July 12th, 2015
Matthew 9:14-17 (Mk 2:18-22; Lk 5:33-39)
Service Orientation: Jesus shows us that there is only one way into the Kingdom of God—through Jesus, not via ritual, ceremony or our own efforts. The Kingdom of God is a radically new paradigm. Every other religion (or even no religion at all) trusts in man’s efforts to save. Christianity is not compatible with any other way of salvation.
Bible Memory Verse for the Week: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! — 2 Corinthians 5:17
- (v. 14) This was a sincere question from a group who would be willing to listen to what Jesus has to say. This is why our Lord doesn’t rebuke them, as he does the other two religious groups. Instead he teaches them that his disciples are taking a fast from fasting because there is a wedding in town–a messianic jubilee! Here comes the bridegroom! (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 250-1)
- (v. 15) Jesus did not condemn fasting–he himself fasted (Lk 4:2). He emphasized that fasting must be done at the right time for the right reasons. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 183)
- (v. 15) This passage is full of analogies–the unshrunk cloth, the new wine, and so on. Is this term “the bridegroom” merely another analogy? I don’t think so. I think that Jesus is instructing John’s disciples to think back on something John the Baptist once said (Jn 3:28-30). (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 251)
- (v. 15) According to the fourth Gospel, John the Baptist had applied the same metaphor to Jesus: John himself was the best man (to use modern terminology), while Jesus was the bridegroom (Jn 3:29). But the roots of the metaphor go back to the OT. Commonly it is applied to God himself, in his relationship with his covenant people: “For your Maker is your husband–the LORD Almighty is his name–the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (Isa 54:5; cf. 62:4-5; Hos 2:16-20). Jews in Jesus’ day sometimes applied the metaphor to the long-awaited Messiah; and the messianic banquet that marked the full coming of the messianic age was this bridegroom’s wedding feast. That notion is picked up in the NT (e.g., Mt 22:2; 25:1; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:23-32; Rv 19:7, 9; 21:2). The language Jesus uses is cryptic enough that probably not even his closest disciples fully understood what he was talking about until after the resurrection; yet in fact he was claiming to be the Messiah, and that his presence marked the dawning of the messianic age. That, he says, is reason enough why his disciples should not fast. (G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, 214)
- (v. 15) With this beautiful imagery, Jesus is making the incredible claim, “The groom is with you!” In other words, “I am the groom!” Jesus is saying that He is God, and that He has come to betroth His people to Him forever. (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 122)
- (v. 15) Just when even the opponents might suspect that Jesus was making a messianic claim, he spoke of being taken away, and causing his disciples grief. But would the genuine Messiah be taken away? Would the disciples of the genuine Messiah begin their experience with him in joy, and end it in sorrow? Like so many of Jesus’ utterances, this one too was necessarily cast in somewhat veiled terms that would be fully explained only after the cross and resurrection had become history. (G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, 214-5)
- (v. 15) Verse 15 speaks about “the sons of the bridal chamber” (thus literally), meaning “the bridegroom’s attendants.” These were friends of the groom. They stood close to him. They had been invited to the wedding, were in charge of arrangements, and were expected to do everything possible to promote the success of the festivities. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 428)
- (v. 15) The Talmud declares that the bridegroom, his personal friends, and the sons of the bride-chamber, were free from the obligation to dwell in booths during the Feast of Tabernacles–these being unsuited to their festivities; and were not expected to attend to the stated prayers. This shows how natural and probable, according to the prevailing ideas and usages, was our Lord’s illustration. (Alvah Hovey, American Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 202)
- (v. 16) We must remember that Jewish garments of that day were usually all wool; and if un-fulled, would shrink almost like our flannel. (Alvah Hovey, American Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 202)
- (v. 16) The Jews were passionately attached to things as they were. The Law was to them God’s last and final word; to add one word to it, or to subtract one word from it, was a deadly sin. It was the avowed object of the Scribes and Pharisees “to build a fence around the Law.” To them a new idea was not so much a mistake as a sin. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 337)
- (v. 16) Wine was often stored in animal skins that were specially prepared for that purpose. The hide would be uncut except at the legs and neck, and sometimes would be turned inside out. The leg openings would be stitched closed and sealed, and the neck was used as a spout, which was tied with a leather thong or string. Old wineskins would eventually dry out and become brittle, and if someone then put new wine into them, they would crack and burst, spilling the wine…out. The only suitable container for new wine is a fresh wineskin. In the same way, the only life that can contain true righteousness is the new life given by God when a person repents of his sin and trusts in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 70)
- (v. 17) In Rom 7:6 the same two Greek words are used to compare the “old [palaitēti] way of a written code” and the “new [kainotēti] way of the Spirit.” (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 85)
The questions to be answered are . . . What is Jesus teaching us about the Kingdom of Heaven? So what?
