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2006-08-27_When You Fast_Matthew 6.18-20

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When You Fast

Matthew 6:18-20   |   Shaun LePage   |   August 27, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   Opening

1.     When Hanani and some other men from Judah came and visited Nehemiah in the Persian capitol of Susa and reported to him that the Jews in Jerusalem who survived the Babylonian captivity were in great distress and the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates burned with fire, what did Nehemiah do? (Nehemiah 1:2-3)

2.     When it looked as though Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire was going to be successful, what did Queen Ester instruct all the Jews in Susa to do? (Esther 4:16)

3.     When David sinned with Bathsheba and she became pregnant, and Nathan the prophet informed David that God had declared that the child would die, what did David do?

4.     When Jesus began His ministry, what was one of the very first things the Holy Spirit led Him to do?

5.     Fast. What did they do? They fasted. Nehemiah fasted and prayed. Esther and all the Jews in Susa fasted. David fasted and prayed before the Lord. Jesus Himself fasted for 40 days and nights.

B.    Review

1.     Matthew 6:1 is like a central proposition—a purpose statement—for verses 1-18. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Then He gave three examples. Don’t give to be noticed by men, but give with a God-focused motivation. Don’t pray to be noticed by men, but have meaningful communication with your Father. The third illustration is fasting.

2.     I admit to you that I like food. I greatly identify with what a Church of Christ pastor named David Chadwell wrote about food: “Now in the churches of Christ, we are against drinking, against smoking, against profanity, against gambling, and against numerous life styles. But we are very pro food. It is pretty much true that we will tolerate others speaking out against many life styles. But don’t mess with our food. We may not drink and we may not smoke, but we eat. So don’t mess with my eating. And when we eat, we want ‘good’ food, food that tastes wonderful, food that literally begs us to eat too much and then groan because we are too full. That is the measure of good food at a great fellowship—the number of people who talk about how miserable they are because they ate too much.” So, to talk about fasting. To encourage fasting. To fast—is very difficult for me personally. I like food.

3.     It seems a little ironic to me that one week after talking about “fellowship” I’m now talking about fasting. The American church tends to equate fellowship with food. If there’s no food, it’s not fellowship. It’s a Bible study or it’s a prayer meeting, but it can’t be fellowship without food. Well, today I’m gonna mess with your food. Not because God has anything against food. In fact, fasting really isn’t about food at all.

4.     My belief is that fasting is a foreign concept to most us today. Giving? Sure. We’ve talked about that one a lot. Praying? Absolutely. We all know that’s important. But fasting? Where does this fit in? Are we supposed to be doing this on a regular basis? Are we unspiritual if we can’t remember the last time we fasted?

5.     CPS: Fasting is all over the Bible. It’s a way of communicating to God how serious we are. I believe the Scriptures tell us that there are times when we need to Cry out to God with an empty stomach and a desperate heart.

II.   Body

A.   Read Matthew 6:16-18.

B.    Verse 16—Jesus tells us how not to fast: “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full…”

1.     “Whenever you fast…” Notice once again that Jesus assumes we will be doing this act of righteousness. Just as He assumed we would be giving (vs.1-4) and praying (vs.5-15), He assumed we would be fasting. We’ll come back to this.

2.     “…Do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting…”

a)    Do you get the picture? This person is fasting and they want everyone to know it. They think fasting is a waste of time if no one looks on with respect. If no one whispers, “He’s a pious fellow,” there’s no point! Some in Jesus’ day purposefully looked gloomy and sad. They even acted like they were going to faint so that they “will be noticed by men.” This is how not to fast: Don’t fast for prideful attention.

b)    Jesus calls this kind of a person a “hypocrite.” A person who is pretending to be something he is not. Someone pretending to be righteous, holy, devout, God-focused—but in reality, he is self-focused, prideful and sinful. His “reward” is the worthless, fleeting admiration of other people.

c)    I hope this point has been made clear by the previous messages about giving and praying—this is about motivation, not secrecy. It’s not about whether or not someone knows you’re fasting. It’s about whether or not you fast so that you can show off—so people will think you are one godly Christian hero! It’s not a sin if someone finds out you’re fasting. Jesus fasted and Matthew knew it—he told us in chapter 4. In fact, if you’ve ever fasted, you know that sometimes someone needs to know—especially spouses. Wives will get suspicious when you refuse to eat your favorite meal. It’s not about keeping a secret. It’s about motivation.

C.   Verses 17-18 tells us to Fast for the Father’s attention. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

1.     “But you, when you fast…” As I said earlier, Jesus assumes we will be doing this act of righteousness. What this means is that fasting is a legitimate act of righteousness. An acceptable tool for communicating with God. We should all be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

a)    Let’s answer a fundamental question: What is fasting? The Greek word used here literally means, “One who has not eaten, who is empty.” The Bible presents four different kinds of fasting:

(i)   Normal fast. No food. Only water for a certain length of time.

(ii) Absolute fast. No food. No water. These were normally three days such as in the example of Esther. She called for a three-day fast from food and water.

(iii)    Partial fast. Daniel and friends chose not to eat King Nebuchadnezzar’s “choice food and wine” because they felt it would “defile” or corrupt them (Daniel 1:8). Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 5:7 that there is a time for husbands and wives to “fast” from sexual intercourse for the purpose of prayer.

(iv)    Supernatural fast. When Moses received the Law from God on Mt. Sinai, he fasted from food and water for 40 days and nights. That’s supernatural. The average person cannot live more than a week without water. Some say no more than 3-4 days. If you’ve never fasted, please don’t try to start with 40 days and 40 nights. In fact, this is quite dangerous and if you ever attempt this, you should be certain that God wants you to do it and you should be very careful.

b)    In the Old Testament, fasting was very common.

