Red Letters #22: What About Fasting?


Photo by Ben Ostrower on Unsplash

Matthew 9:14-15 Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? 15 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

We’re continuing our sermon series called “The Red Letters”, focusing on the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ. Last week we saw that Jesus had just called Matthew – also known as Levi the son of Alphaeus- to salvation. When Jesus said “Follow Me” Matthew immediately got up from his tax table, and leaving all on the table, he began to follow Jesus. If you remember the first thing Matthew did was throw a party, and invite all his lost friends over to his house to meet Jesus. This party ruffled a bunch of feathers. First, it offended the Pharisees, who asked,

Matthew 9:11 … Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?

Jesus answered simply,

Matthew 9:12 … They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

Mark 2:17 … I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Jesus Christ came to this earth to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), and since we are all sinners far from the glory of God (Romans 3:23), this is not just GOOD news, but GREAT news. Jesus …

Titus 2:14 … gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

If Jesus Christ came to redeem sinners, what better way to do so than to sit down and eat with them?

This is what Jesus wants of us. He wants to be in our daily lives. Jesus told the lukewarm Church at Laodicea:

Revelation 3:20 … Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will SUP with him, and he with me.

To “SUP” is to “eat with”. Eating is the most common thing that everyone, regardless of status or race, does. We all eat. God wants to be with in our daily lives. This is why Christ came – not to exclude any, but to include whosoever will in the Messianic Gospel Call. Praise Him, Praise Him forever!

The Pharisees Exit, And John’s Disciples Enter

Right after Jesus answers this question, next comes the Disciples of John the Baptist. There is a difference between the disciples of the Pharisees and the disciples of John. The Pharisees come to Jesus to criticize His ministry. The disciples of John are followers of the greatest Prophet who ever lived. Jesus said this, so it must be true:

Luke 7:28 … I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist:

Jesus said it, and I believe it. But now the disciples of John come to Jesus to question this very same party at Matthew’s home. They ask:

Matthew 9:14 Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?

They are not being critical, but are honestly seeking to understand more about Jesus. These disciples of John were told by their leader that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. John said on seeing Jesus:

John 1:29 … Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

John was the Prophet who would herald the coming of the Messiah. John told his disciples:

Luke 3:16 … I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:

John told his disciples that “Jesus must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John as the forerunner of Christ was the last Old Covenant Prophet. Jesus said of John:

Matthew 11:13 … all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.

The “Prophets and the Law” is the Old Testament of our Bibles. The Old Testament was written specifically to prophesy and teach about the coming Messiah. Jesus said:

John 5:46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.

It was after His death and resurrection that Jesus had a Bible class, and …

Luke 24:27 … beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

The only “scripture” that existed at this time in human history was the Old Testament writings. Jesus Christ is the Messiah Who was prophesied in the Old Testament, the Messiah heralded by John the Baptist, the Messiah of whom the angels sang. Jesus Christ is God’s method unto salvation.

I know it seems as if I am chasing rabbits, but I’m not. John, the greatest Prophet ever, preached until Christ was revealed. After Christ was revealed at His baptism the crowds that came to John began to dwindle. Why?

  • Because the Herald’s job was done. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords had come, and was building a kingdom around Himself. So John’s ministry became obsolete.
  • Because Herod Antipas imprisoned John. It wasn’t long after Jesus’ baptism that Herod Antipas got in an argument with John the Baptist. You see, Herod (the present Governor of Israel) divorced his wife Phasaelis, a daughter of Aretas IV, an Arab leader. He then married Herodias, who was not only his niece but also his sister-in-law. John told Herod the Biblical truth. He told him…

It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matthew 14:4)

Herod Antipas had John thrown into prison (Matthew 4:12) just as Jesus’ ministry started.

John’s disciple, though loyal to their Leader, were like sheep without a Shepherd (Matthew 9:36).

These good, moral and upright men heard John preach on the Messiah, saw John point to Jesus as the Messiah, saw their master John baptize Jesus as the Messiah …. but they never quite understood that Jesus is the Messiah. They were not disciples of Jesus, but disciples of John. They saw Jesus as “just another Teacher” like John was a teacher. Jesus explained to them that He is more than “just another teacher”. Jesus asked them a question:

Matthew 9:14-15 Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? 15 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

Jesus Christ is not just another teacher (though He is Great Teacher). Jesus is the Bridegroom. John told this to these very same men. He said:

John 3:28-31 … Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. 29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.

