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Then John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, because the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst and the wine is spilled out and the skins are destroyed. Instead they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved.”
Jesus is referencing here that He will be taken. He is the bridegroom, and after he is taken the disciples will fast. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He is like the feast our souls long for. While His presence is in their midst, the disciples don’t need to fast. Jesus Himself fasts numerous times throughout His life on earth, after all, He’s a resident of heaven. As new creations in Christ Jesus, we also are residents of heaven, and fasting becomes a relevant reality through which we are able to experience increased intimacy with God. Sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, we are washed whiter than snow. Our rebirth restores our ability to become living witnesses of Jesus’ grace: like new wineskins receiving new wine. Amen!
Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. But some men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, as well as some from Cilicia and the province of Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. Yet they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard this man speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They incited the people, the elders, and the experts in the law; then they approached Stephen, seized him, and brought him before the council. They brought forward false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop saying things against this holy place and the law. For we have heard him saying that Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.” All who were sitting in the council looked intently at Stephen and saw his face was like the face of an angel.
Stephen was a man chosen by the early church, and blessed by the apostles. Acts 6:5 describes him as, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” While performing miracles among the people, persecution comes, but those who accused him could not stand against the Holly Spirit. The situation escalates and Stephen is brought before the Sanhedrin. God is with Stephen, and his Spirit-filled response to the accusations (Acts 7), speaks the truth clearly and boldly, and condemns his accusers of disobedience, and the murder of Jesus Christ. They can’t handle it, it’s like uncontrollable rage overtakes them. They cover their ears and rush toward him, drag him out of the city, and stone him. While being stoned, Stephen prays for those stoning him. Saul, the future apostle Paul, witnesses this take place and approves of the murder.
For the Lord’s decrees are just, and everything he does is fair. The Lord promotes equity and justice; the Lord’s faithfulness extends throughout the earth.
I appreciate the fact that many truths are repeated throughout scripture. Even though the phrase “unfailing love” appears in the Bible approximately 40 times, I somehow manage to forget the unfailing part most of the time. Often these lapses come surrounding the people who are closest to me, including myself. It’s the thought, “I know God in control, but what if…” that gets me in trouble. Then, in a moment of urgency, despair, or tragedy, forgetfulness runs rampant and I’d grasp at anything to make things right again. It’s like being lost without a compass, and charging on in haphazard desperation. Today’s verse is filled with truths about God that are repeated throughout scripture: Justice, Faithfulness, Truth, Goodness, Righteousness. Lord, be my fortress! May You alone be my refuge forever!
Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed.
We find this verse amidst instruction on the discipline of God. We find that His discipline is a sign of His love, and that even though it can be painful at the time, it produces a “harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” In following Christ, you will be challenged with discipline from God, and the purpose for it is to change you. Romans 8:29 says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Our response to God’s discipline will define whether we are able to effectively receive that perfecting work, made possible by grace. 2 Cor. 12:10 says, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
For the one who wants to love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from uttering deceit. And he must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the Lord’s face is against those who do evil.
This is not a call to perfection, and it doesn’t mean that we must never make mistakes, or that we will never find ourselves being tempted or enticed by our own sinful desires. It is, however, a call to live in the righteousness we have been saved into through Jesus Christ. Righteousness is available to us through Jesus alone, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to “seek peace and pursue it”. As you live each day, remember grace and forgiveness. Mistakes will be made, and you will always be learning about the depths of your own heart. If you find evil in your heart, take it to God, be honest with Him, and ask Him to change your heart. Our walk with God in this world is about following Jesus and trusting Him with everything. To turn away from evil, we must surrender all to God.