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Luke 6:12-16

When morning came, he called his disciples

Context

Since chapter 3 of Luke, Jesus has been making a splash (pardon the pun) in the country area of Galilee and from 4:31 he has been collecting both followers and critics. We read about Simon, James, and Levi following Jesus when called and the Pharisees recognised that Jesus had disciples who walked with him in ministry. We come to a short section where Jesus names his twelve disciples before beginning a long recorded sermon to crowds of people.

Observation

Structure

  • 12-13 Jesus carefully chooses his ministry staff
  • 14-16 A motley crew of names

12-13 Jesus carefully chooses his ministry staff

“…Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray…” Jesus’ prayer life was inspirational and one we must certainly pay attention to. The sentence here in verse 12 describes a proactive Jesus intentionally pulling away from people with the purpose of praying at length. He did not spend hours in mindless meditation but talked to God in prayer. This was not an isolated case as Luke 5:16 clearly states (see also 9:18 and 28). His prayer life made a big impression on the disciples such that they asked him how he does it (Luke 11:1). And Jesus passed on his golden rule of prayer to the disciples in Luke 18:1 which was to always pray and not give up!

“When morning came, he called his disciples…” A night of prayer resulted in clear action by Jesus just as Luke 4:42-44 gave him clarity. How often do we go swiftly from one event to the next and one day to another without stopping to talk with our God about all that is happening? Although we see that Jesus prayed often and regularly, these were moments too of special reflection and conversation with God.

“…chose twelve of them…” I want to focus on the word ‘chose’ rather than the twelve. 1 Peter 1 describes Christians as people who have been chosen by God (1 Peter 1:1-2; Romans 8:33; Ephesians 1:4, 11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). This is a special truth for Christians to know that God has chosen you and called you. If you confess Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you are saved and this is because God has chosen you. This doctrine (election) is not given to for the sake of those not chosen but rather for those who are. It is a blessing, not a curse. Jesus chose these men as his disciples and we know, as Luke points out, that one is a rebel. So being chosen as a disciple is not the same as chosen for salvation. All who hear the gospel have the invitation given to come and be saved. Judas included. That Judas resolved to betray Jesus cannot be blamed on Jesus.

“…whom he also designated apostles.” There were more disciples than 12 (Luke 10:1) and the word simply describes a student. Anybody who becomes a student of Jesus or a follower of Jesus is a disciple. This was the command of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, to be disciple makers! But these 12 were designated as apostles. This word means ‘commissioned messenger’ and the New Testament paints them as unique followers of Christ who were given powers to heal for the purpose of spreading the good news of God’s kingdom. It was not a position that was passed down to the next generation but died out with John as the last remaining apostle. Judas removed himself from the position and was replaced by Matthias and then Paul was divinely designated an apostle by Jesus also. Church history distinguishes between The Apostles and the common use of apostle to just mean messenger. Acts 1:15-22 helps us to see that a primary qualification of an Apostle was that they were with Jesus from his baptism til his resurrection so that they would bear witness of Jesus as the risen Lord. Paul also saw the risen Jesus and taught that he had been called by God to be an Apostle on par with Peter (Galatians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:7). Jesus’ clear intention for these 12 men was that they bear witness to the ends of the earth of the gospel (Luke 24:45-48). Although Luke uses the title throughout his gospel account, the title was not likely given and attributed to these disciples until after the resurrection. Note that the word apostle is not special by itself. It is used in the bible for more people than just these twelve but over time, these twelve were known particularly as The Apostles – chosen directly by Jesus, as Paul was.

14-16 A motley crew of names

Here is the list of men Jesus called to be his twelve disciples and some notes on each person. We know a great deal about a few of these men from the bible but other names require church history for expansion. This study will focus on what the bible teaches us about each man. Church history and tradition has its place to be sure, but putting our emphasis on what the bible tells us helps us stay clear on the bible’s message and not on human history.