Answers: The Kingdom of Heaven is not a matter of ritual or ceremony. It is radically different than any religion or non-religion that looks to man to save. It is Gospel (good news), not good advice.
“Man’s religion is not an effort to find God but to flee God.” — R. C. Sproul
The Word for the Day is . . . Gospel
What is Jesus teaching us about the Kingdom of Heaven?:
I- The Kingdom of Heaven is more like a liberating wedding reception than a gloomy ritual. (Mt 9:15; see also: Isa 54:1-8; 62:4-8; Jer 2:2, 32; Ez 16:7-8; Hos 2:1-20; Mt 22:2; 25:1-13; Jn 3:26-30; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:23-32; Rv 19:7-9; 21:2)
God was also doing something new with the coming of Jesus, and this was not just a revision or an update of the Jewish religious system. Christ’s coming was a transformation of everything. This royal bridegroom was making a way for people to come to God. This was a time for celebration. (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 122)
It tells us that to be with Jesus is a thing of joy; it tells us that in the presence of Jesus there is a sheer thrilling effervescence of life; it tells us that a gloom-encompassed Christianity is an impossibility. The man who walks with Christ walks in radiance of joy. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 336)
The liberty which Jesus felt in the matter of mere ceremonial observance was further emphasized by his reply to the question as to why he did not require his followers to observe frequent fasts. He declares that fasting as a religious rite is perfectly proper if a genuine expression of religious feeling, but as a matter of rule, or requirement, or a ground of merit, it is futile and absurd. (Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Matthew, 85)
A Jewish wedding was a time of special festivity. The unique feature of it was that the couple who were married did not go away for a honeymoon; they spent their honeymoon at home.
For a week after the wedding open house was kept; the bride and bridegroom were treated as, and even addressed as, king and queen. And during that week their closest friends shared all the joy and all the festivities with them; these closest friends were called the children of the bridechamber. On such an occasion there came into the lives of poor and simple people a joy, a rejoicing, a festivity, a plenty, that might come only once in a lifetime. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 335-6)
John’s followers asked Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?” They were implying, as so many religious people do, that there is something suspicious about a belief that makes a person happy. Religion, they think, ought to be gloomy, a matter of stern discipline and self-denial. (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 164)
The OT often pictures the relationship of God and his people as a marriage (Hos 2:16-20; Isa 54:5-6; cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Rv 21:9f.). The messianic wedding feast is under way: now is the season for joy, not mourning. The reference to a day when the bridegroom will be taken away anticipates the death of Jesus. (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 85)
By asking the question with the verb mourn rather than the verb fast, Jesus focuses attention on the role of fasting as mourning for one’s sins in an effort to gain forgiveness. The unspoken answer is that if Jesus is able to forgive sins, His followers do not need to fast to gain forgiveness; they need only ask Him for that forgiveness. However, the force of the question provides the obvious answer. The guests of a bridegroom cannot fast while the wedding celebration is still in process. The implication is clear. Jesus portrays himself as the Messiah presiding at the messianic banquet. His followers cannot fast at such a kingdom celebration. (Roger L. Hahn, Matthew: A Commentary for Bible Students, 127)
What the bridegroom is to the bride, the Lord Jesus is to the souls of all who believe in him. He loves them with a deep and everlasting love. He takes them into union with himself: they are “one with Christ and Christ in them.” He pays all their debts to God; he supplies all their daily needs; he sympathizes with them in all their troubles; he bears with all their infirmities, and does not reject them for a few weaknesses. He regards them as part of himself: those that persecute and injure them are persecuting him. The glory that he has received from his Father they will one day share with him, and where he is, they will be. These are the privileges of all true Christians, who are the Lamb’s wife (Rv 19:7). (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 65)
What kind of person can say, in effect, “Be happy for I am here!”? I know of a little girl who, when she was about two and a half, went to visit a home for senior citizens that she and her mother had visited before. Remembering how happy many of these senior folk had been to see her the last time, she burst into the common room, flung wide her arms and cried, “I’m here!” The extraordinary self-centeredness of a child is forgiven, even indulged, precisely because, ironically, it is so ingenuous. But an adult could not take the same approach, except perhaps on a slapstick comedy show. Yet here is Jesus adopting just such a stance. (G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, 213-4)
