Into Thy Word -
Matthew 9: 14-17
C. Jesus is Questioned about Fasting:
General Idea: Christ is the Bridegroom who invites us from our old skins and tattered lives, to His feast of eternal life. All we could ever do is hope for a patch for our frayed lives; yet, such a patch would never re-clothe us well. Our wine skins are old, and about to burst; our clothing is in shreds. He gives us the wine of His blood, renews our skins, and clothes us in His righteousness.
This passage continues the narrative of Matthews feast. The Pharisees were not the only ones surprised to see Jesus among tax collectors and sinners; John the Baptists disciples were also dumbfounded. From their perspective, Jesus was feasting while they were fasting, quite a contrast on what is perceived to be piety. They assumed Jesus and His disciples would do as they did, and practice piety by being separated from the world. John preached passionately, with power and conviction, demanding repentance and fasting, and then withdrew (Matt. 3:1-11). Jesus also preached with power and conviction, as well as about repentance, and came through willing to meet others where they were. Jesus did not leave the people; He went to them, continually ministering to them, giving us an example of what we are to do. He modeled fasting, but did not demand it (Luke 4:2; Matt. 6:16-18).
Fasting was considered a proper expression of humility and penitence, as well as devotion. Most religious leaders over-did it by being showy and pretentious with their pious, fraud-like devotions. Their behavior showed their pride and contempt, the opposite of true devotion. Although Moses, Elijah, and Jesus would fast for periods up to forty days, Jesus did not attach much significance, in His teaching and ministry, to fasting. He was more concerned with attitudes and motivations than what was done on the outside. Fasting is important, and a great way to draw close to our Lord in faith and maturity, as long as it is done with reverence and obedience, free of hidden agendas, and not used as an attention-gathering device (Matthew 6:16-18).
1. Why do we: It is a natural, human reaction to feel somewhat let down when you have earnestly done something good, then see someone who did not do it, receiving the credit. Johns disciples were, perhaps, so caught up in their pursuit of piety they forgot why they were being pious. The battle here was what was pious. It seemed that Jesus and His disciples were acting foolishly, while Johns disciples were acting righteously. But, they who would criticize did not see the big picture, what was really going on. They could not see who Jesus was, what His mission was, and what He was really doing at the home of Matthew, an admitted sinner. He was fulfilling His mission by bridging the gap, building relationships, seeking the lost, and inviting them to the real feast to come (Luke 19:6-9).
a. Luke records that the Pharisees asked about fasting, while Mark adds that both the Pharisees and Johns disciples questioned Jesus.
b. The OT Law prescribed fasting only during the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-31; Acts 27:9). However, over the years, religious groups and individuals have taken up this practice in other areas, as well. Possibly, as with Moses and Elijah, their motivation in fasting was to find an excellent method to lose selfish desires and situations, and focus upon their Lord more clearly. However, more often than not, fasting became a show, a pretense, meant to point the attention of others to what great men they were. This is the direct opposite of what it really means to fast (Isa. 58:3; Zech. 7:3-5).
i. Most Pharisees would fast two days a week, using it to draw attention to themselves (Luke 18:12). Their fast could consist of giving up one food item, going without water, or going without both water and food.
ii. Fasting had become a cultural practice to prove ones piety, as well as ones faithfulness and goodness before the Lord (Judges 20:26; 1 Kings 21:27).
c. Fasting was, and still is, an important way to engage an uncluttered mind in prayer, as fasting, when done properly, will remove most, if not all distractions from your mindset.
d. The term, disciples, is used here to denote a vocation. In other words, they were in training to become rabbis, and thus should be acting like it.
e. A teacher was expected to be responsible for the behavior of his disciples.
2. Bridegroom: This gives a picture of the biggest feast in those days, a wedding, and contrasts that to the dinner party where Jesus was. Jesus refocuses their attention to His mission.
a. A wedding feast would last seven days or more. During such festivities, a fast would be considered rude. It would distract from the purpose of the wedding, because fasting was associated with sorrow. Being in mourning would also be inappropriate, or even heavy labor. If a death occurred, or a job needed to be done, the wedding was put off until the right time.
b. If Jesus was fasting with Johns disciples, as He was most likely invited or assumed to, He declined. Had He accepted, He would not have been able to do His mission. Jesus was not saying fasting was wrong, rather, that it has a significant place, and that place was not at this time.
c. Then they will fast: Fasting was a means to enable one to draw close to God. God was incarnate, and was in their very presence. It would have been foolish for them to fast, since Jesus was right there.
i. Here is another testimony to Jesus Godhood. Although not overt, it is very much implied.
ii. This celebration was provisional, as the time for suffering and death were to come. He knew He would be taken away on their behalf, even on the behalf of those who questioned and scorned Him.
iii. Jesus recognized the importance of fasting, and said there would come a time when they would fast. Since the Bridegroom will not be there in person, they would fast in order to draw closer to Him in spirit and devotion (Acts 13:2; 14:23). There are times when we should fast, too!