    1. Simon (whom he named Peter),
      1. Jesus gave Simon this new name which means rock (Matthew 16:18; John 1:42)
      2. Luke refers to him as Simon up until this point but Peter from here on until 22:31 and 24:34. I’ve often enjoyed the thought that Jesus referred to Simon Peter from his worldly name (Simon) when sin was at his door but his born again name (Peter) when he is being forgiven and called.
      3. He lived in Capernaum (Mark 1:29) but came from Bethsaida (John 1:44)
      4. Peter was recognised as the leader of the Jewish Christians (Acts 2:14, 37; Galatians 2:7-8)
      5. His journey with Jesus gave him special privilege as he watched Jesus be transfigured to reveal his glory (Matthew 17:1-8), was the first to confess Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:16) assigned leadership by Jesus (Matthew 16:18) prayed over by Christ (Luke 22:31-32) and personally sort after for forgiveness (Luke 24:34; John 21:15-17).
      6. Peter wrote the books of 1 and 2 Peter and tradition tells us that he authorised Mark’s gospel.

 

  • his brother Andrew,

 

      1. He and his brother Simon were in the fishing trade together (Matthew 4:18).
      2. He lived in a home with Simon (Mark 1:29).
      3. He and Simon were both from Bethsaida (John 1:44)
      4. He was a disciple of John the Baptist who pointed him to Jesus (John 1:35-40).
      5. He introduced his brother to Jesus (John 1:41).
      6. While not of the top three disciples closest to Jesus, he had a private relationship with Jesus (Mark 13:3; John 6:8; John 12:22).
    1. James,
      1. James and John were brothers known as the sons of Zebedee (Luke 5:10) and sons of thunder (Mark 3:17).
      2. Their mother was Salome who was also Mary’s sister, making them cousins of Jesus (see John 19:25, Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 combined).
      3. He was one of the early church martyrs (Acts 12:1-2).
      4. He did not write the book called James, that would be James the brother of Jesus.
    2. John,
      1. See above regarding his relationship with James.
      2. John is listed second in the list by Luke in Acts 1:13.
      3. He wrote the gospel called John as well as the three letters of the same name.
      4. He, with Peter and James, were often close to Jesus and formed a privileged close circle around him (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33; Luke 8:51; 9:28).
    3. Philip,
      1. John 1:43-48
      2. John 12:20-22
      3. John 14:8-10
    4. Bartholomew,
      1. This name/word means ‘son of Tolmai’.
      2. His actual name is quite possibly Nathanael – here are the arguments why:
        1. Bartholomew is arguably not his actual name since it simply means who he is the son of.
        2. Matthew, Mark and Luke do not mention Nathaniel, while John does not mention Bartholomew.
        3. The lists of the disciples in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all place Bartholomew and Philip together (Philip and Nathanael were close according to John 1:43-48).
        4. All the men named in John 21:2 are apostles except for Nathanael (unless he is also Bartholomew).
    5. Matthew,
      1. Matthew is probably another name for Levi the tax collector (compare Luke 5:27-32 with Matthew 9:9-13).
      2. He wrote the gospel which opens the New Testament.
    6. Thomas,
      1. His name means twin and he is also known as Didymus (John 11:16; 20:24; 21:2).
      2. Although given the reputation as the doubter (which I dislike), he delivers some of the best statements about Jesus in the gospels and shows us a man who will not follow blindly but he will follow to his death (John 11:16; 14:5; 20:28).
    7. James son of Alphaeus,
      1. It is difficult to know much about this James. He is not the martyr of Acts 12 nor is he the brother of Jesus since it seems Jesus’ brothers did not believe until later. Some have suggested that he is the brother of Matthew since they both are sons of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14) but Alphaeus was a common name and this is speculation.
    8. Simon who was called the Zealot,
      1. James II, Simon II and Judas II each require some extensions to their first names to distinguish them from others.
      2. The Zealots were a nationalistic radical group who aggressively opposed the Roman state. So in Jesus’ crew we have a tax collector who worked with the state and a radical who strongly opposed it.
    9. Judas son of James,
      1. Some say that Thaddaeus of Mark 3:18 and Matthew 10:3 are Judas son of James since they occupy the same place in the list and many disciples had two names.
      2. John 14:22-31

