Sermon 01-30-2022: “Read the Sign”

Scripture: John 2:1-11

Recently, my family and I were watching an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond—the greatest show ever about marriage. And in this episode, Robert, Ray’s older brother, will soon be getting married to Amy. Robert, like a good fiancé, is trying to help Amy with the wedding plans—and Robert has been assigned the task of picking out the wedding invitations. So he asks his brother Ray and his father for advice on styles and colors of invitations—again, he’s just trying to be a good fiancé. At least until Ray convinces him that Amy doesn’t really want Robert’s help… Yes, she says she wants Robert’s help, but not really! Ray tells her that Amy’s been planning the perfect wedding since she was twelve years old—“And trust me,” Ray says. “She really wants to take care of these plans herself.” 

“Here’s what you’ve got to do,” Ray says. “Do a really bad job designing the wedding invitations. And once you show her a draft copy of it, and Amy sees how incompetent you are, she’ll take over and do it herself… which, again, she really wants to do anyway.”

And Robert somehow thinks this is a good idea.

So Ray and Robert conspire to design a really terrible wedding invitation. It has the wrong date on it, for one thing. It says the wedding is on Thursday, not Saturday. And where it’s supposed to say, “Black tie optional,” it says “Attire optional”—as if wedding guests can show up in their birthday suits!

So Robert designs this terrible wedding invitation and asks the wedding director to print out a draft copy, so he can show it to Amy. Once he shows it to Amy, she will surely insist on handling the invitations herself. So it’s win-win.

The only problem… the wedding director misunderstands. Instead of printing out a draft copy, she prints them all out and mails them to everyone on the invitation list! Uh-oh!

To say the least, this is a major faux pas… a serious breach of etiquette… a wedding emergency!

I point this out because a crisis of that magnitude—except maybe even worse—was happening in today’s scripture, when the wine runs out at this wedding reception. In case we’re tempted to think that this is a trivial use of supernatural power on Jesus’ part, consider this: weddings were a much bigger deal in the first century than they are today; if something went wrong, the groom and his family would be ostracized by the community. In fact, the bride’s family could even sue the groom’s family over a breach of etiquette like running out of wine. 

Besides… Jesus performs this miracle for a deeper reason than just helping his friends out of a jam. 

John, the author of this gospel, calls this miracle a “sign.” See verse 11: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee…” And like any sign, what’s important about it is not the sign itself, but the thing to which the sign points.

Well, I can think of one exception. I knew a guy in college who had a picture of himself and his girlfriend “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” like the Eagles song “Take It Easy” says. And how did I know that this street corner happened to be in Winslow, Arizona? Only because there was a big sign on the corner that said “Winslow, Arizona.” No offense to the residents of that fair city—I’m sure it’s a great place to live—but I assume the only reason anyone would go to Winslow, Arizona, is to get their picture taken on that particular corner, next to that particular sign. Only in that case, I think, is a sign is more important than the thing it points to. But in every other instance, the sign itself is less important than thing it points to.

And so it is with this sign that Jesus performs: the turning of water into wine is less important than what it signifies… what it points to.

So in today’s sermon we’re going to read the sign.We’re going to see what the sign points to, what it has to say, about our relationship with Christ. And I’m sure it says many things about it, but I’m going to focus on four things: first, we’re going to look at what the sign says about the presence of Christ with us; second, about our prayers to Jesus—or our prayer life with Christ; third, about our position in Christ; and finally, fourth, about our purpose as followers of Christ. Presence, prayers, position, and purpose… What does this sign say about these things?

First, what does the sign say about the presence of Christ…

Let’s begin by talking about Mary, referred to in verse 1 as the “mother of Jesus.” She’s at this wedding in Cana of Galilee, which was about eight miles north of her hometown of Nazareth. She was likely a close friend of the groom’s parents, or a close relative, so it’s natural that she wanted to rescue this beloved family from this terrible crisis they were facing. In fact, look at verse 3: “When the wine ran out…” There’s actually a tiny Greek word that shows up at the beginning of this verse but gets ignored by most modern translations… but it’s there in the Greek. And that word is “and.” In Greek, verse 3 literally reads, “And when the wine ran out.”

