Alfred Place Baptist Church

2:18-22 Renewal Or Regeneration?

Mark 2:18-22 “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, ‘How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?’ Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. No one sews a path of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.'”

I have rarely used the popular word ‘renewal’ during my ministry, but I have constantly used the word ‘regeneration’ referring by that word to the life of God which comes down from heaven upon favoured people, with the result that they come alive in Christ – men and women who once were dead to God. They are born from above. I am talking about that reality whereby, through the work of God the Holy Spirit, people become new creations. Every aspect of their lives is affected. They are given new resources, new hopes, new desires and new strength. ‘Renewal’ is not enough. The dead cannot be renewed. They must be resurrected.

When the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, began his public ministry in Capernaum he did not come to renew the synagogues, or the Temple, or the Pharisaic movement. He came to bring life to a dying people, and he made everything new. The Old Covenant Judaism that Christ was confronting was obsolete and ageing, soon to disappear (Hebs. 8:13). It was beyond renewal. Christ brought new Scriptures, a new covenant, new people in a New Testament church who had new access to God, with a new assurance that he was their Lord. This is what the coming of Christ accomplished: as he said in a most compact way, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

We are told in our text that there was an occasion when some people came to ask the Lord why he wasn’t teaching his followers, Peter and John and the others, to fast. John the Baptist’s disciples were actually fasting, and everyone knew when Pharisees chose to fas; they paraded the fact by putting white ash on their heads and walking down the street. But these questioners noticed that no ash was ever on the faces of Andrew and James and the others. Why not? The people who asked the question thought they knew something about religion. They believed that religion was about adding to your life certain practices like going to meetings, saying prayers, giving to the needs of others and fasting. If you were religious you’d certainly do that sort of thing.

When we ask why John the Baptist’s disciples fasted the answer is that they believed that soon the Messiah was going to be pouring his fires of judgment on the nation – the axe was being laid to the root of the tree. They also fasted because their leader was in prison. Why did the Pharisees fast? Not at all for the same reasons. They were methodical, and they fasted on two days a week, Mondays and Thursdays. They did so because they considered that genuinely religious people did that sort of thing. They believed that they were very earnest about religion, and they wanted everybody to know it and be like them. Unfortunately what they did is not God’s definition of real religion. In fact, God asked for fasting just on one single day in the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Pharisees taught that anyone serious about God would have to be far more religious than one day in 365, because they had redefined religion as frequent ceremonies and loads of regulations. So they fasted twice a week, that is, a hundred times more than God asked. That self denial must be really impressive to God mustn’t it? Must it?

So why, they asked, didn’t this new religious leader, Jesus of Nazareth, if he were worth his salt, introduce fasting to his followers? Why didn’t he say something like this, “Every Friday only fish is allowed, in fact, on that day you can drink just one glass of water before the sun sets. In addition for a whole month in the year there will be a special serious religious time. We’ll call it ‘The Fast’, and during that period you give up lots of pleasures, and eat no meat except . . . maybe once a week. This will be my new religion.” There is nothing at all like that in Christianity. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount warns of the hypocrisy of Pharisaic fasting, and he commends true fasting and prayer to his disciples whenever there are times of special need. For example, Jesus himself fasted for 40 days on a single occasion, before his temptations in the wilderness. In other words, in the Christian faith there can be a spontaneous decision for a special time of fasting taken by individual Christians or congregations. But the apostles in their epistles never mention fasting, even once. There are always cranky people who will claim that the ‘secret’ to the health of the church is some activity like a 24 hour prayer meeting, or a week of fasting and so on – the search for the ‘master key’ to divine blessing. But I am saying that I think it is significant that there is no reference at all to fasting in any of the New Testament letters. Fasting cannot be the secret, but it is a privileged possibility for any of us as trials come looming up ahead.

So here is the scene. The question under examination was this, “What is true religion?” The people who asked it thought they knew the answer, that religion consists of daily, weekly, and annual religious ceremonies, and the more religious you are the more scrupulous you are in keeping such regulations. How does the Lord answer the question?

