Empty Ritual or Heartfelt Worship

Theme: Rumblings of Opposition
 
SCRIPTURE
Mark 2:18-22
 
Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them,“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

LESSON

Unfortunately, there was no such reaction here. Soon these men were complaining that Jesus’ disciples were not fasting as they were, and as John’s disciples were (2:18–22). Jesus’ answer struck at the heart of what separated His followers from those bound by the Pharisees’ teachings: His disciples did not fast because they were not sad! There is no point in performing outward religious rituals that bear no relation to what is in the heart. That principle cuts religious formalism at the very roots.
 
The Pharisees believed that fasting is a good thing and meritorious in the sight of God. The modem Pharisee says similar things about many externals of ritual and worship. Christ says, “No! The thing has no value except as an expression of the heart of the doer.”
 
Christ is teaching that Christianity is a wedding, and the life of the believer is to be like that of those who attend a marriage celebration. According to the Talmud, the companions of the bridegroom were absolved even from prayer for the several days after the wedding, and had but one duty: to rejoice.
 
Jesus was recalling John the Baptist’s words recorded in John 3:29, “He 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 full” (KJV). Jesus was stating plainly that He is the bridegroom, the loving Lord spoken of long ago in Psalm 45.
 
Jesus concluded His argument with two parables (2:21-22) that illustrate the difference between Jesus’ disciples and their critics. The difference is simple: the disciples of Christ cannot be in a mood for fasting. Not only is this so, but a new spirit is beginning to work in them, and therefore it will go hard with a good many old religious forms besides fasting. Just as a patch of new, unshrunken cloth will eventually tear away from the old cloth it is sewn onto, so if a new truth, new conceptions of old truth, or new enthusiasms are patched onto old modes, they will look out of place, and will sooner or later rend the old modes. Jesus’ parable warns of the harm to the old by an unnatural joining to the new.
 
His second illustration of the wineskins points to the harm to the new. New wine would spill on the ground if kept in old wineskins. Jesus knew that any attempt to keep Christianity within the bounds of Judaism would fail and ultimately prove harmful to the new faith.

STUDY QUESTIONS

  • What about fasting was so important to the Pharisees?
  • Is fasting something that Christians ought to do? Explain.
  • Why does Christ expect us to be in a state of joy?
REFLECTION
  • The Christian life ought to be marked by joy in all things. What is the difference between joy and happiness? How would you encourage a brother or sister in the faith, who in the midst of a trial, to take joy in all things?
 

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