THE WEDDING AT CANA
In our last lesson, we learned about Jesus’ baptism and first public affirmation by Yahweh. That’s pretty big stuff. After that He began collecting some disciples around Him, and now where Jesus goes, a group of curious men is following. Meanwhile, life around them is continuing on as usual and Jesus and His boys receive invitations to a local wedding. Jesus’ mother is in attendance as well, and when she sees the hosts run out of wine, she drops a big hint that her Son ought to do something about it. After all, it’s a major embarrassment to run out of wine for your guests right in the middle of the festivities.
Now this exchange between Mary and Jesus is very interesting. She points out to Him that the wine is running out. It seems they’re standing together somewhere near the party’s refreshment center. Jesus’ response is quite crispy. He seems to resent mom calling on Him to flex His miracle muscles just to get their friends out of a jam.
“Woman, why do you involve Me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” (Jn. 2:4)
Jesus is not in the mood to show off at a party. He tells Mary that she’s jumping the gun—it’s not time for Him to start public miracles yet. In response, Mary acts like Jesus has just agreed to give her what she wants. Hm. Perhaps Mary is confident in her persuasive powers as mom. Perhaps she has a long history of pressuring Jesus for things and Him caving in to be a good son. Whatever the reason, this sounds like a definite railroad job for after hearing her Son say N-O:
Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” (Jn. 2:5)
So much for mom respecting Jesus’ boundaries. But when we know someone’s boundaries are weak, we are quick to take advantage of them, and Jesus ends up rewarding His mother’s pushiness by performing a miracle. He tries to do it on the down low—telling the servants to fill six large containers with water and then present the headwaiter with a sample. By the time the sample reaches the headwaiter, it’s been changed into a high quality wine—so much so that the headwaiter comments on it to the host.
“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (Jn. 2:10)
The general rule of hosting is that you impress your guests with the good stuff first. Then when they’re too plastered to notice the difference, you slip them the cheap stuff. It’s a way to try and save money. Here the headwaiter is surprised and confused at the bridegroom’s choice to save the best stuff for last and miss an opportunity to impress his guests while they’re still thinking clearly. What the headwaiter doesn’t realize is that this good wine didn’t come from the bridegroom’s personal stash—it has just miraculously appeared. We get the impression that the servants don’t blab—at least not right away. But news of this amazing miracle would have certainly spread around. Any Man who has the power to create high quality recreational drugs is going to be very popular.
THE FIRST PASSOVER
Because the Passover was an annual event which drew all religious Jews down to the Temple in Jerusalem, they are a useful way to track the passing of time. We will be told of four Passovers in the life of adult Jesus. This one comes very early on just before He starts the public preaching that He’s so famous for.
Now back in Lesson 42, we learned how Herod the Great had remodeled the Temple and greatly changed its layout. A system of courts was constructed which served the purpose of keeping non-Jews and women further away from Yahweh’s symbolic Presence in the Holy of Holies. We learned that this system was a gross mangling of Yahweh’s original design, and extremely offensive to Him. But this wasn’t the only offensive thing happening in the Temple.
Also in Lesson 42, we learned that the Sadducees controlled Temple life. They were the snooty priests who thought they were better than everyone else. And while they prided themselves on their righteousness, they encouraged all kinds of outrageous practices in and around the Temple. One of the most famous was the marketing of sacrificial animals. Back in Lesson 6, we learned that Yahweh required specific types of animals to be used in His sacrifices. Now if you lived far away from Jerusalem, it was hard to bring your animals all the way down to the city, so a convenient alternative was to just buy the animal you needed when you got there. What a great opportunity for animal sellers to gouge Jews who were in need of an animal to fulfill Yahweh’s requirements.
Now Yahweh was very particular about the kinds of animals He would accept. He would not accept you dragging in some limping, wheezing disease bag. Animals offered to God had to be in perfect health, without any known problems. What a great opportunity for priests to start a system of phony inspections, by which they could declare your animal to be “unfit”, thereby forcing you to go get gouged by the animal sellers. And then of course there was the currency exchange. Every new ruler that Rome placed in power minted his own coins. The Temple had its own currency as well, and if you wanted to give money to Yahweh, you had to exchange it into the correct coinage. Here was yet another opportunity to gouge people—are you getting the idea? From God’s perspective, there were all kinds of outrageous shenanigans happening in and around the Temple that were all designed to abuse those who were sincerely trying to seek Him. Suppose today God said that all Christians had to go to church on Christmas Day if they wanted to keep their salvation. If you were serious about God, you’d be desperate to meet His requirements. You’d be very scared to skip a Christmas. But because the pastors of the day know you’re in a spot, they start charging you $100 just to get in the door. This is the kind of garbage that went on at the Temple—a terrible abuse of Yahweh’s followers.
