Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Traditions | Mark 2:18–22

Jesus replaces false religiosity with true religion. He replaces ritualism with joy (vv. 18–20), and He replaces the old with the new (vv. 21–22). Let’s look at each of these this morning.




Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Traditions | Mark 2:18–22
Shaun Marksbury | Morning Service | 26 March, 2017

I. Introduction
A lot of Christians will shy from the word “religion” when describing the Christian faith.  The oft-repeated line is that it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.  Definitionally, though, Christianity is still a religion.  We believe in and worship God, we have Scripture, we have churches, and we have rules.

James even uses the word “religion” when contrasting the true Christian faith to a deceptive one: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Js 1:26–27).

Still, the statement is true to a degree, and James highlights this in his letter.  There’s a false religiosity out there that masquerades at being a true faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  It ultimately puffs people up, inflating their egos, but does nothing for them in the long run because they don’t know the Lord or His ways.

This religiosity will often start with the best of intentions, maybe keeping God’s command.  Consider: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex 20:8).   Since OT saints were commanded to do no work, they started to define what that meant.  Soon, they were counting their steps to make they never went over 2,000 on a Saturday—the ancient fitbit!  They had a law forbidding the carrying of an object weighing more than a fig.  These kinds of laws will actually come into stark contrast with Christ in the next section of our text.

Such religiosity grew within Christian church as it became more concerned with ceremony.  Those fulfilling pastoral roles were compared to the priests of the OT, and then they were called priests.  Someone thought abstaining from marriage and sexuality was a good idea, and eventually, the priests were not allowed to get married.  Someone saw that the OT practice of circumcision identified of the community of believers from birth, and then people were baptizing infants.

These are some smaller examples of multiplying the religious requirements of the text.  Larger ones were the re-sacrifice of Christ during mass, the doctrine of purgatory and the purchase of indulgences to shorten one’s stay there, and the absolute authority of the Pope as Christ-on-earth.  At some point along the way, what became the Roman Catholic Church abandoned the realm of biblical Christianity.

Understand that this isn’t just true of the Catholic Church.  We see it play out in the history of Fundamentalism in the twentieth century, as it became less focused on gospel separation and more focused on defining its own set of religious markers, such as hair-length and translation choices.  Evangelicals traveled a different path, where being winsome, engaging in culture and politics, and having big-umbrella theological commitments were the new sacraments.  In many cases, whether in mainline or in non-denominational settings, the Bible gets deemphasized and pastors become motivational speakers, taking people through various series on life-principles.  Thus, a Christ-less religiosity grows.

It’s true of every heart.  Whenever you think you must participate in the latest religious fad to be a “good Christian,” you are falling prey to deception.  You might adopt it as some issue of conscience and think no one should question it, even though it’s not expressed in Scripture.  You dare not be caught violating some new taboo.  You are subtly substituting faith in Christ with fear of man and self-righteous strivings.

For example, in the last section, we saw Jesus violate the accepted “religious” norms (not God’s Law) by dining with tax-collectors and sinners.  Some might have said that He wasn’t a “good Jew.”  But understand that Jesus is not interested in any religious worship that He doesn’t command, and He in fact wants to destroy anything false in our lives.

Jesus torpedoes the false ecumenicalism and false calls to unity in the church.  He is also the all-consuming fire that purifies true and biblical religion in our hearts.  Anything man-made will burn like wood, hay, and stubble (1 Cor 3:12–15).  Christ doesn’t have anything to do with Belial (2 Cor 6:15), and believers are called away from those teaching the doctrines of demons (cf. 1 Tm 4:1) to pure faith in Christ.

Jesus replaces false religiosity with true religion.  He replaces ritualism with joy (vv. 18–20), and He replaces the old with the new (vv. 21–22).  Let’s look at each of these.

II. Jesus Replaces Ritual with Joy (vv. 18–20)
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.

The immediate context is the feast at Levi’s house.  The scribes couldn’t believe that Jesus would be so bold as to enter the home of a tax-collector and dine with “those people.”  Remember that Jesus has all authority on earth to forgive sins, and He came to heal the sick.  Even so, Jesus essentially says to those who think they are alright already that they won’t get anything from Him.

