Leaving the Old Behind

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Matthew 9:14-17 (John’s disciples)

INTRODUCTION: We are studying Matthew 8-9 together, and our message series is called Ten Miracles of Jesus. One of the things we’ve learned in this series is that not every passage in this section of Scripture has to do with miracles. We saw that there are ten miracles of Jesus recorded in these two chapters along with four dialogues Jesus has with various people about discipleship.

The first dialogue was in Matthew 8 where Jesus explained the cost of discipleship to two would-be disciples. We looked at the second dialogue last week where Jesus explained his association with sinners to the Pharisees. Now today we come to the third dialogue. In this third dialogue Jesus explains that part of discipleship is leaving the old behind. This is also the third of three controversy stories in chapter 9 which prepare us for Jesus’ upcoming conflict with the Jewish leaders, which will eventually lead to his death on the cross. (Read Matthew 9:14-17 and pray.)

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Today’s passage is about leaving the old behind. Once again, this is one of the four dialogues on discipleship in these chapters, and part of discipleship is leaving the old behind.

It’s like decluttering your home. How many of you have ever tried to declutter? It’s hard, isn’t it? And one of the reasons it’s so hard is because you have to let go of old things. We are doing some decluttering at our house, and I am embarrassed to tell you that I’m finding clothes that I wore back in high school! Now I’m sure they were great clothes back then, but they served their purpose, and it’s probably time to move on. At least my wife thinks so. And she’s right!

Sometimes you have to let go of the old to make way for the new. And that’s what Jesus is talking about in this passage – letting go of the old things that no longer apply now that Jesus has come. When Jesus comes, everything changes. The old ways don’t work anymore. The old patterns don’t fit. This is true both historically and personally. Historically, when Jesus came, everything changed. And personally, when Jesus comes into your life, everything also changes. It’s time to leave the old behind.

I. Everything changed when Jesus came (14-15)

Today’s passage begins with a question about fasting, specifically, why don’t Jesus’ disciples fast? And although Jesus’ answer includes fasting, Jesus uses this particular question to teach us a much broader truth: that everything changed when Jesus came.

   A. A question about fasting
      – Matthew 6:16

Let’s start now with the question about fasting in verse 14:

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9:14)

So, let’s talk about fasting for a moment. The Old Testament only commanded people to fast one day out of the year, the Day of Atonement, but people fasted at other times too. Fasting was an expression of sorrow, either for a loss in your life or as part of repentance for sin. It was usually associated with prayer, and sometimes the whole nation would fast and pray together.

Now the Pharisees in Jesus’ time fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, like clockwork. They considered this to be a religious act of outward piety, and they often went to great lengths to make sure that other people knew they were fasting. Jesus described them as purposely looking somber and sad and disfiguring their faces to show men they were fasting. He said of them, “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” [“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:16)]

John the Baptist’s followers practiced fasting, too. But their fasting was a little different than the Pharisees’. John’s message was a message of repentance in preparation for the coming of Christ. And so their fasting was an expression of repentance for their sins in preparation for Christ.

And so here we have two different groups, each fasting for different reasons, but they both had something in common. They were fasting, while Jesus’ disciples were not. And John’s disciples wanted to know why.

   B. The illustration of the bridegroom
      – Isaiah 53:8

Jesus answered their question with another question. Have you ever done that? Someone asks you, “Where were you last night?” And you respond by saying, “Where were you last night?” “I was at home. Where were you?” “What were you doing at home?” It’s a great way of avoiding an answer! But Jesus wasn’t avoiding an answer here. Jesus answered their question with a question not to avoid giving an answer but in order to make a point. Look at verse 15 with me now. When they asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?” (Matthew 9:15a)

This is what we call a rhetorical question, that is, it’s an obvious question with an obvious answer. “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is still with them?” The answer is obvious. They can’t. A wedding is a time of feasting and joy. It’s a time of celebration. It’s a time to gather family and friends. It’s a time to break out the music and song. But fasting is a time of sorrow and self-denial. It wouldn’t make any sense to fast and mourn while the bridegroom is right there. There is a time to fast and a time to feast, and the wedding celebration is a time to feast. Now granted, fasting might make the reception a whole lot cheaper for the bride’s father, but it would be completely inappropriate to the occasion.

So, what was Jesus saying by all this? Jesus is saying that he is the bridegroom! He is the one that Israel has been waiting for all these years. So yes, it made sense to fast before, when they were waiting for him and preparing for his coming, but now that Jesus has come, everything changes! The bridegroom is here! This is a time to rejoice!

In the Old Testament the imagery of the bridegroom or husband was used of God in relation to Israel. In the New Testament it is used of Jesus in relation to the church. This was not a time for fasting, because the bridegroom was present. How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? And the answer is – they cannot, so long as they have him with them.

That’s why Jesus goes on to say in the rest of verse 15:

“The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15b)

Jesus is speaking here of his death. When Jesus says that the bridegroom will be “taken from them,” he uses the same word found in Isaiah 53:8 which also speaks of Jesus’ death: “By oppression and judgment he was taken away.” (Isaiah 53:8) The disciples are rejoicing in his presence now, but the day will come when he is taken from them, and then they will mourn his absence. Then they will fast.

Some people believe Jesus is speaking here only about the period between his death and his resurrection, but I believe his words apply to us today as well. Yes, Jesus is present with us today through the Holy Spirit, but we still long for his appearing. And so, it is still appropriate to fast as an expression of our longing and desire. But our fasting is different than the fasting of the followers of John and the Pharisees. We no longer fast in mourning, waiting for the Savior to come. We fast in anticipation, waiting for our Savior to return.

