Second Sunday after the Epiphany
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) The Son of God is conceived of the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary. He grows up and makes His way to the Jordan. There, John sees Him, points to Him and says,
Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.” I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water. (John 1:29-31)
Jesus is baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness. (cf. Matthew 3:15) Some of John’s disciples, at John’s direction, follow Jesus. Jesus calls a few more disciples.
Then, Jesus is invited to a wedding in Cana. His mother and disciples attend with Him. And how we like to pick apart that wedding. There’s merit in doing so, especially when the wine runs out and Jesus, at the behest of His mother, changes water in purifying jars to the best wine served at the wedding. Here we see a picture of the wedding feast of the Lamb on His Bride, of which we partake a foretaste when we consume the body of the Lamb as bread and drink the blood of the Lamb as wine—thereby making it the finest wine you will ever have.
However, often overlooked, and sadly so, is what John tells us at the end of the pericope. “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.” Seven signs John gives us, and this is the first. And when He concluded His Gospel, he tells us this: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31)
John is careful in using the word “sign.” Throughout his Gospel, he uses this word. He doesn’t use “miracle.” He doesn’t use “mighty work.” He doesn’t use “wonder,” but once in chapter 4, verse 48. These are signs. If your translation uses other words, a correction or note might be in order.
What is a sign? It is something that signals or signifies another. It is something that reveals what might not be known about another. We have road signs that signal to us what the speed limit is for a section of road, that deer or elk are often present in an area, that children are at play, that a school is nearby, or that we have come into a town or city. Signs point you to something other than themselves.
Therefore, our text is not so much about the wedding at Cana. It’s not really about the wine, water, and jars. The same can be said about the other signs. Jesus healed the Galilean official’s son, but it’s not about the official or his son. (cf. John 4:43-54) Jesus healed the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, but it’s not about the man or the pool. (cf. John 5:1-15) Jesus fed 5000 men with two fish and five loaves of bread, but it’s not about the 5000, bread, fish, or baskets of leftovers. (cf. John 6:1-15) Jesus walked on the water, but it’s not about the stroll or rough seas and strong winds. (cf. John 6:16-21) Jesus healed a man born blind, but it’s not about the man, his parents, saliva, Siloam, or the Sabbath. (cf. John 9:1-12) Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but it’s not about Lazarus, his sisters, or Bethany. (cf. John 11:1-44) These are the signs, and, as John wrote, not all of the signs Jesus did. They are all about Jesus.
“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
The signs point you to Jesus. They point out to you that Jesus is the Christ. They bid you to believe in Jesus, speaking the faith into you, so that you would have life in His name. Jesus, being the Christ, is the Lamb of God, sent from the Father to die for the sins of the world. “This is my beloved Son,” the voice proclaimed, “in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) The Father is pleased in the Son because He is the one who will fulfill all righteousness in the place of man, on their behalf, for His sake, reconciling this cursed creation to God. This is what these seven signs point to, this is what they reveal to you, bring to light for you: Jesus the Christ, your Savior, sent to die for you, that you may live forever with Him!
Chapter 11, the raising of Lazarus, the seventh sign, ends, and Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The rest of John’s Gospel, almost half of it, is Jesus in Jerusalem being the Christ. He celebrates the Passover with His disciples. He prays for His disciples. He is betrayed by Judas. He is brought before the Sanhedrin, before whom He is silent. He is brought before Pilate. He is scourged, crucified, dies, and is buried. “It is finished!” (John 19:30) One little word can fell the devil: τέτελεσται—it is finished! All righteousness has been fulfilled, completed, finished. Jesus has died for the sins of the world. Jesus has reconciled the world to the Father.
Still, many do not believe. That’s the funny thing about signs. We always want more. We like to get as much information as possible so that we can be sure we know what’s coming up. So we desire more signs. Seven is what John, by holy inspiration, has given us, but we say it’s not enough. We want to be absolutely certain that Jesus is the Christ. But how much will be enough? Dear hearers, God has given you what you need. Jesus is the Christ, and He is crucified for you.
