“Then came to Him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but Thy disciples fast not?” The disciples of John were very sorrowful. Their master was in prison, and their days were passed in mourning and frequent fasts. They had not accepted Jesus as the world’s Redeemer as fully as had John. They thought Christ needed to reform in His practise, because He did not do in every particular as John did. They saw how differently the disciples of Christ were being molded from themselves and the scribes and Pharisees. While they were mourning and fasting because of the imprisonment of John, they saw Jesus sitting and eating with publicans and sinners. Misinterpreting His object, they united with the Pharisees in condemning His practise.
Christ’s answer met both classes of complainants. “Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn,” He said, “as long as the Bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” The disciples of Christ had the Bridegroom with them. He was everything to them. It would not be appropriate for them to spend their days in mourning and fasting. They must now be catching the rays of light from Jesus, learning the spiritual nature of His kingdom, and the grace of His character, that they might work when He should leave them.
Christ was constantly working to instruct those who were to fill the office of apostles. The work for which the Lord was preparing them was to teach the commandments of God. Nearly two thousand years ago there was heard from the throne of God in heaven a voice of mysterious import: “Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; … burnt-offering and sin-offering hast Thou not required…. Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of Me: I delight to do Thy will, O My God; yea, Thy law is within My heart.”
Christ did not come to abrogate the law given on Sinai, but to enforce it. He was the foundation of the whole Jewish economy. That which He had spoken from Sinai was the foundation of the government of heaven, and was to be as enduring as eternity. He knew the strength of the law of Jehovah. He knew its immutability. It was because the law of God could not be changed to meet man in his fallen condition, that Christ clothed His divinity with humanity, and came to our world to take upon Him the sins of a fallen race. He became sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
Christ, in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, came to our world to reveal truth, to present God to the world in His true character. Would you know God? Look upon His only-begotten Son. “He that hath seen Me,” “Christ said to Philip, “hath seen the Father.” Christ saw how men’s devices and ideas had been interwoven with truth, and He came to rescue truth from the rubbish of error, and reset it in the framework of the Gospel, presenting the law of God in its original dignity and purity. Who could so well cope with superstition and the misinterpretation of the Word of God as He who was the Author of all truth? Who was so well fitted to conquer the power of darkness as He who knew the enemy as an angel fallen? Who could so well rescue the gems of truth, which, through the devices of Satan, had been made to serve in companionship with error, as He who had given these truths?
Christ veiled His divinity beneath the garb of humanity. This was the only way in which He could approach men. Had He not done this, He could not have conversed with men, and gathered them around Him to hear the grand and elevating truths which were to be to them eternal life. It was a part of the plan that He should hide the brightness of His glory, that, during His earthly life, He should humble Himself to man’s estate. The world’s Redeemer was to make a solemn oblation of Himself. His divine greatness had long been the subject of prophecy. His work had long been foretold. He must identify Himself as the subject of prophecy. He, the Light of the world, must lighten every man that cometh into the world. If He displaced types and shadows, it was only because type had met antitype in Himself. He must occupy the place which the types had prefigured. He must stand out prominently as the only One who could redeem the world.
How could those who had the presence of God with them, believing in Him, trusting in Him, loving Him, daily being taught by Him, mourn and fast as did the Pharisees? The children of the bride-chamber could not fast while the Bridegroom was with them. But Christ knew that the days were coming when the Bridegroom would be taken away from them. Then when days of trial and temptation came, and the presence of the Comforter was not clearly discerned, the disciples could more consistently mourn and fast.
When He should approach the cross, and descend into the depths of humiliation; when His disciples should witness Him in whom their hopes of eternal life were centered, in the hands of wicked men; when they should hear His own nation clamoring for His blood, and see Herod and his soldiers plaiting the crown of thorns for His sacred brow; when they should see Him clad in the purple robe, and His persecutors bowing before Him, striking Him with the reed which they had placed in His hand; when they should see Him who they thought was to take His place on David’s throne, scourged as the worst of criminals, and the murderous Barabbas chosen in the place of their beloved Teacher; when they should see Him lifted up on the cross, and dying as a malefactor—then they would have cause to mourn and fast. Then their faith would be tried, and their hope and courage would fail.
