July 18, 2010

#23

Sermon on the Mount

Mat 6:16-18. Fasting.

The Feast is over

[A Time for Fasting]

Considering the many important points from our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, there are those who say that the Lord's Prayer does not apply for our particular point in time. The obvious answer to this objection is that the Lord gave the same "prayer" again some time latter when His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, Luke 11.1

By giving this prayer twice, the Lord clearly teaches the importance of this passage for His church of all ages. Furthermore, the church ignores the substance of this passage to its own destruction.2

Luke 11:5-9, the Lord's teaching on prayer there is followed by the parable concerning the friend seeking bread, which teaches the importance of importunity in prayer, v. 8. That is, shameless persistence.

Let me quickly mention Luke 11:5-9. It is too good to ignore:

1) The friend with the bread is asleep with his family.
2) His neighbour has a friend visiting him, and he has no bread to give him.
3) The neighbour goes over and beats on the door of his friend, requesting bread to give to his visitor.
4) The friend in bed says, Leave me alone. If I get up, my whole family will be disturbed.
5) But the neighbour will not give up, and keeps beating on the door.
6) The friend finally gets up, and gives him the bread. Not because he is his neighbour, but because the neighbour will not quit beating on the door.

It is obvious that the neighbours are good friends.

Application: We live in a hungry community. Though unknown to the vast majority of our community, their hunger is for the Bread of Life. In our own selves, we have nothing to give them. The lesson here is that we must be shamelessly persistent in beating on the Heavenly Father's door, so we will have something to give them.

The visitors will not beat on our friend's door, pleading for bread. We must do that, so we can supply the hunger around us.

Back to the context of Matthew 6:

First, the "Lord's Prayer" must be read, studied and used in light of the central theme of His sermon - man's responsibility to the Kingdom of God on earth, 6:33.

Considering Luke 11, that kingdom cannot be expanded on our own. We must have heavenly bread for those we have contact with. Prayer

Second, the two sections following the prayer (forgiveness, vv. 14, 15 & fasting, vv16-18) must be considered in their context.

The first section, forgiveness, starts with For, and the next section, fasting, starts with Moreover, Showing us that both are equally important, and both are given in the context of the previous prayer.

As we saw, the prayer in Matthew 6 is divided into 3 sections:

1) opens with adoration for the Father.

2) seven petitions to the Father; seven, the number of perfection.

3) closes with praise to the Heavenly Father.3

In Matthew 6, the Lord gives at least five practical means of (duties or requirements for) advancing God's kingdom. In all cases, the Lord says that as these required duties are done in secret, the Lord's outward blessings are secured.

1) alms... That is, righteous works, vv. 1-4 (1 Pet 2:15), when thou doest thine alms.

2) prayer...That is, humility, vv. 5-15 (2 Tim 2:24-26), when thou prayest.

3) forgiveness... That is, purity of heart & clear conscience, vv. 14, 15 (1 Tim 1:19).

The pure heart and pure motives are emphasized by the Lord's reference to forgiveness twice, vv. 12 & 14, 15.

We covered the importance of forgiveness, or purity of heart, last time.4

Keeping Luke 11's illustration of bread on our mind, we come to the forth Christian requirement if we will have heavenly bread to give to those we come into contact with.

4) fasting... That is, self-denial, moderation and self-control, vv. 16-18. These are not pleasant subjects, but here they are in Christ's sermon, so we will cover them also.

A fifth practical Christian duty will be added next, vv. 19-21. That is, financing the Kingdom Work.

Throughout Christ's Sermon on the Mount, He does no more that take the Old Testament law, which was terribly corrupted by the religious leaders of His day, and gives that law its proper spirit in interpretation, application and illustration.

As He places the law back into its proper perspective, He strips the religious leaders of their power and influence, exposing them as hypocrites. That exposure led to his murder.

Today, a true understanding of God's law will expose the vast majority of religious leaders as false teachers and hypocrites.