1. TRUE RELIGION IS JOY AT THE PRESENCE OF A LIVING SAVIOUR.

The Lord approaches the question in such a fresh way: “Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.'” (v.19). Imagine going to a wedding reception, and when the waitresses come around and ask, “Melon or soup?” most of the guests refuse both. That seems a little odd but not a problem, but when the second course comes around nearly all the guests refuse everything again, and they sit there, stony faced, gazing at empty plates while those in the bridal party try to talk and enjoy their meal, conscious that everyone else is not eating a thing. What sort of happy celebration is that? The bride is soon in tears at the tension, and her father who is paying for this reception is red with anger. Bitter words are spoken by the bridegroom to his friends. What a disaster! What an insult to the bride and groom! A hundred guest went to a wedding but only ten people ate anything! The newspapers are full of it the next day. Reuters reports it round the world. A wedding is a time for joy and laughter, not a day of refusing to eat and staring into space, or bowing in prayer. What sort of behaviour is that for a Christian?

The Lord is using this vivid picture to compare his life-enhancing presence with the disciples and his work in teaching and healing, to the atmosphere of a happy wedding day. He himself is the bridegroom, and he has asked Peter and John and Andrew and James and Levi and a paralytic and a leper and Simon’s wife’s mother to be there amongst his beloved guests. At this imaginary wedding are the healed paralytic and the cleansed leper grey-faced with fasting? Of course not. They are rejoicing that they are well again. Jesus is explaining to these questioners why this is not a day of fasting. Because this is a wedding day. What a wonderful day that is. God has brought together a man and woman, put real love in each heart just for that other one. The two have become one flesh. Marriage is a creation ordinance going right back to Genesis chapter two. It is not good for man to be alone and so God invented the family. That is where he puts solitary people. So some of the biblical writers used the picture of a great wedding day as a way of talking about the wonderful new world which God was going to make. What will the coming reign of the Messiah be like? Like a wedding feast! That is heaven, and there are some foretastes of it now in the fellowship of a gospel church. There’ll be no loneliness, and no one will be without someone to love them and protect them – someone intimate and dear to them. Everyone following Jesus is going to live in a place of love. There will be praise and celebration for all. “He took me into his banqueting house and his banner over me was love.” The bridegroom had come and wooed and won his wife.

“From heaven he came and sought her
To be his holy bride
With his own blood he bought her
And for her life he died.”

She’d once been wilful and run off with strangers, but he’d gone after her and captured her heart. She had now repented and was determined to follow the bridegroom for the rest of her life. She’d been a leper, or she’d been a paralytic, or she’d been a tax-collector working for Rome, or she’d been a ‘sinner’, but Jesus had broken into her life and swept her off her feet, forgiven her and married her. He had taken personal responsibility for all her liabilities. She could hardly believe it, to marry such a loving man. Jesus is there in Capernaum with his bride – Peter, Andrew, James, John etc. This was wedding day joy, to be able to be with him – such a fascinating man – to ask him anything, to receive his counsels, to feel loved. “This is my husband and my friend!” How could they refuse to celebrate when the living Jesus Christ was in their midst showing them such love? This was a time of feasting not fasting.

There would come a time, and the Lord was warning them of this from the very beginning, when the bridegroom wouldn’t merely go away, but be taken away – wrenched from them. He would be betrayed, arrested and removed from their midst. What a terrible day that is going to be. No feasting at that time! Groaning, and grief, and fasting. Such a day had to come. That is the only way their own entry to the great bridal feast of heaven could be obtained. He had to be betrayed, crucified and buried to pay for their redemption. But that day was still in the future. Now their bridegroom is with them. Let us rejoice and be glad!

What is true religion? It is not ceremonies. It is to know that Christ is mine and I am his. He has loved me and given himself for me, paying all my debts so that I am free. I have given myself to him, and I love to be with him. This is my beloved and my Lord. That is religion, not ceremonies and regulations. Why should we gather here today and fast? Isn’t Christ who is present here today the husband of so many of us? Insofar as this relationship is concerned we won’t be any nearer related to Christ when we are with him in heaven than we are at this very moment – if we are true Christians. We cannot be more securely related to Christ than we are at this moment. Happier, yes, but we cannot be bound closer than we are at this very moment. I realise that he will be nearer to us by way of location, but not by way of covenant union. The marriage contract has already been entered into and it cannot be broken. I agree that we shall be more intimate by way of experience; that is, our own condition will be changed; we shall have glorified bodies and sinless souls, but not ‘more married’, any more than a women can be ‘more pregnant’. Marriage, like pregnancy, is a state not a process. The church is now the bride of Christ. Let us rejoice! What a future lies before us. How beautiful you will all be in that day. It was Rabbi Duncan who said, “Next to the sight of the Lamb I would like to see his bride.” We are already married, he and us; we are simply waiting for the special reception that he has prepared. The day of the reception is awaiting us; it is certain to come. This is true religion:

“Oh! I am my Beloved’s,
And my Beloved’s mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner
Into His ‘house of wine.’
I stand upon His merit
I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.” (Ann Cousin)

2. OLD WINESKINS CAN’T BE PATCHED UP.

Then, in answering this question about the absence of days of fasting from the lives of his disciples, the Lord Jesus makes two more vivid observations:

i] “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse” (v.21). You are aware that the world of his day didn’t have pre-shrunk “Sanforized” materials, but even then a man who was a carpenter’s son knew that you didn’t sew a patch of new cloth on a much washed garment. It was not uncommon for a piece of new cloth to shrink to a fraction of its original size on the first washing. If an old garment had been patched with new cloth, when it was washed the patch would shrink and tear the garment making the final condition worse than the original tear.

Many religious people today are making this mistake of patching an old garment with new piece of cloth. The Rev Gordon Girod in that long influential ministry in Seventh Reformed Church in Grand Rapids once reminded his congregation, “There was a woman who said, ‘My husband has just one bad habit. He uses profanity. If he could overcome that habit I think he would be ready to join the church.’ Well, perhaps – if overcoming the bad habit indicated a real change in his nature. Her assumption rather obviously was this: if her husband could patch up this one rip in the garment of his character, all would be well with his soul. She overlooked one fact. Though the garment of his character might be patched up, it would still be the same old garment.

“Lest the basic point we are seeking to make should escape us, consider a hypothetical case, the case of a man of whom it might be said, he fell as low as it is possible for a man to fall. The man is a philanderer, an adulterer, a fornicator, a thief, a liar. He profanes the name of God. He desecrates the Lord’s Day. He has transgressed every commandment set forth in Scripture. Now suppose that it were possible to remove every one of these overt sins from his life, to patch up every tear in the garment of his character. His philandering ceases. He is no longer an adulterer nor a fornicator. He ceases from his thievery. He bears false witness no longer. He ceases to profane the name of the Lord. He stops desecrating the Lord’s Day. He has, so to speak, patched over every tear in the garment of his life.

“All that doesn’t mean that he loves Jesus Christ like a bride loves a bridegroom, is happy just to be in the Saviour’s presence and determined to follow him for ever. Of course, he has cut out many destructive habits – as multitudes of decrepit old people do, because they have become so feeble. That does not mean they love Jesus Christ as a bride loves a bridegroom. One doesn’t become a Christian by patching up the old garment. Nor is one necessarily a Christian merely because no obvious rips or tears are apparent on the garment of life” (Gordon Girod, “God is Dead,” Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philadelphia, 1966, p.71).

You do not misunderstand me. If you are made a new creation in Christ then there will be inevitable changes in your life. Old patterns of sin will be done away with, but they will be the fruit of a loving relationship with Christ that has occurred. They are not the means you have adopted of getting right with God. I heard a man in Aberystwyth talking of entering a municipal park in South Wales and seeing a circle of 12 sycamore trees. It was this time of the year and he noticed a curious fact, that eleven of the trees had shed their leaves, but one was still covered in dead leaves. One of the park gardeners was working nearby and he began to talk to him and he pointed out this strange fact. “Oh yes,” the man said, “that tree is dead. It was struck by lightning last year. Dead trees can’t shed their leaves, only live ones.” So it is with the people to whom Christ is their beloved bridegroom. They live to please him because he has come into their lives and joined himself to them. They give up things because he loves them. They shed obvious outward sins and are putting to death what remains. But they don’t give up things in order to win God’s favour. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, has all by himself made God favourable towards us. He has reconciled the Holy One to us. Even while we were yet sinners he died for us.

ii] The Lord Jesus then added these words, “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins” (v.22). Wine was kept in sheep skins. They were removed from the body of the animal without cutting them, so that the only apertures were the orifices where the feet and the head had been. These openings were bound shut. This wineskin possessed a certain elasticity when it was new so that while the wine fermented the skin could expand. An old skin lost that suppleness and cracked or even exploded.

