Change, Law, Fasting New Life
Someone once said the seven last words of the church are these: “We never did it that way before.” It is a fact of life: people resist change.
A Chevy man is not interested in test driving a Ford
A John Deere man wouldn’t think of getting an International Harvester Tractor
A person who was raised rooting for a particular sports team isn’t going to root for an arch rival
The same thing is true in the church. Those who have had their hearts lifted by traditional worship will resist new forms. Those who have found comfort and strength from a particular version of the Bible will remain suspicious of modern translations. Those who have been raised in a rules-oriented church will find it difficult to get used to a grace-governed church family. When we hold something dear and precious, like our religious faith, we resist change. The more precious the tradition, the more we dig in our heels against change.
This realization helps us understand the difficult time that the Pharisees had with Jesus. They had been raised in the church and steeped in tradition. The routine was majestic and comforting. There was security in the familiar. Ritual and faith were seen as one and the same.
Jesus came onto the scene and people begin to flock to Him. But Jesus was unorthodox in His ways. He spent time with sinners and tax collectors and even defiled himself by eating in their homes; He healed people on the Sabbath day (considered work by the Pharisees), He ignored the rituals that were the foundation of religious life. The Pharisees didn’t like this. And in our text this morning the Pharisees team up with the disciples of John the Baptist to address some of these offenses. This same account is also found in Matthew 9:14-17 and Mark 2:18-22.
They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:33-39)
Please notice several things
Jesus Was Not Disobeying the Law of God
Some people seem to feel that Jesus made a habit of ignoring God’s law. That is absolutely not true. Jesus kept the law of God perfectly. To break the law in even one point would be sin. But if this is true, why were the religious leaders of the day always criticizing Jesus for his behavior? In this case, why weren’t the disciples of Jesus following the rules on fasting? The Jewish law prescribed a time of fasting only during the Day of Atonement. This was a time when the people confessed their sin, killed on goat as a sin offering and sent the other into the wilderness to denote God’s cleansing and forgiveness. God told the people to prepare their hearts before this national day of repentance.
Jesus was not breaking any law of God when He and the disciples did not fast more often. Jesus was not being less spiritual. Jesus was violating the customs, traditions and rules set up by the Pharisees and Sadducees to “help” people keep the law of God. Their laws prescribed fasts on every Tuesday and Thursday and on a number of special days. Anyone who sought to be “spiritual” kept these rigorous requirements. But these requirements were not God’s requirements, they were the requirements of men.
Our responsibility is to obey the law of God. There are people all around us who would like us to also conform to their standards. Here are some examples,
the way we dress (do Pastors need to wear robes? do men need to wear ties to worship? Do women need to be in a dress? Should women wear make-up? Should women wear hats? Should they wear gloves . . . at one time or another these were all accepted practice.)
the kind of amusements we enjoy (is it wrong to play cards, is it wrong to dance, is it wrong to watch a movie, is it wrong to play sports on Sundays?)
the way we express our worship. (Do spirit-controlled believers always raise their hands in worship, never raise their hands in worship, only sing choruses, never sing choruses, have an altar call, never have an altar call, speak in tongues, never speak in tongues?)
These things are all traditions. Jesus reminds us that our responsibility is to obey the Lord. Obeying the laws of others is optional.
Jesus Was Not Saying Fasting Was Wrong
We have to resist over-reacting to what Jesus is saying. Jesus never said that fasting was wrong. In fact, in Matthew 6 he tells us that “when we fast” we are not to make a big deal out of it. Even in this passage Jesus says that a time will come when the disciples will fast. When Jesus left the earth He knew the disciples would fast. At that time they will mourn and express that grief through fasting. They will seek God’s presence and strength and work at focusing through fasting. Jesus is not discounting the value of spiritual discipline.
Fasting is not the problem. It is a good discipline. When you fast you don’t eat (and sometimes don’t drink) in order to be more focused on God. It is a discipline that helps us listen, worship, discern God’s will, and more. It is a good and valuable tool. The problem was thinking that fasting according to the rules of the Pharisees was a requirement for salvation and true spirituality.
There is nothing wrong with giving thought to your style of worship, your attire in the house of God, your practice of the sacraments, your preferred Bible translation, and on down the list. It is good to think about these things. It is wrong to set these things up as the litmus test of a true believer.
