Sermon prepared by Rev. Colin VanderPloeg, Abbotsford, BC
Sisters and brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ and friends and newcomers to the Body of Christ gathered here today,
The miracle at Cana in Galilee is the first recorded miracle of Jesus. His ministry began at His baptism by John the Baptist. By chapter two, Jesus has just called out the first of His disciples who have begun following Him. Later in John chapter twenty-one, we find that one of those disciples, Nathaniel, was in fact from Cana in Galilee. So by some connection, Jesus, His mother Mary and His disciples are invited to a wedding feast. And Jesus attends the wedding. Jesus celebrates with the bridal couple and their families this new marriage. Marriage is a good thing in God’s eyes, and Jesus’ attendance affirms this.
Have any young ladies here been day-dreaming of what your wedding day will be like? Are there any mothers of such ladies who, when thinking ahead about your daughters’ wedding, already feel your stress levels rising? Try not to worry too much about all those arrangements for the ceremony and for the reception afterwards. Just compare what you will have to do to what this wedding couple in John two had to prepare for. The Jewish weddings of Jesus’ day celebrated for a whole week! New guests would show up all week long. Talk about a planning nightmare!
And you had to supply sufficient food and drink to show your hospitality. Abundance and celebration were expected to go hand in hand in the Bible times and in the Bible itself. And you had to serve wine. Wine was a symbol of joy and celebration. Listen to this example of the commonly repeated Old Testament use of wine in connection with celebration from Jeremiah 31:12: “They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord—the grain, the new wine, and the oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden and they will sorrow no more.” Often in the Old Testament when celebration is present, wine is a part of it, a symbol of joy. And so it was served at weddings. Wine is a good gift from our God, a sign of rejoicing.
So let’s pause here for a moment to make sure we keep this in perspective. The Scriptures do not condemn the drinking of wine. The Scriptures do condemn, very clearly, in multiple places, getting drunk or inebriated on alcohol. The Scriptures also condemn the idolatry of alcohol, as found in our North American culture. You see this idolatry where ads for drinking a Coors Lite or a Budweiser or a Captain Morgan’s Rum communicate that this will get you the good life. There is only one place to find the truly good life and that is in the way of the Lord God. As the Scriptures say in Ephesians 5:18: “Do not become drunk on wine which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit.” Just so we are clear, we can never claim that the Bible is okay with getting tipsy or drunk on alcohol of any kind, wine included. Wine is not evil in itself, but the question is, how is it used?
So back to the wedding feast…. Jesus’ mother notices that the host ran out of wine completely. There was no simple solution available of running to the nearest wine store and stocking up again. As family of the bridegroom, you would normally serve your own wine; the wine from grapes you grew on your own land. It was a sign to the bride’s family that you, the bridegroom, were capable of providing for your bride, who was leaving her family’s home and their provision to enter your home.
So this running out of wine was a serious social and personal matter between families. If you run out of the symbol of celebration, what does that say about your joy in receiving your bride? What does it say to your future in-laws about your ability to care for the daughter they are giving to you in marriage? If a daughter of ours today is seriously courting with a fellow, it is not uncommon today to have her parents ask what the fellow does for a living. We want to know that there is adequate provision for the new couple. Running out wine at your wedding in Jesus’ day was not the way to win the good graces of your in-laws.
Then we have a somewhat strange verbal interaction between Mary and her son, Jesus. Verse 3, “When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My time has not yet come.’” What is going on here?
Mary is doing what is natural to her. Since Mary’s husband Joseph is not mentioned any more in the Bible, tradition has always assumed that by this point in time he has already died. Jesus, being the firstborn, learned carpentry from His earthly father, Joseph, and so was most likely the main provider for Mary His mother. So at first glance it seems that Mary is asking her son, the family provider, to do something if He can about the situation. It may even be that this wedding was of a relative and that’s why they were invited in the first place. So Mary might also be concerned about how this reflects on their family.
But there is also another reality at work here. Mary had treasured up in her heart, stored away inside, the amazing words of the angel who came to her to announce her pregnancy. She pondered in her heart the words of the shepherds and the coming of the wise men from the east, and even perhaps now, the words of John the Baptist about who her son Jesus is.
There is a hint of expectation that Mary knew that Jesus was special, different. Yet she still approaches him as her son, and asks Him to do something about the situation at hand. Was she expecting a miracle? We don’t know. What we do know from Jesus’ response was that she was basically concerned about the wine shortage.
The New International Version of the Bible translates here what Jesus says to her as “Dear woman.” The text of the ancient Greek says simply, “Woman.” The NIV is trying to convey that this was not disrespectful, which is correct. Jesus was not disrespecting His mother in any way. It was, however, quite unheard of to call your mother “woman”. But Jesus says this to her on purpose.
