Jesus is Questioned about Fasting
This passage continues the narrative of Matthew's feast. The Pharisees were not the only ones surprised to see Jesus among tax collectors and sinners; John the Baptist's 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. John's 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 John's 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 John's 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 one's piety, as well as one's 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 John's 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 sheep's 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.
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 Fasting that Delights God
© 2003 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.com