Wine of Gladness

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany based on John 2:1-11

Dear invited guests of the great wedding feast: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Water is good. Wine is better. God loves to give the best gifts to His children, so Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana to provide for the on-going festivities.

The reality is that God turns water into wine all the time. He causes rain to fall so that vines will grow and grapes will ripen. He’s been doing it for thousands of years and He’s still doing it today.

What stands out in His turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana is how quickly He did it and that it was different from His usual method. He turned the water into wine without soil, without vines, without sunshine, and He did it instantly, without it needing to age in oak barrels, and it still tasting really good. It was a miracle. The first of Jesus’ signs that manifested His glory.

The first sign of Jesus’ glory is related to the last sign of His glory – the glory in which we will spend eternity. With Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana, the wine did not run out, and you can rest assured that the wine will not run out at the great wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

There are those who say that it is doubtful that Jesus actually performed this miracle. They say it is a miracle of luxury and indulgence. Why would Jesus provide wine for a feast where the guests had already drunk freely? They find it improbable that Jesus would even show up at such an event.

Others want to obsess over some symbolism in the turning of water into wine. The six water jugs symbolize the Law of Moses that cannot take away sin, while the wine symbolizes Jesus’ blood which does take away sin. Water symbolizes Baptism, the wine symbolizes the Lord’s Supper, and that it all took place on the third day symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection. Okay, maybe there is something to these things, and that’s all well and good.

What is front and centre, however, is that Jesus honoured marriage my attending the wedding in Cana and gracing it with the beautiful miracle of turning water into wine, manifesting His glory. Of course Jesus is going to honour marriage since He is the one who came up with marriage and instituted it for man and woman.

In the beginning, in Paradise, God created them male and female and blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen. 1:27-28) Even after the fall into sin, God blesses marriage. He says that it is He who joins husband and wife together with a portion of His Spirit and that He seeks godly offspring (Mal. 2:15). What better place for Jesus to reveal Himself as God, than where His great gift and institution of marriage is taking place? What better way to do it than provide wine for the celebration?

After all the planning and work of preparing for the wedding celebrations, what an embarrassment to run out of wine. It would have been unthinkable for a Jewish wedding to be celebrated without wine. Despite the important part of the wedding already having taken place and husband and wife already being one flesh, the only thing that everyone would remember about the wedding for years to come is that they ran out of wine.

To avert the disaster, Jesus had the servants fill six stone jars with water, together holding 120 or 180 gallons of water. That’s a lot of water. The servants then witnessed the miracle, as the water was now wine. That’s a lot of wine. Not just any wine, but wine so good that it made the master of the feast take notice and speak to the bridegroom about it. It was excellent wine, the very best.

The Psalmist writes that God gives wine to gladden the heart of man (Ps. 104:15). Indeed, as for the couple in Cana, He turns the water of sadness into wine of gladness.

We also have many warnings, however, about drunkenness. Ephesians 5 tells us, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” (5:18) Drunkenness is sin and excessive consumption weakens the will to oppose other sin. Proverbs 21 says, “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich” (v. 17) Those who live for the pursuit of luxury and pleasure are reckless in their spending and many ruin themselves.

Wine was given to gladden us, not for intoxication (Chrysostom). Ecclesiastes 2 says, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.” (v. 24) This is not suggesting hedonism, but that you labour and work and then enjoy the benefits of that work which come from the hand of God.

There is also wine in which you enjoy the benefits of the work that Jesus has done. This is of course the wine in the Lord’s Supper. Another week has gone by, more sins have been committed. Marriages have been under strain as husbands have been selfish and looked after themselves, neglecting their wives, taking instead of giving, disrespecting instead of honouring. Marriages have been under strain as wives have not submitted to their husbands, but instead criticized them, bossed them, and nagged them.

It is a great and necessary thing to apologize to your spouse and be reconciled and then even to share some wine. It is an even greater and more necessary thing to be reconciled and receive the blood of Christ with the wine in the Sacrament of the Altar – two sinners, together receiving the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of all your sins.

If God has taken your spouse to Paradise already, you are not left out in this regard. In the Divine Service we are assembled before God in heaven, and we sing with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven as we sing “Glory to God in the highest” and “Holy, holy, holy,” two songs of the angels (cf. Heb. 12:22-24; Lk. 2:14; Is. 6:3). As you eat the body and drink the blood of Christ, you are in communion with Christ and with all the saints who are in communion with Him, whether here on earth or in heaven with Him.

