For many people this text is a favorite. There are plenty of reasons:
- it has the feel of a magic trick or a science experiment
- it reminds us of God’s mastery over creation
- it invites reflection on the Lord’s Supper and God’s mysterious work with wine
- it’s about a wedding, and everyone loves a good wedding story
- it’s about wine, and many people like the idea of Jesus approving of wine— especially really good wine
But I think a deeper reason we like this story is because God does what we think He should be doing. In this story, God delivers. The hosts of the wedding were in a tight spot. They were in danger of a major embarrassment. They needed help. And there is Jesus to save the day. With a little prodding from His mother, and some help from obedient servants, He swoops in and solves the problem before anyone even knew it existed. That is what we are looking for from God, right? To swoop in. To save the day.
These are good reasons to like this text, but they all miss the point. John makes it clear in verse 11: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in him.” With this verse guiding the sermon, there are four things the preacher might consider.
First, the sign. John does not call this work of Jesus a miracle. It was the “first of His signs” (ἀρχὴν τῶν σημείων). That is not insignificant. For what does a sign do? A sign gives information. A sign points towards something. A sign draws attention, but not to itself. If you drive to see the Grand Canyon and see a sign telling you it is 10 miles ahead, you do not jump out of the car and gawk at the sign and snap pictures of the sign. You keep moving and follow where the sign leads.
John often uses σημεῖον for Jesus’ miraculous works. Seventeen times, to be exact. Jesus heals the sick—it is a sign. He walks on water—it is a sign. He feeds 5000—it is a sign. He gives sight to the blind, makes the lame walk, raises Lazarus from the dead—sign, after sign, after sign. John describes Jesus’ miracles—not as responses to prayer, and not as divine interruptions—but as signs. They pointed to something else. John 20:30-31 helps here: “Now Jesus did many other σημεῖα in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 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.
Second, the abundance. Verse six invites us to do some math. Jesus instructed the servants to fill six purification jars, each holding 20-30 gallons. They were filled to the brim. This amounts to 120-180 gallons of water. One gallon of wine produces five bottles—standard 750 ml bottles as we have them today. If you do the math, you will find Jesus provided between 600 and 900 bottles of wine. And we are not talking Franzia. This was good wine. The best. Much better and much much more than anyone could have expected. The lavish and extravagant abundance of God’s grace in this sign foretells God’s abundance grace in Christ for all of us. I think of Luther’s words in the Smalcald Articles as he describes the five different means of the Gospel. He begins by noting that God is, “extravagantly rich in his grace” (SA III.4).
God’s abundance also comes out in the other appointed readings for this week: Isaiah 61 speaks of God’s salvation extending to all people; Psalm 128 speaks of God’s abundance to His people in Jerusalem; 1 Corinthians 12 speaks of God’s abundant gifts to His church by His Spirit.
Second, Jesus’ mother. In the Gospel of John, the mother of Jesus appears only twice. John says nothing about the visit from Gabriel, the dilemma with Joseph, or the pondering around the manger. He introduces Mary here, in John 2. Like Jesus, she was a guest at the wedding. She told Jesus about the wine shortage. But after this story, the next time we encounter Mary in the Gospel of John is John 19, as He hangs on the cross. He looks down and sees His mother. Not far was John—the one who wrote this Gospel. Jesus says to His mother, “Behold your son.” And He says to John, “Behold your mother.”
Like He did at the wedding, Jesus was still providing. Abundantly. Mary was there to see them both. These are the only two places John mentions Mary.
Fourth, the change in perception. This abundant sign changes the way we look at Jesus. Imagine how the servants, the disciples, and Mary viewed Jesus differently after witnessing this divine work. Verse 11 explicitly tells us the disciples believed in Him. The servants at the wedding initially viewed Jesus as a guest. Then, as the shortage became known, He became the Master. Not everyone saw it, but the servants saw. So did Mary and the disciples. They believed. And so do we. Which is why it is a problem when we treat Jesus like a guest. We do it in various ways. We invite Him to be present in certain parts of our lives. At church, of course. Maybe before meals. But there are other parts of our lives where he is not welcome. At work. At school. With friends. Jesus will not remain a guest, however. He is the Master—an abundantly generous master who gives us the very best: forgiveness, life, salvation.
As the Master, Jesus calls us to follow Him. Mary’s words to the servants are appropriate here. In verse 5 she tells them, “Do whatever He tells you.” That is not a bad response for those who have seen the sign, believed in Jesus, and received from His abundance.
Concordia Theology: Various resources to assist you in preaching John 2:1-11 from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.
Lectionary Podcast: Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN, assists you in preaching John 2:1-11.