The Fourth Sunday of Easter April 17, 2005
1 John 2:3-11
14, 205, 308, 45
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to [Jesus], “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”
Dear fellow redeemed—fellow guests at the Marriage Feast of our Lord:
What does a true Christian look like? Can we answer that question? Most people say “no,” but deep down they are constantly trying to judge by appearance or actions who the true Christians are. It can prove to be a quite a fashion show. There are the ones who express their faith in 19th century clothing and hairstyles. There are those who wear the habit or robe of the holy orders. Sometimes, we try to judge by demeanor. Some people judge by whether people look happy and fulfilled, while others expect to find Christians among the stern and proper.
As Jesus carried on His ministry there were a lot of people watching Him. They were eager to see some mannerism, some outward sign by which to judge whether He was the real thing—the Messiah—or not. In our text, the issue was fasting. Why didn’t Jesus’ disciples fast like others did? The response given by Jesus, was to point to the Feast, the Fast, and the Ferment of New Wine. May the Holy Spirit guide our thoughts as we consider that I. Jesus’ presence is cause for joyous feasting and II. The effect of His presence cannot be contained in old attitudes
First of all, Jesus teaches us that His presence calls for joyous feasting, not fasting. In the Biblical context, fasting was a sign of grief over sin. It conveyed an awareness of God’s wrath, and that in such a state it was just not right to indulge in the pleasure of eating good food. Fasting was seldom actually required of Israel. Only one day out of the year was declared a fast day for Israel. But the Pharisees saw fasting largely as an exercise intended to gain something—either the favor of God or the admiration of men. It was against this Pharisees’ fasting that Jesus warned when He said: “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:16).
But the issue of the day, remember, was that Jesus’ disciples were not fasting at all, at least at that point, and some were concerned that they didn’t look religious enough. To this, Jesus responded that the cause for all fasting was removed because of His presence. Have you ever seen anybody at a wedding dressed in sackcloth an ashes? How inappropriate! A wedding is a time for celebration, for feasting, for bringing out the best clothes and accessories we have in life. Why? Not for self-glory, but to honor those who are being married and to celebrate one of the finest, God-ordained institutions of this earthly life.
Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while they are with the groom? “They cannot!” [v.19] Jesus says emphatically. Can poor mortals and sinful creatures mourn and fast and show fear and long faces when in the presence of Jesus? Not if they truly know who He is and why He is there! He is their Savior! He is their joy, peace, and life! These early days of Jesus’ ministry were days of joyous fellowship for Him and His disciples. They believed that Jesus was the Son of God who received and loved them as brothers, in spite of their bickering, their guilt, their bungling imperfections. In Jesus’ presence they felt no fear, no shame, no sorrow.
But Jesus also alluded to a shadow that hung over this glad association. Jesus would suffer and die and they all would die inside. They would fast, grieve, hide from others, and hang their heads in shame. Their fasting would be so very real because they would feel so far from Him.
But Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered death. He overcame the spiritual hosts of wickedness that surround us all. He atoned for our sins. He returned to be with His disciples and He assured them that He would always be with them, to the very end of the age. The result of this is that all believers—all of us—in every age, have a living Christ, our Savior, our friend with us for an uninterrupted celebration. When we think of Jesus’ presence with us we know that any cause for fasting quickly comes to an end, and there is every reason for our joyous feasting to continue.
Jesus, after making the comment about the friends being with their bridegroom, went on to make another point. He shows, with two parables, that the effect of His presence cannot be contained in old attitudes.
In the first, Jesus points out that one doesn’t put new, unshrunk cloth over a tear on an old robe. When that patch begins to shrink it will put tension on the old material. The patch will pull away from the other material and destroy what little you had. Jesus said this in condemnation of the popular religion of the day, which, for the Jews, was salvation by keeping the Torah—the Law of the Old Testament. The Old Testament laws were never meant as a means of salvation. If people intended to make Jesus into another prophet bringing new laws for the Jews to follow, they missed the point. The Gospel of Jesus can not blend in with the outworn fabric of works-righteousness and there will be nothing but trouble for those who try to blend the two religions. If we in our day try to take the striking doctrine of the Gospel and patch it onto some other fashionable world religion, we will be left with a patched-up mess of spiritual ruin.
A more compelling picture is that of new wine in old wineskins. New wine is still fermenting, producing gasses, creating pressure. It will not do to try to put this active, growing, expanding thing into old bottles.
Here again, we realize that we cannot just try to squeeze the rich blessings of the kingdom of God into our old routines and habits. When we have discovered some false spirit in ourselves, some bitterness, cynical attitude, or some old grievance, we are foolish to think that such attitudes are compatible with the glorious joy that is ours through the Gospel. The presence of Jesus Christ in the world, the call of the Gospel to believe in Him, and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts are all gifts of God to be simply accepted by faith and taken to heart.
Jesus’ presence in our lives means there is no room for us to carry around old burdens. There is no room nor need to carry heavy burdens—burdens that weigh down our hearts. Jesus asks us only to take up the burden of being His disciples, which is to say, let Him carry our burdens and choose our path. We follow in trust. We come to Jesus tired in our soul and hungry in our hearts. Jesus teaches that we are new in Him, renewed in the knowledge of the living God, and raised to a new life as His beloved children in Christ.
It is the living God who has called us to come to Him, to leave behind our sinful longings, doubts, and ways, to put off the mourning of people who have no hope and live under Him in the joy of Christ our risen Savior. The time has come in our lives to put off miserable fasting, and to celebrate the presence of the Bridegroom! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.