Posted by: Brad Beaman | April 19, 2010

New wine and old wineskins

Morning in the vineyard

There is an old television commercial that I still remember, and I still snicker when I think about it. The commercial is in black and white. A somber old man in a cold grey stone building barks out these words; Tenacity!  Gumption! Discipline!  Suddenly there is color, party music and they switch to a Pizza Hut and say sometimes you just need to stop and smell the Pizza.

It reminds me of the conflict in the first century between Pharisees and John the Baptist disciples verses Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees and John’s disciples fasted twice a week. It was their religious duty. They were somber they had; Gumption! Tenacity! Discipline!

The Pharisees were hopping mad that Jesus and his disciples were living it up feasting, celebrating and having a good old time.

Why were Jesus disciples feasting and not fasting? That was the question they had to ask. As usual Jesus not only answered their question, but gave them a deeply profound theological answer. There was a three part answer; the bridegroom illustration, the patch on a torn garment and new wine and old wineskins.  

 Mark 2:18-22 (NIV)

 18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

 19Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

 21“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”

The question that Jesus was asked and the lesson he gave centered around the issue of fasting. The occasion may well have been at the banquet that Matthew hosted for Jesus. That is what is normally thought about when this question took place.

They had questioned Jesus about dinning with sinners. Now they will question him about something else. How come he and his disciples did not fast?

Fasting held an important place in the Jewish religion of Jesus day. Not just the Pharisees but for the disciples of John the Baptist. The Old Testament required the Jews to fast once per year at Yom Kipper. That is when the high priest would make atonement for the sins of the people. But the custom became to fast twice a week, on Monday from 6:00 am to 6:00 Pm and Thursday from 6:00am to 6:00 pm. That was their gumption and discipline.

In Luke 18:12 there is the story of Pharisees. Who thought he was right before God because he tithed and fasted twice a week. The Bible called for one fast and they had 104 fasts. Why all the fasting?

The Pharisees and John the Baptist disciples fasted in light of the Kingdom of God. Fasting was associated with sorrow and mourning as they awaited the promised Messiah. What they wanted to know was why all the celebration, feasting and joy of Jesus disciples. Where is your gumption, tenacity, discipline and somberness? Jesus used the wedding illustration.   

 The Bridegroom and the wedding Party.  

We put a lot of emphasis on the wedding. It is a celebration with fancy wedding dresses, tuxedos, elaborate wedding cakes, gold rings, professional pictures, flowers and limousines and bands.  In the first century they celebrated, (if it is possible) even more that we do. It was the social event of the season. Jesus first miracle was at a wedding celebration. They celebrated for a whole week before the wedding and the bride and groom were the center of attention. What about the fasting twice a week, the mourning and somberness? The wedding feast took precedence as long as you had the bride and groom in your presence you suspended all fasting and mourning and you celebrated.

 What Jesus was implying was, you are fasting and somber because you are waiting for the messiah. Jesus and his disciples can celebrate because the messiah is here!

John’s disciples were asking why Jesus and his disciples did not fast, but John the Baptist himself understood the wedding and bridegroom illustration. In john 3:29 John used this illustration himself: 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.

Jesus is the bridegroom, the awaited messiah.

It is a time of celebration not sorrow.

It is a time of joy not mourning.

It is a time of feasting not fasting.

Jesus is making a bold theological statement. Jesus explains why they are celebrating. He is the awaited messiah. He already knew that tension was mounting between himself and the Pharisees. Jesus then uses the bridegroom illustration and predicts his death in verse 20.

20But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

There is a painting by Sir John Millais painted of Jesus who had injured his hand in the carpenters shop. It is an anticipation of Jesus death. Jesus has painted a word picture of his own death in verse 20.  

–> click here to see the picture

There will be a time of sorrow, mourning and fasting for Jesus disciples, but only Friday night, Saturday and early Sunday morning. The time will come between Jesus death and his resurrection. But while they have Jesus present it is a time of Joy and celebration.

We need to put away the false notion that if someone smiles they are out of fellowship with God. The messiah has come. Christianity is a call to joy. We should celebrate with joy because of Jesus and His presence. For generations there was waiting mourning and fasting. They were looking toward the day of hope when the messiah would come.

Every time the long awaited savior fills the life of an individual it is a time for joy and celebration. Why not the angels of heaven celebrate every time a sinner is saved by grace though Jesus Christ. We should be joyful every time we see someone make a commitment to Christ.

Patch of Unshrunk Cloth

In answer to the question how come your disciples do not fast, Jesus uses the example of the patch. An old garment tears and needs a patch. If you use a piece of new material it will shrink. When it does shrink it pulls threads and makes a worse tear than you ever had before.

God is doing a new thing in Christ. Christianity is not Judaism patched. Jesus said himself he did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. Now in Christ God is doing a new thing. It is salvation by grace contrasted with the law which could never save. It is legalism contrasted with freedom. The shackles of ritualism have been released to the freedom of grace.

Jesus was radically new, completely different. Those who came to Jesus got more than they bargained for. They asked why the disciples did not fast. They were answered with news that God’s messianic age is here. God’s new think was present in Jesus Christ. Your whole life can be made new in Jesus Christ.       

New Wine

In those days animal skins were used to keep wine. When they were new they were elastic. As they aged they became brittle. If new wine were put into old wine skins as is fermented and expanded it would burst. There are not sets of regulations or rituals which can contain Christianity.

God’s redemption is bigger than any manmade systems or codes. They cannot contain Christianity.

The new age is symbolized by the new wine it is present in Jesus. You can never be reformed into a Christian. The idea that we become a good person will never meet God’s holy, just and righteous standards. We must accept Jesus and be transformed by the new birth. Our lives are radically different. Don’t make the mistake of the Pharisees trusting in rules and regulations. These are useless containers for God’s new work in Christ.

Be moldable and useable container through brokenness and repentance and faith in Christ. Don’t just try to reform your life. Let Christ in your heart to do a new thing. Join the celebration feast. Leave the traditionalists to be somber, mourning in human effort. The messiah has come. Jesus is here and will never leave you or forsake you. God is inviting you to be part of the celebration today. Give your heart to Jesus.


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