Then They Will Fast
Thistletown Baptist Church
September 7, 2008

The early church was plagued by spiritual sleepiness, lovelessness, coldness, heresy, materialism, … and nowhere do we ever see a single text of Scripture saying “pray for revival”. What we do see is God instructing churches to repent, know God better, hear the Word of God, live in obedience to the Scriptures, to overcome … . So, when we talk about revival we are talking about the church being all that God calls us to be and God doing something special in converting the lost and renewing His people.

This is now the fourth and final sermon in a series in preparation for our Week of Prayer, which starts today. We have been talking about revival. Revival is something that any committed Christian wants and it is what we should be praying for. But we need to realize that revival is not the normal way of living the Christian life. Revivals are supernatural works of God when God saves many, when Christians become alive for God in a way that they never have before. They cannot be planned, they can only be prayed for. There is nothing that we can do that will guarantee a revival from God. A revival is not a set of meetings and when you get a flyer in the mail or see an ad on TV that says “come and be revived” or some such thing – stay home.

We tend to think that revival was the normal way of things in the New Testament church, but it wasn’t . See
Romans 13:11 – Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
1 Cor. 15:34 – Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

And then remember the seven churches that Jesus addresses in the beginning of Revelation… .

What we have been considering is four crucial marks of the New Testament church (note that I did not say the only marks of the church). The four marks that we see in Acts 2:42 – that first church devoted itself to – 1) the Apostles doctrine (the Word of God) and we looked at Col. 3:16 – let the Word of God dwell in you richly… 2) the fellowship and we looked at John 13:35 – by this will all men know that you are my disciples if you love one another, 3) prayer – and we looked at II Chronicles 7:14 – if my people, who are called by my name shall humble themselves, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways and pray then I will hear form heaven and I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land. The fourth mark of the church mentioned in Acts 2:42 is devotion to the breaking of bread – the Lord’s Supper. The subject this morning is not the Lord’s Supper. It is fasting. But what I want you to see in this is that a devotion to the Lord’s Supper is a devotion to feasting on Christ. The Lord’s Supper is not magic. It does not make Christ dwell in us. It is not salvation. It is not receiving Christ in a saving way or in a physical way. It is Christ coming to us spiritually when we take the elements of bread and wine because of faith in Christ and us receiving spiritual nourishment from that. At the Table we feast on Christ and feasting on Christ is a big part of what fasting is about. Feasting on Christ is symbolized in fasting. When we fast we say to Christ – “this much we want you”. Fasting is when we forgo food or some other legitimate activity (emphasize legitimate) because we want Him more. Fasting is not something that God commands in the New Testament and He only commanded it once for the children of Israel (the Day of Atonement). We do not fast because it is set down in commands. We fast because we want Him more than we want to eat (or watch TV or read or exercise or go to work, or sleep …) Fasting is what the Scriptures clearly expect God’s children to do but what God never commands us to do. It is a test of our love for Him. It is a mark of commitment to Christ. It is an indication of spirituality.

Like all activities of service to God fasting can be done without the heart in it. Thus we have
Matthew 6:16-18 (ESV)
“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.

There is nothing that Christians can do as evidence of their love for God that cannot be faked. But just because it can be faked does not mean we shouldn’t do it legitimately. So we turn to the text we read from this morning and learn what is taught us regarding fasting.

Matthew 9:14-17 (ESV)
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” [15] And Jesus said to them, “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. [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. [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.”

Why do we and the Pharisees fast
– a religious ritual not prescribed anywhere in the OT other than the Day of Atonement. But traditions had arisen of fasting twice a week (such as the Pharisee in Luke 18). There is obviously a censorious spirit at work here – WE fast, why don’t YOU? See the Pharisee at prayer in Luke 18, the hypocrites of Matthew 6 … . They are going without food, but their attitude is completely foreign to what should accompany any religious endeavour.

-Note that this is a group of John the Baptist’s followers. John had told them to look to Christ. They have looked and they think that they are better than the disciples that Jesus is producing.

