This is the event that begins it all. Jesus attends a wedding at Cana, likely for a relative, and performs the first of His signs. That vocabulary is important. This isn’t His first miracle. There have been plenty of those, and we just celebrated them in December. Jesus was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary—a miracle. Aged Zacharias and Elizabeth had a son—a miracle. The wise men were led to the little Boy by a star—a miracle. Even in Jesus’ adulthood He was already performing miracles when He called His first disciples. Though He was nowhere near, He saw Nathaniel under the fig tree. So, while water being changed into wine is certainly a miracle, it is not Jesus’ first.
It is, however, His first sign. This may seem like splitting hairs, being overly picky about terminology, but it isn’t. Miracles do not work faith. They confirm faith, but never cause it. Think about the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 which will happen in John 6. By the end of the miracle’s record, we see that most people have rejected Jesus, the opposite of faith. At the end of this first sign, John records that the disciples have faith in Jesus. By signs, Jesus makes Himself transparent and causes His true being, His reality as the Son of God, to be known. In His signs, He works creatively like God.
What other signs does John record from Jesus? They both have to do with resurrection. First, Jesus heals, or really raises, the nobleman’s son in chapter 4. Next, Jesus calls Lazarus from his tomb in chapter 12. So, these three things explicitly called signs all point to Jesus as God, exercising His power as the Word of God, calling things into being. By these signs He reveals who He truly is and what He has come to do for His creation.
In the case of the water made wine at the wedding, Jesus shows that He has come to give a new and better purification. The purification brought about by the water in the stone pots was temporary. That the water pots didn’t go away after the rites of purification show that they weren’t enough. The washing may have had some temporary effect, but it had no lasting significance. As soon as the person sinned, the purification ritual had to be re-performed. It’s the same thing with the sacrificial system. It was not designed to truly deal with sin. It was designed by God to show the futility of attempting to cover your own sin. Every sin needed a sacrifice. The bloody death of every animal imaginable would never be enough to atone for even the known sins of one person committed in their lifetime, let alone those that were unknown! So, in transforming this water, Jesus shows those privy to the miracle that He has come to give something better than just water that only washes dirt from the body.
Before He does this miracle, this sign, Jesus says to Mary that His hour had not yet come. In other words, “It’s not time for me to be perfectly revealed as what John the Baptist said I am, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That is yet to come.” But the next time Jesus deals with water and washing He knows that His hour had come, the time for Him to be revealed as the Savior from sin and death. As He washes the disciples’ feet in the Upper Room He knows that His hour has come. Signs have passed; nothing needs to be foreshadowed anymore. He will fully reveal His glory on the cross as He bears the sin of all mankind, showing Himself to be the merciful and loving God who overcomes the darkness of death.
But years before that, Jesus turns purification water into wine that makes glad the hearts of men. In this first sign He wonderfully foreshadows the pure joy that will come from the choicest wine, the wine that delivers His purifying Blood. He gives this wine again in a wedding feast, or really a foretaste of the eternal wedding feast. He comes today to deliver to you a purifying meal and drink, one that takes away all your sin, that points you to the heavenly banquet when He takes you to be with Him forever as His bride, to lavish you with love and every good gift for eternity. In that eternal wedding feast you will be united with Him forever in a bond that can never be broken by sin and infidelity. There sin will be no more. There will only be purity and joy and perfect peace all your days.
By this sign of water made wine, the disciples see Jesus as He truly is and begin to understand what He is about. They believe in Him. By this sign here, by Jesus once again transforming lowly elements, this time of bread and wine into something far greater, Jesus bids you to believe in Him. He reveals to you what He is about—your forgiveness, your unity with Him. He bids you to believe that He is your Savior and God, the one who will be with you in all trials, who will extend forgiveness in abundance, who will give you lasting peace and joy.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.