“And they said to Him, ‘The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers; the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same; but Yours eat and drink.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? But the days will come and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.’ And He was also telling them a parable. No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it in an old garment, otherwise he will both tear the new and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’ – Luke 5:33-39
The gospel doesn’t mix with anything else
Now in the reading of that you obviously have some questions raised in your minds. And perhaps the singular question is…what’s this all about? And what it’s about is essentially the title of the message today, “The uniqueness of the gospel…The uniqueness of the gospel.” And I want you to understand this, it is critical, it has far-reaching implications.
…The gospel is absolutely exclusive. Now this needs to be emphatically understood in a time which exalts diversity of belief, tolerance of religion, pluralism, inclusivism and even universalism which essentially says we’re all headed the same direction.
The religious leaders were self-righteous
The religious leaders had external parade of their supposed righteousness. And one of the things they did was disassociate themselves from all people that they deemed unclean. They were the sanctimonious. They were the righteous. And they didn’t soil themselves by going into a Gentile house or hanging around with tax gatherers, prostitutes and other thugs and criminals.
And Jesus associated with those people all the time. In fact, He basically gained the title, “the friend of sinners and tax collectors…the friend of drunkards,” because those were the kind of people He went to.
And when the question was asked, Jesus answered in verse 31 and said, “It’s not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.” And this is sarcasm, He said, “You who think you’re well don’t call for the doctor. These people are sick and they know they’re sick. They’re sinful and they know they’re sinful and they have called for the spiritual physician and I have not come…verse 32…to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And again it’s sarcasm. You are the righteous, you are the self-styled righteous, your righteousness won’t save you, it’s your righteousness that damns you. It’s the wrong righteousness, it’s the righteousness of your own self-invention and I can’t help you, but I have come to sinners, the poor prisoners, blind and oppressed that He referred to from Isaiah 61 earlier in His message in the synagogue in Nazareth.
So we already know that there is a huge gulf between the religion of Judaism concerned with staying away from sinners, and the gospel of Jesus concerned with being with sinners.
The religion of Judaism concerned with self-righteousness, the gospel of Jesus concerned with heart righteousness. The religion of Judaism concerned about what men think, and the gospel of Jesus concerned about what God thinks. The religion of Judaism concerned only with the outside, the gospel concerned with the inside.
What they’re wondering is why He doesn’t pay attention to the traditions and why He’s so concerned about the heart and why He doesn’t associate with the scribes and Pharisees instead of the tax gatherers and prostitutes.
Now conflict…this is actually the third conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees in this chapter. The first conflict with them came over His healing of the paralyzed man earlier in the chapter. The second conflict comes at the house of Matthew, or outside when the disciples come out and are questioned by the Pharisees. Here is the third conflict and the stakes are raised every time…every time. In the house where the paralytic was healed, there’s no real direct confrontation of the Pharisees. But there is at the time of the feast of Matthew. Now we have an even more intense confrontation as Jesus speaks directly to them about the bankruptcy, the emptiness and the incompatibility of Judaism with the gospel.
The number of fasts commanded by God
Now just to make sure you understand what we’re talking about, this was their own human invention. Do you know how many fasts in the Bible are commanded by God? One. There’s only one commanded fast in the entire Old Testament, just one. It is Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement…that is the only fast commanded by God. Leviticus 16:29 and 31 commands people and it uses the phrase, “Humble your souls,” or in the New King James, “Afflict your souls,” from the Hebrew word anah which is commonly used to refrain from food. What was the Day of Atonement?
It was a day when you took a hard look at…what?…your sin. When you did a deep inspection of your soul, when sacrifices for the whole nation were made, when the whole nation stopped its normal course of action and everybody did a heart search of their own sin…and that was God’s required fast. You don’t eat, you mourn, you grieve over your sin. There weren’t any other required fasts.
There were occasions in the Old Testament when the Jews did fast over grief in the book of Esther, chapter 4; in Isaiah 58 they’re referred to; 1 Kings 21 they’re referred to; Joel chapter 1 verses 13 and 14. There are fasts in the Old Testament associated, always associated with grief and mourning and the wrenching of the heart over some serious issue. That’s…that is a proper fast. They’re not required, they’re just done voluntarily when…here’s the key…someone is so overwrought, so sad, so heart sick, so concerned to pray that they have no appetite.
