Home > Back to the Sermons Index
The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 17, 2016
The Gospel: John 2:1-11
Sermon: "Why did Jesus do it?"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Why did Jesus do it?
Why did Jesus do it?
A lot of weddings have happened in our family over the past few years. It started with our oldest daughter and her husband; it has continued with young people who are our childrenís close friends and who lived with us for a time, and sort of got adopted by us. And, this last year, as most of you know, it has kept going with the marriages of nephews and nieces, and our son and his wife. In fact, this past year our vacations were almost entirely about attending and presiding at family weddings. Looking into the not distant future, there are at least two more coming.
Fortunately, I really do enjoy weddings. In fact, I love them. The joy is infectious, and I canít stop smiling just thinking about that. Of course, one of my favorite parts is the reception. My work is done, and now all thatís left is to kick back and party. Almost without exception though, there is one thing that happens to me at that moment: someone will, without fail, come up to me and ask, in effect, ďSo, Father, are you prepared to fix things if the wine runs out?Ē To which I usually respond with some witty rejoinder, ďHey, Iím only good at blessing it and drinking it; not making it.Ē Well, it sounds witty enough after the second glass.
Perhaps because of such repartee, or simply because, as a priest, my mind works this way, I do find my thoughts landing, at least for a bit, on this morningís lesson from the second chapter of The Gospel According to John. This is, of course, the story of the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus performs the very first miracle of his ministry; the changing of water into wine. Itís the most famous of all of Jesusí miracles. Itís certainly the most popular and most remembered.
The question that has often rolled through my head, when I think of this event, is why did he do it? What was so important about providing wine at this feast, that Jesus would inaugurate his ministry in this way? A little background to the story might help us. Back in the first century, a wedding celebration was no less of a big deal than it is today. In fact, it was an even bigger deal than today. Sure, getting married today costs most couples a small fortune. In fact, according to the folks at Easy Finance.com, the average cost for a wedding, from the engagement ring right on through to the honeymoon suite, comes in at more than $27,000. That's right, the average family drops almost 30 grand for just one day's worth of partying.
But, in Jesus' day, it was common for a wedding to last an entire week! Seven days was the Jewish custom. That's seven days of feasting, drinking, abstaining from work, and enjoying the company of loved ones, all as a way of celebrating and sharing in the new family's joy. Now that is a party, and we have to imagine that it couldn't have come cheap.
Knowing all this makes what John tells us about the problems at the wedding in Cana understandably pressing. "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. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, 'They have no wine'" (John 2:1-3).
Wine held deep practical and spiritual significance for Jewish partygoers. Practically, it did what wine does for us today. It filled the stomach, gladdened the heart and helped the mind drift from matters that might hinder one's effort to enjoy a weeklong Sabbath and celebration. Spiritually, it served as a sign and symbol of the joy and blessing that flow from God's right hand into the hearts and lives of his chosen family (Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 3:10). Without wine, which was central to the feast, the celebration would come to a grinding halt, and its absence would leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the guests, and shame in the host.
So, Jesus, at the behest of his mother, makes sure the celebration does not cease. Filling six large, stone water jars, Jesus performs his very first miracle, transforming some 150 gallons of water into an overflow of top-shelf, aged-to-perfection celebration wine. For sure, this was not the kind of wine that comes out of a box, or can be bought in bulk at a box store. This was, according to the unsuspecting father of the bride, "the good stuff." Crisis averted. Party on.
One caveat here: I probably donít need to say this, but I will anyway: this is not advocacy of over consumption; drinking to get drunk or sick. Itís about what this wine symbolizes for our lives. But, again, why did Jesus do it? Why would Jesus provide wine for this party? Well, for at least three reasons. And the first is this: Jesus transformed the wine to show us that he is the joy of life. As mentioned earlier, this moment was about so much more than Jesus' using his power as Messiah to keep the fun flowing for some cousin's wedding. This was, as the servants and disciples who witnessed the miracle firsthand no doubt began to surmise, the beginning, the inauguration of a whole new celebration. This was the Savior of the world pressing play on a new era in the kingdom of God and sending a message, namely, that all which the wine and wedding signified spiritually and culturally for the Jewish people was now available to be tangibly and fully enjoyed through him, the Christ. It's a truth that when we really let it sink in will radically change the way we go about our daily lives.
