Saturday, April 26, 2008

Garments And Wineskins, Patches And Change, And The Love Of God

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:18-22

Jesus’ unorthodox behavior here not only provoked the criticism of the religious authorities, it also puzzled ordinary people. They wanted to know why Jesus’ followers were different from those of the Pharisees and John the Baptist - and they wondered why he didn’t seem to worry about the established Jewish practices of the day. Such rituals, though not in the Law of Moses, had come to be just as important as the Ten Commandments. Jesus gives a quick answer: nobody fasts at a wedding-feast. Fasting shows sorrow, and if there is any sorrow, it would be after the feast, when the bridegroom had left the party.

But the issue here really wasn’t about fasting; it was about change. Jesus wasn’t against fasting; he fasted himself. But formal and compulsory Jewish fasting would not fit with the freedom and spontaneity of the new life which Jesus was bringing to God’s people. The beloved old form of Judaism was stifling the new form he was putting into place. Any attempt at trying to make the old and new work together was rejected by our Lord: he said it would be like tearing patches from a new unshrunk garment and sewing them on an old garment. When the old garment is washed the new patches would shrink, rip away, and ruin the old garment. Or, it would be like putting new unfermented wine in old brittle wineskins. As soon as the wine began to ferment and the gases formed, the old brittle skins would burst—and you would lose both the wine and the skins.

Jesus came to usher in the new, not to unite with the old. Salvation is not a partial patching up of one’s life; it is a whole new robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). The Christian life is not a mixing of the old and the new; rather, it is a fulfillment of the old in the new. Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Just like an acorn that is planted in the ground ultimately grows up to replace an old rotted oak tree, so Christ came to change things by replacing what was by what will be.

When faced with the issue of change, the natural human response at times can be denial or rejection, sometimes even anger or blame. But, in the words of Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion: “Everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it.” When God is involved in something, things change. Compelled by the divine forces impressed by the sovereign will of God plans change, routines change, priorities change, methods change, directions change, positions change hearts change, attitudes change, lives change. When Jesus walked into the established church of his day, things changed. Some denied, some argued and rejected, some were angry and blamed. In the end Jesus was crucified for changing things. But because he did we can now know life after death.

Jesus was the greatest change agent in all of history. Because of the work of his atonement on the cross of Calvary, the powerful presence of his Holy Spirit, the complete work of his redemption, his fulfillment of the hope of heaven, the great joy of his divine sovereign grace. The truth is - the glory of his holy presence cannot settle into the midst of a group of people without dramatic change occurring. When Christ is truly present, things do change. This is the heart and soul of our faith in Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a static religion but rather a relationship of change, transformation, and conversion that results from a personal encounter and heart response with the living God of the entire universe.

In Malachi 3:6 God said: “For I the Lord do not change.” But while God does not change, the ways He does things often changes. The ways of God are limitless. What worked in the past usually doesn’t work today; nor what works today bring us victory tomorrow. To be a committed follower of Jesus Christ means living your life in a constant state of change; if you are not living like that, you have lost your moorings to the foundation of your faith. God’s Word tells us that the definition of faith in Christ is an upside down paradigm to what seems reasonable to the sinful heart: The crucified and dead body of Jesus comes back to life. Only when you know you are lost can you then be found. Those who are first shall be last and those who are last shall be first. You lead people by serving them. God promises everything is ours when we give everything we have away. When you deny yourself, you’ll find out who you are. Rejoice when times are tough. Love those who hate you. Surrender means freedom. When you are the weakest, you are then the strongest. Surrender brings victory.

My family and I have gone through a tremendous number of drastic life changes in the past year. But God has always shown Himself faithful. He has blessed us, over and over again – and He continues to do so. God is also sovereignly at work in brand new ways at Arrowsmith in these days. He is growing the church, changing the hearts and lives of people, and challenging us to look at new ways of doing things. We are truly blessed to be experiencing the truth that God loves us too much to leave us where we are. He desires much more for us and much more from us. And as we move ahead together and face the challenges and blessings of change, we need to remember - if God can raise us from the dead when we die, He can change us while we are still alive!

1 comment:

  1. AMEN!!
    Thank the Lord salvation isn't just for us after we die!!

    ReplyDelete