The 500th anniversary of the religious revolution we know as the Protestant Reformation is now history. Contemporary Christian historians suggest that since the inception of Christianity, major shifts in worldview occurs about every 500 years that significantly re-form Christianity’s style and content. In these times of unprecedented change in our nation and denomination, it matters how we teach and preach the bottomless depths of God’s Word.
As we prepare to teach the next generation what He has done for us, we can learn significant lessons from Matthew 9:14-17.
This incident shows Jesus in conflict with current opinion and practice because He didn’t conduct His ministry as the Pharisees thought He should. The disciples of John the Baptist also failed to understand His unusual style of spiritual leadership.
It matters how we teach and preach the bottomless depths of God’s Word.
Jesus and His disciples were at a banquet given by Matthew, the wealthy but despised tax collector. Outside were Pharisees, upset that Jesus seemed to be enjoying the company of outcasts. Also present were disciples of John the Baptist, whom the Pharisees quickly influenced to think critically of Jesus. Their question wasn’t just why Jesus was eating and celebrating with sinners, but why Jesus and His disciples were celebrating at all.
When they noticed Jesus and His disciples not conforming to traditional practices, John’s disciples were troubled. They insinuated that Jesus, with His disciples, was not seeking God or demonstrating sincerity for the law by refraining often from food. In a fit of envy they asked, “Why do we fast often, and you do not?”
Jesus replied by underscoring His radical reformation message, His re-formation mission of good news, great joy, and peace to humanity. He encouraged His disciples to celebrate while He was still with them, because there would come a time that they would need to fast. Then Jesus completed the dialogue with John’s disciples with two simple parables: one about wineskins, the other about fabric.
The old, hard, inflexible wineskins represent Judaism, and any religious institution that boasts a form of godliness but lacks the spirit thereof. The new wine represents the Holy Spirit, whom God promised to no longer trickle down on a few chosen prophets or priests, but would pour out on all people of future generations. Old wineskins would be insufficient for this new wine that is always bubbling with power and promise. Old wineskins would burst, and the new wine would spill out and be wasted and lost.
The old garment also represents religious institutions, such as Judaism. New cloth, woven with colorful fibers, represents the diversity of people whom we are commissioned by Christ to bring into His fold. To put this patch of new, strong cloth on the old, worn-out garment would cause it to shrink, rather than expand, when soaked in the brine of legalism and traditionalism. It would rip itself away from the worn portion, or cause a schism, as the original word connotes.
Answers to our appeals for revival and reformation will be like new wine and will require the new wineskins of re-formed hearts and minds from inside out, rooted in a radical commitment to Jesus Christ.
Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.