Sometimes you find enemies in the strangest places. Recently, I was reading Mark 2 and encountered such a situation. In Mark 2:18 the reader is in the middle of five occasions in which Jesus is being opposed by those who disagree with Him. This is the third of those five occasions. Mark tells us who are His “enemies” this time: the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of the Pharisees were fasting. They wanted to know why Jesus and His disciples did not fast. They are accusing them of not being spiritually pure.
It is not surprising that the Pharisees feel this way. They often appear in the book of Mark as the opponents of the Lord. But the disciples of John the Baptist? He was the greatest prophet that ever lived up until the time of Christ. He was especially gifted by God to prepare the way of the Messiah. He was clearly a great speaker. He accurately pointed out that Jesus was the Christ and pointed the nation to Him. How could the disciples of such a theologically sound teacher become opponents of the One John pointed them to?
We are not told why these disciples were fasting. We know that the Pharisees often fasted (Luke 18:12), even though the OT only commanded a fast for once a year. They obviously find some common ground with John’s disciples. Perhaps John’s disciples did so because John preached the need for repentance and pointed to judgment on the nation if they didn’t. Perhaps they fasted because their leader had been arrested, or his ministry in the desert pointed to a life of hardship, and going without food promoted such a lifestyle. Fasting seemed appropriate in all these situations in their mind.
Whatever the reason, they continued living their lives with this ritualistic practice, not realizing that in Jesus, John’s ministry had been completed. His ministry of preparing for the Coming One was over now that the One had come.
How did these men miss that? Mark doesn’t tell us, but we can make some guesses. The flesh delights in doing good works in order to attempt to please God. Their fasting was a way they could measure how holy they were. The flesh also likes to glorify itself. In their fasting, these men thought they were better than others who didn’t fast, including Jesus (Luke 18:11-12)! The Pharisees were esteemed by the people as men of God and it must have felt good to be associated with them. Finally, the oral tradition of the Pharisees impacted much of Jewish life, and in the case of these men perhaps they had practiced such things before John came on the scene. Traditions simply die hard.
As I thought about these disciples of John, it occurred to me that a similar thing happens today, and it is right before our eyes. I read about and encounter people who are exposed to such sound, Biblical, Free Grace theology. They read great books of theology that speak of salvation by grace alone and the wonderful assurance of salvation that goes with it. Jesus promises eternal life to all who believe in Him for it. Perhaps they even attend conferences where these great truths are expounded.
But they often reject it. Oftentimes they do so and remain in a system of works righteousness and the absence of the assurance of salvation. To find any semblance of peace, they look to their works. But it is fleeting and it is sad. How can that be?
For the same reasons suggested above. The flesh loves to look at religious works. Free Grace theology does not enjoy the status that others do in the eyes of the academic or even the Evangelical world. Finally, in many cases, these folks come from spiritual traditions that reject what Free Grace teaches. Traditions die hard.
We should not be surprised if we encounter such things. If it was true for those who heard John and the Lord, it will be true for people who hear the wonders of God’s grace from us. For many, sound teaching is sometimes hard to accept.