Sermon Notes

The Cradle of True Spirituality



  • Today, we find ourselves upon a passage that brings us back to the topic of ‘fasting’. And some of you might want to ask, “But did we not cover this topic a few weeks back?” Yes we did, when Matthew recounted Jesus’ teaching on fasting in Matthew 6:16-18 – 16And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And my way of answering such a question is to first rephrase it into better questions, “Why is Matthew bringing us back to the topic of fasting?”The answer, because this text is about a whole lot more than fasting. Here, the subject of fasting is used to outline for us a much greater reality that I so desire for each one of us to understand and believe.The instruction the Lord has for us today is a beautiful and powerful anchor to Christian spirituality.
  • Let me back up a bit and explain.
    In the last two weeks, we have been addressing the topic of the proper use of doctrine.First, in the miracle of the paralytic, we saw how the heavy-headed Pharisees who prided in their devotion to the word of God, could not recognise the Word of God incarnate who stood before them. It was one of those cases where you could look at the doctrinally minded legalist and say, “You wouldn’t know true doctrine if it put on hand and legs and stood before you in flesh”. We saw how this is the condition of many Christians, who cleave to doctrinal convictions, who could never recognise the Saviour if they saw Him stand before them.Second, in the call of this Apostle Matthew and the Lord’s kindness in sharing a meal with sinners and tax collectors, the pharisees’ hardened hearts could never rise in pursuit of God’s heart for the sinner.

    • So, in the first instance, we see the failure of the mind and in the second instance, we see the failure of the heart. And Christianity today can be generally categorized into these two categories, those who pursue to feed their minds, and those who pursue to feed their heart’s feelings.
  • And in their corresponding extremes, you have the legalist who cares only for the mind, and the whitewashed liberal who cares only for the feelings of the heart.And for some odd reason that has me beating my head against the wall, people leaning toward either end seem to look on and see only the other extreme.
  • Therefore, the liberal-leaning, heart-feeling oriented believer sees the only alternative as the hard-nosed legalist whose only care in the world is if the book of Leviticus should be re-introduced in the NT.And the conservative-leaning, doctrine-oriented believer sees the only alternative as the watered-down liberal who can’t remember if Leviticus was a book in the Bible or the name of a character in the Lord of the Rings.
  • Now, the point is that both sides get ‘doctrine’ wrong. One, by pursuing it only academically, and the other, by sidestepping the need to pursue it at all.
    And more and more, I see believers being pulled away in either direction not realising the fact that either end of this spectrum gets biblical doctrine wrong.
  • In fact, Jesus’ response in the first instance, where the Pharisees condemn Jesus’ authority is that they think evil when we know that true knowledge of God’s word produces righteous thinking, not evil thinking.And in the second instance, where the Pharisees condemn Jesus’ close interaction and mercy to sinners, Jesus’ response is not for them to abandon their ‘doctrines’, but to go and learn them properly.
  • Therefore, my point is this. The problem of the legalistic mind and the problem of the (get ready to learn a new word) antinomian mind (a mind that cares for the feeling and not for the law) is the same – and that problem is not doctrine, but the lack of proper doctrine.
And that, the need for proper doctrine, is the message of today’s sermon. True Christian spirituality can never be found without true Christian doctrine (teaching). Period.



