Mk. 2:18 John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" 19 And Jesus said to them, "While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day."
This tiny story tucked inside the larger story of John's ministry and his eventual query of Yeshua from jail gives great insight into the "wilderness offense" John and his disciples faced throughout Jesus' ministry. In so doing, it illumines a hurdle set before every saint that enters the wilderness of circumcised separation to the Lord.
Here, John's followers question Jesus about His disciples' failure to observe a known discipline of holiness. Yeshua replies with a "bridegroom" illustration. This is very intentional and proves amazing when we dig beneath it.
On the surface, Jesus defends why his own disciples aren't fasting and living like monastics. Simply, it's because He, the Bridegroom, is with them. But careful listening reveals a subtler message. Jesus is also saying to John's disciples--and thus to John, "If you yourself have said I am the Bridegroom and you are my 'best friend,' why should you be fasting too??
John had originally declared to his followers his joy at Yeshua's coming, dubbing himself as the "friend of the Bridegroom." But in this face-to-face with "the Bridegroom," Yeshua is exposing that neither John's disciples (nor therefore John) had really "come to the wedding" at which John had called himself "best man."
By replying to John's disciples in terms of the very bridal illustration they had heard from John, Jesus turns the tables on them to make some stunning if coded insinuations of His own. These can be put in the form of two unspoken questions. The first is,
"Why, John, if the Bridegroom has now come, and your joy has now been "made complete," do you still maintain a separate ministry with disciples? Why haven't you all come to 'My party?'"
At the beginning of Yeshua's ministry, some of John's disciples were alarmed Jesus was gaining more followers than John. John nobly replied in effect, "I am not the main attraction, He is. This is the way it should be. He must increase, and I must decrease." And yet, we must then ask, if John was to decrease, why did he retain a following at all? Why is it that months and years after Jesus has come, John still has his own disciples? Why have they not all, including John, gone to be with the Bridegroom?
That John never united with Yeshua and keeps disciples up to his death reveals he held developing reservations about whether he had baptized the right Messiah. Why would he wonder this? It's because Jesus did not satisfy the wilderness discipleship perception of what Messiah was to look like.
The evidence for this was partly seen in the last section, but is amplified by this story and tied to a second equally probing yet unspoken question raised by Jesus' response:
"Why is it that you disciples of John are allied with the Pharisees in questioning me??"
Even John had preached against the Pharisees! Yet in this telling episode, it's clear John and his disciples have become doubtful enough about Jesus that they've begun finding more in common with those they already condemned for their outward shows of purity than with Yeshua the promised Bridegroom.
To be blunt, John and his disciples were in process of becoming "wilderness Pharisees." They were fossilizing into a "legalist repentance/holiness" view of Messiah based on their limited wilderness vision and expectation of Him. As a result, they were judging Him and His disciples--all because Messiah's full nature could not be defined by or confined to the wilderness concept, nature and experience of righteousness.
Modern Wilderness Pharisaism
Do you suppose any of this has something to say to today's prophetic wilderness saints? It has everything to say to us, because John's movement typifies the wilderness prophetic heart as it manifests in every generation since John.
Here is the problem. Once we enter the wilderness under circumcised illumination of the Lord's corrective righteousness, our tendency is to become blinded to the Lord's complete nature--which includes an ongoing Presence not characterized by grim holiness disciplines among a comparatively immature mainstream church. We become so fixated on the Lord's disciplinary side and react so deeply against the mainstream's failure "to go on unto perfection" that we can't recognize the Lord with any other face and conclude He has "no true ministry" left in the mainstream.
Once we re-work our entire vision of the Lord around His tough discipleship attributes, we then move to re-work it around practices associated with those attributes. Our vision moves from the Lord to the practices-- "fasting," "giving away all we own," "dying to self," meeting in "small groups only," meeting with "no human leader," etc., etc., etc. We build a codified fence around these practices and even identify ourselves by them. And, voila, we have now become wilderness Pharisees--just like those "religious viper" pastors we first prosecuted in the mainstream because of their self-protective "denominational rules."
Like John's disciples, our new league with the spirit of Pharisaism seals our inability to recognize our Lord in any context outside the wilderness. So anything He continues to do in the mainstream immediately becomes the target of our suspicion and even rejection--any kind of Spirit outpouring not marked by fasting, weeping and wailing, and death-to-self practices--anything evidencing the "wedding" attributes of joy, dancing, feasting, even laughter...
