The Gospel Paradigm
Recently, I came across the story of a famous Japanese criminal. Toc Kichi Ishii was born in the 1870s and executed in 1918. He was cruel beyond measure, like a wild animal, and he had no pity for his victims. Without any pricking of his conscience, he brutally murdered men, women, and children in his career of crime. Eventually, he was arrested and imprisoned.
While he was in prison, two Christian ladies visited him. They had a regular ministry in the prison where he was being held. But he refused to even speak to them; he only glared at them with the look of a cornered, wild beast. As they were leaving, they gave him a copy of the Bible even though they had little hope that he would read it. But he did read it, and when he read the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, it changed his life forever.
On the day the jailer came to lead him to his execution, he expected to find a surly, hardened brute of a man. Instead, he met a smiling, radiant man because Ishii, the murderer, had been born again. The evidence of his rebirth was a smiling radiance and proof that a life that is lived in Christ is a life characterized by joy.
I’d never heard about this story before and was so intrigued by the little bit I read that I went right to the internet and bought a paperback copy. I’m looking forward to reading it.
The characteristic of joy is central to the portion of Scripture for our study this time. The text before us is Mark 2:18 to 22, and I’ve titled our study “The Paradigm of the Gospel.” Listen carefully as I read this Scripture portion, Mark 2:18 to 22.
Jesus’ interaction with His critics in this text unveils for us several important ELEMENTS in the Gospel paradigm.
The First ELEMENT in the Gospel paradigm is,
The Presence of the Bridegroom
This first element is introduced in the context of fasting. The Law only required one fast, and that was on the Day of Atonement. That fast was associated with repentance and confession of sin. It was a way to show humility before God.
By the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Pharisees had designated the Mondays and Thursdays of each week as fast days. Remember, in Luke’s Gospel, how the proud Pharisee reminded the Lord how he fasted twice a week and gave tithes for everything? Later, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, not for fasting, but for fasting to gain the praise of men.
At any rate, John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees were fasting. Jesus and His disciples were not fasting. So, they said, “Why do the disciples of John and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?” This criticism comes in the context of Jesus reclining at the table with Levi and the other tax collectors. It’s possible, even likely, that Levi’s “great feast” fell on one of these designated feast days.
As He so often did, Jesus responded to the question of His critics with a question of His own. “Do the ‘sons of the bridegroom’ fast as they rejoice with the bridegroom?” The sons of the bridegroom were not groomsmen as we think of them. They were the wedding guests. And Jewish customs exempted wedding guests from most religious obligations, including the weekly fasts.
As I understand the practices of the time, the newlywed couple didn’t go on a honeymoon. Instead, they stayed at home for a week, and during that time, their house was open for constant feasting and celebration. For most people in that era, physical life was a struggle, so the wedding week could be the happiest time of a couple’s life! It certainly wasn’t an appropriate time for fasting. A wedding isn’t a time of sorrow but of great joy!
Jesus didn’t wait for the Pharisees to answer His question. He knew that they knew the right answer. But who is the bridegroom in Jesus’ question? Jesus is, and it is no more appropriate for His followers to fast while He’s here than it is for wedding guests to fast at an earthly marriage celebration. Fasting and prayer are not needed in relation to a God who is present.
Even a casual reading of the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah, Hosea, and others, reveals the concept of God’s covenant relationship with Israel as a marriage. Jesus came to be Israel’s bridegroom, their husband, their Messiah. This was to be a time of joy and gladness, but Israel rejected Him and put Him to death. Jews today still believe there will be a time of feasting when Messiah comes. We read about the great marriage supper of the Lamb, Revelation 19:9.
Jesus knew that His people would reject Him and put Him to death, so He went on to say, “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away, and then they will fast in that day.” The words “taken away” signify a sudden, violent removal. This seems to be the first allusion to Jesus’ death in the Gospels.
The central issue of Mark chapter two is – who decides the proper way to approach God. For the disciples of John and the Pharisees, fasting was a religious duty. It was, in their minds, a way to impress God with their piety, a way to gain His favor and acceptance. In their belief and practice, you had to clean up your life before you came to God. You had to make yourself worthy of His acceptance. God would only accept the pious.
But Jesus turned that idea on its head. He reached out to sinners right where they were and transformed them from the inside out. He showed them that a relationship with Him was characterized by joyful obedience. Keeping the Law is a duty, but living in the presence of the Bridegroom is a delight! Have you found that delight?
The presence of the Bridegroom is the first element of the Gospel paradigm. And even though we’re waiting for the Bridegroom to come, we rejoice in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Another ELEMENT in the Gospel paradigm is,
The New Robe of Righteousness
In the final two verses of our text, Jesus introduces two analogies, some commentators call them parables, to illustrate the paradigm shift from the old covenant to the new covenant. Those analogies are clothing and wine.
Clothing and wine were two very important elements in a Jewish wedding. John records Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, where he turned water into wine. And in Matthew 22, Jesus made what seems to us a harsh judgment on a man who was a wedding guest but wasn’t wearing the proper clothing. In that context, it meant that this man had refused the appropriate garment that was offered to him. He was going to attend the wedding on his own terms. Oh my, that sounds so much like today, doesn’t it?
