“And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not? 19 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. 21 No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. 22 And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.” (Mark 2:18-22)
According to the Law of Moses there was only one day in the year that was a compulsory fast day, and that was the Day of Atonement.
However, with the passing of time, conservative Jews began to fast two days every week, on Monday and Tuesday. The fast lasted from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. After that, food could be eaten.
Jesus was not opposed to the special fasts. Fasting is a good form of self-discipline.
Fasting is a way to gain mastery over bodily passions.
Fasting helps a person learn to appreciate the gifts of God’s grace.
Fasting will help to focus attention on spiritual concerns.
However, Jesus was concerned that the Pharisees fasted in order to display their spirituality.
Some would go so far as to put a white powder on their faces, and then make their clothes to appear disheveled. They did not want anyone to miss the fact that they were fasting.
Jesus was not impressed with such displays of false spirituality.
He was not interested in rules that bind the soul and rob the heart of joy. Jesus came to give men life, and that more abundantly.
There was no end to the critical attitude of the Pharisees toward Christ. Early in His public ministry these religious leaders of Jerusalem had set their hearts against the Lord. The religious leaders were determined to find fault with the Master, for several reasons.
The Pharisees were jealous. Jesus had attracted a large following immediately after engaging in the work of the ministry.
He came from obscurity, and found instant fame and the Pharisees were envious.
The Pharisees were embarrassed. Every time they challenged the Lord on some doctrine or practice He always had an answer that revealed how they were legalistic, and without concern for the pain or problems of the people.
The Pharisees felt threatened. Over the course of many centuries a detailed religious system had emerged to guide the spiritual life of Israel.
The teachings of Christ overthrew many of the traditions of men, illustrated by the use of fasting.
Apparently, the disciples of John, and the students of the scribes, who were Pharisees, used to fast often. They fasted, not because they had to according to the Law, but because they wanted to.
The Pharisees wanted to fast often in order to impress others with their spirituality, and, in order to gain the approval of God, even though God had never indicated His approval.
From this, there are two observations to make.
First, what offends us, may not offend God.
Second, what impresses us, may not impress the Lord. By raising the issue of fasting, and the fact that the disciples of Jesus did not fast often, the Pharisees were implying that they were somehow more spiritual. In addition, the implication is strong that Christ Himself was not as serious, nor as spiritual, as He should be.
Undaunted by the question put before Him, and the implications of the same, Jesus responded to the inquiry with powerful logic, and words of prophecy.
“And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride-chamber fast, While the bridegroom is with them?
As long as they have the Bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.”
With these words the Lord used a vivid picture of why His disciples did not fast like others.
Jesus spoke of a wedding ceremony. Weddings are by nature designed to be filled with fun and frivolity.
Other days might be lived more soberly, but the time surrounding the wedding is to be joyous. In the ancient world the Jewish wedding couple did not go on a honeymoon. They stayed at home. Friends and family were free to come and go in a spirit of continual feasting and rejoicing.
As long as the Bridegroom was present, no one was to be sad or discouraged. There was to be encouragement and entertainment. The Law required it. There was an actual rabbinic decree which said,
“All in attendance on the Bridegroom are relieved of all religious observances which would lessen their joy.”
The logic is powerful. Jesus is the Bridegroom. The disciples are the friends of the Bridegroom. Why should they fast? They have done nothing wrong. They are in the midst of a celebration of life. They could not fast.
However, if it is a serious thought that the Pharisees wanted, the Lord would give a disturbing prophecy. For the first time in Mark’s gospel, Jesus will give a veiled prophetic reference to a coming tragedy.
The days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.”
What did Jesus mean?
The Pharisees did not know, but we do.
The Lord was referring to His impending death at Golgotha.
One day Jesus would be led up Calvary’s mountain.
One day, Jesus would be nailed to a tree. One day He would suffer in anguish, despised and rejected.
One day, He would bear the sins of the elect. But today was for the celebration of life.
In addition to referring to His death, Jesus had something else in mind, and that was His accession into heaven.
One day, the grave could conceal Him no longer.
One day, the stone would roll away from the door of the tomb.
One day, He would arise over death He had conquered.
One day, He would ascend to heaven. But today was for the celebration of life.
Having regained the verbal high ground, through powerful logic, and predictive prophecy,
the Lord continued to declare a doctrinal distinctive between Judaism, and the emerging new faith of Christianity.
Two familiar household objects were used by way of illustration: a piece of new cloth sewn on an old piece of garment, and new wine in old bottles.
Simply enough, the Lord reflected that it was not always good to sew a new piece of fabric on an old piece of cloth, especially if the new cloth was subject to shrinkage in water. And the point was clear.