(i)   The Law required only one fast—on the Day of Atonement. God told His people to “deny yourselves.” This showed how serious the Day of Atonement was.

(ii) But, there were other common reasons for fasting. Sometimes people fasted to express incredible grief, such as when Saul and his son Jonathan died. Job fasted when all of his children died on the same day. Other times, the nation fasted when they were in trouble or when they wanted God to see how real their repentance was (See Encyclopedia of Biblical Words, p.265).

c)    The New Testament does not command fasting, but that does not mean we are not to do it.

(i)   Again, Jesus assumed we would fast (see also Matthew 9:14-15). Jesus Himself fasted. Matthew 4:2 tells us He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.

(ii) The early church fasted. See Acts 13:2.

(iii)     So you see, here in Matthew 6:18, Jesus encouraged fasting by promising reward to those who did it with the right motivation. He also encouraged fasting by His example. The early church got the point—they fasted.

2.     Next in v.17 and the beginning of v.18, Jesus told us how to fast: “…Anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men…” Don’t fast to “be noticed by men.” Take care of yourself. Bathe. Brush your teeth—please, brush your teeth. If you’re feeling lethargic and faint, you might need to break your fast or get some juice or something. But, feeling a little dizzy at times is not entirely unusual and you might just need to sit down and rest for a while. The point is, though, don’t go out of your way to be “noticed” so people will think you’re holy.

3.     Look at the rest of v.18: “but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Does God reward fasting? Yes, when it is done with the right motivation. Maybe immediate. Maybe future. But why? Why would God reward fasting?

a)    There’s nothing magical about fasting. Almost every other religion in the world promotes fasting. Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims all fast. Many people fast purely for health reasons. There’s nothing magical about fasting. It does not make you more righteous. It does not make you more popular with God. So, why should we do it? Why would God care about what we eat or don’t eat—as long as we don’t overeat or become bulimic or something extreme like that?

b)    Biblical fasting was always related to seeking God. It wasn’t a weight-loss program. It was about seeking God’s will. Seeking His forgiveness. Seeking His help. It is almost always associated with prayer. It’s like praying twice. It’s like underlining our prayer—it’s like an exclamation point to our prayers. This is what fasting is. It’s about desperation. Desperation for God’s voice. Desperation for God’s work in our lives. Desperation for God and God alone.

c)    When the devil tempted Jesus with bread, Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God!” (Matthew 4:4). In John 4:34, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” That’s it! That’s why we should fast. It’s the very best way to tell God, “I do not live on bread alone, but on every word You speak!” It’s the very best way to say to God, “My food is to do Your will. To accomplish Your work.” Nothing is more important to me.

d)    Andrew Murray wrote, “Fasting helps to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice everything, [even] ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.” (quoted in Partners in Prayer, by John Maxwell, p.128.)

D.   And that brings me to the final two blanks on your handout this morning. Two fasting questions I have been asking myself. I invite you to ask them of yourself this week:

1.     Am I humble enough to fast?

a)    Do I really believe that I need God?

b)    Do I really believe that apart from God I can do nothing eternally significant with my life?

c)    Do I really believe my sin is tragic and destructive and separates me from God?

d)    Fast. Repent before the Lord. Repent of your pride. Repent of your self-sufficiency. Repent of your sin. And show God how desperate you are to be right with Him. Show God how desperate you are to restore fellowship with Him by fasting.

2.     Am I desperate enough to fast?

a)    Am I desperate to know God’s will? Like the church at Antioch.

b)    Am I desperate for God’s protection and provision for myself and my family? Like David.

c)    Am I desperate for victory over my sin?

d)    Am I desperate for God to use me for His glory?

e)    Am I desperate for Community Bible Church to be used for His glory?

f)     Am I desperate for God and God alone? Am I desperate enough in my desire to know God and have intimate fellowship with Him to fast and say, “God nothing—not food, not TV, not money, not sports, not success, not friends, not even my church or my wife and children—are more important to me than You!”

g)    Fast. Underline your prayers and put an exclamation point on them by fasting. Maybe you’re feeling led to do a partial fast. Maybe a TV fast so you can spend more time in prayer. Maybe something in your life has become an idol and you need to “fast” from it to show God that He is Lord over every area of your life. Maybe you need to do a normal fast—for 1 or 2 or 3 days—to say to God that your “food is to do His will” in your life. Show God how desperate you are—fast.

III. Closing

A.   In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer (Can you imagine a president today proclaiming a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer?). When President Lincoln made that proclamation, he said these words. Listen and see whether it applies to our time as well: “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” (Abraham Lincoln, Proclamation of a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer, 1863)

B.    Let’s pray: Father in heaven. To our great sorrow, we have to admit that at times—perhaps most of the time—we have forgotten You. We have forgotten how Your gracious hand has poured out blessing after blessing upon this nation, our families and ourselves. We have deceitfully decided in our hearts that You are only allowed a portion of our lives. You can have some of our time. You can be involved in some of our decisions. You can be Lord some of the time. Forgive us, Lord. I believe with all my heart that every person in this room desires to humble himself or herself before You today and tell You that we are desperate for You. We are desperate for You to show us Your will. Desperate for Your protection and provision, for victory over our sins. Desperate for You to use us in some significant way for Your glory. We are desperate for You and You alone. We are desperate enough for intimate fellowship with You to open ourselves to Your leading. Do You desire us to fast? Please lead each person to do exactly what You desire, but Lord we want to say to You that “nothing—not food, not TV, not money, not sports, not success, not friends, not church, not family, not even our own lives—are more important to us than You!” We can say that intellectually, Lord. Make it the confession of our hearts.

C.   Would anyone else like to pray—just pray where You are.

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