New Wine And New Wineskins (Mark 2)

“And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:15-17)

What a remarkable scene we have at the house of Matthew! On the one hand, we have a group of some of the most despised scoundrels to be found in all of Israel. On the other, we have the religious and pious. Matthew, a publican or tax collector, belonged to an infamous profession hated by all strata of Jewish society. These were men more closely aligned with the occupying Roman government than to their own people whom they often cheated and swindled. But an interesting thing happened to Matthew one day as he sat working in his tax collection booth. The Lord Jesus Christ passed by and said to him, “Follow Me!”(Mark 2:14).

The call of Matthew is a poignant image of our Lord Jesus as the Good Shepherd, seeking out the lost sheep and calling them into His fold. How many years it had been since Matthew had even entered a synagogue is anyone’s guess, but we can be certain that he would never have found Jesus by going into one to hear Him preach. Matthew, like so many other lost sinners, had resigned himself to his assumed destiny and in all probability gave little thought to the hope that he might one day be forgiven of his sins and find Salvation and reconciliation with God. Matthew was not searching for God when their paths crossed that day, but God was “searching” for him. Jesus came to him, even in all of his vile and wicked sinfulness, and spoke the life-bringing words that would forever change the trajectory of the life of Levi, Son of Alphaeus.

Contrasted against this we have the Scribes and Pharisees, men who were highly regarded and revered in society but most of whom had absolutely no interest in the Salvation that the Lord was offering. To them, this rabble of degenerates was offensive and the idea that Jesus, a Rabbi, would condescend to eat with such people cast doubt in their eyes on His own integrity. Yet while they stood by judging Jesus’ motives and scrutinizing His actions, the sinners and tax collectors present were said to be “following” Him. They recognized in Jesus something that the Scribes and Pharisees did not.

Jesus answered the religious leaders, declaring to them that He had come to call sinners to repentance, not the righteous. I wonder what they thought when He said this. Did they hold fast to their belief that there was a vast distinction in the eyes of God between those tax-collecting miscreants who were clinging close to Jesus and themselves? Or did the words of the Lord bring to their minds the Psalmist’s diagnosis of the heart of man:

“The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who understand,
Who seek after God.
They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:2-3)

These experts of Scripture had to be very familiar with this passage, and yet it seems they somehow felt that they themselves were excluded from the “all” who have turned aside and become corrupt. The very first step in the process of Salvation is conviction and, apart from it, there can be no repentance at all. If we fail to recognize our own sin and depravity, then there is no hope for our ever being saved. For if we say we have no sin then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). In order for a person to call upon a Savior, he first must come to the realization that he is in need of one. There was, indeed, a distinction between the Pharisees and the Publicans present at Matthew’s house that evening, but it was not the distinction which the religious leaders imagined. The difference was that the Publicans knew that they were sinners and the Pharisees did not.

Of Garments Old And New

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22)

The Lord’s words here are a continuation of what we have just considered. Self-righteousness and religious ritual are not the things which will save a person, but something, moreover Someone, completely different. Verses 18-20 describe a confrontation between both the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees and the Lord Jesus Christ regarding the observation of religious fasting. We should first understand that nowhere in the Old Testament is fasting prescribed as a religious observance. People would fast at times, especially when they were either mourning or humbling themselves before the Lord in petition for a need (cf. 1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 12:16). But this was not done per God’s instructions, it was a tradition the people had adopted. Fasting, of course, can have a valid place in the Christian’s experience, but we must recognize that the issue taken with Jesus was not based upon His or His disciple’s disregard for the Law, but rather for the traditions which had grown out of Judaism.

Thus His reference to garments and wineskins has to do with relying on religious ritual, traditions, and the observance of ceremonies for Salvation. “Garments”, in the Bible, often refer to a covering of righteousness. When Adam and Eve sinned, God covered them with garments (Genesis 3:21). When Noah sinned, his sons covered him with a garment (Genesis 9:23). Isaiah compares self-righteousness to a filthy garment (Isaiah 64:6). Over in Revelation, we read of white garments which the Lord Jesus provides, that is, His righteousness clothing us and making us acceptable to God (Rev. 3:5, 18, 4:4). It is to these garments which Jesus refers in His parable of the Wedding Feast when He mentions “wedding clothes” (cf. Matthew 22:11-12).

Our own garments are stained with sin and it is not possible to make them white by patching them up with self-righteous rituals and religious ceremonies. Only by being clothed in the white garments which Christ alone can provide may we enter into Salvation. Similarly, we cannot pour the new wine of the Gospel into the wineskins of man’s traditions and self-prescribed observances and expect to be saved by such things.

