The Newness of God
CONTEXT: Word spread fast when a notable and famous tax collector left his business and became a follower of Jesus Christ. The word was that he was a changed man; his name changed from Levi to Matthew; he went from business tycoon to a disciple of the Carpenter from Nazareth.
Matthew used his influence and hosted a banquet so he could invite a lot of his old friends to attend. He wanted to introduce them to the Man who had changed his life. It must have been a successful adventure because two things happened:
(1) The Pharisees criticized Jesus for associating with sinners.
(2) John’s disciples (Matthew 9:14) questioned Jesus about fasting.
I am not sure that we realize how often and severely Jesus was questioned and criticized. Everything about His life, motives and actions were scrutinized.
FACT: In His day, there was confusion about WHO Jesus was and WHY He came. Still today there is confusion and misunderstanding about Jesus. He is regarded as an example, teacher, a prophet and a philosopher, even a revolutionary. But, that is NOT WHY He came and WHAT He came to do.
To answer the two questions (verses 30, “Why do you eat with sinners?” and verse 33, “Why do your disciples not fast?”) Jesus gave THREE illustrations designed to explain WHO He was, WHY He came and WHAT He came to do.
First, Jesus compared Himself to a PHYSICIAN who came to bring HEALING (for sinners). (Verses 27-32)
Disease and defilement is often used in the Bible as an illustration of sin.
v Isaiah 1:5-6
v Sickness begins with an invasion of germs.
v Sickness grows, develops to the point it is obvious (symptoms)
v Sickness, let alone, can disable and bring death.
There are two patients that Jesus cannot heal:
· the one who will not admit He is sick
· the one who will not trust Him for the cure
Secondly, Jesus compared Himself to a BRIDEGROOM who came to bring JOY.
Matthew’s gospel tells us that the disciples of John appeared on the scene and asked the question, “Why don’t your disciples fast like us and the Pharisees?” It was for them a time of sorrow because John was already in prison. Jesus understood their pain and could see what they could not see. Following in the Way of Jesus brings great joy but the Christian way also brings blood, sweat and tears. However, the point Jesus made was this: Even in our times of pain we have a relationship with One who will not allow the circumstances of life to steal our joy. (Barclay, Matthew, volume 1, p. 344)
Verse 34; “guests of the bridegroom” is a reference to the closest friends to the bride and groom. It would be like the wedding party that the bride and groom select to stand beside them. A wedding in Jesus day was an occasion that brought joy into the lives of poor and simple people. It was a time of rejoicing, festivity and plenty that might only come once in a lifetime.
POINT: The Pharisees were very religious and focused on rules and regulations to the extent that they had NO JOY! Why? Because legalistic religion does not bring joy. It brings misery.
Did you know that some people have just enough religion to make them miserable? People who practice religion and have no vital relationship with Jesus have accepted an invitation to slavery and misery!
A Jewish wedding was a joyous occasion and the celebration lasted days, even weeks. A wedding guest who wasn’t experiencing joy, celebration and happiness was an insult to the host.
Application: The NT compares our relationship with Christ to that of a marriage. He is the groom and we are the Bride. Marriage is a love relationship and so is our salvation and a fruit of our relationship should be JOY.
If a person professes to be a Christian and does not experience joy, either he is NOT saved or is out of fellowship with Christ. Example: David lost the joy of his salvation.
Thirdly, Jesus is a (Change Agent) TRANSFORMER who came to bring CHANGE. (5:35-39)
In our modern world, the illustration of patches and wineskins doesn’t connect.
Most water was undrinkable so wine was the most common drink for people in Palestine because the fermentation process killed bacteria. However, they had no means to bottle and package their drinks and thus preserve them. Neither did they have refrigeration like we have today.
