Wineskins and Worship
We come to a gloriously interesting passage this morning. A portion of it is well known to many of us, but I think we rarely see it or think of it in context. The verses you will recognize are when Jesus begins to speak about pouring new wine into new wineskins. What we will see is that Jesus says this directly in response to a question about worship; specifically the practice of fasting. He rejects the Jewish notion of ritualistic fasting, and responds with 3 illustrations to clarify His meaning.
Let’s read the passage, and then we’ll work from the end back to the beginning.
READ Mark 2:18-22
Alright, so as we saw last week, Jesus is feasting with Levi and other tax collectors at Levi’s house. As this is happening, or soon after, the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees get their feelings hurt. Why? Because Jesus is feasting while they’re fasting. So, Jesus responds, in one breath giving 3 mini-parables. The first is the image of the joy that accompanies a wedding ceremony. Then, without pausing or taking a breath Jesus speaks these words about old garments and patches, old wineskins and new wine. This isn’t a new section. Jesus is still responding to the question about fasting. So, in some way, what He says about wineskins and garments relates back to the question about fasting. It’s our task this morning to understand what that is.
Now, in order to show you plainly where I’m going, I’ll tell you what I think Jesus is saying through these verses, and then show you how I arrived there and try to bring you along with me. Here’s what I think Jesus is saying: the gospel of Jesus Christ creates a drastic change in us, so much so that we are not simply refurbished or revitalized or fixed up, we are entirely new creations! This newness about us is shown above all else in this: treasuring Jesus as our greatest reward.
Let me show you where I’m getting this from. Remember the scene: these other men are questioning Jesus about why His disciples aren’t fasting. This fasting was a worship ritual; a set action that you observed in order to be obedient to the law. The way in which Jesus responds is one of the first in which we see Him reveal that the old way of worshipping God is going to be replaced by something far better. So, in these verses where Jesus talks about wineskins, what he’s saying is that the old rituals which are performed out of a sense of duty are not adequate to honor Him. Jesus Christ as a Savior does not fit into the scheme of ritual worship. When He says that you can’t put new wine into an old wineskin, He is saying that He Himself cannot simply be added into the sort of worship they have already been giving. Look at what He says: “…or else the new wine will burst the wineskin, and both the skin and the wine will be ruined…” Ruined! Now, it doesn’t mean that Jesus Christ is ruined. We can do nothing to smudge, damage or destroy the Savior. What it means is that the work of Jesus and all He accomplished would be ruined, useless to them if they simply added Him into the old ways. Jesus is so glorious and so infinitely good that He cannot be contained by mere obedience for the sake of ritual. The only way someone is going to be able to benefit from and enjoy the new wine of Jesus Christ is if the whole wineskin is new as well!
Imagine with me for a moment that you have a task that you need to accomplish: changing a tire, washing clothes, feeding cows, grocery shopping. Think for me the steps you might take to go about accomplishing that goal. Oh wait, one more thing to add to this scenario: there’s something must be done, some chore to do, but here’s the glitch – you’re dead. Ok, now how do you go about getting the task done? Well, the answer is obvious: you can’t! And that’s what the scriptures tell us: “You were dead in your transgressions before Jesus Christ.” Dead people can’t worship. They must be re-made, they must be born again. We see throughout the whole Bible that this is what Jesus has come to do:
- Ezekiel 36:26 – “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
- 2 Cor 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
- Rev 21:5 – “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”
Jesus’ words about the old garment and new cloth convey the very same message. The old, tattered garments of Jewish ritual could not simply be patched with a Messiah. They needed all new clothes. Jesus would not and could not be simply a patch to cover the inadequate ritual system.
There’s a great example in the book of Acts of what happens when Jesus is used like a band-aid. ACTS 19:11-17 tells the story about these 7 brothers who were itinerant Jewish exorcists. First of all, what a job description! “What do you do?” – “Oh, I travel around and perform exorcisms.” That’s not likely to get a lot of conversation at the dinner table. Ok, but these 7 brothers hear about what Jesus is doing through Paul: incredible miracles all over the place. So, they decide to use the name that Paul preaches in order to give strength to their ritual exorcisms. Paul used the name of Jesus, so they figure they’ll use the name of Jesus too. So all 7 brothers go to cast a demon out of this guy, stand in front of him, and they say, “I bind you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” But instead of being bound or cast out, the demon starts to talk back to them, and says “Jesus I know, Paul I recognize…and who are you?” And THEN, this demon possessed man jumps on all SEVEN of the brothers and BEATS THEM NAKED! I’m not making this up! It’s in the Bible! He leaps on them and beats them so badly that they run away naked and wounded.
Jesus is not and will never be a band-aid, or good luck charm, or anything else other than the glorious Savior-King. He is not honored when we try to simply fit Him in to how we have always done things. He will not fit. Unless we are made new, He will burst everything at the seams and pull away from the garment, and we will be worse off than we were before.
—Jesus Christ came to make us new, and until we worship Him out of that newness, we’re not really worshipping Him.
Now, we’ve made it back to the first thing Jesus said. Look with me at the first few sentences of His response.
