Theme: Spring Cleaning by Jesus
1) Out with the Old: Commandments and Condemnation
2) In with the New: Fulfillment and Forgiveness
We pray: Dear Holy Spirit, enlighten our hearts today through Your Word. Cast out the old and implant the new hope of the Gospel.
Mark 2:18-22 The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" 19 And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. 20 "But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. 21 "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. 22 "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins."
By now you’re surely underway with Spring cleaning plans. It seems like Spring cleaning is an annual rite by which we purge our homes and garages of unnecessary items. Things build up over the winter, projects are put off for nicer days, and when beautiful Spring hits, it’s time to get going. There’s also something about Spring that reminds us of freshness. The warm weather allows us to open our windows and let fresh air in. The blooming flowers and budding trees show new life. Part of the cleaning process is due to trying to keep up. You don’t clean your house or your car for no reason, you do it because it looks better; it keeps up with the beauty you see around you.
Some even believe that our practice of Spring cleaning is based in Biblical history. It was in the Spring that God commanded the Jews to clean their houses in preparation for the Passover. The purpose was to get every bit of leaven out, thereby symbolizing purity in thought and word before God. Perhaps our customs are a carryover, much in the same way as the seven-day week that God gave His people.
Today, we think of another Old Testament concept in connection with our annual cleaning, but not one about leaven. In our text for today, Jesus gives us a lesson on cleansing the heart, or more specifically, a lesson about the old and the new.
The Pharisees, and even some of John the Baptist’s disciples, were puzzled by Jesus’ reluctance to command His followers to fast. Fasting is still a strong tenant of Middle-Eastern culture and there are many examples of its prominence in the Bible. Fasting was most often used as a tool of repentance. It was an outward sign of sorrow and guilt. Think of David, who fasted when Nathan admonished him about Bathsheba, Uriah, and the fate of his unborn child (2 Samuel 12:23). Fasting was also used as an act of worship before the Lord. It was a way for the people to offer something to God in praise and honor to His name. Joshua commanded this type of fast when the people of Israel finally reached the promised Land (Joshua 22:5).
In these ways we see the benefit of fasting but not as a perpetual commandment from God. The Pharisees and disciples of John were upset because they understood fasting as a required act by God. However, in the Old Testament there was only one annual occasion on which fasting was commanded and that was the Day of Atonement. Jesus’ insistence on initiating this discussion was not coincidence. The Day of Atonement pointed to His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Jesus transitioned His disciples away from the command of fasting precisely because He was going to fulfill it. In fact, verse 20 of our text could rightly be called the first time in the Gospels when Jesus foretold His coming death. "But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. Jesus was doing some cleaning here. But, what exactly was He getting rid of?
Well, you need only look at the surrounding passages of the Gospels to see. Jesus was constantly confronted with false notions and teachings. In this immediate context, the Jews had tested both what Jesus taught and who Jesus taught. In verses 6-7 they were upset that Jesus forgave the sins of a paralyzed man. In verses 16-17 they were upset that He associated with sinful people, as if there are any other kind. And here in these verses they confronted Jesus directly about the topic of fasting. Essentially, Jesus was doing away with anything that which was blocking people’s view of salvation.
The verses after our text expand on this even further. Starting at verse 23 the Pharisees get upset at what they perceive to be Jesus’ breaking of the Sabbath restriction on work. But, Jesus used it as an opportunity to remind them that something better, something newer, had come that was greater than the Sabbath. He said, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” By focusing on the Old Testament restriction, the Jews were missing the New Testament fulfillment.
This all would come to a head in Mark 7, when Jesus exposed the underlying problem - He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: `This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 7 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' 8 "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men-- the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do." 9 He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition (Mark 7:6-9).
The Jews who rejected Jesus were too happy with the old way of doing things to even consider the new. They were too busy living in the past, with all the restrictions of the Old Covenant. Therefore, they were offended when Jesus welcomed sinners, because they thought sinners should be kept separate from God’s people. Therefore, they were upset when Jesus shifted away from old customs like fasting, because they thought He was despising the past. You can sense the piety that the Jews had. In a way, one could say that they were trying to follow God’s Word. But, as soon as they lost Jesus, their actions became wicked and frankly, despicable.
