We talked about how the first group missed Jesus because of their prejudice that God could not take human form. The second group missed Jesus because they thought that their religious performance made them better than “sinners.” Now we have a third group who criticizes Jesus starting in v18.
18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
This unidentified group criticized Jesus for not fasting. Though these criticizers of Jesus are not identified as being a religious, we can probably assume they are because why would non-religious people even notice the fact that Jesus is not fasting? So this is a third religious group that is critical of Jesus. Are you beginning to see the trend?
We see again how religion is an obstacle to recognizing the real Jesus. They keyed in on the fact that Jesus was not fasting. Maybe they were good at fasting. Maybe they just didn’t like eating. I meet some people like that. They just simply forget to eat. I never forget to eat, as you probably guessed.
So they were good at fasting and they noticed that Jesus is not good at fasting. Maybe they think he is too fleshly.
An important thing to note is that fasting was never a commandment. It was optional. But religious people, we are good at finding whatever optional thing and acting as if it belongs in the Ten Commandments.
I see this kind of thing all the time among Christian leaders. Each leader has their preference and things they are good at. And that’s all fine and good. But that’s not where it ends. Those leaders who have their particular bent and who are good at these optional religious practices begin to talk about it all the time and making people feel guilty for not being able to follow their standards. I fast twice a week. You know fasting is so essential. When I fast, I feel so close to God. Why aren’t you fasting? Maybe you need to struggle with your obsession with food. This shows how you are like Esau, so fleshly. And so these leaders of critical of Jesus because while they and everyone else fasts, Jesus is not fasting.
We take whatever we are good at, even optional things, and we make it out to be a commandment of God so that we can beat people over the head, and in the end, feel great about ourselves. How does Jesus respond to this kind of religion? We see his response in v19.
19Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. 21″No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”
Jesus describes the faith of someone who emphasizes optional spiritual practices so that he can feel good about himself as someone who is putting a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Or it’s like putting new wine into an old wineskin.
Jesus is pointing out a major flaw in the approach of these religious people. They were using religion as self-improvement. They thought they were not that bad. Just a little patch-up job here and there. They thought they were already good and they just needed to fix themselves, a little tweak, a tune-up. You have a tear, you have a bad temper, or anger problems or a bad marriage, here is a seminar to attend, here’s a book to read. We are good people who need religion to make ourselves even better.
They had devised a religious system that worked for them. And they felt good about themselves. Religion was something they could manage and put into a box. And they were so confident that they could point out how others were inferior to them because they could not do simple things like fast.
Jesus was coming to demolish this whole approach to using religion as self-improvement. He said our problem is so significant, you need more than a band-aid. You need to start by admitting that we are failures. We need to throw away everything, our old lives, even our religion. Because Jesus offers us a new wine — himself. To receive this new wine of Jesus, you need a whole new wineskin. Our old religion, our old lives, our old approaches are not compatible with a new Jesus.
It is impossible to fit Jesus into our old religious systems. Meeting Jesus starts with surrendering everything, giving up everything, throwing away the old stuff, starting new, starting over. That’s how we can meet Jesus. When we meet Jesus and receive him into our hearts, Jesus says we are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.
Are you practicing religion or are you ready to start your life over with Jesus?