Fasting – Matthew 9:14-17

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United-States, said one day, “He that lives upon Hope, dies fasting”.

Now, Franklin was not a believer. He didn’t believe that Jesus was God. For him, Christianity was only good for its morals and ethics. It was more at tool to enjoy this present world rather than the preparation for a world to come.

So when he said “He that lives upon Hope, dies fasting” it was a basic critique of Christianity. What he was saying was that if you are looking for your hope to be fulfilled in this world, you will never be satisfied. And so his message simply was this: enjoy the moment, don’t waste your energy in dreams and ideals.

Jefferson was definitely right about something. This life does not satisfy. But his hope was in this world, not on Christ. And if your hope is in this world, there is no point in being sacrificial because your sacrifices prevent you from enjoy the life that you are hoping for.

But what about us? Is it worth it living so desperately for the hope that we have in Christ that we are willing to live a life characterized with fasting and sacrifice until we die? Is it worth it? Is it worth it fasting for the hope we have in Christ?

Jefferson’s quote reminded me of another quote from Francis Chan some years ago who said, “Am I going to change the world? Probably not, but I am sure going to die trying.”

Even as believers we are not going to die satisfied in this world. Why? Simply because Jesus has left us with a Great Commission to fulfill and until it is done there will be no rest for believers.

Both believers and unbelievers will die unsatisfied in this world. The unbelievers will die unsatisfied because there hope is on earth and everything is fleeting. But believers die unsatisfied for another reason. It is because God is infinite and God has placed eternity in the hearts of men and we have so much hope but it will only be fulfilled in heaven.

We all live with a vacuum in our hearts. But are we going to fill it with the things of this world, or are we going to fill it with God as much as possible? Paul was running to know Christ in the power of His resurrection. Paul wanted to live life on earth as if he was in heaven, to be so close to God so that it would as similar as possible as heaven itself.

How much are we desperate for God? How much do we love Him? How much do we long to be with Him and to see His glory? How much sacrifice are we willing to pay in order to see God on earth?

If we truly long for God, if our hope is truly in Him, then we can agree with Jefferson: “He that lives upon Hope, dies fasting.” And not because the fasting kills us but because fasting is a part of our life until death.

Today’s message is on fasting, and here is what I want you to remember at the end: We fast because God is more important than food. We fast because heaven is more important than earth.

Let’s turn in our Bibles in Matthew 9: 9-17.

So in this passage we see Jesus during his ministry in Galilee, a time where Jesus was growing immensely in popularity. It’s a time when Jesus does a lot of teaching and a lot of miracles. His life is saturated with ministry. Crowds from all around are coming to him and his life is very busy.

One day, as he walks around, he sees Matthew, also called Levi. Matthew was a tax collector, someone that the Jews hated because he was working for Rome, getting rich and helping Rome get rich as the people suffered the weight of the taxes. Tax collectors were looked down so much, we see here that they are on the same level as other people referred to as “sinners.” “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.” (10)

Now, you can imagine that these people are probably some of the worse of society. I mean we are all sinners, but when the main way to refer to someone is by calling him a sinner, that is pretty bad. You can imagine a conversation:

“What does your father do? Is he a teacher, a fisherman?”

“No, my dad is a sinner.”

“Oh, one of those!” I mean, you understand what kind of reputation these people had.

But anyways, Jesus is eating with those people and then the Pharisees start making fun of him, and then some of the disciples of John come with the Pharisees and start attacking Jesus on fasting. Now, John had been clear with his own disciples that Jesus was the Messiah and they had to follow him. But these men were not, so at this point we know that they were already in disobedience.

The Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. It was one of their religious traditions. Ad so my guess is that it was once of these days when they came talking with Jesus. And basically what they are saying is this, “Hum, Jesus? Do you realize that we’re fasting and you’re not, which kind of makes us more holy than you right now? You’re doing all these great things, but at the end of the day, well, we might be better than you, you know.”

And so Jesus answers them by giving them one of those spiritual spankings that the Pharisees love so much. I mean they must because they ask for them all the time. But in the next verses, Jesus gives one of the best definitions of fasting in the whole Bible, and it is what we are going to look at today: a desperate fast, a passionate fast, and a genuine fast.

I.                   Desperate Fast

And so the first thing that Jesus does is to call into question the perspective of the Pharisees and the disciples of John. And so he starts, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (15) Jesus asks them, “do you even know what fasting is about? Fasting is like mourning, it is a grief. And by the way, if you are really fasting, what are you doing at this party in the first place?”

Jesus’ first confrontation against the Pharisees was that they had no clue about what they were doing. They were fasting just because it seemed like it was a good thing to do. But they had no clue about what true biblical fasting was about.

