2017-08-06 – Matthew 9:14-17 – Question about Fasting
The Question about Fasting
14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
2017-08-06 – Matthew 9:14-17 – Question about Fasting
Good morning everyone. I am so pleased that you chose to spend the morning with us here today.
We went Prayer Walking this past Wednesday. It was a joy to walk around the neighborhood with the children and we stopped at each house and observed their home décor and prayed over them. We got to speak with a few of them and a couple even prayed with us. Unbenounced to me, the children started picking up the trash along the way. Isn’t that Neighborly! We should be praying for our neighbors. Please join us in that effort. Consider walking around this neighbor or even your own neighborhood and pray for the people. I promise you they need your prayer and you will be blessed too.
Today marks a significant day in our world’s history; sad to note that it was this day in 1945 that the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Weather you believe it was crime or a necessity that brought about the end of a war, today there are thousands that are still morning for those lost that day in Japan. Let us pause for a moment at this reflection. May God give us peace and compassion.
This morning we are continuing in the sermon series on The Parables of Jesus. Last week we read through three mini-parables where Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven. He said, the Kingdom of heaven is like finding a great treasure.. The Kingdom of heaven is like a precious valuable pearl.. The kingdom of heaven is more valuable than anything we can imagine, and a person must be willing to give up everything to obtain it. Also we learned that when we die, the Bible says that there will be a judgement where the angels will separate those who are God’s children from those who are not. The question is, which one are you? I know most all of you here today are Christians and for that I say, PTL!
Today’s parable is a little different. We are going to learn a little about Fasting. Jesus has some illustrative parables and some instruction for us on the subject.
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 9:14, Page 9 of the New Testament in the Inspired, Infallible and Living Word of God.
Let us Pray… May our hearts be welcoming here to Your wonderful words.
The Question about Fasting 14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
For those that might not know, John the Baptist, who was just a few months older than Jesus, had been living in the wilderness, John prepared the way for the Savior Messiah that was to come.
Scripture tells us that John effectively dressed in burlap and ate grasshoppers. Mark 1:6 and Matthew 3:4 say “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey”. John’s ministry called for people to turn back from their wicked ways and repent. People would walk for miles out into the wilderness to hear John preach and to be baptized by him. Josephus, a Jewish Historian, described John as being “a good man who commanded the Jews to exercise virtue”.
So the disciples (student followers) of John the Baptist came to Jesus this day and basically asked, why Jesus and his disciples were not fasting as a show of reverence to God like they and the Pharisees were regularly doing.
And I love Jesus’ response here in verse 15:
15 And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
You might recall that Jesus’ first miracle written was turning water into wine at the wedding ceremony in Cana of Galilee. They were celebrating at a wedding feast and I doubt anyone was fasting at that time. Weddings are a time of celebration. And I am sure John’s disciples were astonished by Jesus’ response.
The theme of a wedding, the bride and bridegroom is used throughout the Gospels. In John 3:28, John the Baptist, while talking about the coming Savior Messiah said,
28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
I love how consistent the Bible is throughout the old and new testament, and that last verse is one of my favorites, “He must become greater; I must become less.” But to break it down for you a little, the act of Fasting was generally for showing reverence to God, but here Jesus is re-pluming their understanding. God Incarnate, which means “God in the flesh” Jesus is the bridegroom, and part of the same Triune God for which they would normally be fasting for. But the bridegroom was with them, Jesus had not departed yet, thus it wasn’t a time for fasting or morning, but instead a celebration because the bridegroom was standing right in front of them. I am sure the disciples were astonished at that reply. Again, Jesus was telling them that He and God were one. Then He said:
16 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made.
