Jesus continues to show His authority as He conflicts increasingly with Jewish religious leaders. It is interesting to note that the previous verses talk about a feast with “sinners and tax collectors” and this text opens with a discussion of fasting (From France’s Mark Commentary of the Greek Text.) Every facet of Jewish life is changed when Jesus comes. Here in the discussion about fasting, Jesus explains through the examples of the cloth and wineskin that He didn’t come to add to or change the Old Testament. He came to fulfill it and to make a new covenant of grace based on faith in Himself. He encourages those around Him to rejoice and celebrate while He, the bridegroom is with them while He makes a veiled reference to His death when He will be “taken away from them.”
In the second half of this passage, Jesus confronts the legalism of the religious leaders concerning the Sabbath. The practice of Sabbath began at creation on the seventh day and was affirmed in the Ten Commandments. In answer to their legalism concerning the holy day, Jesus appeals to an Old Testament Jewish leader, David, and states that He is an even greater authority than David, even concerning the Sabbath. He reminds the religious leaders that rules aren’t made to control man, but to make his life more abundant.
What is fasting?
In verse 18, who was fasting? Who was not fasting?
What was at the heart of the question the people were asking Jesus? Why do you think they asked Him this?
What was Jesus’ response to their question in verse 19? Who do the wedding guests represent? Who does the bridegroom represent?
Why wouldn’t the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is present? What does it mean that the bridegroom will be taken away from them?
What is the difference between unshrunk cloth and an old garment? What reason does verse 21 give for not mixing these two fabrics?
Why would it be bad to put new wine into old wineskins?
What do the different types of fabric and different types of wineskins have in common? What do these two illustrations have to do with fasting and Jesus?
In verse 23, how can you see that the setting/timing of this story is important?
Who plucked the heads of grain? Why would they do this?
In verse 24, who posed the question to Jesus? Were they right that to pick gain was against the Old Testament law? See Exodus 34:21 for help with your answer.
How did Jesus answer them? With a statement or a question?
Why would Jesus use David as an example? What did David do in this example? Read the story in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.
Was Jesus condoning David’s behavior? See Matthew 12:1-8 to help with your answer.
How would you restate verses 27-28? What was Jesus communicating here?
The people continued to have presuppositions about what they thought was right and godly. They had added rules about fasting to what the Old Testament prescribed and were upset when Jesus didn’t conform to their extra rules. Are you adding to Scripture in a legalistic way? Are you holding others to standards that aren’t in the Bible? Are you arrogant in your opinions so that you’re unwilling to change them?
When the text talks about Jesus as the bridegroom, it shows us one response we should have to Him. We should rejoice and take joy in His company. Are you rejoicing in the daily presence of God with you? Are you enjoying time with Him or has it become a burden to you?
The Bible assumes that followers of Jesus will fast. Here Jesus says that when He’s gone, His disciples will fast. Do you fast? Why or why not? If you do, what is your purpose for fasting?
In the examples of the cloth and wineskins, the text is talking about the old and new covenants. In the Old Testament, the covenant was based on the laws God gave to Moses, but with Jesus came the new covenant, which is based on His grace. Jesus was saying that you can’t put part of the new covenant on the old law. It’s a totally new way of doing things. Are you living under the condemnation of the law of the Old Testament? Are you trying to earn your way to heaven or are you living under the free grace and salvation of the New Testament?
Verse 27 says that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. We weren’t made to keep the Sabbath or any other spiritual discipline. They were made for us to help us know and glorify God more fully. Have spiritual disciplines like reading your Bible, praying and going to church become a thing you do without thought? Are they an end in themselves for you or are they things you do to help you draw closer to God?
Though the idea of the Sabbath isn’t repeated in the New Testament as a command to follow, the principle of the Sabbath began at creation. Part of the purpose of resting is to show our weakness and remind us of our dependence on God. Do you keep a Sabbath where you rest regularly? If not, what keeps you from doing this? Consider making this a regular part of life for yourself and your family.
If you would like further study on David eating the temple bread and the meaning of Jesus’ discussion of the Sabbath here is a helpful resource: https://www.gotquestions.org/David-showbread.html
Ask the Lord to broaden your spiritual understanding of His deep truths
Pray God would reveal to you how much fasting should be a part of your life
Ask for understanding as He reveals what fasting is about
Request that God purify your motives for fasting
Ask for a greater desire for the Lord’s presence in your life
Pray for self control in your eating, so that the amount and type of food you eat glorifies Him
Thank the Lord that we don’t have to follow every Old Testament law
Praise Jesus that His death and resurrection brought a new covenant based on grace not on law
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where you are doing things from obligation instead of from a desire to know Him
Request wisdom on how you should apply the principle of the Sabbath to your life
Pray that the Lord would reveal where you depend too much on yourself and your works instead of resting in Him and His work
Ask God for rest and refreshment of your body and mind
Ask God to reveal where you are too worried about what other people are doing and not focused on your own sin
Pray that God would reveal where you are legalistic
Ask that when you read the Bible, pray and do other spiritual disciplines God would purify your motives
Pray that God would reveal sin in your life that keeps you from knowing Him more closely