A really good question often leads to a really good answer. This question posed by John’s followers and the pharisees certainly fit that description. Although they both may have had ulterior motives, the answer was revealing all the same, if they were willing to see it.
Fasting, as it was practiced, was intended to serve a particular purpose. When genuine it demonstrated repentance (or mourning) and anticipation of God fulfilling his promise to send the messiah. Jesus clearly reveals the purpose of the fast had been fulfilled because the groom has come!
If the disciples had insisted on fasting they would have missed the point altogether; they would have missed Jesus.
So, Jesus asks us too, are there good things in our lives, that once served a good purpose, but now only keep us from seeing and savoring Jesus? Is there anything that now robs us rather than helps us? That binds us or blinds us, rather than setting us free to be his children in a hurting world?
Good questions often lead to good answers. Will you ask them with me?
“Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.”What the Pharisees wanted and practiced (some scholars suggest they were fasting twice a week) was a religion that focused on their “actions, habits, and rituals”. It ignored or minimized the presence and fellowship of God (bridegroom). It made much of themselves.
In contrast, Jesus was pointing them to His mission and ministry- a right relationship with God through the Son (New Testament bridegroom). Jesus was teaching that the goal of actions, habits, and rituals should be to grow, strengthen, and nurture our relationship with God. His nearness/presence and fellowship with Him through the Holy Spirit become reason for joy and celebration!!It’s the reason we pray and fast- to be near/close.
I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice, And it told Thy love to me; But I long to rise in the arms of faith And be closer drawn to Thee.
Oh, the pure delight of a single hour That before Thy throne I spend, When I kneel in prayer, and with Thee, my God. I commune as friend with friend!
Fasting and prayer are a method to focus our undivided attention on God and to discover His perspective or direction. The Pharisees fasted because it was part of the law…they did it out of legalistic following of the law of Moses. They had no desire to really know the mind of God. They already knew (or thought they knew!) how God’s plan would work out and that a military leader, the Messiah, would come and free Israel from the oppression of Rome. John’s disciples, on the other hand, fasted because they were truly looking for the Messiah. They had not yet recognized that Jesus was who they were looking for, so they continued to search. They thought it was John, but John said no.
Jesus’ disciples recognized Him as God’s Son. They did not have to ask God to direct them, they just had to listen to Jesus. The time would come when they would fast and pray, but not while Jesus was with them. Where are you? Are you ignoring…are you seeking…have you found…are you serving?
Across the Old and New Testaments, the witness of the Bible is that God shatters the understanding of what’s possible. God is “going to do something new;” he’s “created a new thing on the earth;” the Lord is “making all things new.” And when the Bible says new, it means new: the insignificant soaring to greatness, the weak confounding the strong, the meek inheriting the earth, the blind seeing, the captive tasting freedom, and ultimately, the dead rising to life. What do all these new possibilities require? A place to take root. If God were to confront you with a new possibility – which often looks like something you would least consider to be a work of God – would you recognize it? It’s likely he’s confronting you all the time. Take a second look.
“Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Isaiah 58:6-7
If there was a subtext to what Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, surely this was it. Those who should know better were fixating on minutiae rather than the heart of what we are called to do. The prophet Isaiah saw this, Jesus saw this, and it is fair to assume that we still focus on the small details rather than the heart of our call. Our ministry is to help set free those who are imprisoned by their sin. Those who are shackled by the weight of their choices; we are to be a buoy of hope. We must never forget what the true purpose of any ritual we adhere to. If we can’t see the helpless around us, we are likely missing the point.
Mark 2:14 – “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.”
I often think about the willingness of the disciples to drop everything they had and everything they were doing to follow Jesus. Jesus simply says, “Follow me,” and the scriptures inform us of the ready hearts of the people Jesus called. There is no hesitation. The Bible does not indicate that there was any internal debating going on with the disciples. Levi (Matthew) simply rose up from his table and went after Jesus. He even jumped in with both feet by inviting his friends and colleagues to come and listen to Jesus while they ate a meal together.
These verses always make me take an inventory of my relationship with Christ. Am I ready to follow Him more closely, if need be? Am I ready to have the Gospel conversations with the people that He has placed in my life? Am I willing to get uncomfortable to do what He is calling me to do? Am I ready to stand before the Lord today and say, “Nothing stopped me from wholeheartedly following you!”
Is the Lord calling you to follow Him more closely today? Is He pressing on your heart if you are ready to do what He has laid before you?
There is a lot of comfort from this story. Jesus breaking bread with the unlovely and marginalized. The spiritually elite bent out of shape; couldn’t figure out why Jesus, a now reputable teacher and miracle worker, would waste his time and tarnish his public reputation; they cringed at the thought of the uncleanliness.
Not Jesus. He ate with them, laughed, shared stories…changed their lives. The very people the elite hated, he loved. Aren’t you glad; comforted?
If Jesus dined with them, he certainly would dine with me. In fact, he has…and changed my life. And aren’t you compelled?
If Jesus changed me, and others, by drawing near; spending time with people who needed him most (and others hated), shouldn’t we do the same?
“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”
Levi’s reaction and response to having been called to follow Jesus was amazing. In the very next verse we read where he has been a catalyst for others to be in the presence of Jesus- eating dinner together at his house. Must have been an urgency and sincerity for Levi to leverage his relationships to influence them to be near Jesus and to hear the gospel. Makes me search my own heart to check if I have that same urgency and influence for the gospel. Oh, that the Lord would continue to put people in my path and that I might be faithful to love with sincerity and influence with urgency for the gospel, that the Kingdom of God might grow in number and in strength. Levi’s reaction reminds me of the woman at the well in John 4. “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony”.
The books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels. Synoptic means they each have many of the same parables and stories in them. John is not a synoptic gospel because it comes from a different perspective…it has no parables.
If we read the account of Matthew’s call as a disciple and the dinner with sinners in the other synoptics, we find that they follow the Sermon on the Mount…3 chapters of authoritative teaching that shook people’s perspective. The response of Matthew and this room full of sinners was a direct result of the radical teaching of Jesus.
Had the scribes heard Jesus teach? Probably so. Had they rejected His teaching and held to their traditions? Absolutely! Same words…different ears and different hearts. How have you heard the words of Jesus? Have you allowed them to penetrate your heart with truth? Or…has a barrier in your heart caused you to judge others by your unbelief? Ask God to check your heart!