Finding Joy in the Presence of Jesus

14 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. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14–17)

Joy in the Presence of Jesus

We have today a passage that is not well studied. By that I mean, it’s not one of those go to passages that people have when facing a particular problem or just when wanting to meditate on and praise God.

If worrying in life, there are places to go in the Bible to be encouraged about God’s love and goodness and His provision for us. When afraid there are passages that can calm our fear. When particularly joyful toward God there are Psalms that take us even deeper in joy and worship of Him.

But this passage, it is, you could say, more subtle. It is not necessarily uncommon but it’s meaning might not be so apparent and even profound.

But it really is profound. And it is a reminder that whatever Jesus said while ministering here was and is profound even if we may not see that always so clearly!

This passage starts with a question from John the Baptist's disciples. There were those who followed John the Baptist echoing his message that the Messiah was soon to come and that everyone should repent and be baptized. This was a serious message a weighty message one that would convict many of their sins and cause many to really begin wondering about and looking for the Messiah.

Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus, prepare the hearts of the people of the coming of Jesus. The holy one was coming into an unholy world of people. Things were messed up. What would happen when the perfect one enters into an evil world? John’s message was, get right, be prepared, He is coming.

This is where fasting would come in. Fasting was a way to cry out to and meet God in utter humility, to call upon Him in this special way of fasting. Forgoing food for the more important matter of seeking God. Those who were serious minded, they knew that they were not worthy of approaching God and they needed His help in the matter of repentance so they would earnestly call upon Him, lay themselves before Him in prayer and fasting.

It is surprising that John’s disciples side with the Pharisees here. John the Baptist was very critical of the Pharisees during his ministry but John’s disciples here side with the Pharisees in this matter of fasting.

Here is what John the Baptist had to say about the Pharisees from Matthew chapter 3:

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:7–10)

But they ask the question:

Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9:14)

And Jesus answers:

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. (Matthew 9:15)

Jesus relates there question to a wedding. A wedding was an occasion for great joy, for happiness, feasting even. Weddings back then even more so than for us today, they were big celebrations, parties.

Jesus describes Himself as the bridegroom at the party. He was not absent or missing, He was there and being there it was time to celebrate with great joy!

John the Baptist message was that Jesus was coming but now He is there, God in the flesh, the Messiah, the Savior He is there, this was not a time for sadness it was a time to celebrate!

If salvation and relief of the guilt of sin was truly desired then the greatest thing ever has happened, Jesus had come.

This is sort of convicting. It is not, for us, it is not as if Jesus is right here with us physically, we don’t have Him right here talking to us just as he did with His disciples. Yes, He is with us in Spirit and yes we have His word which is Him communication to us and Yes we can go to Him in prayer, before His throne of grace. But He is not physically here with us. He is not with us as He will be one day when He returns for us. We are in an in-between time, right? He has come, He has provided salvation for us, He has given us His Spirit but he is not physically with us but He will be some day.

So we can have great joy that He did come and we can at the same time long for His return. ‘

But for His disciples in the first century, He was right there before their eyes. This was time to celebrate not to fast.

This what Jesus is telling them. Unfortunately, many did not see it, including some of John’s disciples. And so Jesus tells them, he is the groom. It is like Jesus is inviting them to join in the celebration of His presence.

To celebrate was the appropriate thing to do and appropriate response to the truth of what was taking place before their eyes.

And I think it is this idea of conveying appropriateness in this situation that led Jesus to give the illustrations which follow.

A new time had come that would change and challenge old thinking. The whole picture here is of change, new things, a new era. Jesus life illustrates this.

Let me back up a moment. Jesus also said,

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

What was happening at this moment, as glorious as it was and impactful to His followers, there would be a time of mourning again. Not as before. Just because Jesus was taken by death and then ascended into heaven, this does not change the fact that a new era has come, right? Jesus going away did not in anyway negate the fact that He came. He still did His work, but the whole plan is still being played out. He would go away, it would be sad, it leaves us even longing for His return, but can wait and long with joy, right? We can wait and long with joy because He came once and we know He will come again and take us home!