So it is whenever the old letter of the law is held over the renewal in the Gospel. The two only make sense in their proper relation to one another. The old covenant condemnations and commandments are only profitable in our lives if they are understood in relation to Christ’s forgiveness and fulfilment.
And so, we see where the picture language that Jesus used come into play. The old covenant restrictions were meant to keep the people of God focused on the coming Messiah. Therefore, they had to be strict and narrow. God couldn’t leave any room for straying away because the people would if He let them. Think of the law as the directions to the wedding feast. If you don’t follow them closely, you’ll miss the event. Even if you follow all of the directions, but ignore the final one, you will not arrive as required. However, once you’re there, and as Jesus said, in the presence of the bridegroom, you leave directions behind. They have served their purpose and now the focus is on the celebration.
The Jews and certain disciples of John wanted to hang on to the Law. Jesus’ message to them – the fulfillment is before you. I, the Messiah, am here! Celebrate and share the forgiveness of sins.
Cleaning something up doesn’t mean you have to despise it. Just because you clean out old clothes, shoes, furniture, and other things doesn’t mean you never use clothes, shoes, and furniture again. It simply means something better is present. The same applies to the old covenant. God’s truth as revealed in the Old Testament is still God’s truth. His warnings against sin are still valid and certain. His advice and wisdom is still as applicable today as it was then. But, we no longer emphasize those things over what Christ did. Christ’s atonement – which included suffering but also keeping the law of God perfectly, was the greatest act in the history of the world. Nothing is of higher precedence or importance in our lives.
And God would have it no other way. Living to His glory through the new covenant in Christ today is exactly what God wants. It’s exactly what He planned when He led the people of Israel for all those years in the Old Testament by the old covenant. Why does all this matter today?
Well, here’s where Jesus’ other illustrations come into play. Improperly using the old or new covenant has disastrous consequences. Christ completes all. 2 Corinthians tells us that believers in His name are made a “new creation.” They are changed. And so, our faith is not like patching a hole with new cloth while keeping an old garment. Our faith is not like pouring fresh wine into an old container. These things describe the Jewish attitude in our text. They wanted to lay claim to the new blessings of God, but not according to how He planned it. And in that system, everything fails. The garment tears. The container bursts.
You see, if both old and new covenant are not used in the Christian’s life in their proper ways, nothing matters. The law won’t make sense, nor will there be any need for the Gospel. Everything in its proper way. And the will of God makes the work of Christ the highest thing in the Christian life. We could indeed accomplish a lot, from human terms, if we held high the commandments of God. We could use guilt as the great motivator for faith. We could threaten people into submission. We could increase our attendance and offerings by bringing God’s hand to bear upon the person’s heart. This happens all too often in the name of Christ, even in the most modern, relevant, and welcoming worship atmospheres. And, from a human perspective, it works.
Likewise, we could also use the Gospel without the law. We could find a way to excuse any sin. We could create an atmosphere where everyone gets to do what they want, and no one is ever admonished. We could preach love and acceptance and never warn of God’s judgment. And, from a human perspective, that works.
But, if those methods were our approach, at the end of everything what would we have gained? When the Pharisees by law-motivated standards Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves (Matthew 23:15).” If, at the end of our labors, a person is not more fully convinced of their free forgiveness in Jesus Christ, and their great need for that as a condemned sinner, what have we accomplished?
Jesus calls us to clean out the old and focus on the new. That’s not a command to do away with the Bible as an ancient and archaic document and to follow whatever we feel is right. That’s not a call to allow the public to dictate what is right and wrong. Quite the contrary, Jesus’ new covenant leads to a greater respect and appreciation for the Scriptures. If you are following Jesus, you will have a desire to follow all of His Word. But, not as a code book for self-achieving salvation. Rather, a message of Good News. A Message that reaches from the very beginning of time and shows how God has preserved the promise of forgiveness throughout the ages and ultimately how His only-begotten Son perfected it in our place.
As you do some Spring cleaning this year, think of the cleansing your Savior offers. Don’t be offended by it when it comes to your heart and becomes real in your life. Don’t resist it because He asks you to change from your old ways. With Him is fresh, new, eternal life. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.