Matt. 6:1-18 & Isaiah 58
Fasting is NOT a very popular topic. And when it does get addressed, the treatments are often mystical or superstitious or just plain fiction.
Our Church has the opportunity each year to conduct a sunrise service Easter Sunday morning at a local cemetery. We usually see several hundred people – many of whom seldom if ever attend Church the rest of the year. We have a burden to have the Gospel proclaimed with unusual power and effectiveness and so we are asking our own folks to fast and pray to that end. That the dead will be raised through the Gospel, even as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
Below, is a VERY brief primer we’ve done to prepare people for that fast. Perhaps it will be useful for you as well.
Please note this is a SCALED down version of a study I did years ago – but I believe the content can be very helpful.
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In Matt. 6:1-18 Jesus mentions 3 things as normative in Kingdom life: Alms giving (providing for the poor), Prayer, and Fasting. Of the 3, fasting is the least understood and therefore least undertaken. A quick survey of Scripture can help us understand fasting better, and its place in the Christian’s life today.
God Himself only ordained 1 fast to be included in the Law of Moses: It was to be done on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:26-32) – in order to “Humble your souls”. However, the first time a fasting is seen in Scripture is when Moses is upon Mt. Sinai receiving the Law (Ex. 24 & 34). The only other mention of a periodical fast in the Old Testament is in #Zech. 7:1-7; 8:19 from which it appears that during their captivity the Jews observed four annual fasts. God did not institute these, the Jews themselves did. I mention them briefly with very little comment.
1. The 4th month fast – 17th of Tammuz / Commemorating both the capture of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans & tablets the of the Law being broken in Ex. 32:19.
2. The 5th month fast – 9th of Ab / Marking the burning of Jerusalem & Temple.
3. The 7th month fast – 3rd of Tisri Murder of Gedaliah (A good, Jewish, temporary ruler under Nebuchadnezzar who was murdered by men rejecting God’s chastening and trying to seize the crown).
4. The 10th month fast – Noting the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem
Beyond these (though with not as much importance), some perpetuated the fast called for by Esther in Esther 4:16.
Basically, there are 3 kinds of fasts: Public or National Fasts – Local Fasts – Personal or Individual Fasts.
Public or National Fasts (other than the single one God required) were instituted to grieve over national sin or to supplicate divine favor. Examples: 1 Sam. 7:6 – Fasting for deliverance from captivity to the Philistines which was brought on by idolatry. 2 Chron. 20:3 – When approaching war with the Moabites, Ammonites & the Meunites. Jer. 36:6-10 4; Neh. 9:1 – When Jeremiah’s prophecies foretold Nebuchadnezzar’s siege.
Some examples of Local Fasts are: Judges 20:26 – When Benjamin refused to deal with the rape & murder of the Levite’s concubine. 2 Sam. 1:12 – David and the army upon hearing the news of the death of Saul & Jonathan. 1 Sam. 31:13 – The men of Israel who grieved for and buried Saul & Jonathan (for 7 days). Ezra 8:21-23 – A 3 day fast concerning the safe passage of Ezra’s contingent back to Jerusalem. Jonah 3:5-9 – The Ninevites in repentance after Jonah’s proclamation.
There are at least 10 Individual Fasts recorded as well: 1 Sam. 1:7 – Hannah at the provocation of Penninah and her sorrow over being childless. 1 Sam. 20:34 – Jonathan’s grief over the way Saul had treated David. 2 Sam. 3:35 – David mourning the death of Abner (General of Saul’s army). 2 Sam. 12:16 – David mourning his sin with Bathsheba and his child’s illness after Nathan’s rebuke. Ezra 10:6 – Over the sin of the intermarriage of the Levites. Neh. 1:4 – Nehemiah’s grief over hearing of the sad state of affairs back in Jerusalem. Dan. 10:2,3 – for 3 weeks mourning the sin of his people culminating in the Babylonian captivity. Ex. 24:18; 34:28 – Moses for 40 days receiving the Law. 1 Kings 19:8 – Elijah after Carmel and fleeing Jezebel. Mt. 4:2 – Jesus for 40 days before beginning His ministry.
The early Church employed fasting as well: Acts 13:3 – Before ordaining and sending out Paul & Barnabas. Acts 14:23 – Paul & Barnabas before ordaining elders. 2 Cor. 6:5 – Paul expressing his sense of burden for the ministry.
The Common Thread seems to be: When there is an unusual sense of the weight and gravity of some circumstance, before God.
Fasting is most fitting then for times of: Repentance, Grief, Consecration, and Undertaking God’s work.
The most complete treatment of fasting comes to us in Isaiah 58. An outline for further study is:
Isaiah 58: 1 – Vs. 1 & 2 / God’s Indictment
2 – Vs. 3a / The People’s Complaint
3 – Vs. 3b & 4 / God’s Response
4 – Vs. 5-7 / God’s Fast
5 – Vs. 8-11 / God’s Response, to God’s Fast
6 – Vs. 13 & 14 / God’s refusal to honor the fast of those who fast as a substitute for obedience. (vs. 1)
Without looking at each section in detail here – let’s focus on #4 – Vs. 5-7 / God’s Fast. Here we see three main things. God says “His” fast is for:
HUMBLING OURSELVES (5)
a.vs. 5a,b – Humbling oneself for pleading (versus coercing God)
b.vs. 5c – Grieving over sin & its results. Be it my own or others.
CASTING OFF SIN (6)
a.vs. 6b,c – Loosening the grip of sin (Our own & others)
b.vs. 6d,e – Loosening the yoke of God’s chastening (Our own & others)
MINISTERING TO OTHERS (7)
a.vs. 7a – Feeding others (Physically & the Word)
b.vs. 7b – Gathering unto God (Evangelizing)
c.vs. 7c – Restoring A Robe of Righteousness
1 – The pride and self-reliance of man is so insidious and all pervasive, that in God’s fast, we are brought face to face with impossibility of “being humble” in ourselves, and must BE humbled. This is a weight of reality that we come to grips with in fasting.
2 – Putting to death the remnants of indwelling sin is an issue so weighty and solemn, that we must be reminded of the impossibility of doing anything about it in our own power, and of the divine necessity that rests upon us to be about the work of it. Fasting brings us back to this reality and serves to invite God’s supernatural intervention.
3 – Ministering to others is not a matter of the mere exercise of gifts, but is of such enormous consequence and fraught with such great responsibility, that we must never venture upon it in our own strength or self-confidence. Fasting reminds us of our frailty, and the utter need of God’s outside and divine sustenance and empowerment for even the slightest good to be done.
Summary: As we approach our annual opportunity for outreach at the Easter Sunrise service again this year – it is very appropriate to undertake a fast, as we grieve for those still bound in sin and unbelief, and seek God’s power to be poured out in redeeming lost men through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Join us.
Practical Info: Fasts come in all shapes and sizes. Deliberately denying yourself something legitimate for the sake of humbling yourself to seek God in repentance, grief, consecration or service is what this is about. Our suggestion for THIS fast is to fast all solid food for a period of time (24, 12, 8 hrs., whatever you think you can do which will make you feel the “pinch”), but keep up your liquid intake up. Especially water. DRINK PLENTY! (NEVER fast liquids for more than 3 days under any circumstances). You could also fast just 1 meal. Fast television for a few days – or the newspaper. Food is the primary element because you will find how your sinfulness, weakness & need surface VERY rapidly.