We are in the New Year. As the New Year dawns, we harbour new hope and aspirations. So then, how do we understand the theme of “newness”? The Gospel of John provides a list of new things to be viewed in the early Christian context. Let us look at the following aspects of “newness” in John chaps. 1-6.
Firstly, the old Israel prepared the tabernacle by the efforts of the community members and thus invited the glory of God to dwell among them (Exo. 25-27; 36-39; 40; Num. 9:15; Lev 8:10). But John presents the Son of God who tabernacled among humanity and prepared a new community to enjoy the glory of God (John 1:14).
The arrival of Jesus marked the beginning of the eternal glory shining among humanity. While the old Tabernacle increased people’s nationalistic hope, the new Tabernacle through Jesus became a universalistic arrangement for humanity’s salvation.
Secondly, Jesus attends the wedding in Cana in Galilee with his mother, brothers, and disciples (John 2:1-12). Now, the Jews considered ‘wine’ as a synonym for ‘joy.’ A wedding where there is ‘no wine’, would impart the meaning that there is ‘no joy.’ In this context, the family members, as well as the invited guests, showed frustration.
Mary, the mother of Jesus brought this concern to Jesus who acts as per the hour of His heavenly Father. Then, the Master of the wedding testifies to the superior quality of the wine that Jesus provided. Thus, Jesus’ intervention was instrumental in bringing a ‘new’ and superior wine and the resultant joy. This incident led many people to believe in Jesus.
Thirdly, Jesus visits the temple in Jerusalem. He makes a whip of cords to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple premises (John 2:13-22). He overturns their tables and scatters the coins of the money changers. In the temple, Jesus then proclaims: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
The hearers (including the disciples) misunderstand the hidden meaning in Jesus’ statement. They responded to him: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple.” Here, Jesus was not stating about the literal Jerusalem temple; but the new temple [Jesus Himself] that is tabernacled among humanity.
Fourthly, we can see a dialogue between Jesus (a teacher “from above”) and Nicodemus (a teacher “from below”) in John 3:1-10. Jesus advises Nicodemus to be born “from above.” Nicodemus’ misunderstanding is obvious through his statement “How can a man be born when he is old?”
While Jesus speaks metaphorically to reveal the spiritual truth, Nicodemus takes Jesus’ speech literally. When Jesus invites Nicodemus to the experience of “new birth”, His concern was to teach Nicodemus, spiritual and heavenly truths.
Fifthly, there is a conversation that develops between Jesus and the Samaritan woman regarding water (John 4:4-26). Jesus speaks to the woman who is racially, sexually, and morally at the margins. She comes to fetch water from a public well and is proud of the one who gave them the well (their forefather, Jacob). While she offers literal water to Jesus, we can see that Jesus offered her “living water”.
Here, Jesus brings out the distinction between the water from Jacob’s well (literal water) and the water He provides (spiritual “living” water; John 4:13-14), and thus affirms His superiority over Jacob. Jesus as the “giver of living water” (a “new water” that satisfies people eternally) transforms the woman’s life and that of her villagers and guides them to the heavenly realities.
Sixthly, the story of the Royal official is dramatic with a lot of twists (John 4:46-54). The man requests Jesus to come down and heal his son but is rebuked for his conditional belief. (John 4:48). We find the punchline in vv. 50a and 53b: “Your son will live.”
This event brings forth a transformation in the Royal official’s family as his son was brought back to life. He matured in faith, and the whole family believed in Jesus.
Though the story begins with a death-like situation, it ends with the family’s spiritual transformation. The theme of “new life” is at the core of the said event here.
Bread of Life
Seventhly, John 6 demonstrates some Exodus imageries. When Jesus mentions that He is “the bread of life,” it takes us back to the question of the disciples: “Could someone have brought him [Jesus] food?” (John 4:33). Jesus is introduced here as the provider of food (John 6:1-15), one who enjoys “spiritual food” through his works (John 4:34-38), as well as the “eternal bread” from heaven (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51).
Jesus proved His superiority over Moses as the “bread of life” (John 6:49, 58). While those who ate manna perished in the desert, the ones who partake of Jesus, the “bread of life” shall live forever.
In order to save themselves from the Pharaoh, the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea. But Jesus crosses over the Sea of Galilee to bring transformation in human life (6:16-22). Thus, the motif of “new bread,” “new Moses,” and “new Exodus” are put together here.
Invitation to Enjoy Heavenly Realities
We are called to renew our spiritual and moral commitments as we begin the New Year. Jesus as the new Tabernacle can encamp among us and grant His protection from all sorts of exploitation, dehumanization, and pandemic like Covid-19.
The Giver of renewed joy, Jesus enables us to see a bright year ahead with lots of possibilities and prospects. His presence as the “new temple” motivates us to enjoy the continuous blessings and divine fellowship from heaven.
We are invited by Jesus to enjoy the heavenly realities by being born “from above”. As the Samaritans drank from the well and recognized Jesus as “truly the Saviour of the world,” we are invited to drink from the eternal well of God.
Through his interaction with Jesus, the Royal official turned away from the valley of death to the eternal life experience. It is vital to understand that those who cling to Jesus shall partake of the bread which God gives and be saved.
Our assurance in Jesus makes it possible for a transformed, liberated, and eternal living. Let’s enjoy the “newness” of God on a day-to-day basis throughout the year.