Fasting is Over, Feasting is Near

January 10, 2017

Pastor Gunnar Ledermann

She had just met the guy and he was already promising her the world. He told her how much he loved her and would always be there for her. It was a lot to take in, but he was kind and she felt safe with him. As time went on his promises became more detailed and more wonderful. He had plans to keep her safe, well fed, give her a beautiful home and most of all loved. They got engaged, then came the rehearsal dinner. It was a marvelous spread. Though just a few people were invited, the groom had pulled out all the stops, there was more food than that small group ever hoped to finish and it was all so good.

All of this made the time between the rehearsal dinner and the wedding feel so much longer. She knew the good things he had promised, he had done so many wonderful things for her already, she could still taste and smell the lavish rehearsal dinner, but that night before the wedding seemed to last forever. As she tossed and turned in her bed, she could only think on how wonderful it was going to be when they would be reunited on their wedding day. They wouldn’t have to spend any more time a part. As she lay there she longed to be married, longed for the wedding reception and longed for the feast they had prepared for all their guests. Her last thoughts were of her soon-to-be husband, her bridegroom, announcing to their guests, “Fasting is over, Feasting is near.”

In the gospel lesson from Mark 2, some people came and asked Jesus about fasting:

“How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

The people assumed Jesus knew the laws about fasting, he had proved himself to be a great teacher and the people were surprised to see him eating with his disciples when they should have been fasting.

Jesus knew that God only required the Old Testament people to fast in preparation for the Day of Atonement. However, the Pharisees had added more and more days of fasting to make themselves appear more pious and holy than others. They had gone so far as to require two days of fasting every week. Now fasting itself was not wrong or sinful. In fact, it was used as a way to show sorrow and grief over sin. Even John the Baptist and his disciples had been practicing this strict pattern of fasting.

Jesus knew that the fasting required by the Pharisees had become a trap for them. They no longer saw it as a way to show grief over sin, but as a way to make up for their sin. Their strict adherence to these outward acts of piety and demand for others to follow them revealed their hearts no longer looked forward to the Savior for salvation, but to themselves.

The Pharisees no longer saw the law as God intended it. The law was intended to show people their sins, that they were guilty and deserved punishment. Instead, the Pharisees were trying to use the law to earn their salvation and in their pride, show how much better they were than everyone else.

In order to show how different their hope in the law was from hope in the Savior, Jesus answered:

“How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.”

Jesus had come to do what the Pharisees never could, keep the law perfectly. The promised Savior had come to free his people from the law’s power to condemn, not pat the faithful few on the back for keeping the law better than everyone else.

The disciples learned that they were free from the law through Jesus. They no longer lived under the fear of the law and its power to condemn. With Jesus before them, they celebrated their freedom by leaving behind fasting and eating with their Savior. The time for sorrow and grief over sin was over, the one who would free them from sin was here.

The years the disciples spent with Jesus were like a rehearsal dinner. In the months before a wedding, plans are laid out for the rehearsal dinner, the wedding reception and where the bride and groom will live.

The time before Jesus came to earth was like the planning stage of a wedding. It was the time when God gave the people of Israel his laws about sacrifices, priests, ceremonies and the temple. God also gave them all the prophecies, promises and illustrations of how Jesus would come as pure, innocent and holy to sacrifice himself, to shed his own blood and die, to make the payment for our sins, freeing us and giving us forgiveness. All of these ceremonies and sacrifices pointed ahead to Jesus, that was their purpose.

Now the disciples were living with Jesus, so the time for pictures and foreshadowing were over, the Savior had come. The disciples listened to Jesus as he explained how he was the Savior and how he was going to fulfill the promises to rescue the world from sin.

They listened just like a bridal party listens at a rehearsal dinner to the details of the wedding day. The disciples were free to feast, to eat and be free from the extra rules and law the Pharisees were holding to. It wasn’t the time to be sorrowful, the bridegroom, the Savior, the one who would rescue his people, the church, his bride, had come.

Have you been listening to Jesus or have you been fasting with the Pharisees? It sneaks up on us this fasting with the Pharisees, this looking to the law for salvation. At the heart of it is looking to ourselves for salvation, rather than Jesus.

It’s a heart that says I know enough about my Savior, I don’t need to learn more about him, rather than a heart that seeks him out every day eager to learn more and be reminded of all God’s love and promises.

You may be glad to be a member at this church, but there is more to membership than having an offering envelope and circling your name for communion. We are a Confessional Lutheran church, which means we teach the Lutheran Confessions, Confessions meaning a summary of what the Bible tells us about God and how he saved us. Have you been reading your Lutheran Confessions? What about your Catechism? Hymnal? Meditations? Bible?

