Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Sermon on John 2:1-11, for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (1 YR lectionary), "Jesus' Goodness did not remain hidden"

By God’s grace may I make the Word of God fully known to you, the mystery hidden for ages and generations, but now revealed to his saints…this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim! (Colossians 1:25b-26, 27b-28a). In 1 Timothy 5:24–25, it says: “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.” This tells us that sometimes, when a good work is done, it’s not obvious or noticed. But even so, it can’t remain hidden. Jesus’ miracle at the wedding at Cana was this way. He worked behind the scenes, as secretly as could be done—with only His mother and disciples and the servants aware that He had miraculously changed water into wine. Jesus didn’t announce His good deed; He didn’t step in to take credit when the master of the banquet praised the groom for the excellence of the wine, and the surprise of saving it for last. Jesus quietly did a miracle that returned a great unexpected and undeserved blessing on the guests of the wedding, and most especially the hosts—the young married couple.
Just pause and consider the goodness of Jesus, as He exemplifies His own Sermon on the Mount. Good works, or serving others should not be done for attention, praise, or reward. So if we do a kindness, if we serve someone, and our good work is not “conspicuous”—but they are blessed by it—we should rejoice! Christians should delight in doing things that bless others without them knowing it. And even good works that are “inconspicuous” cannot remain hidden. When we do notice, we should give thanks and rejoice. But God rewards those who do good, even when no one notices. And things do often have a way of being found out—but the point is that we aren’t to go around trumpeting our own good works, or doing them for our own attention. Jesus shows His goodness by helping quietly, and not for His own reward. The young couple are blessed on their wedding day by an unexpected abundance of rich wine from the hand of God, and the joy grew greatly on that special day.
But at first, we notice that Jesus is reluctant to get involved. And we should pay attention why: “My hour is not yet come,” Jesus says. This special choice of words echoes all through the Gospel of John, where either Jesus or John talks about the coming “hour” of Jesus. It’s not talking about 60 minutes, but about the climax of Jesus being revealed as the Son of God. The true goodness of Jesus was to be revealed most completely and most purposefully at this coming hour. Everything built up to this “hour” which was central to Jesus’ ministry. We know this, because later in the Gospel, in chapter 12, when Jesus is about to be crucified, He announces that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and “now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Jesus was waiting in anticipation for that “hour” when He could fully glorify God the Father, by His death on the cross. All miracles and signs prior to this, were not to steal that glory, but to be in service to that climactic moment shining out Jesus’ goodness.
But even though that hour was still far off, Jesus agrees to get involved at Mary’s request, and grants His blessing, with an overabundance of wine. With 20-30 gallons per jar, and 6 jars, this was 120-180 gallons of top quality wine! One owner of a vineyard calculated that this could serve over 2,000 guests! It must have been quite a crowd, or a lot leftover! But more than just showing God’s generosity, this is a sign of the richness of God’s kingdom, and the age of the Messiah. Old Testament prophets described the age of the Messiah overflowing with rich wine. The prophet Amos (9:13-14) describes the day when God restores the fortunes of Israel, as a day when the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills flow with it, and all the people shall drink of the wine of their fruitful vineyards. An overflowing cup of wine and blessing was a sign that the Messiah was here. And wine from water—a miracle that only God could perform.
The master of the feast rejoices about the excellent wine he’s tasted, praising the newlywed groom for it. But because of Jesus’ inconspicuous deed, the master praised the “wrong groom.” Jesus actually calls Himself the “groom” in the Gospels, and so does John the Baptist, just a chapter after this. Jesus is the heavenly groom who weds the church. So when the master of the feast says “you have kept the good wine until now” it is really Jesus, the groom, who has kept the best wine for last. And more than just part of the story, this is also true of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom. He saves the best wine till last—and this first of His signs, was just a preliminary miracle, aiming the first arrow shot toward His cross. At the cross, Jesus took His last taste of sour wine vinegar while pouring out His lifeblood for the life of the world. He poured out His precious blood for all our sins, to redeem us. His lifeblood; the best wine, He  also pours out for us to drink in His supper. The wine poured out for Christ’s bride, the church to drink, is His blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus’ best wine was not the earthly miracle, but the wine of His blood, that forgives, renews, and strengthens us.
Yet even this meal, is but a “foretaste of the feast to come”. The whole imagery of abundant wine, and a wedding banquet, foreshadows heaven. It’s no accident that Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding, as Jesus again and again describes the heavenly joy of God with His people, in terms of a grand wedding banquet with rich food and wine. Christ, our heavenly groom, truly saves the best for last, and that is a joy to anticipate, but also to experience and share here and now, in this foretaste of the feast to come.
