See the Sign (January 20, 2019)

Sermon Text: John 2:1-11

Seminary Senior: Andrew Nemmers  


Almost anywhere you go, you’re going to see some signs. On the highway, you see speed limit signs and exit signs. You see signs for gas stations and restaurants. And these signs are there to help you. Without speed limit signs, you wouldn’t know how fast you could go without getting pulled over. Without exit signs, you might not know where the road is that you need to turn onto. Signs are there to give you a message or to point you to something. When you’re driving down the highway, and all the sudden you realize your fuel light is on, you start looking for a gas station sign. When you’re hungry on a road trip, you start looking for one of those signs with the big yellow M. Those signs point us to something we otherwise might not see. Without those signs, we might not be able to see where that Kwik Trip or McDonald’s is from the highway. In our Gospel today, John refers to what Jesus does as a sign. And like those Kwik Trip or McDonald’s signs, this sign is meant to point us to something that otherwise might have escaped our notice. This first miracle of Jesus is a sign he performed in order to point his disciples and us to his glory.

For the first thirty years of his life, Jesus seemed like a pretty normal guy. He lived the small town life in Nazareth, he carried on the family business of carpentry, and for all we know, no one really thought twice about him. Sure, there was some fanfare around his birth, as we’ve heard the past few weeks in the Christmas season, but since then there wasn’t anything too exciting about this Jesus of Nazareth. But when Jesus turned thirty, things rapidly started to change. At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on him and anointed him to begin his public ministry. The stage was set for Jesus to reveal his glory to the world.

And yet, strangely enough, we don’t find Jesus crying out in the streets of Jerusalem, “I’m the Son of God, follow me!” Instead, John tells us the story of Jesus calling his first disciples in Galilee, in the area north of Jerusalem where he grew up. Even then, there wasn’t much fanfare. John the Baptist testified that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and some of John’s disciples started following Jesus. Then Jesus approached a man named Philip and simply said, “Follow me.” Philip in turn told Nathanael, and after protesting that “nothing good could come from Nazareth,” Nathanael too eventually followed Jesus.

So Jesus had his first disciples. There were probably six of them at this point, including John, the writer of this Gospel. They had been following Jesus for three days when they went to this wedding with Jesus. You have to wonder what the disciples were thinking. They gave up everything to follow him, and they must have thought they’d be doing more important things than going to a wedding with him in the small town of Cana. Couldn’t Jesus have waited to call them until after he went to this wedding? But Jesus had something in store for them. He had a sign to show them at this wedding.

Now wedding celebrations in Jesus’ day were a little different than what we’re used to. They weren’t one day events. These weddings were traditionally a week long, starting with the ceremony at the bride’s parents’ house and then processing to the groom’s house where the couple would begin their lives together. And during this week long celebration, the young couple and their family were responsible for providing food and drink for all the guests. At some point in this celebration, though, something embarrassing happened: they ran out of wine. Wine was a staple not just at wedding celebrations, but at every meal in those days, so to run out of wine was a big deal. So at this wedding, Jesus’ mother Mary, who seems to have been involved with the planning to some extent, came to tell Jesus, “They have no more wine.”

If you didn’t know anything about Mary and Jesus, you might think this was just a mother telling her son the hot gossip of the wedding. But Mary knew who Jesus was better than anyone. She knew from the moment the angel told her she would give birth to him that Jesus was no ordinary son. Mary came to tell Jesus because she knew what few others did at that point in his life, that he was the Son of God. Jesus’ response seems a little strange though. He says, “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” This is one of those phrases where we lose a little in translation. It’s hard to understand exactly what Jesus is saying here, but it’s important to know that Jesus calling his mother “woman” was not disrespectful. And yet it also wasn’t an endearing term a son would normally use for his mother. And then he asks her, “Why do you involve me?”and says his hour has not yet come.

It’s hard to know what Mary’s reaction to this was by what she says, but it’s safe to say she trusted Jesus to do what needed to be done, because she tells the servants standing there, “Do whatever he tells you.” So they do. Jesus tells them to take the six stone jars, which were used for ceremonial washing that needed to take place before a wedding celebration, and fill those jars with water. The servants do what Jesus says, and then again, doing what Jesus says, they take some of the water and give it to the person in charge of the banquet. And then, without any magic words being spoken, without any waving of Jesus’ hand, the water becomes wine. The master of the banquet tastes it and is amazed. He’s amazed for one thing that there is wine at all, but more than that, he’s amazed that there’s goodwine. The day is saved, the wedding continues, and no one, except Jesus, the disciples, and the servants who drew the water knew what had happened.

