18 John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they *came and *said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.
21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. 22 No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
I am amused that I got this passage. I think I've had it once before in one of the years where we did the Bible in a year. Verses 18-20 are not so difficult to understand, but 21 & 22 always confuse me and I never remember what I read about them last time, so consequently I have to look everything up all over again.
Anyway, I was reading MacArthur's sermon on this passage, and he talks about how Judaism and Christianity oppose each other. I never really thought of it this way before. Obviously I understood that Judaism wasn't the way to God because only Jesus is the way to God, but it didn't occur to me that what Judaism believes and what Jesus taught are in such direct opposition to each other. Pharisees in particular and the Jewish religion and culture were very legalistic, as we've read before. It was all about the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law. Jesus stood against absolutely every single thing that religious teachers stood for at the time, so no wonder they were so keen on killing him!
From the sermon, The Matchless Distinctiveness of the Gospel:
What do we have here? We have a discussion about the exclusivity of the gospel, about the incompatibility with the gospel, the inability of the message of Jesus Christ to be mixed with apostate Judaism or any other false religion.
The Pharisees are fasting twice a week, and evidently they expect everyone else to be fasting too. The Old Testament only required one fast annually, but the religious leaders had decided in order to advertise their piety to the world, they needed to fast on Mondays and Thursdays, and everybody else better follow suit. And yet, here comes Jesus with his disciples, coming from a banquet, and not only that - eating with tax collectors and sinners! Horrors!
The bridegroom analogy comes from the fact that one of the religious scrolls forbid fasting at happy celebrations, since it was inappropriate to be sorrowful (or at least, manifest the outward appearance of sorrow) at an occasion such as a wedding. So once the bridegroom and his attendants arrived at the celebration, no one was permitted to fast.
So our Lord is simply saying, in effect, the Messiah's here, this is not a time to fast. It is completely inappropriate for Jesus' disciples to fast and moan while He, the long-awaited Messiah is present. He has come. He has arrived this day as He said in the synagogue in Nazareth, the Scripture is fulfilled in your ears, He is present.
Their religious system is totally bankrupt. They're externalists, pursuing a relationship with God through their own works. They can't recognize the Messiah, they think He's from Satan. They think that what He's espousing is a different religion that has to be stopped. They don't get it. He's the truth. He's the life. He's the only way to God. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior and His disciples are celebrating and they should celebrate. And that is not a time to fast.
But, verse 20 says, "The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast in that day. That is really a stunning statement. The days will come. There will be a time in the future when the wedding joy will end. To put it simply, the bridegroom will be taken away.
When that happens, then they will fast...then they will fast. And it won't be a ritual, and it won't be a Monday, Thursday show, it will be heartbreak, it will be grief.
And now we get to the part that I keep forgetting about the patch and the wineskins:
Wineskins: ...they would have a big, big goatskin kind of pouch, fresh leather, and they would fill it with new wine. They would leave it there for a period of time and the bitterness of the dregs would go to the bottom and settle in the bottom and they would pour it out of one skin into another new skin and they would keep pouring it and pouring it and each time they would pour it they would do this time and time again, more of the dregs would be out and remained in the bottom, and from that they would make vinegar and things like that. But eventually they would get a clear wine with no dregs left. That was the process. It was really important that these skins be supple and that they be able to contain the wine.
If you had old skins lying around that had been used and reused and reused and were lying without being used for a period of time, they would crack, they would become brittle and when they were used again they would break open, all the wine would be lost.
Our Lord is saying you can't pour the Christian gospel into the wineskins, the old brittle, cracked, split useless wineskins of Judaism, the new wine of the gospel is incompatible. In Galatians 5:4 He said, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by Law. If you're seeking at all to be justified by what you do, you are severed from Christ. It pulls loose, you can't patch grace into a law system. The Christian gospel stands alone as the only way of salvation, incompatible with all other and every other religious system. It comes by grace through faith.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Mark 2:23-28