Matthew the New Wineskin (I desire mercy and not sacrifice)

I desire mercy and not sacrifice

Matthew the New Wineskin

The next installment of The Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy is upon us.  I am working through each instance of prophecy or reference to the old testament in the gospel of Matthew.  This next reference may not seem important at first, but because this is the introduction of the character of Matthew the Tax Collector in his gospel, we should examine this passage with great care.  I am going to examine Matthew 9:9-17 and how Matthew includes Jesus quoting the prophet Hosea in His rebuke to the Pharisees.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include this story and all position it relatively the same.  It is well after Jesus begins His ministry calling Andrew, Simon, James, and John to be His disciples much earlier.  It is also placed just before Jesus chooses the twelve.  It should be obvious that Matthew has been following Jesus somewhat since he has so much detailed information about what Christ has been doing.  However, just like the four fishermen who had met Jesus but waited for His call to follow Him fulltime, Matthew also knew of Jesus but kept his job until the time of this story.

The story is a familiar one as many preachers have brought so many good things out of this passage.  Jesus walks up to Matthew who is performing his duties at the tax office.  Matthew knew what the simple words “follow Me” meant as he had heard of the call of others and seen the results.  He knew this meant leaving his job and following Jesus around fulltime.  This would not be a hobby any longer.  He would not be trying to get away here or there to spend time writing down the teachings of Jesus.  He would be with Him all the time.  Shortly after this, Jesus will choose twelve out of the many who follow Him around.  It is like Jesus is hand picking Matthew just before making this momentous decision to allow Him to make the final cut.  “I’ve got to have that guy right there.”

The disdain that the Pharisees and general public have for tax collectors is a common theme in the gospels.  Matthew will not discard the title of tax collector even after his call.  In Matthew 10:3 when listing the twelve disciples he names himself as Matthew the Tax Collector.  Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has played upon the public perception that tax collectors would not do something for someone except to gain by it, Matthew 5:46-47.  In Matthew 11:19, Matthew notes that Jesus has a bad reputation for always eating, drinking, and hanging around tax collectors and sinners.  Late in His ministry, Jesus points out that simple repentance had allowed prostitutes and tax collectors entrance into the kingdom of God while self-righteous Pharisees and chief priests saw no need for repentance, Matthew 21:31-32.  The basic point is that it doesn’t get much lower than being a prostitute or a tax collector.  Two instances in Luke’s gospel will help flesh out the stigma even further.  John the Baptist’s admonition in Luke 3:12-13 shows that tax collectors were well known for charging too much money while performing their duties.  (In the story of Zaccheus this idea is also implied in his confession in Luke 19:8.)  In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus chose the two characters that were commonly thought to be the most righteous and the least righteous, a Pharisee and a tax collector.  The Pharisee He portrays as feeling that he doesn’t need repentance while the tax collector expresses deep remorse for his sin.  So Matthew keeps his title as Tax Collector even as one of the twelve disciples.  It’s like he is saying, “I’ll be an outcast from society and religion.  My repentance has allowed me entrance into the kingdom of God.  Now I’m one of the chosen twelve and still a Tax Collector at heart.”  Ya gotta love it!

After Matthew leaves his job to become a fulltime disciple, he throws a great feast at his own house inviting those tax collectors that he has worked with for years.  Matthew does not tell us that he is the one throwing the party or that it is at his house but Luke does, see Luke 5:29.  Matthew simply relays that there was a feast and many tax collectors and sinners happened to be there.  The Pharisees find something extremely wrong with this scene.  Jesus as a “holy man” or “religious teacher” is doing something they feel He should not be doing.  A Pharisee would not do it so obviously it’s wrong.  They publicly begin asking the disciples why Jesus would be eating with these types of people, not to mention why a tax collector would be among the disciples.  Here is the response of Jesus which occupies the center of the passage.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

His response is short and to the point.  The quotation from Hosea is only six words.  Yet there is a lot of meaning in this succinct response.  Only those that recognize that they are sick are going to see a doctor.  If one believes that they are in good physical condition, they would perceive a visit to the doctor to be a waste of their time.  The Pharisees had no need for repentance so they had no need for Jesus.  These other sinners with whom Jesus was eating saw their need for repentance and therefore they saw their need for Jesus.  Only sick people visit a doctor and only sinful people seek forgiveness.

