The Book of Mark
James J. Barker

Lesson 8

Text: MARK 2:18-22


1.    From reading the OT we learn that the practice of fasting was prevalent in Israel.  And this practice was naturally carried over into the NT. Now in Mark 2:18 we discover that the disciples of John the Baptist fasted often.

2.    Unfortunately, the practice of fasting had degenerated among the Pharisees into an external observance used to impress people with the piety of the one fasting (cf. Matt. 6:16-18).

3.    Let me emphasize that the disciples of John were not guilty of this religious externalism and hypocrisy. Though the Bible says that both groups fasted, our Lord never criticized the disciples of John.  The Bible simply says that they fasted (Mark 2:18).

4.    To understand these parabolic illustrations, we need to know a little bit about the background.  The Pharisees were constantly watching our Lord and His disciples to see if they were conforming to their (unscriptural) Pharisaical traditions and customs.

5.    But whereas the Pharisees murmured and sought to trick our Lord into falling into their trap, the disciples of John approached our Lord in openness and sincerity.  Our Lord’s reply forms the basis for these parabolic illustrations.



1.    In the NT we are commanded to pray but we are not commanded to fast.  However, fasting has great value and our Lord’s words in 2:19, 20 (and elsewhere) suggest that He approved of His disciples fasting.

2.    We know that our Lord himself fasted (Matt. 4:1, 2).

3.    Our Lord said some problems are so serious they require prayer and fasting (cf. Mark 9:29).

4.    We also know that the apostolic church fasted (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23).

5.    Now in response to their question about fasting, our Lord uses the illustration of the marriage feast, one that is found many times in both the Old and the New Testament.

6.    Marriage feasts are a time of joy and celebration.  The disciples of John noted that our Lord’s disciples were always happy and they were never mourning.

7.    So our Lord used this illustration of a marriage feast to account for their absence of an ascetic (austere or very strict) attitude.  John the Baptist was an ascetic (cf. Mark 1:6). 

8.    John’s followers were ascetics.  So our Lord’s illustration of the marriage feast is meant to point out why His disciples were different.

9.    In our Lord’s day, most Jews, including the Pharisees and perhaps even some of John the Baptist’s disciples, thought that ascetic practices such as fasting were the essence of true religion.

10. Now, our Lord’s application was simple: during the marriage ceremonies (which lasted seven days and were a time of great merriment and festivity), “the children of the bridechamber” did not fast or mourn (Mark 2:19).

11. Applying the illustration directly to Himself, He said that was the reason why His disciples were happy: our Lord (the bridegroom) was still with them.

12. Our Lord said that after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, it would be appropriate to mourn and fast (2:20; cf. James 4:9).

13. We Christians ought to be the happiest people around.  But when we look around and see this crazy, sin-loving world, rushing headfirst into the fires of hell, it ought to make us weep.

14. Just think of that wild mob that stomped that man to death at Wal-Mart the other day.



1.    Our Lord did not come along to patch-up the old, worthless, useless garment of Pharisaism (2:21).  He came to die for our sins and to inaugurate something entirely different than Pharisaism.

2.    It would have been possible to patch-up Pharisaism, and perhaps it would have even been spiritual enough to attract some good people, but that was never God’s plan.

3.    Beloved, we need to make up our minds that we will not settle for some sort of patched-up, second-rate type of Christianity.  We need the real thing. We need what our Lord’s disciples had.  We need what the apostle Paul had.

4.    It would have been possible to patch-up Pharisaism and possibly prolong it for a few more years.  But our Lord pointed out that this would have been foolish.  “The rent is (then) made worse” (2:21b).

5.    Sewing a new patch onto an old beat-up garment is a waste of time and material.  Let me make an application for today since there are no more (literal) Pharisees around in 2008. (Unfortunately there are plenty of Baptist Pharisees, and Orthodox Jewish Pharisees, and diverse other kinds of Pharisees.)

6.    People get saved and try to cling onto their false religion (e.g. Romanism, Protestantism, Seventh-Day Adventism, whatever). What they should do is make a clean break and identify with a church that preaches the true Gospel.

7.    I have met people who have been actively involved in various churches their whole life and never heard the Gospel.  They would get saved in our church, and then go back to their dead church.

8.    That is nothing but a waste of time.



1.    The parable of putting the new wine into old bottles is very similar to the parable of patching up the old garment (2:22).  Why bother?

2.    They did not use glass bottles but wineskins made from the skins of sheep or goats.  There was a great deal of elasticity in the new wineskins, and after awhile they lost their elasticity and were no longer useful. 

3.    Our Lord was showing that the old Pharisaical system was worthless, useless, and outdated.  It had to go.

4.    Our Lord did not come to reform Pharisaism.  We have churches today that call themselves “Reformed.”  If you know something about church history, then you know that basically means “Reformed Romanism.”  These churches came out of Rome and were trying to reform it.

5.    But why bother trying to reform something that is not worth salvaging?  Christ did not come to reform Pharisaism but to introduce an entirely new doctrine (2:20).

6.    I have had the privilege of leading many RC’s to Christ. Normally they come to the point where they realize that for them to trust Christ means to leave Romanism. 

7.    They understand that they cannot pour the pure wine of the Gospel into the old bottles of Rome.

8.    Luke adds a statement of our Lord that is not mentioned by Matthew or Mark (Luke 5:39). Our Lord anticipated the response of the Pharisees (Luke 5:30, 33). He knew that they were not interested in giving up their Pharisaical traditions for the Gospel, and most religious people today are the same way.

9.    To them, “The old (Romanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, dead church they grew up in – Baptist, Methodist, whatever) is better” (Luke 5:39).  They are satisfied with their system and have no desire to change.

10. Often we meet religious (but lost) people who have no interest in learning what the Bible says about salvation. To them, “The old is better” (Luke 5:39).  There are billions of souls in hell today who have made this same mistake.



The message this world needs to hear: repentance (Mark 2:17).

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