READ verses 19-20
As soon as John’s disciples and the Pharisees ask their question, Jesus paints a picture of a wedding. I don’t know how many weddings YOU’ve been to, but there’s not a whole lot of people who go around fasting during a wedding. Why? Because a wedding is a time of feasting! It is a time of JOY! You don’t fast when you’re at a wedding ceremony – you celebrate and eat and dance and sing and smile and share in all the goodness of being with the bride and groom.
Turn over with me to the other passage when Jesus talks about fasting – Matthew 6.
READ Matt. 6:16-18
Notice that this whole passage, beginning in chapter 6 verse 1, is about seeking a better reward. Over and over we are encouraged to seek our reward from God, instead of finding our reward in men. So when Jesus in Matthew 6 tells us to fast so that God might rewards us, how does that tie in to our passage in Mark?
Ok, ready? Stay with me. In Matthew, Jesus says that we should fast to seek the reward from God. In Mark, He says His disciples don’t fast because He is with them. The reason Jesus’ presence keeps His disciples from fasting is because HE IS THE REWARD! They don’t need to fast for the reward from God if they already have the reward! This is precisely why Jesus uses the image of marriage. The marriage guests rejoice because the groom is with them. Jesus’ disciples rejoice because the reward is with them! In Matthew, immediately after talking about fasting Jesus says that our treasure is where our heart is. If Jesus has our heart then He will be our treasure! (Gen 15:1 – “Do not be afraid Abram. I am…your very great reward.”)
THAT is why Jesus disciples don’t fast like the Pharisees. Do you see why it is necessary for the whole garment to be new? Do you see the necessity of the entire wineskin being new? Jesus is not served through ritual, like the pharisees. He is not to be worshipped out of duty, like John’s disciples. If we are to actually worship and serve God in a way that truly honors Him, we must first be made new by repenting of our sins before Jesus, asking His forgiveness, and committing our lives to Him. Jesus did not come to fix what is old and tattered. He came to make things completely new!
Oh my friends, there were many years when I thought God was most honored by my ACTIONS. I tried my best to set my mind to be a good Christian, and I failed, often. And when I failed, I thought God would love me less, or that I would have to earn back His favor with extra goodness. When all the while, what God wanted was my HEART! He wanted me to love Him above all else! He wanted my affections. And here’s the glorious part. As Jesus more and more became the central affection of my heart, my actions began to fall more and more in line with God’s word. It is the very same with our worship, whether it be fasting or singing or reading the Bible or whatever else you can think of: none of it will be acceptable until it comes out of a heart-gripping love for Jesus.
The root of our worship MUST be a desire for Christ, and all of life is worship. We live in a constant state of worship. And so the primary thing for us to do in our whole life, no matter what the specific activity, is to treasure Jesus; value Jesus.
In Matthew chapter 13 we see The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl: 44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
—Following Jesus requires radical change, complete newness in our hearts and lives.
—This newness is based on the infinite goodness of Jesus.
—What this newness produces in worship that recognizes the infinite goodness of Jesus and desires Him above all things.
The new garment is a garment of joy in Christ.
The new wineskin is a heart gripped by an abiding love for Jesus.
Fasting is done because we DESIRE to be in the presence of Jesus.
All of life, all of worship, all of our heart/soul/mind and strength is acted out and set upon getting the one great and eternal reward – Jesus Christ!
Now, I realize that this may sound foreign to many of you. “What happens if I don’t feel that way?” you might ask. Well, if you don’t find yourself treasuring Jesus; If you find that He is not your great, burning desire; if He is not the ever-present center of your affections, here’s 2 things to consider:
- Perhaps you have gone far too long without tasting the glorious new wine of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you have truly committed your life to Him, but never focused yourself on pursuing Him and knowing Him and spending time with Him. And so, because it has been long since you tasted the infinite goodness of our Lord’s grace, you no longer remember your first love for Him. (“Those who have tasted the new wine no longer desire the old.” Luke 5:39)
- Or, simply and gently put, perhaps you have not yet been made new. If you find that you value all manner of other things over Jesus, then perhaps you have not yet been born again through Him.
In both of these cases, there is one answer: seek hard after HIM! Remember and strengthen your first love for the Savior. Go to Him in repentance and confess Him as your Lord and master for the first time
My friends, pay attention to me. Do I have your attention? Let me tell you the desperate truth in this passage: God WANTS to reward you. God WAITS to reward you. He desires to heap such an abundant reward on you that you would be overwhelmed with its goodness. God WANTS to reward you…and that treasure of infinite worth, the pearl of great price, the very great reward that He offers is Jesus Christ. Nothing else. We cannot fully enjoy Him when we desire other things as much or more than Him. But oh! If you would only set your affections only and truly on Jesus and value Him above ALL other things, God would open the floodgates upon you! Jesus Christ is the infinite God from eternity past, and so the goodness of the reward in Him is infinite. There is no limit to the joy and satisfaction and strength we have in Jesus. But He must be our one desire. God will suffer no other desire to be set above His son, because that would be idolatry. Set your affections on Jesus.