Jesus Said That His Presence Changed Everything
Fasting is a good tool but it was an inappropriate tool at that time. Jesus makes a reference to a bridegroom and his friends. William Barclay helps us understand this whole wedding picture of Jesus,
A Jewish wedding was a time of special festivity. The unique feature of it was that the couple who were married did not go away for a honeymoon; they spent their honeymoon at home.For a week after the wedding open house was kept; the bride and bridegroom were treated as, and even addressed as, king and queen. And during that week their closest friends shared all the joy and all the festivities with them; these closest friends were called the children of the bridechamber. On such an occasion there came into the lives of poor and simple people a joy, a rejoicing, a festivity, a plenty, that might come only once in a lifetime. So Jesus compares himself to the bridegroom and his disciples to the bridegrooms’ closest friends. How could a company like that be sad and grim? This was no time for fasting, but for the rejoicing of a lifetime. There are great things in this passage.The Gospel of Matthew : Volume, ed. William Barclay, The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed., Mt 9:16 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975).
Jesus points out that it is foolish for those who are recipients of grace and joy to spend their time in mourning for sin. It is silly for those who are with the wonderful Savior to spend their time seeking God. He is in their midst! They should enjoy Him!
When Christ comes into our life many things change
- Our relationship with God changes. When we put our faith in Christ, we are no longer enemies or antagonists of God. We are now called sons and daughters of God. We are no longer sinners, we are saints. We should not mourn . . . we should be joyful.
- Our view of ourselves change. We no longer see ourselves as miserable failures. We are people who have been wonderfully forgiven. We are children of the King! We are sinners saved by grace! We know that we are loved. We know that we are forgiven. We know that we are headed to Heaven. That changes our view of who we are. God sees value in us. We should not mourn . . . we should be joyful.
- Our motivation for living changes. Now we are not seeking to gain God’s favor, we are living in gratitude for God’s favor and love. We should not mourn . . . we should be joyful.
- Our approach to hard times changes. Before we met Jesus we assumed that bad things happened to us because God was mad at us. We felt God must be punishing us for something. We assumed that any difficult circumstance meant that God had turned away from us. But once we receive and follow Jesus we understand that nothing will separate us from His love. He will never turn away from us. God is not punishing us with hard times . . . . He is training us. And that makes a big difference. We should not mourn . . . we should be joyful.
Oswald Chambers writes,
The one thing about Our Lord that the Pharisees found it hard to understand was His gaiety in connection with the things over which they were appallingly solemn. And what puzzled the religious people of Paul’s day was his uncrushable gaiety; he treated buoyantly everything that they treated most seriously. Paul was in earnest over one thing only, and that was his relationship to Jesus Christ. There he was in earnest, and there they were totally indifferent.Chambers, O. (1996, c1929, 1931, 1930). Our brilliant heritage. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott Containing also Grow up into Him and As He walked.
I hope you can see how different this is from the picture that many people have of the church. Too often people see the church as a place of rules, regulations and restrictions. They believe that following Christ means you don’t have any fun. In truth, following Christ means that we finally understand what joy is all about!
Jesus Tells us that New Life in Christ is Inconsistent with Worn Out Tradition
Jesus illustrates his point with two additional pictures,
He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’”
If you have a tear in your clothes you will not patch it with material from a brand new garment. It would ruin the new garment and the new material would shrink the first time you washed the garment and it would make a bigger hole than you had at first.
The second illustration is a little foreign to us but made perfect sense to the followers of Jesus. In those days new wine would be poured into animal skins rather than in bottles or barrels like they would be today. As this new wine would mature or ferment, the gases in the skin would case the skin to expand. These skins had the requisite elasticity. However, if you used an old skin it was already stretched out. When the wine began to ferment it would eventually burst the worn skin.
Jesus wants us to understand that the Jewish laws and regulations were incompatible with the gospel of grace. A new kind of relationship with God demands a new way of doing things. This is why many of the Old Testament practices are discarded today.