There were one-day fasts. There were three-day fasts. There were seven-day fasts. In Daniel 10 verses 2 and 3 there is a three-week fast. And there are several times in the Old Testament when you have a 40-day fast, right? Such as Exodus 34, Deuteronomy 9, I think 1 Kings 19 and even our Lord Jesus fasted for 40 days in the tremendous conflict over His soul with Satan.
Three major religious expressions of the Judaism
They had three major religious expressions of the Judaism of the time of Jesus and it still exists today among those that are orthodox. Prayer, alms and fasting, those were the three religious expressions and they did them publicly and they did them as ostentatiously as they could possibly be done in order to parade their supposed godliness before men.
…Jesus when He preached the Sermon on the Mount really lit a bomb in that message because He spoke to these religious leaders, these religious Jews and He said, “When you give alms, don’t sound a trumpet before you.”
Can you imagine? You’re going to give and so you have some guy blow a horn…Here, look over here, folks, ta-ta-ta-da, I’m giving. See, that was the kind of thing they did
They hypocrites do it in the synagogues and in the streets that they may be honored by men. Well they have their reward. What is it? They’re honored by men, that’s it.
…And Paul said they made an open display in the flesh, Galatians 6:12.
Verse 34, Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?” That is absolutely simple…simple. Attendants are the best friends who plan the wedding and Jesus says, “Look, you don’t fast at a wedding, do you? A wedding is a celebration and when the bridegroom is there, you celebrate.”
Pharisees out of touch with reality
There were ancient rabbinical rules, by the way, forbidding people to fast at a wedding. Rejoice with those who rejoice. There’s a time, says Ecclesiastes, to weep and a time to laugh. Fasting has its appropriate time, a time of broken grieved hearts. But Jesus said, “You don’t get it, do you? You don’t get it. The bridegroom’s here.” Who’s that? Himself. There’s an old Jewish document called “Migalot Taonit???” called “The Scroll of Fasting.” And it says that fasting is forbidden in all days devoted to happy times of celebration. The rabbis understood that. These people, these Pharisees, scribes, disciples of John, they were completely out of touch with what was happening.
The Old Testament never refers to Messiah as a bridegroom, that is a New Testament term and here it’s introduced.
Later on Paul builds on that in his epistles and the book of Revelation builds on that, Christ the bridegroom takes His bride into the great bridal city, the New Jerusalem. So this is the first introduction of the Messiah as the bridegroom. But the analogy is very clear. He’s saying, “You’ve been waiting and waiting,” as people do, “waiting and waiting for the bridegroom to come and when he comes you inaugurate the celebration. Well, the bridegroom is here. You are out of touch with reality.”
It would be completely ridiculous for Jesus’ disciples to fast and mourn when the Messiah was there, the long-awaited Messiah. And again He just shows how completely out of touch they were with reality. It’s particularly disturbing to me, too, that John’s disciples had not transferred their faith to Christ to whom John appointed them. And I guess these guys were thinking, “You know, Jesus is hanging around sinners talking about forgiveness, but He’s not doing the ritual stuff.” That is just how far away from reality they were. That system, Judaism, bankrupt…bankrupt.
Then Jesus adds in verse 35, “But the days will come and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” What an interesting statement. The days will come. There’s going to be a time in the future. And in that future time the wedding joy is going to end. Why? Because the bridegroom is taken from them, apairo, snatched. Wow! In the middle of the celebration, in the middle of the big celebration the bridegroom is going to be apairo, snatched. The word conveys the idea of a sudden violent snatching away. What does that refer to? The death of Christ. This is the first reference we have in Luke, really, by Jesus to His death. They’re celebrating now, let them celebrate. That’s appropriate. They’re going to fast later on when the bridegroom’s snatched out of the celebration
What Luke wants us to understand
Here’s what the Holy Spirit through Luke wants us to understand. Judaism at its most devout level, at its highest point is completely out of sync with the gospel totally. It doesn’t recognize the Messiah. It doesn’t recognize the bridegroom is here. It doesn’t understand this is the time of immense joy. Christianity is unique. The gospel is unique. It is incompatible with any other religion, including Judaism. Whenever I read about the conference on Christians and Jews, I want to say I’d like to have a conference and just tell the Jews that their religion is bankrupt, they need Jesus Christ. And that’s true of anybody in any religion. The gospel replaces it.
