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Entries in Bridegroom (2)

Wednesday
Apr032019

A Time to Weep and a Time to Laugh

Mark 2:18-22.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 31, 2019.

The audio for this sermon will be up shortly.

“For everything, there is a season; a time for every purpose under heaven.”  This quote from Ecclesiastes 3:1 is the source of the title.  In life we generally understand what is happening socially around us.  Is it a happy time, or is it a sad time?  What is the circumstance or occasion and how does that affect my actions and words?  The answers to those questions often put a set of unspoken, social niceties upon us.

In our story today we have a situation where certain people are looking at the disciples of Jesus and wondering why they aren’t fasting.  Perhaps, it wasn’t on the order of a bride sobbing uncontrollably at her wedding, but it did stick out socially in the same way.  It was common for the strictest Pharisees to fast twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday.  Israel had been under the power of various world powers for centuries with only a few brief moments of hope.  So, these disciples of this new rabbi were under a lot of speculation.  Their lack of fasting stuck out like a sore thumb.

It is important to recognize that the Law of Moses only commanded fasting on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement.  Thus, this situation is not about observing the Law, but rather it is about establishing just who is more spiritual. Yet, true to form, Jesus answers this question by digging deeper beneath the surface and showing them the truth.  There is a time to weep and fast, but there is also a time to laugh and rejoice.  When a person finds Jesus, this is a celebration time which would cause all who understand it to rejoice as well.  Let’s look at our passage today.

Why don’t your disciples fast

This question that is presented to Jesus is interesting in light of the feast that Levi had thrown right before this.  The Pharisees first objected that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors, and now they are objecting to the fact that the disciples of Jesus aren’t fasting.  It is clear that they are only trying to find fault with Jesus and his disciples by nit-picking.  Yet, there are some other things to keep in mind as we approach this.

First, it is odd that the Pharisees come with the disciples of John the Baptist.  They were not natural friends.  In fact, they were quite the opposite.  John was very harsh on the Pharisees who watched him like a hawk for errors as well.  In Matthew 3 we have a scene where John is baptizing those who were repenting of their sins, and the Pharisees and Sadducees show up.  John tells them, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  And, do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Second, John had publicly vouched that Jesus was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world.  He was the Messiah.  So, why are these guys together? 

It would appear that the Pharisees figured out a connection that they had with John’s disciples that was different then Jesus.  Therefore, they most likely went to John’s disciples in order to put a wedge between them and Jesus.  Now, on the surface this is a valid question and John’s disciples are probably asking it in a valid way.  However, the motivation of the Pharisees is illegitimate.  They are using fasting as a pretext to cut Jesus down.  Really, this is a matter of personal choice and preference.  There is nothing wrong with fasting twice a week, but there is something wrong with judging others who do not share your personal choices and preferences.  They were stepping out of bounds.  Let’s look at the response of Jesus.

In verses 19-20, Jesus uses the analogy of a wedding and its bridegroom.  This is important because this is the exact same metaphor that John the Baptist used about Jesus in John 3:28-30 when he was speaking with his disciples.  “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.  The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.  Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete.  He must increase, but I must decrease.”  John clearly understood who he was in relation to Jesus the Christ.  Thus, the use of this analogy would have great significance to John’s disciples and would go over the heads of the Pharisees.  Just like a bride waiting for her groom, Israel had been waiting for the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, who would rescue them from their oppressors.  The Pharisees did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, but John the Baptist had gone on record that Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting.  This declaration created an awkward transitional time.  Some of John’s disciples immediately began to follow Jesus, but others were zealous for John and stayed with him.  Even when John was imprisoned, some of these disciples kept clinging to him instead of turning to Christ.  I do not say that to put them down.  I believe God knew that John needed friends who believed in him to stick with him because he had some difficult things ahead of him.  It wasn’t until John was executed that these who held back were forced to make a choice.

Whether like the Pharisees, or like John’s disciples, we are all tested in times when God begins to take us to the next stage.  Those who are “early adopters” will jump on board quickly and the “loyal laggards” will wait until the writing is on the wall.  The key is always understanding just who you are following.  Are you following a person, or an institution, or the Spirit of God, especially Jesus?  Being an early adopter is neither better or worse than being a loyal laggard.  What is more important is jumping on board what God is doing, whether than what man is doing.

