“One puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:22c [NASB])
In Mark 1-2, Mark pointedly recalled for his readers instances of Jesus’ authority and power from the start of His earthly ministry. In chapter one, Mark told of Jesus’ baptism (vs. 9-11) after which a voice from heaven said, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” Being the Son of God meant Jesus had the power and authority of God. Many people did not understand what was said or recognize God’s voice and so, the voice from heaven sounded like thunder to them. After His baptism, Jesus immediately walked into the wilderness for forty days and faced temptations by Satan, against which He prevailed. After John’s arrest and before Jesus called disciples, He declared His purpose and ministry on earth. He said in 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark continued to tell of Jesus’ ministry and how He spoke with authority and power. He gave examples of Jesus’ power and authority. Consider these excerpts from Mark 1:
In chapter one, Jesus taught with authority and showed His authority and power by healing the sick, calling men to follow Him, declaring His purpose on earth, and casting out demons. Notice in this chapter, He did not face resistance from anyone for what He did. With the start of chapter two, Jesus encountered resistance from the Jewish religious leaders.
People continued to follow Jesus in Mark 2, but none yet believed in Him as the Messiah. The resistance He encountered came from the religious leaders of Israel. The leaders felt Jesus usurped their power so, they challenged Him. Beginning with this chapter, Jesus did more than teach with authority, heal, and cleanse. Consider what Mark wrote in Mark 2:1-17.
In both passages in Mark 2, Jesus met resistance by the religious leaders. First, they questioned His authority in their hearts. Jesus said He knew what they thought and proved His authority to forgive and power to heal. In verses thirteen through seventeen, Jesus called a conspicuous sinner to be His follower then ate with that unclean person and His friends. The religious leaders would never consider associating with obvious sinners. They wanted to be the standard for holiness and have followers themselves. Jesus proved even sinners are worth His time and attention and can become holy, be healed. Jesus did not stop ministering. He taught the gospel, His purpose on earth, and healed, forgave, and cast out demons because of His love for people and to give examples of His power and authority.
To the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus was a blasphemer because He acted as if He was God by forgiving sins and declaring He is the Son of Man. These leaders knew Jesus came from Galilee and was a carpenter’s son. They understood from their reading of the manuscripts, from the oral tradition, and from their training, the Messiah would arise from the tribe of David, be a warrior king, and would re-establish David’s kingdom. This Jesus was not any of these in the religious leaders’ estimation. He must be a blasphemer they decided. According to God’s Law, blasphemer’s punishment was death by stoning. The religious leaders may have at first chose to side against Jesus because He appeared to be a blasphemer. As Jesus’ ministry continued and people decided to follow Him instead of the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders, they became jealous and afraid they would lose their standing among and power over the Israelites. For these reasons, they sought to get rid of Jesus. With these twin emotions flowing through the hearts and minds of the religious leaders, they need not have worried. No one yet believed Jesus was the Messiah. They had not placed their faith in Him as the Messiah.
In Mark 2:18-22, Jesus will again teach by example and will use parables. He will rise to the challenge some people put to Him. Jesus will teach through three common analogies that everyone is unclean, and each person needs a Savior.
In the encounter by Jesus with the Pharisees in 2:12-17, the issue for the Pharisees, besides fear and jealousy, was eating with the unclean, at least the people the Pharisees considered unclean. Under Levitical law, people who were ritually unclean could not be around people who were clean. How was this designation determined? God chose the tribe of Levi to be His priests. He made them the law-teachers, keepers, and givers. They, too, were the judgment-givers God chose to tell the people how to become clean again when a person sinned against God. Remember, Israel was a theocracy, a nation whose head was God. The leaders of the people, the Levites, expanded on the laws God gave. Some of those expansions included not associating with people they considered unclean, sinners. Since the tax collectors took more money than the Roman government required and kept the excess for themselves, the tax collectors were sinners and, so, unclean. Others who the Levites considered unclean were prostitutes and lepers. God had a means by which every person could make atonement for his or her sin daily, the morning and evening sin sacrifice. God told the Levites to take the offering by the people and offer it to Him as a sin sacrifice each day. Until they sinned again, that sin offering for past sins sufficed to make them clean for that time. Yet, the Levites decided for themselves, once a sinner always a sinner, or in their thinking, once unclean always unclean. That is why eating with Levi and his friends was hard for the Pharisees to swallow. It makes the lesson of 2:18-22 difficult for them to grasp, too. Jesus confronts the Pharisees about their religious rituals and what He came to bring and give each person who believes in Him.
