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Glory Shown

January 19, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this second weekend in Epiphany comes from our gospel text, where John records, This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

The people of Israel were reeling, no doubt, and we know the reason why. In Moses’s absence, as he had gone up onto the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments from YHWH himself, the people had sinned a great sin. They turned to idolatry, worshipping the golden calf instead of the almighty God who had just brought them up out of the land of Egypt. They made merry themselves, with revelry and debauchery, gluttony and drunkenness, seeing that the golden calf did nothing to stop them, nor did YHWH. What they did not know was that Moses had heard from YHWH what the people had done, and He told His prophet to “let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” Moses intercedes, begging God to “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And God relented of His intended wrath.

You know what followed: Moses came down off the mountain and punished the people, making them drink water tainted with the pulverized remains of their shiny false god. The sons of Levi rallied to Moses and, at his command, slaughtered about 3,000 of those who had worshipped the golden calf. The rest were made to endure a plague that the only true God sent among them as punishment for their idolatry.

As the people were preparing to leave Sinai for the Promised Land at YHWH’s instruction, they received the following word from the true God, “I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people. … if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.” And the people mourned. They knew God would hold to His promise to guide them to the Promised Land, but because of their sin, His glory would not and could not be among them. Divine holiness, unveiled glory, in the presence of sin-broken people would utterly destroy them.

It is curious, then, that Moses would ask to be shown God’s glory. The prophet speaks with YHWH to intercede on behalf of the people, and after God promises nevertheless to be with His people Israel, Moses politely but boldly asks, “Please show me your glory.” Clearly, he doesn’t know what he’s asking for, but YHWH does. He knows that a display of His glory would not be good for the life of Moses. Instead, He offers to show Moses, not His glory … but His goodness. “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But … you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

A mere glance at the face of divine, holy, perfect glory is enough to five-finger-death-punch a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner like Moses, so what hope would there be for any other Hebrew, especially in light of their recent escapades into idolatrous paganism? They wouldn’t stand a chance. Though God promised to be with them through their travels to the Promised Land, they would not see His glory, only His goodness.

Centuries after YHWH veiled His glory from the sight of Moses, He would do so once again, and again, He would show His goodness as well. The incarnation of YHWH in the person of Jesus Christ is the ultimate veiling of God’s glory, with only nonlethal glimpses scattered here and there throughout His earthly ministry, and our gospel text contains the first. We aren’t seeing a sinful people mourning over their sin, preparing to trek across the wilderness; instead we see a wedding reception. Jesus is there with His mother and a few of His disciples … and something goes wrong. A nuptial faux-pas, the groom didn’t have enough wine for the entire celebration, and now the vino has run dry.

Mary approaches her son, asking Him to rectify this embarrassing situation for the bride and groom. Jesus replies, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” It’s true what He said – the time to reveal His glory would come much later. Nevertheless, in that moment, in Cana, YHWH would once again allow His goodness to pass by unworthy descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His goodness is revealed as He instructs the servants of the feast to fill six massive stone jars with ordinary water; that water would, before it reached the lips of the host of the feast, redden into the most exquisite wine ever tasted by those in attendance. They had no idea from where it had come, only that it outshone the wine previously served by a long stretch. And this, we are told, was the first, the beginning, of the seimeione, the signs, that Jesus would perform.

It was the first, but by no means the last. He would feed the masses, heal the sick and the lame, cast out demons, raise the dead, but the most incredible sign Jesus would perform would be a demonstration, not only of His perfect goodness, but also of His glory. On the mount of crucifixion, YHWH does what man could never hope to do: He bears the full weight of all sin, and bears the due punishment that comes with it. Unbelievably, we see the glory of God most perfectly in Jesus as He is dying on the cross, as He cries out with His last breath, “It is finished.” To see Jesus, whipped and bleeding, nailed to the cursed tree on Golgotha’s hill is to behold God in all His glory, and still, it’s more than we can bear to look at. There, we see God’s glory and His goodness, raw and unveiled, as the Son of God and Son of Man dies the death that you and I deserve, on that Good Friday.

What we see in Jesus is an uncanny revealing of both God’s goodness and His glory. What would normally kill us, actually becomes our salvation, because this is how God operates. YHWH allows His goodness to be shown to His people: veiling His glory in simple water, as He Himself comes and drowns your sin, baptizing you into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Hiding His glory in, under, and with humble bread and wine, but nevertheless promising that you are tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, as you eat and drink Jesus’s own true body and blood. In the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, we see YHWH’s glory and His goodness, and with the psalmist, we wretched, unworthy sinners bless Him and sing, O give thanks unto YHWH, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: John 2:1-11