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THE SCANDAL OVER SACRAMENTS
Intro: Jesus is in the business of stirring up trouble! From the time He appeared and began His earthly ministry, to the moment He ascended back into Heaven, Jesus was busy upsetting tradition and tipping sacred cows. Where the Jews were concerned, Jesus was involved in one religious scandal after another.
Jesus had already offended the religious Jews when He publically forgave a man’s sins, 2:5. Then they got upset because He is attending a feast at Matthew’s house, 2:16. Matthew was a tax collector and they could not understand why this apparently religious Jew was spending time with sinners. Thus, there was a scandal over sinners.
The verses we have read today open up another scandal between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. This time it involves their traditions. Jesus dared to ignore their rituals and they are offended once again!
It seems to me that no type of person is as hard to deal with as a religious person. You take a person who is held in the grip of tradition, ritual, and legalism; if you step on their little belief system, you will soon discover that most of them are as mean as the devil. It won’t take but a second to see that their religion has never penetrated their heart and brought about true salvation and godliness.
That is the kind of people Jesus is facing in these verses. He is facing criticism from a group of people who do not know God. They know the rules, the rituals and the things they have been taught by others, but they do not know the life changing power of a personal relationship with God, 2 Tim. 3:5.
We have already seen The Scandalous Savior as He handled The Scandal Over Sinners. In these verses, we will watch the Lord face The Scandal Over Sacraments.
A “sacrament is a religious ceremony or ritual. Usually, people who observe sacraments believe that the ritual brings Gods favor upon those who observe the ritual. For instance, some people believe that baptism can save the soul. Our Roman Catholic friends observe seven different sacraments that they believe can produce salvation. In reality, Gods salvation and blessing comes only through grace!
Let’s notice the truths that present themselves in this text as we observe the Savior handle The Scandal Over Sacraments.
I. v. 18 JESUS AND THE REBUKE
A. The Ritual We are told in this verse that the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist were known to observe fasting as part of their lifestyles. Fasting is a time of self-denial. It serves to focus the mind and the heart in an effort to grow spiritually. During a period of fasting, the flesh is denied and attention is given to seeking the face of the God. The one who is fasting might refrain from eating or from other kinds of physical fulfillment for a period of time.
Fasting was never commanded in the Law. In fact, there is only one place where it is even inferred. In the regulations concerning the Day of Atonement, God told the people to “afflict your souls, Lev. 16:29. But, by the time of Jesus, fasting had become a big part of Jewish life.
The Pharisees, for instance, fasted two days per week. (cf. Luke 18:12) They fasted every Monday and Thursday from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Yet, their fasting was not done in a sincere effort to seek the Lord. They fasted in an attempt to impress God and men. They would fast for a twelve hour period and then become gluttons as soon as the fast was over.
The Pharisees believed that God would see their self-denial and bless them for their sacrifice. They also did everything they could to make sure that others knew that they were fasting, Matt. 6:16-18. They would whiten their faces; put ashes on their heads; wear their clothes in obvious disarray; refrain from bathing; and they tried to look as sad and as mournful as possible. They wanted everyone to know what they were doing! Not only did the religious Jews practice and regulate fasting, they commanded others to do it too. They expected the common man to follow their lead and fast like they did. These men had elevated a tradition of man until it had the same authority as the Law.
While we are on the subject, let me give you a few thoughts concerning this matter of fasting.
1. Fasting is nowhere commanded in the Bible. But, it is not forbidden either.
2. Fasting is taking time that would normally be spent eating, sleeping, or enjoying some other physical pleasure, and using that time for prayer, Bible study and meditation.
3. Fasting is the result of proper spiritual priorities. The meat of the word and pure moments of fellowship with God are far more important than our physical needs. Fasting acknowledges this priority.
4. Fasting does not impress God and it does not persuade God.
5. Fasting only has merit if it is being used to seek God’s face for a time of personal spiritual growth.
B. The Rebuke Getting back to verse 18, Jesus and His disciples are enjoying a feast at the house of Matthew. It is possible that this feast was being held on a Monday or a Thursday, one of the Jewish fasting days. This upset the Pharisees.
The disciples of John are upset too. Remember, their leader has been arrested and is possibly dead at this time. They are mourning the absence of John and they are upset that Jesus isn’t upset too!
Here is their problem: Jesus didn’t keep their rules! He didn’t walk to the beat of their drum. These men had already decided how good people were supposed to live. Jesus refused to allow Himself to be pressed into their religious mold. He refused to allow dead rituals to become the focus of His life and ministry.
(Ill. There is nothing wrong with fasting or with some of the other little religious things people do. It is when the rituals become mere lifeless routines that trouble arises. The ritual often comes to take the place of God as the focus of worship. Thus, the ritual can keep a lost person from trusting in God because the ritual is enough for the one who observes it. It can also keep the believer from experiencing genuine communion with God.
Some rituals are evil at their core. Things like lighting candles for the dead and praying to saints and statues is heresy! But, even things like praying, singing, going to church, and reading the Bible can become nothing more than lifeless routines, if the focus is on the ritual and not on the Lord.)
II. v. 19-20 JESUS AND HIS RESPONSE
A. v. 19 An Explanation Jesus responds to their criticism by talking about a wedding. Weddings in those days were nothing like they are today. Now, as soon as the wedding wraps up, the newlyweds leave on their honeymoon. In Jesus day, things were different. As soon as the wedding was over in those days, the newlyweds hosted their families and friends in a week of celebration. They would spend seven days feasting and being treated like a king and queen.
Life in those desert lands was difficult at best. People worked from sunup to sundown just to survive day to day. When that wedding came, the married couple was treated like royalty for a week. It was the best week of their lives and they enjoyed it to the full.
Jesus tells His critics that His presence among His people is like that of a bridegroom among his friends. It is not a time for mourning, self-denial and sadness. It is a time for celebration and gladness. To be sad, to mourn, to fast while the Lord was present would be out of character with what the Lord was doing in those days.
There are a couple of lessons that we can glean from this verse.
· The Jews were so caught up in their rituals and their traditions that they missed the blessed reality right before them. Had they known Who Jesus was, they would have ceased their fasting and joined in on the feasting!
Sometimes we are guilty of the same thing! We do the church thing out of habit and fail to recognize the presence of God that is with us all the time, Heb. 13:5; Matt. 28:20; 18:20. If we could ever learn to recognize His constant presence with us, it would transform every moment of our lives. We would cease our growling and complaining and we would walk in joy. We would see a change in the way we came to church. We would come looking for Jesus. We would come to worship!
· The fasting of the Jews may have impressed those who saw them, but it did not impress the Lord! He knew that their hearts. He knew they were not seeking Him and He knew that they were still trapped in their sins.
The good things we do in the name of religion and worship are nothing but hypocrisy if they are not done out a heart that is sincerely seeking the Lord. Singing hymns, going to church, preaching, teaching, etc, all become hypocritical if they do not arise out of a genuine desire to worship and glorify the Lord!
B. v. 20 An Expectation Having set the record straight, Jesus tells all who are listening that there will come a day when the Bridegroom will be taken away. His disciples will fast and be sorrowful in that day.
The phrase “shall be taken away speaks of a sudden removal. Jesus is referring to the day when He will be taken away and crucified. In that dark and dreadful day His followers will mourn and fast. That will be a day of sadness for His people.
That day will come, but for now, the disciples of the Lord were right to be excited and joyful in His presence. Fasting arises from a heart that is sorrowful and broken. But, when the presence of the Lord is among His people, there is no place for sadness, grief or sorrow. When the Lord is present, His people are to acknowledge Him with singing, shouting, and feasting!
If we ever got hold of that truth it would revolutionize our worship services. We would abandon the dead, dusty traditions that do not honor the Lord and we would look for ways to express our excitement and joy over Who He is and what He has done for us!