One commentator, Frederick Dale Bruner, finds it significant that the word is “and” and not “but,” for instance.1 John could have written, “But when the wine ran out” or “however, the wine ran out,” or “suddenly, the wine ran out,” or “behold, the wine ran out!” By putting that little word “and” there, however, it’s as if John were reminding us readers that a disaster like this—an emergency, acrisis—is a normal, natural part of our lives! It should be an expected part of our lives. Things go wrong, as we all know—often in spite of our best efforts, or our best planning.

And when things go wrong, wouldn’t it be great… wouldn’t it be great… if we could be as fortunate as Mary is in today’s scripture… and have Jesus show up, just in the nick of time, and rescue us

I am not exaggerating when I say that one of my childhood heroes was Henry Winkler—the Fonz on Happy Days. And I still love Henry Winkler. I’m flipping channels on late-night TV, and I see Henry Winkler in these commercials, and I’m like, “Maybe I should buy that reverse mortgage!” My point is, all of my friends, all of my classmates, we loved the Fonz. And you could predict the plot of about every second or third episode: it involved Richie, Potsie, and Ralph doing something stupid to get in trouble with a big bully, or some gang member, or some “greaser”—and the boys are about to get pummeled. When suddenly, a door swings open… and in steps the Fonz! Just in time. “Ay!” 

As great as it would be to have the Fonz show up whenever I get into trouble, it would be even better to have what Mary had: it would be better to have Jesus show up!

It’s a good thing Jesus was invited to this wedding, huh? It’s a good thing he showed up! It’s a good thing he was there for Mary!

If only we could be so fortunate! Wouldn’t that be awesome!

Maybe you can sense my sarcasm? 

Because we know, of course, that Jesus does show up… all the time… in all the events of our lives. And he promises to show up… he promises to be there. “And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20.

And with that in mind, I’d like to share with you just two scriptures that I read and reflected on during my quiet times recently—scriptures that convicted me when it comes to this issue of Christ’s presence with us. Maybe they’ll speak to you, too. The first scripture comes from Isaiah chapter 50, verses 1 and 2. Isaiah is prophesying about Israel after the southern kingdom has been taken into exile in Babylon. First, God tells these Israelites, in verse 1, that they only have themselves to blame for losing their homeland and being sent into exile. They were conquered by the Babylonians because of their sin and idolatry.

But then in verse 2, listen to what God says:

Why, when I came, was there no man; why, when I called, was there no one to answer? Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a desert; their fish stink for lack of water and die of thirst.

Indeed, by the word of his power, God even transforms about 150 gallons of water into wine in today’s scripture!

In other words, God tells his people, “When you were in the midst of your crisis, I showed up to help you… I was there for you… I wanted to help you… But no one was even looking for me; no one was waiting for me; no one was expecting me… And when I did show up, I called for you—I didn’t wait for you to call out to me in prayer, I called out to you—but no one answered. You weren’t even listening for my voice. Yet I alone had all the power necessary to rescue you, to help you, to heal you, to save you. And you ignored me… You weren’t listening. You weren’t looking for me. And I was right there with you all along.”

By contrast, consider someone who’s not like these Israelites in Isaiah chapter 50. This person is highlighted in that great “Hall of Faith” chapter of the Book of Hebrews, Hebrews chapter 11, verse 27. I’m referring to Moses. The author of Hebrews writes:

By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

He endured as seeing him who is invisible. In other words, Moses was able to endure all the difficult trials he had to go through, and accomplish all that God had for him to accomplish, because he lived his life as if he could see God with his eyes… as if God really were visible to him.

And the Bible holds him up as an example to us and says, “Be like Moses! Because even though we are unable to see God—or God’s Son Jesus—he is here. Always!

And this convicts me! And here’s a question I ask myself, and maybe you should ask it too: “How different would my life be—how different would I live my life—if Jesus Christ were physically present to me… the way he was physically present to Mary in today’s scripture?”

Sadly, I suspect my life would be drastically different. How about yours?

I have a feeling, for example, that Paul’s admonition, “Pray without ceasing,”2 would suddenly become much easier to live out! I mean, I wake up nearly every morning with worries on my mind… nearly every morning feeling anxious about the day ahead, or the week ahead, or something happening in the near future… And my first thought is, “How can I solve this problem? Who can help me solve this problem?” I’m sure that’s why I often have nightmares.

But if Jesus were right there with me, visibly present to me, I would ask him to help me!

