Category Archives: Devotional

19. To Fast or not to Fast… that is the question.

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We pick up in the same place we left off last time. Jesus is at Matthew’s house dining with sinners and tax collectors. The Pharisees have been standing around asking Jesus’ disciples why their teacher is hanging out with undesirable people. And now we have another group of people starting to ask questions. Let’s read:

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

“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 people 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.” (Matthew 9:14-17)

We now have John the Baptizer’s students on the scene. We don’t know how long they had been there before they started to inquire of Jesus. They could’ve been there for the Pharisees’ questions or they could have just popped in. Either way, It may be helpful to back up and talk a little about John. John was Jesus’ slightly older cousin. He was born into a sacred mission- to prepare the hearts of Israel for the coming Messiah. He was an outspoken evangelist and would cry out to anyone who would listen to him. He was a bit of an eccentric character- he lived in the wilderness, wearing camel skin clothing and eating locusts. I imagine him to a very self-disciplined person and we know he fasted and spent a lot of time praying.  Now we see John’s disciples asking Jesus why he doesn’t fast too.

We don’t know why John’s disciples asked- were they genuinely interested or were they calling into question Jesus’ righteousness? In either case, that they were asking in the presence of the Pharisees would have fueled the Pharisees fire. I imagine them standing around disgruntled because Jesus just put them in their place when he says, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,'” (Matthew 9:13). Now they have a renewed spark in their eyes as they think, “Yes, why don’t you fast?” But why was fasting so important anyway? God ordained only one day that required fasting- Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. The Pharisees, however, required fasting on Monday and Thursday every week. They said it was to commemorate the days that Moses went up and came down Mt. Sinai. In short, they made fasting a means to prove one’s righteous as opposed to a means to grow closer to God. While it is unclear if John’s disciples practiced this Monday/Thursday fasting, we can assume that they fasted regularly.

So they ask Jesus why he and his disciples don’t fast and he responds with a line about marriage. What is that all about? I’m glad you asked! In the Old Testament, the covenant of marriage is often used to describe the covenant between God and his people. God is the groom who promises to love, honor, and cherish Israel, the bride. Unfortunately along the way, Israel strays like an adulterous wife but instead of divorcing her, God is faithful to his part of the covenant even when Israel is not. There was correction and even punishment at times, but God always remained faithful to his covenants. This picture of marriage was well known to all the Jews so to them; Jesus is not making an abstract statement. He is referring to himself as God, the bridegroom!  We see Jesus referring to himself as the groom and the current time as the wedding feast, or a time of joy! And who fasts during a time of joy? Nobody! In fact the only day God requires fasting for, the Day of Atonement, is a day of sadness during which Israel is to remember her sins and make atonement for them. For the short time that Jesus is alive on earth, the people should be joyful that God is physically with them because there is coming a time when the “bridegroom will be taken from them” (Matthew 9:15) and then they should be sad and fast. As you may have guessed, Jesus is referring to his impending death here. The original word for the the verb “will be taken” has a violent connotation to it. I don’t know if Jesus knew at that point he was going to die on a cross but he at least had an idea that his death was going to be brutal.

Then Jesus seems to have another random thought as he jumps from weddings to clothes and wineskins. Jesus says that if you sew a new, unshrunk patch on an old piece of clothing, it will tear and make the hole bigger once the garment is washed. The old piece of clothing is the the law and Jesus is the patch. There were some holes in the Mosaic law- for example, you had to keep sacrificing when you sinned. There wasn’t a one time fix that covered any sin. Jesus was going to take care of that. In other words, the law served it’s purpose at the time, but now it needed to be interpreted through Jesus colored lenses. The old law needed to become a new garment so that when Jesus was sewed on, the patch and the garment would hold together, so to speak.

The wineskin metaphor is the same. Old wineskins became hard and brittle, but new wineskins were soft and supple. They needed to be because the new wine would ferment and cause expansion. If you but new wine into the hardened wineskins, they would burst and the wine would spill out everywhere. In both examples, Jesus gives, the message is the same, Jesus is making everything new. This doesn’t mean that the Old Testament is invalid or irrelevant- it means that it needs to be interpreted through Jesus, who was about mercy, grace, redemption and most of all love.

The End.

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3. The Baptism of Jesus

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The baptism of Jesus is a little blip in the grand story of Jesus. Let’s take a look and see why this might be important enough to be in three out of four gospels. For the purpose of our study we will be using the account found in Matthew because it is the most detailed and the other two versions do not differ much. If you want to read them you can click on their respective links, Mark 1:9-13 and Luke 3:21-22.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son,whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

I don’t know about you but this passage raises some questions like, “What is baptism?”, “Why is baptism important?” and “Why did Jesus need to be baptized?” These are great questions and if you think of anymore that I don’t answer here, please feel free to ask them in the comment section below.

Let’s address the first question first: “What is baptism?” Literally, the Greek word for baptism means “to wash.”  Some religions just sprinkle water on the head, some pour water over the head and some dunk the whole body under water. Some churches, like mine for example, dunks the whole body three times, once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think anyone knows for sure exactly how the first baptisms were done. And to be honest with you, I don’t think it really matters how you are baptized as long as you are baptized.

Why is baptism important? Some religions believe that the physical act of baptism is what saves your soul and that is why some perform infant baptisms. This is not what is taught in the Bible however. The Bible teaches that, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8). This presumably can only happen once a person reaches an age where they can have faith and understand, at least on a basic level, the concept of sin and the need to be rescued from that sin. Since infants are unable to make that decision, it is pointless to baptize them. Baptism is not some magical spell by which we enter the kingdom of God. It is an outward symbol of inward repentance, of turning from our sinful ways, of washing away the sinful self. It is announcing to the world that you have decided to become a follower of Christ, a Christian. It is also where we get the term “born again”.

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)

Being baptized symbolizes a rebirth, a dying of the the old sinful self and a birth of a new justified self. I could go on here but I’ll save it for a later time.

So, if being baptized symbolizes a change from sinful life to a new life, why did Jesus have to be baptized? Well, the real answer is I don’t know and I’m not sure anyone else is 100% sure either but I can tell you what they say and what I think.

They say (they being biblical scholars) Jesus’ baptism shows God the Father’s approval of Jesus. This is obvious because God comes right out and says it after Jesus is baptized, “This is my Son,whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” (v. 17) They also say that Jesus’ baptism marks the consecration and validity of his ministry. In other words, the work he was about to do is holy and set aside for him. They also say that the Holy Spirit equips him for ministry when he descends like a dove. I think “they” are right in all of these things but I think they are missing an important aspect of Jesus’ baptism. Could it be that the baptism of Christ signifies a change from a simple baptism of repentance to a baptism of the Holy Spirit for all believers? Again, I’m not saying that it’s a magic formula to receive the Holy Spirit; I’m talking about an outward symbol of an inward change- one of the hard heart to a heart for God AND a spiritless soul to a Spirit filled soul. Again, this is just my own thoughts. I could be wrong about this but it seems to me that Holy Spirit was definitely working in the lives of believers even before Pentecost happened, when the Holy Spirit settled on the disciples in a powerful and visible way. Please feel free to leave questions or comments below!

Father, thank you for sending your Son to not only die for us but to live for us as well. Jesus, Thank you for being obedient to you Father in all things even to the point of death on a cross. Spirit, thank you for indwelling in us and equipping us for your work. Amen.

The End.