This metaphorical answer was heavily informed by Jewish history. Often, throughout the OT, we see fasting associated with mourning (2 Sm 1:12; 1 Kgs 21:27; Neh 1:4; Est 4:3). At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum was a wedding feast, which was a time of joy and celebration–manifestly not a time to fast. Obviously, in this metaphor, Jesus cast Himself as the bridegroom, which was appropriate, for God called Israel His bride (Isa 62:5), and He sent His Son to be the bridegroom. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 276)
II- As a new covenant, the Kingdom of Heaven is incompatible with any other religion and even non-religion. (Mt 9:16-17; see also: Jer 31:31-34; Ez 11:18-20; Gal 3:3; Heb 1:10-12; 8:13)
The point is that old and new are not compatible. (Roger L. Hahn, Matthew: A Commentary for Bible Students, 127)
Jesus Christ came not to be served but to die, to give his life. That sets him apart from the founder of every other major religion. Their purpose was to live and be an example; Jesus’ purpose was to die and be a sacrifice. (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 140)
The Gospel is Good News about what has been done. It is NOT good advice about what you should do. That is every other religion. — Tim Keller
Through these two parables, Jesus tells John’s disciples that His ministry is new and unique. The old explanations and theologies would not be adequate to explain Him. A follower of Jesus must discern the times and recognize the ways in which Jesus does not fit old religious categories. Refusing to believe that He could forgive sins as well as refusing to accept His eating with tax collectors and sinners was to cling to the old categories no longer adequate to explain Jesus. (Roger L. Hahn, Matthew: A Commentary for Bible Students, 128)
The pharisaical, legalistic, external, self-righteous system of traditional Judaism could neither connect with nor contain the ministry and message of Christ. Consequently, that system had only one option–to oppose and seek to eliminate Christ, which is what it did. . . . The old wineskins were not the teachings of the OT but the rabbinical traditions that had come to overshadow, supersede, and often contradict the divinely revealed truths of the OT. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 70)
You do realize that the Bible is far more concerned about false religion than it is about atheism? The trouble is that people will argue that all religions are man-made. I deny that biblical Christianity is so–and I deny that Jesus is just another god created in mankind’s own image. So what is the difference? In every religion in the world, the story is of a man trying to make his way up to God, through a series of rituals, good works, submissive obedience, and similar. In biblical Christianity, the story is of God reaching down to man in Jesus Christ. That’s a phenomenal difference. (David Robertson, Magnificent Obsession–Why Jesus Is Great, 161)
The metaphors of wine and the new mantle are often used to refer to the new world which God will create (Heb 1:10-12; Acts 10:11; 11:5). (George Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, 355)
Like old wineskins, the Pharisees and indeed the entire religious system of Judaism had become too rigid to accept Jesus. They could not contain him or his message in their traditions or rules. Their understanding of faithfulness to the law had become unsuitable for the fresh, dynamic power of Christ’s message. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 185)
But for the present time, He was saying, fasting was inappropriate. When there is no reason to mourn there is no reason to fast. Fasting springs naturally from a broken and grieving heart, but fasting as a shallow spiritual ritual apart from such brokenness is an affront to God.
But an even more important issue was behind the question of John’s disciples since they had no basis for genuine faith. But it was clear to them, as it was to the Pharisees, that Jesus’ teaching and activities were radically different from those of traditional Judaism. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 69)
Religion says that if we obey God, he will love us.
The gospel says that it is because God has loved us through Jesus that we can obey.
Religion says that we should trust in what we do as good, moral people.
The gospel says that we should trust in the perfectly sinless life of Jesus because he is the only good and truly moral person who will ever live.
The focus of much religion is to get from God such things as health, wealth, insight, power, and control.
The focus of the gospel is not the gifts God gives but rather God himself–in the form of Jesus–as the gift given to us by grace.
Religion is about what I have to do.
The gospel is about what I get to do.
Religion leads to an uncertainty about my standing before God because I never know if I have done enough to please God.
