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Luke 5:33-5:39
Key Verse: 5:34

In the previous passage Jesus saw a sin-sick soul, the tax collector Levi, with his compassion and called him, saying, “Follow me.” This call was God’s great love and hope for Levi through Jesus. Levi knew the value of this call and responded to it instantaneously. He got up, left everything and followed Jesus. Then he held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, inviting a large crowd of tax collectors so that they could eat with Jesus and his disciples. It was out of his inner joy and thanks to Jesus and his heart for his tax collector friends. This was the miniature of the kingdom of heaven and also in a sense the illustration of Christian life. It is a joyful life with Jesus and other fellow men. In today’s passage Jesus’ teaching helps us better understand what Christian life is like.

First, the bridegroom and the guests of the groom (33-35). Look at verse 33. “They said to him, ‘John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” When we refer to Matthew (9:14) and Mark (2:18), the “they” here refers to John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees. To their eyes the lifestyle of Jesus’ disciples looked quite different from that of the disciples of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees. The comparison is between 'often fasting and praying' and 'continuously eating and drinking' (having parties). It seemed to them Jesus’ disciples were not very sincere nor serious, on a spiritually low level, while the others (and they themselves), very high. On the surface they were likely condescending the disciples of Jesus. But in the centre of their hearts they were curious and even envious of the joyful lifestyle of Jesus’ disciples, probably thinking, “How come they feast while we fast?” In Matthew and Mark their question is expressed with a question mark; in Luke the question is implied.

How did Jesus respond to their question? Look at verse 34. “Jesus answered, ‘Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?” Jesus did not ignore their question, though their question was not correct. Regarding fasting, Jesus recognized that the disciples did not practice it. But about praying and going on eating and drinking, Jesus did not mention. In particular, it was not true that Jesus’ disciples went on eating and drinking. Actually Jesus’ band was poor and they were often hungry. And on some occasions they did not even have time eat. Yet, it was true that they were joyful and did not fast.

In his answer Jesus did not deny fasting itself. We remember that Jesus himself fasted for forty days and was hungry, when the devil temped him (4:2). It was his preparation to begin the messianic ministry. In the Old Testament the Israelites were required to fast on the day of atonement, that is, once a year (Lev. 16:29-34; 23:26-32; Num. 29:7-11; cf Acts 27:9). Except that fasting was option. We remember Moses’ fasting on Mount Sinai when the Israelites sinned greatly against God by making a gold calf (Ex 34:38). Samuel helped his people to fast and confess their sins when they sinned against God, so that God could fight for them (1 Sa 7:6). Esther fasted for three days when the Jews were in the crisis of annihilation (Esther 4:16). Daniel also fasted and prayed when he thought about the sin of his people before the great and awesome God, remembering God’s promise (9:3-5). Fasting was good and effective when done with the right attitude of contriteness and desperation. But in the New Testament when fasting was done as the means of showing off one’s piousness, Jesus rebuked of the habitual and hypocritical fasting. Some Pharisees even fasted twice a week, and it became their self-righteousness. Certainly, God would not accept their prayers just because of fasting itself. John’s disciples fasted as a part of their asceticism.

Look at verse 34 again, “Jesus answered, ‘Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?’” In his answer Jesus revealed himself as the bridegroom and his disciples as the guests or friends of the bridegroom. Here what Jesus said was the expression of his disciples’ utmost joy in life, and that joy was out of the relationship with the bridegroom having him in the centre of their lives. It goes without saying that a wedding is the most joyful occasion in human life. At a wedding, all the wedding guests are joyful. In a sense joy characterizes Christian life. It is all because of Jesus, the bridegroom. In the Old Testament God was compared to a bridegroom. Isaiah 62:5 says, “…as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” God wants us to know what his joy is. Then when his set time had fully come, God sent his Son Jesus as our bridegroom. Jesus came to restore the joy of a wedding, which was established by God in the Garden of Eden as the supreme happiness of mankind. When man sinned, man lost joy. But Jesus came to restore the lost joy. He called his disciples and they followed with a personal decision. They were having a joyful life together. The very presence of God was in their midst. So the disciples did not need to fast but could enjoy life together with Jesus, the bridegroom. In Luke 1:78 Jesus is portrayed as the rising sun in Zechariah’s song. Jesus is the brightest, heavenly bridegroom. Through the coming of Jesus, a new age of joy came.

He is the source of joy. Philippians is one of Paul’s prison epistles and is known as the epistle of joy. Even his imprisonment could not take away his joy, when he had Jesus in his heart. In that circumstances he confessed, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). He wrote to the believers in Philippian church, “Rejoice in the Lord”, and again he said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (3:1; 4:4). The secret of rejoicing is “in the Lord.” And Paul said that it is safeguard for us (3:1). When we keep this joy in our hearts, we are in the safest zone in our spiritual warfare against the devil. Paul also said in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Be joyful always.” “Be joyful” or “rejoice” is command. How can we maintain joy in our lives? When we study the Bible sincerely from our hearts, we can have joy. When we pray in the awareness of God, we have joy. When we serve others in the name of Jesus, we can have joy. When we obey his word personally, we have joy. When we study and work for the glory of God, we have joy. When we live by faith in difficult situations, we can have joy. When we are rejected and persecuted because of Jesus, there is joy. Joy is an undeniable characteristic in the lives of Jesus’ disciples.

Look at verse 35. “But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” Here “be taken” refers to his terrible death by crucifixion and in the most tragic way the best bridegroom would be taken from them. Their sorrow would be unspeakable. Yet, it would be the process for him to be our eternal bridegroom through his resurrection. Right before his crucifixion Jesus said to his disciples, “…Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (Jn 16:22). There can be times in our lives when we lose our bridegroom, due to a broken relationship with him for some reason. Then in those times we need to fast and repent until the relationship is restored and Christ Jesus is newly present in us. Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Temporary godly sorrow is good for our spiritual life. After that sorrow joy comes. Repentance is turn our eyes from the world or people upon Jesus. A hymn song goes, “…Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of his glory and grace.”

In this part we thank God for Jesus, who is our brightest, eternal bridegroom from heaven. He is the source of joy and the joy of living.

Second, new wine and new wineskins (36-39). In order to help John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees further, Jesus told them this parable. Look at verse 36. “…No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.” Christianity is not a patching of Judaism. It is completely new, although there is a relation between the two. Apostle Paul said in Romans 3:21, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” Here a righteousness from God is Jesus or the gospel. This well explains the relationship and difference between Christianity and Judaism, or the gospel of Jesus and the law of Moses. The core of Christianity is the person Jesus; Judaism is based on the law. And the Law and the Prophets, that is, the whole Scriptures, point to Jesus, the Son of God. And the gospel of Jesus is the gospel of God’s grace, totally different from the law. The gospel is not the revised version of the law.

And Christian life is not improving our past life. When Jesus began his messianic ministry, he said, “…Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15). The life of a Christian is living a new life in Christ turning from the life of sin in the world. It is to die to oneself and be made alive in Christ. The Christians life requires constant repentance and faith in Jesus. It is to put off our old self believing that our old self was crucified with Christ, and put on the new self with faith in Christ’s merit (Eph 4:22,24; Ro 6:6). It is true that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). So Paul encourages all Christians with the words, “…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Yet, there are many Christians who live a patching life. Patching life is a compromising life; it is a legalistic life. When we read Galatians, we see that Paul was so troubled and even angry when the Galatian Christians were turning from the gospel to the law. They began with faith in the gospel of Jesus, but they were turning away from the gospel and trying to keep the law and weak and miserable principles of the world. They became enslaved by such things again. In that legalistic patching life there is no joy.

This understanding is so important that Jess told them another parable. Look at verses 37-38. “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” What is a wineskin? A wineskin was usually made of the skin of a goat or a sheep. After being removed from the animal it was tanned, and after the hair had been cut close the skin was turned inside out. The neck opening became the mouth of the “bottle.” The other openings, at the feet and the tail, were closed with cords. New wine has explosive power. So the old wineskins that have no more elasticity cannot contain the new wine. The gospel of Jesus is new like new wine. Paul said in Romans 1:16, “The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Only a repentant heart can contain the gospel of salvation. According to Luke’s gospel, the repentant tax collectors and Jesus’ disciples were like new wineskins and the unrepentant Pharisees, old wineskins. The tax collectors accepted the gospel and were happy with Jesus. But the Pharisees were very much troubled with the gospel, the good news, unhappy with Jesus to the point of judging and condemning him.

There are so many who are gospel enemies, simply because they don’t want to repent. They even try to distort or change or even get rid of the gospel. But the gospel itself is not the problem. The problem is with the containers. New wineskins must be prepared for the new wine. There is a movie, a classic, called “The Ten Commandments.” In that movie the miracles in the Bible, especially the Red Sea being divided was well shown. And also when the Israelites sinned against God greatly, making a gold calf even after experiencing Exodus and the dividing of the Red Sea, Moses was furious and threw the stones on which the Ten Commandments were written toward the Israelites. That was the visible expression of the anger of the holy God. This movie was the correct presentation of the Bible. Before the holy God all sinners are destined to receive eternal punishment. But God gave us the gospel of Jesus so that people might repent and be saved through the gospel. In contrast, the movie “Noah”, which was released recently, is a sheer distortion of the Bible. Biblically, the point of the story of Noah was that God had to judge the whole world by flood due to the fullness of corruption and violence in the world, but he saved a righteous man Noah and his family, because Noah walked with God. And God preserved the human race for his salvation through Jesus. But "Noah" , depicts Noah as inhumane and purposeless. Noah did not actually hear any word from God, but was just himself obsessed with the thought that the fallen mankind had to be judged by God. And the people in confusion blamed God for judging the world. This is a crafty and utter deception by Satan, who through media plants bad images about Noah and ultimately God in the minds of the people of the world. When people do not want to repent of their sins, they seek another way or another gospel. However, there will be no other gospel than the gospel of Jesus. The gospel of salvation is unchanging with no expiry date. For this new wine new wineskins must be prepared through repentance. Jesus said, “No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”

Look at verse 39. “And no one after drinking old win wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’” This verse shows that it is not easy for people to change after experiencing something good according to their own taste. There is a saying, “The better is the enemy of the best.” Something good or better can be a great hindrance to finding and accepting the best. Those who know the best should continually present it to the people of this world.

As for us our old sinful habit can be lingering in our lives. We all know that changing one’s habit is not easy at all. And worldly influence is strong in every generation, particularly so in our generation. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We need constant renewal of our minds through the words of God. Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Thanks God for Jesus, our bridegroom from heaven, the brightest and most glorious and eternal. Life with him is matchless, characterized with joy. May each of us find this wonderful life with the bridegroom, and our life with him may blossom through repentance and faith, constant renewal of our minds. May we be used by God as new wineskins for the gospel work in our generation.

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