Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on July 20, 2014
Open you Bibles to Matthew 6:16-18. Today we are focusing on an aspect of the Christian walk that has become forgotten over the years, fasting. If I were to guess, many of you have never fasted before, or if you have fasted you have only done it one or two times.
Why is this? I think the reason is that you don't do what you don't understand. And why do we not understand fasting? Because preachers don't teach it. I have been preaching here at Cornerstone for a 1 ½ years and I have never talked from this pulpit on fasting, that is until today. And why am I teaching on it today? Because it is the next passage in the Sermon on the Mount. This is the benefit that comes from preaching expositionally through books of the Bible. I am forced to preach the entire counsel of God's Word and I can't cherry pick popular messages.
My goal today is to convince each of you that fasting is worth it. I want you to see the value in the practice of fasting in your life, so that you implement it in your walk with the Lord, and reap the benefits. It is my opinion that the disappearance of fasting in our Churches is highly correlated to the weakness of our Churches. The greater our fasting, the greater our reward, the greater our reward, the greater our strength. With this said, let us read our text, pray and pursue the strength as found in the rich words of our God.
With this said, let us do a quick survey of the Bible regarding fasting. First, lets start with some notable people who fasted: Moses, that nation of Israel, David, Esther, Daniel, Elijah, Ezra, Paul, Peter, the leaders at Antioch, and Jesus himself. This is a pretty good list. Fasting is prevalent in the Bible, and it is not limited to one point in time. God's people have always been a people who have fasted. What do they know that we don't?
Lets take a quick look at what was going on that caused them to fast. These are just some of the examples of fasting, this is not exhaustive, but gives you a picture of circumstances surrounding fasting. The first fast in the Bible, may be the most interesting one. For it was the one and only fast that was instituted, and required, by God. It is found in Leviticus 23:26-32.
The next fast that I want us to look at is found in Jonah 3. Many of us know the story of Jonah because his three nights in the belly of the whale, but we tend to forget why he was there to begin with. The Prophet Jonah had been sent by God to Nineveh, which was a gentile nation, to warn them about God's judgment against them.
Through all of these examples we can see some a common theme: sin, repentance, seeking God's favor. So these text help, but still do not necessarily give us a completely clear picture fo what is fasting. For this I think we need to turn in our Bible to Matthew 9:14-15. This text is interesting considering that Jesus, in Matthew 6 tells his disciples that fasting is assumed.
So in Matthew 6, Jesus assumes that there will be fasting, yet his disciples do not fast. I think if I was John disciples I would be asking the same question. So what is going on? What does Jesus use to help us understand fasting? A wedding. What is a wedding? It is a celebration of a union, a deep and loving union. We talked about this before at Cornerstone. Marriage is a God created, living display, or image, of the Gospel. Marriage is for the purpose of being a pointer to the greater reality of Jesus’ marriage to the Church. The most beautiful picture of this union between Jesus and His Bride is found in Revelation 19:6-9.
This passage is a window into the future, when God will wrap up history and sin will be thrown away, and the entire Church will be completely and fully unified with Christ. All weddings are to be pointers to this future celebration, and this is what Jesus uses to explain fasting, but there is more.
What does Jesus say? Jesus says that there will be a time when the Bridegroom will be taken away from the disciples, and what will be the result of this absence, this separation? Mourning. The wedding guests will mourn because of the absence of the Bridegroom. They miss the bridegroom. They long for the return of the Bridegroom.
Fasting doesn’t happen when the Bridegroom is present. The reason for Jesus’ disciples not fasting is that Jesus was physically present with them. Jesus then goes on to say that some day they will fast, and the reason for their fasting is His departure. Once again we see that fasting is assumed. When Jesus is taken away, His followers will fast.
So what is at the heart of fasting? At the heart of fasting is a longing for the bridegroom. It is a mourning for Jesus. It is a desire that there would not be a separation between man and God. Listen to what John Piper says in his book Hunger for God, “The birthplace of Christian fasting is homesickness for God.” Fasting, at its core, is about wanting Christ in your life even more than bread.