You see, everything changed when Jesus came. The Old Testament laws no longer applied in the same way. The Jewish ceremonies and sacrifices were fulfilled in Christ’s death on the cross. All of the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. And now the Messiah had come! That’s the first reason why it’s time to leave the old behind. Because everything changed when Jesus came.

II. The old is incompatible with the new (16-17a)
   – Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:13

The second reason why it’s time to leave the old behind is this: the old is incompatible with the new. The old ways are incompatible with the new ways. That’s what Jesus says in the next part of this passage. Look at verses 16-17:

“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. 17 Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. ” (Matthew 9:16-17a)

Jesus uses two matching illustrations here to make the same point: the old is incompatible with the new.

   A. The illustration of the unshrunk cloth (16)

First, he uses the illustration of the unshrunk cloth. Most of our clothing today comes preshrunk, but it was different back in Jesus’ time. So, if you had an older garment that had been washed multiple times, it would already have shrunk as far as it was going to shrink. But let’s say you got a hole in that garment, and you sewed a patch of unshrunk cloth over the hole. Your garment is not going to shrink anymore when you wash it, but the patch will. And when the patch shrinks, what is it going to do? It is going to tear an even bigger hole in the garment. What is Jesus saying here? The old is incompatible with the new. No one would sew a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. It wouldn’t make sense.

   B. The illustration of the wineskins (17a)

The second illustration has to do with wineskins. Here Jesus is talking about the goatskin containers that people used to hold water or wine in those days. When these wineskins were new, they were flexible and still had the ability to stretch. So, if you had a new wineskin, and you filled it with new wine that was still fermenting and still expanding, no problem. You could fill it right up, and the skin would expand right along with the wine. But you can only stretch a goatskin so far. As the skins got older and all stretched out, they became more brittle. So if you took an old wineskin and filled it with new wine, as the wine expanded it would burst the wineskin and you would lose both the skin and the wine as well.

Once again, Jesus’ point is exactly the same here. The old is incompatible with the new. If Jesus were giving this illustration today, he would use more modern examples. He would say you can’t charge an iPhone with an older cable. Or you can’t watch digital signals on an analog TV. Or you can’t play a DVD in a VCR. If you did, you would ruin both the DVD and the VCR.

The old is incompatible with the new. Which means you can’t just keep on living as if Jesus never came. As God said through the prophet Jeremiah:

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

God said, “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant.” Jesus said, “The time has come.” God’s new covenant is a covenant he made through his Son, Jesus. It is a new covenant in Jesus’ blood. Jesus died for our sins on the cross, and everyone who puts their faith in him will be saved.

And the new covenant is incompatible with the old. The time of the old covenant is over. It is finished. It is done. The book of Hebrews says the old covenant is “obsolete, and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13) In fact, the whole book of Hebrews is one big explanation of how everything has changed now that Jesus has come. And not only how everything has changed but how everything has changed for the better, that everything is better now that Jesus has come. That is its major theme. And it is also the theme of these two parables or illustrations. The old is incompatible with the new. It’s time to leave the old behind.

III. Your life must change to accommodate Christ (17b)

So far, we’ve looked at two reasons why we need to leave the old behind. 1) Everything changed when Jesus came. 2) The old is incompatible with the new. And now we finally come to the third reason. 3) Your life must change to accommodate Christ. Look at verse 17 again. In the first part of the verse Jesus said, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins.” Now he finishes by saying,

“No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17b)

When Jesus comes, everything changes. Remember, we said this is true both historically and personally? Historically, we no longer approach God through the feasts and sacrifices of the Old Testament. All of that was fulfilled when Jesus came. Now we approach God only through his Son. That’s historically.

But then personally, when Jesus comes into your life, everything also changes. There are two ways in particular that your life must change to accommodate Christ.

   A. The change that only God can bring
      – John 3:7; 2 Corinthians 5:17

First, there is the change that only God can bring. No amount of self- effort, self-change or self-reformation will make your life adequate to accommodate Christ. God must bring a change in you first. That’s why Jesus said, “You must be born again.” (John 3:7) You must become a new person. And that happens when you put your faith and trust in Jesus as your Savior. The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

   B. The changes you make in cooperation with God
      – Philippians 2:12

But once you have come to Christ, there is a second way your life must change. And that is the whole series of changes you make in cooperation with God. This is what the Bible means by working out your salvation. (Philippians 2:12) It is a lifelong process of confessing and turning away from sin, yielding to the influence of the Holy Spirit, and growing in grace.

In other words, you cannot come to Christ and keep living the same life you lived before Christ. A sinner can be reasonably happy in his or her sin. But a true believer will never be happy in their sin. As a Christian sin will only make you miserable. But that’s a good thing! God doesn’t leave you in your sin, because the old is incompatible with the new. And so, your life must change to accommodate Christ. It’s time to leave the old behind.

CONCLUSION: In closing, let me ask you this morning. What changes do you need to make in your life? What things in your life are incompatible with Christ?

Are you resisting Christ and resisting the changes he is trying to bring in your life? Resisting Christ is like that patch of unshrunk cloth tearing at the patterns of your old life. When you become a Christian, you can’t hold on to your old practices and sinful habits without doing serious damage to your life. Your life needs to change.

But Jesus not only wants to free you from your old ways. He also wants to lead you into new ways of living. He wants you to grow in your faith and in your knowledge of God. He wants you to know the joy of Christian fellowship and service. He wants to fill your life with his goodness and love. Trying to restrain Christ in your life is like the old wineskins bursting from the fullness of the new wine. We need to let Jesus do his work in us through the Holy Spirit to make us new vessels for his glory. We need to let God expand our lives to fit the new patterns of life he wants to grow in us.

In other words, it’s time to leave the old behind. Because when Jesus comes, everything changes. And that’s a good thing. Will you let Christ change you today?

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