 

  • and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

 

    1. If Iscariot refers to a certain region in Judea then Judas is the only non-Galilean in the group. The name does have the Aramaic meaning of “false one” but is that a meaning assigned to the word at a later date? It could also mean “Dyer” as a reference to his occupation. The region suggestion is most likely given John 6:71 and John 13:21-22.
    2. John 7:71; 12:4; 13:2, 26; Matthew 26:14; Mark 14:10; Luke 22:3
    3. Judas Iscariot who would betray Jesus and the group completes the list of people Jesus, after a night of vigil prayer, called his disciples.

Meaning

Dependance on God through prayer is essential in making and executing plans for the gospel. But the result of prayer is clarity, not necessarily perfection. The disciples Jesus called after prayer was a group of men with many different backgrounds who needed to learn different lessons from Jesus. Their purpose for being called was to be authentic witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Application

  • Topic A: Vigilant prayer. How often do we go swiftly from one event to the next and one day to another without stopping to talk with our God about all that is happening? Although we see that Jesus prayed often and regularly, these were moments too of special reflection and conversation with God. On top of the passing conversational prayers that you may enjoy with God, consider the discipline of stepping outside of our busy lives to be with God in prayer. A special and extended prayer time could be considered every morning? Once a week? Once a fortnight?
  • Topic B: Being called to discipleship. Jesus chose twelve men to teach and do life with as he trained them for gospel ministry. He then sent them out in Matthew 28 to make more disciples (see also Luke 24:45-49). We are the beneficiaries of the ministry that Jesus started here in Luke 6. 1 Peter 1:1-2 describes the process of being made a disciple of Christ and it is not through importance or brilliance or beauty but through God’s grace in calling and redeeming and refining. Do you identify yourself as a disciple of Christ?
  • Topic C: The before and after of Christian growth. These twelve men began their traineeship with Jesus and went on to serve Christ with their lives (excluding Judas Iscariot). Consider the before and after shot of some of these men and praise God that he is doing his work in you and your group too. Read Ephesians 2:1-10 (especially verses 8 to 10) or Titus 3:5 and thank God for his handiwork.

Prayer of the Week

Lord God, you saved us, not because of the righteous things we’ve done but by your mercy through Jesus Christ your Son. Increase our faith, grow our love, and complete our joy by knowing you and Jesus Christ whom you sent. Amen.

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Luke 6:1-11

I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath…?

Context

While Jesus’ reputation for healing and teaching has grown, this has also attracted the attention of the Jewish elite, namely the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They have witnessed Jesus heal and declare himself able to forgive sins. They have heard him pardon his disciples for revelling in his presence. We now read of the Pharisees seeking out ways to trap Jesus.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-5 Sabbath law lesson number one
  • 6-10 Sabbath law lesson number two
  • 11 Sabbath law lesson number three?

1-5 Sabbath law lesson number one

“One Sabbath…” It’s clear that this story concerns the Sabbath. Exodus 16:23-29 describes the first Sabbaths instituted (aside from God’s rest on the seventh day of creation). Exodus 20:8-11 describes the Sabbath command. Exodus 31:13-17 expand on this. It is given to the people of God as a reminder that it is God who saves and not people. It is a forced rest in order to learn and practice dependance on God.

“…walking through the grainfields…pic some heads of grain…eat the kernels.” See Deuteronomy 23:24-25 to see how Jesus and the disciples were not guilty of stealing. The crime they will be charged of is breaking the Sabbath.

“Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?” Well, let’s remember where we can read that! 1 Samuel 21:1-6 describes a scenario where something holy is given to David and his men on the basis that they are hungry and this was the only thing available for them.

“The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus is most likely referring to himself as the Son of Man. This is the second time Luke has included that phrase from Jesus describing himself and Daniel 7 is the best Old Testament reference to explain why he uses this phrase. It encapsulates both his humanity and his deity. Jesus is stating that the Sabbath reports to Him and not the other way round! Mark 2:27 adds another remark from Jesus where he reminds the Pharisees that the Sabbath is a gift, not a chore: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

 

6-10 Sabbath law lesson number two

“On another Sabbath…” Luke has put these two stories together for their message but clearly at least 7 days separate them.

