Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Becoming Like His Care (2 of 4)

Part 1 provided a brief explanation of the Discipline of Fasting. This post discusses two distinct situations when Jesus taught about Fasting.

Fasting is Expected

In Matthew 6.16-18, Jesus says, “When you fast...” This is just a few verses after the Lord's Prayer which follows “when you pray” (6.5-7). It is just a couple of paragraphs from Jesus talking about our need to give (6.2-3). Last week's posts included our need to give; and a few weeks ago I posted about prayer. In the verses following 16-18, Jesus taught about seeking first God's Kingdom and His righteousness. If you are a Christian, you have likely heard many lessons or messages on these passages, and the teachings are accepted because they are much appreciated Christian concepts. Yet, between these teachings is the idea of fasting – which is, at best, overlooked but is more likely ignored, which is far worse.

Lest we think that the idea of fasting died with Jesus, Acts 9.9 shares that Saul fasted after his conversion. Acts 13.2 reveals the church at Antioch was fasting as a part of their worship. And in Acts 14.23, the Bible reveals that Paul and Barnabas fasted before appointing elders (pastors) at the churches they planted. Plus, as we will see in the second passage, Jesus anticipates our fasting even more now. But first, let's look a little deeper at Matthew 6.16-18.

Matthew 6.16-18
  • When you fast (Jesus makes an assumption that His followers will fast.)
  • Don’t be like the hypocrites (Jesus states a negative, primarily against the Pharisees, as most Pharisees fasted every Monday and Thursday, and often wanted attention for it – see Luke 18.12).
  • Anoint and wash yourself (Jesus gives a positive command on how to present yourself while fasting. Don't be gloomy and sad-faced, God knows and the purpose of the fast is for Him anyway.
  • The Father will reward you (This is the promise. Jesus doesn't say how or when, but it will be good – see some of the upcoming verses [Matthew 6.26, 30; 7.9-11]). And this reward is the result of the assumption, “when you fast.”
It is often said that “God looks at the heart.” Well, let me provide two observations related to fasting.

1) Fasting takes the focus off of us, and places it upon God. As humans, we may do a lot of good things, things that get the attention of others, but God wants the heart. And if we are willing to give up a need as basic as food – something Jesus just taught them to pray for just a few sentences earlier – our daily bread – then we are putting aside our needs for the purpose of knowing God and His needs better.

a) Jesus says He is the bread of life. He is much more satisfying than the best of foods.

b) “Fasting does not change God's hearing as much as it changes our praying.” – Donald Whitney

Again, just a few verses earlier (in the Lord's Prayer) is the statement, “Thy will be done.” Jesus was purposeful in discussing fasting immediately after praying.

2) What does the heart want?  Look at the very next verses 19-21. Again, Chapter 6 is one of the most taught chapters in the Bible and yet nobody says anything about fasting. How can this be?

a) This gives so much credence to those who say that Christians only pick the parts of the Bible they like.

b) This is why I don't do series like this very often. When you pick a book of the Bible to teach, you have to teach the verses as they come. I may pick which parts deserve emphasis, but I can't choose to leave parts out.

The second passage today is Matthew 9.14-15.
  • They will fast – again Jesus provides an assumption in part of his answer to the question.
  • The Bridegroom was leaving – Jesus is the Bridegroom and would leave them behind (a negative).
  • The present time was thus a time to feast (the positive).
  • The Promise includes a feast as well – The Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19.6-9).
Right now, He is not only preparing a place for you eternally (John 14.2-3), but He is preparing a place at His banquet. And He will come again (John 14.3) to get His bride (the Church) that we might be with Him forever.

The background for this short teaching is as follows. In Matthew 9, Jesus heals a man, then calls Matthew as a disciple. On arriving at Matthew's house for a meal, the Pharisees ask why Jesus would dine with such filth? His answer, “The sick need a doctor, those who are well don’t.” After the Pharisees, next come the disciples of John the Baptist. They don't care why He is there, but their challenge is that, like the Pharisees, they fast, so why doesn't Jesus’ disciples? Jesus response, “No mourning allowed while I am here. But one day, when I depart, they will mourn.”

So, since Jesus is now departed should we eat? Absolutely, food is a gift from God. Not only is the food itself a gift, but God has gifted certain people to do spectacular things with food. We can honor God by eating of the gift and from those gifted in preparing it. And eating can be worship too. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

So if food is good, why fast?   Fasting reminds us to keep our focus on the Giver (God), rather than on the gift (food).

We are to fast now (v. 15 - they will fast) because He is not here. Not always, but often. Again, Matthew 6 talks of giving, praying, and fasting. How often do you give or pray? How often should you fast? That is between you and God, but one thought might be whenever you feel your hunger for God waning, that might be the perfect time to fast.

Regardless, from Matthew 9 we see that the joy of the bridegroom in their midst meant that it was not a time for fasting then. And one day, we will be in the midst of the bridegroom eternally, so there will no longer be a need to fast. But, in the meantime, fasting reminds us that we are not with God, yet utterly dependent on God. As John Piper says, “Christian hunger, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God.”

I will conclude these thoughts on Friday (Post 4 for this week). Tomorrow’s post will be a bonus post that contains a list of the various types, lengths, and purposes for fasts as recorded in the Bible.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

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