Text: Mark 2.18-22
WHO IS JESUS
Our world is one that majors on identity confusion. What am I? What am I as a human being? Apex of creation or energized mud. Am I heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual? Am I male or female? If I’m male, what does that mean? What if I’m female? Am I called to singleness or to marriage? Am I mother material? Am I a democrat or a republican? Am I wise or foolish, strong or weak, beautiful or unattractive? If so, what does that mean about me? How do others perceive me? Am I accepted or rejected?
In our passage, if you were a righteous and holy person, dedicated to the cause of God in the world, you fasted. John’s disciples fasted. The disciples of the Pharisees fasted. Fasting identified you as dedicated to God, and if you didn’t fast, you simply weren’t serious about Him.
And during the earthly ministry of Christ, His disciples did not fast. So some people came to Jesus to let him know that if He wanted to be taken seriously and if He wanted His movement to be taken seriously, He had better start fasting.
That is what is implied in our verse 18, “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’ answer to that question is “if you knew Me, you would have the answer to your question.” In other words, the problem is not with Jesus or Jesus’ disciples but with them. They wanted to fit Jesus into a Judaic box. Are you with us? Are you in line with our sect and ideals?–or not?
This is the way of sinners, then and now, to want a Messiah that we can handle, even chastise for being contrary to what we think He ought to be. So in Luke 7.31-35, Jesus says, “To what shall compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
So we want Christ to be God and not man, man and not God. We want Jesus to be a moral example for good righteous people like ourselves but not a Savior for sinners. We want Jesus to be love and to speak well of us but not just and holy and righteous and condemning, though He is perfect in all these. Why? Because it is what suits us, even if it is not what saves us!
The people demand to know why Jesus and His disciples aren’t fasting. Fasting, in their minds, is what holy people do. If Jesus is holy, He ought to be fasting. But Jesus flips it on them and says, “if you know Who I Am, you’d stop fasting and start feasting! because that is what sinners do in the presence of the Bridegroom!”
The fundamental identity issue for sinners is “who is Jesus?”
THE BRIDEGROOM IS WITH THEM, 2.19-22.
And in verses 19-20, Jesus gives the answer: “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.’”
A Wedding is No Time for Fasting
As you may know, the wedding day in an American culture typically lasts one afternoon and night, and is made up of two parts, the ceremony and the subsequent banquet. In various parts of the world, this marriage celebration can last a week or longer. And in Jesus’ day, the festivities would last from anywhere between 3 and 7 days.
But now imagine someone coming up to me, the groom, during the festivities and saying “why are you celebrating, why are you feasting–don’t you know, this is a wedding, you ought to be in mourning!” And many in our day conceive of marriage in such a way! But it is entirely inappropriate to the moment. It is a glad occasion, time for feasting, not fasting.
And that is what Jesus is communicating to the people and to us: the Bridegroom is now here, the wedding is commencing. And this wedding is definitely no time for fasting.
What is Jesus communicating by the use of the title “Bridegroom”? I think a few things:
1. I am God [Isa 54.5-6; 62.4-5; cf. Mk 1.3, 7].
2. I have a Bride to redeem. That there is a Bridegroom implies a bride. If we look carefully at verse 19 again, we find that there are wedding guests, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” And these are clearly the disciples of Jesus. And from His wedding parables, we learn that the wedding guests are all who come to the Bridegroom at His beckoning. In other words, the church, consisting of all those who have been and will be born of God and believed in Christ, this is His bride.
But she stood in need of redemption. . . . The glorious uniqueness of divine love, that is, God’s love for us in the Bridegroom, is not that He loved us while we were godly. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5.6-8). It is not that we loved Him first, but that He first loved us. The Bridegroom took the initiative to love the unlovely. How?
3. I have a cross by which to redeem her, 2.19 [Rev 19.1-10; Eph 5.25]. . . . and He purchased an estate for her.
4. I have an estate to give to her [Jenny’s gift, my mistake, not Christ, [Mk 14.22-25; Ezekiel 36.24-27; Eph 1.3-14].
Summary in plain gospel terms: the offer of the gospel is an appeal to be Wed to God in Christ.
THE SUPREMACY OF THE BRIDEGROOM’S GOSPEL, 2.21-22.
Now Jesus uses two parables to get at the supremacy of this gospel.
So let’s read them together, discover the principle and then unfold it.
“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.”
The new and the old are incompatible and any attempt to join them will have ruinous consequences. The old must be forsaken by a supreme regard for the new, and that is the joy and privilege of fresh wineskins [which, in our text, must be the sinners and tax collectors coming to treasure Christ and His gospel].
And there is no question that what is new is, first, Christ Himself and, then, the gospel that He brings. This has been plain through the first two chapters of Mark’s Gospel. . . .
What hasn’t been as plain until now is that what it all means is: being wed to Christ means dying to every other love as supreme. In other words, Christ is to be the Bride’s great longing and any other love that tries to creep in to that relationship is disaster waiting to happen. [importance: none do this but the bride; and all else is idolatry]
Listen to Augustine: “Suppose, brethren, a man should make a ring for his betrothed, and she should love the ring more wholeheartedly than the betrothed who made it for her. . . . Certainly, let her love his gift: but, if she should say, ‘The ring is enough. I do not want to see his face again,’ what would we say of her? . . . The pledge is given her by the betrothed just that, in his pledge, he himself may be loved. . . .” (71, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy).
Or Samuel Rutherford: “Our love to Him should begin on earth, as it shall be in heaven; for the bride taketh not by a thousand degrees so much delight in her wedding-garment as she doth in her bridegroom; so we, in the life to come, howbeit clothed with glory as with a robe, shall not be so much affected with the glory that goeth about us, as with the Bridegroom’s joyful face and presence” (23).
So I want us to feel this in consideration of three things in which we see clearly the supremacy of the new, that is, Christ and His salvation:
1. Christ is all our righteousness [Phil 3.1-10].
2. Christ is all our life [Lk 14.7-24]. Bonhoeffer.
3. Christ is all our longing [fasting as evidence of grace]. And this, in our passage, is most immediately expressed in the spiritual discipline of fasting [Mk 2.20, explained]. As with all the spiritual disciplines, what makes fasting new, what makes it distinctively Christian is that it arises from the soul’s supremely treasuring Christ [backwards and forwards]. Backwards, hence it is not meritorious but evidence of grace. Forwards, hence it longs for the fullness of what we have begun to taste [Rev 19.1-10]. In other words, the church is to be a longing Bride.
THE STORY OF SIR THOMAS CREW
The occasion of Richard Sibbes sermon, The Bride’s Longing, on Rev 22.20, is the death of Sir Thomas Crew. Sibbes describes him very eloquently as a very great but humble saint. And then he states, “I come in a word to the time of his sickness, and so to the hour of his death. . . . Toward his end, he considered that he was now for another and a better place. Therefore, when he was invited to dinner in the house of which he was, in Gray’s Inn, saith he, ‘I must dine in another place.’ When his sickness did seize upon him more sharply, though the pain thereof took away a great part of the powers of his soul, yet he did manifest a great deal of strength of faith by divers words that fell from him:
“As the hart brays after the rivers of water, so panteth my soul after thee, O God,
“And as the church doth here, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly,’
“He was displeased with then about him, that out of their love to him did recall him by cordials out of a swoon, and so protracted his life longer than he would have had it: ‘You keep me too long from Christ,’ saith he.”
Brothers and sisters, Christ invites us tonight to this: a resting in His righteousness, a prizing of His Person, a longing for His immediate and eternal presence. May Christ Community Church be a bride with an eye for Christ alone, a bride eager in all our doings for the marriage supper of the Lamb.