14 Then John’s disciples came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests be sad while the groom is with them ? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one patches an old garment with unshrunk cloth, because the patch pulls away from the garment and makes the tear worse. 17 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” — Matthew 9:14-17
Then They Will Fast
by Roger Severino
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, apparently His disciples did not fast, at least not on a regular basis. This caused some of John the Baptist’s disciples to come and ask Jesus the obvious question: Why not? Jesus’ answer gives us some insight into His claims about Himself, and it may teach us something about fasting as well.
People who attended my wedding over 25 years ago told me that we had an amazing reception with incredible food. I was too busy greeting people in the reception line and doing the “groom thing,” so I missed out on most of it. My in-laws spared no expense putting on a feast for this celebration. Thankfully, they did not think this was an occasion for mourning and prove that by asking all the guests to fast at the reception!
In our passage today, Jesus says that the reason His disciples do not fast is because they are wedding guests in the presence of the groom (Jesus). This is not a time to be sad but to celebrate. What does this mean, that Jesus is the Bridegroom? In the Old Testament, the bridegroom analogy was often attributed to God (see Isaiah 54:5-6; 62:4-5; Hosea 2:16-20) and was at times connected to the Messiah’s arrival. The messianic age has dawned! Jesus, the Messiah, is here!
But Jesus says, “The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Do we have evidence that this occurred? In fact we do. The Book of Acts describes several occasions in which the followers of Jesus fasted: Acts 13:3; 14:23; 27:9.
So, what possible insights do we gain for fasting today from this passage? We stand in the same position as the disciples after Jesus ascended to heaven. Yes, Jesus indwells us by His Spirit, but we still long to see Him fact-to-face. His first advent is behind us and we await His Second Coming. I believe this is one of the reasons we fast.
When we fast, we get hungry. Our hunger pain reminds us of our hunger for God. Fasting can be done for different reasons and on various occasions, but it is ultimately a surrender to God, allowing Him to make us more into the image of Christ. It is not about earning God’s favor or trying to bargain with God to get something.
On the occasions when I fast, I would do well to remember that I am mourning whatever separates me from the full expression of Christ’s presence. It is a longing that includes a groaning for Christ to return and make all things right (see Romans 8:22-25). Part of the reason you and I may fast today is that the Bridegroom is not with us, and we long for Him and express this through a fast. Fasting can be an appropriate expression of hungering for Christ’s presence in our lives and groaning for His return.
- If your health allows for it, consider fasting from food by either skipping one meal or going an entire day with only water and other liquids. Allow your hunger pains to remind you of your hunger for Christ’s presence in your life.
- Another focus for your prayer and fasting may be to allow the groaning of your stomach to help you experience the groaning you have with all of creation for Christ’s return to make all things right. Meditate on this longing by reflecting on Romans 8:18-25.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.