Because Jesus lived and died for you, He prepares a place in His eternal wedding banquet also for you. Because you are baptized and are thus covered in the robe of Christ’s righteousness, you are dressed in the necessary wedding garment to enter the feast. There you will drink wine better than anything you can imagine. It will not run out and you will enjoy eternity in the glory of God. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

On Marriage

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:2-16

Dear bride of Christ: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Marriage is good. Marriage is a blessing to husband and wife. Marriage is a blessing to children and children are a blessing in marriage. Marriage is a blessing to society, and is indeed the basis of society.

The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh think they know better. They think fornication is better than marriage. They think divorce is better than marriage. They think the individual is the basis of society.

If the individual is the basis of society, all responsibility of children to parents, parents to children, husband to wife, and wife to husband are thrown out the window. Then I do what I want when I want. It’s all about me. It’s all about whatever makes me happy. Surely you can see how that leads to licentiousness.

It also leads to divorce. We might even start debating divorce with God as the Pharisees did. “Surely God wants me to be happy. He can’t expect me to keep living in this awful marriage. God knows I married too young and my spouse has changed. This marriage is a sham.”

You’re not alone if you’ve tried to make excuses for your sins or the sins of others in this way. You’re not alone if you’ve tried to debate God in this way. The disciples did it too. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees wasn’t enough for the disciples. Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of their hardness of heart, but that that is not God’s design for marriage. It is not God’s intent for marriage. God’s design and intent for marriage is for husband and wife to hold fast to each other as one flesh until death parts them, since God Himself has joined them together. What God has joined together, let not man separate.

The disciples thought that this surely did not sound fair or reasonable. So, when they went into the house, the disciples brought it up with Jesus again. Matthew, in his account, records that the disciples even responded that if divorce is sin, it is better not to marry at all (Matt. 19:10). If you are stuck in your marriage until one of you dies, they thought it better to despise marriage altogether. If you can’t remarry after divorce because it is adultery, then why not just commit adultery and forget marriage altogether?

What a sinful and godless way to view marriage! It sees marriage as being bad. As if marriage is a curse on husband and wife and a curse on society. Certainly, our society takes this view as marriage is abandoned in favour of divorce and adultery, but this view has no place in the Christian church. Afterall, Scripture tells us that the sexually immoral, the adulterers, and those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19,21).

Does this mean that anyone who is guilty of breaking the Sixth Commandment is going to hell? No, that’s not what Scripture says. It says those who are sexually immoral. Those who practice such sins. In other words, those who remain in their sin and do not repent. Those who will not recognize their sin and turn away from it. Those who despise God’s good gift of marriage and remain in sin.

That’s why the Church has and continues to speak God’s Word on these matters. We love our neighbour, so we want to warn him about the eternal danger he is in if he does not repent. We love our neighbour, so we want him to receive forgiveness from God as we have received and continue to receive forgiveness.

Eve was created from Adam’s side while he slept. In the same way, the New Eve, the Church, has been given life from Jesus’ side. The Church has been given life by the water and blood that flowed from the spear-pierced side of the New Adam as He slept the sleep of death.

Ephesians 5 says, “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 splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Jesus washed you in Baptism to remove your spots and wrinkles of sin. He washed you to be holy and blameless. His blood continues to flow to you from the chalice with forgiveness and eternal life.

God is not interested in our excuses for sin. He will not debate adultery or divorce with us. But He will forgive adultery and divorce to those who are repentant.

God doesn’t weaken or bend His Law when we break it. The breaking of God’s holy Law means there must be just punishment, but that punishment is not for you. Your punishment was put on Jesus.

Only sinners die. That’s why Jesus died. God put your sins on Him and punished Him in your place. For your sake, God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God (II Cor. 5:21). God took all of your sins against His holy institution of marriage and put them on Jesus. God took your selfishness and excuses and put them on Jesus.

Jesus, the perfect bridegroom, gave His life to save His bride, the Church. He washed us through Baptism. He nourishes and cherishes us with His life-giving Word and His true body and blood. He does this so that He might present us to Himself with splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy and without blemish. He covers our sins and clothes us with His righteousness so that we will be appropriately dressed for the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion on those who fear Him.” (Ps. 103:8-13)

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will be following the One-Year Lectionary.]