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Some Things Don’t Mix
Old, external tradition and new, internal transformation don’t mix (Mark 2:18 to 22).
There are other things that just do not mix–oil and gasoline, salt and snails, Ragu sauce on watermelon. They just don’t belong together at all.
Even some dogs should not be bred or mixed with other dogs, because they create bizarre, even comical breeds. Breed a collie and a Lhasa Apso, and you get a “collapse”, a dog that folds up for easy transport. You can breed a pointer and a setter and get a “pointsetter”, a traditional Christmas dog. If you breed a Great Pyrenees and a dachshund, you’ll get a “pyradachs”, a puzzling dog breed. Or you could try breeding a Pekingese with a Lhasa Apso resulting in a “pee-kaso”, a modern but abstract dog. Or a bloodhound and a labrador, giving you a “blabrabor”, a dog that barks incessantly. You might possibly want a collie and a malamute, resulting in a “commute”, a dog that travels well. But my favorite mix is the terrier and bulldog, giving you a “terri-bull”, a dog that makes awful mistakes.
Some breeds don’t mix well, some ingredients should not be blended together, some ideas can’t coincide with other thoughts—and biblical truth cannot co-exist at all with other viewpoints. You will often hear people say there are many roads to God. Many believe a sincere Muslim, a dedicated Catholic and a pious Christian will each arrive in heaven by following their unique faiths. Do you realize just how crazy that is? That’s like saying, “Just dial any seven numbers on your cell, and my phone will ring.”
Friends, just like there is only one exact number you can dial on your phone to get my phone to ring, there is only one exact way in order to be right with God and someday arrive in heaven, not hell. Accept it–Jesus is intolerant, friends. That’s right–loving, gracious, giving, merciful Christ said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” And if you follow Christ, then you too will be lovingly, graciously, and mercifully intolerant. All genuine, born again believers hold to truth that does not mix at all with other ideas.
You can’t mix, “Jesus was just a man” with “Jesus is God, born as a man.” “There are many ways to God” with “Jesus is the only way to heaven.” “All roads lead to heaven” with “There is salvation in no one else but Christ.” “Affirm Jesus in your heart” with “Turn to Christ in repentance and faith.” “The Bible is vague, indistinct, uncertain and ultimately unknowable” with “The Bible is certain, non-negotiable, propositional truth.” These statements don’t mix–they don’t get along, they can’t both be true, and in fact, one is true and the other is a lie.
So it should not surprise us, during the earthly ministry of Christ, that He experienced growing opposition. Christ taught truth, but the religious leaders upheld tradition. Christ taught the Word of God, the Pharisees taught the ideas of men. The Lord proclaimed the Gospel, the good news that God Himself was going to provide a way for His own to be justified as a gift, and transformed internally, giving His children new hearts. The scribes proclaimed a religion of rules to be followed only their way, in order to please God and earn your way to heaven.
All this difference eventually led to the conflict we see in Mark 2. We are going verse by verse through the gospel of Mark. Open your Bibles to Mark 2, and take your outline. The religious elite of Jesus’s day had huge problems with the Lord Jesus Christ. All throughout this chapter we see the Lord clashing with the spiritually powerful of His day. A trifecta of troubles actually shows the breakdown of the relationship between Christ and the Pharisees:
1 Forgiving the sins of the paralytic–verses 1 to 12
2 Feasting with sinners like Levi/Matthew the tax gatherer—verses 13 to 17
3 Not fasting like the religious elite fast—verses 18 to 22
They didn’t like it that Jesus was feasting with sinners, and now they don’t like it that He is not fasting with the so-called saints. Jesus was just “not devout enough” for them. Christ taught a path of relationship, with God given as a gift. The Pharisees taught a path of religion with God, accomplished by work. Christ taught a salvation by grace, which caused internal transformation–the Pharisees taught a salvation by works, which caused external conformity. Christ’s true people still live by dependent grace from a heart of love, and don’t strive by independent works from a heart of law.
And our Lord will make it clear today that the two systems cannot get along–they cannot mix, they can’t blend together. It is either one or the other, but never both. So ask a friend today at lunch,
#1 Is it obvious I’ve been internally transformed, and not merely externally conformed?
#2 Am I focused more on what people see and think of me, or what God sees and thinks of me?
#3 As I deal with people, am I a plush towel or a thorny cactus?
