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To Fast or Not to Fast?

Mark 2.18-22
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.”
There was a young farmer who was stopped one day by an older farmer who happened to farm and live up the road from the younger farmer. The older farmer wanted to know why the younger farmer didn’t still use a plow that was being pulled by a team of Clydesdale horses. The younger farmer responded by saying that there was no need for a Clydesdale when a John Deer would do.

Jesus was posed with a similar question about fasting by two groups: John the Baptist’s group and a group of Pharisees. Both of these groups had in mind a certain view of how fasting should be done, and they noticed that Jesus’ group was not observing the religious fasting regulations. Fasting during this period of time was something that the Pharisees had customarily done on Monday and Thursday of each week. The purpose seemed to be “an expression of piety and self-consecration.”[1] We also know that fasting in the Old Testament was an expression of mourning.[2] Fasting was also designed to accelerate the coming of the Messiah which would ultimately lead to redemption. This may be why Jesus uses the example of the wedding guests here.

Whatever the official reasons might have been for these two groups questioning Jesus, He interprets their question by using the example of the bridegroom and wedding. In verse 19 He replies, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” To fast while the groom was with them would be unthinkable, for a wedding was a time of great feast, celebration and joy, not some somber, doldrum experience filled with sadness and remorse.

Then in verse 20 Jesus adds, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.”

Why would Jesus say this?

Jesus knew there was coming a time when He would no longer be on the earth which would then give rise to the need to fast. So Jesus is not saying that fasting is not important, for Jesus Himself fasted while He was on the earth (e.g., Matthew 4.1–2; Luke 4.2). Clearly Jesus recognizes the importance of fasting, but it will be done by His followers after He is no longer with them. Then it will be appropriate for His followers to mourn and fast again.

Have you ever fasted? There is a strong biblical witness as well as church history that points to the importance of fasting.[3] Fasting can be incited in response to suffering, disaster, trials, desiring a need for intercessory prayer and spiritual warfare, repentance, discernment, as well as spiritual focus on God. As our nation continues to experience all that it has experienced in 2020, I wonder if it would be helpful for Christians to fast and pray for God’s mercy and healing upon our land. Will you fast one meal this week and pray for God to intervene within our churches and nation?

Churches and our nation need the mighty hand of God’s mercy to touch us once more.  No political party is going to be the answer. The answer is God.  As Yahweh declared in 2 Chronicles 7.14, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Let us turn to God today and repent of our wickedness, and ask for the Lord’s healing in our land. Just think what would happen if our whole church alone decided to fast one meal. I believe God would move based upon our prayers to Him.
 
In Christ’s Service,
Cody Ragland
 
[1] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 109.
[2] In the OT fasting may be an expression of mourning. See; 1 Sam. 31:13; cf. Judith 8:6; 1 Macc. 1:25–28.
[3] A number of Christian authors comment on fasting, indicating that it was widely practiced by the church before the middle of the third century (Brattston, “Fasting,” 238). Various Christian documents reference fasting as an ongoing practice. While the Didache encourages fasting and mentions a twice-weekly fast (Did., 8:1), the Shepherd of Hermas conveys that obedience is more righteous than fasting (Shepherd of Hermas, Similtude 5:1–4). [3] David Seal and Kelly A. Whitcomb, “Fasting,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
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