Jesus takes a common physical object and infuses it with spiritual meaning. Because they were handmade, cloth and clothing were expensive back then compared to today. The fabrics were primarily wool and linen, much different than our modern fabrics. Common people only had one or two sets of clothing, and it had to last a long time. Everyone listening to Jesus understood the foolishness of trying to patch an old garment with new cloth. If someone does that, when the garment is washed, the new patch shrinks, and it will tear the threads of the old garment, eventually making the tear worse and making the garment unusable.
Jesus made it clear that He didn’t come to repair the old cloth of the Law. It was a garment that was wearing out. The writer of Hebrews expressed it this way, “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” That’s Hebrews 8:13. A sinner can’t be patched up and made whole; he must be recreated according to II Corinthians 5:17.
Jesus wasn’t interested in patching the old system of righteousness based on external rule-following that was riddled with tears of hypocrisy. He fulfilled the Law. He came to provide internal and external harmony between God and man. One must exchange the old garments of righteousness measured by religious practice for the new robe of Christ’s righteousness measured by the new commandment to love others as He does.
I realize that there’s a certain level of comfort in having a set standard by which to live. In my way of thinking, for a church congregation to have a covenant that spells out their agreed–upon beliefs and practices can be a positive thing. But the danger is that the guidelines can become the standard of what is acceptable, rather than the Holy Spirit of God working in the life of the Believer. One can mistakenly believe that because they meet a set of external guidelines, they are in good standing with God. That was the mindset of the Pharisees.
We need a new heart and a new mindset. That’s why Jesus prefaced His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount with “You have heard that it has been said…but I say to you…” He moved His followers from accountability for our actions to accountability for our thoughts and motives. So, how we live under the righteousness of Christ isn’t a “free for all.” When we enter into Christ’s righteousness, we are given His nature and we strive to live in a way that pleases Him, not ourselves. If we genuinely love Him, we will obey His commandments, and we will not find them to be a burden.
Another ELEMENT in the Gospel paradigm is,
The New Wine of the Spirit
In the second analogy or parable, Jesus refers to the Gospel as “new wine.” Again, His audience understood His point exactly in the natural sense. But Jesus wanted to move them beyond the natural to the spiritual. I understand Jesus to say that you can’t put the new wine of the spirit in the old wineskins of the law. There was no elasticity in the Law; it was fixed, it was rigid. Trying to incorporate the new wine of the Spirit into the aging wineskin of the law would be courting disaster. Think of the controversy Paul addresses in the letter to the Galatians.
Let’s go back for a minute to the miracle at Cana of Galilee when Jesus turned the water into wine. Those six waterpots that were sitting there filled with water, what were they for? The purification of the Jews. That was prescribed under the law. Jesus took that water and turned it into wine. And that wine that Jesus created was superior in taste to what was previously served.
Now, I am not a connoisseur of wine. I have no experience with it, and I’ve never tasted it. But, according to Dr. Luke’s account of this teaching, it seems everyone knew that the old wine was better. Not so with this wine Jesus created. The master of the feast said that what Jesus created was better—the new was better than the old. Even here, I believe Jesus was demonstrating that the new covenant was superior to the old. The inner cleansing of the Spirit would negate the ceremonial washings required by the Law.
Most people who have grown accustomed to a certain order of things are content with it and do not automatically prefer what is new. When you and I are familiar with something, we know what to expect, and we know what is expected of us. When something new comes along, those expectations are upended, and we often feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.
This is especially true when the status quo has remained the same for a very long period of time, as it had for the Pharisees. Their daily activities and their religious observance were based on a formula that had been developed over centuries. They had an established expectation of what the kingdom of God would look like. They had a system of classification for people, for activities, for social contacts, and for many other areas of life. Because they had developed their own ‘system’ of righteousness, they did not (as a group) desire the new wine of the Spirit that Jesus offered.
As you think about your own life, don’t you find a certain level of comfort and security in the familiar? I do. Surely, we must not be enamored with what is new simply because it is new! There are many supposedly new things being introduced into the Church, even things that carry the name “Christian,” that are contrary to divine revelation. Those things need to be rejected.
So, what about you? Are you still trying to put a new piece of cloth on an old garment? Are you trying to live a new life in the power of the flesh?
Have you embraced this new Gospel paradigm? Have you been willing to taste the new wine of relationship and discover that it really is better than the old wine of rules and rituals? Living under the law brings only condemnation because we know there is no way we can live up to God’s holy standard.
Have you accepted the new robe of righteousness that Jesus offers? That robe isn’t based on your worthiness or mine; we are all unworthy! Instead, it is based on His love and His desire to live within your heart and mine, to transform you and me from the inside out.
In each of the incidents recorded in this chapter, Jesus is reaching out to meet the inner needs of the inner man! The healing of the paralytic, the invitation to Levi, the tax collector, and the discussion about fasting were all about entering into a relationship with Jesus.
As a result of their choice to accept Jesus’ offer, each one of them embarked on a new path of life. The love and acceptance they received from Jesus changed them profoundly at the core of their being.
If you accept Jesus’ offer, it will do the same for you! You will discover a new purpose in living. Instead of trying to live a good life and hoping God will approve, you will now live in the presence of the Bridegroom. Your good works will be motivated by your inner love for Him. You won’t need the law because you will choose to live above it, set free by the power of the Holy Spirit in your life! You will truly understand and rejoice in the Gospel paradigm.