Posts Tagged ‘Matthew’s Gospel’
Read: Matthew 12; Exodus; 1 Kings 1-11
In his short little book simply titled Following Jesus, NT Wright waltzes through several New Testament books and explores their main themes and ideas. Among the books explored is the Gospel according to Matthew. Of Matthew he writes:
Matthew's whole gospel is, in fact, a Coronation Anthem. And the only sensible reason for going to church and hearing Matthew read is so that we can learn how to join in.
But who is being crowned King? Matthew gives him two names, and explains them both. He is to be called 'Jesus', which means 'YHWH saves'–because, says Matthew (1.21), he will save his people from their sins. That is, he will deliver his people from their exile, which was the punishment for their sin. He will be the King who will go down into exile with his people and lead them up and out the other side. And the real exile is not the Babylonian one. It is the satanic exile of sin and death.
The second name is 'Emmanuel', which means 'God with us' (1.23). Matthew has drawn together the two threads of Jewish expectation. First, God will save his people from their sins; yes, and he'll do it through the King, Jesus. Second, God himself will come and dwell with his people. Yes, says Matthew; he'll do that, too, through the King, Jesus. This book celebrates the coronation of the saviour, the God-with-us-King. (25)
Well, that's a wonderfully beautiful way of saying it. I've said it with several more words, to be sure, and so has Matthew. But Matthew is building his Gospel brick by brick (if I may change the metaphor) and will not be satisfied until he laws the final brick, the capstone to the entire edifice: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In the meantime there's a lot of ground to cover. This is where we meet chapter 12 of Matthew. And it is overwhelming.
One thought, governing two aspects of Israelite history, bookends this chapter and thus defines for us everything going on in the middle. First, in verse 6: "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here." This must have absolutely sent shock waves through the community. People just didn't talk about the temple that way, but Jesus did. I think perhaps he wanted them to keep the temple in perspective or maybe he wanted them to think about the temple in a new way–not so much as a place, but as a person in whom all that the temple offered was reserved and unleashed.
I suppose we are kind of that way with our own buildings now too. And the sad, sad reality is that in our modernish ways we tend to invest a lot more of our time and resources in our properties than we do in our people. And maybe Jesus was making a similar judgment about the people of that generation. The key is found in what he says: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. In other words, I care far more about people than I do about your rituals. They never escaped that trap. I wonder if the church of now will? Jesus said this. Jesus said that mercy is more important than ritual.
This is a message the church has yet to hear.
There's so much kingdom talk in this chapter. One thing that stands out is that now the agitation and aggression towards Jesus is heating up. Now the Pharisees are openly plotting to 'destroy' him. Now they are actively thinking that Jesus is a mere agent of the devil. Jesus keeps on going. He will continue to be a man of healing and hope. He will continue to be merciful to all who desire mercy. I guess Jesus' thinking is that the more people line up against him, the more merciful he will be. I mean seriously: how depraved does one have to be to plot against someone who heals another person? Yet that's what they did. Jesus heals, and he's in league with the devil. Jesus heals, and he's a threat to the power structures and must be destroyed. Jesus lets his people eat, and he's little more than the leader of a sinful band of degenerates.
No one says such things about the church. I suspect that's because we don't do these kinds of things that arouse the suspicions of others.
The chapter ends much as it began, in verse 42: "The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here." Solomon, man of wisdom and wives, was indeed a great king. He wasn't as great as his father, but he was special. Now Jesus says that even Solomon is eclipsed by Jesus.
Jesus is greater than the temple. He's greater than Solomon. He's greater than sacrifice; he's greater than wisdom. And he will keep pressing on doing good to people and preaching the kingdom of God.
You have to admire Jesus…even though 'admire' is a poorly chosen word. Something greater. And? This something greater says that what really matters is mercy. Jesus, the King, Emmanuel, the Son of Man, says that what matters for his disciples, for those who would follow is this: mercy.
NT Wright concludes his chapter on Matthew in Following Jesus with these words, "In the kingdom of the Son of Man, the power that counts is the power of love. It is the rule of Emmanuel, God-with-us." (31) Jesus says he is building a family of brothers, sisters, and mothers around himself. He is the center which holds us together and how does he hold us together? Mercy, love. And what is he saying to us? Be merciful. Love.
This is the something greater: the teaching, embodied in Jesus, that what matters here and now is mercy, not sacrifice.
Go and be merciful.
