The religious leaders of Israel were the VIP’s of the day. Although they had reached the top of the quote “pecking order,” they often found themselves scorched by Jesus’ words. Jesus called many of them white-washed tombs. He accused them of robbing widows and being filled with dead men’s bones. Their problem was one of focus. Many of the religious leaders focused on externals like how they appeared to others on the outside. That’s why they loved their impressive rituals of prayer. They had season tickets to the best seats in the synagogue. They loved their Neiman Marcus robes and the way the common people looked at them.
Therefore, it is no surprise that when Jesus and the religious leaders met, the sparks flew. While the religious leaders of His day relished the separation between themselves and the “common people,” Jesus sought to break down the barriers. Jesus, as God’s only Begotten Son, deserved his title, position, and praise, but His humility in heart was at the core of His teaching. He humbled Himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross. Jesus wants us to demonstrate servant hood and humility. Jesus “humbled Himself” and it was His undergirding philosophy. He chose the path of humility. We too must choose the path of greatness.
We have already said the New Testament does not require disciples of Jesus to fast; however, fasting does have some spiritual benefit. Fasting and prayer is the pattern throughout the New Testament. It has been observed you can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast biblically without praying. Here is a relevant question: What is the value of fasting today?
We have already said that fasting, according to the New Testament, is an entirely non-compulsory, voluntary act, not a spiritual duty. However, fasting does have some healthy spiritual benefit and is almost always connected with prayer. In Acts 9, Paul spent three days praying and fasting after he had spoken with Jesus on the road to Damascus. It was evidence of his repentance and his humility before God. In Acts 10, Cornelius spent time in prayer and fasting. In fact, he had a vision about Peter during one of his fasts (Acts 10:30). The members of the early church fasted on occasion. The Christians in Antioch fasted (Acts 13:2-3, Acts 14:23). Fasting and prayer was a part of their sincere dedication to know the Lord's will and to follow it.
The Sermon on the Mount records these words of Jesus. “When you fast…” (Matthew 6:16). Of course, this was under the Old Law, but at this point He expected His followers to fast. The thing which Jesus condemns in Matthew 6 is not the fasting, but the attitude the Pharisees had while they were fasting. Jesus didn’t say that their fasting was wrong, but the way it was being done was wrong. There was no humility involved. It was to be seen of men. God always knows the heart.
Last week’s article did not answer the question, so let me get right to it this week. The Bible nowhere commands Christians to fast. Fasting, according to the New Testament, is an entirely non-compulsory, voluntary act, not a spiritual duty to be regularly observed by the believer. However, fasting does have some healthy spiritual benefit and is almost always connected with prayer.
There are two extreme views concerning fasting. There are some people who believe that fasting is an absolute necessity to be bound on everyone else. This view says the more you fast, the closer to God you will be and so they establish all sorts of rules regarding fasting. The Apostle wrote to the Christians in Colossians warning them about such an attitude. On the other extreme there are some Christians who hold that fasting accomplishes nothing and that is not the picture we get from Scripture. The truth on fasting falls somewhere in-between the two extremes. The Holman Bible Dictionary says that, Fasting is the laying aside of food for a period of time when the believer is seeking to know God in a deeper experience. I think that definition is important because it emphasizes that fasting is not just giving up something it is gaining something.