#4 Am I inflexible on truth but flexible in preference, like Christ, or am I flexible on truth but inflexible in preference, like Pharisees?
Today we are going to see the conflict of the two systems, and as we are about to read aloud verses 18 to 22, make certain you observe the following. The word “disciples” is listed four times, showing us the questions came from followers of various Jewish sects–John’s disciples and the Pharisee disciples. The main question is about fasting, which is listed six times. Jesus’s answer mentions bridegroom, new, and wine four times each. Plus the Lord describes old and wineskins three and four times each respectively.
So now read with me verses 18 to 22, “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.’”
Jesus here blows up all the categories people want to put Him in. He cannot be connected to, or contained by, “old” forms. His kingdom brings a new approach, a new internal faith. But in order to see it, you have to get . . .
#1 The Information
Verse 18 sets the stage–John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. On the heels of Jesus and His disciples feasting, there were “other disciples” who were fasting. For the disciples of John, fasting made sense, since at this time John the Baptist is in prison. They are grieving for their leader. And since fasting is typically a sign of mourning and brokenness before God, they would fast while John’s in jail.
But it is unusual for these two groups to be seen together, since John himself called the Pharisees a brood of vipers in Mathew 3. In other words, these groups would not normally be seen together, let alone agreeing on anything. Yet here they are, both the disciples of John and the Pharisees, approaching Christ together. Probably the best explanation as to why these two opposite groups come to Christ together is the evil plans of the Pharisees.
Using Satan’s anti-Christ/anti-church playbook, instead of accusing Jesus like they did in the previous verses, now they use the Lord’s “own friends” against Him. If you want to destroy a leader from the demon playbook, find the friend of a leader and get him to betray the leader. Most likely the Pharisees noticed the disciples of John fasting like they fasted, so they prodded John’s disciples to question the Lord, hoping to expose Christ as superficial, not “serious” like them.
Remember, Jesus and John the Baptist are closely linked–John is the forerunner of Christ. John is the announcer of Christ. Some of Jesus’s disciples were first John’s disciples. Many of John’s disciples are friends of Jesus’s current disciples. I believe the Pharisees are using the friends of Jesus to attack Jesus. They will also use this technique later with Judas.
Now, the reason the disciples of the Pharisees fasted is a totally different reason than the fasting of the disciples of John. The Law only required fasting one day per year, on the Day of Atonement. But over the course of time, the Jews added four other annual fasts. And by the time of the New Testament, the religious were fasting twice a week–every Monday and Thursday. But don’t be fooled–this weekly fasting was not as serious as it sounds, for on those Monday and Thursday fasts, you only could not eat from 6 am to 6 pm. After 6 pm, you could eat a normal meal.
Yet that did not keep the Pharisees and their disciples from putting on an “ostentatious piety show” when they fasted. They’d literally whiten their faces, put ash on their heads, wear disheveled clothes, even use eye make-up on fast days so all would know they were fasting, with the goal of gaining a reputation for being super reverent/devout.
But why fast only on Monday and Thursday? I’m glad you asked. The Jews claimed those were the chosen days, because those two days of the week were the days Moses made two separate trips to receive the tablets of Law from God on Mount Sinai. Yet it just so happens that those two days are also the two major Jewish market days, when the cities were crowded with farmers and shoppers. They were therefore the two days where public fasting would have the largest audiences. It was fasting in order to be seen by men.
But Jesus later taught His followers—never do this. Never put on a show. If you fast, fast before Christ and for Christ, and not for the attention of people. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16 to 18, “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
The Pharisees were religious formalists. They focused on the external show of religion more than the heart of the matter. So Christian, beware of the drift of your heart toward externals. Religious formalism is conducting religious rites that have virtually no connection to the heart. We face this danger. You might have sung today, but your heart was not engaged at all. You might say gracious words to another today, but only because that’s what you always say, not that you mean to love others.
Isaiah describes the danger in Isaiah 29:13, “Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, this is the essence of the conflict.’”
The faith of the Pharisees is external display, and the faith of Christ is internal devotion. Fasting to the Pharisee was an opportunity to earn external favor. Fasting to Christ was a response of an internal heart prodding. John’s disciples are fasting because John is in jail, but the Pharisee disciples are fasting because it’s show time. And since a rabbi was held responsible for the behavior of His disciples, I believe the Pharisees manipulated this confrontation to occur to show a contradiction between the disciples of Christ and the disciples of John, in order to discredit Christ. To the untrained listener, this could be a serious issue. The Greek in verse 18 says they were continually fasting, they had a pattern of fasting, but Christ’s disciples did not.
