Lent Week 5: Readings from the Mosaic Bible

Isaiah 58:1-12• Psalm 130• Romans 8:6-11• Matthew 6:1-21

For many Christians, it’s customary to fast from some sort of pleasure or indulgence during Lent. When determining what to fast from, we often select something we perceive to be hindering growth in our relationship with Jesus Christ. But the most ancient forms of fasting—abstaining from food or observing a strict diet—were not done in an effort to remove sinful pleasures from one’s life. Perhaps in losing the art of fasting, we have lost the understanding about what can be gained from voluntarily giving up a presumed necessity. Throughout biblical and Christian history, many have fasted for reasonable and healthy periods. True, the expectations of instant gratification in our culture do not react well to the denial of nourishment. Could it be that God has something to reveal to us in the midst of our momentary self-denial?

Suggested Reading : Isaiah 58:1-14

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.—Matthew 6:16-18

The Apostles’ Teaching on Fasting
But don’t let your fasts be like the hypocrites. They fast on the second and fifth day of the week; but you should fast on the fourth day and the day of preparation (Friday). Also, don’t pray like the hypocrites, but pray as the Lord commanded in his gospel: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. The power and the glory are yours forever. Pray in this way three times each day. —Didache (c. 90–180)

“I can begin to see that Jesus expects us to fast not because He is arbitrary or capricious or cruel, but because fasting does good work on both our bodies and our souls.” —Lauren F. Winner (USA/Contemporary)

John Calvin (France/1509-1564)
“Holy and lawful fasting has three objectives. We use it either to weaken and subdue the flesh that it might not act wantonly, or that we may be better prepared for prayers and holy meditations, or that it may be a testimony of our self-abasement before God when we wish to confess our guilt before him.”

“Moses remained there on the mountain with the Lord forty days and forty nights. In all that time he ate no bread and drank no water. And the Lord wrote the terms of the covenant—the Ten Commandments—on the stone tablets.”—Exodus 34:28

“Christians throughout history have fasted in preparation for the Lord’s Supper. In addition to the elements of repentance and humility before God in this kind of fast, it is also intended to help the person focus on adoring the One who is represented in the Supper.”—Donald S. Whitney (USA/Contemporary)

“Fasting is not confined to abstinence from eating and drinking. Fasting really means voluntary abstinence for a time from various necessities of life, such as food, drink, sleep, rest, association with people and so forth. The purpose of such abstinence . . . is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things.” —Ole Hallesby (Norway/1879–1961)

Purposeful Fasting
by Clyde Taber
Fasting is a strange word to our ears. We cringe, hesitate, and dismiss it. We sidestep it as gingerly as the religious leaders bypassed the beaten man in Jesus’ parable. Yet fasting was part of the rhythm and flow of the life of
the early church.

Jesus Christ affirmed and embraced the Old Covenant practice of fasting: “When you give to someone in need” (Matthew 6:2), “when you pray” (Matthew 6:5), “when you fast” (Matthew 6:16)—he taught all this on the Mount. Jesus assumed that giving, praying, and fasting were a normal part of the spiritual life. These are not electives, but part of the
core teaching in the school of Christ.

Fasting preceded many great hinge points in human history. After Moses fasted, he received the tablets that changed our knowledge of sin and the world’s sense of rightness (Exodus 34:28). After Jesus fasted, the cup began to flow with the wine of the New Covenant (Matthew 4:2). After the early church leaders fasted, the Jesus movement exploded beyond the borders of Palestine (Acts 13:2). The twentieth-century church in Asia fasted, and now it grows at unprecedented rates. The Father loves to reward those who fast with a pure heart (Matthew 6:18).

Fasting precedes purpose, and so purpose should precede fasting. When we fast, we should consider it a time of “setting aside” in order to “take up.” We abstain from food for a time in order to better focus on Christ and his Kingdom. Fasting requires resolution and dedication. We take time to exit the highway of our busy lives. Fasting is most beneficial when accompanied with seeking, sacrificing, and sowing to the Spirit rather than the flesh. When we eat, we satisfy the flesh. When we fast, we reach beyond the flesh to the realm of the Spirit.

Fruitfulness in fasting is not quickly achieved. It is a practice that is enhanced with time and experience. When we enter into a season of fasting, the Lord gives grace. For a moment it reminds us of death, and then the Spirit translates the absence of food into a sense of life, light, and discernment.

As Jesus Christ was deliberate in his journey to Jerusalem, may we follow him in this practice. Not “if you fast,” but “when you fast.”

Delivers Us From Fear of the Unknown
O Lord, we beseech thee to deliver us from the fear of the
unknown future; from fear of failure; from fear of poverty;
from fear of bereavement; from fear of loneliness; from fear
of sickness and pain; from fear of age; and from fear of death.
Help us, O Father, by thy grace to love and fear thee only,
fill our hearts with cheerful courage and loving trust in thee;
through our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.
—Akanu Ibaim (Nigeria/1906–1995)