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“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.”” (Matthew 9:14–17, ESV)
We only have the freedom to follow Christ into the New Covenant. We are only free to worship Him as we have been set free from the bondage of the Law. The early church demonstrated a great willingness to abandon the old forms of ritual purity in favor of the new relationship that brought them into the family of God. I have two examples in mind of how the early church abandoned the Old Covenant religious practices in favor of a New Covenant personal relationship with God.
Some will hear this and wrongly conclude that, because Jesus has broken the bonds of the Law and thrown off the constraints of the Old Covenant, they are now free to live however they choose and still call themselves Christians. For them, the idea of being a Christian is simply a matter of knowing what Jesus did for you on the cross and receiving with joy the liberation that He brings. They are now "free" to live (or so they think) as they want in any form or fashion that they now choose.
But this is not the teaching of Christ. Christ grounds the rejection of the old forms of religion based upon this singular fact: He is the bridegroom. Those who are to be joined to him at his wedding are the only ones who are free from the Old Covenant, and they only receive this freedom by holding tightly to Jesus.
What this means is that you cannot consider yourself free from the demands of the Law in the name of Christian freedom unless you are bound to and consequently following Jesus Christ! If you consider the two examples that I’ve given, you will notice that there is the Spirit of the Law and then there is the Letter of the Law.
In the first example, that of unclean food, Jesus declares all food clean when He teaches in the Gospel of Mark that, “It isn’t what goes into a person that defiles him, but what comes out of a person that defiles him.” Mark even makes the parenthetical comment that “In this way he declared all foods clean.” I am not free to consider myself free from the Old Testament food laws unless I understand that this freedom comes only from following Jesus Christ and holding to Him as the bridegroom, the one that this world has been waiting for. While Christ clearly indicates a new freedom to eat whatever food might be available with gratitude, the issue of purity is still important to Him. The spirit of the Law remains in effect, although the old system of observance has been thrown aside. So, while all food may be received with gratitude, the purity of your heart must still conform to the purity which Christ now desires from you.
Or consider the second example, the example of Worship services on Saturday. There is no denying that the early church quickly threw aside Sabbath observance. They did this, probably, because so many extra-Biblical commands were attached to the ritual of Sabbath observance by the Pharisees that it really had become a burden and not a blessing. But the Scriptures indicate, clearly, that the disciples still understood that the true purpose of the Sabbath was to worship God, to spend time with God, and to gather together with God’s people for instruction, learning and praise. They gladly instituted a Sunday worship service in place of the Sabbath observances. The spirit behind the Sabbath is still in effect, but the old letter of the Law was abandoned. There is freedom in what Christ proclaims here, but remember that you enjoy this freedom only as you follow Christ and are bound to Him!
Jesus was not concerned with the food laws, but purity, and standing apart from the rest of the world in a spirit of holiness still mattered to Him. Jesus didn’t care for the way the Pharisees demanded that the Sabbath be kept, but resting, worshiping God and gathering together with God’s people still mattered to Him. You cannot throw off the Old Covenant unless you are willing to embrace the New Covenant. And you cannot embrace the New Covenant unless you cling to Christ, follow Him and imitate His example. You cannot say, “I am no longer bound by the purity laws,” unless you commit yourself to a higher standard of purity in your heart and in your speech. You cannot say, “I am no longer bound by the burdens of Sabbath worship,” unless you commit yourself to the new standard of Sunday worship with God’s church.
It is a joy to follow the husbandman of your soul, to submit to His leading as He frees you from the bondage of the Law of Sabbath Observance and Food Purity Laws into a purity of heart and a joyful gathering with other Christians!
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.