Looking in Matthew starting in verse 14
Why Do we Fast?
What is fasting? Fasting is probably the most feared spiritual discipline. We are afraid that it will make us suffer dreadfully and give us a generally negative experience. For some Christians, fasting for spiritual purposes is as unthinkable as shaving their heads or walking barefoot across a fire pit.
However, fasting is a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Fasting is more than just the ultimate crash diet for the body; it is abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.
Now that we have answered what is fasting, now let us answer, why should we fast? The main reason is because Jesus both practiced and taught fasting.
In Matthew 4:1-2 we see that, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Here we see that in preparation for His temptation with Satan, Jesus prepared himself spiritually by fasting.
And in Matthew 6:16-18 we see that Jesus instructs us to fast when he says,
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Here Jesus does not say if you fast, he says when you fast. And we can pretty much assume that Jesus wanted fasting and prayer to be connected since our instructions to fast comes right after the Lord’s prayer. We also see that fasting is important by how many times it is mentioned in the Bible. Fasting is mentioned 77 times and Baptism is only mentioned 75. Although I would not go as far as to say it is more important than Baptism, but I would say that if God mentions something 77 times, we should take notice.
Now that we have answered the what and why of fasting. Let us answer the question, what does fasting do, or what is the purpose of fasting? It is important to have a purpose when fasting because without a purpose, fasting can be a miserable, self-centered experience. Fasting is not to be a legalistic routine, but a privilege and an opportunity to seek God’s grace that is open to us as often as we desire.
“Self-indulgence is the enemy of gratitude, and self-discipline usually its friend and generator. That is why gluttony is a deadly sin. The early church fathers believed that a person’s appetites are linked: full stomachs and jaded palates take the edge from our hunger and thirst for righteousness. They spoil the appetite for God” (Plantinga, 1988).
We see that Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in order to spiritually strengthen Himself and to dedicate Himself to God for the beginning of His public ministry. In the spiritual strength of that prolonged fast Jesus was prepared to overcome a direct onslaught of temptation from Satan himself, the strongest He would face until the cross.
Jesus privately dedicated Himself during this fast to the Father for the public ministry that He would begin soon thereafter. Therefore, the first purpose of fasting is to dedicate ourselves and to help us grow spiritually in order to overcome temptation. We are in spiritual warfare and sometimes it is good for us to weaken our physical bodies in order to strengthen our spiritual ones. Personally, I think that if Jesus prepared himself for his transition into ministry by fasting, it might be wise for us to go through a season of fasting since we too are preparing ourselves for transition into ministry under new leadership.
The second purpose of fasting is to strengthen our prayers. When we fast, we should be like Jesus and say that we desire God and hearing His word, more than desire fulfilling our fleshy desires. Therefore, when you feel your hunger pains use it as a reminder that 1.) that you love God more than you love food, and 2.) to remind you to pray for whatever you fasted for. For example, I am praying for the Pastor Search committee, the new pastor, the new principal, the new super-intendant, and VBS.
Now that we have addressed the what, the why, and the purpose of fasting, now let us look at how to fast. There are different ways to fast. What I am doing is called a normal fast. A normal fast involves abstaining from all food, but not from water. To abstain from food but to drink water and fruit juices is the most common kind of Christian fast. I will be drinking fruit juices during my fast just to have some calorie intake and to keep my blood sugar up. However, I will not be doing anything that curves my appetite because I want to use the hunger pains to remind me that I desire God more than I desire food and to remind me to pray for the pastor search committee, the new pastor, the new principal, the new superintendent, and VBS.
How long should we fast? It is up to you and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible are examples of fasts that lasted one day or part of a day, a one night fast, three day fasts, seven day fasts, fourteen day fasts, a twenty-one day fast, and forty day fasts. So I would suggest that if you have never fasted before, start with a one, two, or at the most three-meal fast. But start somewhere. Do not look for loopholes to avoid it. Look for ways to experience God’s grace through fasting.
