You Should be Fasting!

Mark 2:18-22

Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:14-17; Luke 5:33-39

The next scene Mark jumps to is one in which we find both John’s disciples and the Pharisees fasting, while Jesus and His disciples are going on as normal. Curious about this, one of John’s disciples asks about it; why aren’t you fasting? There is a fairly clear implication that they should be, at least in this man’s mind, but Jesus doesn’t think so.

Jesus gives the man three answers to one question, beginning in verse 19. Likening Himself to a bridegroom, and His disciples to guests of the bridegroom, Jesus indicates to the man that fasting is not appropriate at that current time, for they are in a mood of celebration, yet the day will come when the bridegroom is no longer with His guests, and they will have occasion to fast then.

The second and third answers to the question begin at verse 21:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Mark 2:21-22

In essence, Jesus gives two short parables that are designed to draw a profound distinction between the ministry of John, the Law and the ministry and purpose of Christ. John’s ministry was limited to preparing the way for Jesus, it was really a transitional ministry, under the Law. Jesus, on the other hand, had an entirely different purpose, for His was the purpose of fulfilling the Law and ushering in an entirely new order; the New Covenant. There was nothing about the ministry of Jesus that would serve to patch the old garment of the Law, He was not there to refill an old wineskin; the old garment and the old wineskin had served their purpose and Jesus would replace them both.

There would be no fasting! The Kingdom was at hand in the Person of Jesus Himself. While He was on the scene, fasting was not appropriate.

I often wonder if I harp on this point too much, the point being that the New Covenant has entirely replaced the Old. Am I simply riding a “hobby-horse”?

No I am not. This is a key point in the Christian faith; the Law is over. Just as John’s ministry was transitional in nature, preparing the way for the ministry of Jesus, the Law was transitional in nature, illustrating the reality that was to come through Christ in the New Covenant; that is what Jesus is telling this man in the story, and it is the point we need to comprehend.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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21 Responses to You Should be Fasting!

  1. paulfg says:

    “Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined.”

    Brings to mind the on-going dogma debate between learned theological folk. Which brings to mind a picture of dog-eat-dog. All a bit snarling and quite messy. He knew of what He spoke, this Jesus!

  2. Makes you wonder why so many Christian (preachers and laity) today still insist that The Law be followed. I sometimes think The Way left with the last of the Apostles.

  3. Little Monk says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more on the purpose of the Law. And I agree that fasting in fulfillment of the Law fits in the same category. Let’s call that “ritual-fasting”. On the other hand, there seems to be a right place even in this New Covenant, for “fasting”. I know there are times, quite out of the blue, that the Lord seems to call me to it for a period. Jesus said there would be times that the Companion Disciples would find it right to fast (when He was no longer with them), and so on.

    Any thoughts on this? I know I have “ideas” and some “conclusions” I’ve come to experientially about this… some hypotheses and theories. But I’ve never gotten a solid theology wrapped around it scripturally. Just askin’…

    Grace — LM

    • Don Merritt says:

      LM, this has always been a tough area for me, especially when it comes to trying to find a solid theology, because as best I can tell, there isn’t one. Fasting isn’t mentioned much in the NT, and when it is it’s generally more or less in passing. There is a ritualistic basis in the OT, but I can’t see any particular value to that in a Christian context, considering the fact that OT ritual illustrates NT truth, otherwise the ritual is nothing in itself. So here we are with the reality and truth… and no real guidance.

      All of that leads me to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that fasting is one of those areas in which we individually follow His leading for us. When He leads me to fasting, I comply. When someone else says we must have a time of fasting and prayer for… well, I am skeptical about the “…” for it so often seems like somebody is trying to ‘work the system’ somehow.

      Yes, I know, I’m so terribly helpful 🙂

      • Little Monk says:

        Actually, that’s not unhelpful. Happy to see that your experience seems to parallel my own in this area. Sometimes, inexplicably, God seems to “call it”, without a lot of discussion. The issue of the healing of the “epileptic boy” stand out in my mind as the most dramatic mention of NT fasting (“much prayer and fasting”) and THAT reference is open to discussion of placement and timing.

        The best “understanding” I’ve come to… (as opposed to an “explanation” I think works for me or anyone else)… is… particularly when in intercession or petition, particularly when that’s unusually intense… some people look at fasting to “convince” or “persuade” or “motivate” God to answer prayer. I’ve never been happy with that… neither as a mechanic, nor as reflecting the heart of God. It’s the grace, compassion and mercy of God through the Holy Spirit that is prompting us to spend our time in intercession in the first place. To me, it seems ridiculous to imagine that our intercession is a process of trying to “persuade” or “motivate” God to be gracious. That just sours my stomach as a concept.

