Fasting for more longing and joy
“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” - Luke 5:35
The religious people of the day couldn’t quite figure out Jesus and what he did or didn’t do. Fasting was one area of confusion. “Everybody fasts except your disciples Jesus,” they complained, “Do explain yourself.” So Jesus did.
God had compared Himself multiple times in the OT to being like a husband to His people Israel (Is. 54:5; 62:5; Hos. 2:19). Here in Luke 5 Jesus picks up on that metaphor comparing himself to being the bridegroom (groom of the bride). He asks them if the wedding guests would abstain from food while the groom is still around. Can you imagine going to a wedding where they ask people to fast at the reception? No way. The presence of the groom calls for the guests to enjoy the party. As John the Baptist said of Jesus, the friend of the bridegroom “rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice... this joy of mine is now complete.”
The Bridegroom is the source of joy, and there is joy that comes from being in his presence. It wasn’t just his voice that compelled the disciples to leave their families, work, and houses to be with him. People don’t give up those things out of obligation. No, the do it because they see something more satisfying in being with him. In Jesus they saw genuine compassion for the poor (Luke 4:40) and sacrificial love for lepers (5:13). The say authority over demons (4:41) and power over nature (5:6) and disease (5:25). With Jesus they found the freedom of forgiveness of their sins apart from law-keeping (5:20) and purpose in life, “fishing” for others to be with him (5:10). Being with Jesus completed their joy like nothing before had.
We now live in the days where the bridegroom is away. We who believe know that we have already been betrothed to Christ as like our husband (2 Cor. 11:2), and we know that he will return with great glory to bring us like a bride to live with Him forever (Rev. 19:7-8). But for now we live in the days when Christ is away. And just like any bride whose husband is away at war or work for a long period of time, it is appropriate to live with a sense of longing to be united in their presence.
I think Jesus said his people will fast while he is away because fasting from finding joy in food for a season makes room for finding joy in Christ. Willfully giving up something that normally sustains us not only reminds us of our need for Christ’s sweet love, inspiring authority, and freeing forgiveness, it also creates hunger for more of it. Fasting reminds us that this is not our ultimate home or rightful party, and that our primary hunger is to live in the presence of Jesus and invite others to experience the joy of knowing him.