The quote is from Hosea 6:6 and is in the midst of a passage calling for Israel to repent of their sins.  Note that Mark and Luke do not include this quote from Hosea in their gospels.  They record the story almost identically, but Hosea’s teaching is absent.  There is another instance in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus quotes this same phrase from Hosea in Matthew 12:7.  Here again, Matthew is the only one to include the quote from Hosea while Mark and Luke do not contain it.  Hence the quote has a direct bearing on the story but more specifically on how Matthew himself saw the call from Jesus upon his life.  Even further, Matthew’s point in including this quote twice in his gospel shows us a couple of additional things.  First, it shows that Jesus taught the same thing on multiple occasions.  Second, it shows this quote from Hosea to be one of the central teachings of Jesus and a central theme to Matthew’s gospel.  Since this brief quote really is that important, let’s look somewhat at Hosea’s prophecy as a whole and then focus on Hosea 6:6.

The whole prophecy of Hosea shows a harsh sermon against a very religious people, religious but wicked.  In chapter 4 Hosea portrays their wickedness in verse 2 but all the while they offer sacrifices, see verse 13.  Their priests did not lead them to God, but rather into sin, see 4:6-9, 5:1, and their spiritual men were considered insane, 9:7.  None of their sacrifices were accepted by God because Israel had forgotten his Maker, Hosea 8:13-14.  Jereboam the son of Nebat had set up a golden calf for worship many years before in Bethel, I Kings 12:29.  A city very close to Bethel (which Bethel means house of God) was Beth-aven, see Joshua 7:2.  Beth-aven means house of vanity and the word Aven by itself means iniquity or even idolatry.  So when Hosea rebukes Beth-aven in 4:15, 5:8, 10:5, what is likely occurring is that he is using paronomasia to implicate Bethel as a house of idolatry for the worship of the golden calf, 8:5, 10:5, 13:2, rather than being a house of God.  Hosea even includes Jacob’s stories summarizing grabbing his brother’s heel, finding God at Bethel, hearing from God at Bethel, and wrestling with the Angel, see Hosea 10:2-5.  What should have been a place for hearing from God was a place of religious wickedness, therefore Hosea calls it Beth-aven rather than Bethel.

Hosea 5:15-6:7

After rebuking Israel, God waits for the desired response.
I will return again to My place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face, and in their distress earnestly seek Me.

The desired response of Israel in repentance.
“Come, let us return to the LORD; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up.  After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.  Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

God delves into the reason for the rebuke.
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.  Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.  For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.  But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.

The heart of the reason why God desires repentance from Israel is because, in spite of their religious sacrifices, they were not merciful, had no love, and no knowledge of God.  Hosea portrays prophets here as slaying those in need of repentance with the words of God’s mouth.  All those years God did not desire sacrifices or burnt offerings.  What God really wanted was for them to truly know Him and be like Him, that is, to be merciful and loving.

This passage stands with many others that diminish the role of sacrifices in favor of something greater.  The most well known is probably Samuel’s response to Saul in I Samuel 15:22, to obey is better than sacrifice.  Another very notable passage is Jeremiah 7:21-23.  Jeremiah preaches that before God ever commanded for any sacrifice to be offered as a part of the covenant that He desired obedience.  You can read more about it at this link here.  Another is Micah 6:6-8 where God tells us that He desires mercy, loving-kindness, and humility rather than even the most costly burnt offerings.  Lesser known is Psalm 50:5-15.  There God speaks to those that offer sacrifices telling them that He really doesn’t need them since all animals are His anyway.  He doesn’t need sacrifices because God never gets hungry but rather desires thanksgiving, keeping one’s vows, and calling out to God for Him to save them in the day of trouble.  Hosea’s teaching is certainly not isolated but it is probably the most succinct.  So Jesus pulls out this brief quote as a rebuke to the Pharisees for their attitude toward Him eating with “sinners”.

