Sermon: From Fasting to Feasting (Luke 5:33-39)

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From Fasting to Feasting

This passage begins with a question about fasting.  Withholding food from yourself for a certain appointed time serves as a form of mourning.  It is a time when many folks examine their spirituality and leave food for a time to feast on God’s Word or to commune with God in a special way.  When a Christian fasts, the attitude is that I would rather have God, the real Life-giver than my daily portion of physical food.

The practice of fasting is stated way back in the Book of Leviticus.

Leviticus 16:29-34 (ESV)

“And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.  [30] For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.  [31] It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever.  [32] And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments.  [33] He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.  [34] And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Moses did as the Lord commanded him.

Here, on the Day of Atonement the Israelites were to honor God and mourn over their sins by fasting.  The phrase translated in the ESV by afflict yourself is better understood to humble one’s self by fasting.  This was the only God ordained fast of the year.

The problem with the Pharisees was that they had taken this God ordained special day with its special requirements and thought, Well if God wants us to fast once a year, how much more would He be pleased if we fasted twice a week? So, their practice was to fast on Mondays and on Thursdays every week.  This was their idea, not God’s.  This was their way of looking pious and very religious.

In response to this, Jesus said…

Matthew 6:16-18 (ESV)

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  [17] But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  [18] that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Everyone noticed that when the Pharisees were fasting, Jesus and His disciples were eating and drinking.  Jesus was not teaching His disciples to go against God’s Law but against man’s customs or traditions.

Jesus takes advantage of this opportunity to teach about something far more meaningful than fasting.  He takes this opportunity to teach on the Kingdom of God.

Luke 5:33-39 (ESV)

And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”  [34] And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  [35] The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”  [36] He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.  [37] And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.  [38] But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.  [39] And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’ ”

1.  Why Don’t Your Disciples Fast? (Luke 5:33)

And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”

One thing had to be said that if you watched Jesus and His disciples and then watched the Pharisees you noticed a huge difference.  The difference was like night and day.

Matthew 9:14 (ESV)

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

It seems at least that the disciples of John, without their leader, had fallen into the trap of tradition.  Without John the Baptist leading them, they must have begun to follow the Pharisee’s form of religion.  When they asked the question why do we fast and why do the Pharisees fast and why don’t you fast?  It seems that they were beginning to perhaps see the difference between Christianity and Judaism.  It’s like they were saying, Hey, wait a minute…why are we fasting when everyone else is feasting?

Pharisees were a gloomy religious bunch.  Their whole day was spent in paranoia concerned if they were working hard enough to be accepted by God.  Their only claim to assurance was that they were Abraham’s descendants but then John the Baptist shot that down by saying that God could raise up from a bunch of rocks offspring for Abraham.

Then there is Jesus and His disciples enjoying each other’s company and enjoying the food God had provided through Matthew’s generosity.

Jesus’ disciples were at peace and enjoyed the freedom of sins forgiven while the gloomy sad-faced Pharisees worked night and day and still fell infinitely short in the righteousness area.

Something is beginning to take shape as Jesus forgives sin and heals and goes against Jewish tradition…something new is taking shape.

Why would someone fast when Jesus is present and celebrating?

2. Because Now Is A Time For Celebration (Luke 5:34, 35)

[34] And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  [35] The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”

At every wedding I’ve attended, feasting is in order like the feast they were probably enjoying at the time this question was asked.  They were probably still at Matthew’s feast.  This feast perhaps was held on a day others had set aside to fast, so the stark difference could be clearly seen.  John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees were fasting while Jesus’ disciples were celebrating the Gospel.

This should be a picture of every believer.  We should be celebrating sins forgiven.  Celebrating our freedom from the Law.  Celebrating our status as a child of God.  When we do, others will stand up and take notice.

What Jesus is teaching those who had asked this question and really teaching us as well is that the New Covenant Gospel is better than the Old Covenant Law.  The first looks forward to sins forgiven, the second actually forgives sin.

In these verses, Jesus refers to Himself as the Bridegroom.  This is an important metaphor.  He is the Bridegroom and the church is the bride.  Here He calls His disciples the wedding guests.  So, the picture is a wedding reception where all the guests are present and the atmosphere is that of celebrating and fellowship.  Everyone is having a good time, that is except those who are there but weren’t really invited.