For example, today, as in the first century, good wine at a great wedding leads to an undeniable sense of joy. We've all been there. We uncork the wine, hear the music in the background, glance at our beloved all dressed up, and before we know it, something in us is saying, "Life isn't that bad." Not long after that weíre dancing and just celebrating life, rather than worrying about it.
The same is true with Jesus. Drinking his presence into us leads to joy. In him we come to know that the Almighty Creator and Judge of all things is in love with us. Knowing that changes everything. Sure, life is still hard for now, but because of Christ, sins are forgiven, we are right with God, death is conquered, eternity is ours, and our lives shall know joy. Drink that in. Jesus transformed the wine so that the celebration would have joy, and he transforms us so that our lives will know joy. Jesus transformed the wine to show us that he is the joy of life.
Hereís the second reason he did it: Jesus transformed the wine to show us that he is the hope of life. A good wine and a great wedding induce optimism about the future. It doesn't matter if we're in day four of a Galilean wedding celebration or in hour three of a family reception and listening to "I Had the Time of My Life" while the happy couple enjoy their first dance. Thereís something about it all that makes us wax positive, at least for a moment, about the road ahead.
Throughout Scripture, wine and wedding imagery are tied to the hope of eternity. In Isaiah we hear the promise that one day, "...the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear" (Isaiah 25:6). In our reading from Isaiah this morning, God declares his unending love for his people, and declares them married to him. One day, Jesus tells us, we will enjoy a wedding feast to beat all wedding feasts, where God's forgiven people will celebrate their eternal, resurrected life with him who is our love.
The point of this miracle at Cana is to show us that in Christ the fulfillment of that promise has come to us. When we look at the blood of the cross and the emptiness of the tomb, we see more than a reason to be hopeful; we see a guarantee of our hoped-for future. We have more than a nostalgic moment. We have an undeniable destiny. With this being true we can aim for so much more than to simply feel hopeful for a moment while watching a family memberís nuptials. We can live hope-filled through every storm, fight, up-day and down season, knowing that Jesus Christ has fought, won and guaranteed a glorious, feast-filled future for us. Feast on that truth. Drink that in. Then let out a satisfying sigh of relief. In Christ there is every reason to be optimistic about the road ahead. Jesus transformed the wine to show us that he is the hope of life.
Hereís the third reason He did it: Jesus transformed the wine to show us that he is the source of blessing for life. Good wine and great weddings have long been triggers to recognizing and relishing in the fact that we are abundantly blessed. Seated around family and friends and enjoying the finer things in life stirs up a sense that the happy couple and all those who celebrate with them are lacking in nothing. When the wine and food flow, when everyone is looking their best and all we see are those who know us and love us, we can't help but feel rich. That's part of what makes a "lights-out" wedding so great.
Consider, for a moment, those six stone jars. This is not an insignificant detail in our story. The jars would normally be used for the washing of hands and utensils, meeting the need for constant cleanliness as Jewish law required. By transforming the water of these jars into wine for the party, Jesus is sending a message that the blessings he brings will meet the deepest of needs. He is showing us that at his party the wine of his truth will do more than gladden the heart and redden the cheeks; it will do and give the things of God. Those who drink in Jesus will not simply feel rich for a day or a week, they will be rich in the blessings of God for eternity! Jesus transformed the wine, to show us that he is our source of blessing.
By miraculously providing wine for the wedding at Cana, Jesus made a wedding reception so awesome that it's still resonating 2,000 years later; and you and I have been invited to it! Jesus turned the water to wine that we might have his joy, his hope, and his abundant blessing. And, thatís why Jesus did it!