I had a friend who told me one day that he often fasted for 40 days. So I asked him how he did it, and he answered that the truth was that he really liked to eat, and so he would eat a lot and get fat. Then after a while he would stop eating for 40 days, just to drink carrot juice mixed with maple syrup and vitamins. And he would lose all his fat that way. Is that biblical fasting? No, it is a diet, and it is a horrible one. Now fasting once a week or every other week can be very beneficial for the body, it helps to clean it and stuff. But biblical fasting is much more than not eating. It is about not eating and praying instead. Fasting in the Bible is always accompanied with prayer. Now these Pharisees and disciples of John were not spending time in prayer, they were hanging out at a party. Their minds were not focusing on God, they were focusing on their own self-righteousness.

And so Jesus rebukes them, and here is his first point: fasting is like mourning. It is something desperate. You don’t fast just because it is a good thing to do. You fast because your heart is desperate, as if someone had died.

Why do people mourn in the first place? People mourn because they refuse to accept the idea of death, because it is so ugly and they don’t want it. People mourn because they wished there was life but instead there is death.

And this is what fasting is about throughout the Bible.

Turn in your Bible in Nehemiah 1:3-4.

Neh 1:3  And they said to me, « The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire. »

Neh 1:4  As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Why did Nehemiah fasted? Because Jerusalem had no walls, no protection against enemies. It was a matter of death and life, it was desperate, it was intense.

Now go to Esther 3:8-10

Est 3:8  Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, « There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them.

Est 3:9  If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, that they may put it into the king’s treasuries. »

Est 3:10  So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews.

And now to Esther 4:3

Est 4:3 And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

The Jews fasted because it was a question of death and life. They were going to be killed.

Go to Psalm 35:13

Psa 35:13 But I, when they were sick– I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.

David knew people who were sick, and during his time they didn’t have the drugs we had and people could die a lot easier. And so David was fasting so that his friends would not die. David also fasted when his baby was sick and was about to die.

There are a lot more examples, but here is the point: fasting is desperate. You fast because there is death and because you do not want it. And you reject the idea of death so much that even food does not matter to you anymore.

Now, physical death is a horrible thing, but spiritual death is even worse. And this is the first reason why we as believers should fast. We fast because we mourn for those who are going to hell. We fast because we are desperate for the lost souls of this world, and it is more important for us to spend time praying for their lost souls than to eat our lunch.

Do you know how much God cares for the lost souls? Before Jesus left earth, he didn’t ask people to go build big churches, he asked them to go to the ends of the world to make disciples. Jesus taught his disciples to pray earnestly for the God of the harvest to send laborers in the harvest. In Greek, the word used in that verse for “pray earnestly” literally means “to beg.” Jesus wanted his disciples to be so desperate for the lost souls of the harvest that they would beg in prayer for them.

Do you know that Jesus came on earth for unbelievers? He did not die on the cross of righteous people, he died for sinners, He died while we were his enemies! And what a death! In Romans Paul said that death entered the world because of one sin. Because of one single sin the whole earth deserved to be destroyed. That’s how much destructive power sin has. When David did a census in rebellion to God, 70,000 men were killed as a punishment. Just because of one sin. Yet Jesus bore all of our sins on that cross, millions and millions of them, and he was separated from the Father and he beaten and tortured. But he endured it because He loved unbelievers.

Sometimes people complain that the prophetic books like Jeremiah and Isaiah are too long. But you know why they are so long? It is because God kept sending messengers to preach the gospel to rebellious and unbelieving people! It’s because He cared for them so much! There is more joy in heaven for one sinner who repents than 99 people who do not need repentance.

God loves the lost souls of man so much. That is his burden. Is it our burden? Do we share God’s heart and desires, or do we have our own agenda as Christians? If we really do, they we can learn to mourn and to fast.

But let me tell you, you are not going to be desperate for the lost souls if you are not first desperate for God Himself. We cannot be passionate for God’s burdens without being passionate for Him first.

II.                            Passionate Fast

And this is Jesus second point. “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (15).

First fasting comes out of desperation because of death, secondly, it comes out of a desperation to be with God. When the bridegroom will be taken away, then the disciples will fast. First there is the perspective of fasting, which is the reality of life and death, then there is the motivation of fasting, which is a passion to be with Christ. The second reason why we fast as believers is because Christ is not here but we wish He was here.

We fast because we want to be with God, we want to see Him closer and closer, we want to be in His presence more than with anything that this world could offer.

