A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.
Friday, August 28, 2020
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”
We got married on a cold, gray January Saturday over 13 years ago in northeast Ohio surrounded by several hundred of our closest friends and family members. When I close my eyes I can still see my radiant bride, who has aged like a fine wine, walking towards me down the aisle of the church, and I remember feeling weak in the knees. Truthfully I was a tad bit nervous but, even more than that, I was really hungry. The previous night had been spent in a hotel room with several of the groomsmen and we all slept in well past breakfast. Knowing the wedding wasn’t until late afternoon, and thinking we had plenty of time to kill before checking in at the church, instead of grabbing something to eat we went down to hang out in the hotel pool. With no clock or watch to tell us the time, it wasn’t until some other out-of-town wedding guests began to walk past the windows that we realized swim practice was over. While the plan called for grabbing a quick bite together on the way over to the church, I forgot that I had to leave the honeymoon bag at the next hotel which, unbeknownst to me, was approximately 15 miles away in the opposite direction. Thinking I’d be seeing the rest of the guys in just a few minutes, I hopped in another friend’s car with a dead cell phone and we set out to run our errand. Over an hour later, I finally arrived at the designated preparation room, much to the relief of the seven nervous, fully-dressed, groomsmen who had been anxiously wondering how to tell the bride that the groom didn’t show. Just moments later, and with an audibly rumbling belly, I walked out the door to face the music and the bride was never the wiser–until she read this.
Mark now tells us of another accusation leveled against Jesus and the disciples. Both the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist wanted to know why Jesus didn’t instruct His disciples to observe regular days of fasting like they did. While Scripture only commanded the people of Israel to fast once a year, on the Day of Atonement, which they observed corporately, it tells of many other different types and lengths of fasts. But long ago the religious leaders had taken that which was supposed to be voluntary and turned it into a compulsory expectation for those who desired to be holy. Never bypassing an opportunity to feel morally superior and add more requirements to the Mosaic law, the Pharisees fasted twice a week and loved for others to notice when they did. Consequently, they also noticed when others did not play by the same rules and could not understand why the powerful teacher and miracle worker was ignorant of this regulation.
Of course, as evidenced by the forty days in the wilderness in the previous chapter, Jesus was certainly not unfamiliar with or opposed to personal fasting. But Jesus knew that fasting was typically reserved for periods of lament and preparation and therefore it was inappropriate to fast during an occasion that called for celebration. It is unclear as to whether this question arose during the party of Levi the tax collector or at some later date, but either way Jesus was communicating the truth that, like the bridegroom at a wedding, His very presence called for a feast and not a fast.
First century Jewish weddings were huge celebrations that put our modern festivities to shame. To kick things off the groom and the bridal party would parade across the town to gather the bride and bring her back to the home the groom had prepared. The whole village was invited to the wedding which began with the ceremony and, instead of a destination honeymoon, was followed by a massive feast which could last up to a week. The bride and groom were treated like kings and queens by their bridal party and it was not uncommon for them to wear crowns befitting a royal affair. Even if a personal vow to fast had previously been taken, revelers were officially excused for the duration of the wedding feast so as not to put a damper on the joy of the happy couple. The arrival of Jesus, like the appearance of the groom, signified that the party had begun.
To further illustrate the main idea, Jesus used parallel analogies of a patch and a wineskin that, while not as familiar to modern western readers, would have immediately hit home with His audience. Just as you don’t patch old clothes with new cloth, you don’t put new wine in old skins. In both cases the changing physical properties of the new will cause the old to burst and tear, ruining both the new and the old. Jesus did not come to make additions or addendums to the law, but to fulfill the law in His body and bring a new covenant through His blood. Jesus was not something to be added to what they were already doing to make the disciples more holy, He came to show, and to be, a whole new way to life.
Just like the Pharisees, none of us like people challenging what we believe or telling us what to do, but the truth is that life without Jesus is really no life at all. Although we have a tendency to believe that before we met Jesus we were doing pretty good, the reality is that we were completely dead in our sins. As we all know, try as they might, dead people can’t do anything. There is nothing we contribute to our salvation, nothing we bring to the table. By His mercy and grace, Jesus does it all and paid it all so that we can forever be in relationship with Him. He doesn’t just add a little something that we lacked to what we already are, He makes us completely new. The new life that He brings comes with a new Spirit that He gives, the old man/woman within us is completely gone and has been replaced with something infinitely better. Life with Jesus through His Spirit is not old or stale, but active and alive. May He continue to work in and through us as we follow wherever He may lead.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we thank You that You came not to bring difficult new rules or commands but to bring abundant life to dead people like us. Through Your death and resurrection You have secured this new life for us, that we might share in Your joy and one day feast with You at Your table. We pray that You would help us to live each day in the joy of our salvation, and that our lives would be contagious illustrations of what You are able to for even the worst of sinners like us. We ask this in Your mighty name, Amen.