Of course, the key point that Jesus is making is that it is a strange bride who weeps when the bridegroom shows up.  In this case, the disciples of John had more to be ashamed of than the Pharisees.  The continued fasting while the Messiah was in Israel was itself a sign of a lack of spiritual sensitivity against the Pharisees and John’s disciples, and not the disciples of Jesus.  They were only doing what would be natural, rejoicing!

Yet, Jesus notes that this happy time will come to an end because he will be taken away from his disciples.  This is in reference somewhat to the crucifixion, but even more to his ascension into heaven to wait at the right hand of the Father.  During that time, the disciples had plenty of difficulty and persecution with many of them being imprisoned and killed.  Thus, fasting is appropriate for believers during this time leading up to the Second Coming of Christ.  Yet, we should be careful of turning it into a badge of honor, much like the Pharisees were doing.

Fasting always represented humbling yourself in repentance before God.  It was an outward show, which involved wearing sackcloth, tearing your clothes, putting ashes on your head, and refraining from food for a period of time.  As Christians we should fast from time to time, but we should be careful of promoting the outward over the top of the inward.  We should also be careful of hold other Christians in contempt for not fasting as often as we think they should.  Fasting is not the secret to the spiritual universe; Jesus is.  Until you desire Jesus more than this world, no amount of fasting will do you any spiritual good.

This whole scene, and the analogy Jesus gives, implies that the first coming of Christ was not the wedding.  It would more aptly be seen as a betrothal.  Jesus came to Israel and “popped the question.”  A remnant of Israel said yes.  However, that question has been opened up to the Gentiles who want to participate in this coming wedding.  The wedding of Christ to the People of God will happen at the Second Coming (note: I state this without any reference to the specific timing of all the events associated with it).  Jesus will return to rescue his bride and wed her, never to be separated again.  Meanwhile he has been preparing a place for his bride in the heavenly, new Jerusalem.

A deeper point is made

Jesus gives two more analogies, in verses 21 and 22, that takes this point deeper.  This is not just about who has the best teacher in town, and it is not about whether a person should fast or not.  God was doing something bigger than Moses leading the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt.  This was a historical moment, not only to Israel and not only to the world, but to the history of the whole cosmos (spiritual and material).

The next analogy that Jesus brings up is that of the old garment and the unshrunk cloth.  In both of these analogies there is something that is old and something that is new.  The old garment has developed tears and holes that need mending if it is intended to be used.  To mend the old garment, one should not used new material due to the fact that the new cloth will shrink much more than the old.  Thus, the cloth will pull at the stiches and ruin the patch job.  Now, our modern society may have trouble identifying with this concern, but the people of that day would understand exactly what Jesus is saying.  So, what is Jesus talking about?

The old garment represents the Jewish religion under the Law of Moses.  Over the years, due to the sin of its people, the institutions and the devotion of the people had developed tears and gaping holes.  Jesus is God’s man to fix things in Israel.  Thus, it could be thought that the Messiah would raise up new leaders who could serve as a patch to the old system.  Jesus makes it clear that he is creating new cloth that cannot be used to patch up the Old Covenant.  He had not come to fix the nation of Israel so that it could continue on in the same mode under the Law of Moses, and within the same institutions.  He was not preparing his disciples to fit into the garment of Israel under the Law.  We could take this further now, but let’s move to the other analogy.

This is the analogy of the old wineskins and the new wine.  It is stating the same thing.  The old wineskins represent the religious institutions and their operators.  The disciples of Jesus represent the new wine that God is producing.  When Moses led Israel out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai, they were the new wine of their day.  The Law of Moses was also a part of this new wine in that it represented the container that these people would be placed within.  It is the outward form of institutions and ritual of the people of God.  The spiritual fervor of the people (though not perfect) was focused on following God into this new thing.  Yet, the spiritual work of yesterday does its work much like wine in a wineskin.  The skin is stretched out and the wine reaches an equilibrium between its expanding and the resistance of the wineskin.  Eventually the wine is used up and an empty, dry, old wineskin is left behind.  In Jesus the God of Israel was making new wine, but he was also preparing to pour them into a new wineskin, the Church of Christ.  The new work of Christ could not be put into the institutions of the Old Covenant.  Instead of reinvigorating the old institutions of Israel, the new wine would have completely destroyed it.

