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Fasting, Clothes & Wine

Date: Jun. 2, 2019

Author: Bob Henkins

Mark 2:18:22

Key Verse: Mark 2:19

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.”

In the 6210 hospitals that we have in the US, there are millions of patients that receive treatment for some condition that threaten their lives. Many of the treatments they receive are only a temporary fix. And if they want to continue on the road to recovery and get healthy, usually they need to make some sort of lifestyle change, like diet, exercise, stop drinking/smoking etc. For example, when I went in for my annual checkup visit, my doctor told me that I was in the pre-diabetes stage and that I needed to change my eating habit and lose weight. In extreme cases, if the patients don’t change their ways, it could kill them. One would think that with such important news, people would listen to their doctors and make life changes. But I read somewhere that the majority of patients don’t change. My grandfather was like this, he was not supposed to have sweets, but he was always stealing a cookie, or piece of cake. Even under threat of death, it’s so hard for people to change. Unfortunately, this also applies to us spiritually. We see how Jesus addresses this issue of change through today’s passage.

Our passage starts in verse 18. “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”” Throughout history many people have fasted for various reasons. For example, people go on hunger strikes because they are angry or distressed about something or to prove the justice of one’s cause like Ghandi. In these cases, the hunger is supposed to move people to take action so that their circumstances may be changed. Other people fast for health reasons. There is a sub-reddit that I follow that is about IF- Intermittent Fasting, where people share their various methods, tips, tricks and results of fasting. But fasting in the Bible was religiously motivated designed to draw closer to God.

And during Jesus’ time fasting was an important Jewish practice. Fasting is a wonderful spiritual discipline. The Mosaic Law required only one day of fasting, called the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29) now-a-days it’s called Yom Kippur. But the Pharisees had taken that act of spiritual discipline and changed it into a badge of self-righteousness. They added a bunch more days to it until we see in Luke’s gospel, a Pharisee who proudly prayed that he fasts twice a week (Lk 18:12) usually on Mondays and Thursdays.

It wasn’t that fasting was bad, often Jesus fasted and prayed, but it wasn’t a ritual designed for others to see. But the Pharisees would disfigure their faces and put ashes on their head and moaned and groaned so everyone could see they were fasting and would know how “spiritual” they were. However Jesus said, ““When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Mt 6:16-18) Fasting was meant to be between you and God, not to be done for a show. Actually, fasting is only mentioned 25 time in the whole Bible and it’s usually connected with sorrow, repentance and mourning.

From the verses we learn that the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees made a practice of fasting. Apparently, some people noticed that Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast and they wanted to know why, because fasting was what good religious people were supposed to do. So, they confronted Jesus asking, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” We are not exactly sure who these people are, it just says some people, and we’re not sure if they are sincere and just made an observation and wondered about it, or were they sent by the Pharisees attack Jesus. Whenever I see the Pharisees, I usually tend to assume the worst. And the question does seem kind of pointed, but the way Jesus answers them doesn’t seem combative. Take a look at verses 19-20. “19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.” Here’s a little context, back then, a Jewish wedding was the highlight of the community. (not just the family, but the whole community) It started with a year long engagement and climaxed after the ceremony with a week-long celebration of eating, dancing, singing. The bride and groom were given garland crowns to wear and treated like a king and queen. It was probably the best week of their lives. Everyone involved, especially the friends of the bride and groom, did some serious celebrating. I remember Becky and Jimmy’s wedding last year; everyone was so happy and excited and their reception was a blast. Now imagine doing that for a week straight. Who would expect to fast during this period while the groom was still around? Weddings are times for celebration and feasting not fasting. And here Jesus is alluding that he is the Bridegroom and that his disciples are his guests. And that there is going to be a wedding in the future. But Jesus isn’t just an ordinary groom, he is the Son of God, it was truly a special time. And so, while Jesus was still here, that’s not the time to fast, it’s time to feast and celebrate with him. But Jesus also alluded to his future death when the bridegroom would be taken from them and at that point the disciples would fast and mourn.

Here is an important point we need to learn, our life of faith, our life as a Christian should be more like a wedding celebration than a funeral procession. Our life should be about a joyful relationship with Jesus; not just following religious rituals. Now I’m not saying don’t do religious rituals or don’t fast, it’s just that there is a time for everything and we have to put it into context. The Bible says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:” (Ecc 3:1) King David may be a good example of this. After he was rebuked by Nathan about his sin of adultery with Bathsheba listen to what happened. (This can be found in 2 Sam 20) “15 After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.” 19 David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked. “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.” 20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. 21 His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!” 22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”” David fasted to repent before God and seek God’s mercy, but when the child died, he accepted it and worshipped God. For David, there was a time for fasting and a time for worship and praising God and he understood the difference between the two and that’s the point Jesus is trying to make. 

There are times to fast, but even when you fast, you shouldn’t lose your joy. Joy is your birthright as a child of God. The devil comes to kill, steal, and destroy. He wants to kill your joy, steal your birthright, and destroy your testimony. Satan can’t rob you of your salvation, but he will try to steal the joy of your salvation. Guard it carefully. Don’t let him steal your joy.

Jesus continued with his illustrations in verse 21 it says, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.” In our modern world with new technology all kinds of synthetic fabrics have been developed that don’t shrink like the old ones did. During the time of Jesus, new clothing would shrink after it was washed. I read that it has something to do with the weaving process creating tension in the material stretching the fabric. And when it is washed, and especially heat applied in the drying process, the tension in the material is released and it returns to its original size. So, whenever someone got new clothes, they had to make sure they bought them a few sizes too big so that it would fit properly after washing. I remember this would happen with jeans, so company came up with the idea of pre-washed jeans, which of course cost more, so that you wouldn’t have to worry about shrinkage.

