The Parable of the Wineskins
Today I want to invite your attention (if you want to go ahead and turn there) to Mark, the second chapter. I want to look at Jesus' response to a confrontation that He had in this particular occasion with the Scribes and the Pharisees. To set up the reading that we're going to do, which will begin for us in the eighteenth verse of the second chapter in a moment, by the events that precipitated that, we have Mark who topically presents the Scriptures for us, preceding this discussion with the conversion of Levi, otherwise known as Matthew. Jesus goes by, and there in Galilee is a man, a Jew, who is a tax collector.
Now he is a man who has found a way to deal with recession. The recession of Jesus' day was caused by the oppressive taxation of the Roman government, and Levi chose to be a part of that and took a job as a tax collector. In that day, there was some freedom in being able to add to the amount that you collected and keeping the surplus for yourself. People knew of this, and though he had the support of the Roman army behind him, he certainly did not have the support of the people, and pretty soon, he became an enemy of the people.
Jesus comes by and looks at Matthew and says, "Come, follow Me." In that moment, the Bible simply says that Levi, otherwise known as Matthew, simply got up and followed Him. But man, what a decision that was, because he walked away from his income. He would not be allowed by the Roman government to be gone for a little while and come back. His job, his position, his toll booth there would be quickly taken by someone else. So his decision was a major decision. It was a change in his life, but he was one who did this excitedly. He celebrated it so much so that he began to tell his other friends.
His other friends were not Scribes and Pharisees. They were not those who were more demure and more properly situated in society. Because of his position (no doubt), the only people that he had to make friends with were first of all, other tax collectors who were equally despised and then other sinners, other prostitutes, other dregs of society. These became his friends, and they were the ones he went to and told about the teaching and about Jesus being the Christ, the Messiah, and his decision to follow Him. Others followed Him as a result. Others left their station in society and chose to become a follower of Jesus.
So in the condensed version of Mark, it simply tells us that Matthew decided to throw a feast. He invites Jesus and His disciples along with these tax collectors, along with these other sinners, to his feast. And they have a feast. They have a great party. In fact, Mark twice mentions that there were many there. There were many there, he says. The Scribes and the Pharisees take notice. They take notice, first of all, that He's eating with tax collectors and sinners. This was not what you did if you were a good Jew.
Secondly, was when they were eating…you see, in the days of Jesus, the Pharisees had established a twice weekly fast…Mondays and Thursdays. Now the law only prescribed really one fast per year, on the Day of Atonement. One day a year, the people were commanded by the Law of Moses to fast. But when the Jews came out of exile they added three or four more days of fasting, and there was nothing wrong with that. By the time of the Pharisees, they had codified it into two days a week. Monday and Thursday were days of fasting. No doubt, by the reading we're going to have, they are eating this feast on a Monday or a Thursday. It's in violation of the customary fast that otherwise the people were enjoying.
You know, Jesus wasn't opposed to fasting. In fact, He fasted in the wilderness when He was under temptation. He tells us in the Sermon on the Mount the proper way to fast…do it in secret, not in the open for others to take glory in. But there is a time for fasting. and there is a time for feasting. And Jesus addresses that issue when He is questioned.
So we come to verse 18 of Mark, chapter 2, and it says, "The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting." In other words, this is a Monday or a Thursday, and that group is fasting. "Then they came and said to Him, (said to Jesus) 'Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?'"
Now they had seen fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. They had risen fasting to a level of piety, to a level of godliness…that if you did this, you were living right. If you didn't do it, you were ungodly. They had taken what was a man-made tradition, a man-made addition, and had turned it into a sacrosanct celebration that you had to fast on Mondays and Thursdays. They didn't know why, but they did it.
What you notice in the reading is that even the disciples of John are still fasting. They're Jews. They have followed the teachings of John, but rather than following Jesus now, they've stayed with John, and John's aesthetic lifestyle, and they've kept this fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. It was that entrenched in society.
Here they see some people that are having a food festival on a fasting day, and they are curious, "Why are you doing this? I thought you were Messiah. I thought you were bringing a more religious tone to life, and yet it seems like you're violating that."
So Jesus answered them in verse 19, "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. No one sows a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, or else the new piece pulls away from the old and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wine skins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins."
Jesus explains that He's not fasting because He's feasting. He compares the feast to a wedding feast. He says that what we're doing is like what you do at a wedding. When you go to a wedding, you don't fast. When you go to a wedding, you don't do what fasting involves. You see, fasting is about mourning. Fasting is about being very demure and very contemplative. Fasting is connected to a funeral, not to a wedding. Fasting is what you do to get closer to God, to draw away because of all the sins. Fasting had its own object, and it's a mournful activity.