So the Lord is talking here about those who think of religion as adding some new wine to your life. “Try some religion. It will fortify you!” “These are the people who assume we become a Christian by making certain additions to our lives; by pouring new elements into the wineskin of this old man of ours. One instance is that of the man who assumes he can become a Christian by adding churchgoing to his life. We wouldn’t want to be misunderstood. We don’t depreciate the importance of the church which Christ purchased with the shedding of his blood. The church is the divine instrument, not only for the conversion of men through the preaching of the gospel, but for their sanctification, their growth into the stature of Christ. Even so, the church may become a mere ‘addendum’ to your life. You now go to church, but you yourself haven’t changed in your thinking or values or beliefs.

“Another typical case would be that of the husband and wife who have been experiencing marital difficulties. Perhaps they’ve read a magazine article to the effect that church people experience less of such difficulties, and this is true, you know. Far fewer divorces occur among confessing Christians than among the remainder of the population. Further, we know why this is true. The Christian is a different kind of person. But the unchurched family doesn’t know the reason. They can’t discern spiritual things. They think that if only they join the church, all will be well.” (op cit p. 72).

Another case is the man who adds philanthropy to his life. He gives away a fortune to various charities and good causes. He feels that this will mean all will be well with his soul and God. A pastor friend of mine named Don McKinney had a member whose father was a multimillionaire. She asked Don is he would go and speak to her father about the gospel and Don went to see him on the one morning in the week when the millionaire came into town and talked in the bank to the manager. He was irritated at meeting a preacher there, especially when Don reminded him, “God has been good to you.” The millionaire looked back at him and said sharply, “I’ve been good to God.” Then he listed all the moneys he had given to the local hospital and the scholarships with which he had endowed local schools and colleges. A man can add the wine of giving his money to needy causes to his life, but he is still the same man inside.

“Another instance is that of the good neighbour policy. Many an unsaved, unchurched man has added the good neighbour policy to his life. One of our members has said of his neighbour, “I don’t think I could ask anything of my neighbour which he would not do, if he were able.’ Some men make a religion of the good neighbour policy. They assume, if they pour the new wine of neighbourly kindness into the old wineskin of an otherwise unchanged life, all will be well with their souls.” (op cit p.73).

So Jesus’ point is this, that true religion is not discovered in making additions to or subtractions from your life. Think of a young man who buys an old car. He knocks out the dents, fills in the holes in the bodywork and sprays the car. He covers the seats with artificial leopard skin covers. He installs a hi-fi system so loud that you can hear the bass notes when the car is still out of sight. He even planes the head to increase the compression ratio, but when it is all done, what does he have? An old banger, souped up and cosmeticized, but a jalopy nonetheless. So it is with you. You can subtract from your life certain obvious sins. You can add to your life certain obvious good deeds. When all the additions and subtractions have been made, however, what are you? You are still the same old man.

3. WHY WE NEED TO BE NEW WINESKINS FOR CHRIST’S NEW WINE.

“Why do people make this mistake about religion? The reason is this, that they misunderstand the nature of man’s problem. It’s assumed that men are condemned by God because they sin. They lust. They lie. They cheat. They steal. They profane the name of God. They desecrate the Lord’s Day. Then they assume that if only these sins can be removed from their lives, all would be well with their souls. But you are not primarily under the condemnation of God because you sin. Does that surprise you? You are under the condemnation of God because you are a sinner, that is, because you have a nature that is alienated from God, a nature that is corrupted, depraved and at odds with God. Paul put it this way: We are by nature the children of wrath. You do not become the children of wrath because you sin. You sin because you are a child of wrath. When a man lies or cheats or steals, that is only symptomatic of the depraved nature within him.” (op cit p.74).

Why does a child have measles? Is it because he has measles spots? No. He has spots because he has measles. We sin because we are sinners. When a child has a high temperature we know that he’s ill. We know that a child isn’t ill because he has a temperature. The high temperature is the symptom not the cause. When we take the child to hospital we don’t expect the doctor to attack the temperature. We expect the medical team to fight the virus, the bacteria, the infection that is causing the temperature. So the doctor puts the child on a course of antibiotics. When the virus has gone the temperature will come down.

