Heaven Shines Down in Cana of Galilee
Third in a series of nine
John 2:1-11 // Isaiah 62:1-5 // 1 Cor 12:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is especially the Gospel reading, from John 2, “All men first put out the good wine and when it is drunk, the lesser. You have kept the good wine until now.”
Dear friends in Christ,
We are focusing on the specific locations of our texts in these days, knowing that God most often works in those specific locations through their significant history to bring about particular opportunity.
God does not choose places at random but deliberately. God does not ignore the past of his people but uses every bit, every scrap of everything that they are to demonstrate his salvation.
Two weeks ago, we began with Bethlehem, the site of Rachel weeping for her children, the site of Jesus’s birth, the place where the Magi worship the Christ. Last week, we examined the River Jordan, an unimpressive place and yet one where God had chosen to give his people a new beginning.
Today we look at the third sermon in our installment of nine, Heaven shining down on Cana of Galilee. Look at the map in our bulletin. Cana was east of the city Capernaum, and north of Nazareth by about 8 miles. It was a similar kind of town, in the shadow of the two big cities in the area, Capernaum to the northeast and the capital Sepphoris to the north. It was just right for construction workers like Joseph and Jesus to get work. It was a small town, the kind of place where Jesus had family and friends the right age for getting married.
And for life in a small town, a wedding fest was a big deal. When someone would get married, it took over the town. “The wedding festivities lasted far more than one day. The wedding ceremony itself took place late in the evening, after a feast. After the ceremony the young couple were conducted to their new home...They were taken by as long a route as possible so that as many people as possible would have the opportunity to wish them well.” Can you imagine parading people around Janesville? And it wouldn’t end there. “But a newly married couple did not go away for their honeymoon; they stayed at home; and for a week they kept open house. They wore crowns and dressed in their bridal robes. They were treated like a king and queen, were actually addressed as king and queen, and their word was law.” Here’s the summary statement. “In a life where there was much poverty and constant hard work, this week of festivity and joy was one of the supreme occasions.”
How does heaven shine down when important chapters begin? How does heaven shine down when things are supposed to be at their most joyful? Three thoughts on the wedding feast that Jesus attends, a wedding feast gone wrong, a wedding feast that alludes to so much more. Three thoughts on how the presence of Jesus the bridegroom of the church changes the situation they are in.
First, he turns disgrace into pure grace. In our text, Jesus attends a wedding and they run out of wine. I quote “For a Jewish feast wine was essential... At any time the failure of provisions would have been a problem, but for hospitality in the East it is a sacred duty; for the provisions to fail at a wedding would be a terrible humiliation for the bride and the bridegroom.”
Hospitality was essential, to show your guests that you care. Hospitality was essential, because all of your guests were your family, your friends, the village that you lived in and around all of your days.
And in turning water into wine, Jesus turns disgrace on the part of the steward and on the part of the bridegroom into pure grace. He turns a rotten outcome into something better than we could imagine. He uses a mistake to make something better, and he does that for us too.
I find it to be a struggle for us to find the words to say these things, to say them in a way that doesn’t praise the mistake, nor does it minimize the pain. For grieving families, death can be a good thing even when death is the enemy that steals our loved one. For the person who has been through all kinds of hardship, those trials of life shape us into the people we are, even if we wouldn’t wish them on anyone.
But here we find the depth of the Christian narrative. We believe that God created the world, good, that the world’s good has been marred and smudged, and that Jesus came to make it good again. We believe in a world that God created good. Very good. Every bit of it. But we believe that all that good has been marred and smudged. Each and every part is good but it is good that has been twisted. Evil isn’t a thing in itself; it's a twisting, a disordering of what is good.
And here’s the gospel turn. We believe that Jesus took the worst piece of that twisting and marring, he took life which ends in death, and through the worst consequence of sin he has brought new life.
Do you notice what that does? It does what Isaiah 62 says so well. The God who didn’t wish for cities to be desolate and people to be forsaken in the first place has taken away their desolation and their forsakenness to call them into his weeding feast, to rejoice over them as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.
Second, in turning water into wine, Jesus turns scarcity into (grateful generosity). The wedding feast was only partway in and they were out of wine. One could imagine, that the wine steward was starting to get pretty stingy with the wine by the point that Jesus steps in. He only has so much left, and he would want to make it last as long as possible.
But after Jesus’s miracle, I would guess the wine flowed a little easier. The party went on a little louder, the rest of the night was a more than a little better.
If you had just enough money to get through the week, then you would look pretty hard at what you spent it on.But what if you had a million dollars in your bank account? How much easier would it be to spend?
St. Paul comes from much the same place in 1 Cor. 12. There is an overwhelming generosity of gifts, and only one Spirit who gives them. There are such a variety of members, and only one Body of Christ. All of the gifts that we have are to be used to the glory of Christ and to the building up of your neighbor. All of the gifts of your neighbor, this is the Christian trust here, all the gifts of your neighbor are to be used to the Glory of Christ and for the building of their neighbor.
Third, he turns this present hour into (eternity). This wedding feast, I can tell you with confidence, ended. At a certain point, the miraculous wine stopped flowing. At a certain point the bridegroom and the bride were no long addressed as king and queen. The laughter and the joy of the village were replaced by hard work. The brief moment of feasting was replaced by the poverty of living in a small town in an arid place.
But this is the first of Jesus’s signs, first of Jesus’s seven signs in the Gospel of John, and signs are a thing that point to something greater. This is the first of the signs that point to the greatest work of all. Jesus in his death and resurrection,
Every happy chapter of our life is a sign to the overwhelming joy of heaven. Every relationship of love and care is a sign toward the overwhelming love and care of our Father in Heaven. Your marriage is a picture of Christ laying down his life for his bride the church. Your moments, the ones that will stay with you for all your days, the ones that are so full of joy that time seems to have ne meaning, all point toward the day when Christ turns this present hour into eternity.
The kingdom of heaven shines down like a large church in a small town where they know they have a foretaste of the feast to come every time they come to the Lord’s table. They know that they have a little bit of eternal feast in every fellowship that brings them joy. They don’t despair over their past; nor do they hide it. Their eyes are turned from disgrace to the pure grace given them, from the scarcity of this world to the generosity of their savior. And together, they long of his hour to come.
Amen and amen.
Barclay, John vol. 1.
Worship Sermons & Letters