Here is text from a sermon I preached in July 2005. I see a lot of themes in this sermon that I am only just beginning to understand. In particular, this series of sermons was titled “ALL THINGS NEW.” I had no idea at the time where this would eventually lead, but now I am beginning to see how it all ties together. Anyhow, thanks for stopping by. Any feedback is always appreciated.
Jesus Explains Why Things Must be Made New
A little later John’s followers approached, asking, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don’t?” Jesus told them, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!” He went on, “No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.” (Matthew 9:14-17)
“This is standard practice for you, a perpetual ordinance. On the tenth day of the seventh month, both the citizen and the foreigner living with you are to enter into a solemn fast and refrain from all work, because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. In the presence of GOD you will be made clean of all your sins. It is a Sabbath of all Sabbaths. You must fast. It is a perpetual ordinance. “The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father is to make the atonement: He puts on the sacred linen garments; He purges the Holy of Holies by making atonement; He purges the Tent of Meeting and the Altar by making atonement; He makes atonement for the priests and all the congregation. “This is a perpetual ordinance for you: Once a year atonement is to be made for all the sins of the People of Israel.” And Aaron did it, just as GOD commanded Moses.” (Lev 16:29-34)
There was a little old church out in the countryside: painted white and with a high steeple. One Sunday, the pastor noticed that his church needed painting. He checked out the Sunday ads and found a paint sale. The next day, he went into town and bought a gallon of white paint. He went back out to the church and began the job. He got done with the first side. It was looking great. But he noticed he had already used a half gallon. He didn’t want to run back in town and being the creative person that he was, he found a gallon of thinner in the shed out back, and began to thin his paint. It worked out great. He finished the remaining three sides with that last half gallon of paint. That night, it rained: it rained hard. The next morning when he stepped outside of the parsonage to admire his work, he saw that the first side was looking great, but that the paint on the other three sides had washed away. The pastor looked up in sky in anguish and cried out, “What shall I do?” A voice came back from the heavens saying, “Repaint, and thin no more!”
If we consider this account of Jesus’ life here in Matthew to be a strictly chronological undertaking, then chapter 9 follows closely on the heels of Jesus’ greatest sermon ever, The Sermon on the Mount. It also serves as one of two narrative chapters that sit between two large teaching sections in Matthew’s Gospel, 5-7 and 10-13. Chapter 8 is a powerful chapter that clearly defines the power of Jesus: he heals a leper, he heals a man from a long distance, he calms the raging waters of the Galilee, and he casts a legion of demons from a man possessed by them. Crowds love Jesus, he is popular. And they are questioning: Who is this? But things are changing.
By the time we get to chapter 9 we see that Jesus is starting to rankle the so-called authorities. In the first 8 verses Jesus confounds them by declaring that a certain paralytic’s sins are forgiven. He then makes matters even worse by daring to go into the house of a well-known sinner and eat dinner with him and a few of his rowdy friends who were certainly not making preparations for the advent of Messiah.
“Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” Yes, Jesus, why did you eat with tax-collectors?
Then we arrive at our selected text for today. Jesus has just been accused of eating with the wrong company, now he and his disciples are accused of not not eating.
It makes little difference what Jesus did: eat, not fast, eat with the wrong people, not fast enough-whatever he did people found a way to criticize him. I suspect in a lot of ways Jesus still takes the brunt of such criticism today. If a house falls over in a hurricane or a child starves it is all God’s fault. If peace breaks out in the world it’s because we have super-wonderful ambassadors who struck a powerful peace treaty-give them a Nobel. He either too busy or too lazy or sleeping or impotent or indifferent. Everyone has something to blame Jesus for and often we hear their complaints.
We should get used to it. Jesus will always be criticized for not getting it right. And if the Master is criticized for not getting it right, do you think his disciples, his students, are going to fair any better? In fact, they were criticizing Jesus’ disciples here which was merely a way of criticizing Jesus.
But the problem did not lie with Jesus and his disciples. Look closer at verse 14. Listen to the King James Version: “Then came to him the disciple of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?” The disciples of John and the Pharisees did not even know why they were fasting! It does make one wonder, indeed, why they were fasting. Did they not read the signs of the times correctly? Were they looking for something they missed? Was their fasting merely an ascetic practice that mattered little to anyone but themselves? But Jesus declared later that those in Jerusalem did miss their appointment with God, the day of His visitation.
