“On the third day” something completely unexpected happened. It was not understood by men and falsely attributed to some when others recognized it. The master of the feast speaks to the bridegroom when he should be speaking to Jesus. The mother of Jesus does not understand what is being done but knows her Son’s will is best. What should have been bitter and common flows instead uniquely sweet and rich – the end is better than the beginning.

Thus the change of water into wine is not merely first in a list of signs John is making. It is also the “source” (another and better translation of the Greek) of Jesus’s signs. It shows you how all the rest of the signs and the work of Christ are going to be. It manifests His glory and makes His disciples trust in Him. In seeing Cana they also see – though they cannot yet know how this will come to pass – Calvary and Easter.

The surpassing glory of Christ is unfathomable to those around Him. His mother does not know who should direct His actions, issuing a passive commandment to Him to do something about the embarrassing situation. The stone jars unique to Jewish culture to preserve them from contaminating residues of unclean substances are ready to handle water but not wine. They were ready only to serve one purpose and will now serve another. The guests and the master and the bridegroom were all prepared for things to wind down, but at the last the best is served.

But the servants knew. Those who see the sign worked by Him know. In obedience to His command to fill the jars with water, the servants will see the wine and pour it out themselves. They will know what the host and the master and the guests do not know – they will know the Source of these wonders and the Giver of the gifts of the very best at the very last.

There is more in this text than a lifetime could afford time to tell, and each of the characters could serve as the embarkation point for their own sermon. Why does His mother speak the way she does? What glory did the disciples perceive in Him now that will later in large measure fail them as they fail Him? How did the guests react? In his way John opens up all these things without answering them right away. He allows you glimpses of what is yet to come with Christ and with His disciples but does not now tell you everything. The evangelist mirrors the Lord, Who manifests His glory but has glory yet to come, Who makes the wine flow from the water jars but will make His blood to flow from divine flesh, Who eats and drinks at Cana but will give flesh for our eating and blood for our drinking so that we live forever.

Click here for the reading: Ephesians 5:22-33.

The pattern of marriage is Christ and His church. After that pattern man and wife should live. If the church cannot imagine not submitting to Christ or respecting Christ, then the woman should not imagine not submitting to her husband or respecting her husband. If the church cannot imagine making light of Christ’s authority or blathering to someone else about how stupid Christ is, then the woman should not do the same things to her husband.

If Christ would never not give up His life for the church, then the husband should never not give up his life for his wife. If Christ makes it His aim to sanctify and cleanse His bride, then the husband’s goal in marriage should also be his wife’s sanctification. If Christ became one flesh with His church, then husband and wife should leave father and mother and cleave to one another and become one flesh. None of this would be what it is without Christ, and none of it makes sense except in Christ.

Portrayals of love and sacrifice from the man will be easier to preach than portrayals of submission and respect from the woman. Father’s Day is usually a fiery sermon about how much men need to do to man up. Mother’s Day is a gentle paean to the innate glories of the female sex. This should not be so among us. We can no longer delude ourselves that abstract “equality” is anything other than a pretty lie. We must attend to Scripture, which shows two fallen human sexes (only two) with their own attendant besetting sins.

The man will want to shirk his duties because his father Adam did so. He won’t want to sacrifice or to nourish and cherish someone else’s life because he’s got his own to worry about, and Satan will use his laziness and inaction as an opportunity. He will seek easy comfort over hard purpose and self-love over the love of his wife. In this path of least resistance he will even submit to her leadership because although it is not sacrificial, it is surely easier than leading.

The woman will want to rule over her husband as her mother Eve desired to do. She won’t want to submit to him and his leadership because it’s irksome and she knows all his foibles anyway. She won’t want to respect him because he’s a man and Netflix has shown her how stupid and venal men are. “No one ever hated his own flesh,” but perhaps husband and wife – one flesh – have from time to time despised and regretted each other’s existence. Perhaps something more exciting is out there – one day.

We cannot live in this way because Christ and His church do not live in this way. The church is not in rebellion against her Lord and His leadership, His protection, His guidance, His love. Christ is not shirking His duties and allowing His bride to coddle her resentment, her self-seeking, her assertion that she does not need any Man. If Christ and His church live in harmony and love, can’t a man and a woman do likewise? This mystery is profound, and I am saying that in speaking of Christ and His church, we are also speaking of husband and wife.

Click here for the reading: Exodus 33:12-23.