Hell is a reality, isn’t it? In fact, if you count the average of believers in all countries, you might find out that there is between 2-5% of true genuine believers in the world. That means that for every believer who gets to heaven, there are about 50 other people who go to hell. Sometimes I wonder, why does God allow that? But think about it this way. God doesn’t make any mistakes. For Him it is worth it. For God it is worth it sending 50 people to hell so that one person can know Him eternally. For God it would be worth it sending all of us in this room to hell so that Luke Hovey could go to heaven. Why? Because the richness of knowing God is not measurable. Even the measure of suffering and pain of 50 people spending eternity in hell cannot compare with the joys of one person knowing God. For each believer among us today there will be close to 50 people in hell. We’ve been brought at a high price. But for God it was worth it because knowing Him is so beautiful and so amazing that nothing can be compared to it.

Jesus told the parable of a man who was looking for pearls, and he found one that had so much value that he sold everything he had to buy it. He sold everything for the pearl of Christ.

I remember I was 17 when I realized that Christianity was not only the way to God but also a pearl. It all the sudden clicked in my mind. I realized that God was not something to pursue because older people would tell me, but because it was the best thing in the world And all the sudden I stopped playing video games, I stopped watching TV, all I wanted to do was to read the Bible and pray. The things of this world seemed so worthless compared to the pearl of Christ. I was discovering so much about God. What? I can talk to the living God all day long? No way? And I would read 2-3 hours everyday, in the evening pray until I would fall asleep and wake up early to pray more. In college on Friday nights a lot of people would go out to relax and watch a movie, but often I would just go in my room and spend time praying for a revival in France. I just didn’t care about the things of this world, I just wanted to be with God. I’ve probably read the Bible close to 15 times now, but let me tell you, I can never get enough.

And I’m not saying that to impress or anything, all I’m saying is that it is worth it. It’s so much worth it. There is nothing more satisfying than pursuing Christ. In a couple of weeks I’ll be 24, but I know that the prayer of our staff is that when you guys will be our age you will love the Lord more than we do now, that you will be more mature than we are, more passionate for Christ than we are.

But my question for you today is this: is Christianity a pearl to you, or is it just the “right religion?” Is Jesus truly the most precious thing in your life? Is he worth for you to sell everything you have? Do you love Jesus more than video games and facebook?

Seriously! Do you love Jesus? If Jesus is truly the pearl of our lives, then everything we do we will want to do in His presence, for His glory, with a holy fear. When we eat and drink, we should do everything for God’s glory. If you can’t watch a movie for the glory of God, don’t watch it. If you can’t play video games for God’s glory, don’t do it. Don’t accept to do things because they are accepted in our culture.

I often feel like we have things upside-down. We ask ourselves, “how much can I keep of my selfish world in this Christianity? How much can I focus on myself and still be a ‘good Christian?’” Instead of praying to God, “God, how much can I give up to know you more? What else can I get rid of in my life to leave more room for Christ? What else can I sell to purchase that pearl?”

Paul said in Acts 20:24, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

In the Old Testament God was revealed as a God of steadfast love and faithfulness. In the New Testament these words are translated as grace and truth. The main idea is this: that God loves us, and that he does is faithfully. He loves us, and He loves us all the time. Now, we have seen the extent of His love at the cross. Jesus cared so much that he was willing to bear the weight of all sins, to lose for an instant that eternal relationship he had with his Father, to suffer one of the worse physical death that you could think of. Well, that love that Jesus displayed on the cross is the same love with which He loves us every second of every day because his love is faithful. The passion that God displayed at the cross is the same one with which God makes all things work out for the good of those who love Him. I can’t comprehend such a thought. God plans every moment of every day with a love as intense as the one He showed on the cross.

But how can we see that love unless we are looking at Him. And we can’t see Him unless we are looking in his direction. And the only way to do that is to live for His glory in everything that we do. And that beings when we live for Him and not for ourselves. It begins when everything we do, either sports, school, spending time with friends, doing chores, everything, we do it all for Him.

But if you don’t live to know Christ more and passionately, you won’t desire to fast for Him more. But the reason why we fast is because even food does not match up to our hunger for God. We just want more and more of Him. We fast because our hunger for Him is greater than our hunger for food. We fast because Christ is our pearl and the pearl is so beautiful that we can’t stop looking at it.

III.                         Genuine Fast.

So Jesus first talks about a desperate fast, secondly about a passionate fast, thirdly about a genuine fast. This is where he confronts most boldly the Pharisees and the disciples of John. These men were fasting only because it looked good, it looked holy and they wanted people around them to know how ‘godly’ they were. But Jesus confronts them saying, “hey! Be real.”

Mat 9:16  No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.

Mat 9:17  Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, 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. »

Here Jesus describes the Pharisees as people walking around in dirty cloth and holding the new piece of cloth which is fasting shouting, “look at me! Look at my fasting! I am not an amazing person? Look how godly I am” And they are pointing to there fasting whereas the rest of their body is covered with rags.

And it’s the same idea with the wine. When new wine is put in wineskins, it ferments and so it makes the wineskins expand. But if the wineskins have already been used, then when they expand again they often burst and then the wine is wasted.