        BUT… what DOES make sense somehow, is that “fasting as an act of material FAITH”, when COMBINED with prayer and intercession… this makes sense as a prayer mechanic. It’s not a matter of “blackmailing God” (as I know some friends who do)… but rather that in submission, obedience, and faith I will engage in this exercise… and “wrap it together with” my prayer. Not a matter of “sending the petition to heaven” as much as the other direction… “translating the power of God’s grace” into our four-dimensional world.

        That probably makes no sense, it’s hard for me to wrap words around it… but the “direction” thing is really the point. Making spiritual grace and dunamis, physically immediately present in miracle. Ugh… sorry… my words limp. But anyway…

        Grace — LM

        • Don Merritt says:

          Well, to be honest, i follow you entirely. No, of course we aren’t going to persuade God and all of that nonsense. It’s always been my experience that when he leads my to fasting, it turns out in the end, that he led me there because that’s where I needed to be, rather then me going there as a technique of some kind. Yes, following Him there is simply obedience and faith, because I’ve never understood what was really going on when it began… and several times I wasn’t all that sure what it was about until later.

          • Little Monk says:

            Yup yup… exactly. In fact, the first time I had this call, as a free-wheeling Christian, rather than as a liturgical exercise… I took the unction to my mentor, rather abashedly, saying something like “um… hey… I’ve got what may be a dumb question… do you know anything about… um… ‘fasting’?”

            Led to a great discussion much like this one. Consideration of all the scriptural referents to fasting, and its variations; different methodologies; and basically the instruction to… “do as the Lord said and led”, and just inform him (as supervisor) when it was on, and when it was off… being sure I spoke to him daily, so he could monitor that I was well. (basic safety/accountability).

            The only “odd” thing he said, and this reminded me of your comment above, was… in his experience, the Lord always held some wondrous gift of growth, grace, or understanding… when this finished. Not that it was a “deal” by any means… he’d just found that when God called for fasting, it always ended with a new understanding in his life.

            I have experienced the same. I think I hear an echo of that in your words as well.

            Cool stuff… grace. No?

  4. Is it correct to say the law is over? Jesus said He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Paul also says we are to obey the law in rebuke to those who sin to receive more grace. Would it be fair to say the law is still of account in terms of obediance to God;s will, but over in terms of a means of salvation? Just got me thinking.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Jeffrey, i think it’s more than fair to say it’s over, for as the Hebrews author tells us, it’s “obsolete”” and “useless.” Maybe the thing to keep in mind is that the Law was much more than a moral code, it was also a civil and ceremonial code. Those things, along with the moral code were only illustrations of the reality that was to come in Christ… and He came. Thus He fulfilled it and replaced its promises with better promises; forgiveness of sins and eternal life, which are two things that weren’t even contemplated in the Law, for the Jews, even today have no concept in their theology of eternal life. So, I’d have to say not only is the Law over, but praise God that it is!

      Maybe the one aspect of this that causes confusion is the moral code. The end of the moral code does not mean that we are free to be wild and crazy, for it was replaced with a much higher moral standard when the written code was done away with, and His laws were “written on our hearts”. For in that, while we no longer have a transactional code of ordinance – violation – condemnation, but rather a relational standard of love, Christ-likeness and forgiveness in which the motivations of the heart are the main focus instead of the mere outward actions.

  5. The “Law” IS over and thank God for that!

    There is no way you harp on that point to much, obviously there are many who have yet to “get” the message…

  6. Skye says:

    I absolutely loved your comment to LM and this post. It cleared up much in my mind. Thank you, Don!! 🙂

  7. Don, thank you for this post. I think there is always confusion between the Old Covenant and the New. If we would authentically focus on Jesus’ two commands – love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves – we would desire to obey God in our hearts through the Spirit, and would carry them out above the pharisees, as he requires us to.

    Paul said written law only serves to illustrate our sin, not keep us from it. We simply must rely on the Spirit to guard our hearts and minds in this matter. We must live in the freedom that Christ brought us. Otherwise, we will become once again chained to laws we cannot hope to keep.

  8. DGHDelgado says:

    Thanks for this dialogue on fasting. Have seriously been wondering why people don’t talk about this.

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