After the assertion that Moses spoke with the Lord face to face as a man speaks to his friend (33:11), we learn that this familiarity is not vision. Moses cannot look at the Lord’s face directly and live, so the presence of the Lord will pass by in gracious elusion. Directness would kill. An indirect vision keeps Moses alive.

The divine presence will be transmitted to Moses, who from now on will be himself unbearable to his own people, “and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him” (34:30). Even the indirect presence of the Lord communicated something terrifying to Moses. Distinctions between reverence and terror break down at some level of experience. Too much presence can kill. Too much glory is a terror. So only the Lord’s back may be seen, and Moses wears a veil over his face (34:35).

Moses’ intercession is grounded on the familiarity that is not yet direct vision. He can speak with the Lord in the way that he does because they have the relationship that they do. Moses’ prayers in vv. 12-16 are reminders, quotations followed by deductions. “If you said X, shouldn’t Y be true?” Those promises are for Moses null and void unless the Lord’s presence accompanies His people. Without divine presence, salvation is nothing. The Lord must go with His people – His being with them is their mark of distinction from all other peoples (33:16).

God’s presence is desired but dangerous. It is necessary but terrifying. It should be near and also far enough away. The resolutions of these dilemmas are in Christ. Moses encountered the preincarnate Christ, but the Lord was too surpassingly and terrifyingly different for Him to dwell with man and for man to live to tell the tale. Christ’s incarnation is a way of being with us that enables Him and us to live together so that He “tabernacles” (Jn. 1:14) with us in His flesh, no longer holding His hand over our eyes as He passes by.

There is a certain terror in the divine presence and in the divine pronouncement that He will be gracious to whom He will be gracious and merciful to whom He will be merciful. Will His presence kill me before He decides to be merciful? Will I live long enough to see His grace? Faith feeds on Christ because in Christ only do any of these kinds of questions get an answer. All the promises of God find their Yes and their Amen in the Messiah tabernacled now forever in flesh and blood with His people, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex. 33:14, cf. Mt. 11:28).

Click here for the reading: Luke 2:41-52.

The hearers whose children are given cell phones in elementary school to keep track of them may be confused by the inattention of Joseph and Mary. Some exposition of the normalcy of very large groups of Israelites going up by villages to Jerusalem and the enormous numbers of people in the city at Passover will be helpful to clear up what appears negligent to many. Joseph and Mary were normal parents, and in a time and place far less violent for the average person than our own time, they were not concerned if Jesus were not, so to speak, home precisely before dark. What is abnormal in the reading is not the behavior of Joseph or Mary but of Jesus.

Jesus displays an unusual knowledge of the Law that astonishes those professionally engaged in teaching it. This surpassing knowledge contrasts brightly with Mary’s slip of the tongue, calling Joseph Jesus’s “father.” She is presumably not completely forgetful of Jesus’s conception but instead speaks according to custom and everyday usage. The yawning gap between what is scriptural and what is normal will only increase from here in the ministry and the passion of Jesus. He will pursue a unique way of utter attachment to the Law of God and to the will of God, and for that he will be named a blasphemer and a troubler of Israel.

Jesus is a priest Whose lips guard knowledge and a reformer in Israel, teaching again the Law of God clearly within His house at Jerusalem. The association between the priesthood and teaching is sometimes forgotten because of the nearer association in most Christians’ minds between the priesthood and the sacrificial system. But the lips of the priest should guard knowledge, and in teaching clearly what God demands and what God gives, Jesus is exercising an office at once prophetic and priestly and according to the tradition of Hezekiah and Josiah also royal.

The evangelist attends to Jesus’s activities whether in Jerusalem or on the way home. Jerusalem now no longer has significance apart from Jesus’s presence. Mary’s confusion is that Jesus’s presence would be where she expected him to be. False significance and deep confusion will always exist where a person does not treasure up in his heart the words and works of Jesus above all else. If he should not grasp them at first, as Mary did not at first grasp what Jesus meant by “I must be about the things of my Father [ESV: in my Father’s house],” they did not then reject what He said. Instead, she pondered His words until the time when they would come clear.

That process of hearing, pondering, and finally understanding is one that many will go through in Luke’s gospel, most emblematically the Emmaus disciples whose minds are opened by the Lord to understand at long last the Scriptures He grasped so easily as a boy. The human growth Jesus went through as a youth is also ours, so that in knowing more than us (of course), He does not separate Himself altogether from our human pattern of growth in wisdom. He knows what we lack and yet allows us to ponder His words. He opens our minds, and at long last we understand what He, our priest and prophet and king, has always taught and still teaches – wonders out of His Law.

The people of God find in each sermon, each reading, each service what Joseph and Mary were seeking – the presence and the voice of the living Lord. Encourage them not to follow their vain imaginings of what God should be doing or saying. Attend rather to the Wisdom of God speaking today in His Word.

Click here for the reading: Romans 12:1-5.

This passage offers a wonderful opportunity to teach the basics of worship, an activity not of a certain time or place but of Sunday mornings and all of life, too. The term “Divine Service” should be taught as the name for what happens on Sunday mornings, but so long as people call the same thing “worship,” then the chance to teach the Bible definition of “worship” is a chance you shouldn’t pass up.

The worship Paul describes is a life of sacrifice. Blood is not necessarily offered; the Hebrews could worship faithfully yet not then to the point of shedding blood. The blood of bulls and goats is of course completely beside the point. The sacrifices God desires consist a life that is not conformed to the world but transformed in one’s mind so that the Christian comes to know what God desires in his life.

The overall shape of that twofold dynamic is clearer in view of the last three verses of the pericope. The world is defined primarily by a lack of humility. This results in an inability to function as a body where there are many different members with many different functions. Arrogance and boasting make one’s own gifts negligible or in need of no improvement and everyone else’s gifts the subject of constant critique. Thus Christ’s body, His temple, His living stones, are strewn every which way in utter disarray.

Instead, humility is the dressing of the living stone, making it fit properly into the structure of the building, as the stones of the first temple were dressed in the quarry and fit exactly when they were brought to Jerusalem. Humility gives a man sober judgment so that he can tell who he is and what he ought to be about – neither more nor less than he ought. He attends to the Lord’s gifts instead of his neighbor’s foibles.

Conformity to the world is arrogance; transformation of the mind is humility’s child. The mind is then attuned to what is good and acceptable specifically in one’s own life. The language of sacrifice is key. No one had to bring his neighbor’s goat or turtledove for sacrifice but only what was due from his household. No one must bring his neighbor’s gifts under scrutiny but only what he has to offer for the good of the body, the household of God.

Click here for the reading: 1 Kings 8:6-13.

After its fashioning in the wilderness and sojourning among the Philistines, the ark has come to rest, according to Solomon a rest that will be “forever.” For a moment in this long chapter of dedications, sacrifices, intercessions, and benedictions everything and everyone seems at home. The son of David is on the throne, the ark is between the cherubim made for its protection, and the glory of the Lord is in His holy temple. Have we all now arrived?

All of this will come apart. The son of David (cf. the verses immediately following the pericope) will depart from the ways of the Lord and attend to the ways of the women whose foreign gods he has taken along with his many wives. Far from the ancient union of priest and king seen in Melchizedek and now seen again in Solomon in 1 Kgs. 8, the king of Israel will finally fail to guard his heart and the Lord’s Word. After his death, the commonwealth of Israel will fracture because Solomon’s prosperity and power, not the Lord’s Word, held it together during his life.

In the ark, between the cherubim, are the tablets of Moses graven at Horeb (another name for Mount Sinai). Moses’ rage at Israel’s disobedience broke the first copy of the Ten Commandments. Israel’s disobedience will make the second copy of the Ten Commandments a standing accusation against them, a witness of their iniquity.

The glory of the Lord will one day depart the temple, never to return. When the second temple is built, there will be mingled crying and rejoicing, so that all the bystanders hear is a very loud sound, nothing distinctly joyous about it. Never again after this pericope will Israel seem so at home again, nor the land and the kingdom so much at peace and so well off, all enemies and rebels put far away. After this every kind of strife inside and outside the land will come upon the disobedient people.

This is an ominous reading, and the inclusion of more text before or after it from the same chapter will add darker shading as all the bright things of that day are overshadowed by their eventual destruction. Sacrifices too many to number will be replaced by the cannibalism of a city under siege. A king at peace with the God of his nation will be replaced by warring kings and illegitimate puppets appointed by foreigners. The ark will be lost not for a while to the Philistines but forever to time.

Since the people of God now share in an altar of which the adherents of the old covenant know nothing, they can rejoice in the presence and peace of God. Since they have a King and a Priest, the Son of David, who is faithful in everything, they can cry to Him for intercession and mercy and find an answer to their prayers. Everything for which Solomon sacrificed and prayed, God’s people now have in Jesus, Whose body is a temple and Whose blood is poured out in the new covenant God has made with His people, atoning for all their iniquity. Solomon’s bright day was darkened by sin, but behold, a greater than Solomon is now here. The building of the first and second temples took years, foreign expertise, and great treasure. The building of the temple of Jesus’s body was raised in three days. God’s mercies are forever in the temple of His body.