Thus, Jesus had come to institute a new covenant with the people of God.  This new covenant would have better promises and new institutions.  By the way, it may be worth realizing that, when Jesus comes back to set up the earthly kingdom, he will be leading us into a new thing again.  The Church institutions of this earth will become the institutions of that age.  Christ will be making new wine and pouring it into new institutions.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he told his disciples that the cup they drank from represented the New Covenant in his blood.  Hebrews 8:6-13 tells us that when the prophet Jeremiah prophesied of a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31), it was proof that the Old Covenant had become obsolete and would pass away when the new one came.  This is exactly what took place historically.  This should not be a matter of pride or arrogance of the new over the old because we could not have had the new without the old, which was once new. 

In fact, is it not clearly written on the wall?  The New Covenant is not so new anymore.  Over the centuries it has developed its own tears and gaping holes.  We can be tempted to try and fix everything in the flesh simply by calling what we do, the Spirit.  I encourage you to trust the Lord.  The answer is not to throw the Church and its institutions away, but neither is it to double down upon them as if they are the answer to salvation alone and the finished work of God forever.  I encourage you to trust the Lord and the words of him and his disciples over that of different men and institutions.  Jesus knows that we need a new garment.  So, we must do our best to be faithful with the institutions that he has given us.  Praise God that he has given us the Holy Spirit.  In Christ we can keep experiencing the new thing of God’s Spirit each and every day.  We can keep invigorated and renewed in him.  Yes, from time to time, the institutions of the Church grow hard and brittle, resistant to the work of the Holy Spirit.  It refuses to accept what God is doing.  Perhaps we should look at the history of the Church a bit differently.  Many people look back and see only failure, as one group splits from another and then another.  What if we saw it from the perspective of old wineskins?  Each time the institutions of the Church have grown hard and resistant to the Spirit, God has been faithful to provide new expressions and forms for those who belong to Him.  New institutions have cropped up only to become hard themselves.    No group can point to its beginning and declare that, because they were once new wine, they must still be new wine.  It doesn’t work that way.  Let’s be faithful Christians because our Lord is coming for a people who want him more than a certain religious form.

Tuesday
Nov192013

When The New Becomes The Old

Today we are going to look at Luke 5:33-39.  Here the subject of prayer and fasting comes up.  But, rather than looking at the mechanics of how to do them, the issue is the Why and When of prayer and fasting.

The Question of the People

The question that is brought to Jesus starts with an observation.  The people had observed that prayer and fasting was a big part of the Pharisees and their disciples.  It was also a big deal with John the Baptist and his disciples.  Yet, the disciples of Jesus were not seen fasting and praying all the time.  Why?

Now let’s remind ourselves what biblical fasting is and what it is not.  There was only one fast that was commanded in the law and that was on the Day of Atonement.  All other fasts were voluntary, either as an individual or as a nation.  Even prayer is more assumed or expected rather than commanded.  So prayer and fasting are generally specific to a time of need.  Over time, the people of Israel had added public, memorial fasts to commemorate difficult times.  Things like the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple became times of national remembrance.  It would be similar to the United States declaring 9-11 as a day of fasting and prayer for our nation.  So why weren’t the disciples seen fasting on all these expected fasts?

Now we need to also remind ourselves of how the prophets corrected Israel on its many fasts.  Isaiah in chapter 58 took the nation to task.  Fasts had become a ritual in which they expected God to be impressed that they went without food and yet, on the same day, they would break his commands.  Fasting was never about impressing God with our ability to go without food.  Also, Jesus himself had taught in Matthew 6 that they shouldn’t pray in order to be seen by men, but rather to pray in order to be seen by God.  He also warned them to not use empty repetitious phrases.  So we would expect that his disciples would pray more in private than in public.  Also in regard to fasting, Jesus had taught that they should not make themselves look like they were fasting (in order that men may notice).  So it would make sense that their times of fasting would go unnoticed.  Jesus made it clear that God was not enamored with the ritual of prayer and fasting.  He was enamored with the heart that truly sought Him over the top of the things of this world.

Thus fasting has always been the mourning of a person who seeks God in prayer because of a difficult need or situation.  It is the cry of a person to God asking for mercy and help.  We want Him more than our daily food.  The situation is so devastating that we have no appetite.  We only want help from God.  Yet, this is not what is going on with the disciples.  They are not such good students of Jesus that they are never seen praying and fasting.  No, the answer was simpler.

The Answer: The Bridegroom And His Friends

In verses 34 and 35 Jesus gives the first of 3 parables or pictures which explain why his disciples weren’t fasting.  In this first parable, Jesus depicts himself as a bridegroom.  Now this is important to remember because Jesus used this image in other parables.  Here the disciples are called the friends of the bridegroom.  Even though the Church is called the bride of Christ, the marriage of the Lamb is not until the end of the age.  The Church is technically engaged to Christ.  So in this story Jesus compares them to his friends before the marriage.  This is clearly a happy time.  It would be the wrong time to act sad and start fasting.  Rather, it is a time to rejoice and feast together.  Israel had waited over a thousand years for the Messiah and here he was.  It would not only be unfitting to mourn and fast, it would be insulting.  Picture it this way.  If you were fasting and praying for a job and you got a call from a prospective employer saying that you are hired, it would be strange for you to continue fasting and praying as if nothing had happened.  You would be excited and scurrying around getting ready for your new job.  You would be happy and throwing a party.  The simple answer is that it isn’t time to fast.  Something wonderful has happened.

Yet, Jesus prophetically said that they day will come when he is taken away from them.  Then they will fast and pray often.  After the cross we see the disciples fasting and praying in the book of Acts.  Also throughout the New Testament letters we see that fasting was part and parcel with the early Church.  Why?  It is because of the fact that they were enduring the tribulations of this world for the sake of Christ and looking to that day when they could be reconnected with him.

The Answer: A New Patch, Old Garment

Jesus switches the analogy to that of an inanimate thing: clothing.  If you had an old garment and needed to fix it, you would not use a patch of new clothing.  Thus the Old Covenant was not just being patched up.  God was doing a new thing.  Even though the Law was old and tattered, it was not morally bad.  It was broken down by the sins and failures of Israel.  Yet, it still had served its purpose of demonstrating God’s righteousness and our sinfulness.  No man could be saved by Law.  The Law is righteous and I am not.  Therefore, I must die.  To simply patch the Law by adding grace would not be a good fix.  Grace is so vastly different that it would end up destroying both the old garment and the new patch.  This theme of bad mixtures runs throughout the Bible.  God warns us that not all mixtures are beneficial.  To mix some grace in with the Law is not God’s answer.  Grace comes in as a whole new set of clothing.  We are not under the law, but by grace we fulfill the righteousness of God.  In fact he says the two wouldn’t even match each other.  The Gospel is a completely different picture and vision than the Law.  They would be like trying to match a chromatic suit with a Hawaiian shirt.  It would look ridiculous even before both are destroyed.  You can’t promote one vision without diminishing the other.  You must choose between the Law (your righteousness) and Grace (the righteousness of Jesus).

The Answer: New Wine, Old Wineskins

The last picture has to do with wine and their containers.  Wine here is representative of the teaching of Jesus and the gospel.  Jesus had come to explain and show the Grace that God had made available to those condemned to die.  This new wine is different from the old wine of the Law that explained that everyone was sinful and disqualified before God.  The wineskin is the people and their response to the wine (teaching) over time.  Israel had the Law poured into them at Mt. Sinai.  Over the years their reaction to it had hardened into ritualized ways of dealing with it.  The Law had run its course and had affected them.  Thus the Law itself was new wine at one time.  The fledgling nation of Israel was also a new wineskin.  However, the Law had fermented and Israel had hardened.  Now it was time for new wine.  But God needed new “unhardened” people to pour it into.  God was unveiling the mystery of Grace that had been hidden and yet hinted at from the beginning.

Notice that both the wines came from God.  In fact Christians today should recognize that the Gospel itself has become “old wine.”  You may think it is blasphemy to say so, but that is because you think of old wine as bad.  Jesus wasn’t saying the old wine was bad, but that it had run its course and had its effect.  This world has heard the gospel for 2,000 years.  I am not saying it is time to stop, but the times of Grace to the nations does have a terminal point in the future.  Christian institutions and denominations have clearly followed a similar pattern as Israel did with the Law.  We have been affected by the Gospel, but in some ways, have been hardened by it.  The coming new wine is that of the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom.  God is doing this in such a way as to preserve the Law and Grace as both righteous, perfect tools in the hand of God.  Jesus did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.  We must not bring the Church under the Law of Moses.  But neither must we attack it and declare its precepts unrighteous.

So let me end with these cautions.  The old wineskins always tend to not want the new.  Have you become so hardened to the Word of God that you are no longer useable by God?  Yet on the other hand, all that is new is not of God.  What vintage are you seeking?  In the name of progress and new wine, this world will embrace the antichrist spirit’s ultimate expression in the “Man of Sin.”  Why?  Simply because they hardened themselves to loving the Truth and set themselves up to believing a lie.  Caution!

 

New Becomes Old