Q and A With Jesus: 2

Small Group Leader Study Guide
Date: April 28, 2019
Series: Son of God, Servant of Man: Gospel of Mark
Bible Text: Mark 2:18-22

This Week’s Printables:


Overview

Whether you have watched the movie Jaws or not, you are probably familiar with the theme from the film’s score. Composed by John Williams, the “shark” theme is immediately identifiable. It drips with suspense. Whenever you hear the low half-step notes from E to F, you know danger is approaching.

In some ways, the Gospels have a similar “suspense theme” throughout. Whenever you see the Pharisees enter a scene cue the “shark” theme. You know conflict is approaching.

The religious leaders are growing more and more suspicious of Jesus. They haven’t reached the conclusion that He is dangerous, but with each passing scene, there is more and more evidence that the Rabbi from Galilee has some strange teachings.

Jesus and the Religious Leaders are on a collision course.

Summary: In this second message of this mini-series within Mark, Pastor Todd looks at the people’s question regarding why some fasted and others did not. But there’s more going on than just fasting! Get a peek into the point of Jesus’ answer in this message from Mark 2:18-22, “Q and A with Jesus.”

Memory Verse for This Week

Mark 2:20 – The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.

Core Practice: Joy

Joy (John 15:11): I have inner contentment and purpose in spite of my circumstances.

Take Home Truth

The point isn’t the practice, but the person. That’s who we long for because that’s who makes us righteous.


Introduction

Can you recall a time when you were repulsed by someone in your presence? What caused you to want to shrink back and get away from this person?

Have you devoted time to fasting? Share with your group your reasons why and what some of the benefits you found in fasting.

Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?

Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead to one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.


Read the Text

Mark 2:18–22 (ESV)

18 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?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”


Digging Deeper

In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.

What is the context of this week’s text from Mark 2:18-22?

To set the scene again for where we are in the Gospel of Mark, after embarking on a lengthy preaching tour of Galilee, Jesus has returned to his home base in Capernaum where he spends some time in the home of Simon and Andrew.

Wherever Jesus goes, however, the crowds follow. Whether they are there to witness the miracles or are seeking a miracle for themselves or a loved one, the crowds press against him.

Mixed in with the crowds of people are representatives of the religious leaders–the Scribes and the Pharisees. This new rabbi from Galilee is creating quite a stir, and they are there to investigate and learn what this Jesus is all about.

We see the first real confrontation with the Scribes in Mark 2:1-12. A crippled man is brought to Jesus and rather than simply heal the man, Jesus first says to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Sensing He has struck a nerve within the watching Scribes, Jesus turns to them and openly confronts them:

Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (Mark 2:8-12)

Q & A #1: Why does Jesus associate with sinners?

Next, Jesus calls Levi, a tax-collector, to become one of His disciples. Levi invites Jesus to his home for dinner and introduces Jesus to friends and associates, all sinners and tax collectors.

This, too, draws the attention of the religious leaders. “Why does this man associate with sinners?” the Pharisees ask Jesus’ disciples. Again, Jesus responds to the religious leaders: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This brings us to this week’s text and the second in our series of “Questions and Answers with Jesus.”

Why would the Pharisees be concerned about whether or not Jesus and His disciples fasted?

Q & A #2: Why do Jesus’ disciples not fast when they are supposed to fast?

According to the Law of Moses, Jews are only required to fast one day of the year–the day known as Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev. 16:29-34; 23:26-32; Num. 29:7-11).

But the Pharisees, always eager to take the law to the extremes, had turned fasting into a religious point of piety. (This is a key to the Pharisees: their zealousness always drew attention to themselves and underscored their own piety rather than point people to God and reflect His grace and mercy.)

Over the centuries, the Jews had designated two days a week for fasting, and, as is often the case, traditions can eventually have the power of law. This, apparently, was one of those days…a day in which Jews traditionally fasted, but fasting was not required by the Law. This is what the Pharisees are concerned about.

Are Christians required to fast today?

While the Jews were required by the Law of Moses to fast on Yom Kippur, Christians today are not subject to the Law of Moses. So, in short, Christians are not required to fast.

What is fasting and why is it beneficial for Christians?

Still, fasting has many aspects that are beneficial for Christians today. In fact, in his excellent book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney lists fasting as one of the key spiritual disciplines that will help us grow in godliness.