#2 The Inquisition
Verse 18b says, “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?’” Shortly after the disciples were feasting at Matthew’s house, probably on a Monday or Thursday (a fast day), the Lord is asked, why are your disciples not fasting?
Peter and John are potentially still burping from the great time they had with Matthew and his unsavory friends. While still full, Jesus gets hit with this pointed attack. The unspoken agenda: Why aren’t you devoted, like we are? And how can you not fast, when your most powerful friend, John the Baptist and his disciples, are always fasting?
The gospels make no reference to John teaching about fasting. Either he approved of it as a means of deepening the awareness of sin and need for repentance, or he was not aware of their fasting, being locked away in a deep pit of a jail. But out of genuine concern for John, his own disciples automatically began to fast. Luke tells us they were fasting and offering prayers, which seems to indicate John’s disciples were praying for his release.
It is puzzling why all of John’s followers did not automatically follow Christ when John was jailed. But in the course of John’s vast, Israel-wide preparatory ministry, it is certain that not all of them heard John declare Christ as the Lamb of God. And we know John himself experienced some doubt about Christ while He was in jail. So verse 18 says, “They themselves came,” referring to both groups of disciples together. And though the Pharisees meant to discredit Christ, there is a possibility that John’s disciples, who did most of the talking according to Matthew’s gospel, were genuinely perplexed?
Understand the pressure here–on the Day of Atonement, the Lord commanded the people of Israel to humble themselves or afflict their souls, in Leviticus 16, which is a reference to fasting. Over time, the religious leaders added to the Scripture, forbidding eating (even a single date), or drinking on the Day of Atonement. They felt, on a day set aside for mourning and repenting of sin, eating was inappropriate.
There are many other fasts in the Old Testament, but this was the only commanded one. All the other Old Testament fasts were spontaneous fasts, associated with grief, mourning and humbly seeking God. But over time, as the layers of tradition and application were loaded on to the Jewish people, many fasts were added. And what outraged the scribes and Pharisees, and perplexed the disciples of John was that the disciples of Jesus ignored the traditional fasts, and continued to eat and drink.
So they ask, “Why do your disciples not fast?”, implying “Jesus, if you’re serious about this kingdom stuff, are you not inferior regarding your spiritual disciplines? You’re too slack.” Why do we fast, when you feast? Why’re we mourning and broken, and you are celebrating and joyful? Jesus gives a very clear answer.
#3 The Instruction
Verses 19 to 20, “And Jesus said to them, ‘While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long [time] as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away [might be lifted up] from them, and then they will fast in that day.’”
No one fasts at a wedding. Following Jesus is like being at a wedding–He’s the bridegroom. But following the Pharisees is like being at a funeral. Fasting is a sign of mourning and brokenness, but forgiveness is a sign of joy and celebration. Being given the righteousness of Christ is delightful, but having to work for your own righteousness is damning. These two approaches do not mix. Why don’t my disciples fast? Because they’re with me at my wedding, and no one fasts at a wedding.
New Testament weddings were awesome–they were times of celebration, laughter, and joy–just like they should be today. At a Jewish wedding, the couple would not go away on a honeymoon. They’d stay at home and enjoy a unique kind of open house. With all the guests, especially the wedding party, there’d be non-stop eating, feasting, drinking wine, singing and dancing. And the celebration would last an entire week–seven whole days. The bride and the groom were treated like a king and queen, and their friends were there as guests of the bridegroom.
So Jesus says in verse 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.’” Solomon said there is a time for everything, but fasting during a wedding feast would be most inappropriate. The bridegroom, Christ, has come–it was a time for laughter, not lamentation; a time for feasting not a time for fasting.
A wedding is to be the happiest week in a bridegroom’s life, and here the Lord of Glory has finally come, and the good news of God saving us can now be accomplished. This is a time to be glad, not to be sad. A new age has come. Now holiness no longer goes hand-in-hand with heaviness, but now it goes arm-in-arm with happiness. Once we have Christ, we have everything–not merely love, peace, joy and relationship, we have life now and eternal life.
Verse 19 says as long as the bridegroom is continually with them, and the attendants of the bridegroom continually have the bridegroom, Mark literally says, there is no way they’ll ever be forced to fast. Jesus calls His disciples the attendants of the bridegroom–those are His closest friends, those are His chosen guests. They are literally called the children of the bride-chamber.
There was even a rabbinic tradition that said, “All the attendants of the bridegroom are relieved of all religious observances which would lessen their joy.” The wedding guests were not only exempt from fasting, but everyone would consider fasting an insult to the bridegroom, because fasting is an act of mourning and quiet reflection, but weddings are times for celebrating, joy and laughter.
And if every genuine Christian is in Christ, and Christ is in them, that means each believer should be characterized by joy. If you have been forgiven, cleansed, washed, made new, made whole, justified, regenerated, empowered, indwelt, rescued from wrath, ready for heaven–how can you not be characterized by joy? Today, if you are a dill pickle believer, repent, because following Christ is like the celebration of a wedding feast. Walking with Christ elicits joy–it is joy, it demands joy.
Do you hope to influence your children to want to follow Christ? Then be parents who manifest joy. Do you desire to impact lost friends for the Gospel? Then keep your heart hot with joy. Do you want to impact brothers and sisters around you for His glory? Then be a believer known for joy. You’re not to be known as a people of sadness, but a people of gladness. God with us brings us joy, but God within us, should awaken joy unspeakable and full of glory.
As Jesus was born on earth as a baby, the angel announced good tidings of great joy. After Christ ascended, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Jesus prayed that our joy may be made full. And if you are filled with His Spirit, you will always enjoy and display joy. There are lots of things to be sad about on this fallen earth. There are lots of things to be sad about with sinful people. But we have been saved and this is not our home. We now belong to Christ, and heaven is our forever home.
Are you going to repent of your lack of joy? Then show it in your singing, display it in your relationships, demo it with your trials (“consider it all joy when you encounter various trials”). Show it in your ministry, in your home, at your school, with your coworkers, surprise your customers–keep your heart centered in joy. Jesus is a wedding, and the Pharisees are a funeral. The Lord is forgiveness, and the Pharisees are guilt. Christ is salvation accomplished for you as a gift, and the Pharisees are you accomplishing salvation as a work.
A perfect God accepts you by declaring you perfect, or you fail to be perfect, so a perfect God has to reject you. One route is delightful, the other is disheartening. No one fasts at a wedding, as we are with Christ, we celebrate. We are enthusiastic, which is from two Greek words–en plus theos, “in God’. When you’re in God, you’re enthusiastic.
But as Jesus continues his answer with verse 20, he warns, “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away [might be lifted up] from them, and then they will fast in that day.” Literally, in the future, a day, that day will come on its own–and the bridegroom will be taken away, meaning a violent removal. This is strange, because what groom is going to be removed by force from his own wedding? Literally, it is snatched away violently. The term “will be taken away” is translated lifted up, lifted off and taken away from someone–this is the cross.
This is the first intimation of the cross in Mark’s gospel. Jesus is referring to His crucifixion, which would abruptly and violently take him away from his followers, his faithful attendants. That will be the time for mourning, when they will fast. Christ will be taken away from His disciples by a violent death. Even though His death would be followed by resurrection and ascension, the coming separation would bring great hardship to his followers. There will be trial, persecution and death. So Jesus says they will fast in that day. By saying this, the Lord is not legislating formal fasts. The voice of the verb “fast” says they’ll act upon themselves in the future, and fast on that day.
When Christ is crucified, Jesus says His disciples will fast, and in the future, the Church will fast, like they did before they sent out Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:2, “While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” In times of stress or grief, or in devoting oneself without interruption to prayer or Bible study, when seeking the will of God, fasting can be an aid. But it must never be legislated or engaged in merely to display one’s piety.
Now an even more important issue was behind this question of fasting from John’s disciples. Sadly these disciples had not become disciples of Jesus like John had instructed them to do back in John 3:28 to 30, “You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him. 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.’” These disciples of John didn’t make the transition to become disciples of Christ. They had no basis for faith. But they did see that Jesus’s teaching was radically different than traditional Judaism.
Behind the question of fasting was most likely a deeper question. “Why,” they may have wondered, “do you, Jesus, emphasize internal transformation and forgiveness, while our leaders only emphasize external conformity and fasting?” So Jesus answers this question
#4 The Illustrations
Jesus is the master teacher, and knows that a parable, story or illustration is a powerful tool to make a memorable point. So the Lord uses two word pictures to say that ritualistic, legalistic, external religion based on rabbinic tradition will not mix with the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. How does Jesus illustrate this?
