Matthew 9:14-17 — It’s Like Going to A College Football Saturday on Campus But Not Going In the Stadium

Posted: November 14, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 9:14-17
A Question about Fasting

My brother and I were always different people growing up. He always seems to be trying to curry the favor of our parents as a way to point out to me that he had a better position in the family than me. He would do things to gain approval from my parents. He would keep his room perfect. He would be seen doing his homework. He would point out to my parents everything that I did wrong to them. All of it seemed so high activity and high maintenance. All in all it seemed not to make him a happy person. He didn’t have any fun. Meanwhile, I enjoyed life. I didn’t go out of my way to seek my parent’s approval. For some reason, I just knew they loved me. I was free to enjoy life.

Using my brother as an illustration might get me in trouble. However, it got your attention…ooooh Mark’s rappin’ on his brother! Let’s listen up! But I think it provides a current illustration of what our passage is about today.

We have left Matthew’s house where we saw Jesus feasting with sinners. Shocking! Now, we see Jesus and his disciples walking through a field and the disciples are picking the heads off of wheat stock and eating it. When the disciples of John and the Pharisees saw them, Matthew 9:14-17 tells us what ensued,
14Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
I think that this passage makes me want to write about three things that I hope ultimately all tie together to sum up the meaning of this passage. The first thing that I need to write about is why the disciples of John were aligning themselves with the Pharisees. The second thing is to examine this whole bridegroom illustration. Finally, we will look at the patch and the wineskins, one shrinks and tears while the other expands and bursts. In the end, we will see it’s about the end and the beginning.

The first thing we are going to examine is these disciples of John. I am not exactly the brightest light bulb in the marquee but I, even with my TRHS edu-ma-cation, am totally confused as to why disciples of the radical John the Baptist would be hanging out with the Pharisees, the traditionalists of the day. This is kind of like fans of the Rolling Stones hanging out with the vice-presidents at Bob Jones University. No offense intended to either fans of the Rolling Stones or to the various V-P’s at BJU but you kind of get the contrast there!

At length John The Baptist came forth into public life, and great multitudes from “every quarter” were attracted to him. The sum of his preaching was the necessity of repentance. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a “generation of vipers,” and warned them of the folly of trusting to external privileges (Luke 3:8). “As a preacher, John was eminently practical and discriminating. Self-love and covetousness were the prevalent sins of the people at large. On them, therefore, he enjoined charity and consideration for others. The publicans he cautioned against extortion, the soldiers against crime and plunder.” His doctrine and manner of life roused the entire south of Palestine, and the people from all parts flocked to the place where he was, on the banks of the Jordan. There he baptized thousands unto repentance. Remember back in Matthew 3, the fame of John reached the ears of Jesus in Nazareth, and he came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John, on the special ground that it became him to “fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). John’s special office ceased with the baptism of Jesus, who must now “increase” as the King comes to his kingdom.

So, here we see John’s disciples poking fun at the new kids in the religious world and we see them standing alongside the very people that their leader had condemned as “generation of vipers.” What this says to me is that these disciples of John, in his absence, returned to the comfort of what they know. The comfort of legalism. Old Testament law only REQUIRED fasting on the day of atonement. However, of course when you let man get ahold of something, he will make it more than it needs to be. Fasting became a public show of piousness twice a week in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees kept many, many rituals and publicly claimed that they kept the Law of the Old Testament. John’s disciples in this scene have fallen back in line with the traditions of the day. They had been pointed toward Jesus by John himself. However, we see them challenging Jesus along with the Pharisees. Is this not like us? Unless we are being spoon-fed by a spiritual leader, we fall back to ritualistic religion. We fall back to going through the motions. Then, as we attempt to keep rituals, our religion becomes about works and about we can be seen doing. Jesus uses his illustrations to say that being slaves to the Law is over. Our relationship with Jesus should be real and not contrived. Our good works are not the reason for our salvation be as a result of it. Jesus is concerned about the heart and not about appearances.

The first way Jesus answers the disciples of John is to use the illustration of the bridegroom and the guests at the wedding party. Jesus uses the contrast of fasting and the celebration of wedding parties. If a person is a wedding party they will not be fasting or at least they would be foolish to fast. Jesus wants the disciples of John to see that it is He that John was pointing them to. The bridegroom has arrived at the party. We should be joyous in the presence of the Holy One. Jesus is not saying that fasting is bad. He recommends it in other places in his teachings. He is saying here that the purpose of all disciplines should be to grant a keener awareness of and intimacy with Jesus Christ. For them to respond to the presence of Jesus by going into their prayer closet is an example of supreme density; it would be like me leaving my wife in the living room, going into the bedroom and calling her on the phone. The God who is to be the hub to which all the spokes of spiritual discipline aim was at the table. This should have been a cause for joy and celebration. Intimacy with Christ is always to be a cause for joy. Let’s not let the observance of rituals rob us of the joy of being in the presence of Christ.

It’s like some people that I know that pay their IPTAY dues, do all the pregame tailgating rituals, but do not go into Death Valley to watch my Tigers play…cause it’s toooooo crowded…and sit outside and watch it on TV. The whole reason you are in Clemson is to see the Tigers. The rituals point us toward the Tiger football game. To these people, the pregame rituals are more important than the game. Jesus is the game. The disciplines of Christian living point us toward the game. They are steps toward full enjoyment of the game. They are not the game itself. It is only “inside the stadium of intimacy with Christ” that we get the full experience of knowing the King.

