Mourning our bridegroom
Fasting must score as one of the most paradoxical of all Christian activities. On the one hand, Jesus instructed His disciples not to put on a sad face when they fast, like the hypocrites do, but to "anoint their head and wash their face" (Matt. 6:17). Yet the chief purpose of fasting is to vent grief, as explained by Jesus:
Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast" (Matt 9:14-15).
We are not meant to look sad even though we are sad. But let's not dwell on the problem of trying to explain the apparent disparity. Rather, let's consider the profound implications of the main revealed purpose of Christian fasting - to grieve over Jesus' absence from our midst. Most readers have experienced the lacerating emotions that strike those who have lost a loved one; Jesus tells us that we should fast as a token of the real grief we experience because of His Ascension to heaven! He is not here. We cannot talk with Him face to face, seek His guidance, revel in His encouraging smile. The disciples had the unmatched privilege of doing just that for over three years; when Jesus was taken from them they were distraught. Isn't that the way you and I should feel right now? He is not here. Oh that He were! Oh that we could approach Him any time we want to. You see, being able to do just that constitutes the main reward of believer- at least for the first part of eternity. In the months before his death, Paul was comforted by the thought of dying and being "with Christ" (Phil. 1:23). He
said of believers that,
We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).
He instructed us to comfort one another with the thought of being "always with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17). True, believers living in this wicked world have fellowship with Him even now:
That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3).
But let's be honest. As much as we cherish our current fellowship with Jesus and the Father, it is a distant, shadowy fellowship by comparison with the reality that awaits us in the kingdom of God. God understands the difference; do we? Stop and think. In some real way, Jesus was involved in the creation of the universe and everything that exists in the material world (John 1:3). Jesus was active when the near-infinite wonders of creation were put together. He knows all about quasars and bacteria. He created family life and all its blessings. He made the cuteness of babies and toddlers. Friendships are His doing. He is to be worshiped; He is God! We are nothing. Yet He is willing to have face-to-face, moment-by-moment, non-stop communication with us in the kingdom of God. You won't have to stand in line or make an appointment. He is infinite. You will be able to talk with Him any time you want. If the prospect of non-stop, intimate, personal fellowship with Jesus Christ does not blow our minds, what can?