Posts Tagged ‘Christian disciplines’

New Covenant Fasting

What then is new about the new Christian fasting? What’s new about Christian fasting is that it rests on all this finished work of the Bridegroom. It assumes that. It believes that. It enjoys that. The aching and yearning and longing for Christ and his power that drive us to fasting are not the expression of emptiness. Need, yes. Pain, yes. Hunger for God, yes. But not emptiness. The firstfruits of what we long for have already come. The downpayment of what we yearn for is already paid. The fullness that we are longing for and fasting for has appeared in history, and we have beheld his glory. It is not merely future. We do not fast out of emptiness. Christ is already in us the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). We have been “sealed . . . with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given [now!] as a pledge of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13-14; see also 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5). – John Piper, A Hunger for God, 41-41

Looking in the Right Direction

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” – Mark 2:18-22

There are folks who will follow a leader but not listen to him. Perhaps John’s disciples loved his fire and his preaching and how he laid into the Pharisees, but not all of them listened to what he was actually saying. They listened to the preacher but not the message preached.We looked at this passage in small group last night and the group had some really great observations. The contrast here is between the fasting Christians do, or New Covenant fasting, and what came before. The first observation didn’t come from the group but something I caught later. The contrast isn’t just between Christian fasting and the fasting the Pharisees did because John the Baptist is on the other side of this equation. That’s something. The group asked why John still had disciples if Jesus had come and that’s a great question too. I think it might be related to the fact that John’s fasting was different from Jesus’. John the Baptist was the last prophet of the Old Covenant and his job was to point forward to Jesus. When Jesus came to be baptized John said that he should be baptized by Jesus. John announced “Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” when he saw Jesus. John was there when God spoke from heaven, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” And yet, when John was in prison he sent his disciples to Jesus and asked, “Are you the one or should we wait for another?” John had his doubts, like we do, and that’s probably why he didn’t send his disciples after Jesus immediately. Also, there are folks who will follow a leader but not listen to him. Perhaps John’s disciples loved his fire and his preaching and how he laid into the Pharisees, but not all of them listened to what he was actually saying. They listened to the preacher but not the message preached.

So, how was John’s fasting like the Pharisees’ and not like Jesus’? The Pharisees fasting was probably all kinds of messed up. They prayed loud and long in order to get attention. They wore long robes in order to get seats of honor. They made their faces all downcast when they fasted so people would see how holy they were. But if you asked them why they fast, they’d probably have a very good reason that had nothing to do with why they really fasted. Their fast was one of anticipation. It was looking forward to the Kingdom of God coming. For them, that meant David’s son would show up and boot the dirty Romans, probably behead the compromised scribes and clean out the temple. It would mean that their party would be exalted. Messed up but looking forward. John’s was likewise looking forward, anticipating the coming of the one he was sent to herald. And like I said, John didn’t completely get it so his disciples most likely didn’t either. Christian fasting, on the other hand, looks back to the coming of the real Son of David and it looks forward to his return to take David’s throne also. John Piper put it this way in A Hunger for God:

Years ago I wrote in the margin of my Greek Testament beside Matthew 9:17 [a parallel to Mark 2], “The new fasting is based on the mystery that the bridegroom has come, not just will come. The new wine of his presence calls for new fasting.”

In other words, the yearning and longing and ache of the old fasting was not based on the glorious truth that the Messiah had come. (40)

In Jesus’ explanation talking about patches and wineskins you get the anticipation of his return as well as his passion. So Christian fasting looks back at the crucifixion as well as forward to His return. John only looked forward to his coming and the Pharisees were looking entirely in the wrong direction.

The other thing the group talked about was how Jesus’ talk about patches and wineskins applied to his talk about fasting. That may seem pretty obvious but I’ve engage in too many theological discussions where these ideas have been used and abused so they were kind of twisted in my brain. The group dove in without fear and made the observation that I recounted above. What is new is the kind of fasting. Trying to put Jesus’ fasting in the same category as John’s or the Pharisees’ is like sewing a new patch on an old garment or putting new wine in used skins. It won’t work.

And that brings up the last point, a minor one. If you pour grape juice in old wine skins there is no danger of the skins bursting. Only the fermentation process will produce enough gas to stretch new wineskins and burst old ones. The notion that Jesus only dealt with unfermented wine is nonsense and this text as well as others proves it.