Now, I was a child of the 70’s. In those days most all kids were always outside. My Mom was an expert patch putter-onner. I had patches on most all my three pairs of pants. Sewn-on or Ironed-on, even patches on patches. They never really held up to the battle of rough-play that we were accustomed to. Well when you put a new patch on an old pair of pants, then you subsequently wash it, the patch material generally shrunk and in the shrinking process, it might rip the stitching right out of the fabric, because the fabric was old and it didn’t shrink with the new patch material. The next verse example that Jesus gives is similar in scope:
17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
In their day they would put the grape juice in new goat skins and hang it up to ferment. As the gas expanded, the new skins would stretch with the juice and gas in the process. In contrast the disciples would have understood that old skins wouldn’t expand anymore and therefore they would instead burst when the gasses expanded. Now please know that Jesus isn’t attempting to class them on the dynamics of materials or how to be a good seamstress or winemaker. Instead He is just using these examples to drive home a point. Jesus is using this example to say, I haven’t come here to patch up an old system, I am presenting a new way of thinking here. A new convenient or contract as there are new dynamics that don’t fit your old way of thinking and doing.
Like the old material and the old wineskins are not flexible, the Jewish church was not flexible. In fact they had added on so many rules and rituals that the Jewish believers were putting more emphasis on the rules than they were at actually applying God’s Word and intent. Jesus said later that they had lost their first love.
Likewise, sometimes it seems the older we get, the more resistant we tend to be at expanding our minds and practices. We might get stuck-in-the-mud or resistant to change. And when churches become resistant to change, when they stop being sensitive to the Holy Spirits moving, and the dynamics of life, then churches effectively get old and die.
Remember when the Jews were following the Lord in the desert. They were following the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night. Sometimes they would travel for days following that moving pillar, but sometimes they would stay in one spot for days. That same dynamic is also required of the church today. As we see the Holy Spirit moving we need to be moving with Him.
All churches struggle with this issue, and even the first church had some of the same challenges. When the new church started, they faced several issues that dealt with old traditions and the new church community. Remember how Barnabas, Peter and Paul struggled with the Jews and Gentiles.
They were in disagreement about circumcision and food among the new gentile believers. They worked through those challenges, and we will too. The main thing to grasp here is that when God moves, we should be moving with Him. Issues like food laws, how we dress and tradition should never trump God’s will.
Jesus was trying to convey to them, and us today, that if we pour new wine into old skins, we will make a mess. And as a church, we should be sensitive to the differences between traditions and God’s will.
Now about the practical implications of Fasting, I call your attention to Jesus’ instruction, listed in Matthew 6:16-18
16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
When Jesus gave these instructions. You should know that He was displeased about how the Jewish people and specifically the Pharisees who did a lot of things for show. Every Monday and Thursday the Pharisees would fast even though it wasn’t even called for in scripture. The Pharisees always wanted to show that they were more religious or righteous than other people, and Jesus was effectively calling them out. Technically speaking the word Fasting means without food or without eating. Our word Breakfast actually means Break + Fast, meaning Break of the overnight Fast.
While I was deliberating on which Parable to bring you today, I came across this one and was reminded that I just went through two different fasting exercises in the last couple of weeks. One where I eliminated Television for a week and minimized internet usage just for good measure. And the other where I had to Fast for a colonoscopy procedure. Neither of these I must say were pleasant. During those events, besides losing a few pounds, I found myself much more engaged in reading and other activities that were actually pressing me to get accomplished. Fasting can be healthy for many reasons, the practical and for the spiritual health of our person.
Additionally, when Fasting and Prayer are exercised together, you may experience some amazing results. I might suggest that Fasting should always be accompanied with prayer. We generally pray before we eat, and we should pray before and while we Fast. I love food, and it shows. Eating is a huge part of our lives, and when a believer takes the effort to set aside something as important as eating for God, that is significant. Our God is a connected and relational God, and He loves you very much.
Author Theologian Andrew Murray once said “Fasting helps to express, to deepen and to confirm the resolution [that our heart] is ready to sacrifice, to come before God for that which we are seeking.”
King David wrote in the Psalms, he said “I humbled myself with fasting”
In Joel 2 God declared “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
And after Jesus had given the Apostles the Great Commission and ascended into Heaven, the new church, while seeking God’s Will, in Acts 13 it says “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
You see setting aside something so basic to our human need for the purpose of concentrating on the Lord and His Will is a beautiful exercise.