Next, he uses the illustration of placing an unwashed/unshrunk patch on a torn place in an old garment. Putting a new patch on an old garment doesn’t work. It ends up making the patch and the garment worthless. We can see exactly what Jesus is talking about from our own experiences with clothing and patches. Back in the early 70’s when I was a cute little elementary school kid wearing patches to cover up holes that had been torn in your jeans was cool. Sometimes we would put patches on our jeans even when there were no holes to cover up. The patches of course were peace signs, or had some funny or cool saying on them. Some of you remember that too. But my mom would always wash the patches I bought before she would so sew them onto my jeans. Never understood that til now. My mother was pretty smart ol’ girl! She and Jesus right there together on the front of Good Housekeeping magazine! Jesus and Carolyn share their garment care ideas (see page 77!). The illustration states that you cannot put two unlike things together without expecting it to create a greater problem. Clinging to tradition without seeing Christ is the same. When this happens in the church, it can split it or even destroy it. Clinging to standard rituals while the world outside is dying for intimacy from what we have to offer as Christians is no less heinous than the Pharisees. We should be willing to try new ways to reach the lost instead of steeping ourselves in tradition and wondering why the doors of our churches are creaking from lack of use. The king is here. He is the new garment to replace the old. The king is here. He is the new garment of joy to replace the old garment of sackcloth and ashes. He is joy. Even in our modern churches with modern music there can be traditions that develop. The new wave of churches will often have a pastor that has a scruffy beard and wears jeans. New churches will have catchy names for their ministries and even for the church itself. No longer are churches named after people and/or places, they must have a single word name. Even the new wave can get caught up in traditions. We must only cling to those things that are about people coming to Christ and about people maturing in Christ once they have accepted Him as their Savior. May we always be innovative in that effort!

Next, Jesus uses the illustration of putting new wine in old wineskins. In the winemaking process of the day, they would pour the new grape juice into a wineskin. As they added the elements that would cause fermentation, the wine-to-be would expand and stretch the skins to their capacity. After using that wine, they would never refill those skins with new wine. The skins had already been stretched as far as they could go. If they poured new wine in them, the fermentation process would have caused the skins to stretch beyond capacity to stretch and they would burst. Result – ruined wineskin and ruined wine. As Bob George says in his book, Classic Christianity, “Jesus is trying to tell them that the New Covenant that God is bringing into existence” through Jesus himself “cannot be contained within the forms of the old, the Law. Law and grace are opposing principles. They cannot be mixed.” Grace is the next step. Grace is where we fall at the foot of the cross to relieve us from the penalty of the Law. Thus, we are pulled from the Law to Grace. We must mature beyond public displays of being righteous through outward keeping of the law. Relying on rituals as signs of salvation is a lie. We know we can’t keep the Law. We must have grace – It’s time for new wineskins to put this new wine in. Jesus is here! We are free!

The Law was instituted to point us to the fact that we can never keep all of the Law fully all of the time and thus we are hopelessly lost. It points us toward our need of the Messiah. The Messiah would pay the penalty for our sins (not keeping the Law) and thus reconcile us to God by faith in the gracious gift Jesus gave us. The law in and of itself is not bad. Much of it is just the proper way to conduct a society, but the spiritual and ethical portions of it shows us how sinful we really are. Quoting Bob George again, “We are thus condemned by it. Thus it is doing exactly what God intended it to do” – to point us to the need for complete dependence on Him and to point us toward grace. His grace is sufficient. He died for our sins. His resurrection represents new life. Don’t let the way you worship become what you worship. Sure fasting, taking communion, singing the cool song by Chris Tomlin (or singing How Great Thou Art for traditionalists), enjoying the theme video prior to the sermon, doing your bible study every day, going to life group, having deep theological debates…all of these things serve purposes in the life of a Christ follower….but let us not worship these things in and of themselves…Let them not take the place of intimacy with Christ, the one who saved us.

Don’t forget to curl up in Jesus’ lap and luxuriate in his love for you. Don’t forget to live. Don’t forget to experience the joy of being saved. Let that joy burst through in how we live. Don’t just love the idea of Jesus, be IN LOVE with Jesus for saving you from the hell that we deserve. Be joyful and live joyfully. Let us live as though we are convicted felon who has had his death sentence overturned and we have been let out of prison to boot. Why have we been set free? Someone else, Jesus, paid the debt that we owed. Lost souls are drawn to those who have joy! Jesus saved you! Jesus saved me! Jesus can save them! Be the light they are drawn to! The bridegroom is here. Jesus is here among us. Let us live like we have something to live for. Let us not live with a checklist mentality but rather with a soul that is filled with joy! We can survive anything because we know where we are going and what we have been saved from. Doesn’t that just make you want to smile from ear to ear? People often ask why I am so goofy can making jokes all the time. Jesus is the reason. He made me goofy even before salvation but my goofiness comes now comes from the comfort and peace of knowing what Christ has done for me. There is nothing that can take that peace away from me. Yes, I probably should take things more seriously at times but wow! I have been saved! I have been saved from what I deserve. Count that as joy my friends! Count that as joy. Live life like you have been set free from prison by governor not because there is new evidence that you did not commit the crime. The governor knows that you did the crime but he sets you free anyway. We should be forever changed. We should be forever joyous even in the worst of times. I am not talking about being happy and oblivious to situations like death and other sorrowful situations, but true inner joy. We have joy that we know that God has our back, that even in unexplainable situations like a teenager being killed in a car wreck by a drunk driver God will make something good come of it in His time. We have joy. That basic confidence that God is in control and that He will guide and direct us even in the toughest of times. That is joy.

Kim Walker-Smith says it best:

We worship and we praise
We lift Your holy name
We rejoice for our King is here
We’re living to proclaim
You’ve opened Heaven’s gates
We rejoice for our King is here

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