Christ gives Biblical fasting at least equal responsibility and importance as alms, prayer and forgiveness, vv. 14, 15. Furthermore, the Lord takes for granted that His disciples will fast both publicly and privately.

In Matthew 9:14, 15, when asked why Christ's disciples did not fast as did John's disciples, he told them that they would after he was gone.

What is fasting?

In vv. 16-18, Christ properly applies the Old Testament nature of fasting.

Fasting is basically a practice of self-denial. Self-denial is a Christian necessary in our effort to seek first the Kingdom of God, v. 33. Self-denial is required if God's kingdom will be expanded. However, we really do not like to hear about self-denial, so our Lord's words about fasting are ignored.

Luke 9:23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Let me give three understandings of fasting.

First, we think of abstaining from food for a period of time: one meal, a day or for an expanded period. Food is withheld for a religious purpose, and kept within the bounds of God's word, i.e., not endangering one's health: Colossians 2:23. (An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, AW Pink, Baker Book House, 1950.)

There is nothing meritorious about withholding food. It does not earn favor with God. Rather, fasting is an outward sign before God of the inward desire to advance His cause. That inward desire for his cause is stronger than our desire for our cause and welfare.

Fasting is the opposite of feasting, which expresses joy. Throughout Scripture, fasting is always connected with prayer and afflicting the soul before God. The frequency and length of a fast is largely determined by our ordinary habits, character, vocation and health.

Second, fasting is identified with self-control, which is required of all men:

* Phil 3:17-21, Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, [that they are] the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end [is] destruction, whose God [is their] belly, and [whose] glory [is] in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

Self-control and moderation in all things is to be obvious for all to see, even at meal-time:

Phil 4:5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord [is] at hand.

Self must be denied in order to keep the mind and body conditioned for study and obeying God's word.

Third, we will see that the fast that pleases God is not the one that abstains from food, but the one that abstains from sin, and deals with our fellow man as required by God's law. We will consider this fast later.

Some points about fasting

FIRST, not all fasting is total in the sense that all food is avoided: Daniel only denied himself of the king's dainties. Moreover, private fasting can be used to help keep the flesh under subjection, so we can better serve the Lord:

* Romans 13:11 And that, considering the season, that it is now time that we should arise from sleep: for now is our salvation nearer, than when we believed it. 12 The night is past, and the day is at hand, let us therefore cast away the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light, 13 So that we walk honestly, as in the day: not in gluttony, and drunkenness, neither in chambering and wantonness, (Lewd, immodest behaviour) nor in strife and envying. 14 But put ye on the Lord JESUS CHRIST, and take no thought for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts of it.

* 1 Corinthians 9:27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

SECOND, not all fasting is Biblical. Folks may keep a regular fast for personal health reasons, rather than spiritual health reasons. Certainly there is nothing wrong with fasting for health reasons, and many do so. However, as a Christian, we cannot separate physical from spiritual health. We are to remain as healthy as possible for the glory of God. Whether we do or don't eat, do or don't drink, it must be done to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31.

THIRD, all fasting is religious because everything man does is religiously motivated. God made man a religious being; he must have "grace from outside himself" to live: he must worship something. The problem is the religion he follows: God's or man's. He may fast because he worships his body, desires to draw attention to a cause, desires to draw attention to himself, &c, or for the Glory of God.

What is our motive?

Christ's doctrine of fasting is built upon the already established principles of fasting as found in the Old Testament

Jonah 3:5-10

One of the clearest Old Testament illustrations of fasting is found in the book of Jonah, so we will follow that outline. Jonah, even though he fought hard against doing so, proclaimed God's message to Nineveh. We are told that much to Jonah's dismay, Nineveh humbled itself, repented, entered into a city-wide fast, and prayed. It turned from sin, and the great city was spared destruction.

Observe:

I) The cause for fasting: God's judgment was imminent upon this exceedingly pagan city of Nineveh. A fast was proclaimed in a time of exceptional gravity. The fast was accompanied by turning from sin.

II) Who should fast? In Nineveh's case (& Esther's), the whole population entered into fasting. There are times for national and public fasting.

