Then the disciples of John came to him saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them and they will fast. No one puts on a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch pulls away from the garment and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins will break, the wine is spilled and the wineskins are ruined, but they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved” (vv. 14-17).
I have covered much of this passage in Chapters 28 and 29, where I have dug a little deeper. But it is a very important subject so it bears some repetition. The Pharisees and John were acting under the Old Covenant. Part of that law was to fast. Fasting was a religious duty, as a way of being faithful to God and showing that you were obedient and subservient to Him. In those days, you fasted to show that you were more devout in following God. It was considered a religious practice for effective prayers.
When He was questioned about fasting, Jesus implied in verse 15, “Imagine being at the wedding supper with the bridegroom and the bridegroom’s friends are fasting? The groom does not call his attendants to fast when it is time to be merry!”
Jesus was making reference to the other parable about the king giving a banquet at a wedding for his son. He was trying to point out to the listeners that He was the son who was going to marry the bride and it was the disciples who were going to be His bride. However, the problem was that Jesus spoke in parables and not everything He said was understood by the people or the disciples. Even today, the parables remain a mystery to many people and that is the reason for this book.
Many people today think that fasting is a way of twisting God’s arm behind His back in order to get what you want. Like putting pressure on God to hurry up and answer your prayers the way you want Him to: so you fast for three days, or twenty days! This is a religious fasting; this is exactly the way some Old Covenant people acted.
The book of James says that “good and perfect gifts come from the Father of lights” (James 1:17) and if you want something good and perfect, the Father will not deny you. In the modern day, going into some sort of fast is not going to push the Father’s hand for you. If fasting is carried out from a religious spirit of self-righteousness it was worse than a complete waste of time and effort! Jesus was having none of it. He knew who He was. He was the Son of God and He did not need to do anything to impress the Father. In fact, from sun up to sundown, all Jesus said and did was the will of the Father. He would never do one thing wrong, so fasting was something that was not needed.
Even before Jesus began His public ministry, when He came out from His baptism by John, it was recorded that the heavens parted and the dove descended as the Holy Spirit and rested on His shoulder. God said from Heaven, “Behold my Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). Jesus had not done any public ministry yet and the Father was already pleased.
Parable Application: We don’t have to do anything special to impress God. The Father has already been impressed; He was impressed by the blood of Jesus Christ. The cross of His Son and the blood covenant that was shed on that cross made a way for us. God has been fully impressed that the law and the condemnation that we deserved was nailed to Jesus Christ. All of our sins were nailed to that cross.
The disciples of John were trying to make Jesus fit in to the Old Covenant and Jesus was having none of it. He was expressing the New Covenant but the actual New Covenant did not really come into being until the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The teaching and commandments of Jesus are shown in red lettering in some Bibles: these are much harder to fulfill, than the original laws in the Old Testament.
The old wineskin is the Old Covenant Law, while the new wineskin is the New Covenant of Grace established by the cross of Christ and verified by His bodily resurrection. Jesus was explaining what the New Covenant was bringing; the new wine that was being shed was His blood. This new wine of grace cannot fit into the old wineskins. It just does not fit. The old wineskins were old and should be used for the old wine and the new wine should not be put into them or the skin will burst. If you try and live under the New Covenant but are still being bound up by the Ten Commandments and the other Laws, you will get into big trouble: it’s a futile effort!
Laws can be as simple as: you have to go to church; you cannot forsake the gathering of the brethren; you have to pray each day; you have to read your Bible daily. You see, you don’t have to follow just the Old Covenant Law to be bound up and become self-righteous! (Some people allow themselves to be bound up even in the New Covenant.) If you try and mix your own form of law with grace, it’s impossible for you to be joyful. Similarly, the New and the Old Covenants were not built to mix together. It is just like putting a new bit of cloth on an old pair of jeans; it will make the old pair of jeans rip. That is what Jesus meant about un-shrunk cloth.
Mixing the New Covenant with the Old Covenant is a recipe for disaster. I lived in that condemnation, guilt and shame. The load that was on my shoulders was so heavy, I felt deeply depressed. I thought I was going to Hell because I was stuck in some habitual sins.
It was not until I sat under some teaching that said the Law has passed away and that as New Covenant believers we are not to come under the judgment of the Law anymore, that I was able to get free from my habitual sins. There are just so many Scriptures in Romans, Galatians, Corinthians and Hebrew that blew me away, in this learning process. It was not until I was convinced that I was forgiven of my past, present and future sins that I was able to move out from the shame and condemnation that the Law brought upon me. The more I felt bad about my sin, the more I sinned!
Are you like I was? Are you mixing a bit of law with the grace? Are you someone like John saying that the way of Jesus was all too easy? Is grace too easy for you? Do you have to do your penance? Is there a form of sacrifice that you have to do to be worthy of God? Do you fast some of your TV time? Do you fast some of your meals? Do you give up precious time with your personal family to do things for God? Are you busy running around serving God and doing things in self-righteousness? Are you one of John’s disciples who were still under the bondage of the Law?
Trying to remain free and forgiven by Jesus whilst also believing you have to fulfill the impossible requirements of the Law: is like mixing bitter drink with the sweet. If you mix them together, all will taste bitter. When the Law was given it was meant to be bitter. The Law was meant to show us that we need Jesus and then when we have accepted Jesus we are meant to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit and not the Law.
Are you like the Pharisees or are you one of Jesus’ disciples—just happy to spend time with Him? Are you totally convinced that you are forgiven, righteous, loved, blessed and seated in the Heavenly places with Christ even now, without doing anything? Can you handle going to Heaven for not doing anything, or are you still adamant that you have to earn your way to Heaven? When you fully understand what Jesus accomplished on the cross, thinking that you have to be good, totally slaps God and Jesus across the face. It is like saying: “Yes Jesus, you died for me, but it wasn’t good enough!”
I think this teaching can be shared many times and be still misunderstood. I guess, like salvation itself, it has to be personally revealed by the Holy Spirit. I lived in silent torture, a personal horror of legalism for many, many years and I certainly don’t want any of you living like that. I encourage you to continue to read my entire book, because I believe that the Lord, through the Holy Spirit and through Jesus, has given me a divine insight into these parables. I am responsible for wrong decisions in life, but in hindsight God used my trials to make me the person I am today. In the process He has never once left me and I am extremely thankful for that. God Bless you.