Last Sunday I preached from Luke 5:33-39.
The people observing Jesus and his disciples noticed a curious thing: they didn’t fast. This was odd because everyone knew that if you were serious about your faith, if you were a truly pious and devout Jew, you would spend regular times in fasting and prayer. And so the people inquired about this. They said to Jesus, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink” (v. 33). John’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples were light-years apart theologically, yet they both fasted. But not the followers of Jesus? “What’s up with that?,” the people wondered.
The answer Jesus gave had everything to do with who he was. He said, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days” (vs. 34, 35). Fasting was associated with pining and sorrow. You certainly wouldn’t fast at a wedding celebration. It’s a time for joy and feasting! For the same reason, Jesus said, my disciples shouldn’t fast as long as I’m with them. It’s not fitting. My presence among them is a time for feasting, not fasting
Of course what Jesus implied was that he was the Lord, the Christ, the Son of God. Therefore his being among his disciples was an occasion for joy, not sorrow. What about for Christians today? Should we fast, or should we rejoice? The answer is “yes”. Jesus is no longer with us physically as he was with his disciples then. We are waiting for his return. And so the practice of fasting is certainly appropriate (though something of a lost discipline; I confess I have not made fasting a part of my devotion to Christ. I suspect it’s the same for most Christians. I think we are poorer for it). At the same time, Christ is still with us just as truly and personally as he was with his disciples then. So we ought to rejoice in that wonderful reality – the Lord is with us!
Jesus went on to make a larger point, and that is his coming into the world meant a radical change in the way God’s people would serve and worship him. He said “new wine must be put into new wineskins” (v.38). What he meant is that all the rituals and laws of the old, Mosaic covenant that were shadows and types of the promised Christ were now obsolete with his coming into the world (and insofar as fasting was bound up with those old covenant practices, it too had to change).
As Christians then, we worship Christ not with animal sacrifices and through the Levitical priesthood. But we worship him, and through him God the Father, in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Christ is the new wine, and new covenant worship is the fresh wineskin.
If we may extend this principle a bit further, we ourselves are fresh wineskins as we, by the grace of God, put off the habits of our old sinful nature and put on Christ-like qualities and habits. And so, as Paul says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). Only as the Holy Spirit enables us to put on these Christ-like qualities are we then vessels fit for Christ, fresh wineskins for new wine.
New Members/Inquirers Class
I’m excited to begin this Sunday a New Members/Inquirers class. The book we’ll use is a new one that I’ve used once before and found to be excellent: Presbytopia by Ken Golden. The book covers the basics of Christian doctrine, the distinct teachings and practices of Reformed theology, and the means of grace (Word, sacraments, and prayer). I hope it will be an instructive time for those newer to the material, and a great refresher for those more familiar with it.
Soli Deo Gloria!