(Note: Today’s Devotional is also from the Gospel of Mark series but a little earlier on in the series)

John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. “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 2:18-22

Today’s thoughts from today’s verses:

Today’s Devotional is very long, but contains some all-important understandings that are vital to our spiritual welfare. Jesus came to replace the old covenant with the new covenant. It is important to understand that they are not two different means of salvation. Salvation has always been a provision of the grace of God that is bestowed on the basis of personal faith in God. In the Old Testament, people were forgiven on the basis of faith in God for his promised provision of Grace through the cross of Christ. In the New Testament people are forgiven on the basis of faith in God for his accomplished provision of grace through the cross of Christ. The old and the new covenants are two different ways (economies) that God’s people (the redeemed) fulfill the intentions God has for them. However, by the time Christ arrived on the scene God’s simple plan of salvation by grace had been twisted into a complicated system of religious works.”

The focus of the old covenant is the “law” which included ceremonial laws (sacrificial worship), civil laws, and moral laws. While some of the “law” is for all time (you shall not commit adultery), many parts of it were temporary (the cross made them obsolete). The complicated system of religious works that was in place when Jesus was on earth was rooted in the law and had become the accepted means for achieving salvation. Today’s passage shows us some of what happened when Jesus and this religious system collided and why it happened. The focus of the new covenant is the “Spirit” of God and this is what lies at the heart of the emphasis Jesus puts on the “new” in contrast to “old.” The fasting and praying mentioned in our passage had become requirements that must be observed along with everything else in the religious system of the day if one was to achieve salvation. 

Jesus’ answer to the objection raised concerning he and his disciples not observing these requirements is so simple: “I am here” is the essence of Jesus’ answer to them. The one who will inaugurate the new covenant has come. The new covenant will bring forgiveness and the giving of the Holy Spirit. My disciples are celebrating me and all that is to come because I am here. The simplicity of devotion to Christ and his indwelling presence through the Holy Spirit is a beautiful thing. We are the redeemed. Christ lives in us by his Spirit. We know him intimately, we enjoy him wonderfully, we are transformed by him triumphantly, we walk with him powerfully, and we live for him fully. 

As the Sovereign Lord of the universe who is absolutely in charge, God knows what needs to be done and he has the authority and power to do it. God intends to succeed at creating a people for himself who live fully for him and who in the end fulfill what he has in mind for them. God’s plan is to give people hearts that are willing, tender, responsive, focused, and filled with his Spirit with the result being they are obedient to his desires and intentions for them. God knows that the heart is the key. With our hearts under the control of God’s Spirit, we are delivered and kept from the heart’s natural propensity for sin and evil.

However, before God can show up in our hearts through his Spirit, he must show up on earth through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to institute God’s plan of working from the inside out in the lives of willing people. This is what the new covenant is all about and this new way of God’s Spirit is made possible through the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. It is after the resurrection that the fullness of the Gospel is in place so that the forgiveness of sins and the gift of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit come to all who will believe. In our passage Jesus is fully absorbed in the reality of the new thing he is here to accomplish. Jesus and the “new” come face to face with the religious establishment and the “old.” The garment illustration powerfully drives home the fact that the “old” and “new” are absolutely incompatible and must never be made to co-exist.  

We said earlier that God intends to succeed at creating a people for himself who live fully for him and who in the end fulfill what he has in mind for them. That is precisely our calling as ones who have placed our faith in Christ for eternal salvation. We have received the forgiveness of sins and we are indwelled by the living God who has placed his Spirit in our hearts. We are smack dab in the center of the “new” thing Christ came to provide for all who are willing.  And yet we too, try to blend the “old” and the “new” in our pursuit of living the Christian life. Galatians 3:3 says, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Galatians 5:25 says, If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” When Jesus first shared the garment illustration it was just what was needed for that moment in that situation. There is little doubt that there is a Pharisee inside every one of us and he rears his ugly head from time to time. Perhaps the garment illustration is just what we need right now at this exact moment. 