Click here for the reading: Matthew 3:13-17.

John’s confusion is understandable. What is a righteous man like Jesus doing in waters meant for sinners? John confesses that his baptism is inadequate in view of Jesus’s presence. The distinction between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus (cf. Acts 19:1-7) cannot be too clearly stated. John administers something that looks forward to the coming of Jesus and prepares the people for One stronger than John. He does not understand why Jesus would be at all involved.

The fulfillment of righteousness – a theme throughout Matthew’s gospel – is the purpose of Jesus’s baptism. If this is so, righteousness must be something more than the carrying out of explicit commands like a checking of boxes on a form. Jesus does not have to be in the waters of Jordan. He has no need of repentance or forgiveness. So why is He there? The event is sufficiently important to be in all four gospels along with the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’s death and resurrection. In His baptism, Jesus shows Himself where sinners are but where He does not have to be – in the waters of the Jordan and in the grip of death.

The opening of the heavens is a seal of the righteousness expressed in His baptism. Divine approbation follows divine righteousness. Heaven will be silent, and at the crucifixion of Jesus heaven will become dark. A man will have to find the knowledge of God from the words and works of God’s Son, and the knowledge of God’s Son will be revealed to whomever the Son chooses to reveal His Father.

Thus the baptism of Jesus is a rare glimpse into the divine life that brought Jesus to the Jordan and that will push Him to the cross. Here the Father blesses the Son, and the Spirit rests upon Jesus, not for a short time like the judges or prophets of old but remaining there to be with Him wherever He goes.

The benediction of the Father and the blessing of the Spirit are given Jesus in His baptism. Through Jesus’s baptism, they are also given us in our baptisms. Jesus’s baptism appears utterly unique, linking the preparatory baptism of John to the final baptism He commands His disciples to perform (28:19-20). Jesus ended the baptism of John in being baptized with sinners and coming in accordance with John’s preaching. Jesus began Christian baptism in giving sinners the Name that has been His own from all eternity. In Christian baptism sinners are identified with the Righteous One, forgiven for the sake of His righteousness and named in accordance with His Name.

Click here for the reading: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Boasting has to do with human accomplishments, but baptism has to do with divine choices. God did not pick the strong. God did not pick the wise. God picked the weak. God picked the foolish. All those categories are human ones – this man is weaker than that one, this man is foolish, while that one is smart – and other categories can be conceived of and preached about. Those categorizations are not false – the modern error that all difference between human beings is unreal. Those categorizations simply do not matter eternally; those categories are not “your calling, brothers.”

Boasting is excluded because it has nothing to do with God’s calling. Even in a city so wealthy and worldly as Corinth, God had not chosen many wealthy or many strong or many well-educated for Himself. Paul does not say God could not choose such people nor that such people are morally inferior to the poor or the weak or the uneducated. Paul is not speaking about God’s being a respecter of persons. Rather, God has worked in such a way in Christ so that He should shame the wise and the strong. Why? “so that no flesh [ESV: human being] might boast in the presence of God.”

This will bring to nothing the things that are. Already, in our preaching, the truths of Judgment Day are made known: what you are is not what you should be. All that you’ve done is not equal to what you ought to have done. You must become somehow completely different. You must die and be born again. At Judgment Day such preaching is too late. Yet now it is not too late. Now is a good time for boasting to be excluded and for what is to be shown for how little it truly is.

God has already done this in Christ. Christ became poor and foolish according to the light of human reason that in Him we might become rich and wise. This is why Christ has become the sole source of so much for His people: wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Paul is not confused about the ordo salutis. He is speaking of Christ as an unending fountain of everything needful. The one who has nothing will receive everything from Christ.

More than this, Christ was made nothing so that we might have everything in Him. There is no Sunday like the Baptism of our Lord for preaching the blessed exchange: what Christ did not have, He took from us for our sakes – such things as sin, foolishness, and death. What Christ did have, He gave to us for our sakes – such things as righteousness, wisdom, and life. Only people who know they are in need of life will receive it from Christ in baptism. Only people who know they are in need of wisdom will receive it from Christ through His Word. He has come to call the sick, not those who have no need of a Physician.

Click here for the reading: Joshua 3:1-3, 7-8, 13-17.

The passage of Israel through the Jordan is a people wondrously coming into its own. Preaching on baptism cannot neglect that the reality of God’s wonders happens for a people and that the promise of baptism is most fundamentally forward-looking.