How did they keep the wine? They created containers from animal skins that were processed and treated in such a way that they would expand and stretch along with the new wine as it fermented. Wineskins were bags made of skin or leather, usually a goat hide tied or sown together. After the flesh and bones were removed from the inside of the goat the skin was tanned over fires of acacia wood. Then the openings were sewn shut, the neck of the goat was used for the spout, and unfermented grape juice was poured inside. Afterwards the neck was sewn shut and the fermentation process began. As the new wine fermented and expanded, it would stretch the new wineskins.
Putting new (unfermented) wine in old wineskins, which had already been stretched and somewhat dried out, would result in the bursting of the wineskins. Old wineskins become brittle and rigid with age; when new wine is put in these, gases build up--produce pressure and boom! You’ve ruined your wine and your wineskin.
Exposition: This analogy about new wine into new wineskins has several layers of meaning. One is that the presence and teaching of Jesus was something new and signaled the passing of the old. Jesus had no intentions of patching or pouring His new ministry into the old religion of Judaism. Judaism became inflexible due to the accumulation of centuries of non-biblical traditions. The teachings of Jesus could not be confined within the old religion of Judaism. Someone observed, “Judaism was the cradle of Christianity and it almost became her coffin.”
Thus, Jesus did not come to reform an old and worn out religious system but to fulfill God’s requirements by introducing something radically new. For example:
· He Himself would be the ultimate sacrifice for sin, so the sacrificial system would no longer be necessary. Can you imagine still sacrificing goats and bulls when Jesus has paid the price for our sins? The Pharisees liked the old way better. They didn’t want to let loose of the old way. Ever met anybody like that?
· Also, in the OT the Spirit of God dwelled the Temple. Jesus came, died, arose and ascended so the Spirit could indwell the believer. We are now the Temple of God. Once you have experience the wonderful dynamic of the indwelling Spirit, could you imagine going back to the old way?
The Pharisees held on to the OLD, failed to embrace the NEW and in the process became enemies of the grace of God. Jesus was a change agent who encountered opposition.
Application: God’s works of grace are always NEW and FRESH. I feel He has some “new wine” He wants to pour into the Church today. We must be willing to make the changes and stretch with the new wine of His presence. I believe God wants us to experience some new wine and encounter “The Newness of God.” Unfortunately, we are no different from the Pharisees that Jesus encountered.
I want to make some SIMPLE and OBVIOUS applications based on these words of Jesus:
· The Purpose of a Wineskin is to HOLD Wine.
The first observation I want to make is: Wineskins are made to be filled with wine. I hope that is not too obvious, but nothing is more disappointing than empty wineskins.
John 2. You will remember the story of Jesus’ mother who came to Jesus at the wedding of Canaan when the containers were empty. They ran out of wine and that caused the celebration to cease. The guests were disappointed and possibly upset with the family. The purpose of wineskins is to be full of wine, and when they are empty, they are not fulfilling the purpose for which they were made. Incidentally, the advice Mary gave the servants is still valid today, “Do whatever He [Jesus] tells you.” (John 2:5)
POINT: God intends for His people to be vessels of the wine of the Spirit. We were created to be full of the Holy Spirit. We are to be indwelled by the Spirit and controlled by the Spirit. When we do not live allowing the indwelling Holy Spirit to control, empower and guide us, then we are not fulfilling our purpose.
Nothing is more disappointing that an empty wineskin.
Application: Many good church people go through life thinking that they must try to love God and keep His rules. They are sincere and try hard but eventually become disappointed with their failures. They do NOT have much joy, just an occasional warm fuzzy feeling. They are like an empty wineskin. They drag around the empty skin of traditional religion without the Holy Spirit living inside. What they have is nominal Christianity; just enough religion to make them miserable, mad and mean. They try hard to be good church members, even good moral people, but they have not discovered the power of God’s new wine. Somehow they have missed the point.
The purpose of a wineskin is to hold wine!
ILLUSTRATION: I recently read the story about a tourist who stood for long periods of time upon the beach. He wanted to hear the sounds of the sea; however, he was facing away from the ocean with a seashell pressed against his ear. The waves were crashing on the beach just a few feet away. The more noise the ocean made, the more firmly he pressed the seashell against his ear because someone told him he could hear what he thought was the sound of the ocean.