So what’s the point then? If Jesus was going to reveal his glory, why wouldn’t he have done it out in front of everyone? Why wouldn’t he have called everyone together to show them this miraculous sign? If his purpose was to reveal his glory, like John says in verse 11, then why do it behind the scenes with such a small audience? It doesn’t make sense. Jesus should have done this in public. He should have drawn a little more attention to it. What’s the point in doing something so amazing if nobody notices, right?

At least that’s what we think. That’s why NFL teams have choreographed touchdown celebrations. That’s why basketball players shout and strut after they dunk or hit a clutch three pointer. That’s why there are lifetime achievement awards and Emmy’s and front page news stories. Because what’s the point in doing something good if you don’t get recognized for it, right? That’s the way we’re wired as human beings. We crave attention and recognition. We crave praise for everything we do.

So we think that should translate to our Savior. We think he should storm onto the scene and save the day in a miracle that causes people to stop what they’re doing and pay attention. We think his voice should thunder from the sky and announce his presence and demand the attention of the world. If human beings wrote the script for Epiphany, that’s what it would look like. But instead, what do we get? We get Jesus, in the back room at a wedding celebration in the small town of Cana, changing water into wine without hardly anybody noticing.

And isn’t that what drives us crazy about being Christians? Being a Christian would be so much easier if God would just show his presence a little more clearly, wouldn’t it? It would be so much easier if he would answer our every request with the snap of his almighty fingers. If he would just drive the doubt out of our hearts by giving us some solid empirical evidence of his creation so we could silence those evolutionists once and for all. If he would stop hiding and come out into the light a little more often, it would be a lot easier to believe he’s really there.

And yet when that did happen in Jesus’ life, the results weren’t what we would think. When Jesus appeared in public he so often got driven out by crowds who wanted to kill him. He got thrown out of his hometown by people who thought he was insane. Because when Jesus made himself known, he confronted mankind with a harsh reality: He was there to do what they couldn’t. He was there because they had failed. And that’s why, as John said in chapter 1 of his Gospel, “He came to his own, but his own did not receive him.”

And that’s why we still have such a hard time receiving him today. Because trusting in Jesus means accepting that we can’t do it ourselves. And that’s just too hard for us to deal with because we are so busy trying to solve our problems ourselves. We’re so busy trying to earn our own glory that we don’t even notice Jesus revealing his glory.

But that is exactly why Jesus gives us this sign. He gives us this sign to show us the glory we otherwise would have missed because of our self-centered, sin-stained ignorance. He gives us this sign to reveal his glory to us. And when that happens, the results are better than we could have ever hoped. John tells us that this sign, this miracle, was the first that Jesus performed, and “he thus revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” When they got to that wedding, the disciples might have wondered why they were there, but when they saw the sign, it opened up their eyes to the identity of this seemingly ordinary man from Nazareth. Sure, changing water into wine was the miraculous sign, but the change that occurred in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples was the greatest change that day. It was a change that would have eternal significance.

And that’s why God wants you to see this sign too. Because this sign serves a purpose. In John’s Gospel, the Greek word translated “sign” is only used to describe acts of God. And here’s what John says in the conclusion of his book, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30-31) What Jesus did that day in the small town of Cana was more than an act of charity toward a couple in need. It was a saving act. It was part of Jesus revealing his glory to the world.

When you read that, you have to marvel at the wisdom and patience of God. Sure, Jesus could have simply stormed onto the scene and announced to the world that he was the Messiah. He could have proclaimed it once in an awesome and powerful way and been done. But in his grace, Jesus wasn’t content to reveal his glory just once. Instead he spent years living among us, doing the things we do, like going to weddings. He spent years preaching and teaching throughout Judea and Israel. He spent years facing rejection and threats of death. He spent years living the life we live, and revealing the new life offered to us through faith in him. He lived among us here on earth until his hour finally did come, the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. And when that hour came, he endured the least glorious, most horrifying suffering anyone could imagine. The suffering that was required to satisfy God’s wrath for the self-centered, glory-seeking people who do nothing but reject him. All so that you could receive the glory his perfect life earned for you in heaven.

And now, Jesus has risen and gone back to heaven and is sitting at God’s right hand in the glory he deserves. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still revealing his glory here on earth. Jesus still reveals his glory to and through people like you and me. He reveals his glory, much like this sign he performed in Cana, so quietly that you might not even notice it. In a hospital room or at the font when a pastor sprinkles water connected with the Word on the head of a newborn baby, Jesus reveals his glory. When a normal conversation with a friend turns into an opportunity to share the Word of God, Jesus reveals his glory. When we gather in church on a Sunday morning, Jesus reveals his glory. The signs are there all around us. Signs that point us to Jesus’ glory. See those signs and believe. Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you have life in his name. Then, after you’ve seen the signs go and be a sign. Point others to the glory of God shown in Christ in everything you say and do. Amen.