In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees required fasting twice a week for orthodox Judaism, even though the Old Testament law prescribed only one fast on the Day of Atonement. But Jesus was not doing this and some people questioned why not. Jesus went about teaching and healing and dining with people. Jesus brought life and joy with Him, not mourning.
Even today, our faith in Jesus should bring us joy, comfort us, give us hope. There may be times for fasting, but I believe they are rare. Unless it is done for all the right reasons and in private, then one is just merely going through the motions of a good diet or cleansing. Jesus came to replace the old, external traditions of rituals and self-righteousness, to give us new, internal traditions of repentance and grace! It is freeing, and it is joy! Don’t pour the new wine into old wineskins!
~ Jesus Questioned About Fasting ~
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
Do you remember that feeling when you got picked for the team in school? It probably made you feel happy or relieved. Or maybe you remember not getting picked, and it seemed to make your whole day feel even worse. Everyone wants to belong somewhere, to know they have worth. We want to feel, that even though we might not be very good or have made some stupid mistakes, someone believes in us anyway, and likes the potential they see in us. Well, that’s exactly what Jesus did, and how he made people feel.
Jesus was known for dining with sinners and tax collectors. Tax collectors were in a category all by themselves and considered the biggest sinners of all. It would have been scandalous in those days to be seen with them, much less dine at their house. Now, Jesus was not hanging out with them to call out their sins or to prove his point, which he certainly had the authority to do. He was there for one thing: Follow Me! Jesus saw their potential over the bad. He was giving them a chance. They had been picked for the team!
~ The Call of Matthew, Dining with Sinners ~
Then Jesus went out again beside the sea. The whole crowd was coming to Him, and He taught them. Then, moving on, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” So he got up and followed Him.
While He was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also guests with Jesus and His disciples, because there were many who were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, He told them, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew went on to follow Jesus the rest of his life, giving up his rich lifestyle. He wrote a book about Jesus’s life which became one of the four gospels. He went on to minister to Persia, Macedonia, Syria and Ethiopia to bring the good news to kings and sinners, and he never regretted that day he was picked or his decision to follow.
Which is easier – to forgive someone’s sins, or to heal their physical body? We have medical doctors, medicine and hospitals that can do great things today to heal the body, but we still only have one person who has ever claimed to be able to forgive your sins for eternity, and that is Jesus. No other person, no matter what religion or belief, has ever even attempted to make that claim. And that one single claim is the difference, and it’s a big difference. It’s worth checking out the person who made this claim.
Jesus had no agenda of his own, and did not seek fame on his own. Everything he did pointed to God, whom He called His Father. The crowds that followed Him said it all – “We have never seen anything like this!”
I have to insert a little humor here as you read this story. Imagine Jesus speaking to the crowds, people hanging on his every word, some serious perhaps, and all of a sudden these four guys start cutting into the roof and lowering this guy down into the room. People gasp! But Jesus stays calm, and maybe he even smiles and laughs a little to himself as he sees what lengths these guys have gone. Jesus was not put off. I like to think that Jesus, who was also fully human, takes delight in our persistence and creativity of our faith to see Him. He enjoyed people.
The Son of Man Forgives and Heals Mark 2: 1-12
When Jesus entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home. So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the doorway, and He was speaking the message to them. Then they came to Him bringing a paralytic, carried by four men. Since they were not able to bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above where He was. And when they had broken through, they lowered the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
But some of the scribes were sitting there, thinking to themselves: “Why does He speak like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Right away Jesus understood in His spirit that they were thinking like this within themselves and said to them,“Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’?But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”He told the paralytic, “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”
Immediately he got up, picked up the mat, and went out in front of everyone. As a result, they were all astounded and gave glory to God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Would you climb through the roof of a crowded room if you knew Jesus could heal you?
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa. 25-50% of the population fled the country following the economic and social meltdown, and scourge of disease. Independent from Britain since 1965, it was followed by intense guerrilla warfare and government fraud and corruption. The church has grown amidst these trials as a refuge and to help meet the many desperate physical and social needs of the people. Pray for the strength of these churches, for desperately needed resources, and the healing of their country.
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This is the last country (alphabetically) in a year of prayer around the world. This is the final image too. If nothing else, I hope you remember this picture. It is a real part of the world we all live in, that we all participate in.
Someday, God is going to ask each of us, “What did you do to help?” Jesus’ direction to us was very clear: “Love God, love others, and tell others about Me.” For those of us who believe in Jesus as our Savior, we are completely covered in His grace and forgiveness, so we should act like it. Go out and do things for God, and then you’ll worry less about all the “don’ts”.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Zambia is a landlocked central southern African country. Debt, corruption and AIDS have driven the economy spiraling downward, so that 86% live below the poverty threshold. Independent from Britain in 1964, then under socialism until 1991 when Chiluba, an active Christian, was elected and declared Zambia a Christian country but with full religious freedom for all faiths. It was written into their constitution in 1996.
There is still much to be done to help the country economically and socially. Health services are overwhelmed with AIDS, leadership training is urgently needed, and Islam has been aggressively targeting Zambia. Pray that the country and people will turn to God as their source of strength and help.