Then the disciples of John came to him saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and they will fast. No one puts on a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch pulls away from the garment and tear is made worse. Nor do they put wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins will break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”(vv. 14-17)
The Pharisees and John were doing things and acting under the Old Covenant; and part of that law was to fast. Fasting was a religious duty; as a way of being faithful to God and showing that you’re obedient and subservient to Him. In those days, one fasted to show that you were more devout in following God. It was considered as a religious practice for effective prayers.
When He was questioned about fasting, we found Jesus’ answer in verse 15; “Imagine being at the wedding supper with the bridegroom and the bridegroom’s friends are fasting? The groom doesn’t call his attendants to fast when it’s time to be merry.”
Jesus was trying to see if you understood the other parable about the king giving a banquet in a wedding for his son. He was trying to point out to the listeners that He was the son who was going to marry the bride; and to the disciples, how they were going to be one bride to him. But the problem with the people was that Jesus spoke in parables, and not everything He said was understood. Even today, the parables remain a mystery to many people and that is a reason for this book.
Many people today think that fasting is a way of putting God’s arm up behind his back, like putting pressure on God if you’re not getting your prayers answered when you really want them answered. You should fast for three days or twenty days and make sure that God answers your prayer. This is a religious approach to fasting, too, and is just like the way the Old Covenant people acted.
The book of James says that “good and perfect gifts come from the Father of lights” (James 1:17), and if you want something good and perfect, the Father won’t deny you. In the modern day, going into some sort of fast isn't going to push the Father’s hand for you. Similarly, in the Old Testament, fasting per se wasn’t effective. They were fasting as a religious form of self-righteousness, and Jesus was having none of it. He knew who He was. He was the Son of God, and He didn’t need to do anything to impress the Father. In fact, from sun up to sundown, all Jesus said and did was the will of the Father. He walked totally in the perfect will of His Father. He’d never done one thing wrong. So fasting was something that wasn’t needed.
Even before Jesus began His public ministry, when He came out from His baptism by John, it was recorded that the heavens parted and the dove descended as the Holy Spirit and rested on His shoulder. God said out of heaven, “Behold my Son in whom I’m well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17) Jesus hadn’t even done any public ministry yet, and the Father already was pleased.
Today the application of this is that we don’t have to do anything special to impress God. God has already been impressed; He was impressed by the blood of Jesus Christ. The cross of His Son and the blood covenant that was shed on that cross made a way for us. God has been fully impressed that the law and the condemnation that we deserve was nailed to Jesus Christ. All of our sins were nailed to that cross.
The disciples of John were trying to make Jesus fit in to the Old Covenant, and Jesus was having none of it. He was expressing the New Covenant. But the actual New Covenant didn’t really come into being until the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many of the sayings and commandments of Jesus Christ in the red letters in your Bible are actually harder to fulfill, similar to the Old Testament.
Jesus was saying what the covenant was bringing; the new wine that was being shed was His blood. This new wine of grace can’t fit in to the old wineskins. It just doesn’t fit. The old wineskins were old and should be used for the old wine; and the new wine should not be put in to them or they’ll burst.
If you try and live under the New Covenant but still be bound up by the Ten Commandments and the laws, you will get into big trouble. It will be like trying to put the new wine into old wineskins.
Laws can be as simple as:
you have to go to church;
you cannot forsake the gathering of the brethren;
you have to pray each day;
you have to read your Bible daily.
You don’t have to follow the Old Covenant law to be bound up and be self-righteous. If you try and mix your own form of law with grace, it just doesn’t work. Similarly, the New and the Old Covenants were not built to mix together. It’s just like putting a new bit of cloth on an old pair of jeans; it’ll make the old pair of jeans rip. That’s what Jesus said about unshrunk cloth.
The New Covenant in the Old Covenant mixing is just a recipe for disaster. I lived in that condemnation, guilt and shame; and the load that was on my shoulders was so heavy I felt so depressed. I thought I was going to hell because I was stuck in some form of habitual sins.
It wasn’t until I sat under some teaching that said the law has passed away and that as New Covenant believers we are not to come under the judgment of the law anymore that I was able to get free from my habitual sins. It wasn’t until I was convinced that I was forgiven of my past, present and future sins that I was able to move out from within the shame and condemnation that the law brought upon me
Are you like me? Are you mixing a bit of law with the grace? Are you someone like John saying that the way of Jesus was just all too easy? Is grace too easy for you? Do you have to do your penance? Is there a form of sacrifice that you have to do to be worthy of God? Do you fast some of your TV time? Do you fast some of your meals? Do you fast some of the time in front of your children and with your family to do things for God? Are you busy running around serving God and doing things in self-righteousness? Are you one of John’s apostles?
Trying to remain free and forgiven by Jesus whilst also believing you have to fulfill he impossible requirements of the law, is like mixing bitter drink with the sweet. If you mix them, all will taste bitter. The law was given and it was meant to be bitter. The law was meant to show us that we need Jesus and then when we have accepted Jesus we were meant to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit and not the law.
If you try and obey the law it is like putting bitter wine in old wineskins and they will burst. Jesus is saying you cannot mix the Old Covenant with the New. If you try and do so, you will always feel the weight of sin in your life.
Are you like the Pharisee or you’re one of Jesus disciples - totally happy to spend time with Him. Are you totally happy that you are forgiven, righteous, loved, holy, blessed and seated in the heavenly places without doing anything? Can you handle going to heaven for not doing anything or do you have to earn your way?
I think this teaching can be shared many times and not understood. I lived in personal torture, a personal horror of legalism for many, many years, and I certainly don’t want any of you to living that. I encourage you to have a look at all the videos on the parables that I’m teaching here because I believe that the Lord, through the Holy Spirit and through Jesus, has given me pretty divine insight into them.