“How Can The Guests Fast?”      Mark 2:18-22       November 5, 2006


SCRIPTURE INTRO:  Jesus was a master of metaphors, word pictures.

In this account, some people asked him a very straightforward question

   about the practice of fasting. 

Jesus answered by talking about weddings, patches on garments, wineskins. 

   That’s typical of Jesus.  He wants you to ponder.

   He wants to engage your mind and heart. 

   He wants you to think deeply about the implications of grace.


INTRO:  Shortly after we moved here, driving around, looking at town—

Late in afternoon we drove out to St. Bernard monastery.

   The place was strangely quiet, we were the only car moving,

   there was not a person to be seen—

Sun was setting, the shadows of those beautiful buildings and trees lengthening.

   And then we saw a solitary figure crossing the grounds—

   a monk in a black robe, head bowed, on way to the chapel.

It was a timeless picture of devotion and piety.

   I said, “Look girls, there’s a monk!”

   Adrienne was about four at the time and she stared and asked, “Does it talk?”


If you were a great artist, were given a canvas and told to paint a picture

   that best represents a truly spiritual life,

   a picture that represents a life transformed by the Gospel, what would you paint?

Would it be a quiet monk in a robe, dedicated to a life of prayer and humble work,

   crossing the monastery grounds on his way to the vesper service? 

Maybe that’s too Catholic for you.


Would it be a woman deep in private devotions—with her Bible open before her—

   her eyes squeezed shut, tears of fervor and repentance on her cheeks,

   tears falling on the Bible, with her hands raised in prayer?


What about this?

A groomsman, his tuxedo jacket is off, sleeves are rolled up, wet with sweat,

   from dancing with all the bridesmaids.

His plate is piled high with food from the buffet—

   and his wineglass, which has been filled several times, is almost empty again.

His head is tilted back, mouth is open, roaring with laughter,

   as he shares a joke with his best friend—the groom.

That doesn’t seem like a very spiritual picture—

   but that’s exactly the picture Jesus paints in this account.

The life transformed by the Gospel is like the joyful feasting

   of the closest friends of the bridegroom as they share his joy.


The church of Jesus’ day, old Jewish church,

   had a totally different view of the truly spiritual life.

If they painted a picture, it would be of a person fasting—face drawn with hunger.

   OT itself only commands one feast a year, Day of Atonement.

   Jews added four more national feasts, plus every Monday and Thursday.


There were some, like the Pharisees, who were legalists in their fasting.

   They believed that the act of fasting itself made them acceptable to God.

   God would see them denying themselves, that would earn them points with God.

There were others, like the disciples of John the Baptist—

   who where true Israelites, looking for the Messiah, understood grace,

   whose motives were different from the Pharisees—mourning over sin.

But like the Pharisees, they saw fasting as the mark of a truly spiritual life.


People representing both of these groups come to Jesus—

   the Pharisees with condemnation, disciples of the Baptist with concern, confusion,

   asking, “Why don’t your disciples fast?”

Jesus immediately goes deeper than the practice of fasting itself—

   to the very heart of the matter which is: 

What does the truly spiritual life look like? 


And this is his answer:  It looks like feasting, not fasting. 

   The life transformed by the Gospel is a life of joy. 

That shouldn’t surprise us.  Bible says it over and over.

   The Old Testament saints got it, Nehemiah got it.

   “Do not mourn, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”


Do you want to become a better person, a more spiritual person—

   a person more and more transformed by the Gospel? 

That means you will become more and more joyful, not more gloomy.

   Let’s see what we can learn from joy in this passage—three headings.

1.  Joy and Jesus

2.  Joy and grief

3.  Joy and regeneration

MP#1  Joy and Jesus

True joy that marks the life of a person transformed by the Gospel

   is always joy in Christ—his presence and the things he has done for you.

Picture he paints of this joy in him is a wedding.  Jesus said:

   “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 

   They cannot, so long as they have him with them.”


Jewish weddings were week-long celebrations with

   meals, wine, music, dancing, gifts, and speeches.

There were also customs that would be embarrassing to us today

   like escorting the bride and groom to their marriage bed on the first night,

   putting them in bed, standing around and making jokes, giving advice,

   before leaving them and going out to eat and dance some more.

Among orthodox Jews today many of these customs,

   that Jesus would have been familiar with are still practiced.


Growing up in the South, every wedding reception I went to involved

   standing around, drinking punch, eating finger foods and wedding cake.

You could get by not really eating anything and it wouldn’t offend.

   What’s really expected is that you show up and talk to people.

   In fact, you can’t really pig out.  Trying to balance little plate and cup.


But that wouldn’t do among the Jews in Jesus’ day.

   You had to join in to the festivities body and soul.