The fundamental problem in Wales today is not in Welsh society’s structures and institutions. It lies in the heart of every man and woman, boy and girl. If one wishes to make a real correction in human problems then people must be changed, not organisations. There are well-known symptoms that indicate our society is sick. It is probably true that there are more single mothers and illegitimate children and crimes of violence and divorces and heroin addicts and alcoholics and men in prison and sexually transmitted diseases and pornographic materials than ever before in the history of Wales. What an ugly statement, but alas, statistically true. But all of those things are symptoms; they are not the disease itself. The real problem lies in the heart of man.

It was W.G.T. Shedd who said, “The most important conviction which a person can have is the conviction of sin.” King David had it. He knew why he’d committed adultery and arranged a murder. He said, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” He didn’t blame Bathsheba, or his upbringing, or the temptations in his grasp as an absolute monarch. David went back to our father Adam, and the depravity that has come upon the whole human race since Adam fell, which David, and everyone like him, have displayed since their conception. From the very beginning David was a sinner. There never was a time when he was not a sinner. “I was born in sin,” said David, “and that is why I sinned against Bathsheba and sinned against Uriah.” We sin because we are sinners, because our natures are sinfully inclined. You see it in children. You do not have to teach them to be selfish and to lie and hurt. They do it naturally because their hearts are sinful. We go astray from the womb telling lies. Hear this rousing preaching of John Gerstner:

“Today it won’t do to say that you’re a sinner. The word ‘sinner’ has been sanitised. People can feel good saying that they are sinners. They feel modest and humble. They are not like ‘religious people’ with their high and mighty ways. They are simple, down to earth ‘sinners’. The best people will confess that they are sinners, and when I confess, “Yes, me too!” then I am associating with the best people. It is fashionable to become a self-confessed sinner. Even American Presidents do it. The word ‘sinner’ has been perfumed, and we need a nastier word like ‘depraved’. Try that for size. Call yourself depraved and see how you like it. If you like it, it is no good; but in all probability you won’t like it because the best people don’t call themselves depraved. After all ‘depraved’ is reserved for the worst people. You know – sadists, masochists, paedophiles, murderers, perverts. ‘I may be a sinner, but, thank God, I am not one of those!’ But that is precisely the point – you are one of those. I am one of those. I will not say ‘Of course we are not all sadists, etc.’, because then you will feel relieved and will say, ‘You see, he is just generalizing.’

“I am universalizing, but I am not generalizing! You are a sadist, a masochist, a pervert. Every one of you – the refined girl and the well-brought-up young man and the little old lady – without exception, you are a dirty, filthy, lousy, stinking lot. Yes, I am too, but I see no reason why my filthiness should make you feel less ashamed of your filthiness. You are sadists, masochists, murderers, perverts, and paedophiles. I am too. Here, before all of you, I confess that I am a pervert. That shocks you, doesn’t it? Yes, I mean it. I am a pervert. You really are shocked now, aren’t you? I can hear you thinking, ‘Does he mean it? Is he really a pervert? No! Of course he doesn’t really mean it. Even if he were, he would never tell the world about it.’

“I mean it, all right? The trouble is, you don’t believe in sin. You cannot really stomach a full confession of total depravity. When I stand up here and say that I am a pervert, I mean that and more than that. I am anything you can mention. I am worse than anything you can mention. I am worse than anything you can conceive. And you are filthier than anything that I can imagine. The cost of redeeming such vile sinners is inconceivable. God drove great nails through the hands of his incarnate only Son and crucified him to a cross until he was dead. That was not for petty misdemeanours but for the heinousness of our sins.

“Now, let me say this: I have never committed an act of perversity in my life. You are relieved, aren’t you? You didn’t think that I really meant it, though I did have you scared for a moment. Well, there you go again . . . you see, you don’t really believe in sin. I did mean it. No, I’ve never committed an act of perversion in my life, but I am a pervert. I have the nature of a pervert. The nature of the man who commits acts of perversity is my nature. The depravity of his nature may have been developed by different circumstances, outer and inner, than mine, but it was the same depravity. Putting me in comparable inner and outer conditions, I would have committed comparable acts. There, but for the grace of God, go I. I am personalizing all this not because I am unique, but because I am not. What I have said about myself I could say (and, what is more important, you could say) with equal truth about yourself. Moreover, if you cannot say this there is only one reason, and that is because you don’t really have a conviction of sin. You may have a conviction of the pervert’s sin, but you won’t have a conviction of your sin until you see that the pervert’s nature and yours are one and the same. Wherein it differs, it differs because, and only because, of the grace of God.