In His response, we see Jesus replacing Mary’s primary relationship to Him as ‘mother’ with the relationship of ‘follower.’ In other words, Jesus is telling Mary that she is to be His disciple too. “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” The insinuation is that Mary involved Jesus out of her mother/son relationship, but Jesus is not there primarily as her son. Jesus tells her, “My time has not yet come” because what is primary is the kingdom of God coming through Jesus Christ.
Jesus was aware of the timing of His Heavenly Father. The time of His being glorified by the Father was not yet there. It would come in the hour of His death on the cross. Then the Son would be lifted up on the cross and God would gain the victory over all sin, death and hell in His Son’s sacrifice.
And so too here, at the first of the miracles of Jesus, we hear that these miracles are not primarily about our needs, but about the glory of God revealed in His Son, and for the timing of the Kingdom of God. All the events of Jesus’ earthly life were intentional, on purpose, for the glory of God’s redemptive work. Nothing was random or simply situation driven miracles, but were chosen actions that had God’s purposes in mind.
Mary does not follow up with any more requests for her son but responds more like one beginning to understand that things have changed. She will continue to accompany her son, but will more and more be a fellow disciple of the Master. Jesus will refer to Mary once more as “Dear woman” in John 19:25. While hanging on the cross, He hands the mother/son relationship over to one of His disciples, in a final releasing of Mary to be fully a disciple of Christ. Mary does not have some special role as an intermediary saint as in the Roman Catholic practices. You don’t have to pray to Mary, Jesus’ mother. You pray like Mary, as a fellow disciple, to Christ
What Mary does next is to alert the servants to be ready to do anything Jesus tells them to do. She submits to Jesus’ timing with the expectation that He will act in some way. Well, Jesus does act. He instructs the servants to fill six stone water jars to the brim with water. These jars would be standing in a hall way or near the entrance to the main banquet area. They would be there so that all the guests who came would be able to have their hands washed in clean water, a ceremonial way to honour the householders. It was a sign of purification. The utensils used to serve the meal might also be washed with this water.
So the servants had to refill the jars as that had been in use already that week. They are filled to the brim. There is no room for any more to be added. It is full of water. Then Jesus tells the servants to draw some from these jars and bring it to the master of the banquet. In today’s wedding contexts this would be a sort of head caterer combined with master of ceremonies for a reception. John makes clear by these details that there is no trickery going on here.
Six jars filled to the brim, holding about 150 gallons of water are now turned into wine by Jesus. This was a miraculous changing. There is no way that water can turn to wine. Not even our modern scientific knowhow can do that. Now as we read this, with our scientific skepticism, we are faced with a choice: can this be true or is this impossible?
If we are unable to accept that six jars filled to the brim with only water, which the guests have been using to wash their hands all week, and that this water is suddenly, without explanation, turned into wine, then we will not hear the good news that is our in Jesus Christ. For He is the miracle worker. A miracle is not some trick or some pre-scientific era explanation for something that we can explain away today, though many may try to do this. It is something done by the power of one who made the heavens and the earth out of nothing. Remember that John starts his gospel account announcing that the Word, the second person of the triune God, became flesh in Jesus and dwelt among us. And that all things were made through Him, through the very Word now made flesh, and sitting at this wedding.
It is really not all that surprising that the Son of God has power over the very elemental particles of the universe and can transform washing water into the best wine in the house. Verse 11 says, “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”
So what does it matter to us to know that Jesus did this miracle at this wedding? There are some in parts of the Christian Church who boldly announce that Jesus does not do miracles today, that He only did them when He was on earth. There are no miracles any more. We cannot find any support in the Scriptures for that view. It seems more to be a sad and defeated view of life in the Spirit.
Why is this account here? To declare to us who Jesus is still today, not just who He was back then. Jesus is the miracle worker. And just before He ascended to heaven, He promised to be with us to the very end of the age as we go forward with the Good News.
So what do we do with the reality that Jesus our Lord is a miracle worker? Well here are a few perspectives we learn from His miracle at the wedding in Cana.
First, believe that Jesus did do, can do, and does do miracles here and now by His powerful presence in the Holy Spirit. If we do not believe that, we will never see any miracles, because even when they do occur, we will find a way to explain them away. In John 2, only Jesus’ disciples are moved to faith in Him. And elsewhere in the Gospel accounts, many see the more public miracles of Jesus and still refuse to accept who He is. So first, believe that Jesus is a worker of miracles.
Second, these miracles are signs. They are pointers to something, namely, to the glory of God. Miracles are not for our entertainment, as thrilled as we may be by them. Miracles are not for our advantage, so that we can get what we want, when we want it. That is why Jesus questions His mother’s view of Him in verse 4. Jesus’ miraculous signs are for the revealing of His glorious calling from God to rescue us sinners from judgment and to bring in the Kingdom of God. The miracles are signs of the in-breaking of this new Kingdom reality, to announce and demonstrate Christ’s victory and Lordship. In Luke 7:22, we find John the Baptist later doubting who this Jesus was, so he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus if He is really the one foretold of old, the Messiah of God. Jesus tells them to go back and tell John the Baptist what they have just seen and heard: “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Miracles point to who Jesus is and what He has done. They are signs!