I'm still thinking about chapter 8 to an extent–that Jesus we follow who mixes and mingles and heals people that we typically reject. Jesus didn't consider himself better than them–which is exactly how we tend to think of most people. We tend to stick with our own because it's comfortable for us. I'm not necessarily saying that is wrong, but I'm not necessarily saying that is correct either. What I am saying is that if we are followers of Jesus then we need to give serious consideration to how we imitate him in the relationships we create and nurture.
It's not easy. There are people in this world we are naturally offended by and people who are naturally repulsive to us. In some ways, too, we will be repulsive to some people. It's OK. I have learned, and to a large degree, I am still learning, that I don't think the Lord expects that we will 'like' every person we meet. I think this is one of the reasons why there are so many personalities available in this world. It means there is someone for everyone. Yes. There are people I will be naturally drawn to; there are people you will be naturally drawn to. And in this, all people can be reached with the good news.
Luckily for us, this Jesus is different. In chapter 9, Jesus continues to rub shoulders with people that others looked down upon–in particular the tax collector named Matthew. Here's something for you to think about for a minute or two….who makes you uncomfortable? Who is out of your comfort zone? Who gives you the creeps? Who are the outcasts that Jesus would hang around that the world might otherwise reject?
So, then, on to some other thoughts. Jesus talks a lot in this chapter, but it's not like he's giving us a big long discourse as he did in chapters 5-7. His thoughts are memorable one liners that challenge the status quo and conventional wisdom of the day. I think he offers those same challenges to us as well. In other words, these things Jesus says are spoken to us as directly as they were spoken to those who would be his followers then.
First, notice that Jesus says, 'Your sins are forgiven' to a man who is paralyzed. I would think the more pressing matter would be the man's paralysis, but Jesus first addresses his spiritual condition as if one were somehow related to the other. The astonishing thing is, however, that Jesus mentions forgiveness at all. Indeed, as they reply, who can forgive sins but God alone? This is Jesus at his realistic best. Think about it, what other major religion in this entire world begins, continues, or ends with the leader of that religion addressing sin? Seriously? The very fact that Jesus addresses sin in a person's life indicates something about the nature of his being here. I think it says more about his purpose than it does about his nature (although, let's not take away from his nature).
Second, notice that Jesus says, 'Go and learn what this mean, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' I can't tell you how much I love this statement because Jesus is claiming it for himself. Notice the 'I' in the sentence. Notice the 'I' in what follows: 'I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.' This means there is hope for us all. Jesus didn't come to earth and say, 'I'm interested mostly in all the folks who have it right.' No. He came and said, 'I came for all the people who are completely wrecked by life, by sin, by anything that wrecks life and humanity.' I love this because it means that I, too, am worthy to be called by Jesus precisely because I'm unworthy of Jesus.
Third, notice that Jesus says, 'But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.' Jesus, in other words, brought something new. He brought a new forgiveness–administered and received through himself. He brought new calling–because any wreck of life can be called to follow Jesus. He brought new reasons to fast and pray–centered around himself and his presence. Jesus brings new things to humans and gives us new reasons to do this things we do. I saw this thing the other day where someone was pointing out that all the traditions surrounding Christmas actually have their roots in pagan festivals and suchlike. The meme ended by saying something absurd like 'you don't have to believe in Jesus to celebrate and enjoy the season.' Well, that's ridiculous. What Jesus did was inspire his people to take all those pagan holidays and infuse them with new meaning and new hope.
Jesus makes all things new and that's what makes Jesus amazing.
He said some other things too. He healed a woman of a bleeding issue and raised a young girl to life. He said, 'your faith has made you well.' He then healed a couple of men from their blindness. Then he drove a demon from a many who couldn't talk. And at this point we hear other voices. The crowds marveled and said, 'Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel.' And we too are amazed at all that goes on in the chapter: the healing, the forgiveness, the claims, the miracles of many sorts.
Yet there are still other voices who are no so impressed with Jesus' words, but instead seem to be a bit sour: 'It is by the prince of demons he casts out demons.' Maybe we are being forced to decide how we will respond to the things we see Jesus do and the things we hear Jesus say. How anyone can see these things and hear these things and see nothing but the work of the satan is beyond me. How? Where does that sort of energy come from that can see a dead girl raised and consider it a matter of the work of the devil? Does the devil do this kind of work? Does he heal? Does he show compassion? Does he set the world straight and undo the things he himself brought about to the world?
Here's the kicker. The last thing Jesus says in this chapter, the last thing he does, the last thing he sees. He sees people just like those who would attribute his work to the satan and he has compassion on them because they are helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd. Again, this is the Jesus who says, 'Pray to the Lord of the harvest for workers.' Do you hear that? Even after these people basically say that Jesus is doing the work of the satan he still has compassion on them, he still wants them in his fold, he still wants them.
