Summary: New birth, not new resolve; new covenant, not old traditions
Mark 2:18-22 Cornhill gobbet, 27/04/04
Broader context- Jesus’ titles and roles
1. The Son of God who comes to baptise with the Holy Spirit (1:1-11)
2. The Preacher of the kingdom of God (1:14,15)
3. The Teacher with authority (1:21-28)
4. The Healer of bodies (1:40-45)
5. The Son of Man who has power to forgive sins (2:1-12)
6. The Physician of souls and Friend of Sinners (2:13-17)
7. The Bridegroom (2:18-22)
8. Lord of the Sabbath (2:23-28).
Immediate context- responding to two criticisms
• People brilliant at making excuses for their bad behaviour
• Best way to excuse oneself is to accuse another
• 1st accusation- Only God can forgive sins, v7. Jesus argues that his power over the paralysed body indicates his authority in dispensing with the sins of the soul
• 2nd accusation- A man of God would not eat with sinners, v16. Jesus corrects their view of the Messiah- He has not come for the so-called righteous winners, but rather for those who know they are sinful losers, that they may repent. This is why John, with his wild locusts, honey and camel coat, was such a suitable forerunner for Jesus
Content- a third criticism addressed
• 3rd accusation- A man of God would not eat so much, v18. Notwithstanding the comparison with John, Jesus was different in that He and His disciples did not fast. If the Pharisees could divide and conquer, driving a wedge between John and Jesus, that would be a major coup for them. Jesus deals with the question by using three powerful images:
1. Bridegroom and friends (19,20)- John was not the bridegroom, he was more like the chauffeur or the postman with the invitations. Jesus is the Bridegroom for His Church, the Bride. John’s fasting made as much sense as Jesus’ disciples not fasting. CFD Moule says, “Fasting was regarded as good preparation for receiving divine revelations.” John was fasting in anticipation of the Bridegroom; the disciples were feasting at the arrival of the bridegroom- “as long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.” But one day the Bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast, because in a sense they will be returned to a similar state of anticipation that John was in, the difference being between awaiting the first and second Advents of Christ
2. Garment and patches (21) and
3. Wine and wineskins (22)- similar point made by both images; that is, “In religion it is worse than useless to attempt to mix things which essentially differ” (JC Ryle). Note the uses of the words, “tear…worse…bursts…spilled…ruined.” There is no benefit in intermingling the old with the new.
Teaching structure & applications
1. Fast till the Bridegroom comes, then feast with Him (19,20). Jesus says at the end of Matthew, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” so there is a sense in which the Bridegroom is always with us, and therefore we should be feasting with Him already. As He says in John 6:54, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day,” and we remember His sacrifice and look forward to His return constantly at the Lord’s supper. But our feasting at present is nothing compared to the fullness of feasting with Him when He comes again, and in that sense it can seem like fasting now. The fourth Beatitude says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Jesus goes on to say in the Sermon on the Mount, “When you fast…” (Matt.6:16) and here in our passage He makes it clear that His disciples will fast, because in a sense He is taken away from us and hidden by the cloud, even though He is also with us by His Spirit.
2. New birth, not new resolve. (21,22). Don’t even try to bolt on a new life in Christ to your existing old life in the world. It’s one or the other. As Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 5:24), and by mammon He means money and more broadly all the desires that govern and drive those in this world. You must be born again. The life of the disciple of Christ is a new and single-hearted life. If I can say it reverently, Jesus is not a patch or go-faster stripe to sew onto our existing life. He’s not a lifestyle option- He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. When we come to Christ, we must bring ourselves entirely under new management, and die to the old way of doing things altogether, which is to say, no more ‘me’ as boss of my life, or master of my decisions. An unconverted person is a like an old wineskin, and as 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” In order for us to receive the new wine of Christ’s word and His Spirit, we need to be regenerated and made into new wineskins. Try keeping any of the teachings of Jesus and see how you fare without being a new creation in Christ. Martyn Lloyd Jones says that the Sermon on the Mount, for example, “shows us the absolute need of the new birth, and of the Holy Spirit, and His work within…These Beatitudes crush me to the ground. They show me my utter helplessness. Were it not for the new birth, I am undone.” Or, to put it another way, without being new wineskins, we shall utterly burst when seeking to fulfil the law of Christ; that is, to love one another as He has loved us.