The words of Jesus cut to the heart of the issue.  The Pharisees had no love for those that they considered sinful. They had no mercy in their hearts to think that these tax collectors (notorious for ripping people off) could be forgiven and become saints.  They relied on their religious behavior such as offering sacrifices, tithing, and obedience to the law as a show that they were righteous.  In spite of their “sacrifice”, they had no mercy or love which led to a judgmental view of sinful people.  The quote of Jesus shows the condition of their hearts and further narrowed the scope of His ministry and of the preaching of the kingdom of God.  Only sinners need respond to the invitation of Jesus.  Only repentant sinners get to enter the kingdom.  The Pharisees were disqualifying themselves entrance to the kingdom for failing to recognize their corrupt hearts in spite of their religion.  Their self-righteous behavior resulted in neglecting having mercy and love toward those that Christ came to save.  If Hosea had been there, he would have compared those Pharisees to those that worshiped a golden calf at “Beth-aven”.  Both had religion but no love.

At the same time, disciples of John the Baptist came and asked a fair question.  Jesus puts forth the answer in parable form giving three examples.  Luke calls the latter two parables so I think it’s fair to refer to them as such, see Luke 5:36.  The disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were given to the discipline of fasting, yet the disciples of Jesus always seemed to be eating and drinking.  The first example of a wedding feast would have been well known.  It wasn’t fitting to fast at a wedding feast.  When someone is getting married, it is a time for celebration.  For someone to show up serious to a wedding feast and not eat or drink any of the food provided would have been very disrespectful.  In the same way, something special was happening between Jesus and His disciples that would last for a limited time.  You show up to a wedding feast to eat and drink, not to fast; and responding to the invitation of Jesus was like responding to an invitation to a wedding feast.  It should be a cause for great celebration.  Matthew’s reaction to the call of Christ in inviting his friends illustrates this beautifully. 

Jesus then gives two examples demonstrating that something new was happening in His ministry.  The preaching of the kingdom of God began with John the Baptist, Luke 16:16.  Something even better began with the ministry of Christ.  Things that fit under the old way would not fit with the new way.  An old garment would not be able to be mended with a new patch; it would only be made worse.  One might ask what should be done with that old garment.  The next parable shows that an entirely new garment was in order.  Jesus was not calling His disciples to “patch up” the old system; He was doing something entirely new.

He gives another parable concerning new wineskins.  New wine was placed into new wineskins because new wine had not yet been fermented.  Fermentation was a process which would expand the wine greatly thereby stretching those new wineskins.  Old wineskins which had already been stretched would be no good for containing new wine.  Christ came with new wine, something with an explosive power which could not be contained by the old system.  Rather than choose Pharisees for His disciples, Jesus chose new wineskins which could handle being stretched by the explosive power of the new wine that Christ came to give.  Fishermen, tax collectors, and a zealot were among those that Jesus chose in favor of the religiously schooled.  Let’s face it, these men were walking and talking with the Son of God.  Any preconceived notions had to be thrown out the window in favor of the reality that now stood in their midst.  The Pharisees and chief priests simply could not do that.  These new wineskins, though, were able to be stretched in order to receive the same power that Christ had to perform miracles including casting out demons and healing the sick.