While John’s disciples and the Pharisees fasted, some people (other translators say onlookers or some of the disciples of these men.) asked Jesus, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” (2:18) Again, the question is about rituals. Before that time, the Pharisees instituted more weekly fasts so people would think they were more pious than other people and would look up to them. Those who did not fast as much as the Pharisees, the Pharisees considered beneath them, inferior. Because some of John’s disciples had remained loyal to the Pharisaical traditions, they, too, fasted more often than God required. Fasting in the Old Testament involved abstaining from food and possibly drink for a set period of time to express grief (1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 1:12 & 12:20-23), or penitence (1 Samuel 7:6 & 1 Kings 21:27), or to prepare one’s self for prayer (2 Samuel 12:16-17 & Psalm 35:13), or to seek the Lord’s favor (Judges 20:26 and 2 Chronicles 20:3). Jewish law required fasting only for humbling one’s self in preparation for and including the Day of Atonement. God declared purpose of the Day of Atonement was so the people could cleanse themselves from all sins before being with Him (Leviticus 16:29-31 & 23:27). In one other place, God commanded fasting as an act of contrition to return to Him with a person’s whole heart/being (Joel 2:12).
The Old Testament did not instruct people to fast two or three times a week. It never told the people to fast so he or she could appear more religious. Jesus confronted that misconception in Matthew 6:16-18. He condemned fasting to draw attention to one’s self and one’s piety. Similarly, Jesus told the people not to give alms or to pray so others would see them do these things. He told them, instead, go into a secret place and let God be the only one who sees you doing these things and He will reward you in secret (Matthew 6:1-8). Jesus did not condemn fasting. He even taught by example when He fasted forty days and nights in the desert in Matthew 4:2 and Luke 4:2. This justified fasting showed a person’s sincere seeking of God. It is a denying of one’s self (one’s flesh) and focusing on God. If we consider the New Testament after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Christian church fasted in preparation to make important decisions (Acts 13:2-3 & 14:23). They sought God while fasting instead of seeking to fill their flesh. The New Testament has no law requiring fasting.
While we do not know for sure who asked Jesus why He ate with sinners, we realize from the question asked, the person still did not believe about Jesus being the Messiah. By this question, we recognize the questioner realized Jesus did not follow the religious rituals. Jesus’ actions and teachings kept rubbing like sandpaper against the rituals the religious leaders set. They tried to force Him to do as they said, but He determinedly chose to follow God’s will and not what man dictated. Jesus, recognizing the unbelief of the questioner and the listeners, taught by using three commonplace occurrences in the lives of the Jews-weddings, repairing cloth, and storage of wine.
First, He asked, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they?” This was a rhetorical question. Everyone knew the answer to this was a resounding, “No.” Jesus continued, “So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” (2:18-19) Jesus answered the rhetorical question leading the listeners to His point and alluding to His future-Jesus won’t be with His disciples on earth always. When He is gone, they will mourn and fast during their mourning. Jesus added another depth to this image. In the Old Testament, God is the bridegroom in Isaiah 54:5 & 62:5, and in Hosea 2:19. Since Jesus is the Son of Man, He used this metaphor of the bridegroom to refer to Himself. Now, consider the Israelites culture. When a wedding occurred, the wedding feast lasted seven days. Much rejoicing, eating, drinking, and dancing marked the wedding of a man and woman. Because Jesus has come as the Bridegroom, His followers are His bride and while He is with them, they would eat and drink. When Jesus left, His bride, the church, would mourn. His arrival as the Messiah, the Son of Man, was to be a time of celebration like a wedding, not a time of penitence, atonement, and grief.
Rejoice, the Messiah has come!
In this lesson, Jesus told the people not to use fasting as a marker of a person’s devoutness. When Jesus came, He fulfilled the Law; God required no fasting any longer. He didn’t remove fasting as a spiritual discipline. Jesus wanted the people to realize the gift of salvation came by God’s grace. Salvation requires grace, God’s grace, and nothing else. We cannot gain salvation by doing anything like praying, giving, or fasting. We don’t get more salvation by doing these things. Salvation is salvation. It is complete and sufficient (ample) for each of our sins. Salvation and grace come from God Who is perfect and holy.
Because people often understand a lesson better by using everyday objects or occurrences, Jesus continued to answer this question using the analogy of a torn old cloth and a new cloth. He said in verse twenty-one, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results.” Read that verse again. Understand Jesus’ concern for the old cloth. His concern was that the tear would be greater than it was before the repair if the person used unshrunk cloth. Jesus came to give a new way to be in relationship, in covenant, with God. That new way is like the new cloth. If you try to sew new cloth onto the old cloth, the old way of living with its old rituals that did not give salvation, then the new cloth won’t stay attached and the old cloth will have a worse tear.
