The gospels tell an interesting story that calls into question the practice of fasting for modern day Christians. In the story, the Pharisees come to Jesus and ask why Jesus’ disciples aren’t fasting. Here is Jesus’ response:
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, on that day they will fast.” (Mark 2:19-20)
Just as it would be inappropriate to fast at a wedding, during a time of celebration, so it would be inappropriate for Jesus’ disciples to fast while in his presence. Now is a time of celebration. Those who fast do so with mourning and sorrow.
Jesus acknowledges that a time is coming when his disciples will fast, on the “day” that he has been taken from them.
Here’s the question: During what time period is it inappropriate for Jesus’ followers to fast? There are two possible answers:
1. There was a short period of time when Jesus’ disciples could fast, either between the crucifixion and the resurrection or, more broadly, between the crucifixion and the coming of the Spirit.
2. It is appropriate for Christians to fast any time after the crucifixion.
In defense of the first option, Christians can say with confidence that Jesus is with his people through the Holy Spirit today. The Spirit indwells individuals and the church corporately. We are a resurrection people. Post resurrection, post Pentecost, we are in a time of celebration. We only await the consummation of the celebration, the final wedding feast. As a resurrection people, enjoying the presence of Jesus through the Spirit, it would be inappropriate for us to fast.
There are a few problems with this argument, though. The first problem is historical. The practice of fasting has continued unabated since the founding of the church. That’s a lot of historical evidence to overturn. You might reject the value of such historical study but you still have to deal with the biblical evidence that the practice of fasting continued in the early church. The church set apart Paul and Barnabas through a process that included fasting (Acts 13:2). Then Paul and Barnabas set aside elders through the same process (Acts 14:23). Finally, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against the fasting of the Pharisees but, in doing so, assumed that his followers would continue the practice. His issue wasn’t with fasting itself but with the way in which it had been warped.
It is true that we are a resurrection people and that we can enjoy the presence of Jesus now through the Spirit, but we also live in an in-between time. We are just as much a people of the cross, a people waiting, a people in the wilderness of temptation. There’s still a gap between where we are and where we are going. That gap leads us to godly sorrow and confusion. In this place of godly sorrow, either coming from the injustice we see around us or the injustice we see within us, fasting remains an appropriate response for those seeking God.