III. v. 21-22 JESUS AND HIS
(Ill. To make His point crystal clear, Jesus uses two vivid illustrations from everyday life. He wants the Jews to understand that He did not come to preach a new and improved Judaism. He wants them to know that He did not come to reupholster their worn out religion. He wants them to know that He has come to do away with the old and bring about something entirely new. He wants them to know that their religion, their rituals, and their rules have absolutely no place in what He was accomplishing.
Jesus wants these people to know that what He is doing and what they are doing is so different that they can never be connected. He wants them to get the message that His Gospel cannot be contained within the confines of their religion. Jesus did not come to refurbish Judaism, He came to establish Christianity.)
A. v. 21 The Illustration Of The Clothes The first illustration Jesus uses is one they would have all been familiar with. In that day, clothes were not thrown out when they became warn or torn. Every mother was a seamstress and she would patch those clothes so that their lifespan would be extended.
Most of us think nothing about throwing out old clothes when they have become worn or torn. But, I am sure there are some here who can remember having to wear clothes with patches on them because your family couldn’t afford to buy new clothes. That was the situation in nearly every home in Jesus’ time.
If a person took a torn and worn garment and sewed in a new piece of cloth as a patch, the first time it got wet and dried, the new piece of cloth would shrink. When it did, it would pull apart the older, weaker garment and the hole would be worse than before. Both the new patch and the old garment would be lost.
The spiritual principle here is very clear. The old cannot be blended with the new! Judaism, with its external rituals and rules could not contain Christianity with its emphasis on an internal relationship with God. Jesus did not come to blend His teaching with the teachings of the Law. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and deliver His people from the bondage of manmade rules and rituals.
(Note: There were some in the early church who tried to sew Christianity into the cloth of Judaism. These men were called the “Judaizers. They taught that salvation was possible only when a person believed on Jesus and kept the Law too. They taught that you had to believe the Gospel, but you also had to be circumcised; obey the dietary laws; observe the Sabbath; and live like a Jew. They taught that Christianity was an extension of Judaism, Acts 15:1.
The leaders in the early church hit this problem head on and gave us clear cut instructions about this matter, Acts 15:19-21. The new believers were forbidden from doing things that would offend the redeemed Jews among them, but they were not required to keep the Law. Paul also dealt with these people and addressed the situation clearly and completely, Gal. 5:1-12.
Here is the lesson we need to learn today: The rules and rituals of the ancient Jews are no longer in force! We are not obliged to keep the Law to please the Lord or to be saved. Jesus has fulfilled every demand of the Law and we must never try to blend old Law with new grace. In Jesus, we are free from the demands of the Law! Ill. Col. 2:13-17.
Even the best religious works of the best Jew were nothing more than moth eaten garments, rotten in the sight of God, Isa. 64:6. Jesus came to give lost men a robe of righteousness that will allow them to stand complete and whole in the sight of God!)
B. v. 22 The Illustration Of The Containers The next illustration Jesus uses would also have been understood by all who heard Him speak that day. Jesus uses an image of wine bottles. Glass and plastic bottles did not exist in those days. Ancient people often used the skin of a goat as a container for their wine.
When a goat was killed, the skin was cut around the neck and the legs and pulled off the body in one piece. The leg openings would be sewed shut and sealed. And what had been the goat’s neck would be used as a spout. The hide would be partially tanned. Then, this hide could be used as a wine bottle, or a wineskin. The hide was very elastic and would expand as the wine fermented inside.
These wineskins dried out over time and became brittle. If new wine was poured into an old wineskin and began to ferment, the old wineskin couldn’t stretch to accommodate the gases put off by the fermenting wine and would burst. The wine and the wineskin would both be lost. Thus, the tragedy would be twice as great. The only fit container for new wine was a new wineskin.