  • Matthew 9:14-17 14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “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. 16 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. 17 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.”
  • Now, before we move into the exegesis (or the study) of this text, there’s a crucial reality that you must keep in mind. There’s a constant pattern you see throughout Scripture.
    • Noah (Genesis 6) – When God called Noah and told him that He was going to destroy the whole world with a flood, He told Noah that He wanted him to build an ark big enough to hold his family, and two of every kind of animal, and to store up all kinds of food.
    • David (1 Samuel 16 / 17) – When Samuel saw the strong and handsome sons of Jesse anoint the new king, God set apart the shepherd boy outside. The armor of Saul or of Israel was not what David used to defeat the great giant, but some stones and a sling.
    • Uzzah (2 Samuel 6) – could not survive when he stretched his hand out to hold the ark of the covenant from falling when the carriage stumbled.
    • Gideon (Judges 7) – could win the battle if he wouldn’t reduce the 32,000 soldiers down to 300.
    • Matthew – Jesus did not choose the pharisee or the scribe for His apostle, He chose from fishermen, and tax-collectors.
  • The point here is that most of us would quickly identify with these stories, that God uses the fools to shame the wise, the weak to overtake the strong, the last to be the first. We all love this truth.
    But there is one more equally important truth that we need to identify here. One that we may not love all that much. And that is, that God reserves for Him alone the right to choose the ends and the means.

    • And I want you to keep this in mind as we study this passage
  • v14Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
    • In all of Matthew’s narration so far, the only people to question Jesus were the Pharisees and the unbelieving. But now, add to the mix, the disciples of Jesus’ frontrunner John. Disciples who belong to the ministry of making the path clear for Jesus.Even they could not understand some of the ways this Jesus did things.
    • When we studied fasting weeks back when we covered Matthew 6, we learned a few things about fasting
      • Fasting is an expression wherein we are brought so severely to the point of longing, of needing and wanting God to work in our lives, that something as basic and fundamental as food is overlooked. When we fast, we are in such need of God that we don’t even think about eating.
        • In 2 Samuel 12:16, David fasted and prayed when Bathsheba’s first child fell sick. David even fasted for his enemies (Psalm 35:13)
        • People fasted in the face of overwhelming danger, that God might favor and rescue them as we see in 2 Chronicles 20:3 and Esther 4:16.
        • Ezra declares a fast when the exiles were returning from Babylon to Jerusalem, where he says, “that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions.” (Ezra 8:21)
        • Daniel fasted as he prayed for God’s forgiveness for the sins of the people. So did Ezra. When Johan prophesied against Nineveh, they were convicted and “called a great fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them”
        • Daniel fasted and prayed that he might give his full attention to God in order that he might receive God’s revelation.
      • The Bible does not command fasting, but it does commend it very much. (And our passage today, is one of the greatest commendations that Jesus gives for Christians fasting)
        Therefore, the question in Christian life is not if we fast, but when we fast.
    • And for all these reasons, the disciples of John were puzzled why Jesus’ disciples were not fasting. Did they not want God to work as much as the other did in order to free them from their Roman overlords. Has it not been over 400 years since they’d seen a prophet and now God has brought John the Baptist. If anything, this is the time to fast for God is doing a mighty work.
  • v15(a) – And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?
    • In the OT, Yahweh was referred to as the bridegroom.
      Isaiah 62:55 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
      Hosea 2:19-2019 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.
    • Therefore, every fast in the OT was mourning and a longing for God’s favor upon their lives, in the context of a nation under God, the nation of Israel. The kinds of things that they fasted and prayed for were informed by a particular worldview they had of God’s intentions and promises for their nation and their people.
    • And suddenly, the bridegroom stood before them, and not even the way- makers for Messiah recognised Him.
      Listen again to the subtle yet unmistakable claim of deity that Christ makes – the bridegroom is with them.
  • And then, there is this word of prophecy,
    v15(b) – the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