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:20-24)
Here is the ultimate sign that Jesus is the Christ: He has died on the cross for you. That’s what we preach, as St. Paul wrote. In fact, he also put it this way: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) This is what all the signs are given for, that you would know Jesus Christ and Him crucified for you. That’s what the sign at the wedding at Cana is given for. There, again, Jesus is revealed to you as your salvation—as your only salvation.
Jesus changes the water into fine wine. The water was in jars that were used for cleansing ceremonies. The water jars and wine point forward to the Passover, which points us to the Last Supper, which points us to the Lord’s Supper, which points us to Jesus and His Sacrifice and His blood. True and only purification comes by Jesus and what He has done for you—namely His death on the cross in your place on your behalf for His sake. Your robes are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb; though they were as scarlet—stained with sin and iniquity—now they are whiter than snow. (cf. Isaiah 1:18) This is the first sign Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory. It is written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
So it is with all of the other signs Jesus did in John’s Gospel. Jesus is the one who heals and restores. Jesus is the one who fills his followers with all blessings so that their cups and baskets run over. Jesus is the one who in and with water casts out the storms of our unbelief and calms us with the peace that passes all understanding. Jesus is the one who opens eyes to see Him as the Son of God. Jesus is the one who gives life to the dead. This is what the signs of John’s Gospel point out. They point to Jesus as the One—the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That is to say that Jesus is most the One who does these things signified as He dies on the cross for you—for there, all righteousness is fulfilled for you, and you are healed and restored, your cups and baskets run over with all heavenly blessings, you are given peace with God, your eyes are opened to see your God as your Savior, you are given forgiveness, life, and salvation.
That’s the thing about the signs in John. They all demonstrate that there is something lacking in the people, that they are in need of something. They all then point to Jesus as being the one who supplies what is lacking and needed. They demonstrate, therefore, that you are lacking and in need and that you are unable to supply that need and fulfill what is lacking yourself. They point to Jesus as the only One who supplies what you lack and need. You are a sinner in need of God’s grace and mercy and salvation; Jesus is the full expression of God’s grace and mercy—He is your salvation.
These are yours now, but not yet. You still suffer with illness and disease. You reject heavenly blessings in favor of carnal blessings. You still war with God. You refuse to see God as your Savior. You latch onto sin, death, and damnation. You still struggle with your Old Man who is God’s enemy, and it kills you! How does this play out?
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:17-24)
Simply put, you know what is good and right. The Ten Commandments tell you as much. You want to do what is good and right. But the good that you know to do and you want to do you do not do. You sin, and deny it all you want, ultimately as God’s Word declares of you, you are a sinner, stained with iniquity, committing transgressions, on the road to death and hell and the wrath of God. Who will deliver you from this body of death? “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:25a)
Once again, it is His death that saves you from your death and hell. It is Jesus on the cross, that impossible, illogical, and weak-looking event, whereat all the wrath of God was exercised on One—the One to whom all signs point to—Jesus the Christ, the Savior. There, on the cross, as He cried out, “It is finished!” Death and hell are conquered. God’s wrath is completely satisfied. All that is left is life and every blessing.
But, John was not finished. His Gospel continues. He tells us of an eighth sign, but this one is different. This one is about you, dear Baptized.
Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. (John 20:3-9)
Jesus is risen from the dead. Death could not conquer the Lord of Life. The stone in front of the grave was rolled away. The linen cloths were lying in an empty tomb, the handkerchief that was about His head was folded together in a place by itself. Jesus was not in the tomb.
This is the Eighth Sign, or so we may call it—indicative of the New Creation. “Behold, I make all things new,” Jesus said. (Revelation 21:5) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) In six days, God created the universe, on the seventh, He rested. On the sixth day of the week, Jesus died for the sins of the world, on the seventh day, He rested in the tomb, on the eighth day, He burst forth from the grave, the in-breaking of the New Creation upon the old.
This sign is about you, then, dear Baptized. It points forward to the last day, when your graves will lie vacant as Jesus’ grave was. For when the trumpet sounds and Jesus returns, the dead will rise, and those who received the signs of John’s Gospel and believed that Jesus is the Christ will have life in His name. You, dear Baptized, baptized into His death and resurrection, will rise to everlasting life. You will be quickened, because you have been given faith to believe that, by the signs, Jesus is the Christ, because you have received Jesus being Christ for you—that you are forgiven for all of your sins.