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Feasting and Fasting

Sermon by Kevin Phipps on Jul 19, 2015

Matthew 9:14-26

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If you would now please take your Bible and turn to Matthew chapter 9. It’s page 814 on your pew Bible. Tonight we’re going to read together verses 14 through 26 but we’re going to spend our time looking at verses 14 through 17. And let me remind you we’re actually picking up right where Pastor Billy Dempsey finished up last week. If you recall last week, he preached on verses 9 through 13 of the same chapter, so this is somewhat of a mini-series. Tonight we have the question of John’s disciples to Jesus about fasting. Fasting in first century Judaism was one of three marks of devotion to God. People looked at your praying, your alms giving and your fasting. And many pious Jews fasted two days a week. And so here, John’s disciples bring the question to Jesus about fasting. Before we read God’s Word, let me pray for us.

Our great heavenly Father, what a privilege it is to come in Your presence this evening through the blood of Your Son. To come and sing Your praises; to come and study Your Word. It is my prayer that You would open our hearts to see glorious truths of the Gospel that we may be conformed to the image of Your Son, that we may be filled with Your Spirit, that we may live for Your glory. And we ask all this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Now hear God’s Word from Matthew chapter 9 beginning in verse 14:

“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘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. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.’

 

While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, ‘Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district.”

Amen. And that ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired and inerrant Word. May He write its truth on all our hearts.

Our attitude and our relationship to food reveals something about who we are; it reveals something about our heart. The same way that our attitude and relationship to money, to our career, to romance reveals something about it, so does our relationship to food. I have a subscription to one magazine currently and if you had to guess I’ll bet you couldn’t guess. I have a subscription to Garden and Gun. And the reason why you probably wouldn’t think that I have a subscription to Garden and Gun is that I do not have a gun safe, I do not have my own artillery, I avoid working in the garden, I try to do as little amount of yard work as possible, but the reason why I have a subscription to Garden and Gun magazine is that the motto is that it’s “The Soul of the South.” The magazine’s really not about gardens and guns; it’s about the soul of the south. And what is that? Food. It’s about food. The magazine, three-quarters of the magazine is about food! So what’s the point of having a garden? It’s to grow stuff so you can put butter and salt on it so you can eat it. What’s the point of having a gun? So you can shoot stuff and grill it, right? It’s a great, fantastic magazine!

Food and the Bible

The Bible has much to say about food and the good news is that generally it has a very positive view of food. And from the very beginning we see a connection between religious devotion and food. If you think about in the Old Testament in the old covenant, part of the sacrifices provided sustenance and meat for the priests. Most of the religious calendar for the Jews was around feasts. And the most important being the Passover meal. But also we know that under the old covenant there were restrictions about food and what food was clean and unclean. And think about living in the South if we were still under those restrictions! No catfish, no crawfish, and I don’t care where you live - no bacon! We are so thankful to be living under the new covenant, and under the new covenant Paul makes it very clear that all food is good and it is meant to be received with thanksgiving and sanctified by prayer. And we have two sacraments as a church and one of them is a meal where we are spiritually nourished by the wine and the bread as a means of grace in communion with our Savior. Food is important in the Bible and our relationship to food reveals something about our hearts.

Now for people in parts of the world their relationship to food is very simple - it’s just about survival. I know there are people in this room that your relationship to food is very complex. There are physiological and medical issues when it comes to food, quite possible even psychological. For some of us, food is the most dangerous temptation that you face. We live in a culture where people look to food to be their savior - organic non-GMO, vegan free range, whatever it may be. And if you don’t eat it then you’re in trouble so they tell you on Facebook. There’re other things when it comes to food. It’s that in our culture it’s a status symbol. We like to post pictures of our food to let everyone know that we’ve been to the latest, coolest restaurant. Some of us, we can’t resist it covered in cheese, deep-fried, and filled with sugar. Or if you’re like me and you’re from New Orleans, here’s a little test: You may be from New Orleans if you’ve ever gone to lunch and talked about dinner!

Does your relationship to food reveal something about your heart? Here we have a passage and John’s disciples bring up the subject of fasting. And this isn’t just like a peripheral, theological debate. This is something about the religion of God’s people in their day. Remember, they’re still under the old covenant at this point and this is part of their trying to be devoted to the Lord. So in this passage we see something about John’s disciples, we see something about their hearts, but Matthew the gospel writer uses this occasion not just to teach us about food but as the subject comes up he teaches about the person and the work of Jesus and what does it mean to be His disciple. So three things for us this evening. The first thing that I want us to see from the passage is that Jesus is worth celebrating with a feast. The second thing that I want us to see from this passage is that Jesus is worth fasting for. And the third thing that I want us to see is that Jesus is preparing a feast.