Told you earlier how the Pharisees insisted on two weekly fasts—

   they also had a rule that if you were invited to a wedding—

   you could not fast, you had to feast and celebrate.

Even the Pharisees understood the importance of wedding feasts.


One more detail, this term “the guests of the bridegroom”

   is literally translated “the children of the bridechamber.”

That meant not just any guest, but the groomsmen and bridesmaids.

   These were the special guests.  Wedding party. 


Obvious that Jesus meant that he was the groom—

   and his disciples were the special wedding guests of the groom.

Wedding itself a picture of his great work of salvation. 

   And you are also one of those wedding guests because you are a disciple of Jesus.

Now lets consider some of the implication of this—it’s rich, barely scratch surface.

1.  Joy and rejoicing in Jesus is to be your constant, internal disposition.

The Lord is always concerned with the heart.

   This passage is not an exposition on the details of fasting—

Jesus is addressing the internal disposition of your heart.

   The message that comes across clearly is that the disciples of Jesus

   should be people who are as joyful as special guests at a friend’s wedding. 


The belief of the church in Jesus’ day was that the internal disposition

   that pleases God is one of constant mourning over sin—

   your own sin and the sin of the nation.

Fasting was the outward expression of that mourning.

   Pharisees were hypocrites, because they weren’t even mourning inside.

   Disciples of John the Baptists, genuine, really mourning as fasted.

But Jesus corrected even these sincere believers. 


Now, there are times and places for mourning, grief and even fasting—

   and we will talk about that in a minute, but let’s not miss this big thing.

Joy and rejoicing in Jesus is to be the disposition of your heart—

   because Jesus has come and saved you from your sins.

He has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven.

   He has sent his Holy Spirit to be with you.

   He has promised to come again and set all things right.

   He has given us means to enjoy and be assured of his presence—

   like what doing now, corporate worship, where two or three are gathered.

Internal disposition of the believer should be joy in Christ.


2.  Joy and rejoicing in Jesus should have some outward manifestation.

Now, I’m not going to be legalistic about this.

   Told that there was a time at Oral Roberts University,

   students could receive demerits if they were not smiling.

There are differences in personality, culture, church traditions—

   as we will see in a moment, times of grief.


But, there should be some outward manifestation of joy.

   As Christians we should not be grim people. 

   Serious, sober—yes.  But not long faced.  How can we be.

Have you ever met a stranger, demeanor has told you—this is a believer.

   Then you find out that he is—not because grinning like a loon—

   but celebration of Christ in here, coming out in some way. 

MP#2  Joy and grief.

Followers of Jesus will go through times of grief, but joy will be restored. 

Jesus continues:

   “But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them,

   and on that day they will fast.”


What time was Jesus talking about? 

   Clearly Jesus was talking about the day of his crucifixion.

His death was a terrible day for his disciples.

   They did not understand what he had said about his resurrection.

   They were sure he was gone forever.


Remember Luke’s account of two disciples on road to Emmaus?

   We had thought he was the one who would save Israel.

   Their hopes were dashed, things seemed very bleak.

So even in this lesson on joy, Jesus acknowledges that there will be times

   of deep grief leading to fasting, even in the lives of his disciples.


Notice that this fasting Jesus speaks of is not a planned fast.

   After Jesus was crucified, disciples didn’t say—we need to fast.

   Let’s plan a fast for tomorrow and later next week.

Their fasting was the fasting of grief.

   They lost their appetites.  Grief so great food lost its appeal.


Have you ever grieved like that? 

   Have you ever been dealt such a blow that you lose your appetite?

   Maybe you’re not that way with food—maybe you can always eat.

But grief and mourning causes you to fast in other ways—

   Life seems to lose its color—things that your normally enjoy

   hold no appeal, all that consumes you is this sorrow in your heart.


That’s what Jesus was saying—

   I know that my joyful disciples will go through a time of such grief,

   that even food will lose its appeal—they will fast.

This is comforting in an odd sort of way.

   It shows us that Jesus knows we are still living in this old fallen world.

We have all the spiritual blessings in Him—

   but things have not been set right yet, waiting the Second Coming.


As we wait, there are going to be times of grief and fasting—

   even for Christians, even for the guests of the bridegroom.


The disciples grieved the loss of a friend, loss of a leader—

   and the loss of their hopes for the future of Israel.

For you it may be the death of someone you love,

   or the loss of a job or your health or end of some plans cherished.


Also times when Christians grieve over the power of indwelling sin.

   Perhaps you commit an old sin—again—one of those besetting sins.

   And the weakness and disgust you feel in yourself brings mourning and fasting.

Or maybe it’s a particularly hurtful sin to people you love—

   and the thought of that causes you to groan and for a time wonder if ever right.