First Sewing a new patch on an old garment
Verse 21, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away [lifts up from it], the new from the old, and a worse tear results [becomes].” There were many attempts over the years to revitalize Judaism. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, even the Zealots were each a unique attempt at renewing Judaism in Jesus day. But Jesus says to His listeners that, in its current form, Judaism can’t be fixed, doctored up, or mixed with the Lord’s blend of teaching. Something brand new must occur.
The old garment is the robe of Judaism of that period, with their formalism, outward observances and false righteousness. Jesus says it is useless to try to patch this up with a bit of new teaching or some new practices like no fasting or forgiveness–the new would only tear the old worse than ever. It ruins both.
The new piece of cloth was what we now call Christianity. The old, worn out garment was Judaism, with its feasts, fasts, rules, regulations, sacrifices, ceremonies and traditions. What the disciples of John and the Pharisees themselves had to realize was, the coming of Christ had changed everything. He had come to bring something new and different. He had not come to patch up Judaism.
The teaching that salvation is a gift from God, by God and for God; that God Himself accomplishes our salvation; that you don’t become good to get to God, but once you’ve been born again internally, you’ll have a new heart that desires to live good–all this can’t mix with old beliefs. Discard the old robe of human works, and take in its place the new robe of Christ’s righteousness.
In the time of Luther, it was not possible to patch up the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church–the time of reformation had come. It is not possible to mix humanist psychology with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, without destroying the authority of the Word of God. You cannot blend humanistic evolution into Genesis 1, without tearing the text of Scripture to shreds. And you cannot patch the belief that God alone can save you and sew it onto the belief that you can save yourself–it won’t work. Jesus also illustrates the impossibility of mixing grace and works
Second Filling new wine into old wineskins
Verse 22, “No one puts [throws] 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.” This second illustration pictures the same principle. In Jesus’s day, liquids were frequently stored or carried in containers made of goatskins. The hide was removed from the animal in one piece, and the neck and leg holes were sewn shut.
As new wine was stored in a wineskin, the bottle would stretch as the wine fermented. No one, however, would put new wine into an old wineskin, for as it fermented, it would put pressure on the wineskin. And an old wineskin would not stretch, because it has no more elasticity. As a result, the wineskin would almost certainly split, therefore losing both the wine and wrecking the wineskin.
Jesus is not talking about the Old Testament, which is God’s living and active Word. The Lord isn’t describing the Law, which He designed to show us our need of salvation in Christ. Jesus is talking about Judaism, as it was currently being taught and lived out by the Pharisees. The Lord is saying He cannot put new wine (the liberating Gospel of grace) into an old wineskin (the legalistic religion of works/Rabbinic tradition). It’ll destroy both.
New wine must go into fresh wineskins. The truths Jesus teaches must also fit in new forms, which He will institute. As the Lord corrects rabbinic traditions, which were often distortions of the Old Testament, He’ll show how genuine salvation, with the regeneration of the heart, creates a whole new way of living. Are you ready? The Lord of Lord’s is telling you . . .
1 Salvation is of God, not you. You cannot live good enough for God to accept you. There is no salvation of human achievement. You must come to God on His terms, which is total surrender. You must cry out for Him to open your heart, give you faith to depend on Him, and repentance to turn from sin and follow Him the rest of your life, from a heart that wants to obey His Word. Turn to Christ today.
2 Stay away from both legalism and license. Legalism is living by rules not commanded in Scripture, like godly women don’t wear make-up. “I don’t wear make-up, therefore I’m godly.” That form of legalism makes you ugly. There’s nothing wrong with a little paint on the barn. License is living by no rules–even neglecting the commands of Scripture. “Hey, I am under grace, so it’s no big deal to slander.” License says, “It’s not a problem that I rarely attend worship, or I lie or don’t forgive.” Genuine Christians have a heart that wants to obey, so they continue to turn from sin, as they dependently obey the Scripture.
3 Beware of heartless formalism in your life. In your walk with Christ, is it possible that He could say to you, Matthew 15:8, “This people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.” (Put your name in this verse). When you sing, as you serve, when you’re at school, or at work, at home in your routine, with all your relationships, right now—is your heart engaged, or have you drifted to formalism?
4 Re-engage your heart, to be driven by joy. The joy of the Lord is your strength–don’t leave prayer this week until joy is a reality in your life.