Summary: True fasting turns our attention off ourselves and onto God.
Fasting For Spiritual Breakthrough
Text: Matt. 6:16-18
1. Illustration: Richard Foster writes in his book A Celebration of Discipline, “In a culture where the landscape is dotted with shrines to the Golden Arches and an assortment of Pizza Temples, fasting seems out of place, out of step with the times. In fact, fasting has been in general disrepute both in and outside the church for many years. For example, in my research I could not find a single book published on the subject of Christian fasting from 1861 to 1954, a period of nearly one hundred years.”
2. What is fasting?
a. Very simply, fasting means being so consumed with a matter that it becomes more important than food.
b. Therefore, the believer sets food aside in order to concentrate on seeking God about the matter.
c. Biblical fasting means more than just abstaining from food; it means to abstain from food in order to concentrate upon God and His answer to a particular matter.
3. However, like with anything else, there is a right way and a wrong way to fast.
4. Let’s look at what Jesus has to say about fasting. Read Matt. 6:16-18
Proposition: True fasting turns our attention off ourselves and onto God.
Transition: First, let us look at...
I. The Wrong Way to Fast (16)
A. Do Not Be Like the Hypocrites
1. The first thing that we must notice is that Jesus assumed we would fast, because He says "when you fast..."
a. He doesn’t says "if you fast," but "when you fast."
b. He assumed that fasting would be a regular part of the life of His disciples.
2. This is a reasonable assumption on His part because it was a regular part of the Jewish way of life.
a. All Jews were required by Mosaic Law to fast on the Day of Atonement.
b. During at least the dry seasons, many of the most pious people fasted two particular days a week. —Bible Background Commentary
3. Various kinds of fasts were commonly practiced throughout much of Israel’s history, always as a symbol of some deeper meaning than simply abstaining from food.
a. Normal fast. A person abstained from all food, solid or liquid, but not from water — usually to prepare for some significant event.
b. Partial fast. Sometimes people entered into a partial restriction of diet, but not total abstention. For a three-week period of mourning, Daniel ate no meat or drank no wine, and he applied no lotion to his body (Dan. 10:3).
c. Absolute fast. During a relatively short, urgent period of time, people could abstain from all food and water to discern God’s leading. Notice that this kind of fast was only for a short time, because it was very dangerous to go without water. It is not recommended except for extreme circumstances.
d. Private and corporate fasts. Fasting is usually a private affair, but at times the people of God came together for corporate or public fasts, such as on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:37), in times of national emergency (2 Chron. 20:1 – 4), or for seeking God’s guidance in prayer (Ezra 8:21 – 23). (Wilkins, NIV Application Commentary, New Testament: Matthew, 281).
4. However, Jesus tells us that there is a right way and a wrong way to fast. Here He tells us not to "be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting."
a. Jewish fasting required abstinence not only from food but also from other pleasures, which would include the usual practice of anointing one’s head with oil to prevent dry skin; avoiding all these practices made fasting obvious. —Bible Background Commentary
b. These hypocrites would deliberately make themselves look like they were suffering so that everyone would know that they were fasting.
c. "Disfigure" (aphanizo) here indicates making one’s face unrecognizable from a normal perspective, with the intent to publicize the physical hardships endured while fasting.
d. During the fasting period they might disfigure their face by remaining ungroomed or perhaps by sprinkling ashes on their head and face as a sign of contrition.
e. This was a deceptive way of letting others know of their extensive efforts to increase their personal holiness.
5. Fasting could have great spiritual value, but some hypocrites, such as the Pharisees, had turned it into a way to gain public approval.
a. During a fast, they made themselves look pale and disheveled so people would admire them.
b. The Pharisees negated the purpose of their fasting by making sure others knew that they were fasting.
6. Fasting the wrong way has its reward. A person will receive human recognition and esteem, but the recognition of men is all he will ever receive. Jesus says "Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward."