Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 11, 2014
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them,“Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
— Matthew 9:14-17, ESV
Jesus came to a world that was totally unprepared for Him. They misunderstood Him, almost completely. They had many misconceptions about the Messiah, including how many times He would come to earth and what on earth He would come to do. They were not ready for Jesus and they missed His point entirely. I am quite sure the same thing is going to happen again one day.
But, if we do not want to miss out on the blessings of the second coming of Jesus Christ, we need to put away some messianic misconceptions about His first coming. Jesus did not come to keep some old set of rules. Jesus did not come to fix an old and dying religion. Jesus came to bring something totally, radically, and savingly new.
Jesus did not come to keep the rules.
God gives commandments. Men make rules. Often times the two are far apart. Jesus came the first time in perfect fulfillment and obedience to the commandments of God; but, He didn’t come to keep the rules of men.
The men making the rules in this passage were the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees. The first group was a relatively earnest bunch of God-seekers, while the latter was a band of self-promoting religious legalists. However, both groups concurred in their condemnation of Jesus for feasting (see the previous passage) when He should have been fasting.
Perhaps the followers of John were fasting due to the imprisonment, or the execution, of their wild-eyed leader. Fasting is an understandable expression of mourning. Or, perhaps in their religious zeal they shared the rule of the Pharisees which called for fasting every Monday and Thursday. The point to keep in mind here is that the Old Covenant commanded fasting one day each year (on the Day of Atonement), but certainly permitted it on other occasions. The Pharisees had made up a rule that imposed fasting on the pious on a twice-weekly basis.
Rules are not wrong in and of themselves. Rules help regulate society in a helpful way in governments, schools, workplaces, other organizations, even the home. Rules are fine, unless you force other people to live by yours.
Take the Islamists, for example. I am sure there are meritorious moral elements to the Sharia law of the Koran and Muhammad, but I am sure it is wrong to terrorize and kill people who do not obey every jot and tittle. There is nothing wrong with a moral position on abstinence from alcohol. But, laws which make entire counties dry and prohibit sale and consumption by others is draconian. All Christian denominations have slightly different rules and traditions for worship and membership, but none of which are inferior to our own unless they expressly contradict Holy Scripture. If you want to make rules, outside the clear commandments of Scripture, go ahead. Just don’t look down on others who choose not to live by them.
But that’s what the disciples of John, and especially the Pharisees, were doing to Jesus. But Jesus didn’t come to keep their rules. And frankly, He won’t be coming again for those who think rule-keeping is a means of salvation. Salvation is not by keeping someone’s rules or even obeying perfectly the commandments of God. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ, alone. Salvation makes you love and desire to obey the commandments of God, and salvation makes you live by one rule: love.
Jesus did not come to fix a religion.
All Jews in Jesus’ day knew that Judaism was in need of a fix. The nation of Israel, long divided and conquered, was now under the divisive and conquering iron hand of the Roman government. The priesthood had been politicized and the religious leaders splintered into competing camps. Temple worship was taxing, synagogue attendance was declining, and the whole system was in a state of disrepair. It needed a patch and a fix that only the Messiah could bring.
But Jesus did not come to be that kind of Messiah, the first time. He did not come to conquer the world, kill the Romans, and exalt Israel to the place of preeminence. By a careful examination of this text and others in the Bible, we can know that Jesus came the first time not to conquer the world, but to die for the sins of the world. Furthermore, on the same basis, it is clearly the will of God, by Christ’s first coming, that Old Testament religion should pass away, too, and be totally replaced by the New Covenant church.
Jesus did not come to fix Israel, but rather establish the church. The Old Covenant had run its course, due to the predetermined plan of God and the unfaithfulness of God’s people, Israel. Most glaring was their failure to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. That’s why it seems silly to me when evangelical Christians break their necks and break the bank to support the nation of Israel in general, and their Old Covenant religious practices in particular, when they directly disobey and disregard our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let me soften this statement by saying emphatically that I love Israel and the Jewish people. But I love Burkina Faso and the African people, too, and Vietnam and the Asian people, and Arkansas and the American people, and all people. Remember the rule of love! And remember that no people and nobody needs a religion, primarily. They need Jesus, ultimately, and the grace and truth He brings to this world.
Jewish religion was badly torn. In the generation following Jesus, it would be ripped to pieces. So instead of fixing one of the oldest religions in the world, Jesus poured out some “new wine.”
Jesus came to offer something new.
Jesus did not come to keep the Pharisees’ rules or fix the Jewish religion. Jesus came to offer something new, something better, something of eternal and infinite value to all people. It is a win-win situation, referred to by the Lord as “new wine into fresh wineskins.” Everybody should drink up!
The “new wine” is clearly the New Covenant, ordained by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. You can hardly read any passage in any of the Gospels without direct references to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus mentions His death here, when “the bridegroom is taken away.” He mentions the unsuitable rules (“old garment”) and unsustainable religion (“old wineskins”) which were bringing people down, and offered a new and better way (“new wine”) for the people of God (“new wineskins”). Those who accept the “new wine” of the gospel and become the “new wineskins” of God’s people, will be “preserved” into eternal life.
The “new wine” is the New Testament gospel of Jesus Christ and the “new wineskins” is clearly the New Covenant people of God, the people we now call the church. The church should not try to enforce extra-biblical rules upon people, but teach the commandments of God which are simple and sufficient. The church should not be solely a religious building but a robust family of faith filled with the “new wine” of the Holy Spirit, the gospel, and the right worship of almighty God. The church should be an expanding “new wineskin” which makes room for people of all races, classes, and backgrounds, a place where sinful pasts can be washed away to make room for a spiritual present and a secure future, preparing for the day when the Messiah will come again.
Notice how the new wine and new wineskins inseparably go together. So do a proper profession of faith in Jesus Christ and responsible and active church membership. Just as wine would be useless without the right wineskin, so are those who name the name of Christ and refuse the corporate worship, fellowship, and disciplines of the church. It is not a matter of rules, not about religion, but about being right with God.
Admittedly, most churches make Christ mostly misunderstood. But the gospel is plain, the church is His plan, and those who accept the terms of Jesus’ first coming will greatly benefit from the second. And when He comes again, He is going to make all things really, radically new. Don't miss it!