Sermon passage: Luke 5v33-6v11

Day 1

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.’

34 Jesus answered, ‘Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.’

 

It seems that fasting and praying went together in the minds of the people of Jesus’ day [v 33]. It was not and end in itself, but an aid to prayer. It was a familiar practice in NT times. The whole nation fasted on the Day of Atonement [Lev. 16:29]. The pharisees fasted twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays to intercede for the nation. It seems that fasting was also practised by The Baptiser and his disciples [v 33]. Jesus himself fasted for 40 days during the temptations [Luke 4:2] and he entered a fast at the last supper [Luke 22:16,18]. He gave advice on fasting [Mt. 6:16-18] which implied that his followers fasted, and would do so in the future [v 35]. However, it seems that there was no regular fasting as part of the practice of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus gives the reason in terms of the present time (while ever Jesus is physically present) being like a wedding feast. No one fasts at wedding. He is the bridegroom with his guests. 

We can miss much of what the Bible has to say about joy and celebration. Do you ever think of God as being joyful? The Bible says that God does whatever pleases him, whatever makes him happy [Psalm 115:3]. If that is the case, then he is always happy. He wants his people to be joyful as well. 

Read the words of Isaiah: 

“Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;

And you who have no money, come buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,

And your labour on what does not satisfy?

Listen to me, and eat what is good

and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Give ear and come to me,

hear me that your soul may live.” [Is 55:1-2]

Does your soul delight in your God?  Does your relationship with Jesus bring you joy and life?

In the parable of the treasure hidden in the field [Matthew 13], the man who finds the treasure (which represents the Kingdom of God) is driven to buy the field in which it is hidden “in his joy”.  The kingdom brings joy.

Jesus says, “11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” [John 15:11] 

and

13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” [ John 17:13]

 

The bridegroom is with his people through his Spirit. 

It is worth asking why so often the joy is lacking. 

 

PRAYER

Father of all delight, give me eyes to see you clearly and rejoice in my adoption as your child. Amen

 

 

Day 2

36 He told them this parable: ‘No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, “The old is better.”

 

Jesus follows his explanation of why his disciples don’t fast with a couple of parables. He says no one patches old clothes by taking a piece of cloth from a new garment for two reasons: the new garment will be ruined and the cloth won’t match, even, one supposes, if they are the same pattern, because the old will have faded. You can’t try and make Jesus fit into the straitjacket that the religious leaders of his day had made for people. Jesus is not dismissing the Old Testament, for he quotes it readily and speaks of it as the word of God [Mt 5:17-20, 22:31]. Rather this is the new age foretold in the Old Testament and towards which the Old Testament kept pointing forward. The commentator Walter L. Liefeld says Jesus “teaches that he has not come merely to add devotional routines to those already practised, for what he brings is not a patch but a whole new garment.” [Walter L. Liefeld, “The Gospel of Luke” The Expositors Bible Commentary, pg. 885]

So, what is Jesus getting at? He is saying that he brings a whole new regime in that he is now establishing the meaning behind the law. Rather than lowering the standards of religious observation, as his accusers are claiming, his standards are actually higher than the traditional take on the law. Whereas the law was taken  as setting a minimum requirement of the people of God, a set of standards that people must not break, Jesus explains the law as a way of life to pursue, “a demand for a total commitment far deeper than much Jewish observation of the law” [David Wenham, “Jesus and the Law: an Exegesis on Matthew 5:17-20, in Themelios Volume 4 Issue 3]. So Jesus says that the law is really about loving God wholeheartedly and loving others [Matthew 22:36-40]. The law as taught by the pharisees was primarily negative – don’t do this or that. They even expanded on the law to explain details of what you can’t do, e.g., with the Sabbath laws. The law as Jesus explains it is positive - do what is loving towards others; do what honours God. You can’t keep that law by setting limits. 

So, the accusation about fasting missed the point. True faith is not about keeping rules. It is about a lifestyle – a lifestyle that the rules were really pointing to in the first place. It’s about the heart and the behaviour that flow from the heart. 

 

PRAYER

God of love and grace, continue to fill my heart with love for you and for others. Amen

 

 

 

 

Day 3

36 He told them this parable: ‘No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, “The old is better.”

 

Verse 39 is Jesus’ comment on the fact that many would not accept him and the salvation he brings. The religious leaders saw Jesus as someone who was changing their religion, rather than fulfilling it as he was actually doing [Mat. 5:17]. The new wine of the gospel is God’s grace, which is actually the way that he has always operated [Romans 16:25-27], and he has now poured out his Spirit in a way that has not previously occurred in history [Acts 2:14-18]. 

There can be a tendency among some Christians to draw a line between the Old and New Testaments. People sometimes speak of “the God of the Old Testament” as though he was different to the God of the new Testament. For instance, the “God of the Old Testament” is sometimes seen as being angry and vengeful, whereas the God of the New Testament is seen as a God of love. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that our view of God develops as we move through the scriptures. This is not a change in the character of God, however; rather, we get to see more and more of him as his revelation of himself expands.

