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Weekly Word

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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