Jesus constantly refused to fit into the mold the religious leaders wanted him to fit into. He could have avoided many of the trials he went through on earth had he conformed to the image they had for rabbi’s or religious leaders. Even though he believed and fulfilled the Old Testament teachings in every area, he completely refused to follow their man made regulations that went along with the law. In the minds of these leaders to violate their interpretations of the law was tantamount to violating the law itself.
Mark 2 tells the story of Jesus calling Levi (Matthew) the tax collector to become one of his apostles. He left the tax station and followed Jesus leaving behind his old way of making a living. He then threw a party for his fellow tax collectors and invited Jesus and the other apostles to come and meet with them. The religious leaders among the Jews were completely flabbergasted that he would actually go into the home of a tax collector, much less sit down with them and treat them as valuable human beings. They showed up at the party to ask his disciples what their leader was doing eating with such people. “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Verse 17)
It seemed like such good advise from these leaders that one should hang around with people like them who love God and are devoted to him. They feared that “Evil companions would corrupt good morals.” But Jesus knew that if he was to reach the lost he had to build a relationship with them. Those who were deep in sin and knew that they were would much more likely hear the message of salvation and respond to it. So he was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. The church which is the body of Christ should have the attitude of Jesus Christ so that we too might be able to win those who hurt the worst to the saving message of God. In Philippians 2:12-16 Paul told the Christians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and do according to his good pleasure. He told them to do all things without complaining or arguing “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” Instead of Christians rushing out into the desert to live like monks we are challenged to live among the sinfully depraved ones to shine as lights for the world. Christians too often hang around the church building with fellow Christians and keep their lights hidden when they are out with other people who aren’t believers. Instead of Jesus demanding that sinners come to him and somehow work themselves into being a part of the group that is accepted, he went out to the people in their own world and led them to faith from where they were.
After Jesus had made the plea for building relationships with those in sin Mark tells us that John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast regularly. “Some people came and asked Jesus, ‘How is it that the disciples of John fast and the Pharisees fast but you and your disciples don’t fast?” “Jesus answered. ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.” Jesus was making the point that it wasn’t a rejection of the whole idea of fasting that caused him and his disciples to not do it. It wasn’t the right time. There were things that had to supersede the need for fasting. His short mission on earth didn’t leave time for fasting now. It would be done later by the disciples. When he went back to heaven his disciples would fast, but not now.
Then Jesus made his point even stronger. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from he old making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wine skins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins and both the wine and the wine skins will burst. No, he pours new wine into new wine skins.” We don’t do much patching of clothes in our time. But in that day clothes were made big enough to give room for shrinkage. A patch of unsrunk cloth would only make the whole worse. It would begin to tear away when the garment was washed and the tear would be worse than ever. If you wanted to patch an old garment it was necessary to use cloth that was older and already shrunk cloth so that there would be no pulling away from the garment.
The point was that Jesus was giving a new law of the spirit of life and he wanted them to know that they couldn’t patch it with sections of the old Testament or with the interpretations they had of the old. The teachings of Christ were never intended to be a new revised version of the Old Testament. The New Covenant would be very different from the Old. The new was to be a law written in the hearts known are read by all people. It was not a letter of the law kind of book but a law of the Spirit written on our hearts known and read by all people. Far too often we have read the New Testament as just another law book promising heaven for those who obey all its laws. But the New Testament is a book of principles instead of a law book. It is a law of liberty and grace.
On a Sabbath day after this Jesus got into trouble again with these religious leaders with regard to the disciples of Jesus going through the grain field plucking ears of grain and rubbing it between their hands to eat. They were violating the Sabbath rules these leaders had set for them to follow. They said, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” Jesus answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? Abiathar the high priest gave them consecrated bread and they ate it. “Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for he Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
Think of the change that had been made to the law of the Sabbath by the religious leaders of that time. The Sabbath law given by God was rather simple. “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Six days you will work and perform all your labor but the Sabbath Day is holy to the Lord and you are not to work on it.” It was given as a blessing to man for him to have time for rest and recuperation as well as time for worship and devotion to God. It wasn’t long after the Ten Commandments were given that the religious leaders began to interpret this command. The question became how much could you do on the Sabbath without it being work. They came up with over 600 laws around the sabbath trying to clarify what one could and could not do on the Sabbath. They knew exactly how many steps he could take without it being work. They knew how much weight he could lift without it being work
Jesus wiped away their whole set of regulations about the law and went back to the law itself. Sabbath wasn’t intended to be a burden to man but a blessing. Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. Besides Jesus is lord of the Sabbath and he can’t violate the concept of Sabbath when he is in charge of it.
I would suggest to you that it isn’t just the Sabbath Law that has been interpreted to death and regulations upon regulations being added to try to make clear what God has said. Truthfully, every such regulation we come up with dishonors God and discourages people who try to obey the laws on the subject. When our interpretations of God’s word become a burden too heavy to be born by people you can be sure we are using some Pharisee trick to extend the law to include things that we don’t like which have nothing really to do with the law given by God.
For example, God’s marriage laws are made for man not man for the marriage laws. The restrictions should save marriages and keep the fires of love burning hot in the marriage. Too often we’ve turned God’s teachings on the subject into our own private creed to strain the whole world through instead of allowing God to tell us what he means in the given areas.
To take the New Covenant, the law of liberty and turn it into a strict set regulations hard for anyone to carry is to act like a Pharisee instead of a follower of Christ. The old wine skins could refer to the Old Testament law that has been done away with as law in this era (Galatians 3:24; Romans 7:4-7) Hebrews 8 and 9 tell of the new covenant given by the Lord was promised by Jeremiah. In this new covenant everyone will know the Lord from the least to the greatest. God forgives our sins and can’t remember them any longer. Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant that by means of death so our conscience can be cleansed from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the Living God! “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called my receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:15)
When one takes the New Covenant and tries to shove it into the case of the Old Covenant looking at it only as a new set of rules for us to follow it soon destroys the whole purpose of the New and serves to discourage and dishearten the one trying to live by it. When a person takes the old wine of the old covenant and tries to shove it into the new wine skin it is a waste of the new wine skin. You use the new wine skin so that it can stretch with the fermentation of the new wine. if you are pouring in old wine already fermented that won’t stretch any more you didn’t need the new wine skin. An old one works fine with old wine.
Perhaps the best description of the goal of the new covenant is given in 2 Corinthians 3:18. After describing the difference between the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus and the covenant of death written and engraved on stones he noted that those reading the Old Covenant were still reading it with a veil over their eyes thus missing the purpose of the message. “But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of our God.”
Picture this scene of one gazing into the New Covenant and seeing Christ Jesus. The longer they look at that image of him the more they are changed into the image themselves. It is the Spirit of God working in us through the reading of God’s word that makes the transformation. If we only see rules in the book we may work hard to try to follow them, but the changes in us will be superficial instead of heart deep.
“Lord help us to look longingly into your word to see Jesus and become more like him in heart and attitude every day.” Amen!