Epiphany means revelation or manifestation and in the Church season of Epiphany, in the Sunday’s Gospels, we turn our attention to accounts in which Jesus reveals who He really is—the Son of God and the Savior of the world. In the season of Epiphany we see that the Baby born in Bethlehem is not only a true man but also the very God Himself.
Today’s Gospel is the account of the very first miracle Jesus performed after He entered His public ministry—He turned the water into wine at the wedding at Cana, a town not too terribly far from where Jesus grew up. For some, they are embarrassed that Jesus condoned wine drinking and would have preferred He turned wine into water; others see this as Jesus’ imprimatur on and excuse for drinking and frivolity. And then there’s the whole question on the “why” this miracle: why didn’t Jesus come on the scene with a splash and heal a blind person or even raise someone who had died? –Then for sure He would get a good start on His public ministry with great crowds following Him. In fact, this miracle was practically done in secret, with only a few knowing. Our gospel: When the master of the banquet tasted the water that had now become wine, he did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew).
But a more than superficial look at this miracle will make clear that it is a profoundly beautiful first miracle that clearly sets forth who Jesus is and what His work is; it shows Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
Just looking at the setting—a wedding—we are right away reminded of and brought to the original creation where God instituted marriage, the lifelong union of one man and one woman. Then the rib the Lord God had taken from man, He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh [Gn. 2.22-24]. With this first wedding, our attention is drawn back to the original creation and we can say that just as the Son of God was active and involved in the original creation, the creation of Adam and Eve, and the institution of marriage, so here at Cana in Galilee is the Son of God at this wedding at Cana, blessing this marriage and all marriages with His presence and blessing.
But it goes a bit further than that—and that’s where our text from the OT prophet, St. Hosea, comes it. In it the holy prophet records the words of God, of the Son, the Second Person of the holy Trinity. I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord. Here the Lord pledges His faithful love to His people; He promises to be the husband to His people. The Lord shows Himself, in the best sense of the word, the Husband to His people. And here is the backdrop to Jesus’ first sign—He’s at a wedding. But not only is He at the wedding but by providing the wine He acts as the Bridegroom:
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My time has not come yet.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”… Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the head waiter.” And they did. When the master of the banquet tasted the water that had now become wine, he did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew). The master of the banquet called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have had plenty to drink, then the cheaper wine. You saved the good wine until now!”
Notice: The master of the banquet called the bridegroom because the bridegroom was responsible for the wine at the wedding; and by Jesus providing the wine for the wedding, He was showing Himself to be the Bridegroom—not of that Bride of that wedding, obviously—but in a deeper and fuller sense of the heavenly Bridegroom
of His people, the Church. This first miraculous sign Jesus did at Cana is a sign pointing to Jesus as the Lord God who has come to be the heavenly bridegroom of His people—just as He promised in the OT, in this beautiful prophecy from Hosea of our text: I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord.
The context from St. Hosea’s writing is absolutely vital to understand the full significance of what it means that Jesus is our heavenly Bridegroom, that the Church is His Bride. Very often, the Lord had His prophets do object lessons to illustrate to the people what He was trying to tell them. The object lesson for Hosea was very unique. The Lord told him to marry a prostitute. That’s because the people’s sin and falling away from the Lord was often depicted as “whoring after other gods”; their sin called “spiritual adultery”. So by Hosea being commanded to marry a prostitute, the Lord was trying to show His people His steadfast love for them in spite of their sin, in spite of their idolatry, in spite of their spiritual adultery against Him; He was trying to show them their spiritual condition by comparing them to spiritual prostitutes; He was trying to show them His grace and forgiveness. Even when Hosea’s wife went back to her old tricks, he was to take her back to show the Lord’s superabundant mercy and forgiveness.
Comparing the Israelites with a prostitute, knowing full well who and what they really are, calling on them to repent of their sin by threatening them with punishment and destruction, what, though, does the Lord say through Hosea? I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord. He has mercy on them and promises them forgiveness, promises to be faithful to them as a husband. So when Jesus is at that wedding at Cana and by providing the wine and by that acted as the Bridegroom, He is pointing out that He is the Lord who has come to save and cleanse His people—or as St. Paul puts it in his epistle to the Ephesians:
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, by cleansing her with the washing of water in connection with the Word. He did this so that he could present her to himself as a glorious church, having no stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and blameless.
