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If you look back to the preceding verses, Jesus had left a party at a known “bad guys” house, accompanied by other bad guys and sinners (Matthew 9.8-13). Some followers of John the Baptist, took exception to Jesus’ behavior. Matthew wrote, “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?'” (Matthew 9.14).
John the Baptist conducted his ministry in the wilderness of Judea. He ate wild food, consisting of locusts and wild honey. His message was one that called people to repentance. He appeared to be very severe and strict (See Matthew 3.1-12). It makes sense that his disciples thought that Jesus was having too much fun. His dinner with Matthew and friends probably had more on the menu than locusts and wild honey.
Jesus responded to John’s followers and said: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.
“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9.15-17).
Good News – Under New Management
How can we best understand Jesus’ words to John’s disciples and to us today?
Jesus began his ministry with this announcement, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4.17). Let’s picture Jesus’ message.
Imagine living in a town with just one grocery store. The produce in the store is always wilted and on the verge of being rotten. The meat is so tough, that it has to be cut with a chain saw. The employees are sullen and argumentative. Beyond that, the food prices are surprisingly high.
Now, image a big banner in front of the store, “Under New Management.” The building is the same, but the produce is now fresh and crisp. The meat department is stocked with Certified Angus Beef that can be cut with a butter knife. The employees have a new attitude and are actually friendly and helpful. The quality is great and the prices are low.
What do you think? Would you enjoy the changes made by the new managers of the store?
Isaiah described the conditions of the world under the “old management” system.
(1) People oppress and dishonor each other.
“And the people will oppress one another,
every one his fellow
and every one his neighbor;
the youth will be insolent to the elder,
and the despised to the honorable.” (Isaiah 3.5)
(2) The vulnerable are at the mercy of the powerful.
“What do you mean by crushing my people,
by grinding the face of the poor?
declares the Lord God of hosts.” (Isaiah 3.15)
(3) People know how to party, but they don’t have regard God’s directions.
“They have lyre and harp,
tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts,
but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
or see the work of his hands.” (Isaiah 5.12)
(4) People, who live by their own best thinking, deceive themselves and others.
“Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5.20-21)
The Old Testament prophets presented a tragic picture of system that breaks and crushes people under its weight. Words written 700 years before Christ, are very descriptive of today’s mismanagement of life.
When Jesus put out a banner, “Under New Management,” he erected it in a world that was as corrupt, selfish and harsh as described by the prophets. He knew that the new Manager, the King of the kingdom of God, was present on the scene. His presence and the kingdom were cause for joy.
Obviously, the world is still in a mess. However, there is cause for joy. In verse 15, Jesus told his followers that the cause for joy was that he is present.
His presence allowed Paul to write, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4.11). He also could experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, [to] guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.7).
Jesus invites us to the “Under New Management” party. As we live with him, his presence will give us experiences like that of Paul and more.
Bad News – Conflict with Old Management
When Jesus said, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9.15), he pointed to the conflict with the old management structure that the world knows so well. As we read Matthew, we will see the conflict intensify, as the old structures attempt to remain in control. Because of this conflict, Jesus’ followers will fast.
People who fast do not eat food for a period of time to intensify their connection with God. Fasting is not an end in itself, but is a tool that is designed to bring us into a closer relationship with God. Because of conflict with the old system, we need to stay in close contact with the Lord.
If we are following Jesus, we are living by the rules of his “New Management” of the world. Jesus set out those rules in the Sermon on the Mount. We do well to frequently read this sermon (Matthew 5-7) to keep in mind the inner life that comes from following Jesus.
Jesus expects that people will fast and has some clear instructions about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.16-18). Once again, when fasting is done with the right heart-attitude, it will help us draw closer to God.
Patching Up the Old System
Jesus makes it clear that the old system needs to be replaced and not patched up. Trying to patch up the old system that rules the world is as impossible as trying to patch clothing with new cloth. Cloth that has not been laundered will always tear away from previously laundered clothing. Wine that has not finished the fermenting process will always burst open leather wineskins that have become brittle with age.
History is full of revolutions that were designed to change the old system. Many people followed Jesus, because they thought he would help them overthrow the oppressive rule of the Romans. When he presented a different method for change, they turned on him and called for his crucifixion.
Jesus knew that to attempt to place a new structure on top of an old-structure-heart, would result in disaster. Both the heart and the structure needs change. He made this truth clear when he gave us direction about the kingdom of God – the “Under New Management” system.
After the resurrection, the disciples were interested if the oppressive Roman government was to finally be replaced by the kingdom of God. They asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
“He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth'” (Acts 1.6-8).
Jesus puts the responsibility on us. He provides the Holy Spirit and calls us to tell people about the new life that we have experienced through him. As they experience new life, they are changed from the inside out.
The parable of the leaven shows the results of this kind of change. Jesus said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened” (Luke 13.20-21).
If we want to see the oppressive structures that were highlighted by the Old Testament prophets changed, then we must work for change. However, change comes not by superficially patching the old structure with new values learned from Jesus.
Rather, we change the structure from the inside out. We join Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit and share our testimony. As we do this seemingly small act, it will be like the leaven that permeates all of society.
Just to be clear. If you don’t like what is happening in the world, start bringing more people to Jesus. He is in the business of changing the world, one person at a time. Whether we like it or not, this is his plan for increasing the reach of his power, and we are called to follow his directions.
Dear Jesus, thank you for changing us from the inside out. Thank you that you are at work in this world, even if things look pretty troubling right now. We commit ourselves to doing things your way. Please show us how to join you in what you are doing in the world.