The old garment and old wineskin may also be seen as the Law of Moses, or the Old Testament. The work of Jesus Christ was not to patch up or repair what was wrong with the Law of Moses (not that there is any fault in God’s Law, the weakness lies in humanity who is unable to follow it — as seen in Romans 7), but to bring His own garment of righteousness with which to clothe sinners: a perfect, pure, white garment untouched by patch or stitch. His blood is the wine of the New Covenant (Luke 22:20), poured out for the sins of man and shed for new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), new wineskins which bear His name.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published May 10, 2015]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Bringing Others To Jesus (Mark 2)

“…Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.” (Mark 1:45b)

Thus the closing statement of Mark 1 reveals that great crowds were coming from all over the region to see Jesus. And why were they coming to Him? It would seem that a great majority were coming in order to be healed of some affliction or disease. It was the testimony of the cleansed leper (Mark 1:45a) which made it nearly impossible for the Lord to travel anywhere without being mobbed on all sides. Yet the real purpose of Jesus’ ministry was not to heal the sick or cast out demons; for what do we find Him doing when He does finally come back after several days into Capernaum?

And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them.” (Mark 2:2, emphasis added)

Though we seldom read of the Lord going anywhere that He did not heal the sick and cast out evil spirits, His focus was ultimately on preaching the Word of God and proclaiming the Gospel. The mission of Jesus Christ was to declare the Good News of Salvation, the reconciliation of man to the Lord through the death and resurrection of the Son, and to bear the penalty for the sins which separate the sinner from a holy God. He was not simply a thaumaturge alleviating the temporal ailments of the poor and downtrodden for the entertainment and curiosity of the masses. Back in Chapter 1 of Mark, we read that Jesus “…came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 15)

However, an interruption occurs as our Lord is sharing the Word with the crowd inside the house. Suddenly, there is a noise on the roof of the home as four men begin to tear the thatching apart. Unable to get their friend into Jesus’ presence by any other means, the desperate men can see no other way than to rip the top of the building off and lower their companion directly before Him.

And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)

It seems that many of the Bible commentaries on this incident put a lot of focus on the details of what these four men actually did in order to remove the roof and bring their friend into the Lord’s presence. Descriptions are given concerning how the roofs of the homes in that place and time were fashioned to be easily opened for various purposes and that peeling them back would not have been seen as a destructive or bold action. Be that as it may, it sure seems that their decision to do so got the Lord’s attention as well as that of every other person present. Jesus commended their faith for intrepidly doing whatever was necessary to get their sick companion to the Great Physician.

Obviously, it was ultimately not the faith of the four men holding the stretcher which saved the man, but his own. Faith in Jesus Christ can never bring Salvation to someone else by proxy. But then again, it certainly can contribute to someone else’s Salvation, can it not? What would the fate of that paralyzed man have been if his friends did not believe strongly enough that the Lord could heal him? What if they had not believed that it was worth the risk of embarrassment and rebuke and they had decided to just go on back home. There was no room through the doorway, there was no entry through a window, only by dismantling the roof could the men bring their friend into Jesus’ presence.

What can we say about the faith of others and what their contributions have brought to our own Salvation? The mother who diligently prays for her wayward son, the neighbor who cares enough to drive the lonely widow to church each week. There are those who risk much and sacrifice greatly for the benefit of another; they are willing to do whatever it takes just to get that person into the presence of Jesus Christ. Though they encounter difficulties, blocked doors and barred windows, they persevere both through prayer and through action, and they stop at nothing in order to bring the one paralyzed by sin to the only One Who can say, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

“Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” (Mark 2:7-11)

There are those who assert that Jesus Himself never claimed Divinity and some who suggest that only the Apostle John recorded Him declaring that He is God incarnate. But those who do so fail to grasp the significance of His words in passages such as the one before us. For the scribes were absolutely correct in their second premise: who can forgive sins but God alone? But they were in error concerning their first: He is blaspheming. Only God can forgive sins and yet Jesus forgave sins. The only conclusion we are left with is that either Jesus mistakingly believed that He was God or else He truly is God. But to deny that He ever claimed to be God is completely fallacious.

The scribes were left with one or the other of these conclusions (as, indeed, are each of us). By accusing Jesus of blasphemy, they were implying that He was incorrectly asserting His own Deity. Thus the Lord lays out for them a dilemma. Which is easier to do, to say that this man’s sins are forgiven and assert His Deity, or to say to the man to rise up and walk? The first, of course, would be easier apart from any verification. Any madman can claim to be God. But what if He proves it by doing that which no other man can do? Who else but God could make the paralyzed rise to their feet in an instant?