- there is no need for the sacrifices because the perfect sacrifice has been made on our behalf
- the elaborate cleansing rituals are no longer necessary because Christ has made us truly clean
- all the regulations about priests are unnecessary because our Lord is our great High Priest
It is a message we need to keep in mind as well. In Discipleship Journal we read,
Institutions are designed to equip individuals to walk with God. They are a means to an end. But often the institution becomes more important than the individual, and the individual begins serving the institution.Think of your institution. Whether it is a church, a parachurch organization, a new movement, or a little discipleship group, we need to ask ourselves some tough questions.Are we making disciples of our institutions, or are our institutions making disciples of Jesus?Are our disciples proficient at programs or at living a radical relationship with Jesus?Does our attachment to our institutions isolate us from the world or equip us for changing the world?Are people focusing on us because of the importance of our programs, or are we—and our programs—the “means to the end” so that people see Jesus more clearly?Institutions are not bad, per se, as long as we realize the end for which they are designed. Jesus established the Church as His functioning Body on earth in His absence. The Church is designed to draw people into a loving fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ and His people. But it is possible to turn our churches or organizations into cold, religious institutions if we do not heed the dangers of institutionalism.Discipleship Journal : Issue 62. 1999 (electronic ed.). Colorado Springs: The Navigators/NavPress.
The last line of this passage seems to contradict everything that went before. However, it seems that Jesus is pointing out that people resist change. The Pharisees and those devoted to tradition will always say, “The old is better.” Change may be necessary but it comes slowly.
There are several things we need to take away from this passage: First, we are given a warning. It is possible to be so devoted to our forms that we begin to adore the structure rather than the Lord. We must remind ourselves that forms are to be tools to communicate God’s truth to others. Our rules and regulations will not get us to Heaven. Sometimes those rules and regulations can even inhibit our entrance into Heaven.
Let me ask you a pointed question: Why do you think you are going to Heaven? Is it because you are “religious” (which is usually measured by religious practices)? Is it because you think you are better than most people by who’s standard? Or do you realize that Heaven is reserved for those who place their confidence in the finished work of Jesus?
A true believer is one who has abandoned all hope of saving themselves. A true believer no longer thinks they can be good enough. The true believer knows that their only hope of salvation is the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. They realize that all their good deeds add up to nothing when it comes to paying for sin. The true believer puts their confidence in what Christ has done for them. They are trusting relationship and not regulations.
If you have grown up in the church (especially this one) and have the feeling that you have to be a better person to get to Heaven, please let me apologize. The message you were supposed to hear is that you needed to trust a better person. You needed to trust Jesus rather than yourself. You needed to realize that when Jesus went to the cross He went to pay for your sin. He did what you could never do on your own. If you want to get to Heaven you must run to the Savior like a child runs to the arms of their parent. You need to run to Jesus like the family pet runs to greet their family.
Understand, that your life will change. But it will change as a result of the relationship and not as a means to that relationship.
The second lesson is this: we must adapt methods to people and not people to the methods. In other words, our goal is to teach the truth of God to those around us. We must find the most effective way to do that rather than trying to force others into our mold. Traditions come and traditions go. We need to know when to let go.
Our goal is to build a bridge to people. We seek to invite people to the Savior rather than to push them away. If our worship style pushes people away, then we should adapt our style (not the object of our worship!). If reading from the King James Version of the Bible is going to confuse people . . . read a newer version (even if you still like the King James in your personal reading). If preaching in theological jargon puts people to sleep (because they aren’t familiar with the words) then use other words that people DO understand. If having a “Sunday Dress Code” will keep people from worship, eliminate the code! Our forms should be tailored to our purpose rather than the other way around.
Third, we must be just as careful of rushing after the new forms simply because they are new. Just because something “worked” in one congregation doesn’t mean it is appropriate for all. We must always beware of thinking that our form will save anyone. We are not brought to faith by our established traditions any more than we are redeemed by our innovations. Sometimes our innovations and slick presentations become the focus of our ministry. Our focus should be Jesus.
The questions we must ask of any form is not “Is it new?” or “Is it old?” Those are irrelevant questions. The questions we should ask are: “Is it honoring to God?”, “Does it point to Jesus?” and “Is it effective in communicating His truth?”
The Pharisees and the Disciples of John the Baptist missed the point. They focused on the traditions and missed the significance of the one who stood before them. They lectured Jesus when they should have been listening to Him. They tried to get Him to conform to their ways rather than seeking to conform to Him. It wasn’t a very smart thing to do. God help us to learn from their mistakes.