And as you know, with all clothes, over time, they tend to wear down and eventually they tear. A garment with a hole in it needed to be repaired, but if a new piece of cloth was sewn in, after it was washed, the new patch would shrink, but the old cloth would stay the same and all the work put into fixing it would be lost because it would be ripped. Back then this concept was common sense. What was Jesus trying teach through this parable? In this parable, the old garment could be compared to the Old Covenant, what we would call “the law.” Jesus was saying he didn’t just come to improve the Old Covenant; he came to replace it with something totally new. There was no way his new covenant could be used to “patch up” the old one. The Pharisees were threatened by this because their religion was based upon keeping the law instead of living under grace.

Some people think they’re ok, pretty good and only need Jesus to just “patch up” a problem here or there. Most men love duct tape. I think Tim “the tool man” Taylor once said, “All a man needs to be happy is duct tape and WD-40. If it moves and shouldn’t, tape it. If it doesn’t move and should, squirt it.” But the truth is Jesus didn’t come to put duct tape on our heart. He came to give us a new heart.

When Jesus comes into your life, His goal is not to reform you. His purpose is to transform you. We are all sinners by nature and by choice. To try to fix our sinful character is like sewing a new un-shrunk patch on an old garment. In our first birth (physical) we were deformed by sin. That’s why Jesus says we need a new birth (spiritual). The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) Jesus doesn’t just patch up your old life; he gives you a new life. Jesus doesn’t just try to clean up our old hearts, he gives us a new one.

Jesus’ final illustration is in verse 22, it says, “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”” Now-a-days we store wine in bottles but back in Jesus’ day, wine was stored in goatskins. The goat skins were removed and scraped clean on the inside, then tanned over a fire, and sewn back together. And just like our own skin, fresh wineskin was pliable, flexible and stretchable. When new wine was poured into it, the gas released from the yeast eating the sugar during the fermentation process would stretch the new wineskins. And everything would be ok, because that was the normal process. But over time, wineskins become brittle and ridged.

If someone were to put new wine in an old wineskin that had already expanded and hardened from its original supply of wine, it wouldn’t be long before you heard a pop as the hardened skin began to crack and split. The wine was expanding but the old skin was too rigid to adapt to the new situation. I remember when I was younger and my dad tried making his own wine. He set up a bunch of milk jugs for his process in our basement. Then one day we heard a loud noise coming from our basement. When we checked, we found some of the plastic milk jugs were split, others tops had popped off.

So, what was Jesus trying to teach through this parable? That we should beware of a hardened heart that refuses to accept new revelations of truth from God’s Word. For the time period, Jesus’ teaching was revolutionary. It was new. He said things they never heard before. His new teaching shocked and offended the religious leaders. And they couldn’t handle this new wine Jesus was offering. They were like the inflexible old wineskins. Their attitudes were “If it is new, it can’t be true.” Every time Jesus said or did something new you could almost hear the sound of straining and stretching until finally, they popped and killed the messenger instead of accepting the message.

Human nature rebels against the idea of anything that seems to threaten the “good old days” and the “good old ways.” People’s motto becomes “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Jesus compares that attitude to an old wineskin and He is actually saying, “If you don’t fix it, you’ll break!”

Jesus was addressing an attitude that resists change or anything new. We all have a tendency to reject a new idea, or a new revelation of truth because we are comfortable with the old one. This was the Pharisees’ attitude and it is an attitude we need to guard against. Like an old, stiff wineskin, our hearts and minds can harden until we become so inflexible, we can’t accept change. When someone introduces “new wine” to us, we crack and split and make a mess. The Bible issues a strong warning to us about the danger of a hardened heart: “So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did.” (Hebrews 3:7-9) The Israelites, when faced with the new idea of going into Canaan and taking the land they said, “No. We like the old better.” What was happening? Their wineskins were popping. And when your wineskin pops, whatever is on the inside comes out, and sometimes it’s not pretty. So God said, “Okay, then you’re going to take another lap around Mt. Sinai...and another...and another.” For forty years they wandered in the old paths, eating the same old manna until that generation died. Why? Because they refused to accept God’s new plan. And they never got to see the promised land.

So, I ask what kind of person are you? Whenever any new idea or concept is introduced, do you immediately reject it, or do you try to look at it objectively? Human nature naturally resists change. Because of this we have continuously guard ourselves against hardening our hearts. In reality, we need God to intervene in our life through the Holy Spirit to keep us flexible.

In 1996 on New Year’s Eve, a casino in Las Vegas (the Hacienda Hotel and Casino) imploded its multi-million dollar building to make room for a bigger and more functional casino. What’s interesting to note is that the imploded building was only ten years old. The building had served them well when it was built, but it no longer served their mission as well as a new building could. So they tore it down to make room for another. Achieving their mission was the deciding factor in such a decision.

Change is never easy, especially the older we get. But we have to be ready to change if God calls us to. Now I’m not saying we need to change just for sake of change, we have core values that will never change, but things like methods and style and the like can be flexible. It’s when we lose sight of loving people and loving God and care more about our traditions, then that is when there is a problem. In last week’s passage, Jesus identified as a doctor and he came to heal the sick. This week Jesus identifies as a bridegroom and we are all invited to his wedding. Therefore, we should celebrate our life of faith with joy and thanksgiving. Remember Jesus is the joy of living. I pray that God may richly bless you.

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