In this portion of scripture Jesus is bringing light to a new way of approaching God; a kind of relationship with God that the prophets back in the day hinted:
New wine and new skins
Himself as a Bridegroom
Mourning will be the new fast
To help with context we need a definition on wineskins. A wineskin was a bag with a spigot traditionally made from goat hide to contain wine. New wine poured into skins would continue to ferment producing carbon dioxide gases, which exerted pressure. Fermentation: the conversion of sweet juices into intoxicating wine. Only new skins had the kind of elasticity needed to expand with the pressure of new wine. Old skins had no elasticity left in them. They could not stretch along with patches of new skin making them useless.
Reading between the lines we see Jesus cluing them in; the way they had been relating to God was about to expand into a relationship they had not fully considered before. They understood from the prophets Isaiah and Joel there would come a day when God would pour out His Holy Spirit upon all flesh and whosoever would call upon the Lord will be saved. God’s Holy Spirit would not only rest upon their flesh but also penetrate it making them a new creation. It would expand from an outward encounter to an inward transformation. Jesus would later meet Nicodemus and explain even further calling it being “born again”.
Up to this point the Pharisees and John’s disciples could only enjoy being a forgiven sinner. Being born-again would expand the believer’s experience from a sweet “grateful I’m forgiven” existence. The old system of atoning for sins and priestly service was about as effective as a patch of new skin on an old wine skin; their joy would only last until the next sin. I believe God had been waiting for ceremony and ritual to exhaust itself and prove what He’d known all along, it did nothing to change a man’s heart. He’d been holding out for this time in our history to finally open up an all access pass between Him and the ones He loved.
Jesus was setting them up to understand that His plan for a new Kingdom included a new creation; a new breed of humanity was going to take possession of earth. He was moving them away from a “try harder” religion and into an “all things are possible” joint adventure. This new relationship was to become an intoxicatingly intimate and empowering companionship with God.
Jesus the Bridegroom
For the first time we hear Jesus address Himself as a Bridegroom. Up to this point Matthew states references of: Son of David, Christ, King of the Jews, a Ruler who Shepherds, Nazarene, Beloved Son, Son of God, Lord, Teacher, Son of man. I wonder if the Pharisees and disciples heard the prophets words echoing in their hearts:
- Isaiah 54:5 ESV For your Maker is your husband…”
- Jeremiah 31:32 ESV “…took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband….”
- Hosea 2:19 ESV And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.
Considering Jesus as a Bridegroom was yanking on their current perspective of Him. Jesus calling Himself a Bridegroom exposed His deeper interest in them. His interest toward them was beyond their acts of service and zeal for world domination. He’s interest in them, like a Bridegroom in His Bride, was love and love at an intimate dimension. By His Spirit, He would soon be moving into them making Him closer to them than their own skin. Like any noble bridegroom in relation to his bride He would pursue them out of desire. Like a husband to a wife, He would move into them, taking the lead in their union by going ahead of them in all things. He would love them as He loved Himself. He would use His authority over them, not to dominate them but to empower them and elevate them by raising them up to sit with Him as a equally capable companion.
He was doing a new thing. Companionship with Jesus is two becoming a new creation. Consider it for yourself. What if this was your invitation to Christianity: The life you’ve managed alone up to this point is about to pass away. You are going to have to stop considering yourself as single and independent. Oneness with Jesus, like marriage, is a holy invasion of your privacy and independence. Oneness includes forever living in consideration of another. Your social circle is going to expand with other kinds of friends and family and recreation. You will no longer be your own. There are two sides to the companionship you long for: comfort and inconvenience. Do you really want it?
Fasting: an old idea
Fasting was an old practice of making religious pleas for deliverance from sin. Jesus was about to take care of the sin issue once and for all. It would be after He is taken away that fasting would resume but this time not as a means of attention getting and pleas of mercy. Fasting would become the new mourning. In other words a longing to be near Him would become the new motivation to fast. Sin would no longer be their excuse that separates them. Apathy would be the new danger. His soon coming absence is going to wound their hearts. That wound is going to awaken a depth of desire they did not know they had a capacity feel for Him. Soon they would long as though they were sick with love for the One Who saved them.
My initial experience with fasting was much like theirs. I fasted out of desperation for deliverance and intervention. I would do weekends, a full week, 21-days, I’ve done 40-days twice. What I have learned is that fasting does not earn us God’s attention nor does it motivate Him to act upon your behalf. He can’t be manipulated. The truth about fasting is it increases our spiritual sensitivities. His ancient words become new to us. Fasting is now voluntary. It works to make us aware of unholy appetites and violates our dullness with zeal. Fasting is like a bride searching out all things needed to make herself ready to go with her Bridegroom when He comes for her. Today, I fast just because I miss Him
He is the Rock to My Roll
The pressure we feel in regards to holiness is not restriction but expansion. I have two stories I want to share with you: my experience with fermentation/expansion/conversion: God’s Spirit wanting more room in my life…
Early on in companionship with Jesus I had been pretty steeped into the band scene. I liked my music loud, heavy, live, gritty, and a bit brooding. That kind of music gave a voice to the grinding questions and protests against the status quo that pounding in my heart. As I grew in the knowledge of Jesus I watched many things in my life change from the inside out. The affections of my heart were shifting and slowly my history with the bands peeled off my walls and shelves and found itself tightly packed into a 10×10 cardboard box in a corner of my room. One day I was listening to a message and the pastor said, “Do not keep a memorial to your past where it cherishes a life without Christ.” Cherished: where you loved your life without Christ.
