Scripture, Mark 2:18-22
FASTING IS FAST APPROACHING
The season of Lent is upon us already, and I want to take a few minutes today to shine a spotlight on this old fashioned idea of fasting that in health circles is regaining significance. Do we know, appreciate and understand what it means to fast in a biblical sense? If you have never taken this season to heart and gave something up, I would encourage you to do so, PROVIDED we keep these truths of God’s Word in the middle of what we are doing. This is why we begin with our text here today which in many ways is very straightforward? Why were the Pharisees and the disciples of John fasting? Because the Messiah had not yet come, the Kingdom of God had not been restored, and the TRADITION of the church at the time was to fast regularly and pray for the kingdom of God to be restored and Israel be brought back to her former glory. Starting to make sense?
What must be pointed out here is the way Jesus presents the argument and the context within which it is given. We looked earlier in Mark 2 about the 4 guys who tear the roof off of what was likely Peter’s house to get their friend in front of Jesus and How Jesus says what only God can say and then does what only God can do. Next, we see the calling of Levi or as we know him, Matthew, a tax collector ceremonially unclean not allowed in church despised a pariah, a traitor, and not one likely to fast but one who exploited the people for fun and profit, this guy gets called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus does this in the presence of everyone going to this guy’s house for dinner with all of his traitor buddies, meanwhile, these religious guys were depriving themselves as a sign of piety. A demonstration of their true faith. So why aren’t Jesus’ disciples doing the same thing?
This is where Jesus drops another bomb, and it’s essential that we see the bombs in Mark 2; first, the paralytic is forgiven of sins (something only God can do) and then is healed miraculously(something only God can do). But then it gets odd. He calls Matthew (something God would not do, or would He)? Follow that with the disciples not keeping the sabbath traditions and washings, not fasting, EVEN John the Baptist’s disciples kept the tradition of weekly fasts. Jesus gives His rebuttal in the form of an analogy, yes but this bride and bridegroom analogy has been used before in the old testament, and the Pharisees and scribes and John’s disciples knew full well where this analogy was used. Ezekiel 16 the whole chapter, the entire book of Hosea, portions of Jeremiah and Isaiah; there can be no mistaken meaning here, this is a statement of divinity. Jesus says that He is the bridegroom and NOWHERE in the old testament is the bridegroom used as a metaphor for the Messiah it is only used when YAHWEH is the bridegroom and Israel is the bride. KABOOM! A bomb just dropped.
Jesus says that His followers were attendants of the groom and that while they are with the groom there is no fasting just the joy of being in His presence and celebrating this time when God came down to us to be with us and to be our redeemer. He also says what the main point I want to discuss today, which is verse 20. There will be times of fasting when the groom is taken away, and we live in those times. The incarnation is passed, the resurrection has been witnessed and recorded as too the ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit is now alive in all who call Jesus Christ Lord, so according to this times of fasting are to be a regular part of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. So we fast. The Lenten fast has been a part of the Christian tradition for centuries, just like the fasts that these guys are talking about, but today we are not called to fast for the coming of the Messiah, except maybe the second coming, but more so we fast for spiritual reasons that will have physical effects as well. Let’s look at a few reasons it is good for a disciple of Christ to fast.
Before we get too involved it is important to note that fasting can take many forms; they can be intermittent fasts, say one day a week there will be NO social media. There can be longer fasts such as the 40 days of Lent where the abstinence of foods is observed, but like the Pharisees, there is a tendency to abstain from something without the appropriate INPUT of something in its place. P proper fast will have both components, we commit to abstaining from one thing so that we can add-in something that will get us closer to the Lord.
The main reason I fast is to work on my own personal purification, we get soft, bad habits dilute our spiritual lives and fasting allows us the opportunity to focus and discipline our bodies so that the Lord has a place to abide in our hearts and minds. I get so garbled up in the world that I don’t leave enough room for the Holy Spirit to work. Food fasts also work to purify our bodies and teaches us that our minds can be given over to know just as Jesus quotes,” MAN DOES NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT FLOWS FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD.” If we never discipline our bodies to experience the purification of some kind then how will we be in a position to experience spiritual Purification? Fasting is a discipline that changes our position IF we include both abstinence and inclusion. Take something away from our normal routine so that we can experience the presence of the Holy Spirit who can now work to purify our souls.
Fasting also allows the Wisdom of God to come if we are fasting correctly, and by correctly I mean by using the time we free up by our abstinence being filled with prayer, and time in His Word. Fasting requires us to shift our focus away from our human temporal needs and onto His presence within us giving us the strength we need, and the wisdom to walk in the newness of life Christ wants for us. Acts 13 and 14 both speak of times when prayer and fasting were combined in a way that brought the Wisdom of God into the decision making process. Esther calls all the Jewish people to fast before she goes into the king, there are many times when prayer and fasting are combined for a specified period of time so that the servants of God can receive from the Lord the wisdom they need to make a decision that is pleasing to God. When was the last time any of us did this?
So fasting works to purify our minds and bodies, fasting works to bring the wisdom of God into our lives in real and tangible ways. Fasting demonstrates the reality of our faith in a way that nothing else does because it is a demonstration that we are dependant upon God for all that we have and all that we are; fasting requires humility and the sincerest form of confession that without our God we are nothing and without our Bridegroom’s presence there will be times when the world will get in the way of the Helper He has given to us. Fasting is an act of humility, giving us the position of the ones needing redemption and clearing the way of repentance. Daniel 9 is a great example of this as Daniel prays and fasts for Israel, making a confession for the people and praying for wisdom. He sits down in sackcloth and ashes fasting and studying God’s word he even mentions the book of Jeremiah. His prayer is mainly a confession and the acknowledgment of who God is in relationship to the people called by His name. We are called Christians, a people called by His name the new wine called by the name of our Messiah Jesus Christ who was hung on a cross and taken from us by the evil of this world, but has made himself available to those who call Him Lord.
It is quite fitting that we begin our fast with ashes, confess so that the Holy Spirit can guide us toward purification. Remove the things of this world so that the wisdom of God can become the basis for all of our decision making, and finally fast so that the desires of our hearts have less and less to do with this world and more and more to do with emulating Jesus Christ. The final thing I want us to see today is that fasting brings with it intimacy with the Father. Notice when Jesus is baptized it is the Holy Spirit that leads Him into the wilderness, now think trinity here, “I and the Father are One,”
I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. The words of Jesus the second part of the trinity. The intent was intimacy with the Father Spirit, Son in perfect unity, and Chaos enters at the time of weakness, but when fasting our bodies may be weak but if we are fasting so that we can gain an intimacy with the triune God we will be Spiritually strong and able to withstand the darts of the enemy. Sometimes the keys to a breakthrough in our lives are right in front of us but to see them and experience them we need to get some things out of the way.
This is why Jesus talks about the wineskins and the new cloth old cloth. The New Covenant in Jesus Christ does NOT fit into the old wineskins of legalistic religion, the Love of God is so much bigger and cannot be contained in lists of dos and don’ts. The new covenant cannot be stitched into the old robes of tradition and ritual. We do not fast as a ritual or a rite of passage, we fast to purify our minds bodies, and souls, we fast to receive the wisdom of God in our lives, and we fast to build new inroads of intimacy with or God who sent His son Jesus Christ the bridegroom of the new covenant who came once and died to redeem His bride and is coming again to receive the bride of Christ the Church, how will He find her? Equipped and ready with oil in her lamps and truth on her lips? Or do we see the book of Hosea repeating itself? Our time of fasting is fast approaching and I pray we use this time to the glory of God as we continue to strive to be that place for healing and people of Joy. Let’s Pray.