The gospel leads to a certainty about my standing before God because of the finished work of Jesus on my behalf on the cross. (Pete Wilson, Empty Promises, 120-1)
“In all his preaching of the kingdom of God, Jesus did not look for moral achievement in his followers, but for faith in himself. Clearly regarded Messianic faith as the key to spiritual growth. Paul has the same assessment. He resists the Galatians’ effort to add to faith a calculus of legal obedience as a new source of Christian maturity: “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the Law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? . . . Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? (Gal 3:2-5 NIV) (Richard Lovelace; Renewal as a Way of Life, 133)
The two illustrations with which this passage ends indicate Jesus’ awareness that it was becoming more and more certain that there was a fundamental incompatibility between the old Israel, paralyzed by self-righteousness and overloaded with petty regulations, and the new Israel humbled by the consciousness of sin, and turning in faith to Jesus the Messiah for forgiveness. The old garment could not contain the new cloth. The new wine of messianic forgiveness could not be preserved in the parched wine-skins of Jewish legalism. (R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 98)
Every great spiritual renovating force must embody itself in institutions, Spiritual emotions must express themselves in acts of worship, spiritual convictions must speak in a creed. But the containing vessel must be congruous with, and still more, it must be created by, the contained force, as there are creatures who frame their shells to fit the convolutions of their bodies, and build them up from their own substance. Forms are good, as long as they can stretch if need be; when they are too stiff to expand, they restrict rather than contain the wine, and if short-sighted obstinacy insists on keeping it in them, there will be a great spill and loss of much that is precious. (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 28-9)
In some degree this is “realized eschatology,” for the new is happening. But, from the teachings of Jesus, we know there is more to come. It is evident that the old has run out, that it isn’t worth patching in comparison to the new creation in Christ. This is the new age, and Jesus began His miracles by the miracle of wine (John 2)–an illustration of the wine of the new age fulfilling the prophecy of the time of our salvation (Isaiah 12). (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 124)
It will not do to suggest, as some have done, that because Jesus says, at the end of this parable, that “both are preserved” that he envisages the legitimate preservation of both Judaism and the new religious structures he is introducing. For in the categories of the parable, the “both” that are preserved are not the old wineskins and the new wine, but the new wineskins containing the new wine. (G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, 217)
He made clear that He was not teaching a reformed Pharisaism or a reformed rabbinicalism but an entirely different way of believing, thinking, and living. He did not come to improve the old system but to renounce and undermine it. His way had nothing to do with the old ways, and the old ways had no part in the new. The two ways cannot be connected to one another or be contained one in the other. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 69)
In his critique of “pure” religion, Jesus doesn’t critique all Jewish religious practices. He doesn’t say anything negative about the tradition of the synagogue that developed during the Exile, and he doesn’t say anything negative about the many traditions surrounding the Passover meal. Rather, he seems to embrace such man-made traditions. But he does critique any and all religious views and practices that can’t hold the new wine of the gospel. (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 248)
The old was right for its day and age. But now it was time for the new–a new dispensation, a new covenant, a new dynamic, new principles, new life, new methods, a new “container.”
Christianity was to replace Judaism altogether. The church is not Israel, but something entirely new and unique in God’s dealings with men. Those who would equate the church with Israel introduce Judaistic forms, ceremonies, and rules into Christianity. The result of trying to make a patchwork quilt of Judaism and Christianity is confusion. The outcome of such a misconception of Christianity is Christendom with its priests, sacraments, feasts, fasts, holy days, rituals, calendars, and liturgies. The Lord envisioned no such thing. He gave the disciples of John a lot to think about as they went away. (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 165)
We have simply a vivid illustration of the general truth that the combination of the Old and the New Dispensations would be not merely unsuitable but injurious, tending to defeat, rather than to promote, the aims of the Messianic Dispensation. (Alvah Hovey, American Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 203)
The old garments and wineskins denote the scribes and Pharisees, while the patch of shrunk cloth and the new wine signify the gospel. The Jews could not assimilate Jesus’ teaching without challenging their whole system of law (Jerome). The fabric of the old law was worn away by Judaic zealousness, split apart by schools of thought and depleted by impure actions. The cloth of the gospel is not part of the tear but the beginning of the weave. —Peter Chrysologus (Manlio Simonetti; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Vol. Ia, 179)
There are only 2 reasons to get into religion: You can either get into religion to serve God or you can get into religion to get God to serve you and there is really no middle ground. It is one or the other. (Tim Keller sermon, “King is Abandoned”)
Legalists point to the law to show what they CAN do. Christians who are saved by grace point to the Law to show what they cannot do and what drives them to Christ.
