Mark 2:18-22 18 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.”
Everything Jesus did brought attention to Himself. He acted in a manner that was above the rest of mankind and yet He who entered into creation in the likeness of sinful flesh faced all the same temptations and weaknesses that we face. But it is fascinating that He would do things that were different from John the Baptist who was the greatest of all the Old Testament prophets. Jesus performed all kinds of miracles while John the Baptist performed none and yet the message of the Gospel that they shared was the same. But there was another difference that brought confusion: Jesus never had his disciples fast. Both the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees fasted but Jesus never required this of his disciples.
Fasting is performed when we long for something that we do not have. It is natural to lose your appetite when a terrible tragedy occurs. When you grieve the loss of a loved one you don’t have a desire to eat. The burden of grief may be so great that you don’t eat for days. You long for the one you loved and you know that you will never see them again in this lifetime.
But why did the disciples of John the Baptist fast to begin with? They fasted because of sin. The sin nature within each one of us causes us to desire evil. By nature we do not desire to love God as we should or those around us out of our love for God. We are rebels by nature and look out only for ourselves and have no desire for a relationship with the One who created us. The abuse that so many have suffered at the hands of others is a direct result of the rebellious nature that is in all of mankind.
This recognition of this evil within the heart of man should cast a person to fast. The Bible is full of accounts of when the nation of Israel fasted over its wickedness. The city of Nineveh fasted over the judgment that Jonah proclaimed by the Word of God and God spared them from the judgment that they deserved. But to fast over our sin in itself is incomplete. It doesn’t not come to a resolution or a final answer. It is hoping for a change but not looking for how the change can actually occur in our lives. There are all kinds of monks and religious people like the Pharisees who fast and strive and try to defeat the enemy within. There are all kinds of politicians who try to improve society but never are able to create utopia. Many recognize that there is a problem within the heart of man and in the world around us but they never come to a place of peace. Their heart remains the same no matter how hard they try to change it. And for those who try to create a perfect society they will always fall short.
John the Baptist went beyond the Pharisees as he truly believed that his only hope was to be found in the Christ who was to come. The Pharisees got caught up in their religious customs and although they claimed to desire the Christ they never truly fasted over their own sinfulness but only compared themselves to the state of others. Their fasting became a work proving their own status and position as compared to others. They were justified in their own eyes. But the disciples of John the Baptist were really looking for the answer as revealed by God. It had been revealed to John the Baptist that he would recognize the Christ. When he baptized someone in water God would show a sign from heaven confirming the Christ to John. And this did occur when John baptized Jesus at the beginning of His public ministry. John taught his disciples that they were to fast not just because of their sinfulness but to long for the One who could set them free from sin- Jesus Christ.
But once Jesus Christ had been revealed there was no reason for Jesus’ or John’s disciples to fast. There was no reason to long for the One who would save mankind from their sin- He was physically present! He was walking and talking and eating with His disciples. The Saviour had come! Salvation is found in a person and it was finally and fully paid for when Jesus of Nazareth died upon the cross and rose from the dead. When Jesus died, His disciples fasted until they saw Him risen from the dead. They longed to be with Jesus. And when Jesus ascended up into heaven, His disciples fasted until the Holy Spirit was poured into their hearts.
The illustration of sewing an unshrunk cloth on an old garment and new wine in old wineskins both make the point that when the Christ had been revealed there was no going back. God had previously given the nation of Israel a covenant of works by which they could be saved. You could go to heaven if you obeyed the Ten Commandments and the 613 Laws perfectly but no one succeeded in doing so except Jesus of Nazareth. But through faith in His Name anyone could be saved. Sin was defeated when our sin nature died with Him and our new nature was formed as the Holy Spirit regenerates our heart the moment we believe.
Although we do not need to fast looking for the Christ to be revealed there are still many reasons for us as Christians to fast. We fast as we long for Jesus Christ to draw near to us in our areas of need: in overcoming persisting sin in our own lives or in the Church, in overcoming demonic powers, in overcoming evil that surrounds us, and in receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But most of all we fast for God’s plan of salvation to be fully revealed. Our physical bodies which have been polluted by sin still remain. When Jesus returns those who believe in Him will receive a glorified body like His! We will see Him face to face! We will be in union with the infinite love of God for all eternity! All of creation will be glorified! But for this to happen all who are against Him must be removed forever. They will be cast into the lake of fire where they will never fast. They will forever be separated from the love of God whom they will never desire.
Has your heart yet turned to the Lord Jesus Christ or are you still blinded by your sin? Do you rejoice in Jesus Christ or do you rejoice in yourself and your own depravity?
Pastor Murray Hack