Yet as He was then, so He is now. The Spirit of Christ cannot and will not be limited to the wilderness nature, perception and experience of righteousness--as vital and abysmally absent that element is in the mainstream of this age. His vision and nature exceeds "John's" vision and nature. This is extremely hard to hear once we've been baptized into the wilderness spirit of holiness, but we must hear it if we are ever to finish our course and graduate into the full image of Christ.
Conformed to Whose Image?
Why did John's followers become wilderness Pharisees? The answer is simple: they remained followers of John after they should have become followers of Yeshua. They remained followers of the "Best Man" after they should have become followers of the "Bridegroom." They remained partial followers of the Spirit of Elijah after a greater than Elijah had come.
Why do wilderness saints today become wilderness Pharisees? It's for the same reason: we cease following the Spirit of Yeshua once the Spirit of Yeshua moves to manifest Himself outside of and beyond the Spirit of John the Baptist.
If you ask a devoted wilderness prophetic disciple today who he follows, he will say, "I'm a disciple of the Lord." If you ask him, "To whose image are you conforming your life?" he will readily say, "the Lord's." And he'll be able to "prove" it by how he obeys the harder discipleship commands of the Lord.
But once the Spirit moves in some mainstream way that brings forth miracles (which are rare in the wilderness), celebration, even laughter, and any promise of something good, the devoted wilderness disciple is likely to first doubt (if not outright reject) what he hears of the Spirit's doings: "Emotionalism, that's all it is....false revival, must be..hmmph, miracles, so what?...this multitude that knows not the discipleship scriptures is cursed."
Why this response? It's because in reality, the devoted wilderness disciple is not really following Yeshua. He is following John the Baptist. He is conforming himself to the Spirit of Elijah. And though he may be following the letter of the Lord's discipleship commands, in truth he is miles from the Lord's heart for that hour in that place. He is really a Pharisee, and doesn't know it.
"Beware the Leaven" of the Wilderness
In its extreme, Pharisaic wilderness discipleship becomes doctrinally heretical and blatantly cultic. The pharisaic wilderness spirit is behind some of the best known cults of our times--begun by saints who tasted the sword of discipleship circumcision, only to become deceived by their own devotion to what they had tasted.
Nor is our present internet wilderness fellowship immune. A few years ago I attended a wilderness prophetic gathering fittingly called a "John the Baptist Conference." It was held by one who has come to perhaps be the leading internet-based wilderness prophetic facilitator worldwide. (Most readers of this article are or have been at one time subscribers to this leader's writings.)
Ahead of the conference, this leader had begun teaching that believers had to be water baptized in order to be saved, intimating they also had to speak in tongues to be saved. At the conference, he taught we are saved by living by the letter of Bible formulas of conversion and church life seen in the book of Acts. The hosting pastor of the conference taught that the state of the mainstream church was so bad the Lord would have to tear it all down and start over (--with whom was not stated, but the implication was clear: "with us.") And the third leading speaker taught on the necessity of obeying the commands of John the Baptist to be saved. He literally taught that anyone owning two shirts was going to hell! (I didn't ask if he wore an undershirt.)
This is wilderness Pharisaism at its worst. (Obviously, I was forced to break off all further fellowship with this ministry.) But the reason for this devolution into Pharisaism is clear. It's because devotion has been beguiled away from the Son of God with His "cross-stream" heart to John the Baptist with his limited desert vision of the Lord.
Rethinking our Allegiance
Lately in our circles, there's been much talk about the return of the Elijah spirit. I personally teach on this myself. And while I firmly believe in this as an important end time prophetic type, I'm beginning to feel the need to qualify my stance on it because the "Elijah spirit" has started becoming its own unhealthy focus of wilderness attention. Our grounding expectation needs to be of the Lord who will lead us out of the wilderness, not on John the Baptist who lives and dies there.
This is where first love, divine temperament and healing from prophetic woundedness--the featured topics of this series--all come into play. These elements are crucial to overcoming John's offense to develop a complete vision of and conformity to our Lord Jesus. If we settle only for the spirit of John, thinking we are embracing the whole of the Lord, we will die as wilderness Pharisees, rejecting the works of the very Lord we claim to follow. We who preach to the mainstream about fulfilling their obedience will not fulfil our own.
New Meadow Neck, RI
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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Page created October 5, 2008