But Jesus said, you don't mourn at a wedding. You don't mourn when the bridegroom is there. When you go to a wedding today, you don't mourn at a wedding. That's not what it's designed to do. It's designed to be a celebration. It's designed to be exciting. It's not a funeral; it's a feast. It's not a funeral; it's a festival.
Now there are many similarities. You know, I was thinking about the fact that in this room, we have both weddings and funerals. People come, generally dressed about pretty close to the same way, sitting in the pews. The activities tend to take place near the front, but there are stark differences in your heart between the two. When you are at a funeral, your heart is saddened, your heart is concerned, and your heart is mourning, but when you are at a wedding, everything about the wedding is celebration. It's happy. It's hopeful. It's a happy day. Really, the difference between a funeral and a wedding, in this room, really begins in the heart of the person who attends.
So Jesus is saying why would they take this day and make it a funeral day? You see religion…listen to me now…religion brings funeral; Jesus brings feasting. When you depend on religion, as these disciples of John and disciples of the Pharisees were doing, then they are going to have funeral all the time. When people depend on religion, by its definition, life becomes one of somber living. It becomes one of slow walking and soft talking. It becomes one of sitting still and being quiet.
That's what religion is to so many people, and it may be that way to you today. It may be that right now in this room you would love more than anything to clear your throat…but you dare not do it. More than anything, you'd like to yawn, but you dare not do it. More than anything, you might like to pick up that pencil, but you dare not do it, because it's religion to you. It's about being frozen, and holding your breath and being ever so quiet, so as not to disturb the dead. That's what we do at funerals.
But if it's a celebration, if it's a wedding, you've come with hopefulness. You've come looking toward the future, not reflecting on the past. You've come excited about the new life, new beginnings, weddings are all about new beginnings. Jesus talks about that living with Him is like a wedding in that it is a new beginning. It's a new birth. It's a new life with Jesus. That's all about celebration. That's all about excitement. That's all about focusing on the fact that the bridegroom is here.
Now Jesus says in verse 20, "There will be days of fasting." He says, "The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them and then they will fast in those days." Sadly, I think religions and religious people think that we live in those days, but that's not at all what the language in the verse said. First of all, 'taken away' comes from a word in the Greek that means 'to be taken by force.' Now I know that Jesus has ascended to heaven, but my friends, He didn't ascend to heaven by force. He wasn't taken away to heaven, but He was taken away by force at the cross. That's what Jesus is predicting here.
That's what His encoded words are letting them know. That while I am with them, we're going to celebrate. There is going to come a day when they are going to mourn, they are going to fast. When is that? It's at the crucifixion when He's taken away. Just like when your friend, your relative, is taken away, you then enter that time of fasting, that time of funeral mourning. They've been taken from you.
But oh, my friend, there's a little difference here because they only mourned for three days. See on the third day, Sun-day…Sunday, as the sun began to dawn on the first day of the week as those rays came over the hillside, rays of light began to one by one get into the hearts of disciples, not just the 12, but the others as well. They realized, slowly but surely, that the days of fasting were over, that they served a risen Savior who is in the world today, and that they were once again returning to days of celebration.
If you are a child of God today, if you have received Christ into your life, then that light diffused itself into your soul, and you awoke awash in the light of Christ, and you realized that He is not a distant figment of your imagination, or a someday-soon-to-be-seen God, off in space, but that He is an ever-present reality; and therefore, the bridegroom is with us in spirit; and therefore, we celebrate. We celebrate. Even at funerals, even when we lose our job, even when we're sad, we come to remember that light that shines in our heart, and we can celebrate, because we serve a risen Savior.
If Jesus…our Savior, our Lord, our Master…has overcome the grave, what can man do to us? What can that circumstance do to us? Jesus, in foretelling that there is going to come those days, but when the bridegroom is with you, it's no time…it's no time…to mourn. Oh, being with Jesus is being at a wedding, my friends. It's not like being at a funeral.
You know, in my personal journey, I find myself going through difficult days, days with an uncertain future. I was at my home and looking in our little home office, and my wife, I think she just hung this, or it has been there three years, and I just noticed it, I'm not quite sure. But there was kind of a tapestry hanging in the office with the saying, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path."
I looked at that and then kind of looked away, went back into my contemplations of things, and then I looked back at it again. And all the uncertainty that is awash in my life right now…I looked, and I said, "You know, there's the answer. Thy word is a lamp to my feet if I'll listen to it and look to it." And it is the light to my path, that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit instructs me in His Word how to live, how to hope, and how to look for the days that are ahead.