John saw himself (and rightly so) as the “friend of the Bridegroom”, the “Best Man” at the wedding. Jesus is “The Christ”, the Messiah Who was sent from God to be the Savior of His people:

Matthew 1:21 {the virgin called Mary} … shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Jesus came building a kingdom, the Kingdom of God. He is the Bridegroom. Who is the “Bride”? It is the Church of Christ. It is the people who have received Christ as Savior. The Apostle Paul uses this image when he describes what Christian marriage should be like. He says:

Ephesians 5:25-30 … Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

Though John’s disciples were still following the Old Testament sacrifices and rituals (including ritual fasting), Jesus is the Author of the New Covenant, the Husband of His Church. We who love Him are bound to Him by faith in His Blood:

Romans 3:23-28 … For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that {God the Holy Spirit} might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

The disciples of John, following their master (the last Prophet of the Old Testament), continued to do the works of the Law. They fasted WITH the Pharisees not because the Law or God said to do so, but because it was tradition.

The “Free Bible Commentary” notes:

In the Old Testament there was only one official fast day called Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, cf. Leviticus 16) held each year. However, the rabbis had made the second and fifth days of the week fast days also (cf. Luke 18:12), supposedly basing them on the day that Moses went up on Mt. Sinai and on the day that he came back down. Fasting had become a way to prove one’s religious commitment. Jesus does not condemn the practice, but neither does He affirm it as required.”

Jesus tells the disciples of John that He is the Bridegroom, the Husband of His Church. While Jesus is with His Church – the disciples that are at this time following Him – there is no fasting or mourning. There is only celebration! The Messiah has come! Jesus has come!

The reason the Jews fasted was to focus on the Lord, to draw nearer to God. It is like the Prophetess Anna, who “departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:36-38). Anna waited for the coming of the Messiah. But when Anna saw the Messiah, the eight day old baby of Mary’s in the Temple that day, she “gave thanks likewise unto the Lord”. Anna celebrated. I suspect that she no longer fasted or stayed in the Temple, for like Simeon her eyes saw the salvation of God, a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Israel (Luke 2:30, 32).

Jesus’ disciples had no need to fast. The Bridegroom was here! Jesus is here!

Matthew 9:15 … the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

The phrase “shall be taken” is the Greek ἀπαίρω apaírō, (pronounced ap-ah’-ee-ro), which means “to be seized violently, torn away from”. Jesus began to teach of His upcoming crucifixion. Jesus would be taken from the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayed with the kiss of a friend (Luke 22:48). The Bible says:

Luke 22:63-65 … the men that held Jesus mocked him, and smote him. 64 And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee? 65 And many other things blasphemously spake they against him.

The Prophet Isaiah, foreseeing the violent taking of Jesus Christ,

Isaiah 52:14 … his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:

Isaiah 50:6 I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

Jesus would be taken violently from us, so that through His suffering and death our sins would be covered, and our souls redeemed. They spat in His face, and beat Him, and struck Him with the palms of their hands (Matthew 26:67). They beat Him with a reed (Mark 15:19). Jesus Christ was violently taken from His growing Church – but He died willingly for you and I. The disciples of John needed to stop looking to John for teaching and blessing, and to look unto Jesus. Beloved, this is where our eyes go.

All eyes on You, Jesus.
All eyes are on You!