What are the steps of the stairway? The steps are the requirements . . . steps to God. And every religion has them. You know, not to put too fine a point on it, but the five pillars of Islam are steps to God. The ten commandments of Judaism are steps to God. The eight-fold path of Buddhism to enlightenment are steps to God. And every other religions says there the steps are . .. go!
Is Jesus doing that? No! Jesus does not say, “You will see angels ascending and descending TO the Son of Man”. Jesus does say, “You will see angels ascending and descending ON the Son of Man”. What does that mean? He’s the steps!
Every other religions has steps and it is a what. It is something to do. But we have a Who. It is a person. He fulfilled the requirements. He did the steps. (Tim Keller message, The Openness of Heaven)
All other religions say, “Let’s go to God.” Christianity and the message of Christmas is “God came to us.”
CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What evidences can I look for in my life that demonstrate that I am living according to the reality of the new paradigm and not the old?:
- I don’t look down on others as sinners because I recognize myself as the chief of sinners. (Mt 18:21-35; Lk 18:9-14; 1 Tm 1:15)
When a man is humbled by the law, and brought to the knowledge of himself, then follows true repentance (for true repentance begins at the fear and judgment of God), and he sees himself to be so great a sinner that he can find no means how he may be delivered from his sin by his own strength, endeavor and works. (Martin Luther; Galatians, 94)
Now we are in a position to see why Jesus (and Isaiah, James, John, and Paul) can use the ministry of mercy as a way to judge between true and false Christianity. A merely religious person, who believes God will favor him because of his morality and respectability, will ordinarily have contempt for the outcast. “I worked hard to get where I am, and so can anyone else!” That is the language of the moralist’s heart. “I am only where I am by the sheer and unmerited mercy of God. I am completely equal with all other people.” That is the language of the Christian’s heart. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 61)
The Law shows non-Christians and Christians the same thing. It shows us how we cannot cut it on our own and how much we both need Jesus. (Tullian Tevidgjian; Life Without God – Pt 7)
The Law is a divinely sent Hercules to attack and kill the monster of self-righteousness and to show us every day just how desperately we need God’s grace. – Martin Luther (Tullian Tevidgjian; Life Without God – Pt 7)
The office therefore of the law is to kill, but only so that God may revive and quicken again. It is not given only to kill; but because man is proud, and dreams that he is wise, righteous, and holy, it is necessary that he should be humbled by the law so that this beast, the resumption of righteousness, might be slain; otherwise, man cannot obtain life. (Martin Luther; Galatians, 219)
Sin God can deal with. That is what the cross is all about. It is stiff-necked, hard-hearted, unrepentant religious, pious, do-gooders who are lost and without hope. —Steve Brown
Satan would have us define ourselves as holy by the Law, when God gave us the law to define us as sinners. —Chuck Swindoll
When Martin Luther was asked about the contribution of the human will in relation to his position of God’s grace in salvation, the questioner asked Luther, “Do you mean to say that man contributes nothing to his salvation?”
Luther responded, “Oh no, I did not mean to imply that. Man contributes his own resistance to the Gospel.”
The Gospel is always more compelling to people who know their own inadequacies. (Tim Keller message, “Injustice: Hasn’t Christianity Been an Instrument of Oppression?”)
- I don’t think God “owes” me anything but condemnation and judgment. Therefore, I am not upset or betrayed when circumstances work against me. (Gn 50:20; Dan 9; Rom 8:18-28; )
The first and possibly most fundamental characteristic of divine grace is that it presupposes sin and guilt. Grace has meaning only when men are seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation, and liable to eternal wrath…
Grace does not contemplate sinners merely as undeserving but as ill-deserving… It is simply that we do not deserve grace; we do deserve hell! (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 32)
Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment. It is the love of God shown to the unlovely. It is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against him. (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 21-2)
Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit… Grace ceases to be grace if God is Compelled to withdraw in it in the presence of Human demerit… [Grace] is treating a person without the slightest reference to desert whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purpose of God. (Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 33)
Here is a spiritual principle regarding the grace of God: To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life. (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 33)
God save us also from self-righteous judgmentalism…There is a universe of difference between the motivations behind legalism and discipline. Legalism says, “I will do this thing to gain merit with God,” while discipline says, “I will do this because I love God and want to please him.” Legalism is man-centered; discipline is God-centered. (J. I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 114)
Everyone thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.
