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"Then They Will Fast.” Matthew 9:15
You will notice that what allowed the disciples to escape from the old practice of fasting was the presence of the Bridegroom. But then Jesus, the Bridegroom, said, "The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." The old forms and the old meanings are passing away, but there are coming new forms and new meanings which, as we follow Jesus, we are not free to disregard! This is the key sentence: "Then they will fast." What new practice is he referring to?
Jesus is referred to as the Bridegroom. What does this mean for us? Answer: Jesus is our bridegroom. He is our husband. This term can relate simply to the male partner in a marital relationship, and the Scripture does use this term in this way regarding the nature of Christ in relationship to his bride, the church. But what is the significance of this term in the first place? Why was this term, “husband” chosen to describe the function of a man in the marital relationship? It’s archaic meaning as a verb, as in to husband, is to “till, or cultivate,” or to manage the house. Christ’s role within the life of the church is to be a husband to her. That means that his purpose, in the exact same way that the role of the husband is defined within Scripture, is to cultivate the life of His bride for her ultimate flourishing. That means that for everyone in here, Christ’s desire is to guide us and direct us in our lives, in our decision-making, in the actions that we take for our cultivation, for our ultimate good.
We know that the early church fasted after the resurrection, (Acts 13:1–3, Acts 14:23; 2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:27). Why were they fasting? Here’s one clue as to why they were fasting. In Matthew 25:1–13, Jesus pictures his second coming as the arrival of the bridegroom. In other words, the Bridegroom is taken away until the second coming of Christ.
Jesus is saying: "Now while I am here in your midst as the Bridegroom, you can't fast, but I am not going to remain with you. There will come a time when I return to my Father in heaven. And during that time you will fast." For the disciples who were present at the moment that Jesus says these words, they didn’t need to fast for they didn’t need supernatural direction from God, and their longing to be with God was satisfied in the immediate presence of Christ. They had His supernatural direction for their lives, they had the comfort of His friendship, they delighted in the knowledge of knowing Him intimately by knowing the person standing right in front of them. They had it in Jesus Christ. But we have entered a time where Christ is once again removed from us in bodily presence. That time is now.
It's true that Jesus is present with us by his Spirit. But Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:8, "We [would] prefer to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord." In other words, in this age there is an ache and a longing—a homesickness—inside every Christian that Jesus is not here as fully and intimately and as powerfully as we want him to be. And that is why we fast.
Our fasting today serves in a similar way as the fasting of old: to reorient our hearts toward God, not as an expression of mourning over sin like the old fasting but as an exclamation point to the prayer for guidance from our leader, for direction in our lives. It is the exclamation point for His return that we might be with Him in bodily presence forever, and have the wonderful blessing of His leadership in our lives without question or hesitation or uncertainty.
See Part 1: "What is Fasting?"
See Part 3: "Christ Rejects the Old Fasting."
To hear or read a full sermon on this passage, click here.