This is an excerpt from a sermon preached at Grace Community Church in August 2017 entitled “The Life of the Party.”
Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine, was a picture of what his kingdom is like. The kingdom of God is a party— it’s a victory celebration of life swallowing up death, freedom trampling down slavery, wholeness and joy overturning brokenness. This party is better than everything that came before, and a preview of everything that is coming. If you look closely at the story, you’ll see John gives an interesting detail: “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.” It’s an unusual detail to note, not just the size of these jars, but what they were used for. These were basins for ritual purification. These weren’t even for drinking.
So what’s going on here? These basins for ritual purification were part of the whole Old Testament system for enabling sinners to approach a holy God. You see, through the whole Old Testament, God is teaching his people that you as a sinner can’t just approach a holy God. You can’t just waltz into the throne room and be like, “Hey king, wazzup?” Sin has to be dealt with before you can be in relationship with God. And so in the Old Testament there was an elaborate system of sacrifices, where the animal dies for your sin instead of you, and purification rituals that were all designed to be a picture of how my impurity and badness has to be dealt with before I can come to God.
And these stone jars were part of that process. The fact that they’re here at this wedding means that the wedding was probably happening at the synagogue—just like we have weddings in churches—and these would have been used for ritual washing, to symbolically remove sin, before you could come in to worship.
And this is what Jesus co-opts for a new purpose. Why? What’s he doing? Well, one of the big themes in John is that Jesus is the fulfillment of everything the Old Testament looked forward to. He fulfills all the promises, and what he’s bringing is so much better. So, for example, in John’s introduction in chapter 1 he says, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Whereas in the Old Testament you had endless sacrifices and rituals and efforts to get right with God and stay right with God, now here comes Jesus with grace. And we’re supposed to see this contrast. Moses turned water into blood, as an act of judgment. Jesus turns water into wine, as an act of blessing. I’ll take Jesus, thank you very much.
And now endless purification gives way to endless party. This is new. This is shocking, and a little scandalous. A new way open to God, not through effort and endlessly trying to clean your act up, but through the invitation of the King: “Come to the party!”
Isn’t this a great way to begin the mission of redemption? A kingdom that kicks off with a party is my kind of kingdom. The kingdom doesn’t start with a sermon—it starts with celebration. Jesus ministry doesn’t begin with a lecture on all the ways you need to clean up your act—it begins with an open bar! I want in on this. This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life. This is my kind of kingdom!
But Jesus’ miracles aren’t just a demonstration of what his kingdom looks like. They are also teaser trailers, a preview of everything coming. This party is the future breaking in early. It starts off small—just this one little party. But that’s how the kingdom is. In one of Jesus’ parables, he says that the kingdom of God is a like a mustard seed—a tiny little grain of sand—that grows and grows and spreads and takes over the whole garden. This little party in a little town is the kick-off to a party that rolls on from Cana, a wave bringing hope to the hopeless and healing to the broken and freedom to the captives, restoration and mercy and joy and life.
And the party rolls on, all the way to the end of the story, the culmination of the celebration. In Revelation 19, we see the end to which all history is flowing: the wedding feast of the Lamb. Revelation 19:6-7: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready.”
That’s where we’re going. That’s where this is all headed. 2,000 years ago in Cana, Jesus popped the cork of the new creation, and kicked off the party that will make everything new. Blessing will now flow as far as the curse is found. Purification has given way to party, and now through the invitation of the King there’s a new way in, and a new life to live.
So what does this mean for us, as people who have been brought into this kingdom? If you’ve put your hope in Jesus by faith in what he’s done for you, you’ve been brought into this kingdom. So what does that mean for us? It means a new identity. I have a new identity for you to take to heart: From Cana to the new creation, we are people of the party.
We are people of the party. We are defined by worship, by joy, by life, freedom, mercy. This is who we are. This is your inheritance, child of God. We are people of the party.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but of all the major religions in the world, only Christianity is a singing religion. Have you thought about that? Muslims don’t sing. In fact, Islam frowns on music. There’s very little if any congregational singing in modern Jewish worship. Hindu and Buddhist worship is not musical. Only Christianity sings.
Why is that? Because we are people of the party! We have mercy, we have life, we have freedom, we have a Savior who began his rescue mission by taking a lame party and making it awesome. This is who we are! We are a singing people, we are a celebrating people, because we are a saved people.
From Cana to the new creation, the church of Jesus Christ advances through celebration. We proclaim good news of great joy for all people. We work to bring healing and hope and everlasting happiness to our neighbors and to the nations. We work for reconciliation and justice. And in and through it all, mingled with all our weeping, we worship. Because we have been rescued, we have been brought into this new life, we are part of the kingdom that is making everything new.
So sing on, people of the party. Sing on.