“Some people came and asked Jesus, ‘How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?’" Mark 2:18 (NIV)

The Old Testament specified one day a year when God called His people to fast — the Day of Atonement. The leaders of God’s people also called other occasional fasts, but the Pharisees had made fasting part of their regular routine. It appears that they fasted twice a week and encouraged others to do the same (Luke 18:12). So, the question to Jesus is “Why are your disciples not fasting?”

Fasting at a wedding

Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?’” Mark 2:19

Imagine fasting at a wedding! Picture the scene with me…. We’ve all been to the ceremony and driven to the banqueting hall. We are seated round the tables and everyone settles as the father of the bride stands up to speak. To everyone’s surprise he looks quite miserable.

“I’m glad you are all here today on this important occasion. I expect some of you have been looking forward to a meal, but I have to tell you that we aren’t going to have any food today. We’re not going to have any music, and we’re not going to have any dancing.

Marriage is a serious business. And because it’s a serious business, we want to take it…seriously! We all fail in many in many ways, and so today I want us to spend some time in silence, examining our hearts. I want you to remember my daughter’s wedding as a day of repentance.”

We laugh because this is ridiculous! The whole point of a wedding is that it is a celebration! Jesus brings His friends into joy! This is not the time for fasting. 

Turning blessings into burdens

“’Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’…Jesus said ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’” Mark 2:24, 27

Mark tells us about a time when Jesus’ disciples picked a few ears of corn while they were walking beside a field on the Sabbath. You see, in the fourth commandment, God calls us to set aside one day in the week to rest from our work and to enjoy all that He done. That is a gift and a blessing from God.

But the Pharisees had turned the blessing into a burden, with an endless list of rules about what you could and could not do. In their eyes, pulling a few ears of corn was harvesting and that is work. Religious systems turns God’s blessing into a burden.

I meet many people who have had a bad experience of religion that alienated them from God. It was about rules and traditions that seem to have no point. It felt like a means of control exercised by people who have very little joy in their own lives.

Lifting heavy burdens

Do you see that this is the very thing that Jesus is against! He came to break the power of dead religion! He leads His disciples into joy. He lifts the heavy burdens of silly rules and stuffy traditions.

A Christ-centered church will be marked by joy. It will not be a place where the burdens of human rules and traditions are imposed but rather where they are lifted. When you see that, you may have a new interest in following Jesus.

This LifeKey is based on the message “Jesus Stirs Up Conflict,” by Pastor Colin S. Smith on September 30, 2007, from the series “The Gospel According to Jesus.”