt emotions, which lift us to heaven so that we can feel His presence, while we despise His presence in water, Word, bread, and wine. We pray for signs from God instead of relying on the signs He has already provided.
We are afraid that Jesus will not do what He has promised unless we see or experience some sort of miraculous sign. Because of that fear, because we can’t find comfort in what Jesus has already given, we often seek Jesus in the Law. Perhaps if we manage to be little more obedient, or at least better than most people, we will find comfort. If we try harder to be better people, our guilty consciences will find rest. But the Law is empty. It cannot save; it can only accuse and destroy. We have drunk this inferior wine to the dregs, and still we are not satisfied. The jars are empty, and all we find is pain, despair, sickness, and death.
But Jesus came to fulfill the Law. Just as there were six jars to be filled, so Jesus on the sixth day of week fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets. Just as man was created on the sixth day, so the Creator re-creates His creation on the sixth day with His holy body and blood. On the sixth day, Jesus died on His cross and was placed in His grave. It is finished. His hour had come.
Still, that is not the end of the story. The One who has died is no longer dead; He lives! The new and greater Jonah, after spending three days in the belly of the earth, gives us His greatest sign. The grave is empty. He is not there. Jesus lives! He has filled the Law to the brim, and our cup runs over. He replaces the Law and the old covenant with a new and better wine. We are not purified by the Law, but by His blood. The risen body of Christ is the beginning of the new order of things. In Him and through Him, creation is renewed and revitalized.
Although this renewal is perceived now only by faith, we see signs of it in the Sacraments Jesus has given to us. Jesus continues to provide, as He did that day, signs that point to Him and who He is and what He does. Jesus has provided mysteries to you in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There, Jesus is hidden in lowly water and simple bread and wine. In these miracles, He is revealed to you. In the Sacraments, Jesus, who revealed at Cana that He is Lord of the elements, continues to reveal Himself as Lord over all creation.
In the waters of Baptism, Jesus makes you His own. It is not that the waters of Baptism are nobler than plain water; in fact, they are plain water, except that Jesus has added His Word and commandment to it. As He turned the water into wine, with His Word and by His command, He also gave water the power to redeem you. For it is written, “Baptism… now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism is a “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5). Baptism is a re-creation of that which was dead in sin. Baptism re-creates you in newness of life in Christ Jesus.
In the same manner, the Lord’s Supper is a sign of your redemption in Jesus Christ. Is it not written that the blood of Jesus cleanses you from sin? The miracle of Jesus’ true body and true blood under the elements of bread and wine reveals the mystery of your salvation in a blessed and holy sacramental union with Jesus. It is as though Jesus takes you as His bride and the two become one flesh.
On that day at the wedding celebration in Cana, our Lord revealed who He is, to us and to the world. In “this, the first of His signs” (John 2:11). On that “third day,” Jesus points us to the restoration of creation that He would accomplish on the great third day, Easter morning. Through His first sign, indeed, through all His signs, Jesus manifested His glory and revealed to us a foretaste of what was to come: the restoration of our life in our God as it is meant to be.
Jesus has given to you a sign. At Cana, at Calvary, in the font, and at the altar, Jesus gives to you a sign of His glory. And His glory revealed is also a sign: a sign of His love for you. At Cana, in the font, and at the altar, our Lord has given you signs of the renewed creation won for you on the cross at Calvary. These signs are renewed here every Divine Service. Here, Jesus reveals that His body was given for you and His blood was shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Here, you have a foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb that goes on forever. Here, you are forgiven for all your sins.

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

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