Mark 2:18-22


Jesus had a tendency to make hamburgers out of sacred cows.  He was never afraid to upset the status quo.  He touched an untouchable and had an afternoon conversation with a woman of ill repute.


In this chapter he does the same.  This section is organized into a large chiastic parallel which starts and ends with Jesus and a multitude by the sea.


Jesus is by the seaside with “all the multitude” (2:13).




Levi called.

Scribes & Pharisees ask: “Why eat & drink with sinners”

Jesus answers: Parable of physician (2:14-17).




Jesus’ disciples & Pharisees: “Why not fast?”

Jesus: Parable of attendants of bridegroom (2:18-20).



Parable: Old cloth on new garment (2:21).



Parable: Old wine in new wineskins (2:22).



Jesus’ disciple & Pharisees: Why pick grain on Sabbath?”

Jesus: Example of David (2:23-28).



Man with a withered hand.

Pharisees watching Jesus to see what He would do.

Jesus asks:  “Is in lawful to heal on the Sabbath”? (3:1-6).



Jesus is by the sea with a “great multitude” (3:7).




The common theme throughout this entire section is the legalism of the scribes and Pharisees contrasted with the grace presented by Jesus.





            John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” (Mark 2:18).

The first issue brought up by the Pharisees deals with the question of fasting. Fasting was an important part of their religion.  It was their practice to fast twice a week.  Monday and Thursday were their special days of fasting.  There is nothing wrong with such a practice.  The Bible teaches and encourages fasting.


            Consecrate a FAST, proclaim a solemn assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. (Joel 1:14).


            Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a FAST, proclaim a solemn assembly. (Joel 2:15).


Fasting was used in times of crises.  In times of emergency prayer, a fast would be proclaimed.  It was at such a time that David fasted when his son was sick to the point of death.  Likewise, the people of Nineveh entered into a fast at the preaching of Jonah when they were told of a coming judgment.


Furthermore, fasting is not limited to Old Testament times.  It was also practiced within the early church.


            And while they were ministering to the Lord and FASTING, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

            Then, when they had FASTED and prayed and laid their hands on them, the sent them away. (Acts 13:2-3).


            And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with FASTING, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:23).


In each of these cases, fasting is linked with prayer.  I believe it to be a sacrifice of comfort given to God as a part of prayer and worship.


The Pharisees knew about fasting.  It was a part of their religious life.  And they noticed something.  They noticed that Tuesday and Friday had come and the disciples were still eating.  They compared notes and found that these disciples were not in the habit of fasting at all.  And while Jesus had fasted for 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry, He did not participate in a regularly scheduled fast.


This stood in stark contrast to the disciples of John the Baptist.  His disciples DID fast regularly.


“John's disciples fast”


“The disciples of the Pharisees fast”


“Your disciples do not fast”


Do you see what the Pharisees are saying?  “Everyone who is spiritually minded is fasting, so why aren’t you?”  This is religious peer pressure.


Peer pressure makes people do funny things.  If you don’t believe that, then visit your local high school.   Kids are notorious for trying to conform to the expectations of their peers.  I grew up in a generation of non-conformists and we struggled to be exactly alike in our non-conformity.


But peer pressure isn’t limited to the young.  It is just as evident among the old.  And all too often, it is seen in the church.  It is seen when we dress alike and talk alike and act in a manner that is expected of us - when we raise our hands alike or don’t raise our hands alike.


Spirituality is not to be measured in conformity to outward appearances.  It is to be measured in our conformity to the person and character of Jesus Christ.  Anything less is merely a cheap substitute.  Jesus didn’t bow to peer pressure.  He didn’t care that “everyone else is doing it.” And we shouldn’t, either.





The answer to the Pharisees’ question is given in the form of three illustrations.  They are short parables.





Attendants of a Bridegroom

New Patches on Old Clothes

New Wine in Old Wineskins

Illustrates disciples

Illustrates scribes and Pharisees


1.         Illustration of a Bridegroom.


            And Jesus said to them, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.

            “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. (Mark 2:19-20).