But in other instances, such as David's, individuals fasted for special favors from God. David's repentance and fasting over Bathsheba's child did no good, but in other situations (e.g. fleeing from his enemies) fasting was beneficial.

III) the purpose of fasting: Nineveh's goal was to turn God from his fierce anger, v. 9. Fasting and turning from sin was done when there was a great need for God's intervention into situations either on a national or personal level.

We must also keep in mind that the Lord had to be the one who turned Nineveh's heart to himself. He called them to repentance, evidently as an example to the Jews who would later refuse to turn, and to the unsaved today who refuse to turn.

Some Old Testament illustrations:

In Psalms 35:13, David humbled his soul with fasting.

In Psalms 69:10, David wore sackcloth while he wept, and chastened his soul with fasting. Chastened in added, but the verse speaks of bring his spirit under control through fasting.

In Psalms 109:24, David's physical strength was removed through fasting. Besides, he lost weight also. His fast was quite lengthy, for he was at the very edge of his endurance in this Psalm. As his enemies attempted to destroy him, he humbled himself before the Lord and cast himself upon the Lord's mercy.

In Nehemiah 1:4, Nehemiah sat down, wept, mourned, fasted and prayed for certain days before the Lord God over the fact that Jerusalem was broken down.

In Daniel 9:1-3, Daniel, in sackcloth & ashes, sought the Lord with prayer, fasting and confession of sin. He humbled himself, confessed sin and longed for God's righteousness to prevail.

In Zechariah 7, the hypocrites pray and fast. God's people's distress over the condition of their nation caused them to weep, mourn and fast. They hoped to influence God to intervene. However, in all their efforts, they had no intention of returning to the law of the Lord, 7:12. The result was that the Lord scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not, v. 14.

First, we think of abstaining from food for a period of time.

Second, fasting is identified with self-control, which is required of all men.

Now, third, we will see that the fast that pleases God is not the one that abstains from food, but the one that abstains from sin,

** Isaiah 58:1-7 may have been what the Lord had in mind when he said in Matthew 6:16, Be not as the hypocrites... The people were continuing in their worldly, selfish ways, yet they expected God to respond to their fasting as though their effort merited God's favor regardless of their sin.

6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

The Lord points out here that their fasting was hypocrisy, and was leading to their destruction. He tells them that a true fast that will result in his mercy is not abstaining from food, but abstaining from sin, and dealing with their neighbors according to his law.

Christ's doctrine of fasting is built upon the Old Testament

1) Fasting was an outward sign of the inward attitude of turning from self-strength and ability and turning in complete dependence upon the mercy, grace and providence of God.

2) Fasting is motivated by a desire to see His kingdom come and his will done on earth as it is in heaven, 6:10. It is motivated by a hunger and thirst for righteousness, Matthew 5:6.

3) Fasting for personal reasons might help one's physical well-being, but has no spiritual benefit.

4) The fast God has chosen is keeping one's self from sin, and showing our love toward Christ keeping his commandments, John 14:15.

Some New Testament application

In Luke 2:37, Anna served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

In Acts 10:30, Cornelius desired more light from God concerning the Messiah, so he fasted and prayed

In Acts 13:3, the church at Antioch fasted as they sought God's special blessing for success of the gospel.

In Acts 14:23, Paul and Silas established the new churches with prayers and fastings.

In 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul assumes that ordinary Christians will pray and fast.

From our Lord's message here in 6:16-19, as well as other New Testament passages, we see the common Biblical thread; that is, a very deep desire, above all else, to see God glorified and his Kingdom advanced, they kingdom come...

It may be for advancing His kingdom one soul at a time, or for advancing his kingdom into our surrounding society.

Read the Beatitudes, Mat 5:1-9. The Lord's Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5, 6 & 7, must be viewed as one message, not as many small messages to be clipped together or divided asunder at/for the convince of the hearer/reader.

Conclusion, Matthew 6:16-18

First, Christ's first words concerning fasting exposes the wrong kind of fasting. Christ did not condemn public fasting; He condemned hypocritical fasting to be seen of man, v. 16.