Pride in his good deeds, rather than remorse over his bad deeds, was keeping the older son out of the feast of salvation. The elder brother’s problem is his self-righteousness, the way he uses his moral record to put God and others in his debt to control them and get them to do what he wants. His spiritual problem is the radical insecurity that comes from basing his self-image on achievements and performance, so he must endlessly prop up his sense of righteousness by putting others down and finding fault. As one of my teachers in seminary put it, the main barrier between Pharisees and God is “not their sins, but their damnable good works.” (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 77)
I don’t mean to disparage any spiritual discipline, commitment, or sacrifice. These all have their place in the realm of grace. But they are never to be relied on as a meritorious cause for expecting God’s blessing or to answer prayer. Martin Luther, in his exposition of Dt 8:17-18, spoke of “blessings that at times come to us through our labors and at times without our labors, but never because of our labors; for God always gives them because of His undeserved mercy” (emphasis added). (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 72)
But Paul never lost sight of his own unworthiness, even when exercising his office of apostleship. He never forgot he held that office by God’s mercy. Here we see the biblical relationship between a sense of one’s utter unworthiness on the one hand, and the courage to undertake a ministry for God on the other. To lose sight of our unworthiness is to risk exercising our gifts and fulfilling our ministries in a spirit of presumptuous pride, as if God were fortunate to have us on His team. But to focus too much on our unworthiness, to the neglect of God’s grace, will effectively immobilize us for His service. That attitude is also an expression of pride because we are still focusing on ourselves and our worthiness, as if God were dependent on some innate quality within us equip us for His Service. (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 158)
- I don’t think that God loves me more because I have been obedient or less because I have been a sinner. (Mt 9:9-13; Lk 7:36-50; Ch 15; 19:10)
“…it is inappropriate to use the law as a means of staying close to God.” (Stephen Brown, When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough, 126)
Whenever we end up putting our faith in our religion rather than in the living God–that’s an idol.
This most often occurs when people rely on the rightness of their doctrines or the rightness of their actions for their standing with God rather than on God himself and his grace. It is a subtle but deadly mistake.
The thing is, religion tends to sniff out the insecurities that we wrestle with and that lure us in. The religion idol whispers, “If you would just give more; show up more; serve more; pray more; read more; memorize more; preach more; evangelize more; sing more; then, and only then, will you be safe. Then will God love you. At the very least, if you do all this, he’ll love you more.” (Pete Wilson, Empty Promises, 109)
Jesus’ new and internal gospel of forgiveness and cleansing cannot be attached to the old and external traditions of self-righteousness and ritual. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 69-70)
- I am motivated to good works and obedience by love and gratitude rather than fear and obligation. (Lk 7:40-50; Jn 13:34-35; 2 Cor 5:14; 1 Jn 4:7-21)
Love asks: How much can I give? Legalism asks: How little can I give?
There are many people today who have abandoned any kind of religious faith because they see clearly that the major religions are simply full of elder brothers. They have come to the conclusion that religion is one of the greatest sources of misery and strife in the world. And guess what? Jesus says through this parable they are right. The anger and superiority of elder brothers, all growing out of insecurity, fear, and inner emptiness, can create a huge body of guilt-ridden, fear-ridden, spiritually blind people, which is one of the great sources of social injustice, war, and violence. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 66-7)
The law which itself reveals the pattern of good works should drive us to Christ. Christ is the point of the law; Christ is the goal of the law; Christ is the meaning of the law. So if you try to follow and obey the law, but avoid Christ, you have missed the whole point of the law. (R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: Romans, 178)
As a new wine, fermenting and expanding, would burst leathern bottles already stretched or worn by age, so the religion of Christ could not be confined to any set of ceremonies and should not be confused with any ritual. It was a new life imparted by faith in him. It controlled men, not by rules, but by motives. Its symbol was not a fast but a feast. (Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Matthew, 85)
*Self-righteous service comes through human effort. True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside.
*Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal.” True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service.
*Self-righteous service requires external rewards. True service rests contented in hiddenness.
*Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service is free of the need to calculate results.
*Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.
*Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims. True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.
*Self-righteous service is temporary. True service is a life-style.
*Self-righteous service is without sensitivity. It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive. True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it.