I. Jesus is Worth Celebrating with a Feast

Number one, Jesus is worth celebrating with a feast. Look back with me at verses 14 to the first half of verse 15. “Then the disciples of John came to him saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?’” That’s Jesus’ response to their question about fasting. Let’s begin with asking ourselves, “Why did Matthew put this account here?” Let me remind you that at the end of John’s gospel he tells us, he says, “If we were to write down everything that Jesus did, all of His teaching, all of His miracles, we would fill the world with books. There’s no libraries to hold. Every moment there was something to be written about.” And so the Gospel writers are selective; they’re intentional. They take snippets and episodes because they want us to know who Jesus is and what He’s about and what is the Gospel. So Matthew has chosen in verses 14 through 17 in our division here, in our text, to bring up this occasion about fasting. Well in the section that comes before, Matthew has given us his conversion story and that’s what Reverend Billy Dempsey preached on last week. It’s the story of Jesus going to and calling a tax collector. He’s going and drafting someone into His service that no one else in religious circles was interested in. And what is the first thing that happens as soon as Matthew was converted? Matthew throws a party and he invites other scandalous sinners to join and Jesus is there with His disciples and it really rubs the Pharisees the wrong way. And Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and He says, “Go learn what Hosea meant when he said that ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” He says, “My mission is for the sick; it’s not for the well. It’s for the unrighteous, not for the righteous.” And then Matthew then goes from that story about Jesus feasting with sinners to John’s disciples coming and asking the question, “Why don’t your disciples fast?”

A little bit of the background of John’s disciples’ fasting - we would presume that these guys are sincere. That’s the way I take it. They’re not trying to play “Gotcha” with Jesus. They’re not trying to get Him stuck. They are sincere. They are devoted followers. They have heard the message of John - “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” It is at hand. They have heard that message, they are devoted to that message, and part of that devotion for them is that they are fasting. Their fasting is part of their repentance. Their fasting is part of, “What does it mean to be John’s disciple? We are those who are turning away from the things of this world and turning to the things of God. We’re anticipating the coming Messiah.” So fasting for them, it was an expression of their repentant hearts and their message of repentance to those around them. Now we know that Jesus fasted in the wilderness when He was tempted in Matthew chapter 4 and we know that Jesus also taught His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount about fasting and He told His disciples, “Do not fast like the hypocrites who put on a show and whenever they fast they let everyone know they’re fasting.” They get some belts and some pants that are a couple of sizes too big and so it looks like they haven’t eaten in days and they’re just kind of dragging and moaning. Jesus told His disciples, He said, “When you fast, you don’t do that. Don’t let anyone know you are doing that.” So there are those who it was the religious show. Their fasting had to be about meriting, it was about attention. But for John’s disciples, I am reading it as though they were sincere. They wanted to serve Yahweh. They were distressed by the state of their nation, by the state of their religion, and so they repented sincerely.

And so they looked at Jesus, the one whom John told them, “This is the one,” and they said, “Well why don’t Your disciples fast? It kind of seems like You’re just doing what everyone else is doing.” Jesus response is, “Why would they fast when the bridegroom is near?” And we get that. We get that. At a wedding, that’s the worst time to be fasting. That’s the time to be celebrating, the time to be enjoying life and enjoying food and celebrating God’s good gift of marriage with food. And He says, “This is a wedding going on here.” We get that but there’s more to it. When Jesus tells them that the bridegroom is among them He’s drawing on an Old Testament allusion that when God said that He was going to redeem His people He was going to do it as a bridegroom coming for a bride. Just earlier, a couple verses before in Matthew 9 verse 13 it’s interesting that Matthew has Jesus quoting the prophet Hosea and then here he has Jesus saying to John’s disciples, “The bridegroom is here. Why would they fast? It’s a time to celebrate.” And Hosea, along with Isaiah, is one of the prophets who tells us what when God would come to His people it will be a bridegroom coming for His bride. Listen as I read a portion from Hosea chapter 2 verses 16 through 20:

“And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.” And here it is - “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.”

