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.
- Matthew 6:16-18 - “"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. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 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. “
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.
- Leviticus 23:26 - “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 27 "Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the LORD. 28 And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. 29 For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. 30 And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. 31 You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. 32 It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath."
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.
- Jonah 3:4-5 - “Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.”
- Daniel 9:3 - “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. “
- Nehemiah 9:3 - “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God.“
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.
- Matthew 9:14-15 - “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 15 And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
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.
- Revelation 19:6-9 – “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"--for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."
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.
- Luke 2:36-38 – “And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
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.