“For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?” (CSB – Read the chapter)
There are three kinds of people in the world: those who use only name-brand products, those who use only off-brand products, and those who really don’t care. Off-brand products are designed and intended to give you the look and feeling (or flavor) of the name-brand without their cost. But while some off-brands can get pretty close – close enough that even a picky eater or fussy dresser can be satisfied – the honest truth is that there’s a difference. In most cases, the name-brand products are the name-brand products for a reason. We are walking through an explanation of how the new covenant came to be here in Hebrews 9. What we see here is essentially a brand comparison. The new covenant versus the old covenant is a little like a name-brand product versus an off-brand product. Let’s dig into this together.
In John 2, the apostle tells the story of Jesus’ first public miracle. He and His family were at a wedding. Weddings in that day and time were a big affair in ways that make even our biggest weddings look small by comparison. The celebration and festivities often lasted for a week. And during that week, the host was honor-bound to make sure the provisions for his guests never ran out. In light of this, the host of this particular wedding’s discovery that he had run out of wine before the end of the event was a potential tragedy. The amount of shame that was going to be credited to him by all of the guests and after that all of the members of the community was immense. This was something that had the potential to impact the rest of his life.
Jesus and His family were obviously close enough to the host that His mother, Mary, got word of the looming disaster. Without apparently giving it a second thought, she brought her Son to the host, said to him, “Do whatever he tells you,” and left the two of them to work it out. Oh, and this was after she had reported the lack of wine to Jesus in a way that clearly implied her expectation that He was to do something about it. Jesus wasn’t thrilled with this, but He was an obedient Son and so did what she expected Him to do – He solved the problem.
The miracle itself is one of Jesus’ more well-known miracles. He instructed the host to fill up six big jars with water. These jars held somewhere between 120 and 150 total gallons. That’s a lot of wine. Once the jars were filled, Jesus instructs the servants to take some of the liquid to the headwaiter. Sometime between when the jars were filled with water and the headwaiter tasted the sample of what filled the jars, the water became wine. The hows and whys of this we will have to address another time. For now, the reaction of the headwaiter is worth quoting at length: “When the headwaiter tasted the water (after it had become wine), he did not know where it came from – though the servants who had drawn the water knew. He called the groom and told him, ‘Everyone sets out the fine wine first, then, after people are drunk, the inferior. But you have kept the fine wine until now.'” As a bit of an epilogue, John writes this in the next verse: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.”
Now, I’ve got to be honest: I’ve read this story numerous different times. I can’t remember if I’ve ever preached on it, but I know the story well. It’s one of the more well-known stories from Jesus’ ministry. Of all His miracles, this one has had one of the broadest pop-culture impacts. Everybody chuckles at the thought of Jesus turning water into wine. And now you’re starting to wonder whether I’ve forgotten which passage I was writing about. I haven’t. For all my familiarity with this story, I’ve never really understood it. I mean, no, it’s not all that hard to understand what happens here. Jesus turns water into wine. Done. What has always somewhat eluded me was how this was a sign of anything. I think I have a better idea now from reading Hebrews 9.
The old covenant between God and Israel was like the first wine the host set out for his guests at the wedding. Everybody “knew” this was the best wine. You always set out the good stuff first when people were still sober enough to be able to taste the difference. Once their palettes were sufficiently dulled from the amount of wine they had consumed, you could safely set out the cheap stuff because they weren’t going to know the difference anyway.
This was essentially the mindset of the Jewish people. The old covenant was God’s good stuff for the world. If anyone wanted to gain access to Him, this was how that access was going to be granted. You had to jump through all of the hoops and navigate all the obstacles. That was just how it was. Everything else that had been offered as a means to get to God since the good stuff was set out for the people was merely a cheap substitute intended only to con and confuse. It was all the off-brand versions of the name-brand stuff God introduced at the beginning.
And then Jesus turned water into wine.
That was the sign here. What Jesus was revealing to the people was that they had really been enjoying the off-brand product the whole time. The good stuff had actually been kept on reserve. You only thought you were enjoying the best the host had to offer before. Now, in Christ, you can taste and see the fullness of what God really had planned for His people. Or, to put it like the author of Hebrews does here, if you thought the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled over your head could make you clean and pure enough to appear before God, just wait until you experience the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus. All of the good things you did to try and work yourself into God’s good graces were a waste of time. They were never going to accomplish the aim of their intended effort. They were dead. In Jesus, though, you have access to a real cleansing from sin such that you can stand confidently in His presence and serve Him with gladness.
If you want access to God, friends, there’s no better way than Jesus. He is the name-brand, and this is a situation in which the off-brands aren’t as good. In fact, they’re not merely not as good, they are completely incapable of accomplishing what we expect them to do. They’re not merely cheaper substitutes, they’re filled with poison that will eventually leave you sick and dying if you use them. This is a situation in which the name-brand is the only way to go. The various off-brands before the release of the name-brand weren’t all bad (especially the primary off-brand revealed to Abraham’s descendants), but they weren’t the real thing. If you want access to the real thing, there’s only one way to go.