So yes, all changed, but all is not finished in our final redemption, again, we are in a middle place between the joy of His first coming and the anticipated joy of His return.

He said:

16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. (Matthew 9:16)

Now, I would have never thought about this unless it was in the Bible! I know nothing about sewing or patching things made of cloth. I do know that when I was a kid, my mom would iron on these big patches on my jeans, on the knees to cover the holes. And then some company started putting patches on new jeans to reinforce the knees so, I guess, moms didn’t have to do that any more. And now people want the holes in the jeans. That is all I really know about holes in garments and patching.

But, what Jesus says here is probably a common thing to understand in the first century.

People probably knew well that you couldn’t sew and unshrunk piece of cloth into a garment that was already shrunk or the patch would tear away, making a worse hole.

That makes sense and is easily followed. Don’t try to mix the old and the new. Just go with the new. Don’t try to live in the old covenant when Jesus came to introduce the new covenant. Understand what is happening and embrace Christ, the Messiah. Understand the way of Christ, the way He is showing with HIs life and in His ministry.

In addition Jesus says:

17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17)

Nor can wine that has not yet fermented—bubbling, expanding, and emitting gas—be put into old, brittle containers, or they will explode. One needs new containers that are more flexible. So too the new age Jesus inaugurates brings new practices appropriate to the changed circumstances, most notably in this context the joy of celebration rather than the sorrow of fasting. “Both” at the end of v. 17 refers to both “wine” and “wineskins” (the two nearest antecedents), not to the old and the new, despite the popular view that sees Matthew redacting his sources in a more conservative direction to make Jesus say that the old is preserved by means of the new. All Christians would do well to reflect on whether their demeanor, life-style, and words convey to others, especially the unsaved, this joy of salvation and the lively presence of Jesus or whether they communicate, even unwittingly, a sour, judgmental attitude that is quicker to point out the wrongs of others or just always being down and depressed over circumstances.

Jesus has come into the world, he suffered and died for the salvation of His people. IN this we can and should rejoice!

I so want to live as Paul did. Facing dire circumstances that would rock most people's world, he rejoiced. He would not allow temporary things to overshadow the eternal truths that he staked is life and ministry on.

Can we go there?

Listen to this, it’s incredible do you want to be here?

18Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:18–26)

For Paul it is like, well, I may live or I may die. I may come to you or I may not, Things may work out best for my comfort or maybe for you comfort. For him it is like, circumstantially, he does not now what things will be like but he is good with whatever, as long as the Lord is honored, in his life.

It is this kind of joy, the kind Paul expresses that Jesus encourages his and John’s disciples to experience in His presence…like a great party at a wedding feast, enjoying Christ, the Christ who as come.

I remember some time ago I preached through the book of Philippians. The reason, or one reason I chose the book of Philippians was because I wanted the kind of joy of which Paul spoke again and again. I wanted that and I knew it was lacking in my life. I was letting so many things, so many circumstances steal away the joy I knew I should have. I remember preaching on message in particular that was mainly and explicitly about joy. After the message, a church member came to me and said, you know that was an important message on joy, but he said, you didn’t seem very joyful about it.

I thought, yep, I can see that.

I truly regret the lack of outwardly expressed joy in my life over the years. I have, in many ways, failed to convey appropriate joy over the truth that Jesus has come, He is coming again and my life is His and He is mine.

I am too much like so many who missed the joy of being in the presence of Jesus because of other stresses, biases, concerns, or whatever else.

Rather than celebrate Christ are we too busy analyzing Him or ourselves, being consumed with cares?

I pray, I hope that if you are struggling to find joy in Jesus Christ that today you will begin to see it and worship Him more consistently. In life there will be problems but Jesus has come, he has overcome and He will carry all those who belong to Him to be with Him forever.

14 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. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14–17)