MATTHEWS 6: 16-18

Jesus Christ was asked by the disciples of John, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?”

He answered: “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away form them, and then they will fast.”

Immediately after His beautiful baptism He fasted 40 days in the wilderness. Fasting was not experientially unknown to Him.

Later He incorporated the principle in His matchless message on the mountain by saying, “When you fast…” In that same sermon He spoke of giving and praying and used the same word: “when.” He did not employ the word “if” but “when.” He did not command fasting but He did commend it.

In this age of fast food when our modern memorials are golden arches feasting is advocated but not fasting. Ours is a “feel good” generation. Self-indulgence is the mandate of the day. We seem to think that we owe it to ourselves to gratify our every appetite and strive to make ourselves feel good. Feasting is fashionable. Fasting is reserved primarily as a means of applying political pressure. It is a way of saying, “If you don’t do what I want I will starve myself.” Rarely is it spoken of in a spiritual connotation. An appropriate question is…

Jesus said, “When you fast…” Thus, is indicated the way in which it should be done. He endorsed the idea of doing it. “When” translates the Greek HOTAN, meaning “whenever.”

Many Bible personalities did it. Moses fasted before receiving the Commandments. David, the King fasted. Elijah the prophet. Daniel, the visionary. Paul, the missionary. Christ and His disciples did.

Great church reformers did, such as, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox. Evangelists D.L. Moody and Billy Graham also.

Question number two deserves an answer…

First, it is not a means of divine arm twisting. It is not a means of manipulating God. It is a means by which to demonstrate to God your humble obedience. It is a discipline by which go show to the Lord the submission of your body as an indication of the yielding of your spirit.

It is not intended to be a showy display of inordinate spiritual pride. Jesus instructed His followers to avoid the overt display that would call attention to itself. It is a personal spiritual venture. It is to call our attention to the Lord not the attention of others to our self.

While dining in a lovely ancient home in Bethlehem the sister of our host entered the dining room. The feast had just begun when she seated herself in the corner of the room. Our host told us she was engaged in a 30 day fast. Then he asked and answered his own question: “Do you know why she is fasting?” I expected some spiritually profound reason. He said, “It is pride. She is showing off, and besides she is cheating after we go to bed and eating.” That is the wrong motive and method.

Physically the most common form of fasting is abstaining from food for a period of time. A person in poor health should not try it without a doctor’s exam and consent. Most fasts are one day in length. When considering the 40 day fast of Moses and Christ remember these were rare and exceptional.

The Hebrew word for “fast” helps our understanding of the meaning. ANAH means “to afflict or humble one self.” Basically it is the denial of the body something for a specific spiritual purpose.

King Darius denied himself the pleasure of entertainment as he fasted for Daniel’s well-being when Daniel was in the lion’s den (Daniel 6:18).
Paul spoke of a fast that calls for abstinence from sexual relations for a brief period of time for purposes of prayer (I Cor. 7:5).

Fasts can be categorized in three ways:

FORMAL – the O.T. Levitical laws established such on the day of atonement. These have been done away with.

RITUAL – these were instituted to commemorate special events. They were practiced diligently by the Pharisees and became an exercise in egotism. Christ had little use for ritual fasts.

INFORMAL – this was the spontaneous response to a situation. David’s spontaneous fast for his dying son is an example. Helplessly and humbly he fasted. Such touches the heart of God.

Scripture presents at least three distinct reasons for fasting:

A – To express sorrow. Nehemiah fasted to express sorrow over the decay of the walls and decadence of the people of Jerusalem (Neh. 1:4).

B – To make a request of God. Ezra fasted in request for a safe journey to Jerusalem. Esther fasted to request protection before going before the king. Jesus fasted in a time of asking deliverance from satanic power.

C – To indicate repentance. In Joel 2;12 the Lord instructed the people to demonstrate their repentant hearts by fasting. Repentance is the reality. Fasting is the symbol.

Now question number four…

IN this day of microchips and microwaves let’s not make this a soul-kill ritualistic law. In considering it don’t ask yourself what you will get out of it but rather what does God want of you. Our principle purpose should be to give our self completely to God so He can freedom to do with us what He would. It is a call to self-denial so He may have our full attention. Then “why fast?”

A – It creates a sense of oneness with the Lord. Physical hunger that might result calls our attention to Him after whom we spiritually hunger.

B – It is an occasion for purging our spirit while physically purging our body. The Psalmist (69: 5, 10) said, “My foolishness and my sins are not hid from thee…I wept in my soul with fasting…”

C – It stimulates our search for God’s will. When Daniel was having difficulty understanding the words of the prophet Jeremiah he fasting (Daniel 9:3). It allows God to alter our will.

D – It aids in getting a spiritual freedom. If you try to fast you will find how much your body is a slave to food. This will call your attention to other areas of life that need to be yielded to Him.

E – It gives occasion to express your wholehearted dependence on and commitment to the Lord. Joel 2:12 exhorted, “Says the Lord, return to me and with all your heart and fasting…”