We recognize that the Lutheran Confessions, Catechism, Hymnal and Meditations are all different from the Bible. The Bible is the inspired Word of God and the others are summaries or devotions on the Bible.

The point is that when we do not rely on Jesus’ Word to tell us we are sinful people in desperate need of a savior, we begin to forget who Jesus is. Without Jesus, we turn back to the world and ourselves to be fed its hopeless lies.

When we forget to trust in Jesus, we are fasting. We can eat all we want in this world, but it will never satisfy us. This sinful world can only keep us alive so long, we can only feast on the things of this world so long until we face death, weak and hopeless.

The Bridegroom replied Fasting is over, Feasting is near.

The people asked Jesus why his disciples were not fasting. They didn’t realize they were talking to the bridegroom, the Savior. They didn’t realize they were watching the rehearsal dinner, the time when Jesus would reveal that he was the promised Savior. This was the time to eat with Jesus, to listen to him and watch the Son of God perform miracles. The people needed someone to teach them, so Jesus used three parables to open the people’s eyes to see that the time for fasting was over and feasting is near.

First, Jesus answered,

How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day, they will fast.

The disciples had a front row seat to Jesus’ revealing that he was the promised Savior. They listened to him, saw his power and were at peace knowing their Savior was sitting with them, but a time was coming when Jesus would be taken from them. Jesus would have to suffer and die to pay for our sins.

He, as the bridegroom, had to pay with his life to buy back his bride, the church, from her debt to sin. The disciples would see that Jesus had overcome sin and death at his resurrection. Their joy was restored when they saw him alive again, but that joy was short lived. Jesus returned to heaven to prepare a place for all of us. The disciples and all of us have returned to a period of fasting, while we wait to join Jesus in heaven.

Our hope in Jesus for eternal life in heaven is completely different than the hope the Pharisees put in the law. Jesus said:

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.

Jesus’ point was that the gospel is completely different from the law, just like an old shirt can’t be patched with a new piece of cloth. When you patch an old shirt with new fabric, the new fabric will shrink after you wash it and rip the shirt even worse. The Pharisee’s desire to be justified by the law would only lead to condemnation because they can’t fulfill God’s law. While through Jesus, we have full and free forgiveness from our sins and freedom from the punishment of the law.

Again, Jesus said: 

And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.

The law and the gospel cannot be mixed together; they are two separate things. Old wine skins burst if new wine is put in them, because the new wine needs to ferment, it needs to let off carbon dioxide and expand, which breaks old, stretched out wine skins. New wine is for new wine skins, so the gospel is something that cannot be mixed with the old, with the law. The fear and anxiety caused by the law and its consequences are completely different from the joy and peace we have through the gospel. The time will come when we experience that joy and peace fully in heaven, but until then we keep the faith trusting God’s promise of forgiveness and love.

It is a struggle to keep that faith. There are times when we turn from God and live as though we had forgotten all he has done for us. We must confess that we are like the wife of Hosea the prophet. In Chapter 15 of The Story, one of the highlighted stories from the Bible was that of Hosea the prophet whom God commanded to marry a prostitute.

God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute as an illustration of the relationship between God and Israel. God, the loving husband, was faithful to Israel, but Israel continued to abandon him, cheat on him and make relationships with all the other false gods of the unbelieving nations around them. Likewise, Hosea remained faithful to his promiscuous wife, even as she continued to sleep with other men. Finally, Hosea went to her and paid to spend the night with her. Her own husband paid the price to be with her, something that was freely his, and when he went to her he asked her to leave that life, to come live with him and he would take care of her.

What does your heart run back to? Like Hosea’s wife returned to her prostitution, our sinful hearts return to sin. Sin leads us away from Jesus. When we look at Jesus, we are faced with the results of sin, punishment and death. We are sinners that deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment, but Jesus took that punishment for us.

When we look at Jesus, we face the truth that we are now free from sin. With the law fulfilled we are now free to see the gospel. We have seen Jesus’ coming in the prophets and his birth at Christmas. We have seen the innocent suffering and the cross. We have seen the resurrection and the ascension into heaven. Now we wait to see heaven, we wait because we know the feasting is near. The heavenly feast awaits us because we have forgiveness and hope in our Savior.

She had been with him a long time and he was promising her the world. He told her how much he loved her and would always be there for her. It was a lot to take in, but he had never broken one of his promises to her. Finally, she was standing behind the church doors waiting to go down the aisle and she was glad for everything he had done for her.

As you wait in this world to meet your Savior Jesus, remember the law has been done away with. Now, you are forgiven. As we wait for the doors of heaven to be opened, where we will be seated at the banquet table of the marriage feast of the bridegroom, Jesus, and his bride, the church. As you wait, for the joys of heaven, remember, The Bridegroom Replied Fasting is over Feasting is near. Amen.

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