“If you can listen to someone speaking of some particular criminal as ‘not fit to live among decent people’, and see nothing wrong with that sentiment, you don’t know what sin is. Criminals have to be punished, imprisoned, or segregated from the rest of society. There can be no sober denying of that grim fact. But the criminal must be cut off not from decent people, but from other depraved people. The more depraved must be isolated from the less depraved because there is the greater danger that the more depraved will make the less depraved more depraved, than that the less depraved will make the more depraved less depraved” (John H. Gerstner, “The Early Writings,” Volume One, “Total Depravity,” Soli Deo Gloria, 1997, pp. 214&215).

What has Christ just said in this chapter? How does Mark introduce our text? ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ (v.17). People are lost because they won’t admit that they are sinners. They are saying, ‘We are righteous.’ But people who insist they are righteous are lost people because they don’t understand how profound their sin is.

4. THE OLD WINESKIN NEEDS TO BE CHANGED INTO A NEW WINESKIN.

One of these Pharisees who fasted twice a week came to see the Lord Jesus one night. His name was Nicodemus and he respected and admired Jesus. But the Lord wasn’t impressed or overawed by his visitor. Jesus didn’t mistake respectability for true religion. He knew the difference between social acceptability and salvation. He didn’t mix up culture with consecration. Jesus didn’t confuse prestige and piety, or position and a pure heart. He didn’t suggest five ways that Nicodemus’ religion could be renewed. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn. 3:3). For all his religion Nicodemus was an old wineskin. For all his goodness and morality he needed to be born again. Why? Because his religion and his behaviour were a veneer. They were an exterior coating on the true man. Within was the same old man, dead and hard and sinful, alienated from God. Nicodemus needed to be made a new creation. Before the divine wine of love, joy and peace could be poured into his life by the Holy Spirit he himself needed to be changed. He needed a new heart, a new nature, a new birth, a new beginning, a new wineskin.

The Lord Jesus was not issuing an admonition to Nicodemus – “Lift yourself up by your own bootstraps!” Christ was not saying to him that he had to decide right then and there to be born again. He had no more power to be born again than a corpse has to walk out of the mortuary. When Jesus said to him, “You must be born again,” he was making a simple statement of fact. The Holy Spirit of God must work in Nicodemus’ life and give him a totally new start, a new birth, make him a new wineskin, but if he did not . . . then this Pharisee would never see, let alone enter, the kingdom of God. We do not say to people that if they repent of their sins and place their trust in Christ as their Saviour that they will be born again. We do not say that because that is not true. It is the precise opposite of the teaching of the Bible. It is putting the cart before the horse. No one has ever been born again because he repents of his sins and confesses Christ as Saviour. Repentance and saving trust in Jesus are the consequences of God working in our lives and giving us a new birth. When we believe in Jesus Christ and are saved we come to realise that God has been at work in us and made us new wineskin. Your repentance and faith is the new wine that God can now pour into the new nature that he has given to you.

You see how the Lord Jesus is challenging all of us today. Do we rejoice in his presence like a bride on her wedding day with the husband she adores? There is no true religion without love for Christ. Have we seen that our hearts and natures are far worse than we’ve imagined? Have you seen your depravity? Religion is not simply adding church and morality to your life, or removing the measles spots of sin. It means the old wineskin of my nature must be replaced by a new wineskin. Does your religion consist of a few patches? Have you simply taken a patch and covered a bit of sin there, and a bit of iniquity here? Or are you one of those who seeks to pour a little new wine in the old bottle, a drop of goodness, a drop of kindness, a drop of sympathy, a drop of philanthropy into the old depraved carcass?

Then note the words of Christ. Your old clothes will only be torn asunder in the end by that new patch. The old wineskin will perish with the new wine. Think of Judas who followed Jesus around for three years. He imbibed all the new wine of Christ without having a new wineskin, and in the end “he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this” (Acts 1:18&19). There is no hope in those ways. Their end is death and destruction. You must be born again. There is hope only if God should hear you when you cry with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.” You must pray that prayer until you know that God has heard you, and that he has granted you a new heart and a new birth and heaven’s new wine. Then you will be rejoicing that Christ is your Saviour and eternal Husband.

2nd February 2003 GEOFF THOMAS