The meaning of the parable
Now Jesus closes with the illustrations. And, back to Luke 5, just give me ten minutes because I want to finish this. You’ll be glad you did. Verses 36 to 39, this is beautiful, graphic teaching. The illustrations. Jesus came to make a complete break with Judaism, complete break with the old. And here He makes it crystal clear. Verse 36, He’s telling them a parable. Parabole can mean a figurative example, a metaphor, an analogy, a story, it’s a very broad word. He gives them really three illustrations, three accounts to reflect a fuller understanding of the point that the gospel is exclusive.
Three accounts to reflect a fuller understanding
He says this, “No one tears a piece from a new garment, puts it in an old garment, otherwise he will both tear the new and the piece from the new will not match the old.” That’s a simple point. If you had a new garment, you wouldn’t tear a piece out of it because you would just ruin the new garment. And then if you took the piece out of the new and sewed it into the old, Matthew and Mark call it an unshrunk piece. As soon as you wash it, the new piece shrinks then it just rips the threads out and creates the hole all over again, and now you haven’t been able to repair the old and you’ve ruined the new. That’s simple…simple illustration.
What is He saying?
You can’t patch the gospel into Judaism. Judaism is an old garment, you can’t take a piece of the gospel and patch it in. It can’t be done. You can’t put the unshrunk new cloth into the old warn faded cloth.
Judaism is a worn-out garment, useless to try to patch it with a piece of the gospel. Jesus has not come with a message of patching an old system, but replacing it…replacing it. The new internal gospel of repentance and forgiveness cannot be mixed with any tradition or self-righteous system of any kind, including Judaism.
The old garment here is not the Old Testament
The old garment here is not the Old Testament, it is not God’s holy law which is eternal, which the gospel fulfills. We’re talking about the religion of Judaism. Pieces of the gospel can’t be stitched into that system or any other religious system. If you want to get that really clear in definitive terms, read Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
What wineskins are
Verse 37, He gives another illustration. “No one puts new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.”
When they made wine, it was a fermenting process, obviously, in the making of wine. When they got the new wine out of the grapes and the grapes were crushed and the wine was yielded out in vats, they would pour those in a skin. Typically a goat’s skin, they would sew the goat up, they would literally leave the skin intact when they skinned the animal, they would sew up the skin, the feet together, the front feet, the back feet, sew it up so you had this big sack, big pouch. The neck…cut the head off and the neck would be the spout and they would wrap the neck and tie it with leather thongs. They would fill it up with wine.
Now what happens is the wine ferments and when something ferments, gas is released and it expands…it expands…it expands. So it was critical to use new wineskins, new skins because they were subtle, they were soft and they would expand with that fermentation process.
What He’s saying here is, if you take this new wine and put it in old, cracked, brittle, stiff wineskins, the expansion process will burst the skins and it will be spilled out and those skins, of course, will be ruined. That’s just another way of saying the very same thing. You cannot put the gospel into Judaism.
…In fact, Galatians 5:4 Paul put it this way, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law. You’re fallen from grace.” It’s not compatible, grace is not compatible with any works system.
And again I say, the Christian gospel stands alone as the only way of salvation, unique and incompatible with any other religious system. The gospel of forgiveness by grace through faith alone in Christ alone can’t be put into a dry and brittle skin of works/righteousness systems, including Judaism.
No one after drinking old wine wishes for new
Jesus then gave a third and final illustration, it’s really sad. Verse 39, “And no one after drinking old wine wishes for new, or he says the old is good enough.”
Jesus looked at those Pharisees and said, “You’ve been drinking that old wine of Judaism so long, you have absolutely no interest in the gospel.”
It’s really true. People who have been in religions for a long time are very comfortable. They cultivate their taste for that tradition. They cultivate their taste for that experience. And Judaism had become mellowed and settled by centuries of experience and mounting, increasing tradition until it was so much a part of the fabric of their life they couldn’t even see themselves in any other way. They were Pharisees and scribes to the death. They were self-satisfied. They had grown comfortable with their heresy, like old men who have been drinking a certain wine all their life and were not at all interested in a new one no matter what it may have promised by way of delight and pleasure.