“There comes a time when the day of patching and re-patching is over and re-creating must begin.” (William Barclay)
The days of Martin Luther offer one example of this. It was impossible for Luther and his followers to patch up the difference with Rome. The renewed idea of justification by faith alone could not be sewn onto the old cloth of justification by works. A theological reformation was needed.
In like manner, it is not wise to put new wine into old wineskins lest they burst. Old wineskins are subject to shrinking, whereas new, fermenting wine will expand, because of the gases given off.
If the wineskins yield to the new pressure, there is no problem. But if not, the wineskins will burst.
By way of interpretation, Judaism and the rituals of the Pharisees are reflected in the old wine skins.
Christ and His teaching represent the new wine. Though there are similarities between the old and the new elements, there are inherent differences as well.
To recognize this, is to think, and then to act in a new manner.
Specifically, the practices of tradition, such as the number of times a person should fast, cannot and should not be forced upon Christianity.
Nor should the place of worship be an issue, according to the Lord’s teaching to the woman at the well.
“The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. 21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:19-23).
There must be a measure of flexibility in one’s thinking so that new ideas are accepted—provided they are rooted in reality and the truth of the gospel.
By way of application, every generation has been faced with the challenge of transition in religious matters.
While similarities exist with the past, there are differences in each generation.
Transitions must be made so that there can continue to be a celebration of life with Christ which is a grand objective in the Christian’s walk. But it is not easy.
In the great musical classic, Aunti Mame, Mame says something very interesting.
“Life is a banquet,
but most poor suckers are starving!”
Sometimes Christians feel that way about religion.
What was meant to liberate the heart to find freedom in God and fellowship with Him has turned into bondage due to many rules and regulations.
How can Christians still celebrate life with Christ?
Our text gives some insights.
First, enjoyment of life is to be found in the presence of Christ.
It was said of Joe DiMaggio that whenever he walked into a room his very presence brought excitement and an uplifting of the spirit.
The same thing happens when the heart is focused on Christ through songs of praise, words of prayer, and passages of Scripture remembered.
Practice then, the presence of the Lord and for good reason.
The coming of Christ has ushered in a new era bringing healing to the sick, liberation to the demon-possessed, freedom from care to the care-ridden, cleansing to the lepers, food to the hungry, restoration to the handicapped, and above all salvation to those lost in sin. (Dr. William Hendriksen)
Second, enjoyment of life is to be found by following the example of Christ.
In the schizophrenic culture of His day, Christ found laughter and peace and love—not through excessive legalism, nor by abandonment to sensuality, but by being sensitive to the will of the Father.
Christ had a work to do but He did it according to His Father’s will.
The will of the Father was known through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
If the Spirit is not grieved, if the Spirit is not quenched, He will act as a Counselor.
He will guide the heart to engage in those activities, which pleases the Father.
When Christ needed to fast, the Holy Spirit told Him as per Matthew 4:1-3. When the Lord needed to withdraw from others, the Spirit led Him to do that.
“And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12).
The life of Christ was a life given to the control and guidance of the Spirit. And the life of a Christian can be the same.
The Holy Spirit will watch over the heart so that an individual may know when they are being unduly critical, unkindly judgmental, excessively hypocritical, overly legalistic or outrageously licentious.
Again, the Holy Spirit will watch over the heart to produce spiritual fruit as per Galatians 5:22-23.
Do you want to celebrate life?
Find ways to have the presence of Christ conscious in your heart.
Second, follow His example by being sensitive to the guidance of Spirit in order to know something about personal holiness and then third, be willing to change.
I heard about a pastor of a large congregation. While grateful for the success of his ministry, he said he was more excited about the possibility of people being changed. That is what Christianity is all about: change.
Former president of the United States, George W. Bush, testified that Christ changed him when he was 40 years old. Mr. Bush had gone on a retreat to celebrate his 40th birthday.
One day he woke up and decided to give up drinking and living the way he was. He wanted to change.
Franklin Graham, in his book Rebel with a Cause, tells of how he grew sick and tired of being sick and tired. He wanted to change. He gave his life to Christ.
When Christ comes, change comes. Things are different including the future which is not always clear. The question arises,
“Where will this conversion experience lead?”
The honest answer is that sometimes we do not know, and it does not matter. Abraham went out not knowing whether he went (Heb. 11:8) but he was willing to go for he knew Christ was with him.
Are you ready to change? Are you ready for the challenge of the Christian life?
Are you ready to go on in the faith?
Bible commentator William Barclay said that he once received a letter which ended,
“Yours, aged 83 and still going.”
Abraham could say the same. And there you have it. Freedom, flexibility, courage, change and Christ.
Put them together and you have the recipe for celebrating life. Life is celebrated best by staying close to Christ, following His example, being led of the Holy Spirit and breaking with man-made religious traditions.
Would you like to begin to celebrate a life with Christ? Then call upon Him. Ask Jesus to save you and be the Lord of your life. You can do that right now.