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New Wineskins

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Wine for Fresh Wineskins

  2. devotional

    The Tax Collector

  3. devotional

    The "Innocent Native"

Wine for Fresh Wineskins

From an argument with the Pharisees over the propriety of eating with sinners (Matt. 9:10–13), Jesus moves to a misunderstanding regarding fasting in today’s passage. The disciples of John the Baptist protest that Jesus and His followers do not fast like they and the Pharisees do (v. 14).

This text is not saying that Jesus neglects fasting altogether. As a devout Jew, He certainly obeys God’s command to fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29, 31). He also fasted before meeting Satan in the desert (Matt. 4:1–2). Furthermore, Jesus teaches that His people will fast after His ascension (9:15). But in the first century, certain “pious” Jews observed fasts on Mondays and Thursdays each week, in addition to the fasting prescribed in the Law. People were upset with Jesus because He did not engage in this extra fasting.

Our Lord’s answer to the protestors reveals that they do not understand the era in which they live. Using the image of a wedding feast, Christ says it is improper to fast while He, the bridegroom, walks the earth (v. 15). In that society, there was a celebration that lasted several days wherein the groom was present at his reception. Similarly, Jesus the bridegroom is with His disciples; thus, there should be joy, not the solemnity His culture associates with fasting. Christ’s likening of Himself to the bridegroom is remarkable given it is an Old Testament metaphor for God (Isa. 54:5–8). Jesus is implicitly identifying Himself with Yahweh, revealing that He is the divine Messiah who has come to transform His people and bring them great rejoicing (Zeph. 3:14–18). 

Most first-century Jews expected the son of David to leave the old covenant unchanged, but today’s passage challenges this assumption. When sewn on old clothing, a new unshrunken patch will shrink in the wash and tear at the old, shrunken, inflexible cloth. Gases from new, fermenting wine force brittle, old wineskins to expand and burst (Matt. 9:16–17). Likewise, the new covenant cannot be contained in the forms and rituals of the old. Jesus fulfills and thereby changes the forms of old covenant piety (Heb. 7:11–19), and only those who fail to trust Jesus have the audacity to protest this transformation.  

The Tax Collector

Unlike Paul’s letters, none of the four Gospels explicitly identifies its author in the body of its text. Though the title, the gospel according to [insert the apostle’s name], is attached to each book in the oldest New Testament manuscripts, biblical scholars regard each gospel as an anonymous work. 

Liberals deny that apostles or their associates wrote the Gospels. However, believers have always affirmed the apostolicity of these books. The early church was certain that the apostles Matthew and John composed the gospels bearing their names. Mark and Luke were not apostles, but the church fathers knew Peter and Paul to be the sources of the second and third gospel, respectively. 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because of the similarities between them that set them apart from John. These three authors probably worked interdependently, relying on the same sources and the work of one another when writing. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, each man selected and arranged the historical data to give us an accurate portrait of Jesus.

Literary interdependence leads liberals to reject Matthew as the first gospel’s author. Why, they ask, would Jesus’ disciple use the gospels of Mark or Luke to record the life of Christ? Yet this objection is not conclusive. If Mark is based on Peter’s testimony, why would Matthew not use Mark’s work to write the first gospel? Moreover, nothing in Matthew’s gospel makes apostolic authorship impossible, and the early church testified that Matthew was its author. We have no reason to deny that Matthew wrote the gospel bearing his name.

Matthew also went by the name Levi and worked as a tax collector, at least prior to his conversion (Matt. 9:9; Mark 2:13–14). This vocation required official dealings with the Greek-speaking Roman empire and certainly helped Matthew develop the Greek proficiency reflected in the gospel’s original text. One church tradition says Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia around a.d. 60. 

Matthew’s text is teeming with Old Testament allusions and quotations. The ubiquity of such references shows us Matthew wrote his gospel to explain how Jesus, the son of David, fulfills God’s promises to the nation of Israel.

The "Innocent Native"

Paul's confrontation with the Greek philosophers at Mars Hill has always been seen as a picture of the conflict between Jerusalem and Athens, between true faith, which is logical, and apostate reason, which is illogical. Starting today, we shall look at six questions that trouble Christian people, and show how true faith joined with reason can answer them.

People often ask, "What happens to the poor, innocent native in Africa who has never heard the Gospel?" Our first answer to this question may shock some people, but what we should say is: "Nothing happens to the poor innocent native who has never heard the Gospel, because innocent people do not need salvation."

Of course, this points up the fallacy of the question as it has been posed. We have to ask a further question: Are there any innocent people in Africa or anywhere else? The clear answer of the Bible to this question is that no human being is perfectly submissive before God, and therefore, nobody is innocent. We recognize this fact in our common speech when we say, "Nobody's perfect," or, "To err is human." The New Testament says that "there is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10).

When we talk about innocence and guilt, we are speaking in legal terms. A person is judged guilty when he trangresses some law. But we must ask what law could these people, who have never heard of Christ or the Bible, be guilty of breaking? After all, the New Testament says that where there is no law, there is no guilt (Romans 5:13).

The answer, according to Romans 2:15, is that God's law is written on the heart of every person. We have built into us a sense of right and wrong. The Creator reveals inwardly to every one of His creatures these basic moral principles. No one keeps them, so no one is innocent.

Beyond this, the Bible tells us that the heavens declare God's glory, and that there is no place where that witness is not heard (Psalm 19). All men know God and are without excuse when they reject Him. Thus, God's wrath is against them. God is not angry with innocent people, but His wrath is revealed against all men, for they deny Him (Romans 1:18).

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