Summary: Jesus uses three contemporary examples to answer the question, "Why don't your disciples fast?"; In doing so, He explains the exclusiveness of the Kingdom of God.
“Fast or Feast”
To eat or not to eat; that is the question that is asked of Jesus. Matthew 9:14: “Then John's disciples came and asked him, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?"
The question that is posed by John’s disciples to Jesus is: "How is it that we and the Pharisees FAST, but your disciples do not FAST?" Luke notes that the Pharisees asked this question about fasting; Mark says the disciples of John AND the Pharisees ask the question, but the question in Matthew is ASKED by John’s disciples, but includes the Pharisees in the question. It is interesting that the root word for “FAST” is used in Matthew 9:11 from last week, is used in all three in the question from the Pharisees: "Why does your teacher “EAT” with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" (The word for “Eat” is the root word for “fast”; to “fast” is the negative of “eating”, in other words, “to NOT eat”.)
FEASTING with Sinners
We answered the question last week as to “Why would Jesus EAT or FEAST with sinners?” The answer is: He comes with mercy to those who recognize their own UTTER sinfulness and inadequacy to save themselves, and He sups with them. He comes as the “Bread of Life” to those who will receive Him. Jesus in essence says: “To those who think they are righteous, I will have no appeal whatsoever. Only people who know they are sick, go to the doctor for help. I came to die for self sinners.”
Although Jesus, Himself, was NOT SINFUL, He associated WITH those whom He would save, and He became SIN for THEM. The bottom line is that The King of Heaven came to sup with, to serve and save sinners. Those who realize their need will seek Him.
Elements of FASTING
Today Jesus answers the question, “Why don’t your disciples FAST (or NOT EAT) like the Pharisees or John’s disciples? We have looked at the topic of “fasting” two times in Matthew already. The first time was in Matthew 4:2 when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness and He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, and then the devil came to tempt Him.
The second time was in Matthew 6: 16-18. Jesus said: "Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 "But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will NOT be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret ; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
We have to take a few minutes to look at some elements of fasting. Fasting is not to be noticed by men. It’s between you and God, and between your heart and God’s Holiness. In Isaiah 58:3-4, people complained that they had fasted and that God had not responded to their fast. Isaiah declared that it was because their external show was useless to God.
Fasting includes mourning because it is an expression of broken-heartedness and desperation for God. God prescribed only one fast per year in the Old Testament, on the Day of Atonement .(Lev. 16:29) On that day a sacrifice was slain and the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place and sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat atop the ark of the Covenant. That was also the day that the scapegoat was released into the wilderness with the sins of the people. If you did not honor the day of Atonement, the penalty was death…YOUR DEATH for your sins, instead of your sins being atoned for!
Fasting is not about the stomach but your soul and your standing before God. Fasting doesn’t HAVE to do only with Food. If you are focusing on FOOD you’re missing the focal point. FOOD is not the only element that you can withhold from yourself. You could fast from watching television one night and instead pour over God’s Word and pray fervently for a few hours. I wonder what would happen in the Church if everyone would do THAT one evening a week instead of doing whatever most do every night.
The Bible refers to “fasting” with spiritual goals in mind. Joel 2:12-13: 12 "Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
Fasting is realizing that you have a void which the physical will not fill. Fasting reveals food as a necessity for your stomach and that God alone is what you need for your soul as well as for your stomach.