Whitney describes fasting as follows:

A biblical definition of fasting is a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. It is Christian, for fasting by a non-Christian obtains no eternal value because the Discipline’s motives and purposes are to be God-centered. It is voluntary in that fasting is not to be coerced. Fasting is more than just the ultimate crash diet for the body; it is abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.1

We most often associate fasting with food, but the definition is broad in its application. The purpose is to remove something we that may be necessary (like food) or is just enjoyable (like entertainment) and instead focus our attention on greater spiritual intimacy with the Lord.

Can we consider dieting to be fasting?

In answering this question, remember the focus of fasting: spiritual intimacy with the Lord.

Certainly, there are aspects of dieting that can parallel a desire to fast, and fasting can have many positive physical effects, but the answer to this question lies with one’s motivation.

If you are “fasting” to lose weight, this is not biblical fasting; your focus is your own body. If you are honest with yourself, your motivation is not to grow in intimacy with the Lord, but to lose weight!

Should Christians fast?

We want to be careful in how we answer this question lest we fall into the trap of the Pharisees and communicate that fasting is a requirement. Again, it is not a requirement.

It could be said, however, there is an expectation that Christians would fast from time-to-time.

Consider the following New Testament Scriptures:

  • Matthew 6:16–18 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
  • Matthew 9:14–15 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
  • Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
  • Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Whitney observes:

This expectation is even more obvious when we compare these words with His statements about giving in that same passage, Matthew 6:2–3: “So when you give.… But when you give.…” Compare also His words about praying in the same section, Matthew 6:5–7: “But when you pray.… When you pray.… And when you pray.…” No one doubts that we are to give and to pray. In fact, it is quite common to use this passage to teach Jesus’ principles on giving and praying. And since there is nothing here or elsewhere in Scripture indicating that we no longer need to fast, and since we know that Christians in the book of Acts fasted (9:9, 13:2, 14:23), we may conclude that Jesus still expects His followers to fast today.2

When should Christians fast?

As we have already noted, true Christian fasting is done with a specific purpose: to spiritually grow closer and more intimate with the Lord. While the purpose is singular, fasting can help us grow closer to the Lord in multiple ways. Whitney lists 10 of these reasons for fasting:

  1. To strengthen prayer
  2. To seek God’s guidance
  3. To express grief
  4. To seek deliverance or protection
  5. To express repentance and the return to God
  6. To humble oneself before God
  7. To express concern for the work of God
  8. To minister to the needs of others
  9. To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God
  10. To express love and worship to God

Book Study: Twelve Ordinary Men

This portion of our group lesson is based on Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur. This week’s discussion is based on Chapter 8: Matthew, the Tax Collector and Thomas, the Twin.

What do we know about the Apostle Matthew?

  • His Jewish name was Levi (probably short for Leviticus) the son of Alphaeus.
  • Matthew is the author of the Gospel that bears his name.
  • He is seen as a humble, self-effacing man who kept himself almost completely in the background. (In his entire Gospel, Matthew only mentions his own name two times.)
  • He was a tax collector also called a “publican”.

What do we know about the Apostle Thomas?

  • He is better known by his nickname “Doubting Thomas”.
  • He is also called “Didymus” (the Twin) in John 11:16. This implies that he likely had a twin brother or twin sister, but his twin is never identified.
  • He is only mentioned one time in each of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke when he is named with the other 11 disciples.

What is significant about Matthew’s profession?

As noted, Matthew was a tax collector. As such, he was a hated and vilified person in Jewish society. Viewed as traitors, the tax collectors were hated more than the occupying Romans.

It is difficult to even find a comparison to a tax collector in our culture today…perhaps a prostitute, pimp, or drug dealer? Tax collectors were the scourge of society.

Notice how Jesus describes a tax collector in this parable from Luke 18:10-14:

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

In this parable, underline the words “standing far off.” The tax collector wasn’t seeking solitude, he was required to stand “far off.” A tax collector was prohibited from entering the temple. In fact, tax collectors were forbidden from being near people. They were so hated that the Jewish Talmud taught it was Ok to lie to and deceive a tax collector!

Can you think of any group or profession of people so despised and hated within our culture that they would not be welcome anywhere? How would you respond if one of these people entered our church?