He still wants us.
He still wants us.
Read: Matthew 1; Romans 1:1-7; Hebrews 1; Isaiah 9:10-25
Advent is upon us and I am glad. It is an important time of the year for Christians to reflect upon the First Coming of Jesus and his subsequent ministry and, perhaps, to begin preparing ourselves for his Second Coming. You see, if the First Coming is any indication of what things will be like at his Second Coming, then I think perhaps we, Christians have a lot of preparations to make before his arrival.
He will come to us and we have to ask if we will be ready. I wonder if those Israelites who were living during his First Coming had any idea what was about to land on their doorstep? Think about it: it had been 400 years (give or take) since a prophet had been heard in the Beautiful Land. Then all of a sudden, John the Baptizer shows up and starts shaking the earth with his preaching about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. What would you have done then? What will you do now if someone starts preaching just the same? Will there be anyone preparing the way of the Lord now?
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Matthew 1 is where we begin. We begin with the very beginning, but perhaps Matthew began his Gospel with the end in mind. That is, maybe he wrote chapter 1 while thinking long and hard about chapter 28. Again, I'm ahead of myself. Let's stick with chapter 1 and the genealogy of Jesus. At this point, I'll make four quick observations about the genealogy of Jesus as written by Matthew and then offer an 'application' (since that's what we do.)
First, it's the last genealogy in our Bible. That's strange. Sort of. But there it is. There are genealogies all over the place in the Older Testament, but in the New Testament, we see those Old Testament genealogies (in Matthew and Luke) summed up in Jesus. At the name of Jesus, the genealogy of Israel stops (so to speak) and a new family line begins (see Mark 3:31-35). What we see is a family line from Abraham to David to Jesus. That's important. How can we be a part of Jesus' family? Who are the children of Jesus?
Second, the Lord used an eclectic group of people to bring about the fulfillment of the promises he made to Abraham, David, and others. If you are familiar with the Older Testament, you will see what I mean when you read through and see names like Judah, David, Uriah, Rahab, and others. Bad behavior and poor decisions were not limited to the women included in this genealogy. There are some terribly sketchy men too. Nevertheless, God used all of them to bring about his history, to bring about his plans. And not a single one of these sketchy people thwarted God's plans. So despite the worst intentions of this current world, I doubt seriously anyone alive or dead now can either.
Third, why does Matthew begin his Gospel with a genealogy? Isn't there a better way to begin telling a story about someone so important? Well, perhaps. I guess. But here's the point: not only is Matthew saying that the the family of Israel finds its terminus in Jesus and that beginning with Jesus a new history is taking shape, but he is also saying that the history of Israel led up to and culminated in the birth of Jesus–Immanuel (see Isaiah 9). In other words: Jesus is the whole point of Israel's history (see Luke 24:13-35, 44-49; John 5:39-47). History terminates and begins in Jesus. Why begin this way? Well, I think it's because it points to the purpose of Matthew's telling of the Gospel story and what you and I should understand as his intentions (I explore this in the next paragraph).
Fourth, two prominent names are found in the genealogy: Abraham and David. Abraham is mentioned three times; David five. On the one hand, Matthew is reminding us of the promise that the Lord made to Abraham especially in Genesis 12–that through Abraham the Lord would bless all nations. Matthew is saying that now, in Jesus, God is bringing that promise to bear upon the world. And isn't this what Jesus says in Matthew 28: Go, make disciples of all nations. The reference is undeniable. Then there's David, mentioned five times in the genealogy and what's more is that the genealogy is laid out in such a way (notice that in verse 17 we are told 14, 14, 14) that we are to think about David, the great King of Israel. (David's name, using a form of Hebrew numerology called 'gematria', is equivalent to the number 14, D=4, V=6, D=4; DVD=14; they had no vowels). The point is simply this: this is the genealogy of the coming King, the promise made to David that his heir would always sit on the throne of Israel. That's the point. Not only is Jesus the fulfillment of promises to Abraham, but also to David. Verse 1, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. Interestingly enough, this is very much the way Paul the apostle begins the letter to the Romans.
So what? Why is all of this important, if it is important? Why should we care? We should care because the last name in the genealogy is Jesus, called Messiah, called Immanuel. Three things. It matters because Matthew is telling his readers: you need to pay attention to this story of Jesus because in him is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham; in him is the fulfillment of the promise to David; and in him is the fulfillment of the promise to the Prophets. He is saying: this story is not about you, or Israel, or anyone else. It's a story about Jesus and everything I'm about to tell you points to Him as the fulfillment of the ages.