I am a firm believer that whatever we determine about fasting, or praying, or giving, or whatever-it is not to ever be done with ourselves in mind. The consensus among different authors is that the fasts they were referring to here occurred twice a week and that, by this point, were little more than ritual tradition. Jesus did have words for them in chapter 6, “When you fast, do not look somber like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
Now, for John’s disciples it may have been a little more or a little less the same, but even John spent plenty of time announcing to those who listened that the Lamb of God was already among them: They too were fasting for the wrong reasons. They were fasting in anticipation of someone who was coming and didn’t listen to their leader John when he announced that the one they were waiting for had already arrived.
Jesus is not opposed to fasting, but I think he is at least concerned that we do it for the right reasons. And his point in this context is simple: It’s not the time for fasting. How can you expect someone to fast when it is not time to fast? So not only is there a right reason to fast, there is a right time. And these disciples and the Pharisees got it all wrong. Jesus certainly expects that there will be a time to fast-but it was not now. He is at least saying that fasting has something to do with Him and that His presence or absence determines the appropriateness of the fast. Jesus is essentially saying: Now that I am here, even something like fasting takes on a new meaning, a new importance. He establishes the rules of our religious ritual and the meaning of our religious piety. Apart from Jesus our fasting and praying and preaching and singing and breaking bread mean absolutely nothing. Apart from Jesus they are merely empty rituals.
Jesus says, There is a time to fast.
Jesus uses two further illustrations to make his point that it is not the time or the season for fasting-when he was originally asked the question. You see, we live in the time when the bridegroom has been taken away. He is not here, and we are awaiting his return. We are in the time when fasting should be happening. Then he goes on to criticize the disciples of John and the Pharisees on two points.
The first point he criticizes them on is this: It was time for something new. I sense him saying: Here’s the problem, and what is your solution? To fast? Well, that will no longer cut it. We need new solutions to these problems that the old way of doing things cannot handle.
I sense him saying, “Look around. What do you see? You see people like Matthew here, whose house I am at, these so-called sinners that you despise me for eating with, and your response is to abstain from food?! How does that solve the problem of hopelessness among sinners? How does that solve the problem of their being considered outcasts? Fasting when people are starving for grace is just a patch that will not work. I did not come to be a patch for people; I am not a patch for the system you Pharisees have worked out, I came to be an entirely new garment. The old tear remains the same, a simple new patch will not do. I’m not here to fix the rip with a patch; I’m here to provide a new garment.”
He was saying that there are times when things need to be completely overhauled, abandoned and something New must take it’s place. Jesus was that Something New.
The second story he tells, or illustration he uses, is that of new wineskins. And the gist here is this: If I tried to cram this Newness that is breaking out all over the place into the old ways of doing things, such as your weekly tradition of fasting without even knowing why you are fasting, then fasting would become completely worthless, it would lose all meaning altogether, it would, in short, simply burst all over the place. But I will transform even the meaning of fasting. Don Carson gives a vivid description of the imagery contained here:
Skin bottles for carrying various fluids were made by killing the chosen animal, cutting off its head and feet, skinning the carcass, and sewing up the skin, fur side out, to seal off all orifices but one (usually the neck). The skin was tanned with special care to minimize disagreeable taste. In time the skin became hard and brittle. If new wine, still fermenting, were put into such an old skin, the buildup of fermenting gases would split the brittle container and ruin both bottle and wine. New wine was placed only in new wineskins still pliable and elastic enough to accommodate the pressure.” -227
You cannot put new wine into old wineskins. But, if you put new wine in new wineskins then the new wine and the new wineskins will both be preserved. He is not suggesting that it was necessary to preserve the old way of doing things-why preserve the old when He was the New? He was suggesting that it was necessary for there to be newness all around. So, if Jesus is a not just a patch for a broken old, threadbare way of doing things, what is called a ‘shadow of things to come’, and if Jesus is new wine that old wineskins cannot manage-then what is the point? The point is that Jesus was bringing and has brought a newness that could not be confined. And, to that end, everything had to be made new. I submit to you that he was not just talking about the broken tradition of fasting-fasting at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons-but he was, as Don Carson suggests, claiming the entire system of Judaism was defunct. In other words, he was claiming to be able to do what the religious system of the Jews could not do: Save people.
Now, let’s draw out some application to this small paragraph.