The main purpose of this miracle, was to reveal Jesus. The reading ends by saying it “manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.” To manifest or reveal, is to shine forth, or make something that is hidden, to be seen. Bit by bit, Jesus was made known to His disciples, His goodness and His glory shone out to all who would see it and believe it, as not just the ordinary rabbi, not just the carpenter’s son, not just the cleverest of teachers. But rather He was made known as the One with divine power at His command—power to turn water into wine, to multiply loaves of bread to feed a multitude, to raise a dead man to life again. The church season of Epiphany focuses all around these miracles, these manifestations, where Jesus shines forth as God in man for all men to see and believe. This is why we proclaim Christ, the mystery hidden for generations, but now revealed to you, the saints of God, that you might believe.
Because to believe in Jesus is to be joined to the joy of His kingdom, it is to walk with and be united to the One that God sent into the world out of such great love for us. And God pictures that steadfast love for His people all throughout the Bible as a marriage covenant—God faithfully loving and giving Himself to an undeserving people. To believe in Jesus is to be guided and taught by the One who has so thoroughly committed Himself to us, that He gave His life up for us. This is what our epistle reading talks about: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”…and “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Earthly marriage is a picture of Jesus’ self-sacrificing love for the church.
As Christ blessed the Wedding at Cana with His presence, so also at Lutheran weddings, we always pray that Jesus would in the same way bless the man and woman who are united with Jesus as their “welcome guest.” We ask, not only on the wedding day, but all throughout the highs and lows of marriage, through the “for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse” that Jesus would preserve them in their vows, to deepen and strengthen their love for each other. In ways that are hidden, or inconspicuous, and in ways that are more obvious, Jesus does bless us with His goodness in marriages. Some ways we notice, many we are unaware of.
 A wedding hymn based on this miracle also prays for God to daily show His mercies and to destroy all threats of harm, while doubling their joy. It is all too obvious in daily life how temptations, frustrations, and struggles, threaten to harm marriages—not just other people’s, but Christian marriages also. The devil especially desires to sow disagreement, disunity, and disharmony in marriages and family. But we pray and earnestly seek from Jesus, the faithful Husband of the church, to destroy those threats of harm, and produce a lasting peace and faithfulness in this marriage and this life. God can tackle those problems that are “God-sized” and “outsize” us. Christ is in you, the hope of glory.
Mary trusted in Jesus to take care of the situation, even though she didn’t know how. She commanded the servants, “do whatever He tells you”. So also we can trust in Jesus to care for us as He knows best. In God’s own timing, we wait for His care and blessing to be revealed. And meanwhile, you, His servants, are called to “do whatever He tells you”. We listen to His voice in the Word, and we follow as He calls. And we can joyfully submit to His lead, to His instruction, because we know the faithfulness of Jesus’ love for us. It never wavers or fails, but He gives Himself, heart, body, and soul for us. In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read 1 Timothy 5:24-25. Was Jesus’ miracle/good deed “conspicuous” or not? How did it nevertheless become known? Why did Jesus do it in this way? Who initially received the praise and recognition (even though undeservedly)? Why is this a pattern to follow when we do good works?
  2. If we do good, and no one notices, but people are blessed by it, how should we feel? Matthew 6:1; 5:16. Even though good deeds have a way of being “found out” (1 Timothy 5:25), why should we ourselves not be the ones to “trumpet it” or make them known?
  3. This miracle is the first of the “signs” of Jesus in the Gospel of John. 7 miracles can be counted in the Gospel of John, chs. 2-11, ending with the raising of Lazarus. What is the 8th and greatest miracle that John records, revealing who Jesus is? Ch. 20.
  4. Mary, the mother of Jesus, appears only here and in 19:26 in the gospel of John. This connection, and the fact that she is addressed the same way, and Jesus’ reference to His hour all point to the crucifixion as a climactic event. How was that moment Jesus’ true “hour”? John 12:23-28.
  5. How is wine a picture of the abundance of the heavenly kingdom and the age of the Messiah? Psalm 104:14-15; Genesis 49:11-12; Isaiah 25:6; Amos 9:13-14. If each jar contained 20-30 gallons, what volume of wine did Jesus create in this miracle?
  6. What was the main purpose and benefit of this miracle? John 2:11. What secondary blessings and benefits occurred to those at the wedding and to the hosts? John 2:10.
  7. What “best wine” did Jesus save for last, and pour out for the life of the world? John 19:28-30, 34. 

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