Today's Bible In a Year reading: 1 Kings 21-22; Psalm 114; Acts 25
Today's scripture focus passage: Luke 5:33-39
So, the first thing that caught my eye about this passage when I read it this time is that John the Baptist's disciples are still following the Judaic tradition of fasting in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. They don't seem to know the Messiah has already come, even though John, himself, baptized Jesus and seemed to know who Jesus really was at that time. Although we also know John later expressed some doubt about the Christ, so maybe it makes sense that his followers would wonder the same things.
Anyway, this fasting, as MacArthur points out in his sermon on this passage, is the ritual fasting of the religion of Judaism. Among other things, Pharisees prescribed daily ritual prayers and fasting days twice a week (commonly believed to be Mondays and Thursdays) and Jesus has here just finished feasting together with his first disciple, Levi aka Matthew. We don't know, of course, what day of the week it is, but it's not unreasonable to guess it might have been one of those fasting days. The tension between Jesus and the religious leaders is mounting and they think they have Him here. "How come you and your friends aren't following the Law properly? Even John the Baptizer's disciples fast when the Law says they're supposed to." Essentially, they were asking how on earth He could expect them to believe He was the Son of God if He didn't follow the "true religion" of God.
Jesus answers them so simply. "You wouldn't fast at a wedding, would you? You can't expect the friends of the bridegroom to fast when he's with them ~ it's a celebration!" Rabbinical laws actually stated fasting wasn't even permitted on joyous occasions such as weddings, yet those same laws also linked fasting with mourning because the only actual fast prescribed by the Mosaic Law was on the Day of Atonement. So fasting was originally supposed to be a symbol of repentance and sorrow over sin, and of knowing a Messiah would come one day to take away the punishment for sin, once and for all, but also knowing that day hadn't come yet. So when Jesus replied the way He did, He let them know they were completely missing the boat.
I like what MacArthur says: "Here's what the Holy Spirit through Luke wants us to understand. Judaism at its most devout level, at its highest point is completely out of sync with the gospel totally. It doesn't recognize the Messiah. It doesn't recognize the bridegroom is here. It doesn't understand this is the time of immense joy. Christianity is unique. The gospel is unique. It is incompatible with any other religion, including Judaism."
Jesus then goes on to illustrate how true Christianity doesn't conform to other religions and can't be combined with them either. And He also indicates how difficult it is for people who've been steeped in religion and religious traditions for a long time to embrace the Gospel. They're content with their system and very hard to convince that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life. The tendency is to want to mix things a little, to try and mesh religious traditions with Gospel truth, in an effort to make the Gospel seem less exclusive and more acceptable and attractive.
But there's no mixing religion and the Gospel. To do so completely voids the message.
"So what do we do?" MacArthur asks. "Do we tell [sinners] that's okay and put the gospel in as a patch? Do we tell them that's okay and dump some of the gospel in their old wineskin? No. Beloved, we have to preach that the gospel stands alone."
All religion is bankrupt. People need Christ. They don't need religion, they need the Gospel that replaces it.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year reading: Luke 6:1-5
Monday's scripture focus passage: 2 Kings 1-2
Awesome truth. Christ alone, the gospel alone.
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