Let’s think about it this way. Think about Jared Tabor. Let’s say his house explodes in Tolza and he loses all that he has and all his friends reject him there and so he decides to come back to Santa Clarita. And so he walks back all the way from Oklahoma and finally arrive at Pastor John’s house. Now you can imagine what he looks like. His clothes look like rags, he hasn’t shaved for some days, his glasses are half-broken. And so Pastor John tells him, “Jared! You got to find a job. Here is a $100 to get started.” So Jared takes the $100 and goes to a shop and buys some very nice looking dress shoes. And then he goes to his first interview. And he is all dressed in rags, except for his new shoes. And so the guys who interviews him looks at him and says, “what in the world are you thinking about? Look at you!” And Jared answers, “Look at my shoes! Look at my shoes!” And the guy answers, “Well, your shoes sure look good, but it’s the rest that I am concerned about.”

And so that was Jesus’ point to the Pharisees and the disciples of John. All you are doing with this fasting is screaming, “look at our shoes, look at our shoes!” while the rest of your body is not even clean. Do you really think that God is pleased with your fasting?

A lot of the teaching on fasting in Scriptures is actually done to condemn hypocritical fasting. Let’s look at Matthew 6:16-18

Mat 6:16  « And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (17) But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, (18) that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Turn now in Luke 18:10-14

Luk 18:10  « Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (11) The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. (12) I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ (13) But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (14) I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. »

Humble people don’t run around screaming, “look at my shoes, look at my shoes!” They beat their chest crying to God, “be merciful to me a sinner!” And that is what true fasting is about, not doing it to look good, but doing from a genuine heart that truly desires to please God.

But the reason why as believers we fast is because we have a genuine faith in who God is. And because we have faith in Him, we have faith that when we take time to be with Him, when we come broken-hearted before Him, desperately and passionately, that God will be there.

Let’s turn to Isaiah 58:4-9

Isa 58:4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Isa 58:5  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?

Isa 58:6  « Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Isa 58:7  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Isa 58:8  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Isa 58:9  Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

“Here I am.” A true genuine fast leads to where God is. It leads to the very presence of God. It leads to the unleashing of God’s power. When Jesus fasted he overcame the greatest temptation the world had ever knew. Moses fasted forty days and forty nights without eating nor drinking and then he received the Ten Commandments. And when he came back and saw Israel in idolatry, he put things in order and came back to fast again forty days and forty nights to ask God to forgive the people. Esther fasted with the Jews and their people were delivered. Nehemiah fasted and God answered. Daniel fasted for the return of Israel from Exile and God answered. When the people of Nineveh fasted God forgave them even though they were one of the most wicked people on the whole earth.

Seek and you shall find. Isa 58:9  Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

But how real is our faith? How much do we hold on to the promises of the Bible to know them as true? Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful. Do we believe that? Do we believe that God wants to save a lot of people? Then what are we doing about it?

True faith is to hold on to the promises of Scriptures with all that we are, believing them to be true no matter the context, no matter the situation, no matter how long we have to persevere to see them accomplished.

Do you think that if you pray for a revival in your heart that God will not answer you? Do you think that if you ask God to use you for the salvation of the lost that God will not answer you? Do you think that if you ask God to know Him more that He will not answer you?

But how real is our faith? Our much are we willing to persevere to see God answer our prayers?

I remember two years ago we were planning an outreach with my small church in France Now our church is very small, about the size of this youth group. We needed $20,000, and we had literally $0. God provided. A week before the event we were still lacking $10,000. A youth from our church prayed, God we want the money, and we want it tomorrow, and the next day it came. We asked for 30,000 gospels of John to distribute. We got 50,000. And the list could go on. We asked permission to do a Christian concert on the main city-square of the 4th biggest city in France, in front of the city hall. We got it, about 3,000 people came and heard the gospel.

We knew that God wanted to save people and so we just kept praying and kept fasting until we were answered. God promises that He will finish the work that He has begun. Do we believe that? How much are we willing to persevere to see God fulfill His promises?

George Mueller was an amazing man. He provided for thousands of orphans without ever asking anyone for money, he would just pray the Lord to provide. He was a prayer-warrior.

“One day George Mueller began praying for five of his friends. After many months, one of them came to the Lord. Ten years later, two others were converted. It took 25 years before the fourth man was saved. Mueller persevered in prayer until his death for the fifth friend, and throughout those 52 years he never gave up hoping that he would accept Christ! His faith was rewarded, for soon after Mueller’s funeral the last one was saved.”

Goerge Mueller died fasting. He dies unsatisfied, for one of his friends was still not saved. But his life was filled with God. It was filled with God’s promises being fulfilled under his eyes, filled with the power of God, filled with hope.