November 7, 1993
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The Party's Over

[A Time for Fasting]

Mat 6:16-18, fasting.

In working on the Biblical doctrine of Self-defence, I assumed there would be quite a bit of material on the subject. But I could not find any theologian's teaching on the subject. Therefore, I must confess that it is far more difficult to develop than what I thought it would be. It is going to require quite a bit of research and development of passages, chapters and books of Scripture.

I had something on capital punishment for this morning, but I feel the subject we are going to look at is more needed.

He have been going through the Book of Matthew, and we finished the "Lord's Prayer." Then we looked at forgiveness, vv. 14, 15. Now I would like to call your attention to one of the more overlooked doctrines of Scripture, Fasting, or self-denial vs. 16-18

Lk 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.

Notice that the Lord moved right into fasting with the word, Moreover. With this word, He connects the doctrine of fasting with the doctrine offorgiveness. when ye fast... But thou, when thou fastest..., v. 17.

The religious leaders had totally corrupted the Biblical doctrine of fasting. Christ now takes Biblical fasting and gives it its proper understanding.

Fasting's misuse causes us to avoid God's teaching on it. But, as with other Bible doctrines, we must not allow misuse of a doctrine to influence obedience to that doctrine. We must not overlook what the Lord speaks of here because it is a necessary ingredient for obedience to the Redeemer.

Christ gives Biblical fasting at least equal responsibility and importance as alms, prayer and forgiveness, vs. 14, 15. We also see here that the Lord takes for granted that His disciples will fast, both publicly and privately. Fasting is a clearly assumed Christian duty.

Fasting is defined as abstinence from food for a period of time for a religious purpose. It must be kept within the bounds of God's word, ie. not endangering one's health,

Col 2:23, Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

As with alms, prayer and forgiveness, there is nothing meritorious in fasting; rather, fasting is an outward sign before God of the inward desire to advance His cause. Fasting is the opposite of feasting, which expresses joy.

Fasting is always connected with prayer, repentance and afflicting the soul before God. Its frequency and duration is largely determined by our ordinary habits, character and vocation.

Fasting, to some degree of temperance, 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.

Our moderation in all things must 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 is regularly denied to keep the mind and body always well conditioned for study and obeying God's word.

Not all fasting is total in the sense that all food is avoided: Daniel only denied himself of the king's dainties.

Fasting can be quietly accomplished simply to keep ones body under subjection so he can better serve the Lord, Rom 13:14; 1 Cor 9:27.

Not all fasting is Biblical: folks may keep a regular fast for health reasons. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with fasting for health reasons, but unless a fast results from heart-felt self-abasement and desire for God's glory, it cannot be viewed as a Biblical fast.

So now we say, "I don't have that kind of desire for God's glory, so I don't have to fast." What we must do in such a case is confess our cold apathy toward God and ask Him to quicken our cold, lazy and indifferent spirit.

One of the clearest illustrations of fasting is found in the book of Jonah, so we will follow that outline, Jonah 3:4-10. Jonah, even though he fought hard against doing so, proclaimed God's message to Nineveh. Much to Jonah's dismay, Nineveh humbled itself before God, repented and prayed. The great city was saved.

I) Jonah 3:4, The cause for fasting: Nineveh fasted in a time of exceptional national gravity: God's judgment was imminent.

We see, then, that fasting is done when there is great need for God's intervention into situations, either on a national or personal level.

Joel 1:14, 15, 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.

We are facing just such gravity in our nation today.

II) Jonah 3:5, 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 fasting over Bathsheba's child apparently did no good, but in other situations (such as fleeing from his enemies) fasting was beneficial in David's situation.

III) Jonah 3:9, The purpose of fasting. Its purpose was to show the Lord that they heard His message against their sin; it showed the Lord their genuine repentance, sorrow and concern over sin. Fasting was an outward sign of humility before God.

There are many OT instances of fasting:

A) Psa 35:13, David humbled his soul with fasting. -- But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing [was] sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.

B) Psa 69:9, 10, David chastened his soul with fasting while he wore sackcloth -- For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. When I wept, [and chastened] my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach.

C) Psa 109:24, David's physical strength was removed through fasting --My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.

