Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:14a “Then came to him the disciples of John,. . .”
Everyone was troubled by Jesus’ new way of doing things. He was unconventional, yea even loose, by some people’s standards. Among the confused were the disciples of John the Baptist. Their famous and great leader was ascetic, living a monastic, Spartan life out in the wilderness. His diet was austere: locusts and wild honey. John’s stern self-denial had become the role model for his followers.
People tend to imitate their leaders as a means of revering them. To choose a different course of action is considered disrespectful. Thus, these men were concerned because Jesus acted in ways different from how John the Baptist did them.
They were not hypocrites or faultfinders. They were simply curious, seeking answers to issues they did not understand. It’s okay to ask questions. Ignorance is not valued. Christianity should always open itself to scrutiny. We welcome investigation. The faith of the only true and living God has nothing to hide.
Matt. 9:14b “. . .saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy
disciples fast not?”
There was gladness in the Jesus crowd. The disciples of John, having rigor as their ideal, were suspicious about a belief that makes a person happy. They had fallen into a common trap. We too often let our behavior become a law for others.
The Old Testament commanded fasting one day a year, the Day of Atonement. Pharisees practiced it twice a week (104 times per year). The disciples of John may not have fasted this often, but obviously sympathized with the concept.
Often thinking different is wrong, we want the whole world to copy us. Viewing our paradigm of holiness as the only acceptable one, we sometimes don’t even try to understand, much less tolerate, any behavior or thinking but our own.
This narrowness sometimes springs from limited variety of experience or lack of imagination, but I fear it stems more often than not from a lack of humility. We are so egocentric that we think what we do everyone should do. To do less than I do is to do too little (liberalism), to do more is to do too much (legalism).
We may deem ourselves the true standard for all others, but we’re not. Jesus is our pattern, and the Bible is our criterion in determining all matters of belief and behavior. If in Scripture, law; if not in Scripture, liberty; in all things, love.
Matt. 9:15a “And Jesus said unto them,. . .”
Jesus, dealing gently with John’s followers, voiced no rebuke. The answer did not disparage or denigrate the questioners. Jesus could be straightforward and aggressive in his dealings with others. We also need to be this way sometimes, but Jesus had two distinct advantages over us. He never misstated anyone’s position, and He knew the condition of everyone’s heart. We too often speak on the basis of hearsay or assumption, and we certainly have no way of knowing the condition of a person’s heart. Thus, maybe we need to say less against our opponents, and season what we do say with more grace. Calm, honest, and straightforward comparing of views is okay and essential in a free society, but rancor must be avoided.
We live in a time of cultural war. I don’t feel as smart as I did last Sunday. On Tuesday (11-7-00) our nation voted to elect a new president, and now five days later we still do not know who he will be. In these five days, a firestorm has exploded, a brutal verbalization of feelings which have been simmering for a generation. Our country is bitterly divided; contempt marks both sides of the chasm.
Since unclear times call for clear preaching, I need to speak boldly to Christians. Are the issues at stake in this election important? Of course. Anyone neutral in this trying hour is brain dead. Do I have strong feelings about the election? Yes, but they shall remain contained to me and my close circle of acquaintances.
Our ultimate allegiance is not to any human leader, but to King Jesus, and this church’s pulpit shall remain dedicated solely to promoting His honor and glory. We believers need to be reminded, though the political realm matters, it is not nearly as important as the spiritual. The two are worlds apart in significance. Our primary agenda as Christians is to win souls, not arguments, and we cannot win spiritually anyone we are shooting at politically. Therefore, I plead, in this time of cultural war, let’s seek ways to support our convictions without condemning those who disagree with us. When challenged, as best we are able, “Our care must be only to clear ourselves, not to recriminate, or throw dirt upon others” (Henry).
My desire is that we will be able to find ways to reach across the divide with conviction and compassion, yet without compromise. In the meantime, pray. Let us not forget our most basic understanding of God’s sovereignty. As believers we are called upon to do what we can as citizens, but we believe God ordains rulers. Our next president will ultimately be chosen not by ballots, courts, or the electoral college. All of these are merely instruments God will use to verify His choice.
Matt. 9:15b “. . .Can the children of the bridechamber mourn,. . .”
The days Jesus was spending with His disciples were a time of unbounded gladness, like the merriment of a wedding reception. Since fasting denoted sadness and concern, it would have been inappropriate for Jesus’ disciples at this time. It would be wrong for them to mourn, as if Jesus’ coming were some kind of calamity. To grieve as if at a funeral would have been totally out of place.
To be with Jesus entails joy. In His presence are delights evermore. David knew this, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (PS 16:11). Gladness should be the underlying, bedrock trait of Christians. We do sorrow over sin and grieve over the moral demise of our nation, but we never despair (2 Cor. 4:8). We are saved and secure, Jesus is in us, Heaven is ours. Joy must dominate our emotions.
The disciples enjoyed times with Jesus. “He did not seem able to give them a higher idea of heaven than the idea of being with Him. “Where I am, there shall ye be also.” Paul caught the idea. To be with Christ was the highest idea of heaven” (Thomas). Brothers and sisters in Christ, rejoice, we are the wedding party.