You remember God told the prophet, Hosea, He said, “Hosea your life is going to be a demonstration of My relationship to My people, so go marry an unfaithful woman, go marry an immoral woman, go marry a scandalous woman. And every time she cheats on you and leaves you, receive her back.” And God says, “This is the point: I am a bridegroom coming for an unfaithful and impure people to receive them back.” So Jesus says, “The news of the bridegroom is not time to fast; it’s time to celebrate that God has come to His people.” And John’s disciples may have heard this. They should have known this from John himself. In John’s gospel, John the Baptist says this, John 3:29 - “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” His disciples should have known that this is a stunning and glorious thing that Yahweh has come to His people in covenant love and mercy to receive them back.

So while they were sincere in their desire for fasting, they missed the second part of what true repentance is. There’s almost two sides to the coin with repentance. There’s the turning from your sin but there’s also the turning to God. And here He is, God incarnate, in flesh. And they’re saying “Turn from our sins fast,” and they’re missing that the bridegroom is there before him. We need to remember that in our lives, in our own struggles with sin, it’s not just a matter of turning from our sin but turning to our heavenly bridegroom. Our heavenly bridegroom who left His throne, who walked this earth, who experienced every temptation that you and I experience, without sin, who perfectly kept the law, who gave Himself as a sacrifice for His bride, who rose from the dead and is returning for that bride. When we turn from sin, we turn to Jesus the bridegroom. And Jesus is telling John’s disciples basically, “Here I am. It’s not time to fast. It’s not time to fast; it’s time to celebrate that God has come to redeem His people.” We need to remember that in our own repentance but also as we call others to repentance. It’s easy to be discouraged and depressed about the state of our country, of our world, and the direction of where things are going. And you may have never had the inclination before in your life, but I’m sure there are some of you in this room in the last couple of months you wanted to go stand on a street corner and get a big sign and just say, “Turn or burn! Time to repent!” We need to remember that when we call people to repentance we’re not just saying, “Turn from your sin.” We’re saying, “Come to the bridegroom. Come to the one who is full of covenant love and mercy.” Repentance leads to celebration and Jesus’ disciples, unworthy disciples like Matthew, a former tax collector, Jesus says, “I’m not going to ask him to fast right now.” That’s our first thing. Jesus is worth celebrating with a feast.

II. Jesus is Worth Fasting For

Our second thing is that Jesus is worth fasting for. Now notice, picking up back in verse 15, the second half there, after He says, “I’m the bridegroom. I am here. I am the one that Hosea and Isaiah spoke of.” He says this, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast.” Jesus tells John’s disciples, He says, “My disciples, there is coming a day when they will fast” and we know that from the book of Acts that the early church did practice fasting. Jesus introduces something foreign to this image of a wedding - the idea of the bridegroom being taken away. That wasn’t part of the ceremony; that’s a glitch in the ceremony. If there’s a wedding celebration and all of a sudden the bridegroom is taken away without the bride that could be a problem. And here Jesus is, He’s kind of coming into a high point in His ministry, there’s miracles happening, He’s gathering His disciples, He’s about to send them out but He says, “There will come a time when these men that I’ve gathered, they will mourn and they will fast because I will be taken away from them.” That’s most likely the first time in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus acknowledges that He’s heading to the cross, that He’s heading to the cross, and it would be a time of mourning and it would be a time of fasting.

But as we look at the cross, the mourning is not over the loss of the bridegroom; it’s seeing what the bridegroom had suffered on the behalf of His people as He bore the wrath of God and bore the sins for His bride. And so certainly He’s saying, “When I am taken to the cross, My disciples, they will mourn, it will be hard, it will be a time to fast.” But also, I think that Jesus is pointing us to the time between His first coming, ascension, and His return for His bride. That’s a time to fast as well. That is a time to fast as well. There is a sense that if you are a believer Jesus is with you, and there’s also a sense that He’s not. He’s with you by the indwelling of His Spirit but we don’t see His face. And Paul himself said, “It’s better for me to depart in order to be with Christ.” Paul himself said, “It would be better for me to leave the body and see Christ.” And so in this time between the times from when He has ascended and He will return for His bride, it’s appropriate that we use fasting to remind ourselves that we don’t live by bread alone. That we use fasting as a disciple to remind us to cultivate a hunger for God.