Like I said, Matthew begins with the end in mind. Immanuel means 'God with us.' The story ends in Matthew 28 with Jesus promising never to 'leave us or forsake us.' It is comforting to know that whatever we face here and now, we are not alone. When we go forth and invite people into the family of Jesus, when we help continue his family line of mothers, and brothers, and sisters, he is with us. Always.
Finally, if this is what his First Coming was about, how much more is this what his Second Coming will be about also? If the first coming was about announcing a Messiah, a King, who will save his people from their sins, then how much more will his second coming be his very enthronement and final rescue of those people he saved?
So if this is a story of Jesus that we should pay attention to, then what are things Jesus did in his story that we should pay attention to? What kind of a Messiah was he? What kind of a king was he? And if we are members of his family, what sort of offspring are we supposed to be in light of all this?
I have been enjoying Stanley Hauerwas’ fine theological commentary on Matthew. It seems that on every page I find something that I say, “Yes,” to. It’s my first in depth reading of Hauerwas and I suppose to be fair I should read some more of his work.
Nevertheless, here’s another of those paragraphs that really stood out to my mind and the current revolution my faith is undergoing:
Scripture is the weapon of truth that enables those who follow Jesus to disarm the powers by exposing their lies and deceit. Christians are not without defense, having been given God’s word to shield us from our delusions that are the source of our violence.
Jesus, however, is clear. Attempts to secure our lives through the means offered by the world are doomed to failure. If we are to find our lives, it seems, we must be prepared to lose our lives. But this is not a general recommendation meaning that we should learn unselfishness–even unselfishness that may cost our lives–for the life we must be willing to lose is the life lost ‘for my sake,’ that is, for Jesus. Self-sacrifice, often justified in the name of family or country, can too easily be tyrannical. The language of sacrifice is often used by those in power for perverse ends. Jesus does not commend the loss of self as a good in and of itself. He demands that we follow him because he alone has the right to ask for our lives.
Too often Christianity in our time is justified as a way of life that leads to stability and order. ‘The family that prays together stays together’–but such sentiments cannot help but lead to an idolatry of the family.–109
There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun. Get the book and have a good read. It is necessary and important that Christians do understand the hard nature of the life of a Jesus follower. Consider well.
Soli Deo Gloria!
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Here are my sermons and Powerpoints on the Crucifixion Driven Life. The sermons are based Matthew’s Gospel, and, as I said elsewhere, I have drawn illustrative material from a variety of sources. I have also included two study guides that I wrote for my Bible school class. The study guides contain short bibliographies on the back pages. Sadly, I have lost the print version of the first sermon in this series (“The Crucifixion Driven Life Begins with Birth“), but I have posted the audio version in a skycast (podcast) elsewhere here. As I did with my sermons on Daniel, I have provided links to box.net where the work can be downloaded. You can also use the box.net widget on the right side of the blog.) If there happens to be any incorrect links, please let me know.
The Crucifixion Driven Life, 2006
Sermon 2 The Crucifixion Driven Life is Victorious in Defeat, Matthew 16:21-28, PPT
Sermon 3 The Crucified Life Hates Sin: The Cross and Holiness, Matthew 17:22-23, PPT
Sermon 4 The Crucifixion Driven Life Does Not Avoid the Cross, Matthew 20:17-28, PPT
Sermon 6 The Crucifixion Driven Life Is Concerned About Jesus, Matthew 26:1-13, PPT
Sermon 7 The Crucifixion Driven Life Partakes of Jesus’ Death, Matthew 26:20-30, PPT
Sermon 10 The Crucifixion Driven Life: Carried to the Next Level, Genesis 22; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; Matthew’s Gospel; Various Letters, PPT
Study Guide 1: January 2006 (Opens in MS Publisher)
Study Guide 2: February 2006 (Opens in MS Publisher)
That’s all. I hope that you find these sermons helpful to you in your own studies of the Word of God. I know that the study and preparation that went into these sermons radically altered the course of my own discipleship in Jesus. May you be blessed in your efforts to serve our Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria!
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.
* * * *
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!
A brief advertisement for those of you who have spent any time at all reading my ‘Theology of Suffering’ page. I have now begun my sermon series at the church. As such, and as I promised in an earlier post, the first sermon has been posted. You’ll have to scroll down the page a bit to find it, but it is there. I have also enhanced the page by including links to most of my references and illustrations. Thanks for stopping by.