It’s easy to ignore growing pride and self-righteousness beneath a skin of religious works, and here we see that even John’s disciples are caught up in ritualism.  Remember that John was calling people to repentance and led the austere life of a Nazarite in the wilderness.  I suppose that, just like former alcoholics who become Christians stay away from booze, perhaps his disciples were adopting some ascetic rituals of the Pharisees in an attempt to keep themselves pure.  It may be that, amid striving for holiness through fasting, and their sadness that John was in prison, their consciences were troubled at the sight of Jesus feasting with sinners (v. 15).

In fact, in John 3:26, it also seems that some of John’s disciples were jealous.  They said, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”  (Jesus and His disciples were baptizing more people than John, 4:1).  John replied, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30).  He wasn’t simply calling people to repentance, but to also follow the Messiah.  However, with John in prison, some were not getting it, and perhaps Jesus’s perceived impiety sparks their jealousy again.  As such, they stop in the repentance process, and their fasting becomes a mockery of true holiness.

God had command only one fast (on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Lv 16:29–31, Acts 27:9), but some prided themselves on fasting often (cf. Lk 18:12).  It’s not wrong to fast per se, and MacArthur notes the following, “Additionally, the Old Testament mentions a number of other nonmandatory fasts (e.g., Judg. 20:26; 1 Sam. 7:6; 31:13; 2 Sam. 1:12; 12:16; 1 Kings 21:27; 2 Chron. 20:30; Ezra 8:21, 23; Neh. 1:4; 9:1; Est. 4:1–3; Ps. 69:10; Dan. 9:3; Joel 1:13–14; 2:12, 15), but they were voluntary, being associated with grief, sorrow over sin, and the sincere pursuit of communion with God.  Fasts motivated out of proud self-righteousness or calloused ritualism were wholly rejected by God (cf. Isa 58:3–4).”

God will not respond to our religious talismans if we refuse to repent.  Consider the Jews of Isaiah 58:3–4.  “ ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.”  Like the Israelites before them, they used religious efforts to mask their own sinful hearts—and God doesn’t allow fasts to be used in such ways.

Notice how false religiosity operates.  There are some hurt feelings over this feast, and they try to make other people unhappy as a result.  The scribes came to the disciples to complain about Jesus.  Now, Jesus is asked why His disciples don’t fast.  The hypocrite and the unrepentance begin to stir strife and division between Jesus and His disciples over questions of religious observance.

Look at Colossians 2.  In vv. 16–23, we read,
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

This is why Jesus didn’t come to give us new regulations to patch the traditions of man.  He came to destroy the ritual, to throw it out, and replace it with Himself.  He is the Head of the new body.  To come back to this text, He’s the bridegroom, and we are participants in the wedding.

The disciples should rejoice in the presence of the Lord!  He answers their question with a question of His own, a rhetorical one framed as to expect a negative response.  We could translate v. 19, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?”  In case that wasn’t clear, He says as much.  Obviously, it’d be inappropriate for them to fast at the joyous occasion of a wedding—no less in the presence of the groom.

Since Jesus came to grant repentance for sins and salvation for all believers, His time on earth should indeed be a time of feasting.  He’s God of very God with us, which obviously demands some boundaries to proper celebration and worship.  However, those tied up in religiosity and traditionalism have no sense of mirth or gladness at the sight of the Messiah—they can only think of are the hundreds of man-made laws they must keep.  It’s a form of godliness with none of the rejoicing.

Disciples today will have some cause for fasting, but they still rejoice in the Lord.  The question of fasting today is still open.  Sadly, this isn’t the expected departure of the bridegroom on his wedding night, but His being snatched from the festivities.  In this way, Jesus looks toward His crucifixion, and we don’t have Him physically before us today.   As history continues to decline before He establishes His kingdom on earth, His present-day disciples have occasional cause to fast.