Now there’s nothing quiet about bleating animals and people getting frustrated because they feel like they’re being gouged. All this ruckus happening inside the Temple courts made it that much harder for anyone to focus on God. Some people were there to pray, others were in little study groups having discussions about theology. But all the while they had to contend with a bunch of noise. If you were a non-Jewish seeker of Yahweh, you were restricted to the outer courts, and that placed you even closer to the mayhem. All of this outraged God, and as Jesus enters into the Temple during this first Passover after His baptism by John, He hits His limit with a scene that has always infuriated Him.
In the Temple area He saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; He also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, He told them, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s House into a marketplace!” (Jn. 2:14-16)
Talk about making a scene! This would be like you breaking into the back office of your local police station and firing off a gun into the air while you swipe all the stuff off of desktops and yell at everyone to stop corrupting the law. It doesn’t go over well. The Jewish authorities demand to know where Jesus gets off telling them what to do.
But the Jewish leaders demanded, “What are You doing?! If God gave You authority to do this, show us a miraculous sign to prove it!”
“All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
“What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and You can rebuild it in three days?” But when Jesus said “this Temple,” He meant His own body. After He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered He had said this, and they believed both the Scriptures and what Jesus had said. (Jn. 2:18-22)
This is classic Jesus behavior. He does something shocking, people demand an explanation, and then He fires back some nonsensical quip which makes no literal sense. Oh, but now we can look back and know that Jesus was referring to His death and resurrection when He challenged them all to destroy the Temple and He’d raise it up again. Right. No one at the time had any clue that Jesus was being figurative, and He knew it. Notice He doesn’t bother to explain Himself. He probably just stormed off victoriously, acting like He’d given them the perfect comeback. Well, no, He’d just sounded like a lunatic. Don’t get so focused on these handy little explanations the Gospel writers slip in that you miss seeing how obnoxious Jesus was to the people around Him. If some guy throws your stuff all over the floor and then shouts out some statement that makes no sense, are you going to think, “Gee, I wonder if He’s Divine?” No, you’re going to think, “What a psycho! I hope He leaves and never comes back!” And then you’re going to spend the rest of the afternoon trying to get all your stuff back in order.
It’s very telling the way John says it’s only AFTER Jesus resurrects from the dead that the disciples look back and have an aha moment about this ruckus He made in the Temple. Clearly Jesus never explained it to them in the three years that they spent with Him. Jesus didn’t explain a lot of things. He was very challenging to be around.
Now after this Temple episode, word quickly spreads that Jesus is in town for Passover. We’re then told that Jesus starts doing a lot more miracles in public. Earlier He’d told His mom that His hour had not yet come. Well, now it clearly has, for now Jesus is taking advantage of the huge crowd in Jerusalem to launch His public teaching ministry. John tells us that many people started believing in Jesus because of the signs. But then he also adds:
But Jesus didn’t trust them, because He knew all about people. No one needed to tell Him about human nature, for He knew what was in each person’s heart. (Jn. 2:24-25)
People are quick to declare allegiance to a Man with special powers because they want to get in line for Him to use those powers to help them out later on. Jesus knows that most of these early followers aren’t sincere and He doesn’t count on them. We would be wise to follow His example in life. When God is doing some form of ministry through us and we suddenly find ourselves being swarmed by fans who are all oozing compliments over us, we would be fools to start depending on those people in life. If we’re really staying in alignment with the Holy Spirit, then it’s only a matter of time before His truth and His ego-bashing style starts to offend people. Soon our gushing fans turn into very vocal enemies who take delight in smearing us to others. What then? Are we going to go into some juvenile huff and tell God that we won’t serve Him anymore because He’s making us unpopular with people? To serve God well, HIS commendation must be the only reward we are focused on. It can’t be about collecting numbers or testimonies or praise from other popular Christians. We have to work for the reward of pleasing God simply because He is God. Our love for Him must be our motivation—not the approval of mortals.