Try to imagine the irony and tragedy of this man in your mind’s eye as he stood with his back to the ocean, attempting to hear the ocean in a seashell — the seashell pressed to one ear and his hand covering the other. He was in the presence of the magnificent and majestic ocean, the very thing he was looking for — the sound of the powerful surging of the ocean as it heaved and rolled, but he was oblivious to the reality that was there all the time. Thinking that he could only hear the ocean through the shell, he was not open to hearing the real ocean that was breaking at his feet.
A Word of Caution!
Accept no substitutes! Religious people are tempted, even enticed to accept so many substitutes. Don’t look elsewhere when God is near to you trying to get your attention. You were meant to live in the presence and by the power of the Spirit of God! There is a place in your life that only God can fill. You don’t have to try artificial means like religion!
Paul prayed for the Ephesians saying, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19)
When this happens, we begin to realize that the Christian life is about more than just having our sins forgiven so that one day we can make it to heaven. We understand that the Christian life is about learning to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and having our character transformed into his likeness.
A wineskin full of new wine is a picture of a spirit-filled Christian who is open to God's will and ways.
· New Wine requires New Wineskins.
The second observation I would like to make is: New wine requires new wineskins. Again, this is also obvious, but the symbolism here is that the wineskin stands for religious traditions and understandings, and the wine stands for God’s Spirit and his activity.
God acted one way in the past, and a whole religious tradition was built around it. But when God began to act in new ways with the INCARNATION of Jesus, the old traditions and understandings were inadequate, not because they were wrong, but because the symbolism of the old became reality in the new.
Old Fulfilled in the New…
The old symbolism became fulfilled in the life of Christ. The shadows gave way to the brightness of the sun (Son!). The old practice of sacrificing lambs to atone for people’s sins was no longer adequate, because the faultless Lamb of God arrived who would make the perfect sacrifice of himself. The priestly system was no longer necessary when the Great High Priest had come. The old morality, based on law and obligation, was being replaced by a morality that was understood in the context of a relationship with the living God. It was no longer commandments written on stone, but commandments that were written on the heart. It was no longer about believing in God, it was about knowing God. It was no longer about keeping rules, but living in a relationship. It was no longer about a God out there, but a God who lived within.
Give Me That Old Time Religion!
There is about most people, especially religious people, a passion for the old. If we are not careful our mind will loose the quality of elasticity.
“The man with something new has always to fight.” Galileo was branded a heretic when he held that the earth revolved around the sun. Lister had to fight for antiseptic technique in surgical operations. Jesus was considered a trouble maker because He introduced something new from God. (Barclay, Luke, p. 65)
We used to sing a song entitled, “Give Me That Old Time Religion.” And in the song it says, “It was good for the Hebrew children, and it is good enough for me.” The FACT is, it wasn’t good enough for the Hebrew children. The faith of Abraham was not adequate for them; God had something more. He called Moses to lead and deliver them from the bondage of Egypt and showed them something new. The Red Sea parted, Mount Sinai exploded with fire and the voice of God sounded like thunder from heaven. Commandments would be given and there would be amazing miracles in the wilderness. They experienced the Newness of God.
Another verse in the song says, “It was good for Paul and Silas, and it’s good enough for me.” Wrong again! The truth is that the old time religion was not good enough for Paul and Silas. For years Paul tried to follow the codes and laws of the old religion. He failed miserably and lived a deceived life until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He wanted to keep the old wineskin of Jewish tradition, but Jesus could NOT be contained in that old wineskin. He burst into Paul’s life like NEW WINE! When the new wine appeared, new wineskins were required.
The old time religion is NOT good enough. Your mother’s faith will not do, it has to be your faith. Your father’s faith is not adequate; you have to have your own experience with God. In fact, the faith that carried you along just a few years ago is not sufficient to meet the challenges you face today. If your faith has not grown since you first met Christ as a kid, the wineskin has dried and become brittle. It will not do for the new thing that God wants to do in you today!
