Useful to God (part 2)
Lesson 13

Lesson Thirteen

God's Objective In Christians

Text: Matthew 9:14-17

How do you handle change? Perhaps the second question should be anticipated quickly: "Change where?" We expect change in most areas of life. In those areas, we do not have to "like it." We are allowed to grumble, but we are expected to adapt.

Often change means positive development. An enduring marriage requires change. Effective, loving parenthood requires change. Good education requires change. Graduation requires change. Professional advancement requires change. A well-lived life requires change from conception to death. To live is to become accustomed to change.

For example, I remember when secretaries were reserved for business enterprises, not churches; when blackberries were something you picked, not something you kept notes on; when you used carbon paper to make copies, not technology-savvy copiers; when you changed fonts by changing typing balls on a typewriter, not pushing buttons on computers; when curbs were solid concrete step-ups, not when there were ramps for wheelchairs; when air conditioning was opening a window; when heating was provided by burning a rock called coal; when home freezers were "high technology;" when you mowed a yard with a push mower (no motors!) and trimmed it with a sling blade; when you churned butter by hand and margarine did not exist; when you used a mule to plow a garden, not a tiller; and when a prosperous family had one car (teens dreamed, but they took low priority turns). Those were "the good old days" when we all survived by patiently cooperating.

However, change in religious matters often means war. We are not focusing on doctrinal or theological change, but change in doing things differently. I remember taking communion in a British congregation. All my life I had seen communion bread in square sheets that were "scored" before baking so a pinch broke off a neat little square. (According to my experience, that is the way communion bread is supposed to be!) However, in this British congregation, the unleavened bread was mounded into a ball. Everyone pinched off a hunk (not a square!)--that was just plain weird! Or consider the French congregation I once attended. The whole service was in 100% French--I do not understand French! Was it better for a congregation not to understand or for two American families not to understand? Most of us just do not like for spiritual practices "to be different."

Jesus often was different! In today's text, disciples of John (he who prepared people to hear Jesus [Matthew 3:1-3]) approached Jesus with a question. The fact that these men were disciples of John was appropriate--Jesus himself spoke of John's greatness in Matthew 11:7-11. Yet, Jesus was strikingly different, and they did not understand the difference. So they asked about the difference.

To grasp the meaning of Jesus' answer, you need to grasp the concept behind voluntary fasting. First, fasting was a national practice/command on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:26-29). By the New Testament times, the voluntary decision to fast on personal occasions became a religious practice commonly practiced by the sincere. Fasting was not an unusual occurrence, but a common [often expected] religious practice of devout individuals. It was not unusual for Pharisees to fast every Monday and Thursday. Some of the devout (like Anna in Luke 2:37) might fast more frequently. Second, voluntary fasting declared, "God, I know my place. I am humble before You. You do not need to punish me or my nation (Israel) again in order to teach all of us a lesson." Personal decisions to fast were a voluntary practice, not a commanded practice. Yet, it was a common (even expected) practice. It was understood that devoutly religious people fasted (1) to gain God's attention or (2) to gain spiritual focus/commitment. Even Jesus fasted to place his focus on God's mission for him (Matthew 4:2).

The question John's disciples asked: "We fast; the Pharisees fast; why do your disciples not fast?" Jesus answered with three illustrations. The first: it was as inappropriate for his disciples to fast as it would be to fast at a wedding. (First-century Jewish weddings were occasions for feasting, not fasting.) Later, his disciples would fast.

The second: A tear in clothing is not patched with unshrunk cloth. Were that to happen, the shrinking patch (upon washing) would make the tear worse.

The third: New wine (freshly harvested grape juice) was not put into an old (formerly used) wineskin. A wineskin (a jug made of a freshly killed animal's skin) was then made by sewing up the skin (usually a goat skin). In the process of grape juice fermenting to produce wine, a gas is released. The gas required the container to stretch. The chemical process also made the skin brittle. If the chemical process occurred in an old wineskin, the old, brittle skin would not stretch. It would either explode or tear resulting in the loss of the stored juice/wine and the wineskin.

Jesus did not come to patch up old forms/practices of the traditions of first century Judaism. The end result of God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 would not be a "patched up life" but a transformed life (Romans 12:1,2). The man or woman who became a Christian would change the way he/she thought which would change the way he/she behaved. God is not interested in fixing parts of us to make us better. God wants to change us into godly people who think and behave differently. And He can if we have the faith to let the change occur! "Good" is not to be defined by the culture we live in; "godly" is to be defined by Jesus Christ.

For Thought and Discussion

  1. What two questions (in this lesson) are asked?

     

  2. Often change means what?

     

  3. To live is to become accustomed to what?

     

  4. Give some personal examples of changes you have seen.

     

  5. Change in religious matters often means what? What kind of change does this lesson focus on?

     

  6. Often Jesus was what?

     

  7. What question did John's disciples ask Jesus?

     

  8. To grasp Jesus' answer, you need to understand what?

     

  9. What did voluntary fasting declare?

     

  10. What three examples did Jesus use in his answer? Explain/discuss each example.

     

  11. Jesus did not come to do what? What was the end result of God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3?

     

  12. Jesus did not come to make us "good" by whose definition? Jesus came to make us "godly" by whose definition?


Link to Teacher's Guide

Copyright 2008
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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