He wounded my heart. I knew that I knew that I knew that 10×10 cardboard box was just that, me cherishing a history without Christ. I took it out to the burn pile in my backyard. I set it on fire. It was so condensed it took a couple of hours to burn through. I watched the flames turn image after image to ash. Images of what I lusted after. Images of who I wanted to be so I could be lusted after. This lifestyle, that put me in danger a couple of times, was a deep affection in my heart. It provided so much companionship.
Shortly after I remember being fretful over losing common ground with many of those friends. While in prayer the Lord showed my a silhouette of my most favored companions standing in front of the most tranquil blue light I had ever scene. He spoke to my heart, “All they need to do is turn toward the light.” It was such a simple move. I knew I could continue to go with God in confidence that He loved them as much as I did. I prayed for each of them by name. One of them is now better known as your pastor.
Now understand, He was not restricting me by wanting to take me out of the world. His desire is that I would no longer be conformed to its affections and ideals. I still like my music loud, heavy, gritty, live and a bit brooding. However the music and the lifestyle no longer answer anything for me; I no longer draw my substance from that place. He wasn’t calling me out of the world; He was expanding my world and shifting my affections. I got to embrace Him as a companion.
My second example is a little more abstract. While attending a service at Maranatha a thought came across my mind to buy new bed pillows. Then an even stranger thing happened, I felt my heart resist the idea as though I had affection for my pillows. Immediately my thoughts filled with remembrances of all the tears that had soaked those pillows. It had been a hard five years, those pillows had caught so many of my tears, tears of those kind of cries you don’t cry in front of other people: tears over losing my virginity to a rape and the bitter sweet pregnancy experience that resulted, tears from seeing my sins, watching my dad resent our family as we resented his alcoholism, tears of rejection, deep loneliness, tears of watching my mom die to soon.
If only our pillows could talk what tales of the deepest sorrow they could tell. They hold an untold history of our heartaches. In a split second He wounded my heart and a cry came forth, “Who is ever going to know the many depths of my grief?” He set me up so perfectly to hear Him, “I’ve collected every tear you’ve shed and I’ve recorded each one.” It may not be a big deal to go buy new pillows but He set me up to see He how intimately acquainted He was with me. My ideas about us were too small. Never at any point was I alone in my sadness. Unknown to me we had been making a history together. It’s the wounding of the heart that tears the veil for a greater view of Him and I got to embrace Him as a Comforter.
It’s Go Month!
Let’s changing our thinking about the pressure of expansion of holiness we feel? What if we stopped looking at the pressure as a restriction, something we don’t get to do, and more like expansion, something we get to do? Our relationship with Jesus should be defined by its passions not its regulations. I’ve got big gifts and I’m having a more difficult time knowing if people want to be my friend because they me for me or they want me for my gifts? Am I fellowshipping in a suffering of Jesus and it is making us tight.
We can only worship Him to the extent we can see Him. We can only obey Him to the extent that we can hear Him. We can only love Him to the extent we can feel His love. I am a firm believer the more you see Jesus the more you love Him. The more you love Him the more you can’t live without Him. The more you can’t live without Him the more you become sick with love. The more lovesick you are the more you’ll fast just because you miss Him. You’ll never be lovesick over someone you don’t know.
It’s Go Month, now is the time to make room for more of Him.
Like new wine in a new wineskin some of us are feeling an inward pressures to expand. He’s been setting you up. There are questions you’ve before the Lord and you can’t get God to say yes or no. You feel like your skin is going to split soon without an answer. The answer is Go.
Some of us need to Go and get saved for real, go ahead and call Ren your home, go for that thing that seems to good to be true, go ahead and walk onto the water of a scary opportunity:
- Be careful what you think to be coincidence may actually be destiny.
- You hope the answer is no, Go because no maybe on the other side of Go. It was for Abraham
- If you still have outstanding questions, Go. He’s not going to give you all the answers up front, He wants to see your faith
- You have the mind of Christ, Go. You might be surprised to find out the two of you are actually on the same page this time, desiring the same thing.
- Do not fear rejection nor disappointment. The disciples experienced both at the Cross of Jesus, did they regret their choice? He will turn it around for your good.
- You think you don’t deserve it, you’re right you don’t, Jesus does
- You’re afraid and you should be, its bigger than you. Fear God not your opportunity because it is the beginning of wisdom.
- What if I’m wrong, what if you are? He’s a good Father and brings correction without condemnation.
- It’s going to cost me, yes it will: it will cost you your pride and your comfort zones… you don’t need those things anyway
You are a new wineskin you were born again for expansion, you’ll stretch at the seams but you won’t break.