RELIGION VERSES JESUS
“The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, ‘Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”
This next passage carries the theme of what was happening just before at Levi’s house. Jesus was spending time with sinners. That is in such contrast with the religious leaders of the day – but Jesus does not hold with their kind of religious society, He reaches out to all. And the same with their religious practices – and so we see here how Jesus answers the questioning of His followers works. Because there is a big difference between religious works, and Christ-centered works. As we’ll see unfold here. But speaking of works, first read James 2:14-26:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
Okay, so what makes these religious works like fasting that the Pharisees practiced and the works described here in James different? The kind of labour described by James, each example is characterized by serving others: 1) clothing the poor 2) obedience to the point of sacrifice 3) risking personal safety for others. Christ-centered works are not demonstrated best in the works of our flesh: fasting, self-denial practices, how much we can seclude ourselves from defilement of others. And yet, these types of religious works are so common in religion; but Jesus has a better way, and it doesn’t fit with the old traditions.
Greater love is not seen in a man simply laying down his life because he is just so very spiritual and close to God. NO! Jesus said greater love has no man than to lay his life down for a friend. That is the picture of pure and undefiled religion – purposeful sacrifice that brings benefit to others.
See, these three parts here in Mark – the eating with sinners, the questioning Jesus’ acts, the ‘breaking sabbath rules’ – they all point to the same message that we need to be reminded of over and over:
It’s not about the practices.
It’s about the people.
Jesus did not come to re-establish customs, He came to renew relationships. He came to show us how there is a reason for living a life dedicated to God, and it’s not just so we can get brownie points with God and work our way to heaven. It must be faith-based. It must be centered on Jesus. And what is Jesus centered on? Showing people the love and forgiveness that God has to offer them.
Now does that mean there is NO place for the practices, that we should throw the baby out with the bath water? No – Jesus compares new cloth with old, new wine with old. And He said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” And in fulfilling the things in the Old Testament, He brought to the practices purpose and meaning. What’s my point in saying that? Jesus says, yes my disciples will fast – when the time calls for it. See, often times fasting was done just to be practicing the act of fasting. Now I’m not saying that as a blanket statement, there are examples in the Old Testament of practices being done for a reason. I’m saying that the reason for any of these practices when Jesus came changed (see His prescription for how to fast in Matthew 6:16-18). Then, the New Testament examples we have of fasting are – Paul in Acts 9 as he waited to hear from God, Acts 10:30 when Cornelius was seeking God’s direction, Acts 13:1-3 when Barnabas and Paul were prepared to go minister on their first missionary journey, Acts 14:23 when choosing church leaders, and lastly an obscure example is Paul again in Acts 17:21-26 (but I think the fast resulted from lack of food, not necessarily by choice in this case). All of these examples show a reason to fast. And not just fasting, but any religious or Christian practices done just ‘because this is the right thing to do’ and not out of a heart of looking to please God, show love to others, etc (like going to church, praying, communion, tithing, or fasting) – listen carefully here! – if we are simply doing these things to be religious, just going through the motions, we might as well NOT be Doing Anything!!!
Because religious acts to be religious is still fulfilling the flesh. And if you’re going to do that, you’d reap the same benefit as living a life of sin.
Because God looks at the heart. Man looks at the outside – the wineskin, the cloth. God looks inside – the wine, the cloth. He cares about our motives, and He tells us what our motivation should be. To obey and please God. And to love others. All the law, all the works, everything in the Bible can be wrapped up in two things:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.