First, if Jesus was not compatible with Judaism, Judaism from whence sprung the roots of Christianity, then Jesus is not compatible with anything. That is, there is no such thing as Jesus and…, or Jesus plus…. Jesus is saying here that He is sufficient for the needs of people like Matthew, the sinner, in whose house he sat.
But I think frankly there is a lot of this very thing going around in modern Christianity. We are told we need Jesus and purpose, we are told we need Jesus and strict discipline, we are told we need Jesus and a whole host of things. Jesus is saying: I am sufficient. There is one Mediator between God and men the Man Christ Jesus. And this is new because it used to be the sacrifice of bulls and goats. Jesus says: I am sufficient.
His grace is sufficient. We don’t need Jesus plus anything. But, too, you cannot pour Jesus into people who insists that they need more than Jesus.
Second, when we do fast or pray or worship or preach it is not because of us. Jesus is the reason not only for Christmas but for everything. Jesus is the reason why we do or do not fast. He is the reason why we pray and worship. The Bible says that we should do all things as if we were serving Christ.
Frankly, too much of our Christianity is about experiencing life to the fullest or living our best life now or living the life we’ve always dreamed of. And there are a lot of important people making a lot of important money trying to convince us that this life is about satisfying our personal ambition and potential. It’s too bad many of them are Christians. Look, the bottom line is that if we are doing these things merely for ourselves then we are getting gypped because they are not about us. Jesus said, “they cannot fast while I am here…they will when I am gone.” So if he’s gone now, and we fast, we do so because he’s gone; not because we stayed.
Third, I don’t think it is fair or necessary or even biblical to determine a person’s devotion to Christ or the level of their spirituality based entirely upon whether or not they are devoted to certain rituals or practices-especially when it is clear that some practices are clearly, merely a patch to cover some old threadbare, ripped up garment. This was Paul’s argument in the letter to the Galatians where some people said, You need Jesus plus circumcision. Only then can your true spiritual state be determined. There is simply no room, no point, in going around rattling off to everyone how much of this or that we did then and there. Why boast? Why brag?
The Bible plainly says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 326-27) And in Romans 13:14: “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…” Jesus is no mere patch-He is not here to just fix rips and tears-He is an entirely new garment. He’s did not come simply to fix up a broken system; he came to give a new Way. And a person’s level of devotion cannot be determined based upon how often or not they take communion or how often or not they pray or go on mission trips or how many Christian novels they read in a year. Honestly, we would probably do well, mind you, to worry about our own spiritual devotion and worry less about the level of devotion in others. It’s not a competition and Jesus makes it clear that those who make it a competition are those who are doing it for all the wrong reasons in the first place.
Finally, and this is the most difficult aspect of these verses to come to grips with, especially as it relates to our present situation. But I noticed that only those who refused to acknowledge Jesus as the bridegroom had issues with his particular religious customs. It’s not that they were offended that he forgave sins, but that he forgave sins. It’s not that he ate dinner with sinners, but that he ate dinner with sinners. And it is not that he did not fast-he did fast 40 days!-it’s what he was saying about their particular fasts that offended them. For them, Jesus was not righteous enough!
These people ate dinner. They wanted their sins forgiven. And they fasted. They were upset that Jesus was not giving their particular sins, or dinners, or fasts any special attention. I go back to my original point: People don’t like Jesus. And it is the same way now. Certain people in the world will always be offended at Jesus because Jesus does not come down and stand at their side and say: Here’s the Guy! People get offended now because we Christians understand that even now there is a reason to be joyful and celebrate. And certain people cannot stand that even in the midst of persecution and terrible times and tornadoes Christians find a reason to be joyful-and neglect those things that they hold so dear-as if those things they hold so dear will make us better Christians, more saved, or better prepared to meet the Lord.
The bottom line is that people do not like Jesus. That’s why they were angry. They were jealous. And sometimes when people get angry or jealous the only way they can satisfy themselves is by lashing out and criticizing every little thing that is done or not done by those they are angry at and jealous of. Today, in today’s world, Jesus is too righteous. And those who call upon His Name hear about it every single day.
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But I’m gonna stay with Jesus.
The Bible makes this point, and to be sure, Jesus is not advocating spiritual anarchy. Fasting mattered to him, and to the church he created. But here’s the point that the Bible makes: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts [and here’s the thrilling part]…what counts, is a new creation.
Jesus is all about Newness. Neither fasting nor not fasting means anything. What counts is a new creation.
Soli Deo Gloria!