But the Life-giver comes forth from the sepulcher. From above the rent sepulcher of Joseph there is heard a shout of triumph from the heavenly universe. Jesus is risen, and is again with His disciples, talking with them, opening to them the Scriptures, and testifying that Christ must needs have suffered, been crucified, and the third day have risen again. This Christ had told His disciples before, but they did not then want to hear it. The nature and character of His Kingdom they could not fully comprehend. But after His resurrection they were not left in darkness on these points. Christ Himself opened their minds that they might understand the Scriptures concerning Himself. And so when He led them out as far as to Bethany. “He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” “And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.”
These angel messengers had been commissioned to separate from the company who were escorting Christ to heaven, and go and tell the disciples that the same Jesus whom they had loved on earth would come again. Then the disciples remembered the words of Christ, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
“And they … returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.” What a period of triumph was this for the church! Jesus was not in Joseph’s new tomb. He had arisen, and had ascended to heaven. Heavenly messengers had told the disciples that He would come again.
— E.G. White, Signs of the Times, July 7, 1898
The disciples were not to fast and mourn after the ascension of Christ; for this was just what the prince of darkness wanted. He desired that they should give to the world the impression that they had been deceived and disappointed, that their expectations had not been realized. Before His ascension Christ had declared: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it. If ye love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever.”
If by faith they would accept and practise the teachings of Christ, they would have, not a cloud of heaviness and mourning, but the peace of Christ. Said Christ: “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father; for My Father is greater than I.”
Christ had told His disciples: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they shall deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.”
After enumerating the persecutions they should meet for His name’s sake, Christ said: “It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?”
There are times before us that will try the souls of men, and there will be need of watchfulness, of the right kind of fasting. This will not be like the fasting of the Pharisees. Their seasons of fasting were occasions of outward ceremony. They did not humble their hearts before God. They were filled with bitterness, envy, malice, strife, selfishness, and self-righteousness. While their heads were bowed in pretended humiliation, they were covetous, full of self-esteem, self-importance. They were oppressive, exacting, proud in spirit.
Everything in the Jewish service had been misinterpreted and misapplied. The purpose of the sacrifice offerings had been perverted. They were to symbolize Christ and His mission, that when He should come in the flesh, the world might recognize God in Him, and accept Him as the world’s Redeemer. But their lack of true heart service for God had blinded the Jews to a knowledge of God. Exactions and ceremonies and traditions were the sum total of their religion.
The Pharisees had yet to learn that righteousness exalts a nation, that form and ceremony can not take the place of righteousness. Christ was teaching the people as verily when enshrouded in the pillar of cloud as when seated on the mount. The same compassionate consideration for the poor was enjoined as in the lessons given to the disciples. But the responsibility of every individual in the sight of God, His mercy, love, and compassion, were not included in the lessons given to the people by the rulers in Israel. Said Christ, “No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.” The truth, the life, the light, which should characterize true godliness, could not be united with the manufactured religion of the Pharisees.
The scribes and Pharisees were annoyed that Christ did not approve of their pretension. Instead, Christ reproved them for depending upon forms and ceremonies for salvation, while their hearts were full of wickedness. “Ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin,” He said, “and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Ye teach “for doctrines the commandments of men.”
Thus it is in our day. Forms and outward ceremonies pass for true religion. But through His servant Christ presents before us true Christianity. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
The lesson given to the Pharisees and the disciples of John is for us. There is a work to do in seeking to bring sinners to repentance. The time spent in needless mourning and bodily humiliation might far better be devoted to merciful acts for suffering humanity. So long as souls are under the dominion of Satan, there must be no saving of self. There is stern, practical work to be done. The works of righteousness revealed in showing kindness to the needy, clothing the naked, relieving the oppressed, give evidence that the Spirit of God is operating on the heart. In the place of advancing and enriching ourselves, oppressing others, and neglecting the simple duties of life; in the place of putting on an appearance of great devotion and afflicting our bodies, we should humble our hearts before God. “Go ye,” says Christ, “and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
“Is it such a fast that I have chosen?” God says, “a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be their rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday; and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”
— E.G. White, Signs of the Times, July 14, 1898