SECRET RELIGION – FASTING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: This morning we are in part 3 of the series – SECRET RELIGION – and our focus is on fasting. Again, God wants us to fast, not for self-praise but to seek His face.
Matthew 6 16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Overall Background: In the past 2 messages Jesus exposed the giving hypocrites and the praying hypocrites. Giving hypocrites – those who give charity but only for public praise. Praying hypocrites – those who pray but only to look spiritual and jab their enemies. Neither of them gets anything from God. Now He turns His attention towards the fasting hypocrites. Listen to what He says – “For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting.” Meaning: The fasting hypocrites are not really fasting. They only appear to be fasting. I guess they have a Snickers bar hidden in their robe somewhere and now and then they take a bite when no one’s looking. But when someone comes along, they act all famished – “I’m suffering for Jesus.” Jesus says of them what He said about the other two – “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” Meaning: God knows their hypocrisy and their fasting remains fruitless (no pun intended).
Here’s the gist of this message – Fasting is simply God’s people setting aside food, entertainment, and any distraction to get serious with Him. God wants us to fast. It brings tremendous results, especially when we are facing painful and impossible situations. But fasting with the wrong motives may impress some but not God.
Question: Do you fast? Are you facing a hopeless situation? A difficult marriage, a wayward child or grandchild, finances or employment, a frustrating habit, something in your past, a dream that’s too big and too risky. Are you concerned about our church, community, or nation? Then it’s time to fast and pray. Are you saved? No amount of fasting can help you. You’re just dieting all the way to Hell!
2 questions we will ask about Secret Religion and Fasting:
I. WHY FASTING IS VITAL?
16 “Moreover, when you fast…
Background: Just like regarding prayer, Jesus does not say “if” you fast but “when” you fast. Meaning: Fasting, like prayer, was expected for God’s people. It may surprise some of you that fasting is all over the Bible. Let me give you some examples:
- Fasting when in the presence of God – Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, without bread and without water, before he received the 10 Commandments. Let me make it clear: the reason he was able to do this is because of the presence of God.
- Fasting when humbling oneself before God – On the Day of Atonement God commanded in Leviticus 16 29 “…you shall afflict your souls, (humble yourself) and do no work at all…30 For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.” Although the word “fasting” is not mentioned, Jewish people fasted on this day to humble themselves before God.
- Fasting when mourning before God – Job fasted after the tragedy hit his home, as he says in Job 3:24 “For my sighing comes before I eat…” The people of Israel fasted all day before the Lord because of the civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel. Hannah fasted before the Lord because she could not have any children. It says in 1 Samuel 1:7 So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, that she (sister wife) provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat. When David and his men heard that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle, they fasted until evening. By the way, mourning was the main reason for fasting.
- Fasting when repenting over sins before God – Joshua fasted all day after the defeat of Israel at Ai. Under Samuel, the people of Israel fasted all day in repentance for their sins. The prophet Joel called for a fast because of the plague of locusts and the famine in the land. When Jonah pronounced God’s judgment against Nineveh, the entire city fasted; even the king and God turned away His wrath. Daniel fasted before the great vision in Daniel 9 and he begins his prayer with – 4“O Lord, great and awesome God…5 we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled…”
- Fasting when facing a major challenge – Esther fasted for 3 days along with her maids and all the Jewish people in Shushan before she went before the king to intercede for her people. When Nehemiah heard about the plight of the Jewish people in Jerusalem, he was so burdened that he wept and mourned for many days but he didn’t stop there. Listen to Nehemiah 1:4. He says, “I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”
———–For time’s sake, let’s jump over to the New Testament————
- Fasting when beginning a new ministry – Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights before He started His ministry. The early church fasted and prayed before they sent Barnabas and Paul on the mission journey.
- Fasting when doing ministry – Paul mentions fasting as a sign of being God’s servant. In 2 Corinthians 6 4 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, 5 in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings…” Ministry has problems and will always have problems. Before you complain and criticize have you considered cutting back from food? When I come across people like this, I’m thinking – “has this person enough spiritual maturity to put down that hamburger or that fried chicken and actually pray?!!”
Application: Are you facing a difficult time, a tough challenge? Are you willing to set aside the plate of food and humble yourself before God? Andrew Murray (Dutch Reformed South African pastor and writer) said, “Fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”
II. HOW FASTING GOT DISTORTED?
16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance.
Background: Just like everything else, we human beings know how to distort everything good that comes from God. God condemned all such fasting. Listen to Isaiah 58 1 “Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; (the word is actually shofar, which means a horn from a ram or an antelope). They would blow the shofar to announce the fast and there was a whole system and rituals of how to do this. What God is saying here is – “Put down your shofar and your rituals and speak like a shofar to my people.” What should Isaiah say – “Tell My people their transgression, And the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet they seek Me daily, And delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness…They take delight in approaching God. Then they complain – 3 “Why have we fasted…and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ God says, “Let me explain to you why.” 3 “…in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers. 4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness…5 Is it a fast that I have chosen…6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, “Here I am.’…11 The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 Those from among you Shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In…14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth…The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
So also Zechariah the prophet – Zechariah 7 4 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, 5 “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me?…7 Should you not have obeyed the words which the LORD proclaimed through the former prophets…9 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.’
Let’s return back to what Jesus said – 16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. After the Babylonian exile the Jewish people were very strict about their fasts but by the time of Jesus, they began to fast for the wrong reasons. Since humbling was described as “afflicting oneself,” they would not shave or wash their clothes or take a bath. As bad as that sounds, this was how they communicated to others that they were more spiritual. Sometimes it got really extreme – One rabbi (Eleazer ben Azariah) from the time of Jesus fasted until his teeth turned black. Why? Atoning for the sin of opposing a majority view! Rabbi Joshua made a derogatory remark against the school of Shammai and went on a fast until his teeth also turned black. Rabbi Simeon insulted Rabbi Aqiba and fasted until his teeth turned black. In a sense, this was probably what was happening during the time of Jesus. They were taking pride in their penitence.
Application: People are no different today – How many times I have heard people judge someone walking in with a beautiful dress or makeup or nice suit and judge them on that. This is reverse prejudice!
What did Jesus say – “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” People may be impressed but God is not. Instead, 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Meaning: Don’t let your spirituality distract people from the Savior.
Fasting is no fun. I fast every week. I tell you this not to brag but to urge you to do the same. I am not a very good faster. On days I fast, everything looks like food to me. The pen looks like a French fry and the paperweight looks like a sandwich! Just put a little ketchup on it! But the benefits are unbelievable. God has answered repeatedly in response to my prayer and fasting.
Remember—Stress can either drive you to indulge or it can drive you to get serious with God. Fasting is simply God’s people setting aside food, entertainment, and any distraction to get serious with Him. You may say – “I don’t know how to fast.” We’re not talking about 40 days and 40 nights. Can we not set aside a day to fast unto God? There are several great resources out there on fasting.
(To preview or purchase these resources, click on the images.)
Do you know Christ as your Savior? Do you need to fast?