When we fast, effectively we say “No” to ourselves. Now I generally don’t like withholding things from myself, and I don’t think I am alone in this. In our culture today, especially here in America, we don’t say No to ourselves very often. In fact our culture generally demands we get what we want, and we deserve it right now. We frequently get very comfortable with this “gotta have it now” dynamic. But when we become a Christian, we learn from the Bible about denying ourselves for moral, practical or spiritual reasons. We go from a Fast Food paradigm to Fasting from Food. It is tough to go against popular culture.
Paul wrote a letter to his prodigy in 2 Timothy 3. It is entitled Godlessness in the Last Days. He said:
You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Then He gives this instruction: “Avoid them!”
In the last days, people will be lovers of themselves, Instead of God. One of the most popular phrases today seems to be “I just want to be happy”. Well you know what, God truly wants you to be happy too, but not at the expense of your relationship with Him. In fact He wants you to know that you will be your happiest in HIM. But that might mean that you will have to give something up.
Fasting or denying yourself is something we all should be considering on a regular basis. But know that you are not alone in this. Even God denied Himself in giving up something He loved, His one and only Son Jesus for us. And Jesus gave himself up, He denied Himself everything for us.
Everyday I find that my person wants to be happy and fulfilled in my flesh, but the Holy Spirit inside me wants me to be happy and fulfilled in God for eternity. So we have this battle constantly going on inside us. And as we go through this Christian life we learn that filling ourselves with fleshly desires does not lead to everlasting joy. The Apostle Paul struggled with that, I struggle with that and you will also my brothers and sisters. Paul said that he had to “die to himself daily”. Fasting is one more way we can practice outwardly what is truly in our hearts.
In Ephesians 5 it says “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
But maybe you are like me and my mind is thinking “But I don’t Want to”, and maybe you never will. But really it isn’t about wanting, it is about willing yourself to do so anyways. As a child we cry and whine until we get what we want, but as adults we learn to deny ourselves for good reasons. The same thing goes with Fasting. And you are not alone, the Holy Spirit is with you and you have a church that will stand beside you and encourage you along your path.
You should know that there are many ways to fast. We can fast from food, or just some food; from Technology, Fast from TV. Paul even talked about even withholding sexual activities for a short period for the purpose of fasting and prayer. You don’t have to read long in the Bible before coming across the idea of fasting. So consider giving it a try. I pray that during your fast you will find a greater clarity of thought and attention to the Holy Spirit in prayer and by reading God’s Word as you go. It truly is amazing!
It is also important for us to know that just like others came to scrutinize their religious practices, there will always be people that approach us asking us why we don’t do this religious practice. You should never feel pressured to participate in fasting. Fasting is volunteering to go without food so we can seek Him and get closer to Him. And be mindful that going without food can be hard and we need to be attentive of our dietary needs.
Lastly I will suggest that although I find traditions to be lovely, but we need to know why we are doing the things that we do. As the Jews demonstrated, traditions can become even more important than even the word of God.
We have the Lord’s Supper next week, and we are getting ready to have a Believers Baptism service on 20 Aug after church. It is important that participants realize why they are doing what they ar doing and what God’s word says about it. These things are not a special right of passage, they don’t get you into heaven. We do these things because Jesus did. He performed the communion at the Last Supper and told us to do likewise. He got baptized and gave us the mandate to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is why we do it. It is a public exercise to show that we love Jesus and because He set that example, we choose to follow in His footsteps. Tradition is important but it doesn’t save you, Jesus saves you. Baptism doesn’t save you, Communion doesn’t save you, coming to church doesn’t save you, and even religion doesn’t save you. Only Jesus and our personal relationship with Him. The fact that He died for us on the cross at Calvary that we might be saved and asking Him for forgiveness so we can join with Him in heaven. I beg you to consider this now.
As I opened this morning with the reflection on the Atomic bomb in Hiroshima, it is sad to know that those lives taken that day were by surprise. They never saw it coming. Although God doesn’t want anyone to live in a state of fear, we know that there are countless things that can happen to us at any moment. God wants us to put our trust only in Him for our eternity. He sent His only son Jesus so that we can know Him personally. So that we can choose to put our trust in Him as our personal Lord and Savior. Have you done that yet?
[Alter Call & Prayer] – Please Stand..