Of course, for some of you a normal fast, for medical reasons, should not be attempted. For example, it would not be wise for Stuart Hurd to do a normal fast since the strenuous exercise he gets at basketball would make his body fail if he would to attempt it. However, those of you that feel like you cannot do a normal fast; you can do a partial fast. A partial fast is a limitation of the diet but not abstention from all food. For ten days Daniel and three other Jewish young men only had vegetables to eat and water to drink in Daniel 1:12. John the Baptist only ate locusts and wild honey. So for a partial fast you can either eat smaller portions, cut out all drinks except water, especially if you are used to only drinking cokes or sweet tea. Or you could cut out a certain type of food, like Daniel did when he cut out all drinks except water and only ate vegetables.
For another example of a partial fast look with me at Daniel chapter 10 verses 1-3,
In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.
I would love to see this church mourn. That called quits on getting angry at how dumb things where and how much the kingdom was not being advanced. And got on their knees and fasted, eating no delicacies, passing by the ice-cream after lunch praying to God and asking God to do amazing Kingdom advancing things.
Not only for the praying for a new pastor, but some of you are in places in your marriage where it seems like it will never get better. It feels insurmountable and you just fill your life with multiple little pleasures that sort of make it bearable, when really the lack of intimacy and the lack of kingdom growth in your marriage is driving you crazy, but you can kind of make it bearable.
What I think the Lord would like you to do is to be like Daniel and not to numb the mourning, but to intensify it for a season with fasting and prayer. And by passing by the delicacies. This is a fast that everyone can do. Some of you cannot go without eating because of health concerns. Daniel was eating food just not delicacies. Daniel was going through a time of severity to increase the mourning and pleading with God, for the advance of God’s kingdom.
Like Dr. Stansbury said a few weeks ago, that men need to be fighting lust by getting an accountability partner and getting a program for your computer like covenant eyes. Well, I want to go a step further than that. If you are fighting something like lust or anything else that you want to battle together in prayer, I will fast with you. I just want to make myself available for anyone that is battling sin; I will fast with you anytime you want. It is not just good enough to take something bad out of your life, you need to take something bad out and replace it with something good so that when temptation comes back there is no room for it and fasting can play a role in figuring out what that is.
We have ignored prayer and fasting and we have wondered why we know and experience so little of Christ and why the kingdom does not advance with power. And I am here to tell you that the response from God will come from a response of our work, to our prayers, to our morning, to our fasting.
?As a work through which we earn his favor? Absolutely Not! The Bible does not teach that fasting is a kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. If we ask for something outside of God’s will, fasting does not cause Him to reconsider. Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying.
We have been given access to God through the Spirit, we have been made children of God by the cross, and we have had our sins paid for. There is no guilt in life there is no fear in death. Now we can approach God, but when you look at this world and you see its fallen nature and how it is starting to affect the families in this community, we would be better off to let ourselves mourn than to talk about what a healthy church we are. And deny the delicacies for a season, and to seek our God for greater display of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I have news for you, he loves to answer prayer. Our fasting will not go in vain.
If fasting is so important why would Jesus encourage his disciples at this point of time not to fast?
The arrival of the kingdom of heaven is cause for a time of rejoicing, similar to what is experienced during marriage ceremonies
They will then return to the practice of fasting to seek the presence of God, but they need not do that when Jesus, the Son of God (see Mark 1:1; 15:39), is with them. “Taken away” is an indirect prediction of Jesus’ death (see Isa. 53:8).
What is Jesus getting at when He uses the illustrations of an unshrunk cloth and the new wine?
Rather than patching up the traditional practices of righteousness within religious Judaism, Jesus has come to offer real growth in kingdom righteousness, which is like when new wine is put into fresh wineskins.
Basically, Jesus did not come to replace Judaism, but to fulfill it. All of the Old Testament was pointing us to Christ and now that He has arrived we have now entered into a new covenant. So trying to patch Jesus into your old way of thinking will cause a bigger whole. And trying to fit the new covenant with the old one would make old one bust.
Just as new, unshrunk cloth cannot coexist with an old garment, the kingdom of God cannot be regarded merely as a patch over the regulations of the Mosaic law and extrabiblical traditions. New wine vs. old wineskins illustrates the same truth—that Jesus brings a new era with new ways.
The main point of this passage is not on fasting, but that one cannot mix the old and the new covenant, and that the new covenant era inaugurated by Jesus’ coming will require repentance (Matt. 4:17), regeneration (cf. John 3:3), and new forms of worship.