The Shock of the New

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people 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, ESV)

Here is an unusual and somewhat surprising coalition: the Pharisees and John’s disciples.  The Pharisees hated John.  He had, after all, called them “a brood of vipers:”

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:7–8, ESV)

These are not words calculated to bring one together with one’s listeners!

What were John’s disciples doing allied with the Pharisees?  I’m glad you didn’t asked.  I suspect what we have here is genuine consternation on the part of John’s disciples [the Pharisees did not seem to be trying to understand Jesus, I would argue that on their part they were simply gathering more ammunition with which to oppose him].  John’s disciples had learned that fasting was a basic part of religious devotion, and yet Jesus’ disciples weren’t fasting and Jesus didn’t seem to care.  What was going on?

Jesus, in his enigmatic way, doesn’t answer them directly, he gives his questioners two aphorisms which say the same thing: There is something new going on here.  One cannot approach the new in the same way that one approached the old. What was so new that it required a whole new approach to the practice of devoting oneself to God?  Bob Utley writes: “The new covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:22–38) has come in Jesus! Nothing can remain the same.”

What is new?  Everything.  After the coming of Jesus, we no longer need to bring the sacrifice of a sheep to a priest in order to atone for our sins, we come to Jesus and confess.  Jesus is our eternal, high priest, and with his coming the old has passed away, replaced by the new.  John’s disciples did not understand this truth yet, the Pharisees never would understand it.

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