There was no more happy time in the ancient world than at a wedding. When we have a wedding, we go to a church or some other meeting place, have a ceremony followed by a short party and then we send to couple off on a honeymoon.  They used to do it differently.  In the ancient world, everyone went on the honeymoon.  They would have the wedding at the house of the groom and the couple would stay there with the guests for an entire week of honeymooning.  That entire week would be a party time for the people who loved the couple.  It was not a time of fasting.  It was a time of rejoicing.


The attendants of the feast would be made up of the best friends of the groom.  It was their responsibility to keep the party alive.  They would promote the festivities and carry out the celebrations.  One thing that these attendants would never do during to course of the party would be to mourn.


Do you see the connection?  Fasting is always to be in conjunction with mourning or praying.  It is used in crisis situations.  But the Pharisees had turned it into a meaningless routine.  They fasted only because it was a part of their program, not because there was any repentance on their part.  They were only locked into their ritual.


Here is the meaning of the parable.  Jesus is the bridegroom.  When the bridegroom is present, it is time to party.  Jesus is here.  And that makes it a time of celebration, not of mourning.  There will come a time of mourning, but it has not come yet.  It will not come until the bridegroom has been taken away.


Now I want to ask you a question.  Should we fast today?  I think that we should.  We should fast in times of mourning and in times of repentance and in times of spiritual crisis.  But it should never become a mere ritualistic routine that is to be followed so that we can look down our nose at someone else.


2.         Illustration of a Patch.


            “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results.” (Mark 2:21).


Now Jesus moves to a new parable.  It deals with a patch from a new piece of cloth being sewn onto an old suit of clothes.

How are we to understand this parable?  Remember that Jesus is still explaining why His disciples do not fast.  He has not changed the subject.  He is merely illustrating it further.


In those days, clothes were made either from cotton or from wool.  Both of these fabrics would shrink.  If you had an old robe with a big hole in it and patched it up with a piece of new cloth, then the next time you washed it, the patch would shrink and rip the robe.  The result would be an even bigger hole.  If you wanted to patch an old robe, then you had to patch it with an old patch.


Here is what Jesus is saying.  There is no way that the things which He is teaching can fit into the ritualistic systems of the Pharisees.  His message of an internal holiness and a repentance from sin is like a new patch being placed upon an old garment.  It will tear apart their system of legalism.


3.         Illustration of a Wineskin.


            “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:22).


This is the third illustration.  But it is still teaching the same truth.  It illustrates it with new wine and old wineskins.


The Jews used to take wine and place it into the skin of an animal.  The neck of the animal would be used as the spout and the rest of the skin would be sewn shut.


Once the skin had been emptied and then left without anything in it, the skin would begin to dry out and crack.  If you then tried to put wine back into it, the cracks would become greater until the entire skin would burst, spilling the wine onto the ground and ruining it.


Old wineskins are a hazard.  They become thicker and harder and eventually they will crack.  They cease to be flexible.  They lose their elasticity.  They become brittle.  And as a result, when fresh wine is poured into them, they cannot contain it.


Jesus is the new wine.  He is fresh and new in His approach.  He comes on the scene, threatening to break asunder the old forms.  The Pharisees are the old wineskins.  They are already leaking.  They cling to their traditional hand-me-downs.


There is a principle here.  Old structures cannot hold Jesus.  The church must be ready to deal with change.  Our outward forms must never be so rigid that they cannot hold people who are different.  The structures are not bad in themselves.  They are merely meant to hold reality.  But when they become too rigid, then they begin to strangle reality.


There are things which are essential - the wine.  And then there are things which are useful, but not primary - the skins.  What is more important, the wine or the container which holds the wine?


The Pharisees had come to the place where their focus was on the wineskin.  They loved the fancy exterior, old and faded though it had become.  They had lost sight of the reality behind the form. 


The church has both reality and ritual.  It has both faith and form.  Faith is the gift from God - it doesn’t change.  Form is the packaging - it does change.


There are people who have the packaging, but who don’t have the gift.  You can tell them because they are only concerned that we never change the packaging.  Others have the gift, but they are focusing upon the packaging and want to hold onto the old packaging.  Still others want to bring up new packaging, but they have nothing to put into it.  They want change, but there is no real content to their change.


Check out your wineskins.  Are they looking a little worn around the edges? Stop patching up old wineskins.  Come to the new wine.


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