Let’s be honest – Scripture is often confusing. Often, I read it and understand the words, but the intent and context is lost. This passage may well be written in Greek for many of us. What is Jesus talking about here? Weddings, bridegrooms, garments, wineskins ….
Jesus is using symbols here to communicate a deep and abiding truth about God – the point of fasting, praying, and really all of life is NOT to obey and fulfill God’s laws out of strict adherence to the Law. The point of the Bible and God and the Law is for our hearts to change, so that we fall in love with God and then desire to please Him! God wants to move us from a consumer relationship with Himself (“Okay God, you give me these things that I want, and I’ll pay you back with prayer, fasting and feeding the poor“) to a covenant relationship with Himself (“I am not going anywhere. You have my heart, my life, my all. Where you go, I will follow. I will be who you have called me to be despite my feelings, my circumstances, my everything.”) In other words, God wants you like a husband wants a wife – from now until we die, unwavering, warts and all.
And Jesus is not saying anything new here. Psalm 51:16-17 says,For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
In fact, all of Psalm 51 and many other places in the Old Testament, the prophets, priests and kings of God talk about Joy, Love, Desire, Faithfulness … with passion, desire and longing. They did not have formal, stand-offish, stuffy head knowledge about their God, where they met their legal requirements and went on about their day. They had Relationship with God.
So let’s take these one at a time.
“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.“
Eating food in ancient Israel was about celebration of that moment, and we have carried this practice into today. We eat to celebrate something special that is happening right now – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, promotions, new jobs…. We eat great food to memorialize a moment or occasion.
Fasting in ancient Israel, on the other hand, was by and large associated with mourning. It was also (to a lesser degree) a way to demonstrate publicly that the one fasting was waiting – waiting on an answer from God, waiting for deliverance (the Messiah), to humble oneself before God, to deny earthly pleasure and fulfillment in order to gain heavenly pleasure and fulfillment. 1 Kings 21:9-12; Isaiah 58:5; Jeremiah 36:9; Jonah 3:5; Ezra 8:21; 2 Chronicles 20:3; Joel 1:14, 2:15; 2 Sam 12:16; Leviticus 16:29, 31; Psalm 35:13; Isaiah 58:3-5. Fasting is something you did when things were not going the way you wanted them to.
So when these pharisees ask Jesus why His disciples aren’t fasting, Jesus says that you don’t fast during a wedding but you feast. In other words, Jesus is the Bridegroom and His disciples are the wedding party. You don’t mix mourning with celebrating! Jesus is God’s answer for all of our problems. Jesus is our deliverance. Jesus is our Sacrificial Lamb who lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died, so that we now have Christ’s righteousness! Jesus is our heavenly pleasure and fulfillment. The disciples were in the middle of a party – why on earth would they fast and beg God for what they had in the flesh? Jesus is the Bread of Life. Jesus was there, in their midst! They had all they every wanted and more right there in Jesus Christ.
I put the picture of the starving boy eating bread off of the dirty floor to remind you and me that while you and I can theoretically talk about hungering for righteousness, there are many in the world who are literally physically starving. And because we have been fed, because God has blessed us with our daily bread, He has also enabled us to pour out what God has given us to those who don’t have food. (See Matthew 25:35, Isaiah 58:10, Proverbs 28:27, James 2:14-18, Luke 3:11, Proverbs 14:31, 1 John 3:17-18, John 6:35, Proverbs 31:20, Matthew 14:15-21, Romans 12:20, Proverbs 22:9...and on and on and on….) This is not a theological or theoretical idea – it is outside of your door, next door, and in your city. You shake hands with hungry people, and pass them in the grocery store. So consider being the hands and feet of Jesus today.“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.“
The patch of unshrunk cloth and the new wine represent the new reality that has come with Jesus – the Kingdom of God is here! The Bridegroom has come. And it is not merely temporary, but eternal.
The “old garment” here in this context is the fasting that was inherited in the Old Testament. That was how people related to God before Jesus. Now that Jesus has come, we no longer need to relate to God using that old system.
Will we still fast? Of course – not to mourn or beg God or earn His blessing. No. Jesus has come and has had a decisive victory over sin, death and Satan. The great desire of our hearts, our great need and want, is not something or someone in our future, but Someone who came in the past.
Jesus came. The Bridegroom came. We now fast for the return of Jesus. We now fast because we have been delivered from our sins and death, but we still feel and strain and struggle against the darkness in this world. We now fast because we long to see His beauty, His righteousness, His final deliverance. We now fast because we have tasted and seen of Jesus, and it is so real and satisfying that He is all we want and need from now until eternity.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.“
Jesus is the New Wine, and new wine demands new wine skins (fasting). We have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and we want more. The new fasting is for the new Gospel, the New Testament, the new fact that Jesus came and fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the Law, died, was raised from the dead, ascended and sent His Holy Spirit to be with us.
But we still crave Him. We still long for the day to see Him in the flesh, to see all things made new. The old wine in the old wineskin was fasting for the coming Messiah. The Messiah has come. The new wine in the new wineskin is the new fasting for Jesus to return, for Him to make all things right and all things new. As Romans 8:19 says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”
Oh, and don’t forget that the night before He died, Jesus raised a glass of wine and told His disciples,“In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying,“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:25.
There is a new covenant in Jesus’ blood that has been prophesied for thousands of years and was finally fulfilled on Calvary. And as you live, take communion, fast, and eagerly await His return … do it in remembrance of Jesus.