To Celebrate or to Fast? (Matthew 9:16-17)

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Jesus has just come from Matthew’s place, where Matthew and many  ‘sinners’ were  feasting. Those outside were observing a day of fasting. When they questioned Him about what He and His disciples are doing, 

Jesus responded with an analogy of a bridegroom being with friends. 

A wedding celebration – the fulfillment of a long time of preparation – is not an appropriate time for mourning. It is a celebration, a time consistent with spending and feasting and enjoyment. The time of saving toward the event, of setting aside for the event and the busy work of preparation is over. One has to celebrate. In fact, it is absurd to think that the way one acts during a time of preparation would be consistent with the way one should act during a time of fulfillment. 

Jesus now drives home the application of that point through two parables, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” 

Jesus knows that weddings involve new clothes and wine, so He uses those two touch-points in His parable. In His time garments were very expensive and rare purchases – you used them until they were nothing but patches. Further, no one had glass bottles, but everyone had a wineskin. Of course, in modern Western society most just buy new garments when the old wears out, and no one uses wineskins anymore. But Jesus knows that John’s disciples (who asked Him the question to start with) will innately know what He is saying: Just as a celebration is in order, so also new believers cannot be expected to act as long-time believers. 

It is just wrong to expect a brand new Christ-follower to immediately be mature, and it is also wildly inappropriate to not celebrate their first step of faith with them. 

Imagine leading someone to Christ, and then instead of rejoicing with them that they are now forgiven, you immediately insist they begin observing a day of fasting just because all of the very religious of society are doing so that day. They will immediately connect the two events, and conclude that being forgiven is not enough. Effectively, you will have taught them legalism instead of relationship, and led them into mortal error. Expecting instantaneous maturity actually damages the fabric of their being – just as force-feeding meat to a newborn endangers the baby’s life. 

To make disciples for God is to lead people into a new relationship with Him, and then walk with them toward maturity. We cannot lead them into making a decision for God and then demand maturity. Leading people requires that we start where they are at, not where we want them to be. That means giving them both time and space to grow. It means celebrating when celebrating is appropriate, and fasting when fasting is appropriate. 

When we live like that, both we and those we lead are blessed. 


God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

John Piper

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

Jesus does not want religious timekeeping as much as He wants relationship. We can know that because His Word says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  – Romans 12:15

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