OLD TIME RELIGION
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 30, 2017
33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
— Luke 5:33-39, ESV
“Gimme that old time religion, it’s good enough for me!”
What exactly is “old time religion?” Is it good enough for you? Is it really good for anyone? Before you drag yourself, Grandma and Grandpa, Paul and Silas, and Jesus into it, you need to ask yourself if the Lord was being serious or sarcastic when He said, “The old is good.” So, let’s go to a wedding, put on some jeans, pour ourselves some wine and find out.
Old Time Rules
A lot of folks like that old time religion based on a long list of rules. The Pharisees had taken some of the basic commandments found in Holy Scripture and multiplied them into a plethora of extra-biblical rules and regulations to be strictly obeyed. You could not be right with God, according to the Pharisees, unless you kept their brand of old time religion.
For example, Old Testament Jews were required to fast, once a year, on the Day of Atonement. The Pharisees fasted twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, and made a public display of it for God and man to see. Furthermore, while the Bible commends fervent and silent praying, the Pharisees did it loudly and proudly, using their many words to express their sorrow over their neighbors’ sins (ref. Luke 18:10ff).
Such old time religion is still practiced in certain sects of Judaism. Furthermore, it has made the transition into various forms of fundamentalist Christianity, complete with long lists of rules and regulations regarding dress, drink, dance, and other divisions they deem not sufficiently covered in Scripture. Is this old time religion good? Is it good enough for you?
The Bible is good and it contains commandments to be kept. As Eugene Peterson put it, “a long obedience in the same direction” is something to be desired. But to get there, you must submit yourself to the authority of God’s word, not make yourself the authority over God’s word. When walking with God, obedience is not a means of gaining His favor, but a way of showing your love for God and your neighbor.
The Pharisees got it wrong. Their old time religion was not good then, and it is of no use now. It is full of holes and you can’t patch it up nor fill it up. Yet those who are in it cannot seem to get enough of it. It’s good enough for them, but not for Jesus, and not for you.
Old Time Experience
Seeing the error in the Pharisees’ ways is fairly easy, but what about the followers of John the Baptist? The Pharisees dragged them into the argument against Jesus, and they admittedly did have their own brand of fanatical, fundamentalist, old time religion. But surely Jesus could patch it up, pour Himself into it, and make it work, couldn’t He?
If ever there was a rebel with a cause, it was John the Baptist. He was perhaps the greatest man who ever lived. He was also a flash in the pan. John ran on high octane emotion, preached loud sermons, prayed long prayers, and engaged in a short but sensational season of fasting and other austerities. He began a brief but serious religious movement, obtained a good number of followers, pointed those followers to Jesus, then doubted, then died.
Maybe it was due to his doubts, or more likely it was due to Jesus’ more subdued manner, that many of John’s followers did not follow Jesus. Jesus dressed normally, acted calmly, spoke softly, and carried no big stick (except for on a couple of occasions). John’s disciples liked that old time religion, the fiery excitement, the extreme unction, the whole craziness of the experience. Consequently, many of them needed to be properly evangelized long after both John and Jesus were gone (ref. Acts 18:24ff, 19:1ff).
A lot of folks like that old time religion based on a one time experience. They can point back to some time of religious excitement that brought them to a decision for Christ. Admittedly, they never felt anything like it before, or since. They are not responsible church members but they think they are bound for Heaven because in a day gone by they got a taste of that old time religion.
Revivalism plagued America for nearly a century and its remnants remain. It has left a scorched earth of superficially touched souls, inoculated against salvation by a small dose of superficial gospel. In a moment of hypnotizing music, loud preaching, and long altar calls they came forward in a blaze of glorious old time religion. But now they have holes in their souls and emptiness in their hearts that will never be fixed as long as they hold on to that one time experience of that old time religion.
Revival is to be sought, revivalism is a fraud. You do not need that kind of old time religion. Neither do you need a stepping staircase of religious rules and regulations. You need a new relationship with Jesus Christ.
New Found Relationship
No one appreciates the commandments contained in the word of God and the ministry of John the Baptist more than Jesus. No one cares more about making disciples for God the Father than Jesus Christ His Son. And no one cares less about that old time religion than Jesus.
Jesus came to offer us so much more than old religion, old rules, and old experiences. He offers a new relationship with God that will make you a new person. He gives new patches for new clothes that will never wear out. He pours new wine into your renewed soul that will never run dry. Let’s go now to that wedding, put on those new clothes, and pour out some of that new wine.
If you are a true disciple, you are in essence married to Jesus. He is the bridegroom and the church is His beloved. You are not betrothed to Him because you passed some test or can boast of some ecstatic experience. You are His because He chose you and brought you into a relationship with Himself. Just as a bride receives a new name upon her marriage, you became a new person upon entering into a new and everlasting relationship with Christ (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:17, etc.). And, like a bride or groom at the wedding reception, Jesus fills your life with never ending joy.
If you are a true disciple, you have not received a new patch for your old clothes, but brand new clothes that can never be torn. Like the prodigal son, you have been covered with the father’s best robe. By grace through faith you are covered in the righteousness of Christ which He purchased for you with His life and death (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:21, etc.). If you were to clothe yourself with your own righteousness, your clothes would fill with holes and soon wear out. A real relationship with Jesus Christ provides patches of grace and mercy that seamlessly repair any breech in your fellowship with God when you humbly walk with Him.
If you are a true disciple, the Holy Spirit has been poured into your heart, bringing faith and repentance, even a brand new heart. Furthermore, at true conversion God comes in to live with your through the pouring out of His Holy Spirit into your life. You cannot put this new wine into old time religion. It cannot be compared with some past experience that had no lasting hold on you. It is a new covenant which makes you a new person and gives you new life in Jesus Christ.
In advancing the kingdom of God in this episode, Jesus remarks that religious people are the hardest people to reach. They think they’ve saved themselves already by their works. Or, they think some remarkable but unstable experience was enough to break through into Heaven. That’s what the Lord meant when He said of them, “The old is good.” It was a touch of sarcasm, a sad lament, and a warning to take stock and repent.
Do not clamor for that old time religion. Seek a new covenant relationship with the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and the bride, His church. Live in joyful obedience and constant repentance as you are filled with the Holy Spirit. You’ll sing to your dying day and beyond, “Gimme that new covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org