Jesus is greater than the Jewish Traditions
As we already know, a large portion of John’s original audience was people from the Jewish culture and religion. For this reason, he makes several statements about Jesus that has the purpose of showing how Jesus is “GREATER THAN” the Jewish traditions and religious beliefs and figures.
I am focusing in the next few sessions on the contrast between Jesus and the Jewish traditions.
Jesus is greater than the Passover
The Passover is an important celebration in the Jewish tradition. As a reminder to you, this is the festival that relates to the nation’s redemption from Egyptian slavery. If you want to read the full version, find it in Exodus. In short, God hears the pleas of the people, and sends Moses and Aaron to free them from slavery. Pharaoh refuses on several occasions to let them go, and each time God hits Egypt with a plague. The last of the ten plagues is the death of all the firstborns in the land. The people of Israel is given clear instructions on how to keep their houses safe when the Angel of Death came by. They had to kill a sacrificial lamb, and use a hyssop branch to brush the blood of this lamb onto the doorposts of their homes. During the night they were spared the loss of their first-borns, while the people of Egypt mourned.
After this night, the nation left for the Promised Land, claiming their freedom from oppression. God, through Moses, lead them away from danger, gave them the laws by which to live as a nation, and showed them how to take possession of the land. Remember, they have been salves for generations, and as such had no idea of how to be a self-sustainable, self-governing people. They had lost their nationhood. For generations they ate what the masters gave them, and when the masters gave it. They went to sleep when and where the masters indicated, wore whatever they were given, and had almost no concept of how to make decisions. They have lost the knowledge of farming, defending themselves against enemies, how to heal the sick, take care of the orphans and widows, build houses, distribute resources… everything that makes a nation autonomous.
The Passover is therefore deeply ingrained into the Jewish life. It is a celebration not only of their redemption, but also of their rebirth as a nation. As soon as God leads them into the desert, He gives them the rules by which they should live together as a society (with their neighbours down the road, and the other nations in the region), how to make a living (farming, carpentry, fishing, stonework, trade, money lending, etc.), how to take possession of cities, or how to build cities, how to travel, and how to be healthy (eating, personal hygiene).
Then, because the people insist that there be a place specifically set apart for them to meet with God, the tabernacle is built. This is a tent, which is temporary until they settle in the land and can build a Temple. They make sacrifices, hold festivals and feasts and settle into this new life and new rules as they start the long trek to the Promised Land.
Jesus, John tells us, is GREATER THAN the Passover. He gives clear account of John the Baptist’s words that Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God which takes away sin’ (John 1:29; John 1:36), thereby becoming the redemption that takes mankind from the death that sin brings (Romans 6:23). Jesus becomes, on the cross, the sacrificial lamb whose blood redeems all the people of the world.
Jesus takes the place of both the High Priest, which had to go into the Holy of Holies to intercede for the nation’s sin, thereby making it possible for us to have contact with God even when we do not have a priest/ minister/ reverend/ pastor around. And because He is a holy, unblemished sacrifice, set apart for a holy purpose, and then fulfilling that purpose by becoming the sacrifice, all atonement is complete (Hebrew 7:27, 28). His last words on the Cross as He died is “It is finished.” Nothing can be added to our atonement, and nothing can be taken away from it. It is done. All we can do is claim it, or reject it, but we cannot change it, and neither can anyone else.
Christ is better than Jewish ceremonies
We find the first eye-witness account of a miracle that Jesus performs in John’s second chapter (John 2:1-11). This is the wedding at Cana, to which Jesus, his family and his disciples all come. For John, this is obviously important. I think he selected to begin with this event because of the audience he is addressing. First, He speaks to Jewish unbelievers, showing that Jesus attended Jewish ceremonies, and did not reject everything Jewish. Just because you become a Christian, does not mean you have to leave behind ceremonies of the society. Secondly, he speaks to Jewish believers who has left the temple, giving them a clear message that marriage will continue to be part of their lives. To those secret believers, Jesus is communicating that you can still be part of a community, and still get married, and still celebrate with family… live does not end just because you walk away from the temple.
Another cool thing to notice here is the interaction between mother and Son. She tells Jesus to help the people because the wine is finished and that is a terrible disgrace to the parents of the bride and groom. He tells her that ‘my time has not yet come.’ However, when she leaves, He is obedient to her request, following the Law of Moses that requires him to respect his parents (Exodus 20:12). John mentions this to show that even if you follow Him, there will be rules and regulations. His followers will not just get to do what they want. They were not just rebels running around wildly. This is important for people who have lived their whole lives according to a set of rules and regulations, like the Jewish believers. They understood that if they keep the rules and regulations, they will be safe, well fed, healthy, happy, and acceptable in society. John shows them that Jesus is not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There will still be rules.
The changing of water into wine is such a beautiful miracle. Jesus takes something common and ordinary, and transforms it into something spectacular. Even today, He still takes ordinary people and use then in extra-ordinary ways. He can, and will, take your common dreary life, and add pizazz to it. When you meet Jesus, each and every time, He makes everything better, more beautiful, more wonderful, more supergalafragelisticexpialidotious.
Wine has more than just one use. Here, at the wedding, it is used as a tool to celebrate. It signifies rejoicing. Not just any rejoicing, but a rejoicing of union between two families. This reminds me of the promise that whenever a sinner repents, the angels in heaven celebrate the event (Luke 16:22).
Wine is also used to wash wounds because of its antiseptic qualities. So, to the original readers in the Jewish community, they would understand that wine signifies healing as well as cleansing.
Therefore, Jesus, whose blood is even today represented by wine or grape juice in our Communion, bring to us deep healing, cleansing, and a reason to celebrate. His death on the Cross, for which John uses as a metaphor the Wedding at Cana narrative, is what unifies us, even though we are people from different tribes, nations, and countries.
This means that Jesus is better than Jewish ceremonies, like a wedding.