So when Jesus shows Himself at Cana as the Lord, the Bridegroom of His people, betrothing Himself to us forever, there we see nothing but His great mercy and love of us. Like in Hosea’s case, there was absolutely nothing that would make Gomer, the prostitute, worthy of being his wife; so too with us, there is nothing that makes us worthy or deserving of the Lord’s love and grace—but He does. We are full of sin and rebellion against the Lord, His will, and His way. That’s what we confessed the morning in the confession; that’s what we must say each day to the Lord as we examine heart and life in the mirror of His holy Law—I a poor miserable sinner… But no matter how great the sin we have committed or continue to struggle against, there is the Gospel, the absolution, the Jesus’ words to us, the words of Him who has come and revealed Himself as the heavenly Bridegroom: I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord. Jesus comes and in His love for us sinners gladly takes on that role as our heavenly Bridegroom. He accepts us on the basis of His own mercy toward us.
This is our Lord’s ardent love for us. That’s why He came into this world of sin. That’s why He, the true God, became also one of us and was born of the virgin that first Christmas. That’s why He went to the cross and shed His holy divine blood for us: to pay for our sins and reconcile us sinners to the holy God, to open the kingdom of heaven to us. What a great love our Lord, the heavenly Bridegroom has for us! He wants to be united with us in a relationship that is so intimate, permanent, sacrificial, and life-giving! That’s a description of marriage and why St. Paul writes: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church. The ardent love of the heart cannot be seen, but Jesus demonstrates it at Cana where by providing the excellent and abundant wine He took on the role of the Bridegroom—showing who He is and why He has come: I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord.
But isn’t a marriage between both the Bridegroom and the bride? Of course! So when Jesus says to His Church, says to each of His dear Christians, I will betroth you to Me, the Christian responds in the “yes” of faith. We, in faith, say “Yea and amen” to the Lord. But even here the wonderful thing is that the very faith by which we say “yes” to Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom, that faith is a betrothal gift that Jesus Himself gives us. By the Holy Spirit He works faith in us that believes and says “yes” to His promise: I will betroth you to Me. For most of us, we were already betrothed to Jesus in baptism by that faith He worked in baptism. In keeping with the marriage imagery, we can say that faith is the marriage gift and bridal ring by which we are betrothed to Jesus and have become one with Him.
And united with Jesus in faith, we have all things in common with Him. That means our sins and wretchedness are His—and He took them willingly to the cross where He suffered and died for them, our sin, wretchedness and guilt; and it means that He gives us what is His—holiness, righteousness, heaven. And that’s what we see in our text: Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy. When Jesus betroths Himself to us in righteousness, that’s
His holy righteousness by which He, for us, perfectly obeyed God’s holy Law keeping the commandments we all the time sin against but which God demands we keep; that’s His perfect suffering and death by which He paid the price for our sin, offering up the one perfect sacrifice for all people. That’s His perfect righteousness that He gives us/ clothes us with. Now, united with Jesus, our Bridegroom, that righteousness is not only given us but also transforms us so that we become more and more holy in our lives, more and more like Christ. Yes, we will never succeed but we strive and yearn for the day we will be perfectly holy in heaven eternally.
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in … justice or “judgment”. Jesus has judged our spiritual enemies—sin, death, devil and hell. He has judged and condemned them. They cannot do us any harm. He has judged and conquered them as He rose from the dead. They have no claim on us. Jesus has betrothed Himself to us—we are His!
Yes, I will betroth you to Me … in lovingkindness and mercy. Here is His free and merciful favor. Jesus, our heavenly Bridegroom, overshadows us with every spiritual and heavenly good. Here is His love toward us who are so undeserving. In fact, our sin and misery rouses His pity, grace and mercy. Although our sin and imperfections stay with us, the Lord does not count it against us and bears us in our weaknesses. He will never annul His betrothal. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord. Here is our salvation—our union with Jesus our heavenly Bridegroom– beginning now as He loves us, giving us every gift and blessing, and we by faith knowing Him rightly, loving Him joyfully and embracing fully Him in love and faith. And that union will be forever. What a glorious promise: I will betroth you to Me forever. That’s what Jesus revealed about Himself at Cana—He’s our heavenly Bridegroom. INJ Amen