Fasting Without the Groom: Matthew 9:14-17

Focus Passage: Matthew 9:14-17 (GW)

14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus. They said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but your disciples never do?”

15 Jesus replied, “Can wedding guests be sad while the groom is still with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them. Then they will fast.

16 “No one patches an old coat with a new piece of cloth that will shrink. When the patch shrinks, it will rip away from the coat, and the tear will become worse. 17 Nor do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, people pour new wine into fresh skins, and both are saved.”

Read Matthew 9:14-17 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Part way into Jesus’ ministry, the gospel of Matthew draws our attention onto a question that John the Baptist’s followers ask Jesus. While Mark and Luke share this event as well, Matthew points out that some of the people asking this question might have been John’s followers.

At this point in history, John had been arrested and he was either locked away in a jail cell or he had been beheaded. Most likely, John was still alive, and this may have been one reason for John’s followers to have placed emphasis on the spiritual discipline of fasting.

Matthew tells us that John’s followers came to Jesus with a question. They ask Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but your disciples never do?” (v. 14)

On the surface this is a valid question. What makes Jesus’ disciples different from the other “disciple- groups” of that culture?

Jesus responded to them with an illustration that doesn’t directly answer the question while it also answers their question. Jesus replied, “Can wedding guests be sad while the groom is still with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them. Then they will fast.” (v. 15)

In this response, Jesus shares His answer using terms of a wedding feast. In a semi-subtle way, He identifies Himself as “the groom” at a wedding feast. While this isn’t typically one of the passages that we think of when looking forward towards heaven, at the end of time, there will be a great union between God and His people that other places in the Bible parallel with a wedding feast. In those places as well as in Jesus’ words in this passage, He is the groom, and God’s people (the Church) are His bride.

Jesus doesn’t dismiss the spiritual discipline of fasting. Instead, He refocuses this discipline onto what it was intended for. While Jesus was physically present on earth working miracles, there were no reasons for His followers to fast. Fasting is done when one is sad or needing to refocus their life, mind, and/or heart.

In our own lives, like with Jesus’ disciples, fasting can be a powerful spiritual exercise to help us focus on God better, and it can help us remember our dependence on God while also emphasizing how He has blessed us. Fasting from other things (not necessarily exclusive to food) frees up time where we can focus on God and what He wants for us.

Fasting is a temporary spiritual discipline. While the disciples were with Jesus prior to His death, there were no reasons to fast, and when we are in heaven celebrating with God for eternity, there will be no reason to fast either. However, where we are currently in the timeline of history, fasting is one appropriate method we can use to help us remember and refocus our attention onto God.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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