Opening Discussion: What is a way that we often struggle to know the right time for something?

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

Mark 2:18-22

Timing

One of the most overlooked aspects of Jesus’ life in the Gospels is his sense of timing. Jesus knows perfectly when he needs to do ministry, when he needs to refrain, when he needs to preach, and when he needs to move on. Jesus’ timing only becomes more profound in the Gospels as we move toward the appointed time of Jesus’ passion.

In this set of teachings Jesus is posed a question about the rightness and wrongness of fasting. As usual, Jesus doesn’t answer the question in the way that people are hoping he will answer it. He instead moves into a broader discussion about the timing of what he came to do.

This Scripture can actually be viewed as an introduction to what Jesus is teaching about the new covenant that he came to initiate. We see this new covenant foretold in a couple of places in the Old Testament: 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34

26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.

Ezekiel 37:26

The point is that any religious practice or way of thinking should be brought into line with the reality of the presence and person of Jesus Christ. Fasting and Sabbath-keeping might be good practices, but if they do not consider the light of a new covenant brought about by Jesus, they are potentially good things being done at a bad time.

Discussion Questions

  • What does it mean to have a covenant with God?
  • In what ways did Jesus change the old covenant into a new covenant with God?
  • Why does Jesus compare his presence to a wedding (Mark 2:18-20)?
  • What prevents us from treating the presence of Jesus with the proper amount of joy and celebration?
  • How is a relationship with God incompatible with common religious thinking?
  • What is often substituted for the Gospel in how churches teach students and children to think about God?
  • How do you define moralistic therapeutic deism?
  • Are we teaching our kids genuine faith in Christ or some sort of moralistic therapeutic deism?
  • Does the “tearing of the old garments” sometimes damage people’s faith when they confuse religious thinking with a relationship with God?
  • How have you come to understand a new wineskin in your own life (how do you see that you have a new heart in which you can have a relationship with God)?
Jonathan Pugh
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