In this parable, religious people are viewed as the old wineskins.  The law had come and with explosive power had already stretched those who studied it and adhered to it.   Now Jesus was choosing repentant sinners to walk with Him and be His fulltime disciples.  Matthew considers it a privilege to be one of the new wineskins which would contain this new wine.  The explosive power in Matthew’s life is evident as we read his gospel.  His insights into the law and prophets are so keen that we must discard our preconceived notions and frameworks if we are to keep up with him.  This basic principle would give great hope to the church consisting of Jew and Gentile.  Matthew’s gospel was written much later during a time when the religious would be scoffing at those who were still named as disciples of Christ.  In short the hope of the church was, “They are the old wineskins.  They simply cannot handle or contain the new wine that Christ gave us.”

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

As a footnote I include my personal view on wine in the New Testament.  It is said that Jesus came to give the disciples new wine.  This was unfermented wine meaning it was non-alcoholic.  When we see that Jesus ate and drank with sinners thereby gaining the reputation of a glutton and a drunkard, we need not come to the conclusion that He drank alcoholic wine.  When Jesus turned water into wine, I see this as a picture of the new wine that He came to give.  In the ordinance of the LORD’s supper, the bread was unleavened as a picture of the sinlessness of Christ’s body and the wine was new wine as a picture of the sinlessness of the blood of Christ.  The leavening process corrupts the bread and the fermentation corrupts the wine.  So I do not see any support for drinking alcoholic beverages based on any actions of Christ during His earthly ministry.  The explosive power of the fermentation process and the process of leavening can be pictures of the work of the kingdom of God and this is not necessarily negative.  So when we read of the parable of the leaven in Matthew 13:33 we do not have to believe that leaven there is working a negative work on the kingdom of God, but rather the idea that leaven starts small but completely transforms given time.  This is consistent with the other parables such as the mustard seed and the hidden treasure.

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8 Responses to Matthew the New Wineskin (I desire mercy and not sacrifice)

  1. mtt28247 says:

    Ouch, i did not read all of this but the end is unusual. Jesus was considered a winebibber and glutton because He drank grape juice. On the day of Pentecost the 120 must have found some real wine cause the people all thought they were drunk! Sadly I just wrote another blog on leaven, cause it is such a simple issue if you can get rid of bad teaching and preconceived ideas. Leaven is, was, and always will be evil, unseen force!

    And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Mtt 16:6)

    • Thanks for the comment. If you are implying that the disciples were drunk on the day of Pentecost as a result of drinking alcohol wine, Peter specifically says “these are not drunk”, Acts 2:15.

      Leaven for the most part does refer to evil, or corrupting evil doctrine. However, to apply that view consistently with all scripture would mean that in the OT they offered up sacrifices that had sin in them, as some sacrifices required leavened bread, Leviticus 23:17. That view does not mesh with the other 6 mysteries of the kingdom in Matthew 13. It would also lead to the view that the kingdom of God will slowly become completely evil.

      Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

      -The Orange Mailman

  2. Cheri Fields says:

    Love the insight into Matthew’s perspective. I’d never bothered to connect Matthew being there for the Sermon on the Mount *predating* his call to be a disciple. What a lovely thought!
    Hosea is one of the most confusing prophets for me; much of it seems to be a stream of consciousness book. Your unpacking of Bethel and Beth Aven and their meanings was helpful to me, thanks. 🙂
    PS, My husband was an alcoholic before finding Jesus. He doesn’t like the idea of any fermented drinks being tolerable to God either. It is rather hard to make that case from Scripture, though. *Especially* when you include the wineskins analogy. Jesus obviously intended to compare His teaching with the process of developing alcoholic beverages. I understand your view and only know the taste of wine from communion at some churches.
    Blessings!

    • Hey thanks Cheri. Nice to see you are still plugging away at your blog too. Yeah, Hosea can seem convoluted at times and I struggled with “Out of Egypt have I called My Son” as well. The idea of whether or not alcohol was present is a sensitive one so I didn’t want to include in the main body but as a footnote. I can certainly understand different points of view on it, but overall scripture is clear that alcohol can be quite destructive.

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