Summary: In response to the temptation to throw himself into the rat race called material satisfaction, Jesus finds a calm centre, an anchor in the word of God. That centered faith will enable him to deal with all the other temptations to come.
There once was a little boy named Bobby, who desperately wanted a new bicycle. His plan was to save his nickels, dimes and quarters until he finally had enough to buy a new 10-speed bike. Each night he asked God to help him save his money. Kneeling beside his bed, he prayed, “Dear Lord, please help me save my money for a new bike, and please, Lord, don’t let the ice cream man come down the street again tomorrow.”
Well folks, Lent is almost over, and the climax of Holy Week will occur over the next few days. During this season of Lent we have been preparing ourselves to share in and celebrate the real reason for our faith; namely, Christ’s death and resurrection. Lent is a spiritual desert similar to Christ’s 40 days in the desert, or the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert in the Book of Exodus, or Christ’s journey to Jerusalem. We live this experience in our lives during the annual observation of Lent.
One of the ways people of faith mark this period of time is by fasting, just like Christ fasted for 40 days in the desert. Fasting involves sacrifice, but when I spoke to you at the first mid-week Lenten service this year, I mentioned that people can give up more than just food for Lent. They can give up things such as bad habits, text messaging or social networks such as Facebook, but for centuries the main thing that was given up for Lent was food. For example, we can give up things such as:
1. Anger and hatred
2. Judging others
5. Resentment or bitterness
6. Spending too much money
Anything that controls us or that we can’t say no to lords over us. If it takes God’s place in our lives, it is an idol and we are living in something similar to idolatry (unknown, Fasting). When we come to a fork in the road of life, we may be tempted to give in to our physical needs and ignore our spiritual needs. Unless we have disciplined ourselves, and attended to our spiritual needs in an ongoing way, we may give in to the tempter (Dunnam). In other words, we might be tempted to used one of comedian Flip Wilson’s famous lines---“The devil made me do it!”
Fasting helps us to gain enough control to surrender our lives to God by making us more aware of our great need for God. It makes us more aware of our sinful desires (unknown, Fasting for Lent) and allows us to honour Jesus’ fasting not only in the desert, but in the weeks leading up to his crucifixion. It allows us to face temptations (and there will be temptations) just like Christ faced temptations in the desert, but by facing these temptations and overcoming them, we will grow stronger in faith. Fasting is a weapon we can use against the enemy’s strongholds and bondage in our lives, just like Christ used the results of his fasting in the desert to fight Satan’s temptations.
Fasting is a metaphor for our desire for God. It makes some people feel cleaner, purer and more in control. It allows us to have a simpler life, even if only for a short period of time. It teaches us something about God as Jesus shows God to us. It allows us to call on Christ’s power to shove out sin so that we can live spiritually (Klaus, 2005). Fasting forces us to remember our spiritual poverty, which in turn allows us to recognize God’s loving action to make things right between him and us through Jesus Christ. The result is a spiritual death that shows our sorrow for our sins (Brockhoff). It makes the path to the cross inexpressibly and unbelievably rewarding. True fasting is good for our health (spiritually and physically), self-discipline, helping us break bad habits, appreciating what we love, and preserving the ability to do without.
Fasting and Lent provide us with a time to focus on what is always true. God is always reaching out to enable us to change, be renewed and deepen our commitment to him and his chosen community. We do this through repentance. Fasting is just one way of showing our desire to repent. Our repentance is a gift of grace. Repentance by itself does not cause or forgiveness or make us worthy to receive it. It is based on grace-specifically, the knowledge that God is kind and ready to forgive. Fasting counteracts our daily habits of excessive consumption and makes us aware of God’s promptings and the needs of others. Leo, Bishop of Rome, once wrote:
“The sum total of our fasting does not consist in merely abstaining from food. In vain do we deny our body food if we do not withhold our heart from wickedness and restrain our lips so that they speak no evil. We must so moderate our rightful use of food that our other desires may be subject to the same rule. They therefore who desire to do good works, let them not fear that they shall be without the means, since even for two given pennies, the generosity of the poor widow of the Gospel was glorified!”