“…into the synagogue and was teaching…” This was common for Jesus, and later the disciples, to do. Luke 4:14-15; Acts 17:2. Watching movies of Jesus gives me the impression that all he ever did was preach on hillsides and country areas but Luke shows us that he worked alongside faith seekers (AKA faithful Jews) to teach them. He taught in the very places you’d expect to hear the word of God.

“…and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled.” Temple laws of cleanness did not apply in the Synagogues. This man is mentioned not because it was strange that he was there but because the story revolves around Jesus healing him.

“…looking for a reason to accuse Jesus…” We see the temperature rise in the book of Luke as the Pharisees are now on the hunt for something to say against Jesus. What a sorry state for those men’s souls – listening to the Word of Life in order to find fault instead of receive life themselves. They even had his crime predicted: that he would heal on the Sabbath.

“But Jesus knew what they were thinking…” Shall we say that Jesus can read minds or that he is insightful to people’s intentions and hearts? Either and both are possible. No doubt God knows our thoughts before we speak them (Psalm 139:2,23) but how much does Jesus know? See Matthew 9:4. The least we must say is that Jesus knew people and although the Pharisees were secretly thinking this and that, Jesus brings the conversation to the public space for all to hear.

“Get up…so he got up…” Jesus commands the man and he obeys. The man is not just someone in the crowd now, he stands with Jesus on show. Jesus will either make a good point here or humiliate himself and the cripple. Of course the former is true.

“…which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Certain logic would suggest a third option and that is to let it be! Save, destroy or live and let live. That’s three options but Jesus only offers two. God’s holiness only works in binary fashion as the test has always been to choose between good or evil (Genesis 2:10 Psalm 34:14, 37:27, 52:3, Isaiah 5:20, Jeremiah 4:22, Luke 6:45), life or death (Deuteronomy 28-30), love or hate (Psalm 97:10, Ecclesiastes 3:8, Luke 16:13). Loving God and loving our neighbour requires choosing good, love and life. To do anything outside of this aligns with evil, hate and death. Paul spoke about the fruit of the Spirit as virtues that there are no laws against. That is, always choose those ways: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

“He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”” Jesus’ enemy were silent throughout this whole episode. They did not verbally challenge Jesus on anything but Jesus knew what they were thinking. They did not answer Jesus’ question about what is the right response on the Sabbath. Of course the answers to Jesus’ questions were ‘do good and save life’ or ‘don’t do evil or destroy life.’ Jesus answers his own question by healing the man on the Sabbath. What has he done but good to this man. It was an easy thing for Jesus to do and he chose to do good. He could have done it the day before or the day after but his issue was not with this cripple but with the men whose religion was crippled. In healing the lame man, perhaps he could heal the lame worshippers who have misunderstood the point of the Sabbath.

11 Sabbath law lesson number three?

“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” So, it’s not ok for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath but it is ok for the Pharisees to watch carefully to trap Jesus (verse 7) and then plot against him (verse 11). We must ask the Pharisees, ‘are you now doing good and saving life in hearts this Sabbath or is this evil and life destroying pans that you are making?’ The Pharisees fail to see that their view of Sabbath law is entirely external and does not include the attitude of the heart. Sure, they may be abstaining from work and denying themselves, attempting to keep the 5th commandment, but inwardly they are breaking the 6th and 9th (Exodus 20:1-17; Leviticus 19:18) while misunderstanding what the 5th is for.

Meaning

The Sabbath observance is to promote dependance on God, not dependance on law. It was made for man’s sake. Religion fails to see the good that things are given for and turns them into burdens and masters. The commandments are for loving God and loving our neighbours and will promote goodness and life that the Spirit grows in us from within. Observing the law as the Pharisees did does not care for God and fellow man as God intended. While the Pharisees thought they knew the law and how to live it out, Jesus knows the thoughts of man and how to point them to life.