John Piper puts it like this. “Christian fasting is not willpower religion but it is an expression of dissatisfied contentment in the all sufficiency of Christ.” Dissatisfied contentment in the all sufficiency of Christ. And I know what you’re thinking. That’s one of those sayings that preachers say and it only makes sense to preachers, to say that someone is dissatisfied and also content. But what John Piper is getting at in saying that is that in Jesus you’ve met the one who feeds your soul. You’ve met the one who gives living water. You’ve met the Bread of Life. You’ve tasted of the heavenly gift. You’ve tasted of the good things to come. But in measure, but in part. So you know the only thing that can bring true contentment is the bridegroom Himself. But there’s a dissatisfaction because we don’t see Him face to face yet. So for Christians, when we do fast it’s not to merit anything before God. It’s based on the finished work of Jesus because we’ve tasted the new wine that is to come.

III. Jesus is Preparing a Feast

And that leads us to our last thing this evening. It’s that Jesus is preparing a feast. And I may add to that - so do not give up! Jesus is preparing a feast so do not give up. The three word pictures or images that Jesus gives here of a wedding and then also of a worn out garment with a patch and also of new wine all point to a salvation that was promised by God. So we already talked about the wedding - that God would meet His people. But Revelation talks about their being a marriage feast. The worn out garments - Jesus is using something that everyone would have understood. You don’t take an unshrunk patch of clothes and put it on an old piece of garment because once it shrinks it’s going to just rip it; it’s going to pull it apart. And in Psalm 102 we see an image of the earth being compared to our likened to an old garment. Psalm 102 verse 25 to 28:

“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established.”

And Peter in the New Testament picks up on this as well talking about the sin-tainted, the sin-fallen world being done away with as if an old garment. And then also the image of wine, of flowing wine, is one of the new age of salvation. Joel 3:18 - “And in that day the mountains shall drip with sweet wine and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water from the Valley of Shittim.” Jesus is telling John’s disciples that the new is here, that the new day has dawned, that what your leader, John the Baptist, was the herald of the new day to come. He says, “It is here in My person. It is here and it is present.” We see the kingdom of God breaking into the old, breaking into this fallen world, and Jesus tells John’s disciples, “Be sure. It’s not just a matter of putting a patch on the old garment. This is something new. Be sure that if you are to put the new wine into an old wine skin when the fermentation process happens it’s going to burst the skin and you’re going to lose the skin and the wine so therefore you need new skin for new wine so that both would be preserved.” Jesus is the second Adam. He’s to lead the true exodus of God’s people, a deliverance from sin, and He’s announcing that it’s here; it’s present. He is producing a new wine that will take time to ferment but it’s a vintage that you do not want to miss out on. It’s a vintage that comes from the vineyard of the law and the prophets. And Jesus told His disciples at the Last Supper, He said, “This is the last time that I’m going to drink of the fruit of the vine until we drink it anew in My Father’s kingdom to come.” Jesus announces that the new has come, that the kingdom is breaking in.

So what does Matthew do? Well if you go to verse 18 he says, “While he was saying these things…” and he gives the account of two miracles. Two miracles that point to the fullness of the kingdom that is yet to come. There’s a woman who for twelve years is on the outskirts of proper society, who’s removed from the religious practice of her people because she is ceremonially unclean because of an issue of blood. And so she bravely and boldly presses through the crowd and Jesus heals the woman. Think about the years of guilt and shame and in a moment, wholeness. And then there’s a father who desperately goes and grabs Jesus and pulls Him away. He says, “My daughter has died.” And Jesus raises a child from the dead. Matthew says this is a glimpse of the kingdom that is to come and he contrasts - earlier we saw in Matthew chapter 9 the Pharisees who did not believe and then these simple acts of faith of people who said, “Here is the bridegroom. I will trust in Him.”

So that is the call. In this time, between the time, we do not get distracted by the delicacies and the pleasures of this world. We recognize that there is a feast to come and we prepare and cultivate a hunger and a longing to see Him, to drink the new wine with Him in His Father’s kingdom. And what kind of kingdom is it? It’s a kingdom that death is overthrown, that uncleanness is done away with, and there’s a feast eternal that we are invited to, to enter into by faith and repentance to spend all eternity with the bridegroom. Let me pray for us.

Our heavenly Father, You are so good and so patient with us to give Your Son in order to bring us into Your family. Lord, in these tough and distressing days, in these challenging and in the face of temptation, Lord may we rest in the arms of the bridegroom, may we long for the marriage supper of the Lamb and live every day between now and then in light of that. Thank You for the gift of Your Spirit, a taste of the age to come. May we drink deeply of Him. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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