"Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him (Jesus), "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" This question gave Jesus an opportunity to speak to something much deeper.
The old testament practice of fasting was a voluntary refraining from food and/or drink for a period of time to draw near to God as a means of mourning. The old testament Scriptures called for only one day of fasting each year on the Day of Atonement. The Pharisees took this much further and promoted voluntary fasts every Monday and Thursday.
In verses 19-20, Jesus uses the example of a wedding to illustrate His message to these disciples. A wedding is a 7-day celebration! You wouldn't fast in the presence of the bridegroom, as that would be disrespectful and not the purpose. We see in Matthew 6 that Jesus tells us how to fast. He says, "When you fast..." He is saying that fasting is not wrong, there is just a different way of doing it. Fasting, instead of mourning, is an opportunity to "feast on God". You fast when you are not in the presence of the groom anymore. Verse 20 is the first hint of the cross when Jesus says, "taken away". This gives the connotation of a violent removal - crucifixion.
The Pharisees are asking, "Why aren't your disciples doing what we are doing?" Basically, they are accusing the disciples of breaking tradition. Traditions are ok, but not when elevated over the Truth of God's Word. We don't need a "better broken". We need to become new creations!
Verse 21 shows that an attempt to bind the newness of the gospel to the old religion of Judaism is as futile as trying to patch an old garment with a new, un-shrunk piece of cloth. Remember, it is Jesus plus NOTHING. Verse 22 uses the example of new wine in old wineskins to reinforce His Truth.
The old covenant was about man's way to reach God through the sacrifice of animals. The new covenant is about God's way to reach man through the sacrifice of Jesus.
We needed transformation not reformation.
We needed brand new...not a better old.
Questions to Consider:
- In Matthew 6, Jesus speaks about fasting, and shares that it is expected. For most people, fasting isn't a discipline they practice. Do you? Why is fasting difficult? Why do you think it might be more difficult in our current culture?
- The Pharisees had a tradition of fasting that was good on the surface, but it had become a tradition that was elevated over the Scriptures. What are other traditions that get elevated over the Scriptures? Where do you need to be careful with traditions?