Mark 2:18-22 “Is Fasting Useful Today?”
Mark 2:18-22 “Is Fasting Useful Today?” 3 Oct. 1999 PM
I. Controversy over Fasting
II. The Who and What of Fasting
III. To Fast or Not To Fast
IV. The Why of Fasting
Introduction: The classic Christian disciplines are missing from much of modern Christianity. Prayer- just examine any Baptist church on prayer meeting night and you will realize we are not a praying people (contrasted with the Korean churches!) Scripture reading, study, memorization, and sermon listening and meditation- if we read the quarterly and a one page devotional a few days a week and manage to stay awake while we preach, I mean, listen to a sermon (take notes? nah-never); most folks memorized a few vss in SS or VBS as a child but none since then. Journaling- very rarely.
Silence and solitude, never. Frugality- not in this debt driven society. Fasting-we have the highest number of overweight members of any denomination said an article in CT last year.
Three years ago when I was working at the law office, I remember a conversation I had with a woman on Ash Wed. at the beginning of Lent. She related a conversation she had on the elevator with three other women who were discussing Lent. Herself and two others were talking about what they were going to give up for Lent (chocolate, coffee, cigarettes), the 4th lady was a Baptist and she said, “I’m a Baptist and I don’t have to give up anything!” That pretty much sums up where we as Baptists are in our discipleship and disciplines doesn’t it?
So why a sermon on fasting? First of all these sermons are text driven, the subject comes up so I started studying it. While I have preached on it before, I did not have the resources that I have now, and so the more I studied the more fascinating it became. Secondly, I have been going through a huge struggle in my own soul for the past two and a half years and I am desperate for God to lead me further in His grace, fasting is a tool that perhaps will assist me in my journey of faith. Thirdly, here in our church, we are in great need of renewal and revival, of growth, and fasting may be a tool that we should examine to help us seek God.
In this sermon tonight we shall start with our main text then broaden our study to see what the whole counsel of God’s Word says about fasting. At the end of our study I hope that we can understand that fasting has a vital purpose for Christians today, for our church, that God can use the discipline of fasting to cultivate in our souls a genuine hunger for God that will lead us to joyfully allow Christ to reign in every area of our life as individuals and as a church.
I .Controversy Over Fasting
This story occurs also in Matt 9:14-17 and Lk5:33-38. We covered it thoroughly this morning but let me just say as a review that the Jews of Jesus’ day had added two regular weekly fasts on Mon and Thurs. Luke 18:9-14.
See Luke 7:33-35 for a comparison of John the Baptist and Jesus.
But with Jesus’ response we need to ask when were his disciples to fast, he did say that “the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.” Is he talking of just the day of his crucifixion? The three days in the tomb? He is talking of the ascension, the age of the church.
The picture is of a wedding party that has been interrupted, the bridegroom has left temporarily, but he will return. Therefore, the party is somewhat interrupted, we still have joy because we know the groom; we know we are the bride of Christ, but until he returns, we will practice fasting. Then, upon his return we will sit down at the Kings table for the great wedding banquet.
But for the disciples of John and the Pharisees, fasting was so normal that it was unheard of for anyone who claimed to be spiritual to go without fasting, hence the controversy.
II. The Who and What of Fasting.
First of all what is fasting? Fasting is voluntarily going without food for a set period of time for a particular spiritual purpose. This is different from a hunger strike, a diet to lose weight, a fast for a medical procedure, or loss of appetite due to illness, etc. Fasting is practiced in virtually every religion in the world. Some fasts are total, that is no food or drink except water, then there are radical fasts that include going without water as part of the fast (very dangerous).
Lev 23:26ff the Day of Atonement fast.
Ex 34:28 a supernatural fast, Moses
Psalm 69:9-10 David
Esther 4:15-16 2Chron 20:1-4
Matt 4:1-4; Lk. 2:36ff; Acts 13:1-3
III .To Fast or Not To Fast
Mark 2:18-22 implies his disciples will fast.
Matt 6:16-18 certainly states his followers will fast and gives guidelines for proper fasting. Acts 13:1-3;
Contra: 1Tim4:1-5; Col 2:20-23; Rom 14:3-6; 1Cor 8:8 (these vss interpreted wrongly by some to say no fasting)
IV. The Why of Fasting, or, a Theology for Fasting
1. What are we hungry for? Do we love the gift or the Giver of gifts more? Fasting helps us focus on God. Our greatest adversaries are not always the demons, not lost people, not evil governments, not the devil; sometimes the greatest temptations are God’s gifts and benefits to his people.
2. Are our spiritual senses deadened and dulled by our full stomachs and lives? Does our prosperity rob us of a hunger for heaven? Psa63, 42; Matt 4:4; Deut 8:3; John 4:31-38;
3. Do we love the Reality that the emblem of bread points to more than we love the bread? John 6:35; Lk 22:19ff
Read Piper p 23.
V. How To Fast.
Many cannot give up food for the medicine they must take. Try giving up something else, TV comes to mind. Food was about the only leisure or pleasure they had back then, we live in a day of multitudes of pleasures.
The key is what are your motives? It is not done to impress or bribe God into doing what you think is His will. The key is to do it as an act of worship, seeking God’s guidance and seeking to know God. It is a retreat from the things of this world for a season to seek the greater reality of God and his kingdom. Self control and discipline are certainly part of fasting but not the primary reason (else that would be asceticism) self control and discipline are tools for living a holy life for God’s pleasure, for seeking God. Fasting is a tool, it is not the big key to living a superspiritual life. There is certainly no room for pride in fasting, throwing a guilt trip on others.
I am a novice at fasting, a beginner. But God has my attention in this regard now. I am interested in doing anything biblical to seek God and his glory. I am interested in joining my saviour in suffering, in picking up my cross daily and following Him. Fasting may be a tool that I need.