33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’ “Luke 5:33-39, ESV
You can’t please everyone.
As a pastor, I have found myself woefully inadequate in so many areas. I do not doubt that my struggles are similar to many other people’s, and I think you’ll agree with me. For example, in 2020, our beautiful state of Washington was effectively shut in response to Covid-19. Our Governor’s original instructions were to patiently endure quarantine for several weeks to “flatten the curve.” Our church building’s doors were closed, and we tried to continue to minister to our church family through online interaction. Once those weeks had passed, our church doors reopened, and we joyfully began to gather for public worship again. Those two decisions, to close and to reopen, were met with approval and disapproval. I could be talking to one person who wanted to express their disinterest in masks and later talking to another person who wanted to express their distrust for people who were not wearing properly or at all. Approval and disapproval were two daily contradicting forces that can wear down a pastor. There is something in most of us that wishes we could be all things to all people at all times. We want to please everyone, not because we are weak, but because we realize everyone is valuable. However, if a pastor pursues the goal of pleasing everyone, he will likely please no one, and in the end, dishonor His Lord. When you are viewed as the leader in any group, the painfully obvious reality is that we can not please everyone.
Look at our text with me. Jesus is God manifest in the flesh. He is Immanuel, which being interpreted is “God with us.” If the Son of the living God wasn’t able to please everyone, then why would I think I could perform such a miracle? On the other hand, Jesus will perform that miracle in the end, wiping all tears from every eye and dwelling with us forever in His New Jerusalem. But that reality is not today. Today we live in a fallen world full of distrust, coveting, jealousy, and all sorts of naturally sinful dispositions that contribute to our chaos. Jesus is being criticized because His disciples are not fasting enough like the Pharisees’ disciples or the disciples of John the baptist. The question that I want to ask those dissenters is, “If you like John the Baptist and the Pharisees better than Jesus, then why don’t you go change your membership?” You can’t fool me, and I know you thought it too. Jesus isn’t so easily frustrated or offended as I am, so he graciously answers the question.
Celebrating the Bridegroom
Jesus seems to draw an analogy for worship with the picture of a wedding feast. The bridegroom, the most important aspect of the celebration, is present. Why would the guests not celebrate in the presence of the bridegroom? That is Jesus’ point. Fasting is associated with mourning. Fasting is not celebratory but patently enduring some sadness until God miraculously turns that mourning into joy. Therefore, it is natural that Jesus’ disciples aren’t fasting like the disciples of John or the Pharisee’s followers. John knew who Jesus was, but it seems that his disciples were still not realizing who Jesus was. The Pharisees and their disciples were outright rejecting who Jesus was claiming to be. Both of those other groups did not have a natural reason for celebration, and therefore they mourned with fasting. Jesus isn’t opposed to fasting. Jesus affirms that His disciples will eventually fast, but not while He is still present. Jesus’ disciples will celebrate their bridegroom until the day He ascends. In Jesus’ ascension, fasting isn’t truly appropriate.
Jesus’ followers fast now because we are patiently awaiting the second coming of our glorious King, our bridegroom, who will deliver His bride, carrying her across the threshold of her new home called the New Jerusalem. Those Pharisees fast for a different reason. They fast because they are waiting for their bridegroom to arrive, but as long as they wait for a different bridegroom, they will be eternally disappointed.