Therefore, though selfishness comes, and though sorrow can come, and though sad clouds can form, when I look to His Word, and I realize the awesome power of the God that I serve, and the God who has answered so many promises of life for me, then those clouds will depart and that light returns, and I'm awash in the celebration, even in difficult days of Jesus. That He is with us and that He has not departed. That He is the same today as He was yesterday and that He'll be tomorrow. That He has never forsaken us; and therefore, we can celebrate and not mourn these days.
Jesus then, in explaining this to them…very clear, very simple explanation…really decides then to drive home the point with these next two verses that Mark inserts here for our understanding, and that is that Christianity…it's not a funeral; it's a feast. But it's also not reformation; it's regeneration. You see, if religion is for you a way to reform yourself, in other words, "Well, I have some bad habits, I have some bad attitudes, I have some fears…I'm just learning to live with those, but I'm going to add Jesus to my life. I'm going to reform myself. I'm going to patch in some Jesus into my problems and make things okay. I may not be able to completely change as the Bible commands, but I can always come to church. I can always pray. I can always add to."
You see, those are our attempts to reform, but the Bible…Jesus doesn't talk about reforming, He talks about transforming. He talks about regeneration. He talks about a new birth. So in these verses He says, beginning in verse 21, "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse." They would have garments that would be unfulled…had not gone through the fullers brush and heat and shrinking process.
If you took a piece of cloth that had not already been shrunk down to size, and you put it on an old piece that was already a bit thread bare…and the word 'old' here is not the word for old in time, but the word for worn out kind of old…and you sew that on there, then you wash it, of course, and what's going to happen is that new piece is going to shrink and as it shrinks as the old garment is worn out, it's just going to tear in through the fibers of that.
What's the result? Well, the result is whatever little patch you were trying to cover up has now become a bigger hole. Whatever little problem has become bigger, and as He says here, it becomes worse. The tear is made worse than it was before. Jesus is trying to teach us something in this simple parable here. Of course, Jesus and the teachings of Christ is the new piece of cloth. It is grace.
These disciples were living under law…man-made law…fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. Jesus comes along with grace and there seems to be maybe with the disciples of John especially and with so many people, not just then, by the way but even today, a desire to patch grace onto a religion. We live legalistically. We think there is a list of do's and don'ts to appease God, but we like grace, so we're going to patch grace onto the holes that our legalism makes.
The problem is when you try to mix grace and legalism, both are destroyed. You see, you can't mix the new with the old. There is only the new. You can't mix life in Christ and the grace of Jesus with your own rules and regulations, and with your old religion. You can't mix the two because neither one will survive. Neither one survives.
Then in verse 22, He gives the same example from a different perspective. In those days, they would take small goats that they would skin, and they would securely tie up, not only the stomach area where they had gutted the goat, but the legs and the neck area, and they would have this wineskin that was taut and they could pour wine in it. After they had initially fermented it, they would clear the leaves off the wine, and then they would pour it into this big skin. Then they would tie that off, and as the wine continued its fermentation process and developed gasses, well the skin would expand with that just as our skin can expand. Then it would be able to handle the gasses of the wine to be used later.
But, if you tried to do that in an old, brittle wineskin, one that was…again the word 'old' here is worn out, one that had no elasticity to it anymore…you pour that new wine in there, and of course you understand what's going to happen; it's going to crack open. The pressure of the gasses cannot be contained, and when it cracks open all the new wine that you had harvested is poured out, and of course even the old wine skin is ruined as well.
So in verse 22, He says, "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. New wine must be put into new wineskins." Well, now if this was just an instruction to wine makers, it would be kind of a silly thing to say because it's so obvious, but it's an instruction really to everyone who tries to take the new wine of Christ, the new wine of the new covenant and tries to pour it into any old form of the old covenant. What happens again? Both are ruined. Both are destroyed.
My friends, you can't take your old way of living and just add Jesus to it. You can't take your old religion and just add Jesus to it. There are people in the world that say we just need to take the best of everything. We need to take the best out of the Islamic faith. We need to take the best out of the Buddhist faith. We need to take all of the good things out of the Christian faith, and then let's come up with something that we can all tolerate that has the best of everything in it. Then we'll live with that.
The problem is, Jesus said there is no other name under heaven. There is no other way to go to heaven but through Him. When you try to mix Christ with Islam they are both ruined from it. You can't do that.
Jesus is not a way, He's the only way.
Transcribed by Digital Sermon Transcription