Luke has been showing us that Jesus is not just a man, Jesus is not just a prophet, not just a miracle worker or a good teacher. Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah, God the Son, and he has backed up that claim as he has healed, freed and forgiven. One of the other things we have seen is that Jesus is a radical, at least, that is how he is regarded by the religious leaders of his day. Just look back at (21) Jesus claims that he can forgive sin, and the Pharisees are shocked, then you see Jesus reaction to sinners like Levi, not quarantine but welcome and love, in fact he goes so far as to say he has come for these very people. And now here the issue is over religious practice; fasting and then in 6:1-11 Sabbath keeping.
Luke is showing us a contrast between Jesus way and the Pharisees way, between the freedom and favour Jesus brings and the religion of the Jewish leaders. As Luke records this contrast there is a growing sense of conflict and it centres not just on Jesus words but on his person. And it is integral to discipleship.
(33) “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking." What's the question implicit in that statement? It is ‘why?’ What makes your disciples so special?
Fasting was an important expression of grief and penitence, it was the opposite of celebration and feasting, it was often undertaken when someone was seeking God’s guidance and help in relation to tragedy, or were longing for God to act to keep his promises. For example Daniel fasts when he is concerned for Israel and the returned exiles. On the Day of Atonement – the one day in the year when the Priest entered the Holy of Holies to make sacrifice for the people’s sin – there was a national fast to show the peoples mourning and grief over their sin.
After the exile 4 more days of fasting were instituted to remember disasters in Jewish history, and the strict Pharisees of Jesus day, not content with that, would fast every Monday and Thursday. Fasting mattered, it was a sign of spiritual life, and it was connected with prayer – just as it is here in Luke. John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees fasted longing for the coming of the Kingdom, for God’s promises to be fulfilled. So why Jesus, why don’t your disciples fast?
Do you see Jesus answer (34-5), it is quite astonishing really – Jesus doesn’t mount an impassioned logical argument from the Old Testament, he doesn’t argue about a theological point. He simply says
“Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?” The disciples don’t fast because it would not be appropriate because he is with them. Often in the Old Testament that image of the Bridegroom and bride is used of God and his people, as it is in Revelation, or it was used of God’s Messiah coming to bring God’s kingdom. How could they mourn and seek God when I am here, when I have come?
At weddings in those days everyone would wait for the arrival of the Bridegroom. Only when he arrived would the nervous wait be over and the celebrations start. Jesus has arrived and he changes things, he comes to bring favour with God, look at (10) Peter reacts in fear as a sinful man before God’s representative and what is Jesus response “Don’t be afraid…” Jesus has come to bring God’s favour, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, how can they fast while he is with them? He is actually the fulfilment of their fasting.
Do you see the difference Jesus makes? Fasting was a sign of needing to be made right with God, of mourning over sin, of longing for the Messiah, that’s why John’s disciples fast. But with Jesus walking with them, talking to them, guiding them, teaching them, promising forgiveness, bringing salvation to them his disciples need not fast now.
So is fasting right for us? (35) Jesus says that while it isn’t right while he is with them there will be a time when it will be appropriate. When is it? It is when he will be taken away, what changes is that he leaves – it is a reference to his coming death and his ascension. Then they will fast as they long for his coming again, as they mourn with others and as they seek God’s will and guidance, it is what we see with the early church in Acts. So is fasting right today? Fasting is a right response for us as we look at the world, as we share in the sorrows of others, as we long for God to make everything new, for his kingdom to come.
Do you see the difference Jesus brings, he changes everything, the bridegroom is here.
Jesus then tells two parables both of which make the same point, both deal with the old and the new, both show clearly that the old and the new cannot mix. So first of all there is the old cloth, like a pair of jeans with a gaping hole in the knee that is beyond fashionable. What do you do? I guess in the world of George or Tesco Jeans for £6 we buy a new pair, but actually back then you repaired the hole. You took a patch and fixed the clothes. But you wouldn’t cut that patch out of a new pair of jeans to fix the old pair, they wouldn’t match and you would have ruined the new jeans.
The second parable is harder for us to understand because we don’t use wineskins. But you didn’t put new wine in old dried out, brittle wineskins because as the new wine matured it would increase in volume and split the old wine skins. The old wine skins would be ruined and useless and the new wine would be pouring out all over the floor, wasted.
The point is that the old cannot contain the new. Jesus coming, Jesus life, his teaching, his death which he has hinted at create a new way of coming to God. It is the new garment, the new wine. He hasn’t come to patch up the old way, the old covenant, the old way of relating to God by animal sacrifice, and all the laws. Jesus comes to bring something totally new – a new way of relating to God.
That’s why the Pharisees see Jesus as a threat, because they recognise he is bringing a new way. They offered sacrifices for sin day by day, week by week , month by month, year by year. But Jesus, as the bridegroom is taken, he is going to offer a sacrifice that will forever make people right with God, will forever make the offering of animal sacrifices obsolete.
This new way is different from the old, it is radical; my enemy is my neighbour, lustful looking and anger are the problem, I can address God as “Father…” when I speak to him. The law is fulfilled in Jesus not by my efforts. Forgiveness, healing, freedom and favour with God are all possible because Jesus does it on our behalf. Jesus fulfils all the things that pointed to him. But do you see what Jesus is saying about this new way? You cannot squeeze this way into other ways of religion. That is the point of the garment illustration, you can’t patch Jesus onto the religion of the day because he fulfils all the structures of the Old Testament. You can’t try to pour his new way into Judaism because it can’t hold it, they are incompatible, you can add religion to grace because it leaves you with no grace.
But what about for us, we aren’t Jews? We can’t just patch Jesus onto our old way of living. That is why we have seen the fishermen and Levi leave everything, because Jesus new way is not compatible with their old lives, they get new priorities. Following Jesus, going this new way is radically different.
Following Jesus is not like adding a conservatory on to your house – where actually it is just an extra, it may affect one other room as you have a door put in, but the rest of the house is unchanged. Following Jesus is about laying new foundations, it changes everything!
Do you see what Jesus is saying here? Being a disciple isn’t just adding a little bit of his teaching to the way you live, so you get a religious aspect to the way you live, it is about living a whole new way that changes everything.
And that is the choice that he puts before the crowd here, and before us. “And none of you after drinking the old wine, wants the new for you say, “The old is better.” What haven’t they done as they make their choice here? They haven’t tried the new wine. Jesus is saying that they are content with their old ways, they won't listen because they don’t recognise their need. (32)
Can I ask you this morning what have you done with Jesus? Jesus doesn’t come to simply add another facet to our character. We have our job, family, work, and now we add on our religion. Jesus is saying he comes to bring a whole new way of relating to God that involved ripping out the old foundations and putting in his foundations. Because Jesus changes everything, he secures our relationship with God by grace, because he fulfils the law for us, because he dies in our place.