Water and Blood

Every now and then you come across a text that is so full of symbolism, so crammed with images it is difficult to unpack. The problem is you do not know really where to begin. As a preacher, it is not that you cannot find a good angle for a sermon in the text, the problem is there are probably 20 or 30 different sermons contained in it, and the difficulty is deciding which one to focus on. The story of the wedding feast in Cana is most certainly one of those texts. Today is a real treat, for we are gifted a simple miracle story of our Lord which is not so simple. I hope you are ready for we are going to go on quite a journey together as we witness the wonder and the complexity of God’s Word to us. It is a Word leading us yet again into the assurances that we are given in the full and complete work of our Lord’s saving deeds.

Jesus and His disciples head over to Canna to participate in a wedding. Jesus’ mother was there. In fact, she is the one who alerts us to the problem. She approaches her son and says, “They have no wine.” This would have been a major embarrassment to the host to run out of wine while the party is just getting going. It would be terrible. Yet, the response of our Lord to His mother is a bit strange, a bit terse if you will. He says, “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” In this moment, we see there is something far bigger going on here. The lack of wine is a symbol of something greater, something lacking, for the solution Jesus gives will be tied up with His hour. And His hour, as we will see later, speaks about His death, His sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. So, the lack of wine may be a lack of assurance, it is the plague of sin, the separation which builds the wedge between us and our Creator. When Mary says they have no wine, she could be speaking to all of us. You have no wine. There is something profoundly lacking in what you have within yourself, and it is all about to come crashing down.

Fortunately, Mary is not put-off by Jesus’ terse words to her. Instead, she turns to the servants and says to them, “Do whatever He tells you.” As a mother who knows her Son, she knows he will address this situation. He will provide what is lacking. And what does Jesus do? Does He have them fill up some random serving jars with water? No. Does He have them fill up some old wineskins and use those? No. I told you this is packed with symbolism. He has them fill up six stone jars used for ritual purification. In other words, these jars were used as a reminder of their sinfulness, a reminder they needed to be cleansed. It is not only that they were big jars, each one holding about thirty gallons of water. He has them fill them to the brim. Then He tells them to draw some out and take it to the master of the feast. When He does, the water is turned into wine. Now, that would be enough. This would be a truly awesome miracle. But it is not just that there is an abundance of wine. No, this is good wine. In fact, it is the best wine. Jesus provides what is lacking but He does not just give enough, He gives more than enough. The master goes to the bridegroom and says, “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.”

Pretty amazing stuff, right? Here we see our Lord manifesting His glory, demonstrating who He is and what He has come to do. He turned water to wine, used symbols of purification to give satisfaction. But let us go back to the mention about His hour. He says, “My hour has not yet come.” What He does here in Cana somehow points to His hour. He says that to His mother. In John’s Gospel there are only two interactions recorded between our Lord and Mary. So, this time in chapter 2 is the final time we hear about Mary until she shows in chapter 19 where she looks up at her Son dying on a cross. Yet, before we get there our Lord will speak about His hour when He speaks about His crucifixion. In chapter 12 He will say it is the hour of His glorification which is coming, when he will be lifted up and draw all people to Himself. His hour is clearly His great sacrifice. His glory is His suffering and death for the sins of the world.

So, what has happened in that hour? It is not wine given in superabundance but blood, blood poured out for the salvation of the world. The issue was the purification of sinners. The issue is you cannot save yourself, that your attempts to wash yourself and make yourself clean always fall short. You need to be washed by another, cleansed once for all, a final sacrifice, a final cleansing. This is precisely what His hour accomplishes. Everything becomes about this hour, about this moment in time, about the cross of Christ. So, we no longer have water jars of ritual purification. No, we have something more. We have a baptismal font. We have a one-time washing which binds us to our Lord’s sacrifice. In Baptism you are baptized into His death, bound up in His superabundant blessings, connected to His hour. The water and wine at Cana in Galilee become, for you, the water and blood of salvation, the very gift of the Gospel itself.

At our Lord’s hour, as His mother looks up at Him on the cross, do you remember what they witness? Jesus says, “It is finished,” bows His head, and gives up His spirit. Then immediately afterwards they begin to break the legs of the crucified criminals to speed them along toward death. But when they come to Jesus, they find he is already dead. So, instead of breaking His legs, what do they do? They take a spear and pierce His side. What comes flowing out? Blood and Water. Blood and water, the gifts of your salvation and life. There is a connection in this text which goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. In the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament John no doubt used, the word for the side that was pierced is also used of Adam. It is the side from which Eve is formed. From the side of man comes life, the mother of all the living. And it is from the side of our Lord that new life, eternal life continues to flow forth.

I told you there was a lot in this simple miracle story. Notice how it all happens on the third day. John is helping us to see that our Lord is bent on the work of saving you. You have no wine. You need those jars of purification water. You are trapped in a system of sin and failure where you cannot work hard enough or long enough or good enough to overcome the situation. But glory to God for His hour did come. He bore your sins, he died in your place, he suffered the forsakenness of the Father so you might know this day that you are forgiven. You are washed and made clean. You are fed and nourished. You are welcome in Christ to all the promises of life and salvation.

Water and blood, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. These are the abundant gifts our Lord continues to give. What we see is that none of this was some last-minute accident. You are not an afterthought to the development of our Lord’s ministry. A wedding feast in Cana is the backdrop to tell the story of our Lord’s saving works before they have even taken place. It launches us into the rest of the story, a story which drives directly toward you. For you are precisely why Jesus came, why He gave His life, why He suffered and died. All of history was aiming toward His life, death, and resurrection. All His work was accomplished for your salvation, your security, your assurance here and now. Water and blood pour out in our Lord’s hour for you, so you might know you are forgiven, you are loved, and you are children of God. All glory be to God!