Surveys and experience show that we are living in the most biblically illiterate time in American history. This means that fewer Americans than ever are familiar with the stories, people, and message of the Bible. And yet, many people who don’t know how many books are in the Bible are familiar with this story. Why? Perhaps because this story is referenced at most Christian weddings. Or maybe it’s because of the interesting topics: a wedding, a party, wine, a problem, a miraculous solution and fairy-tale ending. Given the variety of themes, which is most important? In a brief internet search, I found some interesting sermon themes: Mary: Miracle Mother, What Do You Do with 180 Gallons of Wine?, Wine: The Devil’s Cup and maybe my favorite: Transformer. With all those options, which direction should we go this morning?
Each of those themes are an example of someone injecting his own personal agenda into Scripture – which is not the way God commanded his Word to be interpreted or preached. (If I were to stand up here and say that today we are going to focus on proper planning for wedding receptions, you should rightly get up and leave.) The only way to read the Bible correctly is to follow where it leads, to let the Holy Spirit’s agenda, his purposes, guide us. In order to discover the Spirit’s agenda in relating this wedding story, we have to start at the end. Not just the end of this story, but near the end of John’s gospel. There he writes: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these (signs) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31) There you have it. That’s our theme, our goal.
So, how do we get there? Having been baptized in the Jordan River, endured 40 days of temptations by Satan in the desert, and begun calling disciples to follow him – Jesus arrived in the town of Cana in north central Galilee, not far from Nazareth, his hometown for a wedding. Apart from the fact that Mary, Jesus and his first disciples were on the guest list, we don’t know many wedding details. Was it a large or small wedding? How was Jesus related? Where were they registered? DJ or band? John doesn’t tell us. But what he does tell us is important: the wine was gone.
Big deal, shut it down and send everyone home – that’s not unusual. In those days, when family and friends had to walk miles to attend a wedding, the reception didn’t just last an afternoon or evening. Depending on the resources of the groom, the reception could last up to a week. Since wine was an essential part of meals, running out of it was simply not an option; it was a major embarrassment for the bride and groom. With 2000 years of hindsight, it might appear normal that Mary would come to Jesus with this problem. But remember that Jesus hadn’t performed any miracles yet; wouldn’t it be strange to expect Jesus to break the seal on his divine power for something as insignificant as a wine shortage at a wedding. But Mary knew that there was more than meets the eye with her Son. She had not forgotten that visit from Gabriel 30 years earlier, the strange visits of the shepherds and the wise men, or Jesus’ remarkable behavior as a 12 year old boy. She had treasured all those things in her heart. She may not have expected a miracle, but she did know that if anyone could help – it was Jesus.
That’s why his reply sounds somewhat out of place: Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come. It sounds harsh and disrespectful to our ears. But Jesus was not being harsh; he was being polite, but firm. By calling her woman and not mother, Jesus was gently reminding Mary of her proper relationship to him – now that he had begun his public ministry. As far as his ministry and his mission of redemption were concerned, Mary was not his mother but a sinner who needed his salvation as much as anyone else. Gently but firmly, He reminds her that He is God’s son first, hers second. And Jesus was not going to reveal his glory according to Mary’s wishes, but according to his Father’s divinely determined schedule.
Can you see yourself in Mary? You love Jesus. You believe he is your Savior. You know that no matter the problem, Jesus can fix it. And so we bring all of our problems, issues, questions, and requests to Jesus, no matter how big or small, knowing that he hears us. “Lord, please take this sickness or disease away. Lord, please save my marriage, my family, my mind. Lord, I’m worried about my children, can you send a sign to straighten them up right now? Lord, this job is frustrating and soul-sucking, should I stick it out or risk finding something else, could you show me the way to go? Lord, your name and your Word are ridiculed by this evil world – show me that you are still in control. Lord, we beg you to do _______ or take away ___________ or give us ____________.” No matter what it is, no matter what you are asking for, have no doubt, Jesus hears you – you have his Word on it. (John 14:13)
And that’s an excellent habit – to take everything to Jesus in prayer. That’s exactly what Mary did here, and Jesus didn’t rebuke her for asking for help. He gently rebuked her for expecting him to abide by her schedule. We know what that’s like too, don’t we? To grow impatient. To grow frustrated. To hold Jesus to our schedule instead of submitting ourselves to his. Who exactly do we think we are when we suggest that the Creator doesn’t know what he’s doing in the lives of his creatures? Who are we to demand that Jesus act how we want, when we want? At times like that, Jesus takes us aside too and gently rebukes us: My time has not yet come. “I am the Lord, you are my servant. I am the sinless Son of God, you are a sinful human creature. You took your first breath (and you will take your last) on my schedule, and in between I will act when I decide – and not a moment before. Until then, repent and trust.”