Hebrews 12:2 … Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

A Patchwork Faith Cannot Save

Jesus Christ is the Messiah, come into the world to save sinners. The disciples of John were still living under the Old Covenant, the Old Laws of animal sacrifice and ritual. Jesus came to bring to us to God the Father …

Hebrews 10:20 … By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;

Jesus now explains to the disciples of John a great truth that everyone needs to understand. He says:

Matthew 9:16-17 … No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. 17 Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

This is a beautiful illustration. The disciples of John are still following John and the Law. They are living under the Old Covenant. When Jesus Christ came to this earth He did not come to put a patch on the Old Covenant. He came to bring to mankind a New Covenant, a Covenant of Grace found by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the first illustration Jesus speaks of patching clothes. I don’t know how many of you ever wore patched clothes, but growing up I and my brother and sister often wore patched clothes. At times daddy only made about 25$ a week. Being kids, we were rough on our clothes. We’d run, slide, and sometimes wear holes in our pants (usually on the knees or on the seat of the pants). When that happened mama would patch our clothes. The best patch to put on clothes is a patch made from older material. If you put a new patch on a pair of old jeans, then washed them, it would pucker where the patch was. This looked ugly. So you never patched old clothes with new cloth.

In the second illustration Jesus talked about new wine and old bottles. In Jesus day wine was often put into wine skins, bottles made of goat or other animal skins. “New Wine” was somewhat freshly made wine that was still in the process of fermentation. Fermentation produces alcohol in the grape juice, but this same fermentation also produces escaping gasses from the aging liquid. If you foolishly put “New Wine” in old wine skins the fermenting wine would first swell, then later burst the bottles. Your wine would be lost.

The followers of Christ are not followers of John the Baptist – they follow Jesus. Jesus Christ is the One Who brought to God’s people the New Covenant. In the Old Testament God promised His Old Covenant Israel:

Jeremiah 31:33-34 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (see also Hebrews 10:16-17)

God gave His Old Covenant Law to Israel, a good and blessed Law that Israel could not keep. God knew that Israel wouldn’t be able to keep the Law when He gave it to them (see Deuteronomy 31:16-18, 20-21; Joshua 24:19). The Law was not given to save anyone. The Law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Him (Galatians 3:24).

The just must live by faith in Him (Habakkuk 2:4)

Greg Allen, the Pastor of Bethany Bible Church, in his message “From Fasting to Feasting”, said:

I believe that the lesson Jesus is seeking to teach us in this is that we can’t make the old patterns of the old covenant somehow become updated and relevant by simply patching new covenant realities over them. The old covenant patterns won’t hold up under the strain. We would be trying to make works support grace! New covenant realities can’t be used to simply cover over the old covenant patterns. We have to have a whole new garment, as it were; and completely trust Christ for our righteousness before God through grace.”

There is no salvation outside of Christ. We must put our faith in Him, the Bridegroom of the Church. We must receive Him as Lord and Savior. When we do so, something wonderful happens. We are no longer old clothing, nor old wine skins. We undergo a NEW BIRTH, being born again of God’s Spirit. Jesus said:

John 3:3, 7 … Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

It is Jesus Christ Who saves us from our sins. It is Jesus Christ who calls us to salvation, and it is the Holy Spirit Who comes to us at Christ’s request once we believe on Him. When we believe on Jesus we are …

1 Peter 1:23 … born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

Are you a Disciple of John or a Child of King Jesus? Where do you place your faith? My faith is in Jesus Christ, my Lord. He died for me on Calvary’s Tree, and rose again on the third day to lead me throughout this life. We are not saved by the sacrifice of goats and calves, nor by following the Aaronic Priesthood. We are saved by following Jesus. The Scripture says:

Hebrews 9:13-15 … if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: 14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this cause {Jesus} is the mediator of the New {Covenant}, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Oh praise Him! Praise Jesus Christ our Lord! As that old song says:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus name

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand

When darkness veils His lovely face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand!

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Supports me in the ‘whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand!

Praise Jesus Christ, for this is where our salvation lies. Receive Him as Lord and Savior. Put away all other teachers. Run to Him. Be a disciple of Christ. Here, then, is life both now and eternal. May God bless this message through His Spirit and His Word. Amen and Amen!

About bibleteacherorg

A searching Pastor, I am looking for a people who love the Lord and love one another. Daily I pray for the Church. Most of what the world sees today is not the Church, but clubs pretending to be the Church. God is calling to Himself a people willing to be righteous, not self righteous, serving not served. I am called to pastor God's people, those who want to change the world by willingly and willfully following Jesus Christ. Only God is able to change the world, and we must follow His Christ. He is able! Praise His Name! Come quickly Lord Jesus!
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