Today, the miracles of the Lord in this world are still signs or pointers to who He is and to His kingdom rule. People may be troubled by why one person receives healing from cancer and not another. These are the inscrutable ways of God. But we know the purpose and place of each miraculous sign has to do with the purposes and timings of the Kingdom of God, and not of our agendas and desires. It is about what God is doing in this world, not about what we think would be the best thing to do. We need to have humility before the Lord as we seek His miracle working presence in this life.
A third thing we can learn from this miracle at Cana is expectant humility. Mary’s attitude is a good place to start. She was expecting Jesus to do something; she preps the servants to be alert. But she also submits her timing to His. We may and we should seek the Lord’s glory and the furtherance of His Kingdom with expectancy. After all, our Savior is the God who acts on behalf of His people. We can seek that action in prayer and praise, with thanksgiving. Paul instructed us in Philippians 4:4-6 to bring all things to the Lord this way. But we always do so submitting our wills and our desires to God’s timing. We often make plans with the phrase attached, “the Lord willing.” Or we may pray and at the end of the prayer say, “but not my will, but Your will be done.” This is not some sort of defeated fatalism that is saying, “We ask this, but don’t really believe You, Lord, will do anything.” This is the heart of faith, saying, “God, come and help and intervene and work Your miracle of grace and healing and power in this situation! But do it for Your glory and the glory of Your Kingdom! Do it in Your ways because Your ways are far better than anything we can come up with.”
We see those ways of the Kingdom of God displayed in Cana in both the abundance of the new wine given and its excellence. It is better than all the wine they had. Even the best of the bridegroom’s provision does not equal the provision of the Bridegroom of Heaven, our Bridegroom, who provides the wine of joy that is Himself, the abundant provision of grace and new life. Jesus is the Miracle Worker who points us to the Kingdom of God and strengthens our faith in Him.
Do not hesitate to seek and expect from the Lord all power and wonders needed to bring glory to Him in whatever situation you are faced with. Humble yourself under His mighty hand, and He will lift you up in His timing. Seek His miraculous signs to bring faith and joy into people’s lives. Do so with expectation and with submission to His glorious will. Amen.
Order of Worship
Welcome and announcements
THE LORD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
Call to Worship: (from The Worship Sourcebook, p.76)
Leader: In holy splendor, we worship the Lord.
All: In God is glory and strength. The Lord is mighty. God is with us.
Leader: In torrents and storms, God’s peace pervades.
All: In rumbling thunder, God’s mighty voice soothes. The Lord is majestic. God is with us.
Leader: The whisper of the Lord snaps silence.
All: The unwavering sound persists. The Lord is awesome. God is with us.
Leader: Enthroned, God rules the universe. In whirling winds, nature acknowledges glory.
All: The people in the temple rejoice. It is certain. God is with us.
Opening Song: “The Heavens Declare Your Glory” PsH #429
God’s Greeting: “Hear the words of Jude vs 1, 2: ‘To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ; Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.’ Amen”
Songs of Response: “All Glory Be to God on High” PsH #247
“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” PsH #253 vs 1, 3
THE LORD LEADS US IN THE RHYTHM OF HIS MERCY
Confessing Our Need of Grace: by reading Psalm 86: 1-10 as our prayer (could be in unison)
Song of Response: “Lord, My Petition Heed” PsH# 86 vs 1, 4
Assurance of God’s Grace: say “In Jesus’ faithfulness, even unto death, we receive the gift of His righteousness as our own and so we share in the blessings of God’s promises.” then read Psalm 91:9-16
Song of Response: “To God Be the Glory” PsH# 473 vs 1, 2
Call to Thankful Living: Responsive Reading of the Law As a Rule of Gratitude PsH pg. 1017
Song of response: “When We Walk with the Lord” PsH #548
THE LORD SPEAKS WITH US BY HIS WORD AND SPIRIT
Scripture reading: John 2:1-11
Sermon: “The Miracle Worker”
Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God is abundant and excellent. Do not let us shrink back from humble expectation of Your glorious power to be shown today. Do not let us refuse to submit our agendas and our hopes and plans to Your glorious will. Work wonders in us and through us for the glory of Your Kingdom. In Your holy and marvellous name we pray, Amen”
Song of response: “Song of Thankfulness and Praise: PsH# 361 (alternate tunes: #2, 121 or 527)
THE LORD INVITES US TO RESPOND IN LOVING SERVICE IN HIS NAME
Offertory prayer and offering
Song of praise: “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” PsH# 486
God’s Word of blessing:
Rejoice in these closing words from Ephesians 3:20-21: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Closing song of praise: “There’s No God as Great” PsH# 517