NICODEMUS THE PHARISEE
In Lesson 42, we learned that the Pharisees were a bunch of arrogant hypocrites who prided themselves on being experts in Scripture. They were the popular pastors and teachers of the day who the regular Jews looked up to and admired. They were the community teachers who instructed the general public about what God wanted from them. Of course much of what they taught was total garbage and they did far more damage than good. So when John tells us that one day a prominent Pharisee named Nicodemus comes sidling up to Jesus, we expect the man to have shady motivations. No doubt he’s heard about Jesus’ miracles, and he’s probably quite threatened that a new bible teacher has come to town. The Pharisees are already at war with the Sadducees to try and gain the most influence over the common people. They certainly don’t need some show-off to start stealing their converts away.
After dark one evening, Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent You to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with You.” (Jn. 3:2)
Now this is an unexpected opener—sounds like Nicodemus is trying to butter Jesus up. But then again, the man has waited until after dark to have this conversation—could it be he is really seeking the truth?
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things?” (Jn. 3:3-10)
Jesus doesn’t miss a chance to call people out on their stupidity. It should be very obvious to Nicodemus that men can’t fix themselves—God must transform us on the inside if we’re to acquire any real change. But Pharisees were all about striving in the flesh, and they were a million miles away from truly submitting to God in their hearts. Instead of acknowledging their total depravity and embracing their dependency on God for all things, they thought they were doing just fine on their own. They were so deluded. Here Jesus bags on Nicodemus for setting himself up as a spiritual expert when he clearly doesn’t understand the most basic tenants of his own faith. Jesus now goes on to make some very brazen claims.
“No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.
For this is how Yahweh loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. Yahweh sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.
There is no judgment against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in Yahweh’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: Yahweh’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what Yahweh wants.” (Jn. 3:3-21)
Now good Jews of this time were superstitious about speaking the Name of Yahweh out loud. They often substituted the reverential title of Adonai instead. But to help you hear what Jews heard when they listened to Jesus, we will often put Yahweh’s Name in where your Bible just says “God.” When Jews talk about God in the Gospels, they mean Yahweh. This is very important to grasp, because when you say “God” today, you mean Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. You often use the term in a plural way, but the Jews used it to refer to the ONLY God they acknowledged: Yahweh.
So now let’s look at what Jesus has just said. First, He claims to have come down from Heaven to earth—something He says no mortal has ever done. In other words, Jesus isn’t a mortal. In the New Testament, you’re not going to find Jesus saying the words “I am God”. But once you listen to Jesus with the ears of an Old Covenant Jew, you will realize that He is claiming to be a Divine Being all over the place. This passage is one of those times. Here Jesus says that He’s not a human, He’s something else. He has come from Heaven—gee, who dwells in Heaven? Yahweh, of course. So then, Jesus is associating Himself with Yahweh—but how exactly?
Before He expands on His relationship to Yahweh, Jesus throws in this bit about Moses raising up a staff in the desert. This is yet another prediction of His crucifixion, underscoring the fact that Jesus knew from the very beginning that He had come to earth to be crucified. Today you’ll find some scholarly morons in the Christian community who write books about Jesus in which they describe Him as some confused half-man, half-God hybrid who takes a long time to slowly realize that He’s Someone special. This is utter rot, of course. Jesus is fully God and He knows what He’s doing at all times.
This story of Moses raising up a staff in the wilderness is a very famous passage from the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) which Jewish Nicodemus would have been well aware of. You should be familiar with it too, so read The Fate of the Bronze Snake.
Now after predicting His crucifixion and identifying Himself as some kind of spiritual Savior, Jesus goes on to clarify His relationship to Yahweh: He is Yahweh’s only Son. Whoa. Since when does Yahweh have a Son? But while Nicodemus’ eyes are bugging out in shock, Jesus then adds that anyone who doesn’t believe that He is who He says He is will be condemned by Yahweh. Double whoa.
As this speech demonstrates, Jesus was an alpha Personality who exuded all the confidence and superiority of a five star military general. He didn’t avoid the topic of His Divinity, He flaunted it to those who were not even asking. He claimed to be a second God—the glorious Son of Yahweh who was equal to His Father in every way. But why the family titles? Yahweh didn’t really give birth to Jesus, so why does He call Jesus His Son? This human terminology was a strategic way of helping scandalized Jews swallow the idea of multiple Gods.
So while the public spotlight turns in Jesus’ direction, what about John the Baptist? How’s the baptizing business going now that the Messiah John was waiting for has revealed Himself? In our next lesson, we’ll learn that John’s disciples are starting to see Jesus as some threatening competition. It turns out that Jesus has started baptizing people as well, and He’s attracting larger crowds. Is John going to feel threatened by his Cousin crowding in on his watery turf? We’ll find out in our next lesson.
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