Days of Fasting
September 14, 2020
Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast (Matthew 9:15).
It is believed that John the Baptist had already been arrested and put in prison by Herod Antipas. This would have prompted the ‘days of fasting’ for John’s disciples since fasting was often associated with sorrow and grief.
When asked why the Pharisees and the disciples of John practiced fasting, but Jesus’ disciples did not, Jesus responded with three parables or illustrations. The first is taken from the ancient wedding ceremony.
The wedding guests (groomsmen) were responsible for the care of the bridal chamber and the bride. They would go to the house of the bride’s father, get the bride, and escort her to the wedding ceremony. They would dance through the streets, dressed in festive clothing, with lively music, joyful shouting, and the bright light of lamps and torches. After the ceremony, and with the same pomp and spirit, the bride was escorted to her future home where the marriage supper was prepared. With such celebration there would be no reason for mourning and fasting.
In this parable Jesus is the groomsman and the disciples are His bride (by extension - Christ and His church). The time He is with them is a time of joy and learning and ministry. Mourning and fasting would not be appropriate. When Jesus is gone (and this is the first time Jesus refers to His death), their celebration will be over. Then will be the proper time for sorrow and fasting.
“So,” Jesus said, “John, your friend and teacher, is in prison. It is a time a time of grief and fasting for you. I am with My disciples. It is a time of joy. It is not appropriate for them to grieve or fast. When I am gone, then it will be appropriate for them to fast.”
What does this have to do with Christians today? Although none of the Apostles mention fasting in their letters, and nowhere does Jesus demand that His disciples fast, is it appropriate for Christians to fast? Yes. There are times of joy when Jesus is unmistakably present, the fellowship of the saints is unquestionably warm and powerful, and the celebration of faith is undoubtably high. Fasting would be out of sync in such times. But there are also times of spiritual drought, sadness, even depression, when Christ seems to be far removed from us. Fasting would then be natural and appropriate.
“Lord Jesus, thank You for the wonder and mystery of fasting and the profound effect it has on those who practice it properly and sincerely. Thank You that in times of spiritual sorrow we have a means whereby we draw near to you to rekindle the flames of spiritual passion and joy. Although fasting is often abused today as it was in the days You were among us, may we never abuse it, or any other spiritual discipline for our own selfish purposes. To Your glory I pray, Amen.”