*Self-righteous service fractures community. True service, on the other hand, builds community. (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, “The Discipline of Service”)
A true believer forsakes legalism and ritualism. He fasts only as an expression of genuine spiritual concern, and he does not try to attach his new life in Christ to his old ritual or religion or try to fit it somehow into his old patterns. He knows they are incompatible and utterly contrary. He knows that what is begun in the Spirit cannot be completed in the flesh (Gal 3:3). The genuine righteousness of a forgiven and cleansed heart cannot be enhanced or supplemented by external religious works. Freedom in Christ has no part in the bondage of legalism. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 71)
The Pharisee had never seen the need of forgiveness and there is no more terrible sin than that. I know of nothing worse than the person who says; ‘You know I have never really felt that I am a sinner’. That is the height of sin because it means that you have never realized the truth about God and the truth about yourself. Read the argument of the Apostle Paul and you will find that his logic is not only inevitable, but also unanswerable. ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’ We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God.’ If you have never realized your guilt or guiltiness before God you will never have joy in Christ. It is impossible. ‘Not the righteous, sinners Jesus came to save.’ ‘They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.’ (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, 31)
Another sign of those with an “elder brother” spirit is joyless, fear-based compliance. The older son boasts of his obedience to his father, but lets his underlying motivation and attitude slip out when he says, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you.” To be sure, being faithful to any commitment involves a certain amount of dutifulness. Often we don’t feel like doing what we ought to do, but we do it anyway, for the sake of integrity. But the elder brother shows that his obedience to his father is nothing but duty all the way down. There is no joy or love, no reward in just seeing his father pleased. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 57-8)
- My identity and reputation is not crucial for my happiness, peace and security. I have learned to trust in God and His grace rather than my performance and merit for my joy. (Mt 13:44-46; Jn 3:27-30; Phil 3:3-11; )
If you cannot bear to really look at all the stupidity of your life, if you cannot bear to see what is wrong with you, if you cannot bear to really see your flaws, if you can’t just take criticism, you just go to pieces, cause you know it is true; it is because you really do not have the strength from knowing the grace of God. It is the grace of God that helps me not feel Oh I must be OK but gives me the freedom to admit what is wrong with me without being devastated. And therefore, Jesus Christ is saying, “Do you know that unless you know the depth of your sin and the height of God’s grace; when things go well you are going to be smug instead of happy and grateful or when things go poorly your are going to be devastated instead of hopeful and enduring. Unless you see both of those you are going to move back and forth from being a proud Pharisee or being a cynical skeptic and you’re not going to be able to handle the suffering and troubles of life. (Tim Keller message, “The Falling Tower”)
The elder brother is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it. It is not his sins that create the barrier between him and his father, it’s the pride he has in his moral record; it’s not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the father. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 35)
The new wine of grace was not to be poured into the skin-bottles of legality. (John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come, 70)
How often we have tried somehow to love somebody that we can’t stand! The harder we try to love, the more difficult it becomes. We get super-frustrated and angry at the other person for making love so difficult. All our human efforts to try to love others are bound to fail because the more we put ourselves under a performance principle, the more our failures make us feel guilty and cause us to love less. This is the corollary to the central message of God’s freeing love throughout the discourse of the book of Romans: that all human efforts, all performance principles, will only bring failure and despair. Only when we are set free from the demands of the law can we discover the Hilarity of living in love through faith. (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community: Romans 12, 145-45)
Fast when you are sad; feast when you are glad. Let the disposition, the mood, the moment’s circumstance, mold your action. There is no virtue or sanctity in observances which do not correspond to the inner self. What a charter of liberty is proclaimed in these quiet words! What mountains of ceremonial unreality, oppressive to the spirit, are cast into the sea by them! How different Christendom would have been and would be today, if Christians had learned the lesson of these words! (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 27)
The new wine of Christian faith could not be poured into the old wineskins of Judaism. The Book of Acts demonstrates this fact, and the Letter to the Galatians interprets it from Paul’s mission work. (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 124)
Competitive comparison is the main way elder brothers achieve a sense of their own significance. Racism and classism are just different versions of this form of the self-salvation project. This dynamic becomes exceptionally intense when elder brothers pride themselves above all for their right religion. If a group believes God favors them because of their particularly true doctrine, ways of worship, and ethical behavior, their attitude toward those without these things can be hostile. Their self-righteousness hides under the claim that they are only opposing the enemies of God. When you look at the world through those lenses, it becomes easy to justify hate and oppression, all in the name of truth. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 54)
- I see that a loving, caring God has authority over everything that could possibly threaten my life and well-being. Therefore, I do not fear. (Mt 8:23-27; 10:28; Mk 4:35-41; Lk 8:22-25; 12:4, 32; Jn 14:27; 16:33; Phil 4:4-6 )
Although the King has come, we know that our world is still full of sickness, disease, suffering, and pain. The effects of sin and the fall are all around us: paralysis, fevers, malaria, HIV/AIDS, cancer, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. Based on the entire context of Matthew 9, we know that Jesus has authority over all these things; therefore, what we are longing and fasting for is the day when the King will put an end to these menaces once and for all. We’ll live in a new heaven and a new earth where we will dwell forever with our King (Rv 21). (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 123)
Worship Point: If worship is a struggle and you must force yourself to worship and praise God, you are still living under the old paradigm.
