The Christian life has seasons of feasting and fasting which observers don’t fully understand. What season of this life are you in this month?
In Mark 2:18-22 Jesus is questioned about the practices of his disciples, those men who had begun the life-long journey of following Him. As ‘some people’ observed the conduct of these new devotees, they marked their differences with those who had opted to follow John the Baptist and another group who followed the Pharisees. “How is it,” they asked, “that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisess are fasting, but yours are not?”
The truth of the matter is, everyone is a disciple of someone. Even those who are leaders are following others. Following means imitation, learning the practices and precepts of your master, whoever that is. Track the posts on Facebook, read a series of ‘tweets’ from a Twitter account and you’ll soon catch a big hint of the path that is being followed.
The observers, in Jesus day, expected consistency. Part of the spiritual disciplines of the day involved fasting. Remember the Pharisee, in the account told by Jesus, who went up to the temple to pray and reminded God that he fasted twice in the week. Fasting was not a new practice and even today is not limited in any way to the Christian Faith. As others observed these men, now following Jesus, they were mystified about their conduct. What kind of master could Jesus be if he didn’t require this self-denying act?
Notice how Jesus responds – He uses three illustrations to drive home the point of the newness of His kingdom and the breaking off of old ways for those who were persuaded that He was the true Messiah.
1) A wedding celebration – Typical guests at Jewish weddings were celebratory. The bridegroom’s arrival meant the banquet was about to begin and the guests would be filled with exuberant joy. Look at the first miracle of Jesus in John 2 and the quantity of wine prepared for a small village wedding. Weddings were no occasions for fasting but for feasting.
The new-found faith of these disciples meant a season of great joy. I love the zeal and enthusiasm of new Christians. In fact, at times, I want to counsel them to keep their distance from the ‘crotchety followers’ whose paths they might cross. There is joy in knowing Jesus. There is joy in serving Jesus. I wonder if we haven’t lost this as we become heavy-hearted with the disastrous consequences of sin. I’ve often struggled in my own ministry to find the balance between ‘calling out sinners’ and ‘cheering up saints’ (if that’s a proper description of the ministry of encouragement. We all need men like Joseph (Acts 4) who earned the nickname ‘Barnabas’ by being a ‘son of encouragement.’
2) A worn garment – Each culture has its own clothing. Typically, Jesus reminds the questioners, old garments are not ‘patched up’ with new material. The properties of new cloth contrast with the old ‘seasoned clothes.’ Jesus had not come to simply ‘patch up’ old lives, but rather to make all things new.
I think my Sunday School leaders tried to get this across to me as a child when we sang “The Windows of Heaven are Open.” I recall the line, “I gave up my old tattered garments, He gave me a robe of pure white…” No one explained the Scriptural allusions we singing. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) Trusting Christ as my substitute means an exchange of clothing. He takes my old garments, and clothes me with His righteousness. What grace! Wha generosity! What a new beginning.
3) A worn wineskin – New wine was never poured into old wineskins. Everyone knew that. A new container was needed for a new product.
What was Jesus illustrating? The newness of God’s kingdom. He had come with a new and living way, full access into the very presence of God for those who trusted Him. The disciples who understood this new way, engaged in feasting not fasting. Later as the reality of following Christ meant dark times and the death of their Master, they would fast, but for now this was far from their minds.