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Here's Your Sign

January 20, 2019
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 this morning is from our Gospel text, where John writes, “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…

I have no qualms in telling you all that, as a young man in high school, I enjoyed the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. The folksy “wisdom” and observations they imparted, their critiques of rural and non-elitist America resonated with me growing up in small-town northern Wisconsin. In particular, I enjoyed the comedic stylings of Bill Engval, and his “Here’s your sign” vignettes. He goes fishing with some buddies on a boat, gets a nice string of bass, and after coming back to the dock, some genius asks him if he caught all those fish …. “Nope … talked ‘em into giving up. Here’s your sign.”

The signs that Mr. Engval describe are indicators of just how silly people can be, how thoughtless or hair-brained. Humorous, to be sure, but nonetheless biting in their truth. But signs do that: they point beyond themselves toward something true. They point us in the way we should go if we are lost. They relay relevant and important information and instruction. They reveal mysteries. That is certainly what we have in our Gospel lesson, where John describes, the first of [Jesus’s] signs, one which [He] did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. As a result, His disciples believed in Him.

And what a sign this miracle turns out to be! Jesus gives instruction to the servants to fill the six purification jars with ordinary water, each holding 20 to 30 gallons – for those of you not mathematically inclined (like myself) that’s anywhere between 120 and 180 gallons, or 600-900 of those 750mL bottles! The servants follow Jesus’s instructions, filling each jar all the way to the top, and Jesus tells them to “draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” He doesn’t do any fancy tricks, or wave His hand over the jars, or even speak to the waters contained therein. He just has the servants draw from what’s there and give it. The result? Incredulity, as the host of the feast proclaims, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” In a way completely mysterious to us, by means which we are completely ignorant of, the incarnate Word transforms ordinary water into extraordinary wine – we’re not talking about Franzia here! This is primo stuff! But it makes no logical sense! You cannot explain reasonably how this occurred! By all accounts, it’s impossible! Yet it happened. God acts, and what is physically impossible occurs. The definition of a miracle, my friends. Displaying for all who are present the might and power of YHWH, the King of all creation.

And John’s word choice here is quite intentional; the Greek word is saemeion, which can be translated simply as “miracle,” but carries heavy overtones of said miracle acting as a sign. John likely chooses this word instead of others precisely because this is what Jesus’s work at the Cana wedding is: a miracle and a sign, the first of many. John often uses this word to describe Jesus’s miracles; in fact, in his Gospel account, he uses it in this way seventeen times. Jesus heals the sick—it is a sign. He walks on water—it is a sign. He feeds 5000—it is a sign. He gives sight to the blind, makes the lame walk, raises Lazarus from the dead—sign, after sign, after sign. John describes Jesus’s miracles—not as responses to prayer, and not as divine interruptions—but as signs. They pointed to something else, as signs do.

And this sign is no different. The turning of water to wine at Cana points beyond itself toward the greater reality, the greater work Jesus had come to do. He had come to undo the grip that sin, death, and the devil have upon this world, to turn the bitter waters thereof into the sweet wine of forgiveness, life, and the love of God. Simply put, the miraculous sign at Cana does point toward Jesus’s work on the cross. There, He did what was humanly impossible: by the shedding of His divine blood, He atoned for all sin from all time, yours and mine, once, for all, and forever. That is, ultimately, what all the miraculous signs of Christ do: they point us to His salvific work, accomplished on our behalf. John says as much near the end of his Gospel account, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”

To believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is to believe what He has done for you, on your behalf: that He has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won you from sin, from death, and the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that YOU and I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. It is beyond all logical reasoning. It is beyond our ability to explain – how God in the flesh died, and put to death the very thing that causes death. It is certainly beyond our fathoming how He also rose from the dead three days later. Yet it all happened. God acted, the physically impossible occurred, and the result of these miracles is that, by His choice, we believe.

And we didn’t even see these signs occur! That, I think, is truly miraculous! We have not seen, and yet, by God’s grace, we are able to believe. We have been given the faith and are able to believe that He Who turned water into wine also turned death into life – His own, as He rose victorious three days after His crucifixion, and that of His children, as we pass through the waters of Holy Baptism. He has revealed Himself to the world in these signs and miracles, that all may believe. This is your sign, and it is most glorious!

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

Tags: John 2:1-11