The hypocrite's (an actor, stage player) motive is for public praise of self, as he puts on a great show of suffering for the Lord in fasting. His motive is not for the glory of and kingdom of God.

The Pharisee bragged:

Luke 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, O God, I thank thee that I am not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican. 12 I fast twice in the week: I give tithe of all that ever I possess.

The hypocrite did not die out with the Pharisees. They are very much alive today, and they still have their dead men's bones.

There have their religious groups, their outward rituals and ceremonies and sacraments, and feel they are then right with God. But there is no spiritual fast of separation from sin.

I understand that the local Lutheran Church gives out a certificate after the sacraments, showing that the individual followed that tradition.

They have avoided the weightier matters of the law—that is, the outward workings of their Christian profession what will cause others to praise their Father which is in heaven, Matthew 5:16.

The religious hypocrites have their reward. I am inclined to believe that the ones Christ personally addressed were rewarded in 70 A.D. Christ describes the reward of the wicked and slothful servant who avoided his duty and responsibility, Matthew 25:30, utter darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

[Note: Christ did not condemn the hypocrites by name, but He made His condemnation of their actions so clear that everyone knew exactly to whom He referred.]

Second, Christ's rebuke of the hypocrites' fasting for public praise implies equal rebuke toward those who fast not at all.

Isa 22:12-14 implies increased judgments from God for His people feasting when they should be fasting:

And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the LORD of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.

Pink said,

"The present state of God's cause upon this earth, the withdrawal of the Spirit's unction and blessing, the drying up of the streams of vital godliness, the lack of fruit from the preaching of the Gospel, the abounding error on every side, the raising tide of infidelity, iniquity and immorality, and, above all, the national judgments of God now [1950] hanging over our head, call loudly for humiliation, afflicting of our souls, and repentance." Ibid. [ED. And what is replacing self-abasement & humiliation? Self-esteem!]

Third, Matthew 6:17, 18, obviously fasting (alms & prayer), both public and private, is between the individual and the Lord.

Fourth, one can fast until he starves to death thinking it is for the Kingdom's sake, but fasting without following God's word in relation to our neighbours is hypocrisy, and will only result in more judgement from the Lord.

Fifth, the Lord require us to always have a cheerful countenance. The Christian must reflect a Christian attitude of history: confidence in the Divine providence of God working all things for His glory. The Truth makes us free from our passions and circumstances; God's Truth results in joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Sixth, reward... God offers his reward for proper motive in: 1) alms giving, 2) prayer, 3) forgiveness, and 4) fasting. The fasting reward is 1/4 of the listed rewards.

Last, there are Old Testament passages which call for public mourning and fasting:

Joel 1:13-15, Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God. Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders [and] all the inhabitants of the land [into] the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD, Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD [is] at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.

Joel 2:12-14, Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye [even] to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he [is] gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth [if] he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; [even] a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?

Christ preached in terms of already established principles of fasting. He condemned the evil motives of public acclaim in fasting and self-abasement. Godly fasting was exhibited by the pagan city of Nineveh, and called for by Joel.

As pointed out in Isaiah 58:1-7, the most important fast before God which will gain his mercy is not the abstinence from food, but abstinence from sin.

The days of feasting Christianity are long over. It is time for fasting, weeping, mourning, rending of the heart and turning to the Lord; for it may be that, in His mercy and grace, He will send an awakening revival in the hearts of His people:

Amos 5:15 Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be merciful unto the remnant of Joseph.

If there were ever a time in history for prayer and fasting, now is the time. Are we adding to God's wrath against evil by not weeping, mourning and fasting over the prevailing sin around us and the lack of the Spirit's power?

Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak [this] to your shame.

The lengthy end notes will be posted on the web site.