You don’t fast at a feast.  You don’t look gloomy when you’re at a party.  You’re not mourning over sin when the Bridegroom is present and forgiving sin…that is unless your sins are not being forgiven.

Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant.  In other words, He is the anointed Messiah who ushers in the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God by His perfect life and death on the cross.  His death on the cross paid for all the sins of everyone who would eventually be brought into the New Covenant.

Hebrews 9:15 (ESV)

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

The bottom line with Jesus and His disciples is that they are celebrating because the Bridegroom, Jesus Himself is in their midst and He has brought the Kingdom of God and the New Covenant with Him.

Fasting may have been alright in the past but now Jesus was in their midst.  What the Old Covenant pointed to had arrived so why would worshippers continue practicing Old Covenant traditions?

His presence and grace removes all need for sorrow and mourning (that which fasting symbolized) among his people. He said, “When the Bridegroom is taken away, then the bride will be sorrowful and mourn.” And there was a time of weeping for the bride, when the Lord of Glory was crucified and buried. But with the resurrection of our Lord, his exaltation and enthronement, and the out pouring of the Spirit of grace upon us, we now rejoice with joy unmingled. The bride’s fasting days are over!

Our sins are gone!

Grace, righteousness, and eternal life are ours!

Christ, our faithful Savior, our divine Bridegroom, is with us. — To Provide! – To Protect! To Comfort! — To Rejoice our Hearts!Don Fortner

This leads us to Jesus’ illustrations of what He’s talking about.

3.  Works and Grace Cannot Go Together (5:36-39)

[36] He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.  [37] And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.  [38] But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.  [39] And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’ ”

The point of the parable is that we should never mix anything with the Gospel.  Grace and works cannot go together.  Grace is the free gift of God to undeserving sinners while works is earning a wage for those who deserve it.  Two totally opposite concepts that are mutually exclusive.  If you have one, you cannot have the other.  To mix one ounce of work to a million tons of grace totally destroys grace.  You can’t lift a finger to save yourself and shame on you if you ever try.  It’s Christ alone that saves.  It’s His work alone that justifies sinners.

You also cannot mix the traditions of the Old Covenant with the New Covenant.  It’s like sewing a patch of one color of material to a garment of another color.

There are simply things not meant to be mixed together…

Old Covenant and the New Covenant

Law and Grace

Christ and the World

These are some examples of things that should never be mixed.  When we try, the results are disastrous.

Many Christians today try to mix a little bit of Jesus and Christianity with their lifestyle of worldliness and sin.  You cannot have both.

Like last week we saw how quickly Levi left everything to follow Christ.  He knew the truth that you cannot have both.  He could not keep his former lifestyle and be a follower of Jesus at the same time.

How many there are who seem determined to prove our Lord wrong, who try to serve both God and mammon. They wear the name of Christ in profession, but serve the world. They want to enjoy the new wine of Christ; but they want to drink it from the old bottle of the world. They will not utterly despise the new garment of discipleship, but they want it without cost or cross. So they try to sew it to the old garments of pleasures, covetousness, and love of the world. They will find one day soon that they have attempted that which cannot be done.—Don Fortner

Whether we look to the example of a new patch sewn onto and old garment and the colors don’t match at all or we look to the new wine placed into old wineskins.  We understand the point of the parable…You cannot mix old and new.

So what is Jesus’ answer when it comes to either Law or Grace?  You must choose, because both cannot coexist.  We must choose Christ over the Law.  Christ brings celebrating because of sins forgiven.  The Law brings mourning because sins are not forgiven.  Grace sets free, the Law enslaves.  Grace is found in the Gospel of Christ and it is the much better offer.

Jesus makes one final point.  Once Grace is tasted, it’s like an old vintage wine that is very good.  Once Grace is experienced, the Law looses all appeal to the worshipper.

[39] And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’ ”

So why didn’t Jesus’ disciples fast?  They had experienced Grace and they were way too busy celebrating the reality of the Kingdom of God.  The Bridegroom was present and to fast would have been wrong…it was a time for feasting.

We too live in an age of feasting.  We live in the promises of sins forgiven, debts erased, slaves of sin set free.

Are you celebrating your position in Christ?  Or have you sewn Christ into your worldly lifestyle?  Let the old life go and embrace Christ…and let the party begin!

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