3. No one puts: This is the issue of what is appropriate, and what is not. Clothing was made from natural materials, such as sheeps wool, and plant fibers. After they were worn and cleaned, they would shrink and become discolored. If a new piece of material were sown on the old, it would shrink, and tear the garment, making the original hole bigger, and worse.
a. New wine into old wineskins: Again, He explains what was appropriate, what was unwise, and what was not.
i. New wine is essentially grape juice. Grapes are crushed, and the juice drained into lambskin containers, then sealed with stitches and wax. The natural yeast breaks down the sugars in the grapes resulting in five to twelve percent alcohol, just as we have today. This is called fermentation, which creates wine. As a result, gases are produced, stretching the skins. Thus, they can only be used once. If used twice, they would burst under the pressure.
ii. Only a fool, or someone who wanted to be cheap, would do that. And, being cheap in that way would result in it being more costly.
b. The point? Using three illustrations to drive home, Jesus wants us to know that when and where is important, and being appropriate is important. And, most of all, that the Kingdom of God has arrived, and is a time for celebration and feasting! The new cloth and new wineskins picture the newness we have by being in His Kingdom.
The three metaphors used, those of the bridegroom, the cloth, and the wineskin, testify that there is a time and a place for everything. For us as Christians, there are occasions when fasting is proper, and a needed thing to do. Jesus timing and place was to teach, model, and build relationships. If Jesus withdrew too fast, meaning drawing His attention to God, and not seeking the attention of others to Him, Jesus could not have won Matthew, or influenced his friends for the Gospel. It would be the same if we acted as some monks do, by total withdrawal from the world. We cannot reach out to others if we are locked in a monastery of our own piety. Nor can we advertise our personal holiness, as it would be pretentious and meaningless. There is a time to fast, there is a time to grow, and there is a time to do. Each one prepares the way for the other. If there is no piety or devotion in your life, you cannot reach out effectively. If all you do is reach out, how can you grow in Christ effectively? We must know when to feast with the bridegroom, where and what to pour our wine into, and how to clothe ourselves in distinction, compassion, and love. If we sow the wrong thing on our spiritual and ministry walk, all we will accomplish is to tear ourselves away from Gods plan, and the opportunities He has for us.
1. When you were a kid, what did your parents do when you wore out your clothes prematurely? How does it feel to wear new clothes versus old ones-- besides jeans?
2. Have you earnestly done something good, and then someone else, who was not doing it, got more credit, or honor, than you? If so, how did it feel?
3. All we could ever do is hope for a patch for our frayed lives. So, what kind of patches have you tried to fixyours, or someone elses who was outside of Christ? Did it work? What happened?
4. Christ gives us the wine of His blood, renews our skins, and clothes us in His righteousness. How has that been manifested in your life?
5. What was different about Johns approaches to ministry compared to those of Jesus? Was John wrong, or did God just have a different plan for Him?
6. If you had been at Matthews feast, and had spent all of your time hanging out with John the Baptist, how would you have responded? What would be a similar situation today?
7. Jesus went to the people, continually ministering to them, and gave us an example of what we are to do. How so?
8. Jesus was fulfilling His mission by bridging the gap, building relationships, seeking the lost, and inviting them to the real feast to come. Do you think He could have done this effectively by just preaching, then withdrawing from people? Why, or why not? How does this model affect your churchs ministry model today?
9. Why do you think that John the Baptists disciples were so dumbfounded?
10. Jesus modeled fasting, but did not demand it. So, what has He called you to do about fasting? Have you tried it? If so, what happened?
11. Jesus is more concerned with our attitudes and motivations, not what we do on the outside. So, does that mean that what you do is not important? Why, or why not?
12. Fasting is a way for you to draw closer to God. Have you ever done this? Do you think it would help you grow further in your faith development? If so, what are the reasons that prevent you from doing a fast?
13. How is this passage another testimony to Jesus Godhood?
14. Has your church ever struggled with what is appropriate and what is not? If so, what are the issues? How can this passage be used to focus on what is appropriate?
15. What do you think the point of this passage is?
16. What is the new wine in your life? What are the old wineskins in your life?
17. How important is timing in your life and relationships? What are some examples?
18. Why should we not advertise our personal holiness? Do you think it would be pretentious and meaningless?
19. In the case of fasting, more often than not it was a show of pretense by one person, meant to attract others to see how great they were--the direct opposite of what it means to fast. Why would they do that? How have you seen this attitude in the church today? What can we do about it?
20. Fasting was, and still is an important way to engage an uncluttered mind in prayer, as fasting done properly will remove most, if not all, distractions from your mindset. What can you do to set up a plan to practice real, authentic fasting in order to draw nearer to God? Will you commit to this?
For more information on fasting, and how to fast, see our study on Matthew 6: 16-18.
© 2003 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.com