I think a great picture of this is the one of Anna, the prophetess. We see here story in Luke 2:36. When Jesus was eight days old, it was Jewish law to bring the first born male child to the temple to present him to the Lord. Anna just so happened to be at the temple that day.
I do not think that it is a coincidence that this section on fasting follows the Lord's prayer. Think about what we just prayed for. We prayed for the name of God to be hallowed, for the Kingdom of God to come, for God's will to be done in our lives and others. When we pray this we are praying for the King to be present and reign. We are praying for the Bridegroom to show up. Implicitly we are praying for repentance of sins and placement of faith in the High Priest of Jesus Christ, and allow Him to atone for their sins. We are seeking the Lord and praying that people would not longer be exiles separated from the blessings of God because of their sins, but God would restore their salvation. And following this pray we are taught about fasting. Do you see the connection? Sin, repentance, God's favor.
And this is why we should fast. We should long for the deliverance that only comes by the presence of the Bridegroom. We should afflict our bodies, so as to have more of Jesus and less of this world. And as I stand here before you today, I cannot tell you why it is the way it is. I cannot tell you why fasting has power, but it does. There is something about denying yourself your daily bread that produces the reward of God's grace in your life. There is something powerful about saying that God is better than bread.
As I prepared for this message, I came across this thought, that I think it is a good thought. God implemented the Lord's Supper, whereby we take bread and eat it in remembrance of the body of our broken King. And in this ceremony we are celebrating our invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb. The invite card is written in his blood, and the war has been won. Fasting, on the other hand, is at the other end of the spectrum. It is the symbol that recognizes that, yes the Kingdom of God has come in the person of Jesus Christ, but is has not yet been fully consummated, there is still more work to be done in our lives as sinners and the World. There are still lost sheep waiting to her the voice of Jesus calling them into union with him, calling them to the wedding Supper of the Lamb.
So here is my challenge, let us be a people, not only of prayer but a people who lives in a way that says that God is better than bread. Let us be a people who are willing to eliminate the one thing that keeps us alive, food, and say that God is more satisfying. Let us commit ourselves to seek the reward of the pleasures of the presence of God, over the pleasures of this world. Let us mourn for the sin that is in our lives and in the lives of others to the extent that we are too sick to eat. If we do this, Jesus has guaranteed us that he will reward you. How will he reward you? His presence.
Perhaps there is a demon in your life that you cannot cast out, perhaps it is time that you utilize the weapons of prayer and fasting, so you can by the presence of Christ finally slay the temptation. Perhaps you have mourned over your unbelieving spouse, child, parent, of friend and it is now time that you step it up a notch and weep over them and let your tears be your supper.
It is time that Cornerstone Church becomes like the Church in Antioch in Acts 13 who were praying and fasting for the Lord's guidance. God rewarded them by giving them insight and setting apart Paul and Barnabas to go and proclaim the Gospel. Who knows what God may reveal to us if we were to do the same. If our hearts are truly for the lost within 20 miles of this Church, and we mourn because of their sin, then let us get serious and seek the reward of God's power in fulfilling the Great Commission. I don't want to be a Church that goes through motions. Let us fight the fight of faith and implement all weapons that he has given us to push back the enemy.
So with this said, I am calling us to become a fasting people. I want our hearts to scream louder than our stomachs so that we can begin to see mountains moved in our lives and in others. I want us to yearn for the Bridegroom.
I don't want to give rules, or days or time frames, but I want you to fast as you feel led by the Holy Spirit. If the Spirt of God drives you out to the desert to pray and fast for forty days, then do it. If God is calling you to skip lunch, then do so. If God is calling you to fast for one week, then do it. If God is calling you to fast every Wednesday for the rest of your life, then praise God. Let us be a Church full of Annas and Daniels in this congregation so that we can experience the joy of God's favor.
If you implement fasting in your life, you will not be disappointed. For God who sees in secret will reward you.