Today’s passage seems to focus on fasting, but it’s really about spiritual mourning and celebrating. Jesus teaches that there is a place for fasting and mourning in the Christian life. However, we should also celebrate and rejoice in the eternal life that we have through Him.
The Text (Mark 2:18-22)
18 The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”
19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom 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 will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”
Fasting was only commanded to happen once a year in the Old Testament, on a special day known as Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. This was a specific day of sacrifice and mourning that foreshadowed the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. However, there were examples of biblical leaders like Moses and David fasting for specific spiritual purposes; sometimes the whole nation of Israel would fast. The book of Jonah even records a fast by the pagan city of Nineveh when they hoped to avoid destruction by God for their sins. Fasting was sometimes done to show sorrow and repentance from sin, sometimes to seek God’s help in a time of need. But by the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, the Jews had turned it into a twice weekly ritual that was often used to show others that those fasting were supposedly very holy people. Christ did not condemn fasting in the Sermon on the Mount, but actually seemed to expect it as part of the Christian life (see Matthew 6:16-18). However, both there and in this passage, Jesus emphasized that fasting was to be done for God from a pure heart. It should not be done to impress others or to try to earn God’s love.
After the arrest of John the Baptist, some of His followers had gone with Jesus, but apparently some had made the wrong move and joined the self-righteous Pharisees. They come as a group to Jesus here, complaining that He eats and celebrates life while they fast and mourn. Christ rebukes them for missing the fact that He is the Messiah, the Promised Savior. The presence of God’s Son (the “bridegroom”) among the nation of Israel is a reason to celebrate! He uses the metaphors of trying to attach new cloth to old cloth and trying to put new wine into old wine skins (both of which people back then knew would not work) to show that the Good News of the gospel could not just be added on to the old ways of trying to be saved by keeping the Law. With Jesus came the New Covenant, the promise of a new era in God’s history of redeeming His people. God’s people should now rejoice over Jesus, the One who fulfilled the Law.
As it says in Ecclesiastes 3, “To everything there is a season…a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3:1, 4-5). There are times in our walk with Christ when we will mourn and perhaps even feel led by God’s Spirit to fast for a particular spiritual goal. Praying for loved ones to be saved or healed from serious illnesses are such times. Wrestling with God’s will and seeking His guidance when life hits us or our loved ones hard would also be times to weep and mourn. Jesus says in this passage that such times would come after His death and resurrection. However, the main status of a Christian should be joy. We have so much to celebrate. As we have seen so much already in Mark’s gospel, God has chosen to forgive us of all of our sins through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. He has extended so much grace and mercy to us. He has loved us with an everlasting love. Jesus has restored us to an eternal relationship with our Creator and heavenly Father. God has been so good to us. If you need a reminder of God’s loving kindness towards you, trying reading Ephesians 1 or Romans 8 tonight or sometime this week. Every time it says “you” or “us,” put your name in its place. I pray that God gives us all His joy today.