    • Jesus prophecies about His departure, when He ascends to the Father in Heaven after being raised from the dead and then says that when that time comes, then they will fast.
    • This is as close to a command (if you can call it that) for fasting that one can get from the Bible.
      This meant that there was going to come a time again when men would fast in mourning and longing for God, except this time, the context would be very different.
      For earlier, they fasted for the salvation of Jews from foreign rule and the establishment of the kingdom of Israel as God’s people. But now, we fast for the salvation of the whole world (of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation), and the establishment of the Kingdom of God, that is not of this world.
      Earlier they fasted in the hope of the Messiah who would come, but now we fast in the hope of the Messiah who came and established His authority over all things. We fast in hope that He will come again for the final redemption of all things.
    • And Jesus goes on to explain that in the next two verses.
  • v16-1716 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. 17 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.”
    • Here, Jesus explains the way the new things of the NT are to be handled. He uses two simple and clear examples.
      • If we patch a tear in an old dress with a piece of cloth that is new. Since the old dress has probably shrunk after several washes, the new piece if stitched on, would shrink as well and tear off, rendering both the dress and the piece of cloth unusable.
      • Old wineskins are not capable of holding new wine, and so they stand the risk of bursting and spilling over the wine, destroying both the wine and wineskins. Only fresh wineskins can preserve both the wine and wineskin.
    • The picture is simple and clear. God was doing a new thing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the OT would not be able to hold the new things. It wasn’t going to do the people any good if they held only to the doctrinal understanding they had from the OT and accommodate the things that Jesus was doing. They needed to update their doctrines with the new wineskins that Jesus was offering them – the NT teachings, His preaching, His word.For in preaching and teaching, Jesus was offering them wineskins capable of holding the new wine of His grace and mercy, in healing, forgiving, restoring, and redeeming the people.
    • In other words, as commendable as John’s disciples’ desire to fast maybe, it was not going to do them any good if they did not have the new wineskins to hold the new fast once Jesus ascended.
      The context of spirituality or rather, the vessels of true spirituality, or rather, the cradle of spirituality is doctrine.What Jesus refers to as wineskins is biblical teaching which is the vessel of understanding that carries, that savors the truth of God.
    • Our experiences may teach us many things, but unless we have a cradle of biblical understanding, we can never understand our experiences or enjoy true spirituality.
    • Therefore, the cradle of Jewish spirituality were the doctrines of the OT, but the cradle of Christian spirituality are the doctrines of the NT that does not abolish the law but fulfill it. The NT better informs and completes the mystery, giving us the whole counsel of God’s word from Genesis to Revelation – what we call Christian Doctrine.
Without it, none of us can know or enjoy God.



  • The folly of the legalist is the folly of the pharisee. He pursues God’s word in a self-obsessed tangent and forgets the fact that the wineskins are not the true drink. They are vessels that hold the true vine.
    • You see beloved, one of the greatest folly of the legalist is that he forgets that truth is not abstract. It is not a bunch of definitions or a series of prognoses. Truth is a person, and His name is Jesus Christ!
    • Therefore, believing in a doctrine like the ‘Assurance of Salvation’ – that those who are truly born-again can never lose their salvation, is a Biblical teaching that cradles our experience of the God who never fails us.Believing in a doctrine like the ‘Sovereignty of God’ is a biblical teaching that cradles our experience of God who causes all things to work together for our good.Believing in a doctrine like the ‘Trinity’ is a biblical teaching that cradles our experience of the God who in three persons pours into us the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
    • Yes, brothers and sisters, it is true that doctrine in and of itself does not save, but it is the only conduit by which one is saved. For without the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, none can be saved.
    • That is why people often say that they feel dry in legalistic communities, because what good does it do that they have many wineskins and no wine to drink.
  •  The folly of the antinomian is the folly of Satan. He rejects God’s word in a self-obsessed tangent and forgets the fact that without wineskins he has no way to hold the wine.
    • In fact, a lot of Christians with a liberal-leaning like to use the word freedom as a way to reduce down on anchoring themselves to biblical teaching. They love the word ‘New’. They are always coming up with new teachings and new methods of experiencing God.
    • But they forget one crucial and vital point, a point that I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon. No man has the right to choose the means by which God works in us. God alone reserves that right, and He has chosen His means by which we are to know and experience Him – by the word of God.
    • Every Christian experience, every spiritual encounter, every exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, every wisdom and every counsel, and every word preached, has one and only one cradle capable of realising them – the true and wonderful doctrines of the word of God.