Mark 2: New Wine, New Wineskins
Sunday morning worship, April 15, 2018
Have you ever heard the expression, “Eyes in the front born to hunt, eyes on the side born to hide”? If you are a horse lover, chances are good you have; if not, you may be like I was until I was researching for this sermon. I learned that predatory animals have their eyes in the front so they can better see what they are after. Lions, tigers, owls, and wolves are good examples of predators. Animals like chickens, cows, horses, and zebras have their eyes on the side giving them great peripheral vision and helping keep them safe from an attack. So if we want our horse to run a good race, we need to keep the horse from getting distracted by what is going on around him or her. That’s why blinders were invented; blinders reduce a horse’s peripheral vision and focus his or her vision forward, toward the finish line.
The Apostle Paul had this focused vision. He speaks about his focus in these verses and the contexts surrounding 1 Corinthians 9:24, Galatians 2:2, 2 Timothy 4:7. He states his focused purpose most clearly in Acts 20:22-24. Paul told the Ephesian elders, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” This threat of death was prophetically repeated a chapter later when Agabus “took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles”’” (Acts 21:11). The fact that the Holy Spirit Himself told Paul death would follow his trip to Jerusalem was not enough to distract Paul. He remained focused. Jesus remained focused on His task, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) until He could say from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The author of Hebrews (12:1-3) enjoins us to likewise maintain our focus on the prize of an eternity with Jesus Christ: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” We are to be predators for the cause of Christ, focused on the goal.
But if Mark 2 is any indication, the Pharisees are prey like horses. Their eyes were so distracted by the people and the events that surrounded Jesus that they lost everything. Consider the following pattern of behavior. When “some men came, bringing to [Jesus] a paralyzed man, carried by four of them…Jesus saw their faith [and] said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (2:3-5). When the paralyzed man “got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all” (2:12), all the Pharisee could focus on was, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (2:7). When a person starts with the assumption that it is impossible for Jesus to be God, and then Jesus does the impossible, that person has a choice to make. They can rethink their assumption or they can deny what has happened. The Pharisees knew better than anyone what Jesus was saying when he told the paralyzed man his sins were forgiven. They chose to hold fast to their assumption; their assumption distracted them from the goal of their faith.
“When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw [Jesus] eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (2:16). When Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2:17), their assumption was that they were righteous and the tax collectors and the others at Levi’s house were the sinners. This led them to conclude eating with tax collectors and sinners made them sinners, too. Since Jesus was eating with them, He had to be a sinner also and could not be the God He claimed to be. The Pharisees were distracted by who Jesus associated with.
Because John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees fasted, they assumed Jesus’ disciples would also fast. When Jesus told them, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast,” (2:19-20) they didn’t understand. They were distracted by the fact that Jesus’ disciples weren’t following their religious customs. They couldn’t keep their eyes off Jesus’ disciples’ actions.
When Jesus’ disciples, who were hungry, “began to pick some heads of grain” which was normally lawful for them to do, but since it was the Sabbath, the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (2:24). The Pharisees weren’t really asking because they were open to an honest answer and to maybe changing their minds about Jesus. They had already concluded Jesus wasn’t who He claimed to be. The Pharisees were just building a case against Jesus. They certainly weren’t expecting Jesus’ answer to their question: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (2:28). In Mark 2, Jesus operates counter to specific assumptions upon which the Pharisees had constructed the Jewish culture they now led and controlled. They were unwilling to consider their assumptions might be incorrect. Look again. Mark 2 either proves Jesus is God and the Pharisaic culture was incorrect or that Jesus was the blasphemer the Pharisees labeled Him. Both can’t be true; we must cast our vote on one side or the other and then run our race in conjunction with our decision.
It is easy to look back and judge others without so judging ourselves. In the middle of Mark 2 Jesus offers another analogy which is applicable to us and to all generations. Jesus says, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins” (2:21-22).
Consider again this chapter’s proposition: Jesus is a fraud and I can ignore what He did and what He taught. Jesus holds no claims on me. Or, maybe the facts prove Jesus is God, the Lord above the Law of Moses, above the Sabbath, above any culture, and therefore my way of thinking is wrong and I need to change (a) some things in my life—NO! (b) I need to change everything—Yes!. “No one pours new wine into old wineskins.” I can’t just take a little bit of Jesus’ wine and add it my existing wineskin. That won’t work. A little bit of Jesus and a little bit of me will only ruin my life, I’ll burst! If the Pharisees are right, I’m free to make my own way in this world. I can take the teachings of Jesus I like and add them to the teachings of others I like. I can pick and choose. But if Jesus is who He claimed to be, and the Pharisees knew exactly who Jesus was claiming to be, then I have to be made new in the way (a) I think about God; (b) I think about others; (c) I think about religion; and (d) I think about my culture. I have to choose to live Biblically or otherwise.
If the God of the Bible is real, if He is the Creator of all and wants to relate to me as Father to Son and Jesus wants to relate to me as Savior and Friend, then I must accept that offer or refuse it and all that goes along with it. I must either “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27), or accept the consequences of refusing the Creator God and Father. I can’t look around at others and compare myself to them. I can’t say “I’m more righteous than…” and think upon those grounds I can enter into an eternal relationship with my Savior. I can’t say I’ve lived a good life, gone to work, raised a good family, sacrificed for others, never broken the law, and treated people well and say that Christianity is a set of rules I’ve kept pretty well. Jesus said He’s not about denial like fasting and walking around grumpy and pointing out flaws. Walking with Jesus every day is like sharing in the joy of the wedding of your best friend. Any other way of living isn’t truly Christian. I can’t look around and say, “That’s the way I was raised.” I can’t blame others for my failures or difficulties in life. The responsibility for my choices is mine alone. We are independent of our culture. The Bible is ours to read and understand. God will help us where we don’t understand. New wine, new wineskins!
The essence of Christianity is dependent independence. We are dependent on God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We are dependent on God’s Word. We are independent of blaming any other influence whether it be from our spouse, our parents, our children, our friends, our church, our culture, or any other influence. We have to let God make us new through our rebirth in Jesus Christ and then let the Holy Spirit fill us with new thoughts, new power to act in obedience, a new mind to understand, and new desires to act upon. We are without excuse. We must accept responsibility for what we do, when we do it, how we do it, and with whom we do it. Anything else is a path to failure. “No one pours new wine into old wineskins.” “No one can remain the same and still grow.” To grow we must die to our old selves and be made new from the inside out. New wineskins!