Summary: Jesus shares three mini-parables that all have the same theme: He came to bring truth about God that is new and improved.
“New and Improved!”
Advertisers have long known the two most magic words for marketing are “new and improved.” They may only change the packaging or make a minor modification, but studies have shown that consumers are more likely to buy products that say, “New and Improved.” In our passage today, Jesus shares three mini-parables that all have the same theme: He came to bring truth about God that is new and improved.
The context of this set of three parables is important. Push the rewind button for Matthew 9 and you see Jesus telling a paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.” That made the religious snobs angry. Then we see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners at Matthew’s house—that made the religious snobs even angrier. This passage reveals their third point of criticism of Jesus and His disciples. Read Matthew 9:14-17.
Whenever you study a parable of Jesus, it’s much like peeling an onion, which has several layers. As we study these three short parables, I want us to peel the onion. First we will peel away the surface truth—which is the natural story of the parable. After we remove that layer, we’ll examine the spiritual truth that lies just below the surface. This is the timeless spiritual meaning that applies to all Christians throughout history. The third layer is the personal truth— and it’s the core of truth. It examines what God is saying to ME and YOU. It’s the most uncomfortable level—that’s why many teachers never venture into that level. It’s dangerous preaching, because personal truth often offends people.
Have you ever peeled an onion? The surface layers don’t necessarily make you cry, but when you get to core, it’s hard to peel it without shedding tears. The same is true with God’s Word. It doesn’t really affect us until we dig down to the core that applies to us. So let’s peel the onion for these three parables.
I. A WEDDING CELEBRATION.
John the Baptist’s disciples fasted regularly and so did the Pharisees. They were upset that Jesus’ disciples were partying while they were suffering. The Pharisees fasted two days a week, but they fasted simply as an outward display of their goodness. They weren’t fasting for God’s sake; they were fasting to be seen by others. Fasting itself is a wonderful spiritual discipline. Jesus fasted and prayed often—but it wasn’t a ritual designed for others to see. The Old Testament commanded Jews to fast only one day a year—Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement. But the Pharisees had taken a wonderful act of spiritual discipline and had changed it into a badge of super-self-righteousness. In answering their criticism, Jesus compared Himself to a bridegroom. Let’s “peel the onion.”
Surface Truth: People feast at a wedding party, they don’t fast. I’ve been to some great weddings and wedding receptions in my 15 years of ministry. But from my study of Jewish weddings, the most elaborate American weddings seem dull compared to a Jewish wedding. The wedding feast is the climax of a year of betrothal or engagement. That time of expectation and planning was much more involved than our engagement period. Following the actual ceremony, there was a full week of eating, dancing, singing and celebrating that took place.
In America, after the wedding, couples leave immediately for their honeymoon. But in Jewish weddings, the couple stayed and was treated like a king and queen—they were even given garland crowns to wear during the week-long celebration. There was food, drink, dancing, music, and plenty of fun. It was the best week of their lives and the friends of the bridegroom did some serious partying—it wasn’t a time for fasting! It was time to feast! That’s the surface truth, so let’s peel off a layer and go deeper to the:
Spiritual Truth: You can’t live under the law and the grace of God at the same time. The Bible says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1: 17) Living under the law is a burden, living under grace liberates you. Jesus identified Himself as a bridegroom and His disciples are like the guests at a wedding celebration.
That’s why they acted happy instead of somber. It was time to celebrate!
There is an important truth: The Christian life is more like a wedding celebration than a funeral procession. The real reason the Pharisees were upset was they thought, “It’s not fair for you guys to enjoy life when we have to endure religion! If you were really holy you’d be miserable like us!”
The Pharisees were griping while Jesus’ disciples were grinning. The Pharisees were somber, while Jesus’ disciples were singing. The Pharisees were languishing while Jesus’ disciples were laughing. The Pharisees were criticizing while Jesus’ boys were celebrating. The Pharisees were jealous—Jesus’ group was jubilant. Which group are you in? That leads us a level deeper into this metaphor. Notice: