Jesus Is the Heavenly Bridegroom!
O Lord God, my dear heavenly Father, as I enter into Your presence this day for worship—to hear Your truths, to sing Your praises, and to offer You my prayers, may Your Spirit fill my heart with greater understanding and fullness of joy! May I prove ever faithful to Jesus, my Savior and Lord, and anticipate His return as my heavenly Bridegroom. Amen.
“Make a joyful shout to the LORD!” Why? The Psalmist reminds us that the LORD gives us life, brings us into His kingdom, and showers upon us His ongoing mercy and blessing!
Jesus brings us new life and light through His gospel proclamation. The result in our lives will be a determination to keep His commandments, which means that we will strive to love one another!
Text: Mark 2:18-22
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”
In Christ Jesus: God’s solution for our age-old problem of sin, dear fellow redeemed:
Fasting…sewing on patches…tips on making wine? How many of you are wondering about the relevance of those topics for your spiritual life today? We seldom fast today, unless we are preparing for blood work at the medical clinic. Fasting seems to be a religious custom of bygone ages. Some of us still sew, but most of us just buy new clothes rather than patch old clothes, and some new clothes come with rips already in them. If you were to patch those, the fashion world would say they were ruined! And as for those few of us who are hobby wine-makers, we would never use “wineskins” anyway, because today we use glass bottles.
Why then choose this text? I chose it, for while it speaks about fasting, sewing, and winemaking, it really is not about those things at all. Those three things are mentioned, for they demonstrate the sharp contrast that exists between Jesus and all other so-called spiritual leaders this world has ever known, and they serve to demonstrate as well the sharp contrast that exists between the message of Biblical Christianity and all other religious traditions. Let us, therefore, examine these sharp contrasts using as our theme the words Jesus used to describe Himself—JESUS IS THE HEAVENLY BRIDEGROOM! We will see, first of all, that His approach was and is different! We will see, secondly, that His message is forever new!
The situation described in our text occurred very early in Jesus’ ministry. At the time of Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptizer identified Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). Shortly thereafter Jesus called His first disciples and began His preaching ministry in Judea along the Jordan River not far from where John was preaching. As more and more people came to listen to Jesus, John’s disciples became somewhat upset as John’s popularity seemed to decline. John responded, “You yourselves bear me witness that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.’” (Jn. 3:28-30) John, therefore, identifies Jesus as the heavenly Bridegroom—another designation identifying Jesus as the world’s Savior, the Christ promised in Old Testament prophecies (cf. Is. 62:5).
It was shortly after this that John was imprisoned by King Herod. John had criticized Herod for living in adultery with his brother’s wife. John’s disciples were left somewhat bewildered and depressed. How could such a thing happen? What were they to do now? They could not imagine why God would permit this. They began to fast on a regular basis. They did so with sincerity and repentance. They prayed that God would protect John while in prison and grant him quick release. The Pharisees and their disciples were unsure of how to react either to John’s imprisonment or Jesus’ growing influence. They did not believe John was truly sent from God, and they were at that time becoming increasingly suspicious of Jesus. If, however, what John had proclaimed was true—that the Messiah was coming, they wanted to be ready. So they, too, fasted—twice a week on Thursdays and Mondays…the days tradition said that Moses went up Mt. Sinai the second time and then came down with the two tables of the law. They did so in order to demonstrate their personal spiritual commitment and in order to secure, they assumed, a just reward from the Messiah for their superior performance whenever He might come.
It was in this heightened spiritual atmosphere that Jesus left Judea and moved the center of His ministry to Galilee. He called the rest of His twelve disciples, including the tax-collector Matthew. We are told in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus and His disciples, instead of fasting, attended a banquet held in His honor at the home of Matthew. It was attended by many “tax-collectors and sinners” (cf. Mt. 9:10). Both the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees did not and could not understand what Jesus and His disciples were doing. Feasting instead of fasting? It simply did not seem appropriate! Consequently, they approached Jesus and asked, “Why?” John and his disciples, after all, led ascetic lives—depriving themselves of all luxuries. The Pharisees and their disciples, while normally possessing and enjoying such luxuries, certainly restrained themselves regularly on their appointed days of fasting from such enjoyment, even if only to gain spiritual stature in the eyes of the general populous. Why did Jesus then and His disciples associate with such people and carry on in such seemingly worldly ways?
Jesus responded, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” Notice that Jesus embraced the title John the Baptizer had given Him. He was the heavenly Bridegroom and, therefore, the promised Christ. No other religious leader—past, present, or future—can ever make such a claim, for no other religious leader is the world’s Savior. Jesus is and remains God incarnate. Jesus sits at God’s right hand and now reigns over this world from heaven. Just as He is therefore different so His approach was and is different when it comes to dealing with sinners and with spirituality. How so?
Jesus’ approach was and is different. He humbled Himself whereas other spiritual leaders ultimately and inevitably exalt themselves. Although He possessed all the glory and honor of heaven, Jesus took on the form of a servant (cf. Phil. 2:5ff.). The Pharisees and their disciples, on the other hand, promoted themselves and sought the honor of men andto be lords over men. Although “separate from sinners” morally (cf. Heb. 7:26), Jesus’ approach was so very different in that He chose to engage sinners, rather than to avoid them as did the Pharisees. Although true God—their Creator and ultimate Judge, He approached them without a show of superiority. He entered the homes of people like Matthew and latter Zacchaeus, while the Pharisees stood aloof and condemned Him for those associations. Jesus never countenanced sin, but rather held the sinner accountable to God. He would tell penitent sinners, whom He assured of forgiveness, that they should go and sin no more. The Pharisees considered themselves superior to such sinners and looked down on them—a trait of many religious people even today. Think of the story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector in the temple—the Pharisee announced to God all of his supposed goodness and thanked God that he was not like other lesser men, especially the tax-collector who stood in the back. Jesus, however, stated that the tax-collector, who confessed himself to be a sinner, was the one who went down to his house justified. Jesus invited sinners burdened by guilt and shame to come to Him, whereas the Pharisees rejected and dismissed them. Finally, Jesus received with thanksgiving—you might even say with celebration every blessing—even a meal served by Matthew, rather than abstaining from them. He was, after all, the heavenly Bridegroom come to bring joy to the hearts of all who would embrace Him!
Yes, Jesus’ approach was indeed very different than that of the Pharisees. Even so our approach today is to be different. We are to walk humbly as His servants. We are to engage sinners, not to avoid them. We are to view those caught in sin with concern and compassion, not with a sense of superiority. We are to point out the law of God and hold people accountable, but not to make ourselves feel or look good, but rather in order to then invite them to receive the rest for their souls that only Jesus can offer. Yes, JESUS IS THE HEAVENLY BRIDEGROOM! His approach is very different!
His message is forever new! Jesus’ comments regarding the friends of the bridegroom, the uselessness, yes, even destructiveness of putting a new patch on an old garment, and new wine in old wineskins were all intended to demonstrate the difference between His message and that of all other religious teachers and religious traditions. His message was truly unique and new as compared with all others. In what sense is that the case?
Every religious tradition, apart from Biblical Christianity, is law-based and embraces some form of work-righteousness. Such religious traditions appeal to man’s natural pride; urge him to use his abilities to impress God and thereby gain His favor; play upon either his fears or his self-confidence; seek to satisfy his desires or enhance his sense of entitlement and desire for reward. They are man-centered and as old as Satan’s lie that man can somehow become God! The message of Christ is just the opposite. It is based upon grace—the undeserved love of God for sinners. It speaks of God's mercy and the gift of salvation. It proclaims God’s justice—the absolute necessity of punishment for sin, but it reveals God's redemptive plan through the person and work of Jesus Christ. It speaks of Jesus’ atonement for our sins and God’s justification of the world of sinners for Jesus’ sake. It speaks not of self-confidence, but of Christ-confidence—a restoration of the relationship of God with man and the sanctification of man by God.
These two—the law-based religious traditions of men and the gospel proclamation of Christ—are not compatible. You cannot take a little bit of grace and combine it, for instance, with the demands of all of the Old Testament laws, as did the Pharisees . You cannot tell man he has the ability to contribute to his salvation and thereby merit God’s favor and still believe that salvation is a gift from God. This is the problem of modern, moral-based religions. You cannot place your confidence in your own goodness, and also place that confidence entirely in Christ. But people try and people do with the result that the entire message of Christ becomes blurred and is lost.
It is interesting and sad that Jesus, in Luke’s account of this incident, makes the observation that people tend to like what they are used to. He commented, “No one, having drunk the old wine, immediately desires the new” (Lk. 5:39). Most people naturally prefer the older message of the law over against that of the gospel. May this not be the case with us! Jesus’ message is one that calls upon us to humble ourselves through the repentance of sins, but it gives us absolute confidence as we go forward, for in Christ we have complete forgiveness, and in Christ God promises us fullness of joy! JESUS IS OUR HEAVENLY BRIDEGROOM! As we await His return at the end of time, we may indeed mourn as we pass through the rigors of life in this sin-filled world. But the time will soon come, when our heavenly Bridegroom will return. Then the banquet halls of heaven will be filled and we will rejoice in His presence forevermore! Amen.
Soli Gloria Deo! Prepared by Pastor Paul D. Nolting