Now, while Jesus did not condemn the practice of fasting, He gives little teaching on it (Mt 6:16–18), just enough to tell us the importance of self-control and the danger of religiosity evident here.  No writer of the NT gives us instructions on fasting.  They did indeed fast; Acts 13:2–3, they fasted before laying hands on Paul and Barnabas and sending them to the mission field.  In Acts 14:23, they fasted while appointing elders.  However, simply because they did so is not a command to us, and the Holy Spirit never issues a command to Christians to fast.

To add to the confusion, we have these places where scribes have added the word “fasting” to the NT, and older translations like the KJV will carry this over.  For example, in Mark 9:29, Jesus did not say that demons only come out through prayer and fasting, which is why modern translations only say though prayer.  This false addition happens four times in the NT (Mt 17:21; Mk 9:29; Acts 10:30; 1 Cor 7:5).  I heard one preacher talking about this and noting how interesting it is that people desire so much to be more religious.

Fasting has become a mix of superstition and bizzare ideas.  People will sometimes fast to get God to do something specific, like inmates who will go without food to convince God to give them a better day in court.  Then there are Christians who seem to fast as a method of dieting.  Some are caught up in a Roman Catholic tradition called Lent, and so they give up some treasured substance like coffee to bring them closer to God (that’s asceticism).  None of these situations are biblical.

If you have individual cause for fasting, it is not for you to command others to do the same, nor is it for you to see it as some great religious endeavor. Never forget that your righteousness is in Christ Jesus alone.  That means that fasting or anything else can neither make anyone in Him any more or less holy.

Our religious works should never be an opportunity for self-congratulation or self-aggrandizement, but for moments of sweet communion while we await the Lord’s return.  Until that day, we should rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:4).  He rose again and ascended on high, interceding for all believers.   We cannot allow questions about fasting unseat us from the grace of the Lord

III. Jesus Replaces the Old with the New (vv. 21–22)
21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.
One commentary notes here that Jesus has “to be perceived as a destructive force rather than simply a harmless enthusiast.”   These simple illustrations demonstrate the danger of adding new to the old.  Anyone who tried to patch a garment knew how easily it could fray after a washing.  It was equally elementary to anyone working with wine that the old wine skins were useless for new wine.  Jesus wants to get rid of the old, not patch it or fill it!

Jesus didn’t come to simply sew new laws on our unregenerate lives.  Even the heavens wear out like a garment (Ps 102:26), and Scripture reveals that our hearts are “desperately sick” (Jer 17:9).  Jesus says in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”  So, fasting or some other religious exercise might cover some sin for a while, but it will eventually tear at the person’s unchanged life.  It’s a poor patch.

Jesus didn’t come to simply pour religion in our unregenerate lives.  You may have correctly heard that you need the Holy Spirit in Your life, but He’s to make you new.  Otherwise, like the animal skins stretched out with sin, Scripture “fermenting” within your heart will condemn you, for the Law is spiritual and we are flesh, “sold under sin” (Rm 7:14).

Jesus came to begin making all things new.  We look forward to this reality (Rv 21:5), but there are ways in which He is already working this in believers.  He says in Ezekiel 36:26—“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

He doesn’t want to patch up your life or pour religion into a life on the verge of breaking.  He wants to give you everything new.  This is the regeneration of John 3, being born of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit (vv. 5–6).  Don’t trust in your rituals to do what only He can do for you.

IV. Final Thoughts
It’s easy for us to look at another church and say, “See!  They do not share all our convictions, so something must be wrong with them.”  It’s easy for that church to look at us and say the same.  While some issues are definitionally Christian and therefore non-negotiable, every Christian needs to beware traditionalism and religiosity in his heart.

What is also tempting is to import traditionalism and religiosity into your faith.  This is the Galatian heresy.  Don’t believe you become more holy by adding rules and regulations.  Destroy any lust in your soul for putting religious masks over your sins.  Instead, trust in the sufficient Christ to make you holy all on His own.

As you grow in the Lord, though, you will develop convictions.  Always check your religiosity against Scripture, however, to make certain it’s not false.  And make certain that you never demand of others what our Lord does not.

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