But wait… He is right there! Even if I can’t see him!

And this brings me to my second point, “What does the sign in today’s scripture say about our prayer life with Christ?” In other words, if Christ is present with us—and his presence with us is no less real than his presence with Mary, even though we can’t see him—how should that affect our desire to talk with Jesus?

Mary gets criticized frequently in this passage of scripture because of what Jesus says in verse 4: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” On the surface it sounds like Mary is asking something inappropriate of Jesus. And I’m going to talk about verse 4 in a moment… But for the time being I need you to notice verse 5: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” And then Jesus proceeds to answer her prayer. And, yes, I’m calling Mary’s request a prayer—because when we ask Jesus to do something for us, guess what? It’s a prayer… whether he’s visibly present to us or not!

My point is, whatever Jesus means in verse 4, he doesn’t mean that Mary is wrong to ask. Jesus is not saying, “What you’re asking is way out of line, and I’m not going to do what you ask.” Nor does Mary herself interpret Jesus to be saying that. Notice that in verse 5, Mary has so much faith that she tells these servants, in so many words, “I don’t know how Jesus is going to solve this problem. But I know he has all the power to solve it, I know that he wants to solve it—because he loves me and always wants to help me—and I know that he’s going to solve it… And when he does, it’s probably going to blow your mind, so get ready! Be prepared to do whatever he tells you.”

Mary gets criticized by many for what she says in verse 4, but there is an aspect about her behavior that’s commendable. Remember that wonderful parable Jesus tells in Luke 11 about the need to be persistent in prayer.3 A man has unexpected company, and he has no bread to feed them. Running out of bread is as shameful as running out of wine. So what does he do? At midnight, he goes to a neighbor’s house, knocks on his neighbor’s door, wakes him up, and asks him for bread. And what does the neighbor say? “Go away! You’ve got a lot of nerve, coming over here in the middle of the night, waking up my family, asking for bread! I’m not going to do it!” And what does the man do? Does he give up and go home? No, he keeps on knocking! He’s persistent… until his neighbor finally gets up and gives him the bread that he needs!

Jesus’ point is, even if it seems like God isn’t going to give us what we ask for in prayer, we’re supposed to be persistent and not give up… like the man in the parable who won’t take no for an answer… or like Mary in today’s scripture. Mary could have easily interpreted Jesus’ words as a “no” and moved on. But she doesn’t. She continues to have faith.

Can we also be persistent in prayer… the way Mary is?

Okay, that’s point number two, about prayer. What about point number three… What does this sign say about our position in Christ?

So let’s now look at Jesus’ strange-sounding words in verse 4. “And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’” First, calling her “woman” doesn’t mean the same thing that it meant in the first century. It was not impolite or disrespectful. It was like saying, “Ma’am.” But it’s also not affectionate. It’s not the way a son typically addresses his mother.

So what does Jesus mean by that?

Here’s what I and many others think Jesus means: Mary likely thought that her son Jesus would do her this favor because, after all, she’s his mother… Just out of simple respect for one’s parents, shouldn’t Jesus be willing to do this? Shouldn’t Mary, of all people, have the right to expect her son—whom she conceived, and gave birth to, and raised under extremely difficult and trying circumstances… shouldn’t she of all people have the right to expect her son to do her this favor—to show her his favor—and do what she asks? 

“After all I’ve done for you,” she might think, “surely you should do this for me!”

She has enjoyed a special relationship with Jesus, after all… unlike the relationship of anyone else in the world up until now. So of course Jesus should do what she asks!

And Jesus says, “Not so fast!” One pastor says that Jesus gives her the stiff arm, like in football.4

Jesus needs his mother—even his own mother—to understand that her access to the Lord, her access to his power, her access to his favor—all the privileges that she has up until now enjoyed with Jesus—these things will no longer come to her on the basis of heredity or family connections or anything Mary has done for Jesus in the past… Mary, even Mary, has no advantage over anyone else when it comes to her relationship with Christ. Nothing she’s done for him in the past matters. She hasn’t earned any privileges with Jesus. Her relationship with Christ is now based on the same thing our relationship with Christ is based on: faith alone by grace alone.