End Notes

1. "Those professing to be the towers of orthodoxy and the most enlightened among Bible teachers have blatantly and dogmatically affirmed the a"the Sermon on the Mount is not for us," that it is "Jewish," that it pertains to a future dispensation, that it sets forth the righteousness which will obtain in "the millennial kingdom." And this satanic sop was eagerly devoured by multitudes of those who attended the "Second Coming of Christ" conferences, and was carried by them into many of the "churches," their pastors being freely supplied with "dispensational" literature dealing with this fatal error. Slowly but surely this evil leaven has worked until a very considerable and influential section of what passes as orthodox Christianity has been poisoned by it. The fundamental error of those men claiming to "rightly divide the word of truth" is their opposition to and repudiation of the Law of God: their insistence that it is solely Jewish, that the Gentiles were never under it, and that it is not now the believers' rule of life. Never had the Devil succeeded in palming off the Truth a more soul-destroying lie than this. Where there is no exposition of the Moral Law and no pressing of its righteous demands, where there is no faithful turning of its holy and searching light upon the deceitful heart, there will be, there can be, no genuine conversions, for "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20). It is by the law alone we can learn the real nature of sin, the fearful extent of its ramifications, and the penalty passed upon it. The Law of God is hated by man - religious and irreligious alike - because it condemns him and demonstrates him to be in high revolt against its Giver. Knowing full well the detestation of their hearers for the Divine Law, a large percentage of those who have occupied the pulpits during the past few decades have studiously banished it therefrom, displacing it with "studies in prophecy" and what they designate as "the Gospel of the Grace of God." But the "gospel" preached by these blind leaders of the blind was "another gospel" (Gal 1:6): where there is no enforcing the requirements of the Law, there can be no preaching of God's Gospel, for so far from the latter being opposed to the former, it "establishes" the same (Rom 3: 31). Consequently, the "churches" became filled with spurious converts, who trampled the Law of God beneath their feet. And this, more than anything else, accounts for the lawlessness which now obtains everywhere in Church and State alike." AW Pink, Sermon on the Mount, AW Pink, pg: 137

"A few of our readers may have been disturbed by the foolish and harmful error that the Lord's prayer was not designed and is not suited for use in this dispensation: that instead, it is "Jewish" and intended for a godly remnant in some "great tribulation period" yet future. One would think the very stating of such a phantasy quite sufficient ot expose its absurdity to those which any spiritual intelligence. Neither our Lord nor any of His apostles gave any warning that this prayer was not to be used by Christians, or any intimation that it was designed for a future age. The fact that it is found in Luke's gospel as will and Matthew's is clear indication that it is to be employed by Jewish and Gentile saints alike. There is nothing whatever in this prayer which is unsuited to Christians now, yea, everything in its is needed by them. That it is addressed to "our Father" furnishes all the warrant we need for it to be used by all members of His family. Then let none of God's children allow Satan to rob them of this valuable part of their birthright." Ibid, pg. 159, 60.

2. Cf. Rev. 22:19; Pro 30:6; Deut 4:2ff - note the context and what the Lord tells the people will happen to them if they do diminish ought from His word. In the eyes of the world, the church's wisdom and understanding will depart when it departs from the total of God's word. And so it is today as the church is seen as having no practical answer for the social ills around it except to become more spiritual. The only answer offered by the majority of "Christians" is even so come quickly, Lord Jesus.

3. The model prayer closed with praise for the heavenly Father, v. 13. Note that Christ gives three reasons for praising the Father, and not one had to do with "personal" welfare or prosperity (eg. "Praise God! He has blessed me with a fine home, family, car, job, etc."). Certainly, we should be thankful for whatever He has provided for us, but that is not what the Lord gives us here. The Lord Jesus praised the Father because: 1) His kingdom is total and everlasting which no one will overthrow; 2) His power is omnipotent which no one will usurp; 3) His glory is everlasting which no one will disgrace. Therefore, basically the essence for praising God is the fact that He is in control and His will and kingdom shall prevail in spite of the combined efforts of evil men. Evil men of every age only work the everlasting plan of the Father, Acts 2:23, 28; Rev 17:17, &c.

4. We are teaching through the Lord's prayer. See Sermonaudio.com/providence.