When Jesus puts us in our place, Satan tempts us to throw our hands up in despair. He whispers “See…Jesus isn’t really all-powerful; he doesn’t really love you.” But Mary didn’t do that. [She] said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She’s no miracle mother, but she does have one important thing to teach us. If you paid very close attention to Jesus’ words, did he deny her request? No, he said not yet. In faith, Mary clung to those words (one word in the Greek), trusting that her Son would act when the time was right and as evidence of her faith, left the servants in his charge. The lesson? Pay close attention to Jesus’ Word, no matter the situation, Jesus has given you a promise, maybe just a word that you can hang onto in faith.
But we always want more than that, don’t we? We want to know why Jesus doesn’t act, doesn’t reveal his glory as we would like him to. I’ve often struggled with that, too. When you read the Gospels, it can seem that whenever Jesus shows up, people are healed, problems are solved, tragedies are averted, even the dead are raised – immediately. But just remember that a lot of those people were suffering, waiting for a long time before Jesus showed up. One man was a cripple for 38 years (John 5:1-15), a woman had bled for 12 years (Luke 8:43-48), Jesus even allowed his friend Lazarus to lay in the grave for three days before calling him to life. (John 11) Why does Jesus often wait to answer prayers? Because the purpose of his miracles is not merely to solve a temporary problem, but to create and strengthen faith that he is the Son of God who will save us from all our problems once and for all. He often waits so that we that we put our faith in him alone. That was true in Cana. The last drop of wine had been poured. The servants knew there was no more. Perhaps the guests beginning to grumble. Maybe the couple was poor and couldn’t afford any more. But the bottom line was that there was no more wine – and this was a problem only God could solve.
As amazing as this miracle is, notice how quietly Jesus carries it out: Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
That’s not a very dramatic ending, is it? No spectacular conclusion. No grand unveiling of Jesus as the one who saved the day. No teary-eyed thankyou speech from the bride. Why not? Because this story isn’t primarily about marriage or motherhood or even Jesus’ willingness to help in even the ‘minor’ problems of life. This miracle was about Jesus giving his disciples a snapshot of his glory so that they understood they weren’t just following the latest, greatest rabbi but the long promised Messiah. It was about Jesus providing evidence for us, for the first time but not the last, that he was not merely a man, but the Son of God. And that’s not my interpretation, that’s the Holy Spirit’s: 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.
Jesus’ timing may not always be our timing, but His timing is always best for us, our faith, and our salvation. God’s people waited thousands of years for God to keep his promise of a Savior, but when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law. (Galatians 4:4-5) Jesus often refused to perform miracles for his critics, but at the right times he revealed his divine glory to his disciples so that they had a firm foundation for their faith. Throughout his ministry Jesus used often that phrase my time has not yet come to refer to his suffering and death. And then, one afternoon on a hill outside Jerusalem, his time did come; for Mary, for his disciples, for you and for me. At the time the Father had appointed from eternity, [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)
Jesus hid his glory to become a man, to trade places with us before God’s judgment, to accept the condemnation our sin (including our sins of failing to trust Jesus’ timing) deserved, to grant us forgiveness and life through faith. But when the time was exactly right and the payment for sin completed, he took back his glory and rose from the grave to prove to the world that he is the victorious Lord over sin, death, and hell. Still today, when Jesus lets us wait for him to reveal his glory, he is really driving us to the means of grace where his glory is hidden in word and water, bread and wine for the strengthening of our faith. (Romans 1:17) And because that is all true, when Jesus seems to be hiding his glory in your life, hold onto the evidence you find in His Word – trust that his timing is best for you, for your faith, for your eternity.
This miracle is not primarily about weddings, moms, alcohol or social blunders. It’s to teach us that Jesus operates on his timetable, not ours; and he reveals it not to satisfy our curiosity or our desires, but to strengthen our faith – all so that when Jesus works the greatest miracle of all: raising the dead to life – we can be certain that we will have a seat at his grand wedding banquet in heaven. Amen.