David's fast was quite lengthy. David was at the very edge of his endurance as his enemies attempted to destroy him, vv. 2-5. David's answer in the face of his enemies was humble himself before God and cast himself upon the mercy of God. We know that the Lord heard his prayer, and intervened for him.

D) In Neh 1:4-6, Nehemiah sat down, wept, mourned, fasted and prayed before the Lord God over the fact that Jerusalem was broken down --

And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned [certain] days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven, And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: Let thine ear now be attentive,and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.

E) In Isaiah 58, the people were fasting and praying, not for God's glory, but for their own personal goals. The ones who were fasting and praying had no intention of returning to the Lord, vv. 3-7. The Lord tells them that His fast is self-abasement and obedience to His law-word.

Notice v. 7 defines a genuine fast before God. How concerned are we over those in need?

F) In Dan 9, 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.

G) In Zechariah 7:4-14, there is an account of God's people's distress over the condition of their nation. They wept, mourned and fasted for God's intervention. The problem was, though, that they fasted, wept and mourned with no intention of returning to the word of God, v. 12. The result was that the Lord scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not, v. 14.

We see, then, that Biblical fasting is sincere self-abasement and humility before God. The inward attitude represented by fasting is turning from self and turning in complete dependance upon the mercy and grace of God to intervene in the situation.

It was motivated by a deep longing and desire to see the Spirit of God prevail and the cause of Christ exalted. The Lord Jesus gave the basic motivation for fasting in Mat 6:10, Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

The Pharisees exalted themselves; they bragged that they "Fasted twice a week," Luke 18:12. Christ told the world that those Pharisees were hypocrites because their fasting did not involved self-abasement.

In the NT, we find that Anna served God with fastings and prayers night and day, Luke 2:37.

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

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

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

Paul assumes that ordinary Christians will pray and fast,

1 Cor 7:5. Defraud ye not one the other, except [it be] with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.(Lack of self-control.)

IV) our fourth point from Jonah 3:8, fasting is always connected with prayer and turning from sin, and cry mightily unto God... let them turn...

Nineveh's goal in fasting and repentance before God was to turn him from his fierce anger, v. 9. Notice that Nineveh turned from sin first. In other words, fasting was only part (an essential part) of genuine repentance and seeking God's face.

Thus we see that Biblical fasting is identified by the necessary ingredients of prayer, self-abasement, mourning over sin and genuine repentance, without which it is hypocrisy, Mat 6:16.

Conclusion, Mat 6:16-18

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

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.

Matthew 6:16 makes it clear that the Lord did not contradict Joel's words; rather, Christ contradicted the evil motives for fasting. The motive which Joel called for was the same as the Ninevites': repentance, self-abasement and pleading for God's mercy. The hypocrite's motive was for public praise: they put on a great show of suffering for the Lord in fasting, and saw no need for repentance, Luke 18:11, I thank thee that I am not as other men are...

The scribes and Pharisees preformed their outward act of religion by faithfully following all expected religious rites and rituals of their day, but they were filled with dead men's bones.

The problem did not die with the scribes and Pharisees of Christ's day. There are still many religious professors around who have reduced Christianity to little more than church attendance, preaching, reading the Bible, prayer and sacraments.

But they do not want to be confronted with their duty to and responsibility before the Thrice-Holy God; the do not want to be confronted with their duty to their fellow man.

Isaiah 58:6, 7, [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? [Is it] not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

The religious hypocrites have their reward. I am inclined to believe that the ones Christ personally addressed were rewarded in 70 A.D. Later, Christ describes the reward of the wicked and slothful servant who avoid his duty and responsibility, Mt 25:26.

2) 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 peoplefeasting 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.

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

4) one can fast until they starve to death, but fasting with no intention of obeying Christ is hypocrisy, and will only result in more judgement from the Lord.

5) 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.

6) Mat 6:18, reward... There are four rewards offered for proper motive in:

1) alms giving,

2) prayer,

3) forgiveness, and

4) fasting. The reward for fasting is 1/4 of the rewards listed in Mat 6.

A time for fasting

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?

The days of feasting Christianity are 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 see fit to do as He did in Nineveh, Jonah 3:9, 10

Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

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 hardness and sin around us and the lack of the Spirit's power?

Isaiah 58:6, 7, [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? [Is it] not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

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