Application

  • Topic A: Does the 5th commandment still apply to Christians today? Jesus’ lessons on the Sabbath to the Pharisees give us an excellent approach to discussing this question. Was Jesus attempting to abolish the law or was he trying to teach the Pharisees how to see the law clearly? As humans, we have hearts by nature which break all ten of the commandments regularly but we know that we find forgiveness in Jesus’ name (1 John 1:8-9). The question is not whether the commandments are still applicable or not but what do the commandments teach us? The Sabbath is given for man’s sake to stop and deny himself and acknowledge that God is in charge (sovereign), God provides and the law of utmost importance is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
  • Topic B: Being conscious of evil in us. Jesus brought a challenge to the Pharisees even though they had not said anything to him. He knew what they were thinking and this in itself was a problem. The Pharisees only cared about what people did but Jesus cares about what people think. One way to bring our evil thoughts to the surface is to speak with God about them. Jesus forced the Pharisees’ opinions to be public even though they did not engage verbally with Jesus. God calls on us to confess our sins and be made right with him through Christ’s blood. 1 John 1:5-7ff.
  • Topic C: Souls that seek a saviour. Here is a truth: we are not to model our lives after the Pharisees in this passage. They were ‘looking for a reason to accuse Jesus’ and then ‘began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.’ Even as Christians we can practice, at times, the heart of the Pharisee that seeks to accuse and critique at the expense of hearing the truth. Of course, the bible teaches us to be discerning and when there are wolves in sheep’s clothing that is prudent. But would you describe yourself as eager to learn more from God or more often critical, cynical and sore toward people explaining the word of God?

Prayer of the Week

Heavenly Father, thank you for life and health and safety and for the leisure that we have to worship you publicly and openly in this country. Please guide our hearts to greater love of Jesus and the truth. Please guide our minds toward goodness and life and help us to discern when our hearts are bent towards evil and destruction. Thank you for forgiving our sins through the work and resurrection of Jesus. Help us to love you more each day and to care for our fellow-man as Jesus has shown us. Amen.

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Luke 5:33-39

Fast while He is with them?

Context

Gaining followers and protesters seems to be the theme of Luke’s gospel from Luke 4:31 to 6:16. While Peter, James, John and Levi (Matthew) have been gathered to Jesus as disciples, the Pharisees and teachers of the law have arrived as antagonists to Jesus’ ministry. It is through their doubts and questioning, however, that we have learned that Jesus is able to forgive sins and that he calls on all of us to come to him as sinners who need healing.

Observation

Structure

  • 33-35 You can’t cry over good news
  • 36-39 You can’t mix old and new

33-35 You can’t cry over good news

“They said to him…” Is this ‘they’ the Pharisees and the teachers of the law or the friends of Levi or someone else? We might immediately think it is the Pharisees who had just been talking with Jesus and then go on to ask him other questions. But they talk about the Pharisees in the third person (verse 33). ‘They’ could refer to Levi and his friends although the question appears more of a reflection from the outside looking at Jesus’ disciples rather than a disciple asking the question. It’s possible that Luke isn’t interested in describing who since it’s the questions that are important. Bock argues that this is another scene altogether and not simply carrying on from the last. It is helpful to read the story as a bit of a mystery at this point as if we’ve just jumped into another moment in Jesus’ ministry and it is just the general questions of the crowd asking Jesus why his ministry is so different to the Pharisees and John’s.

“John’s disciples…” It is clear that John had disciples also. They weren’t described earlier when John was baptising and teaching to the crowd. A disciple is simply a student or follower. See Luke 7:18ff for another story with John’s disciples.

