Everett Henes: A new era

“A new era has begun” is an overused slogan but one that captures the idea that things are going to be different. Unfortunately, it has been used to hail sports teams winning a championship only to lose the following year; it is used to announce a new software platform when the creators are already working on the next version. Video game creators use it again and again, and political victories, no matter how temporary, claim it. All these examples fall short of what it means to see the beginning of a “new era.”

Many in Jesus’ day would’ve understood. They had seen too many imposters claiming to be the messiah. They would be skeptical of anyone making the claim. That is what made Jesus so different. He was continually offending people but also extending healing and acceptance to those who called out to him. There was something revolutionary about him, but he did not come to revolt against political forces. One thing was clear from the announcement of his birth onwards; something is different about him. Jesus was ushering in a new era. This is pictured for us in Luke 5:33-39 through an interesting exchange about fasting, which is staining from food.

“The disciples of John almost often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” (Luke 5:33) It’s not so much a question as it is a statement, but the question is implied. Why don’t they fast and pray? To understand the controversy over fasting, we need to appreciate the significance of fasting in Scripture and in first-century Judaism in particular. Fasting had a rich heritage in Judaism and was considered an act of worship. Jesus’ response is a bit enigmatic. “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will almost in those days.”

There are many metaphors that are used throughout Scripture to speak of God’s relationship to his people and this is, perhaps, one of the greatest. Jesus shows that he is not simply a mentor to his disciples. Our translation refers to them as ‘wedding guests’ and the words used here refer to those who aid the groom at the wedding, an allusion then to the intimate relationship his disciples already have with him.

While Jesus does not disparage fasting in himself, he points out that there is a time for feasting, and that is when the bridegroom is present. Fasting was used to commemorate, to mourn, or to repent. There would be times for that, but not while Jesus was present. Jesus refers to a time when fasting will again be appropriate when he is taken away. There was fasting among his followers in the days after his death before they knew of his resurrection. The early church continued to have times of fasting because they longed for the restoration that will occur at Jesus’ return.

Fasting is a legitimate practice this day as we too yearn for the coming of Christ. But fasting takes on a significant change. We do not almost for the same reasons that they did in the Old Testament; we cannot do so because we have a different perspective. What is key about the change of perspective is that it all turns on Jesus’ presence. He is the one who defines the practice.

There is an exciting message in these verses: Jesus brings a new era. Those who come to Christ must see this and, at the same time, this will be the struggle for many. Judas would not be able to understand why Jesus did not fulfill his expectations. Peter would struggle with this as well. Peter erred in picking up a sword to defend Christ, thinking that the Kingdom he brings is of this world, and when he is rebuked, he will reject Jesus three times. We cannot underestimate the difficulty that the disciples had in seeing what it was that Jesus brought. We can relate. We all have those moments of doubt in our Christian walk, times when we struggle with whether our faith is genuine. If your faith is tied to how your walk with Christ was in the past, you will always struggle.

The answer for the disciples and those who struggle with doubt is the same: The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Receive what Christ has done. Trust in him, believe him, and rejoice.

Pastor Everett Henes, the pastor of the Hillsdale Orthodox Presbyterian Church, can be reached at [email protected]