Again, the spiritual principle is clear. Judaism, with its rituals and rules, could not contain the ministry and message of the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not come to pour the new wine of His Spirit into hearts that were trying to please God by keeping the rules and traditions of men. Jesus came to give new life to lost sinners. He came to take the old wineskins of our flesh and make us new by His power. When He has transformed us through the new birth, we are ready to receive the new wine of His Spirit. Only one who has been saved by grace and is born again is a fit container for the Spirit of God!
(Ill. We have a couple of old oaks in the front yard at home. They provide great shade in the summer months, but they are aggravating. Those trees do not lose their leaves in the fall. The dead, brown leaves hang on those limbs until spring time comes.
When spring comes, the sap rises in the tree. The new buds being to push out from the end of the branches, and the old leaves are forced to fall away. The new life in the tree expands and causes that which is dead to fall away!
That is exactly what Jesus wants to do in our lives! The old ways of sin and self will hang on for as long as they can. Religion, religious rituals and the traditions of men will not repair your old man; those things merely hold him down for a little while.
When Jesus moves in, He creates a new life within you. The new life He places in you begins to work its way out of you. Before long, what the Lord has done on the inside becomes clear on the outside as He changes the old man into a new creature for the glory of the Lord. The new wine of Jesus on the inside will burst the wineskin of the old man on the outside. This old flesh cannot contain the work of God in the heart!
As Jesus fills the wineskin of our lives, He stretches us to new limits. The inner pressure of His presence displaces unneeded things and fills every area of our lives. This new life is so powerful, so dynamic and so different that the old wineskins of religion and old ways of living must give way to the new life He places within us.
Let me make it clear that Jesus did not come to destroy the Law, He came to fulfill it, Matt. 5:17. Jesus filled full the moral law in that He kept it to the letter. Jesus filled full the ceremonial law in that He was the absolute perfect fulfillment of every type, symbol and sacrifice. Jesus filled full the judicial law in that He was the perfect embodiment of justice. When He comes in, He comes with such fullness that there is no desire for the old garment or the old wineskin.
It’s like an acorn. You can take a rock or a hammer and smash an acorn, or you can plant that same acorn and let it germinate into an oak. Either way, the acorn is destroyed. If you smash it, it is gone forever. If it grows into an oak, it has achieved its fullest potential.
Jesus comes into our hearts not to place us under the yoke of the Law, but to enable us to live out God’s perfect will through the power of the Holy Ghost. Jesus doesn’t smash us under the Law; He places His Law within our hearts and helps us achieve God’s best in our lives. He comes in to enable us to live our lives to the glory of God. The Law could never do that!)
Conc: Jesus did not come to blend His new way with old ways of living and believing. Jesus came to redeem sinners and give them new life in Him. That is why salvation is referred to as a “new birth, John 3:3, 7.
Far too many are trying to sew the patch of Christianity into the old garment of their lives. It will not work! Jesus does not want to remodel your old life; He wants to make you into a new creature! Too many want Jesus to fill the wineskin of their old belief system. They want Jesus, but they do not want all the changes He brings. That will not work either! When Jesus comes in, the changes He makes are so expansive, so powerful and so explosive, that they totally destroy the old and leave only the new.
You cannot mix Jesus and your religion. You cannot mix Jesus and your old way of living. To be saved, you have to come to Jesus and completely forsake the rest. When you do, you will discover that He has the power to transform you from what you are into what you could never have imagined.
Have you experienced the power of the new birth? Are you saved?
Have you been guilty of trying to mix the old with the new? Have you been trying to apply the patch of Christianity to the garment of your life? It will never work! You need to come to Jesus and you need to be saved.
Maybe you have done all the rituals. You have been baptized. You have taken the Lord’s Supper. You have joined the church. You’ve done it all, but you have never bowed as a lost sinner, repented of your sins and asked Jesus to come into your heart. You have religion, but you don’t have Jesus. You are a Baptist, but you are not a Christian. Change that today! Come to Jesus right now.