“…often fast and pray…eating and drinking.” To fast is to abstain from food in order to practice or experience dependance on God while engaging in a time of prayer. Fasting is always associated with sorrow and pleading. Fasting and prayer go hand in hand which highlights the relational act of fasting rather than being a religious duty or cultural season. One thing that comes out of this passage in Luke is the idea that fasting was in practice before Jesus came and it is expected to continue once he has gone. Christians should consider fasting as a helpful discipline without drawing any attention to it (Matthew 6:16-17). In contrast, the disciples of Jesus were celebrating and festive with their food. If both the Pharisees and Jesus’ forerunner practiced it, what is wrong with Jesus? There are no great prescriptive passages in the bible about fasting nor when it originated or why. Judges 20:26 appears to be the first reference to it. See 2 Samuel 12; Ezra 8, and Isaiah 58 for three Old Testament samples of fasting. Note that fasting is described in Acts 13:2, and 14:23 but never again in the New Testament. We should conclude that it is useful to fast but that the apostles spilled no ink on this subject to promote it. Mind you, neither did the Old Testament prophets. It is possible that Leviticus 23:26-32 refers to fasting on the Day of Atonement, referring to it as ‘denying yourself’ but again, it is not explicitly about fasting from food. The concept of denying yourself can apply to any manner of things. In the Leviticus passage it no doubt refers to or includes abstaining from work. In this sense, every Sabbath day, if we decide not to work, is a form of fasting.

“Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?” Jesus’ logical answer is a question of why we might fast to begin with. Fasting and praying is a means of feeling dependant on God in order to cry and plead for his help. Jesus equates himself as the bridegroom who is present and all his friends cannot be bothered with morbid duties while their joy is present.

“But the time will come…” This moment of Jesus’ presence will not last. He will be removed and then the disciples will have reason to fast again.

The bottom line here is that Jesus places himself as the source of joy and contentment. When he is absent, it is time for people to call on the name of the Lord for deliverance.

36-39 You can’t mix old and new

“He told them this parable…” A parable is a story with a hidden meaning. It’s a riddle. The words are not nonsense and they give a picture to be interpreted. But the meaning requires thought and meditation. It is a mistake to think that Jesus told parables in order for people to understand more easily (Luke 8:10). So put your thinking caps on.

“…a new garment to patch an old one.” The image of an old garment and a new is clear but what is his meaning behind it? Notice that in repairing the old with the new, both the old and the new are left damaged in the process. That is, the old is not repaired and the new was torn in order to try and repair the old! Parable A tells us that fixing an older thing with a newer thing does no favours for either. Let’s see what he says next.

“…new wine into old wineskins.” Verses 37-38 actually tell the same message but replacing a fabric metaphor with a wine metaphor. See how the new wine not only damages the old wineskins, making them useless, but that the new wine itself is now spilled and ruined. So parable B shares the same point as parable A. Let’s see where Jesus goes next.

“…no one after drinking the old wine wants the new…” I see two ways to interpret the phrase in verse 39. Firstly, no ‘old wine’ drinker will bother with new wine since they know that the old is better. This interpretation teaches us that there’s no point leading a trained palate to an immature grape since they will reject it. But what if Jesus is not trying to promote old wine but to demote traditional or old school thinking? Well, a second way of seeing this verse is to say that those who have tasted the old wine will never give the new a try. That is, some people will only like what they know they like whether it’s good for them or not. So, is Jesus giving us parable C which agrees with the other two or is he saying a new thing and having a dig at the Pharisees?

How are we to decide what the meaning is?

A side note, the word ‘interpretation’ is misused if it suggests that what you read can come to mean whatever you believe it means. The word ‘interpret’ is about meaning, not feeling. The only times that multiple interpretations can be allowed is when the meaning can, in context, be taken more than one way! If you decide to interpret something out of context and based on what you feel it should mean then you are not actually interpreting the text but importing your own meaning and belief. You have failed to listen to the text correctly. What we want to do is uncover Jesus’ meaning. Don’t ask, “what does this say to me” but “what does the author have in mind when they wrote this.”

Putting verse 39 in the context of verses 33 to 38 gives us this meaning: One cannot expect the disciples of Jesus to fast and mourn while Jesus is still present. That is like putting new cloth on an old garment. It can’t work. It’s like pouring new wine into old wineskins. It can’t work! And it’s like asking someone who knows that old wine is better to go and drink new wine voluntarily. It just won’t happen! Try it this way: “Can you make ‘old wine drinkers’ drink new wine when there’s perfectly good old wine present? No way! But maybe when the old wine is gone, then they might return to drinking new wine.

An alternate view, and a common one, is that Jesus is comparing the new era of salvation with the old era of religion and saying that they cannot co-exist and that some, like the Pharisees, will never give the new a try. I can imagine readers getting trapped by matching Jesus’ words of old and new with Old versus New Covenant or Old versus New Testament. This is an understandable connection to make and does seem to fit reasonably well against verses 36 to 38. But verse 39 is unclear. We can either see Jesus as making three parallel statements or that he is ambiguously throwing in a third to spite the Pharisees. Note that in verse 33 Jesus expects that fasting will happen again when he has departed his disciples. This goes against the idea of an old era of salvation and a new. I could also add discussion on how Jesus elsewhere promotes himself as a continuation or fulfillment of the so called old era rather than saying that he is rejecting the old for the new. If Jesus is telling the Pharisees that a new way of worship has come and you cannot mix the old with the new then he is introducing a new message on top of what he says in verses 33 to 35. This is a common view which celebrates the difference that Jesus has brought into the world. However, if Jesus is underscoring the same message throughout verses 33 to 39 then he is saying over and over again that he is the Christ and while he is here, it is insane for his disciples to mourn.

One last note about Jesus’ parables. It is majestic how he launches from a question about eating and drinking into a parable that fits perfectly – an image of celebrating with food and wine. Then he carries his message along the lines of garments (perhaps a wedding garment? Matthew 22:12) and then wine. What I’m saying is that his metaphors came perfectly out of the question asked of him. And his method of answering leaves the listener thinking and wondering what he means exactly.

Meaning

Why on earth would you expect someone who is in the presence of Jesus to be mourning and fasting? Salvation and deliverance has come and the King is with his disciples. Jesus brings with him peace and rejoicing. Seeing who Jesus is invites a change of perspective to the mourner who cries out to God for help since God’s help is here! Fasting in prayer has its place but never in the face of God’s deliverance being here already!

Application

  • Topic A: Should Christians fast today? Jesus cannot be declaring an end to fasting for his disciples but only while they were with him. Acts 13:2 and 14:23 give two examples of Christians after Jesus’ death and resurrection praying with fasting. Jesus himself fasted in Luke 4. There is no directive in the New Testament, however, for Christians to pursue fasting. What then, can we say about how to fast, why or why not fast? Perhaps Leviticus 23:26-32; 2 Samuel 12:15-23; Ezra 8:21-23 and Isaiah 58 will help your discussion.
  • Topic B: Jesus is the bridegroom. In his parable, Jesus told his disciples that the presence of the bridegroom makes a big difference to the celebrations of his friends. Jesus says that he is enough reason to celebrate. He is God’s answer to our prayers. While Christians will continue to suffer and mourn we cannot live as though we have no hope of deliverance. Jesus has come and when you taste friendship with Jesus, you can never go back to wondering and struggling through life as if answers are out of reach. This passage is one subtle message for us to know that the Christ has come!
  • Topic C: Interpreting the bible. Jesus answered the Pharisees with a parable which is much like a riddle. It is metaphorical. It requires careful thought to uncover its meaning. The word ‘interpretation’ is misused if it suggests that what you read can come to mean whatever you believe it means. The word ‘interpret’ is about meaning, not feeling. The only times when multiple interpretations can be allowed is when the meaning can, in context, be taken more than one way! If you decide to interpret something out of context or based on what you feel it should mean then you are not actually interpreting the text but importing your own meaning and belief. You have failed to listen to the text correctly. What we want to do is uncover the Author’s meaning. Don’t ask, “what does this say to me” but “what did the author have in mind when he wrote this?”

Prayer of the Week

Our Lord and God, thank you for delivering us through Jesus Christ. We praise you for sending your Son into the world so that through his resurrection we can have a living hope. Please help us to rejoice with you and celebrate because the King has come. And help us to continue to lean on you for our every help in times of trouble. Amen.