Consider the next analogy. Jesus said in verse twenty-two, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” In that day, a tanner made a wineskin of a whole and uncut skin from a sheep or goat. He would remove first the neck, then each leg. After the tanner removed the skin, he tied off with a cord all but one opening, sheared the hair close to the skin, tanned the skin, and then turned it inside out. By skinning the animal this way, no leak could occur from a break in the skin. When a person put wine into the skins, the fermentation was not complete. During that fermentation, vapors arose. Those vapors would stretch the skin into which the vintner poured it. A new skin had elasticity to expand as the gasses arose from the fermentation process. An old skin was inflexible. If the vintner put new wine that was still fermenting into an old wineskin, the old skin that was rigid could not expand with the resultant gasses and would burst the old skin. The new wine of which Jesus spoke is His Holy Spirit whom He imparts to each believer. The old wineskin was the rituals of religion each of the Pharisees and John’s disciples used to show his piety. These rituals were something from their past of which they didn’t want to let go.
Jesus showed concerned for the wine and the skins. He doesn’t want the faith of a person to become rigid and caught in ritual just to show one’s piety and prove he or she is better than other people. Jesus wants to give new life to each person. He wants to have His Spirit abide in each person to teach, equip, guide, encourage, admonish, and grow him or her into a closer relationship with God and likeness with Him.
Jesus lived every day with regular people. Some people were mostly good, some were considered unclean, some were sick, others were possessed by demons, all were sinners. When asked a question, Jesus wanted to make sure people understood Him well and so used analogies from every day life. These analogies are parables. Just as groomsmen do not fast at a wedding, but rejoice, Jesus wants us to rejoice with Him by accepting the new life He offers by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5, 8). Grace is God’s gift to us given by sacrificing His Son, Jesus, on the cross to take our penalty for our sins. Nothing we can do would be enough to cleanse us from what we’ve done wrong. Only God’s sacrifice of His sin-free and perfect Son is sufficient. Jesus wanted to make sure people understood this. The new life He gives cannot be added onto old rituals. We cannot and do not have to add any personal works-actions with resultant attitudes-to what Jesus gives us. When we believe in Jesus Christ, we become new like the new cloth and the new wineskin. If we just add what Jesus did to what we already do, the patch will tear off and the hole in the old cloth will be worse. Considering the analogy of the wineskins, when Jesus pours new wine into wineskin, He can’t pour it into an old wineskin of old rituals. It will burst. We cannot add the new way to the old way. The old wineskin of old rituals or religion cannot contain the Spirit of God. Keeping the old rituals means a person has not truly given his or her heart and life to God for salvation and His purposes. The person cannot grow and become more like Jesus daily because of the rigidity and bursting of their old wineskin.
Each of us must look at our lives. We must ask ourselves what we do in our religious moments that are just ritual and what God requires. We cannot add to our salvation. Jesus paid the full penalty for each person’s sins. His sacrifice was sufficient and perfect. Nothing needs to be added, Nothing we, human, fallible created beings can add to it makes Jesus’ gift of salvation more perfect. Perfection is already perfect. So, what do we do? What religious rituals do we have that make us consider ourselves and ways as better? Do we go to church every time the doors are open? Do we make sure we are on every committee? Do we make sure we give the most money to church? Do we say long, rambling prayers in church, Bible study, cell groups, etc. to prove our piety? Do we fast every week and make sure people know it? People consider and do many other rituals to make themselves feel better and appear better than other people. But we must consider, does God require these of us or are we just doing them for show? The other side of this question is, are you making Jesus fit your idea of church? How are we making Jesus fit into our cloth or His Spirit into our wineskin? Do we think we can we even consider tell God where He is allowed in our lives? What arrogance and self-centeredness!
Perfection is already perfect.
Jesus’ offered salvation is already perfect!
Jesus invites us to His feast. He invites us to be His bride, His church. Jesus doesn’t come to fit our mold. He came to make us new and give us a new life. He calls us to rejoice with Him at the blessings of God each day. The people of Israel had trials, but He taught they could rejoice even while facing trials because He was their Bridegroom and was with them.
Today, we can know and believe with our hearts, Jesus is with us now. We can rejoice because of the hope He gives for now and eternity. Our faith doesn’t have to be old, dry, inflexible, torn, and human ritual. It can be alive because of it being in Jesus Christ. Jesus gave His sacrifice because of God’s grace. He gives us salvation and new life.
You no longer have to go to a wedding and fast.
Go to the wedding and rejoice…even during trials.
Jesus is enough. He paid it all.
God’s grace can save us through faith in Jesus Christ.
God offers salvation to everyone.
Will you accept?
1And you were dead in your sins. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). 8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5, 8-9 [NASB])