Or maybe it’s disappointments with people in your church,

   or frustrations with your family,

   or sorrow for your child,

   or self-hatred, or emotional difficulties,

   or destructive power of psychological illness,

   or an addiction—

All manner of things bring true disciples to times of grief so deep

   that they fast, appetite is gone

   that they fast and seem to lose their joy.


Jesus knows that.  Knew it would happen to his disciples.

   Knows it might happen to you.  That doesn’t mean that joy is gone forever.

Because even though Jesus leaves it unsaid here—he says later to his disciples:

   “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.

   You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”


Just repeating the words of his ancestor King David in Psalm 30.

   “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

   “You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”


Are you grieving now?  If you know Christ, your joy will be restored.

   Look for it.  Ask for it.

Even if you don’t feel like eating, life has lost its color,

   turn to the Bridegroom, he’s here, in time will lift you up.


MP#3  Joy and regeneration.

The only way to have true, lasting joy is be being born again. 

Jesus continues:

   “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment.  If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.  And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined.  No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”


These are vivid pictures.  Let’s take them one at a time.

   Remember what Jesus was responding to—the question about fasting.

Pharisees in particular believed fasting was a way of pleasing God.

   Well, Jesus says, it’s like a new patch on an old garment.

   When it shrinks, the old garment will tear and be worse.


What he is essentially saying is that fasting,

   even the mourning for sin that is symbolized cannot make you whole.

You can try to patch yourself up with religious exercises—but it won’t work.

   It doesn’t bring you any closer to God, doesn’t make you a better person.

   Because the problem is your old garment—your old, sinful self.


He elaborates on this in the next picture.

New wine, still fermenting will burst an old wineskin, no stretch left.

But if you put it in a new wineskin—

   flexible, expands with the fermenting wine and is able to contain it. 


Wine in the Bible is a symbol of joy—Psalm 4:7 

   “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.”

Jesus is saying that your old self is incapable of holding or experiencing

   the joy he brings—you must have a new self.

You must become a new wineskin—

   then you will have the spiritual stretch,

   then you will be capable of receiving and experiencing this joy.


First, you must be born again to truly understand your sinfulness.

   That you are sinful, wicked, depraved, selfish, proud—

   That you are not good deep down but hateful toward God.

   That nothing you do is not done with evil motives.

Those are truths that old wineskins can’t hold.

   Pharisees couldn’t.

That was their essential problem—saw it last time—

   they had a superficial view of sin—it was the big, notorious sins.

   They had no sense of the wickedness of their hearts.

Because of that—incapable of understanding the next great truth—


In Jesus Christ you are completely love, accepted, and cherished by God.

   He calls you his sons and daughters as he robes you in the righteousness

   of his Son.

See, that’s the Gospel.  That’s the joy Jesus came to bring.

   You are more wicked and sinful than you ever dared to admit,

   and at the same time you are more loved and accepted than ever dared to hope.

When you are born again you can handle those truths—

   as they ferment within you, you have the new wine of joy. 


But old wineskins can’t handle that message—and so they have no joy.

Ever had a conversation with someone, then realized later missed something big?

Ran into a neighbor recently in town—started talking.

   Is God going to condemn me for not going to church? 

   Somewhat worried.

I said, “Going to church never saved anybody.  Only Jesus saves.”

   Are you trusting Jesus?


Acted like he didn’t hear me.  Because started talking about family business.

   Wondered, did he get uncomfortable with what I said?

   OK, I guess he wants to change the subject.

Told me how they had run this business through years with integrity.

   All the people who they had helped.

   How hadn’t been extravagant on selves, put money back into it.

On and on—till I was getting tired of hearing, said I have to be going.


Then, later in the day it hit me. 

   He was answering my question—Are you trusting Jesus?

What he was saying to me was—look at my life, I’m a good man.

   God won’t condemn me surely—look at all the good I’ve done.

What he was essentially saying:  I don’t need Jesus.

   The old wineskin was incapable of hearing the message of grace.

   And consequently, he was a man without joy, questions about condemnation.


Is your religion patches of morality, or new wineskin of new life?

CONC:  Well, we barely even touched on fasting.

Let me just say this.  Jesus fasted once that we know of.

   He doesn’t condemn it, doesn’t encourage it.

   Says some other things about it for direction when Christians do fast.


Fasting is not mentioned a single time in any of the epistles.

   It seems that it was not much of a part of the very early church.

Of course in later years, especially by the Middle Ages—

   Christian church had as many fasts on the church calendar

   as the Pharisees of old—with same spirit.

This is a picture of the truly spiritual life.


This is what Jesus wants you to know—

   that whether you fast or not is not the issue—

   what matters is the inclination of your heart.

Jesus wants you to be full of joy because he is with you

   and he has saved you.