The “new way” that Jesus came to establish is all about the good news of grace. Feasting instead of fasting are as opposite from each other as grace and merit. The new way includes Jesus, feasting, grace, gospel and faith. The old way includes religious leaders, fasting, merit, a religious system, and works. The “new way” in Christ is all about the free and undeserved grace of God and not about a system of good works. Not only is it true that the “new way” and “old way” do not go together but the “old way” must be forsaken altogether. Jesus warned his followers repeatedly about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Their religious practice is all about outward appearance. As long as they “look” righteous they don’t have to worry about “being” righteous. Jesus says that someday they will be exposed for what they are, frauds. Everything they covered up from public view and kept hidden and secret will be revealed and it won’t be pretty. 

The Pharisees ended up so very far removed from what God intended. The old covenant gave in great detail all that God desired (the law) for his people Israel. But the fault of the old covenant (not the laws themselves) was that it could not empower people to carry out the intentions of God it contained. The “old way” of the Pharisees and the old covenant are not the same thing. The “old way” of the Pharisees is the product of the faulty old covenant that could not empower people to carry out the intentions of God it contained. The “old way” is a man-made religious system that makes it possible for its adherents to appear to be righteous and appear to be carrying out God’s intentions when in reality they are anything but what they appear to be. The new covenant that Jesus came to put in place leaves no room for the old covenant or the “old ways” of the Pharisees. What a blessed gift it is to be recipients of the “new way” that includes Jesus, feasting, grace, gospel and faith. This “new way” is all we will ever need.

Picture yourself walking down the street with your sweetheart. You’ve got 50 bucks in your pocket and you’re looking for a reasonable priced place to eat. You come to an exclusive restaurant where you know you would have to spend $200 or more to eat. As you are about to move on, the maître d comes out and invites you to come in and enjoy dinner for two, compliments of the restaurant. The normal, usual, expected way to have such a meal would be to pay for it. You might just move on because the whole thing sounds suspect. Having a free high class restaurant experience bestowed on you is unexpected and hard to wrap your head around. Instead of moving on you decide to proceed cautiously knowing you’ve got your 50 bucks to fall back on. 

We are used to paying our way and are very suspicious of free gifts. This is the same struggle many have with God. Caught up in the syndrome of trying to pay our own way by following a religious system, we are suspicious when we hear about the gospel of grace. And even after we do go forward in good faith with God and the gospel of grace we have our 50 bucks to fall back on. Perhaps it is because our propensity to pay our own way runs so deep that Jesus uses the additional illustration of the wineskins. Again, he drives home the point that the old and the new are incompatible. Whether we are outside the restaurant contemplating the offer of a free high dining experience or we are already in the middle of it, there is no place for our 50 bucks. Our place at the table is secure. How silly of us to seek security in the paltry contents of our own wallets. We are at the table because the one who loves us invited us to be there, he paid the bill entirely, and nothing will ever remove us from the fabulous “table” of his presence. 

Let the assurances God’s Spirit is waiting to bring to you sweep over your soul and be absolutely assured that the gospel of grace really is the gospel of grace alone with no strings attached. We must reject the voices of those who want to take away our assurance and security in Christ. Christ is our reality, not their religious system of rules and regulations. Don’t let their twisted ways mess with the full reality of Christ and the gospel of grace.

Today’s prayer response from today’s thoughts:

Lord, help me comprehend and embrace fully all that I have and all that I am through your indwelling presence. Help me to recognize and forsake anything of religiosity that remains in my life. Thank you for making it possible for me to be at your table. Thank you for inviting me to it and seating me there. And thank you for the assurance that I am at the table of your presence forever. Guard my heart and mind from my own tendency to want to “mix” in “pay my own way” stuff with the gospel of grace. Thank you for your love and grace that rescued me from man-made religion and immersed me in the actual experience of your love and grace. Please, guard me from the voices of others that beckon me back to finding security through rules and regulations. My trust is in you and you alone, Lord. Your gracious and loving presence are all I need. I love you, I celebrate you, I embrace you, and I thank you for your indwelling Spirit. Amen!