You can’t remain static. You can’t stay where you are. Yesterday’s experience will not do for today. Your faith must be current. (Illustration: Old Time Religion. SermonCentral.com. Contributed by: Rodney Buchanan)
Here is the verse I am living by these days: the prophet Isaiah declared, “Concerning the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
If you are going to be ready for the new thing that God is doing, you MUST stop trying to fit the Newness of God within the old wineskin. And, guess what, ten years from now, you will need to adapt again to the new thing God has planned for you.
Jesus said, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.” (Matthew 9:16)
You can’t patch up your old experience and try to make it work. You have to have a whole new experience for a whole new day. You have to continue to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
ILLUSTRATION: Do you remember when people used to paint by numbers? Did you ever do that? Here is how it worked. You started with a canvas or piece of cardboard that had a line drawing on it. The entire picture was divided into small areas that were numbered. Number one was blue; number two was red; number three was dark green, etc. You then painted the little numbered areas with the corresponding color. There was nothing really artistic about painting the picture. It was merely an exercise in your ability to color within the lines. It was fine, and some of the pictures even turned out to look okay. And if grandma gave you one of her creations, you best frame it and put it on your wall. But none of these “paintings” would ever receive an art award.
Why? There was no creativity or originality. Paint by number artists only know how to paint between the lines. They obey the rules and reflect some skill but the heart of an artist is absent. The difference between the old time religion and the new is that the old time religion is about painting between the lines; doing it by the numbers. It is about keeping the rules.
Jesus came to give us the heart of an artist. He gives us a love for beauty and an appreciation for newness. He gives us creativity and a new ability to do what we could never do for ourselves. He desires to fill you with NEW wine but He will NOT waste new wine on an old wineskin.
If you have not had a new wine experience is some time, examine your wineskin!
· The POINT of having a wineskin is to POUR!
The third observation I want to make is: wineskins were made for pouring. This is not profound either, but wine was never stored for long periods of time in wineskins because the skin would eventually give the wine an unpleasant flavor. The wineskin was used as a container for the short time it would take to drink what was in the skin. The skin was not used for preserving wine, but for pouring wine.
Application: I personally believe that the church has bottled and contained Christianity so long without dispensing it that our message has developed an unpleasant flavor and taste.
Our hearts were never meant to be a storage receptacle for the Holy Spirit, they were meant to be filled with the Spirit so the Spirit could be poured out in the world.
The apostle Paul said, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5)
Paul understood that God poured out the Holy Spirit to fill us so that we could in turn be poured out for others, for he said, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering.” (2 Timothy 4:6) Pouring out his life in service to others became an act of worship to God, and so our lives must be poured out as well.
We are not a repository or safety deposit box for the Spirit of God, we are wineskins. As we continue to be filled, we are to pour out what has been placed in us.
I love the Scripture which says, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7)
We are filled with the Spirit so that we might dispense the Spirit, and so that our lives might be poured out for others as an act of worship to God.
Jesus said, “‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit. . .” (John 7:37-39)
ILLUSTRATION: John Updike in his novel, A Month of Sundays, has a character that reflects on his experience as a young person in church, and says, “Churches bore for me the relation to God that billboards did to Coca-Cola; they promoted thirst but did nothing to quench it.”
OUCH! I believe his assessment of the church’s failure is painfully correct. We have asked people to be thirsty for God, but we have failed to quench their thirst. We claim to have possession of the Spirit as wine, but we have not dispensed the wine. Through fear, or selfishness, or protectiveness, we have kept the Spirit (wine) to ourselves. And a thirsty world is waiting for us to pull the cork and begin to pour out something for them to drink. We have the wine of the Spirit that will quench the thirst of the world.
· The purpose of wineskins is to hold wine.
· New wine requires new wineskins.
· The point of having a wineskin is to pour wine.