Jesus is not simply another Abraham or Moses, another Elijah or Jeremiah. All of biblical revelation comes to its focus in him. Nor is this a conclusion of the later church, foisted back on him–a theological conclusion of which he was blissfully unaware. Far from it: in the Gospels he operates out of a profound self-awareness that understood his own authority to be nothing less than divine, that understood his own mission to be the culmination of centuries of revelatory preparation. This is the authentic Jesus; unless we see him in this light, and obey him and worship him as he is presented to us in Scripture, we shall be guilty of manufacturing a false Jesus, a Jesus with different goals and purposes from the ones the authentic Jesus actually held and exemplified. (G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, 217)
Gospel Application: The Gospel is about the work of Christ on your behalf. Not about your work on Christ’s behalf. The first is joy, freedom and peace. The second is obligation, bondage and turmoil.
Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God’s grace and God’s grace alone for our salvation. It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace. Grace is for other people—for beggars. We don’t want to live by a heavenly welfare system. We want to earn our own way and atone for our own sins. We like to think that we will go to heaven because we deserve to be there. (R.C. Sproul; “Suffering and Merit” Tabletalk: Vol. 13, No. 1; Feb1989, 5)
God does not save us because of what we’ve done. Only a puny god could be bought with tithes. Only an egotistical god would be impressed with our pain. Only a temperamental god could be satisfied by sacrifices. Only a heartless god would sell salvation to the highest bidders.
And only a great God does for his children what they can’t do for themselves.
That is the message of Paul: “For what the law was powerless to do…God did.” (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, 29)
To a Pharisee, the service of God was a bondage which he did not love but form which he could not escape without a loss too great to bear. God, as the Pharisees saw Him, was not a God easy to live with. So their daily religion became grim and hard, with no trace of true love in it.
It can be said about us, as humans, that we try to be like our God. If He is conceived to be stern and exacting and harsh, so will we be!
The blessed and inviting truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings, and in our worship of Him we should find unspeakable pleasure. (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 28)
Spiritual Challenge: Know the Gospel of Jesus. It is good news, not good advice.
The gospel is not at all what we would come up with on our own. I, for one, would expect to honor the virtuous over the profligate. I would expect to have to clean up my act before even applying for an audience with a Holy God. But Jesus told of God ignoring a fancy religious teacher and turning instead to an ordinary sinner who pleads, “God, have mercy.” Throughout the Bible, in fact, God shows a marked preference for “real” people over “good” people. In Jesus’ own words, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” ( Philip Yancey; What’s so Amazing About Grace?, 54)
Quotes to Note:
No longer would priests offer daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly sacrifices that covered sin over; now one sacrifice would deal finally and effectively with sin. No longer would the meeting place between God and man be localized in a temple in Jerusalem; now it would be “localized” in the person of God’s Son. No longer would the Spirit be poured out only on the leaders of the covenant community; now all the heirs of the new covenant would know the Spirit’s work for themselves. And if the final fruition of Jesus’ mission must await his return, then at least we may rejoice that the principal dealing with sin has already taken place in Jesus’ initial mission–even if the consummation of his work awaits his return. (G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, 217-8)
. . . no joy lasts forever. For John’s disciples the time of sorrow had come, because John was already in prison. For Jesus’ disciples that time of sorrow would most certainly come. It is one of the great inevitabilities of life that the dearest joy must come to an end. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 336)