Becoming A House of Prayer

“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices; Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” – Isaiah 56:7.

Prayer is an important part of being in a small group. Group prayer goes better when we follow three simple guidelines.

  1. WE PRAY FOR ONE TOPIC AT A TIME – Anyone in the group is free to introduce a prayer request either before prayer begins or during the prayer time. Once a topic is introduced, the group focuses on that request alone. Once it’s covered, the group moves on to the next topic.
  2. PRAY MORE THAN ONCE – Because the group is focusing on one topic at a time, each person is encouraged to pray several times during the prayer time for those topics they feel most led to pray about. No one is required to pray.
  3. WE KEEP OUR PRAYERS SHORT AND SIMPLE – Group prayer goes better when members keep their prayers short and to the point. When someone prays for a long time, it’s hard for the other members to stay focused and long prayers tend to intimidate those who are just learning to pray out loud in a group. No one is required to pray out loud.

Next Steps

Questions to consider as you continue to reflect on what you learned this week:

  • Take Action: Is there an area of your life that might be hindering your spiritual growth and intimacy with the Lord? Perhaps a time of fasting from this distraction this week will help you focus more on growing closer to the Lord through meditation on His Word and prayer.
  • Take Courage: The Bridegroom is no longer physically with us, but He is returning soon for His bride, the Church!

Work to memorize this week’s memory verse: Mark 2:20 – The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.

This week’s Core Virtue: Joy (John 15:11): I have inner contentment and purpose in spite of my circumstances.

Remember to use the Daily Bible Reading plan as part of your walk with Christ, taking the time to reflect on each passage and what it means for your lives.


Study Notes

2:18–19. Fasting was another of the Pharisees’ interpretations of the law that the common people (“sinners”) did not follow. Jewish tradition demanded a fast once a year: on the day of Atonement. For the stricter Jews, however, fasting was practiced much more frequently. The Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. These were generally twelve-hour fasts, from sunup to sundown. The Pharisees also made sure that people knew how spiritual they were by showing everyone they were fasting (Matt. 6:16–18).

Some people asked Jesus why Jesus’ disciples did not fast. We do not know if this was an honest question or an implied accusation of unrighteousness. In reply, Jesus used an analogy common to the time—the bridal party. Since engagements were often long (in some cases years), the actual wedding was a time of feasting and great joy. The wedding celebration also symbolized the age of salvation. This verse also serves as a messianic reference with Christ as the bridegroom.

2:20-22. This is the first indication in Mark that Jesus was fully aware of his mission. Jesus’ prediction here introduces a somber note that has been missing up to now in Mark’s account of miracles and controversies. It reminds us that joy and suffering are often two different sides of the same coin. Again, Jesus used analogies that the Jews of that day would have been familiar with. In sewing, if a piece of unshrunk cloth was used to patch an old garment, the patch would shrink when it was washed, making a worse tear of the cloth. New wine needs to be put in flexible skins so the skin has room to expand as it ferments. If it is put into an old, brittle skin, it will burst the skin. Jesus was making the point that the new order and the old order (symbolized either by the Pharisees or John the Baptist) are incompatible. Jesus’ claim is that something new is happening. Verse 18 brought up John the Baptist and his disciples, who taught the need for repentance because the kingdom of God was at hand.

Jesus claimed that something new was happening, something incompatible with even John the Baptist. It was a message of salvation; and this echoed Jesus’ proclamation of his mission in Luke 4:18–19. In these verses, Jesus did not finish the Isaiah quote, but stopped it here: “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Something new was happening—and old, brittle wineskins would not be able to contain it.

It is interesting to note that in each case something is destroyed. God does not just mend our hearts; he gives us brand new ones. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26). He gives us a new nature, and we are new creatures in Christ. To try to put this kind of life into old, legalistic systems is to destroy the new life.

This teaching anticipates Paul’s teaching that Christianity is not an extension of Judaism. Judaism cannot contain it. Jewish laws are not binding upon Christians. Paul took up this topic with enthusiasm in Galatians. The old order regulated behavior with rules; the new order regulates by relationship. Jesus did not come to reform Judaism, as the prophets before him had. He came to introduce a new entity, the church.

 


Footnotes


  1. Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 160. ↩︎
  2. Whitney, 163 ↩︎