The people are centered on the movement of God’s presence in the Ark. Where it goes, they go. Where it rests, they rest. The announcement of the officers in the camp of Israel is that the Ark will be moving. Since the Lord’s coming, that presence is connected to His Word, not to some object such as a box or an altar. What His Word commands or refrains from commanding, the church carries out or refrains from carrying out. What the Word says, the church says. What the Word does not say, the church does not say. There is always one Lord and one people, not one Lord and many, many individuals with their own ways.

This people necessarily has a leader, but Joshua is not a type of the pastor of a congregation or the president of a church body. His equality with Moses does not fit him merely to speak God’s Word publicly. That is something any priest could and should do in Israel. Instead, Joshua is a type of Jesus, whose Greek name has its Hebrew equivalent in Joshua’s name. Joshua will receive exaltation in Israel’s sight such as Moses had. He will lead the people, and they will listen to him.

He will lead them into a glorious but unknown future. The movement from the Transjordan into Canaan means that the wonder inaugurating Israel’s entrance is not the last wonder they will encounter. When they come into the land, they will find miraculous victories in battle against overwhelming forces and a land prepared for them by the Lord’s providence. The entrance into Canaan is an entrance to a life that is given and found, the unbought grace of life under the Lord’s care.

It is because the Lord is steadfast in His love that His people’s life is forward-looking. Nostalgia had overtaken Israel many times in the desert, leading always to dissatisfaction with the servant of the Lord, Moses, and with the deeds of the Lord in saving His people from Egypt. Life in His ways is forward-looking because it understands the future as determined by a God covenanted to save His people. If He has sworn that the waters of the Jordan would stop and they indeed did so that His people could pass, what else will He not do for His people?

Since readings are usually printed out in bulletins, you should print out the entirety of Joshua 3. Material for preaching that one loses in following the strange excisions of the assigned pericope are: the work of the Levites in leading the people, the admonition to listen to the words of your God, and the enumeration of which enemies God will drive before His people. All these are profitable and contribute to the sense the congregation should have that they are not only individually baptized but are collectively baptized for an inheritance God prepares and leads them to.

Click here for the reading: Matthew 2:1-12.

The world of Matthew 2 is like the womb of Rebecca with two struggling against each other. The Christ Child has come according to God’s promise through the prophet Micah, and like the town of His birth, His reign will not be according to appearances. Throughout His life, ministry, and death, His reign will be known through attending to prophets and through receiving the little ones sent in His name. Like His father, David the king (Mt. 1:6), Jesus’s reign begins inauspiciously in an obscure town of Judah. David began to reign in Hebron and came at last to Jerusalem. Jesus begins His reign in Bethlehem and will come at last to Jerusalem.

His kingship is divine, far surpassing Herod’s. Jesus’s kingship depends on God’s Word, Herod’s on the good pleasure of the Romans. The Magi recognize the firm foundation of Jesus’s kingdom and come to worship Him, knowing His divine office as King but not knowing His divinely given name as Savior of His people from their sins. The conviction drawn likely at least in part from Holy Scripture pushed the Magi from an undescribed eastern location to follow the divine light to the vicinity of Jerusalem. From there the star takes them directly to the Child.

Their gifts are according to a tradition dating back to Irenaeus in the 2nd century AD symbolic of Jesus’s offices as a God, a man who must die, and a king. This is quaint but unsure. The gifts denote neither specifically the number of the Magi nor their intuitions or beliefs about who Jesus truly is. Rather, all three gifts and the bringing of gifts from a foreign land to the King of the Jews are evidence of things unseen in Israel since the glory of Solomon. Now again the nations will come to worship the King of Israel. Now again the glory of the nations will be brought to Jerusalem. Now again Israel has a divinely ordained Son of David reigning over the nation unsullied by idolatry or illegitimacy of any kind.

Herod’s convictions are discovered for him by scribes who consult the Bible he does not know. They discover what the Scriptures have always said about the birth of the Messiah. His convictions drive him to deception because though he knows the Scripture, he does not know its power. Like so many to follow in Matthew’s gospel, Herod’s religion is dependent upon the scribes, not upon the Scriptures and the Messiah Whom they proclaim.

Thus the two kings have two ways. The way of the true King of the Jews is known through Scripture and creates great boldness and conviction and sacrifice in His followers. The way of the false King of the Jews is known through political consultations and creates fear and deceit in him and in his hangers-on. Epiphany is a time of clear revelation and a time of clear division between belief and unbelief, between the true King and all false ones.