There’s a scene in Luke’s gospel in which a woman in the crowd cries out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” And Jesus responds, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”5 There’s another scene in the gospels in which someone says, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But [Jesus] answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”6

Don’t misunderstand: it’s not that Jesus doesn’t love his biological family; of course he does. It’s just that he doesn’t love his biological family more than he loves you and me! 

Or think of it like this, in a positive light… and I hope you’ll see that what I’m about to say doesn’t contradict what I’ve already said: Mary does enjoy favor and privileges and advantages—she does have an “inside track” on Jesus’ love—because she’s a member of Jesus’ family. “I mean, look what Jesus was willing to do for her—transform water into an abundant supply of the world’s best wine just because she asked! Do you think Jesus would do that for just anyone?Of course he wouldn’t!” So by all means, what Jesus does for Mary he does only because she’s a part of his family.

But here’s the good news: through faith in Christ, by grace alone and nothing we could ever do to earn it, we are now members of Jesus’ family, too… completely equal with Jesus’ own mother! Can you even believe it, it’s such good news! Jesus loves you as much as he loves his own mother!

So that is point number three: Our position in our relationship to Christ is exactly the same as Mary or any member of Jesus’ family—all of whom become members of the family by grace through faith. 

Finally, point number four… What does the sign say about our purpose in life?

Let’s notice the result of this sign or miracle. Last sentence of verse 11: “And his disciples believed in him.” The disciples at this point are John, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael—Nathanael is also called Bartholomew. Jesus hasn’t called the seven other disciples yet. And if you read John chapter 1, you should have a question in your mind: “Wait a second, these five men already believe in Jesus. They already follow Jesus as his disciples. They’re already saved. That was clear by the end of John chapter 1!”

And that’s true… but I think this is John’s way of reminding us that “believing in Jesus”—the way Jesus defines “believing”—isn’t a one-time decision we make at the moment of conversion. By all means, these five disciples of Jesus had already done that! No, believing in Jesus is a lifelong process. We continually learn to trust in Jesus more and more. And when we have experiences like these disciples had here—and we see Jesus’ power in our lives and in our world—well, our trust in him deepens. 

And as our trust deepens, of course this will change the way we live! But the changed life that we desire will not come by simply trying harder, or turning over a new leaf, or pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps… It comes through faith; it comes through trust. We can try as hard as we want to; we will fail apart from the kind of trust in Christ that we see in today’s scripture! So the trust must come first… the “believing in Jesus,” the way Jesus defines it, must come first!

So this speaks to purpose… It’s no exaggeration or oversimplification to say that our purpose in life is very simple, or at least straightforward and easy to understand: Your purpose is to do exactly what the disciples do in verse 11: to believe in Jesus

Later in this gospel, in John chapter 6, Jesus is talking about eternal life to a group of people who are worried about whether they have eternal life… They want to make sure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing in order to be saved. And Jesus says to them, in John 6:29, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”7

So… do you want to fulfill God’s purpose for your life? Believe in Jesus! And if you already believe in Jesus, believe more deeply in him!

And here’s the other part of your purpose. Look at verse 10. This is after the “master of the feast”—otherwise known as the maître d’—after he samples the wine that Jesus has supplied, he tells the bridegroom: “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.”

This maître d’ didn’t see what Jesus did, but he certainly enjoyed the results of what Jesus did! This was, from his perspective, the finest wine he had ever tasted. He found the results of Jesus’ work deeply satisfying… deeply enjoyable… And so did everyone else who was with Jesus that day.

Jesus intended it to be that way… Likewise, Jesus intends for us to find joy and satisfaction and deep and lasting happiness in him.

So here’s your purpose in life: “Believe in Jesus, believe more deeply in Jesus, and enjoy him now and forever.” Amen.

  1. Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eermans, 2012), 128.
  2. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
  3. Luke 11:5-8
  4. John Piper, “Obedient Son, Ultimate Purifier, All-Providing Bridegroom,”, 14 December 2008. Accessed 13 January 2022.
  5. Luke 11:27-28 ESV
  6. Luke 8:19-21 ESV
  7. John 6:29 NLT

2 thoughts on “Sermon 01-30-2022: “Read the Sign””

  1. This was an excellent message, as always. It really touched me this morning, and it led me to consider significant parallels in the divided kingdom to our current situation with political and cultural divisions in our country, and our lack of calling out to God for His help during this time. Thank you for sharing.

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