It is no wonder that all who were present (except, I would imagine, the scribes themselves) glorified God and declared, “We have never seen anything like this” (Mark 2:12). Again, we should understand from the Lord’s own words that it was His identity as God incarnate, His position as the Son of God sent to take away the sins of the world, that was of supremacy in His ministry. It was not the miracles and healing and wonders that should be at center stage. These were done out of compassion by the Lord Jesus for His people and to authenticate His message. Part of Jesus’ “credentials” were His miracles and it was His wonders and signs which proved that He was and is exactly Who He claimed to be.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published Mar. 12, 2015]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

The Beginning Of The Gospel (Mark 1)

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy. He wants to present the lineage of Jesus Christ and His birthright, as a Son of David, to rule over Israel. Luke begins his Gospel with a note of introduction explaining both his purpose and approach. And John opens his Gospel with a “Beginning” that looks back to time immemorial, before the Lord had created a single thing. But Mark begins his record with a prophecy and a prophet.

For Mark, the real beginning of the Gospel centers around an adult John the Baptist baptizing an adult Jesus. Mark, the “evangelist of action”, spends no time developing the background of Jesus’ or John the Baptist’s births, but jumps right in with the Scriptural prophecies concerning the Baptist. Quoting from both Malachi and Isaiah in verses 2 and 3 (cf. Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3), Mark gives one of the few references to the Old Testament in his entire book. As do the other Gospel writers, Mark gives these references in order to positively identify John as the prophesied messenger and “voice” who would serve as the forerunner of Jesus’ coming.

John The Baptist, Last Of The Prophets

“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)

Here on the pages of the New Testament appears the last of the Old Testament prophets. John the Baptist was truly an extraordinary man who occupied a unique position in the purposes of God. His ministry serving as a transition point between the Old and New Testaments, John was called to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus to begin His own ministry. For not only is the ministry of John the “beginning of the Gospel”, so are the ministries of all the prophets of the Old Testament whose entire prophetic works ultimately pointed toward the coming Christ. John’s ministry was the culmination of every prophet of God who had served before him.

John Served In The Office Of Elijah

“It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)

“[The disciples] asked [Jesus], saying, “Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.” (Mark 9:11-13)

John the Baptist came in the spirit and strength of Elijah. He actually served in the office of Elijah with a very similar type of ministry. In fact, the people of Judea were doubtlessly reminded of Elijah himself by John’s clothing (cf. 2 Kings 1:8) and that, along with his message, prompted them to plainly ask him if he was Elijah come in the flesh (John 1:21). But the Baptist denied that he was actually Elijah although our Lord confirms that he represented him.

“Elijah” himself is often understood Scripturally to be representative of all the prophets; a sort of synecdoche  used interchangeably with the expression “the prophets.” Thus the image of all of the prophets of the Old Testament witnessing to the identity of Jesus Christ through the Baptism of John is reinforced by John’s close association with the person of Elijah.

In The Wilderness

It is also significant that the location of John’s ministry was in “the Wilderness.” The Wilderness is the place in the history of Israel of wandering and rebellion against God. Israel, as a people and nation, had wandered far from the Lord and this is symbolized by the place where they are to go and meet with God’s last prophet before the coming Messiah. Yet the Wilderness is also a place of preparation where God tests, prepares, and meets with His people. It was to the Wilderness of Midian that Moses fled after killing the Egyptian taskmaster (Exodus 2:15) and it was in this wilderness that God appeared to him in the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-2). How appropriate it is that God would choose a remote, wilderness place for people to come and be baptized in preparation for the coming Christ.

The Message Of John

Finally, we consider the content of John’s message and the result of the baptism he was performing. First of all, the heart of John’s message was not an idea or teaching, but a Person. His primary purpose was to point others toward Jesus Christ. His ministry was a preparatory one, paving the way for the Lord’s coming.

“And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8)

John’s Baptism

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)

It should be understood that Mark is in no way suggesting that John’s baptism resulted in the forgiveness of sins; only faith in Jesus Christ can do that. But the repentance from sin and undergoing John’s water baptism was the proper response to his message. Doing this would prepare a person for the coming work of the Lord Jesus and would put them in a position to receive Christ. The Greek preposition translated in most of our English versions as “for” in Mark 1:4 is probably better rendered as unto, with reference to, or leading to.

“Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:4-5)

This incident in the Book of Acts demonstrates the purposes of John the Baptist’s ministry. These twelve men whom Paul encountered in Ephesus had apparently been disciples of John the Baptist but had never come to faith in Jesus. At what point they had left John and headed for Asia Minor is uncertain, but they had evidently missed much, if not all, of the Lord’s ministry in Judea. Consequently, they had repented of their sins, received John’s baptism, but had not yet received Christ for Salvation.

John’s baptism with water was performed in order to outwardly demonstrate the inward repentance the person had made. Yet Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit comes upon those who repent and trust in Him for Salvation.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published June 25, 2014]

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission