Luke 5:33-39 :
They said to him, “Why do John’s disciples often fast and pray, likewise also the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink?”
He said to them, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them. Then they will fast in those days.” He also told a parable to them. “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old garment, or else he will tear the new, and also the piece from the new will not match the old. No one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved. No man having drunk old wine immediately desires new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’”
Some of the things about the relationship between God and mankind have changed as God’s plan has unfolded. Jesus’ coming was one of these changes and this confusion that we read from John’s disciples is still common today when the Bible is discussed. One of the problems with the changes that Jesus brought was that the new way of relating to God could not be mixed with the old. The old way was a legal system in which God laid down the rules, punishments, and sacrifices and what a person would gain by following them or lose by not following them. This was the old garment or the old wine and even though these things were supposed to lead them to Jesus, some religious people in Israel liked the old merit system.
Jesus brought a new garment and new wine that we call “the grace of God.” This way does not coexist with the old way because the new way gives blessing without legal demands on mankind. An attempt to use merit destroys the new way. An attempt to not use merit destroys the old one. It appears that these disciples were concerned about the proper way to gain merit under Jesus’ teachings. They seemed to believe that merit with John meant to deny themselves food. They didn’t understand that the new way was one in which Jesus merited for us by doing what we could never deserve or pay for. They probably didn’t realize that Jesus disciples would learn to fast because of natural desire for their Lord in prayer after He left and that they would naturally desire to pray for his return.
This is a critical concept in Christianity that sets it apart from all other religions. God does have requirements for believers, but they don’t change our basic relationship to God. God gave us relationship without any legal requirements. That’s true Christianity, and that’s why legalistic churches (ones that require our duty before gaining a relationship with God) just destroy both themselves and their hearers.
Those who stay in a legal relationship to God may do it because that’s all they have ever known. It requires God to show us the new way and give us an opportunity to change. That is what Jesus was bringing to them.