The revelation of God in the Old Testament is that he is a God of love just as much as he is a God who punishes sin, while the revelation of God in the New Testament shows that he is a God who punishes sin as much as he is a God of love. Nehemiah 9:17 says “You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.”

Check out Isaiah 54:10 as well.

In the New Testament we read  The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” [Romans 1:18]

Verse 39 is a stark warning against settling into a groove in the exercise of our faith. Jesus is bringing the new wine of the gospel but people do not want it. The old ways are better, they say. They prefer the known and the regular. 

It is also good to remember what have been called the ‘death words’ of a church, “but we don’t do things that way.” Change is always hard. Most church disagreements are not over what the Bible says but over how we do ministry; how we go about fulfilling the great commission. In a new church plant, one of the elderly ladies in the tiny congregation took me aside and said, “I hate the way you have changed our music in this church, but we’ve been praying for years that God would help us grow and I just want you to know that although I don’t like the music personally I’m behind you one hundred percent.” 

 

PRAYER

God of Old and New Testament, help me to see you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly. Amen

 

 

 

Day 4

6 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and his disciples began to pick some ears of corn, rub them in their hands and eat the grain. 2 Some of the Pharisees asked, ‘Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’

3 Jesus answered them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’ 5 Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’

 

The Sabbath law was one of the key laws of the people of God. In many ways, submission to the Sabbath laws was the litmus test of devotion, hence the question directed towards Jesus. Picking the corn was considered by the pharisees as harvesting, and it was unlawful to work on the Sabbath. Another example of breaking the Sabbath law that the pharisees gave was that of a tailor who pinned his/her needle into their lapel, forgot it was there and carried it on their lapel on the Sabbath –technically carrying their tools of trade on the Sabbath.

Jesus makes two points. First he reminds people of the incident where David received no condemnation for breaking a religious rule in order to meet human need [1 Sam 21]. The Sabbath was established to serve people – to give a day of rest, to allow a time to focus on the worship of God – not to burden them. The religious leaders had made the Sabbath a burden rather than a blessing. (Here is another example of the new wine that Jesus spoke of – a different take on the law from that of the pharisees). Our faith in Jesus should not be a burden but a delight. It shouldn’t weigh us down but set us free to soar. 

Secondly Jesus makes that staggering claim that he is Lord of the Sabbath. If ever there was a claim to divinity, this was it. God established the Sabbath – it was his creation, and so in that sense he was Lord of the Sabbath. He was not bound by the Sabbath, it followed as a consequence of his acts in creation. For Jesus to claim lordship over the Sabbath was a genuine claim to be God.

The Sabbath was about rest and worship. The writer of Hebrews explains for us how Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. In chapter 4 he makes that point that in Christ we enter the real “Rest” that the Sabbath laws pointed towards.  Now we who have believed enter that rest.” [Heb 4:3]. In that way Jesus fulfils the law of the Sabbath [Heb 4:9].

Does your faith give you wings to soar, or is it a burden that weighs you down? What would others say about you as they observe your life?

 

PRAYER

Lord God, you delight in your people. Help me to delight in you. Amen

 

 

 

Day 5

6 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shrivelled. 7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 8 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Get up and stand in front of everyone.’ So, he got up and stood there.

9 Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’

10 He looked round at them all, and then said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

 

Another Sabbath controversy involving “human need versus ceremonial law” [Walter L Liefeld]. This does not seem to have been an urgent, life threatening healing (in which case rabbinic law would have allowed it) and maybe it could have been put off to till the following day to avoid the controversy. That would have been the “sensible” thing to do, but it is not what Jesus does. He is out to make a point, as is shown by his following actions. He stands the man up in front of everyone. Some of those watching have been waiting for this very moment to see if he would break the law. Luke tells us that Jesus knew what they were thinking; it must have been pretty obvious what was going on. He is a teacher first and foremost [v 6]. His question in verse 9 implies that it would be wrong not to heal the man. As Marshall puts it in his commentary, “to fail to do good is tantamount to doing harm.

Thus, to fail to heal is to do harm to the sufferer who must continue to suffer.” [I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, pg. 235]

Back on Day 2 of this week’s devotions we saw that, for the Christian, discipleship is not a matter of doing the minimum necessary to obey the law, but of pursuing God with all our hearts. So, we are not called to avoid doing harm to others (a minimum requirement) but rather to do good (maximum requirement). We are not called to live and let live but to love. We are not called to obey the minutia of Sabbath laws but to use the Sabbath to honour God (see the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7 where Jesus unpacks this “maximum requirement”).

Jesus, with the man standing there in front of them, “looked around at them all.” I love that detail! It was a challenge. Mark tells us that Jesus looked at them “in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” [Mark 3:5]. 

Does that mean that our love for others should overrule our obedience to the laws of God? Should our love for the thief, for instance, mean that as a society, we won’t punish thievery? Does it mean that we accept all lifestyles even if they are in contravention of clear biblical commands? No!  Jesus is not doing away with the Sabbath but rather giving it it’s true meaning. We don’t do away with the law of God, but at each point we pursue the spirit of the law – we go for maximum requirement. 

The man’s hand was completely restored. 

 

PRAYER

God of love strengthen me to live positively as your disciple. Amen

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