Listen to it:
“Now and Then”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s a Saturday in June. You’re sitting in a church, ten rows back on the right side, and you hear the bride say, “I do.” And the groom says, “I do.” And the pastor says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” and “you may kiss your bride.” You’re hearing and watching, but your mind is somewhere else. You’re thinking about how they must feel, and that takes you back to how you felt on your wedding day. You hear the vows they make to each other and that takes you back to the vows you made. You reach over and take your husband’s hand, and you both smile because you’re both thinking about the same day. You’re both thinking about everything that’s happened between that day and this day, and you wonder, “How in the world did we ever get from there to here.” Or maybe you’re sitting in a church on that Saturday in June, and you’re listening to the bride, and the groom, and the pastor, and thinking about how you felt and the vows you made on your wedding day. But you’re not sitting next to your spouse. Between that day and this day something happened; maybe your wife died or vows were broken; maybe you broke your vows. And you wonder, “How in the world did I ever get from there to here.” Events like weddings can do that to you. They can dig up memories that you’d forgotten you buried there. They dig them up and bring them to you and shove them in your face, and say, “Remember this?” And you do. And you wonder, “How in the world did I ever get here?”
Well, Jesus went to a wedding. He and His mother and His disciples were invited. You can imagine the scene; you’ve been to a wedding reception. There’s Jesus and there are His disciples, and there’s His mother. There are the bride and the groom. And they’re all laughing, and eating and drinking, and rejoicing. They’re celebrating everything that is happening between the bridegroom and his bride. Out of the corner of your eye, you see Mary whisper something in Jesus’ ear. She says, “They don’t have any wine.” And Jesus says, “Woman, what does that have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come. Do you know what you’re really asking? Do you realize that if I do this sign today, that I will step onto a road that can only end in one place? It can only end in Jerusalem; it can only end on the cross. Do you know what you’re asking?” And Mary says to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” And in the eternal will of the Father, to whom the Son willingly submits, Jesus says to the servants, “Fill those stone jars with water.” The jars for the Jews’ ritual purification. There are six of them, and they each hold 20 or 30 gallons. “Fill them.” So the servants fill them, all the way to the top. Jesus doesn’t touch the jars; He doesn’t say, “Let there be wine.” He just says, “Draw some of it out and take it to the head waiter.” The guy in charge of the wedding celebration; the guy in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly; that they don’t run out of wine; that the celebration doesn’t end before it’s supposed to. “Take some to him.” He’s probably running around frantically, because he knows it’s his fault. He didn’t distribute the wine correctly, or he didn’t dilute it enough. “Take some to him.” So they do, and he tastes it, and he’s shocked. He doesn’t know where it came from. So he calls the bridegroom and says, “Every man, every man, serves the good wine first. And then, after seven days of celebration, when the taste buds are a little numb, the senses a little dull, when they can’t tell the difference anymore—then you serve the cheap wine. But you have kept back the good wine until now.” You have kept back the good wine until now.
Neither the head waiter nor the bridegroom know where the wine came from. But the servants do. They know what Jesus said to them. Jesus did this sign. Jesus enters in to this wedding, and nothing is the same. He does this sign to show publicly His glory. John says, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only.” When God becomes flesh and comes into the presence of His creation, nothing can be the same again. Jesus is fulfilling, in miniature, every promise, every prophecy in the Old Testament. Because when the Messiah comes, everyone who belongs to Israel will sit under his own vine, and drink his own wine (e.g., Isaiah 62:8-9; 65:21). He won’t give it to the Assyrians, as they did in 722 BC; He won’t give it to the Babylonians, as they did in 586 BC; he won’t give it to the Romans, as they are now. When the Messiah comes, His people will come to Him and buy wine and milk without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1). When the Messiah comes, there will be a feast spread on the Mountain of Yahweh, a feast of well-aged wine (Isaiah 25:6). This is the new creation, where there will be no lack. Where Jesus is present, there is an abundance of good things. But when Jesus does this sign, it is the beginning of the way that will lead to His hour. He said to His mother, “My hour has not yet come.” But now He has begun the way to the hour of His suffering, the hour of His death. That is the hour of His glory, when the Father will glorify the Son and the Son will glorify the Father; and when Jesus is lifted up on the cross, He will draw all people to Himself. Now, in this hour, Jesus begins the future.
Until now, you’ve been drinking the wine of your past. Until now, you’ve been drinking the wine of this world. You’ve been drinking the wine of bitterness, of wrongs that have been done you. Until now, you’ve been drinking the wine of anger or apathy; of shame or self-hatred. Until now, you’ve been drinking the wine of secret sins that eat away at you every time something reminds you of them, digs them up and shoves them in your face. And you wonder, “How in the world did I get from my baptism to this?” That wine gives fleeting happiness and false joy. Everyone knows that eventually you wake up and regret it. If you keep drinking that wine, it will intoxicate; it will numb and deaden your senses, until you can’t taste the good wine. It’s like drinking a lot of cheap wine and then tasting an 80-year old vintage. You’re not going to be able to tell the difference; it all tastes the same to me. But Jesus enters into these moments, these events; everyday, recognizable events like sitting in a church on a Sunday in January. You’ve come here with all your past behind you, and Jesus knows it. He knows your past, but He’s not taking you back there. He has come here to bring His future to your present, and nothing can ever be the same again. In His resurrection, He entered the new creation, and the future is now for Jesus. We wait for the day when the Bridegroom will come and bring us into that future new creation. But it is not only future. Jesus has wine that He longs to give you now. He breaks into everyday moments and recognizable events, and He gives us hints, and tastes of that feast to come. But His wine doesn’t intoxicate, it doesn’t dull your taste buds or numb your senses. The wine Jesus has for you sobers, and invigorates, and awakens; it gives you joy that will last forever. This is His hour: the hour when the Father glorifies the Son and the Son glorifies the Father, and because He is lifted up on the cross, He draws all people to Himself. This is the hour when all the dead hear the voice of the Son of God and live. This is the hour when we worship the Father in the Spirit and the Truth. This is the hour when the Son begins your future, again. In His presence there is fullness of joy forever (Psalm 16:11). He has put more joy in our hearts than when their grain and wine abound (Psalm 4:7). Like 180 gallons of wine at the end of a feast, you can never exhaust His mercy; you can never use up His forgiveness. Now, today, He brings you into the banqueting hall, the “house of wine,” and His banner over you is love (Song of Solomon 2:4). You may wonder how in the world you got here, but Jesus is here and He is how, in the world, you get from here to that banquet in the new creation. Today we rejoice; today we celebrate everything that happens between a Bridegroom and His Bride: as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God rejoices over you. Today, as you sit here, on a Sunday in January.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/15/10