This new Rabbi who presented himself to be baptized by John at the Jordan River apparently had a different way of doing business than his ascetic cousin, or the religious elite from Jerusalem. When some of John’s followers were concerned that Jesus and his disciples partied a little too much, he described himself not as a Rabbi, but as a bridegroom:
“Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17 NIV)
When John’s disciples questioned Jesus why his disciples did not fast, Jesus used a couple of very different references to describe growth and change. The wineskin verse has always puzzled me a bit, but it occurred to me that it really fits with New Year’s resolutions. It refers to growth and expanding to new horizons, and Jesus describes those things in ways that everyone listening would understand.
First of all, Jesus talks about celebrating the groom at a wedding feast. He points out that 1) he is the bridegroom at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven—which makes us the bride—and 2) we should live in the present, unburdened by fear of what might happen in the future. We should party with the bridegroom at the feast while we have the chance. The eternal Son of God always encourages to be present to be in the moment.
In a subtler context he is also reminding his audience about commitment and change. When we get married, it is a new commitment, and it involves a new way of behaving. It represents leaving an old life behind as a single person and starting a new one as a couple. When you get married, it doesn’t improve your lot as a single person; you actually exchange your old single life for MARRIED life!
When you get married, you can’t keep living the way you did when you were alone. You have to share, to adapt, and to live differently than you did before. Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom and calls us to participate in a new reality, to celebrate our relationship with him while there is still time. He then enlarges upon his teaching about growth by reminding his listeners that new wine (which expands as it ages) must be put into new wineskins, which have the elasticity to expand with it.
His immediate context points out that the old, legalistic way of relating to God has changed to a new dynamic, and he calls his followers to relationship rather than religion. He points out that it is not by doing new things with our old selves that we change; but it is by embracing new selves that we can act and feel differently. That’s why he tells his disciples in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
We can’t improve the flesh but we can REPLACE it. In his book, “If I Perish, I Perish”. Major Ian Thomas says that we can’t attain spirituality by dressing up our old nature and hoping that he reforms. You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig. Our flesh will ALWAYS be sinful and will ALWAYS long to return to its selfish ways. He cites Israel as an example for us, and points out that God didn’t leave the Israelites in Egypt, hoping that they would evolve into more devout followers. He says “God never intended to improve their lot under Pharaoh but to exchange their land.”
Like He did with Israel, God calls us to a new way of life. They couldn’t patch the old wineskins, but had to get brand new ones. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV) Resolutions to change the outer man won’t help us if we don’t exchange the inner one. If you want to change, make one resolution this year: In 2020, I am going to celebrate with the bridegroom every day!
The bridegroom’s face is beaming with pride,
As all heads turn to see the lovely bride;
They will be exchanging vows and rings,
And changing the future, whatever it brings…
Gone is the independent single life;
From this day forth they are man and wife.
This life will put them through stormy weather,
But come what may, they will deal with it together.
This is what they will strive to do,
As together, they make something new–
And one stronger life is forged from two.
To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread