The New Fabric of Faith
For some people, religion is all about being miserable. They go to church and think, I'm in church; I have to look miserable. And that's how they live their lives. For the Pharisees in Jesus' day, religion was all about negatives--all about what they didn't do. Even in church history, there was a time when the worse you looked, the holier that people thought you were. I remember the reaction of my friends when I told them I had become a Christian: "Oh, I'm so sorry. What trauma in your life brought you to this point?"
We read in Mark 2:18-22 about how Jesus had a discussion with the Pharisees, and they were a little bit miffed that His disciples didn't observe days of fasting like they did. And Jesus' response was classic. "Why should they?" He essentially said. "Just like a bride and groom celebrate, they're not in mourning; they're experiencing joy. The time will come when they'll fast and mourn." That spoke of His crucifixion, His death.
In the verses that follow, Jesus went on to explain a deeper truth by using an analogy: "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" (v. 21). This illustration would have been understood by those listening: when you wash your clothing, it shrinks. If you have a tear in it, you don't put something brand-new over the tear, because then when you wash it, it'll shrink and create a bigger tear than the original.
What was Jesus getting at? He was getting at the truth behind the whole argument of His discussion with the Pharisees, and that was that the new fabric of faith in Jesus Christ couldn't be interwoven with the tired threads of the old religious system.
He gave another analogy: "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" (v. 22). In those days, wine was stored in animal skins. Because of the strength and elasticity of a new skin, it would be able to handle the fermentation process that would take place in it. However, after you stretched the skin out, it would become brittle. So you wouldn't put new wine into an old wineskin, because old wineskins were unyielding and inflexible.
Jesus was getting to the heart of the issue, and that was the system of Judaism: it had become too brittle. Even though Jesus went to the synagogue, honored the Torah, and honored the Sabbath according to Moses, He really came to fulfill the Law, not polish up the old system. And part of the Law said that a new covenant was coming that God would make with the house of Israel--that the old would pass away and He would do a whole new thing. You don't pour the new wine of the life of Christ into an old system. That old system is too brittle, hard, and set in its ways; it'll break.
Now, this analogy can be applied not only institutionally, but also personally. When Jesus comes inside of you and you experience the new life of Christ, your life is expanded. The Lord wants to stretch you beyond your otherwise futile limitations. But you can become hardened and brittle, just like any church or religious system. Some people refuse to expand: "Well, we've never done it that way before." They become hardened when the Lord may want to do some new revolutionary thing in their lives.
How many of your traditions have you found it difficult to overturn after you became a Christian? When I became a believer, there was a process of undoing all the things that I had learned simply by tradition. And I found that traditions are some of the most difficult things for people to break.
But when we come to Jesus, our lives are stretched--they're expanded. Before we came, we couldn't have imagined how fulfilled our lives could be until the new wine was poured in. And it's in walking with Jesus, as His followers, learners, and disciples, that we learn the power of the gospel--that His authority supersedes all tradition.
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