Can the wedding guests mourn
Fasting is related to mourning. People do not fast because they are happy. They go without food because they are sad. Then how then can we say that we are to fast? Is not the Christian life:”joy unspeakable and full of glory” – now? Is it not a state of constant joy?
What are we to make of such texts as
Romans 14:17 (ESV)
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Col. 1:11 (ESV)
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,
1 Thes. 5:16 (ESV)
Rejoice always,
Hebrews 10:34 (ESV)
For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
1 Peter 4:13 (ESV)
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

But none of those truths diminish the fact that we mourn at the same time

Can I not rejoice in the forgiveness of my sins and at the same time grieve over the sins that still haunt me? Can I not rejoice that one day I will sin no more while at the same time mourn over just how much sin marks me now? Can I not rejoice over the countless thousands that come to Christ around the world everyday and at the same time mourn that so many perish in their sin? Can I not rejoice over the fact that God is making all things new and will one day restore everything to the way it was meant to be in the first place and at the same time mourn at what sin has done to the world? Can I not rejoice over what Jesus is able to do by the power of the Holy Spirit in a repentant sinner and mourn at how little TBC seems to be demonstrating it? Can I not rejoice that every week people from our church are heard by God in a prayer meeting and at the same time grieve that more people do not attend that meeting? Can I not rejoice that one day the Lord is going to return and at the same time mourn that He has not returned yet? Of course.

See Paul in Roman s 9:1f and 10:1f and I Thess. 3:5

when the bridegroom is taken away from them
The bridegroom is Jesus. It is interesting that He uses this particular illustration to describe Himself here. Interesting for two reasons.
1) John 3:25-30 – Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. [26] And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness-look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” [27] John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. [28] You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ [29] The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. [30] He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John had told these very followers of his that Jesus was the bridegroom and he but the best man. He is bringing them to recall what their own teacher had said to them. Fasting is related to mourning. “Why” Jesus says “should my disciples be morning while I, the bridegroom am right here. This is not the time to fast. Remember what John said”. The point? While Jesus was here on earth was no time for fasting.

But secondly, and more importantly for us is the picture we have throughout the Scriptures of what it means that Jesus is the bridegroom.
2) Matthew 25:1-10 – “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. [2] Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. [3] For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, [4] but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. [5] As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. [6] But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ [7] Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. [8] And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ [9] But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ [10] And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.

Believers are those who wait for the bridegroom. We are the bride of Christ. And what Jesus is saying here is that as long as we are waiting for the bridegroom to show up it is a time to fast. And we will stop fasting when Jesus returns. He has been taken away and we mourn.

We mourn for a world that does not know Him and lives as if He will not come and judge.
We mourn for how much we still fall into sin – as if we were glad He was away.
We mourn for what sin has done to the world – longing for Jesus to come and restore it to its original intention.
We mourn because Jesus has not yet returned and sin mars what God intended it to be.
We mourn for our church that seems to make such small progress in the lives of the people of Rexdale

We are having an emphasis on prayer this week. Many of us will gather in the mornings and evenings and pray. We will pray for the ministries of the church and the ministers of those ministries. We will pray for this church to be more like Christ. We will pray for the church to be all that it should be. We will pray for people to be saved. Should we fast? Yes, we should. We should fast because we want Him to return and we should fast because we want us and our community and the world to be ready to meet Him.

then they will fast
1)Is it a sin not to fast? Nowhere in the NT is the believer commanded to fast. And in the OT the only fast required was once a year on the Day of Atonement. So we need to be careful about saying that not fasting is a sin. But we also need to realize that an unwillingness to fast may indeed be sin. It is a striking thing that in this verse Jesus, while not commanding His disciples to fast, does expect them to. “…they will fast”, is what He says. And why will they do that? Because He is gone.

2)Why will the guests of the bridegroom fast when the bridegroom is taken away? Because they long for the bridegroom to be with them. Because they want to see Him. Because they miss Him. True believers long for the return of Christ.
2 Tim. 4:8 – Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Rev. 22:20 – He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

There are those who say that they do not want Jesus to return yet because there are so many lost people who need to come to Christ. If Jesus returns today they will be lost forever.

Matthew 24:14 (ESV)
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Now how does that relate to fasting? Dear ones – what will you give up to hasten the return of the Lord by giving the Gospel to as many as possible until all the nations have heard?
Dear one – how much do you miss Christ? And what is it that keeps you from missing Him more?
Never have people had so much to dull their senses from attaining to a right hunger for God. We have so much at our fingertips to put us into spiritual sleep – television, movies, iPods, sports, … … … … . All these things work to dazzle us with their attractiveness, their promise of satisfaction, … . We are in desperate need to wean ourselves away from that which steals us away from better things. That is what fasting does. It gets us away from the material, the temporary, the gifts of God and to God Himself. The great temptation in our lives is to love the good things that God gives us more than we love the God who gives them. You want to test this? Give it up for a week.

But note this very well. We do not fast from sinful things. Fasting is a temporary surrender of the good things that God provides us with. You should not fast from pornography – you should surrender it up forever. Don’t fast from gossip – stop it and never return! We cannot live without food. We need it. But there are those times when we see that there are other things – better things – more important things – Him, a spiritual revival, greater holiness, Christlikeness – that we need even more and we need them so much that we will say no to the less important things in order to petition God for them.

A love for leisure cannot abide a love for God. There is not room in your heart for God and mammon. You cannot serve two masters. God has given us all good things to enjoy but we take them and make little gods out of them and come to love them so much that we cannot bear to be without them. It is time for this to stop. And it begins with a fast from them. I am dead serious about this. This week – turn off the television – that would be a fast. Look at the quote on the back of the bulletin – getting up early is a fast – fasting from more sleep. Miss the opening episode of CSI, NCIS, … . Fast from it and come into the presence of God in prayer and confess that it has had far too big a place in your life and it has crowded out something better – HIM.

This week – our week of prayer, when we pray for revival and the salvation of lost people and the success of our ministries and an associate pastor – will we pray for those things and then dull our spiritual minds with food and movies and sleep and … . Can we not wean ourselves away from these things for one week for the purpose of focussing on something more important?

Perhaps your schedule will not allow you to have your breakfast and get here for prayer meeting at 6:30. So what will go? It may be that you can’t get home from work, have your supper and get to prayer meeting at 7:30. Skip supper and just come to the prayer meeting. Do you miss Christ that much?

What over indulgence does to us physically it also does to us spiritually – you know what you feel like after that Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner – you want to sleep, you want to curl up and do nothing. The mind can’t think. The senses are dull. The same thing happens spiritually. Over indulgence in food, entertainment, leisure conspire together to make us spiritually lazy.

Hear John Wesley in a sermon he preached regarding fasting:
“… we are less sensitive to spiritual appetites when we are in the bondage of physical ones. This means that fasting is a way of awakening us to latent spiritual appetites by pushing the domination of physical forces from the center of our lives.” (Piper p. 90) Dear ones, if fasting will help us be slaves to nothing but Christ, how much should we be willing to engage in it?

Fasting is a test of where your real love is.
Fasting says to God “This much I want you”. It is fine to sing Psalm 42, but do we really mean it? It is fine to pray for God to fill us with the Spirit – but do you really want that (never mind knowing what it means.) “Well, Pastor, I want God to do something, but I am not going to skip a meal”.

You need to ask yourself “What is it that asks me for more love than I should direct to Christ?” And have I listened to it?

We need food to live. It is an absolute necessity of life. Fasting says this “I want you more than I want to live. I want you more than I want to eat. You are more to me than satisfaction of my most basic biological needs.” I will forgo this meal because I need to be fed something far better than physical nourishment.

Fasting from food effects the desires for other things. It is right to point out that we don’t just fast from food. That is quite right and that is what I have been saying. But it also needs to be pointed out that fasting from food will help us fast form other things.

But dear ones be very careful here. Our hearts are factories of sin. The heart can produce sin out of the holiest of things. Some of you will take this call for fasting seriously and you will endeavour to fast for all the right reasons … . But dear ones be on your guard. Sin is just a thought away. It will be easy for you to think – “well, aren’t I something? I fast ….” When such a temptation comes you remember Luke 18:9-14.
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. [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.”
What in the world is this about? Jesus is still answering the question about fasting. The disciples of John had asked why Jesus’ disciples were not fasting.
Jesus says – right now they do not need to
There is coming a time when they will
But the fasting of my disciples will not be like any fasting that has happened before.

The old garments/old wine skins – the Old Covenant
the new patch/wine – the New Covenant fasting.
Followers of Christ fast, but it is not the same as the fasting that took place before Christ came. Before Christ came there could be no fasting that could fast as one bought with the blood of Christ, indwelt by the Spirit … .

The new fasting is different from the old in that:
It is based on faith in Jesus as the Messiah who lived, died and rose from the dead and is coming again.
It is based on a longing for Jesus to return and establish the eternal Kingdom and put an end to death and sin.
It looks back to the greatest event in history while the OT fasting looked forward to it.
It functions within the truth that Satan has already been defeated at the cross and that greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.
It is practised by those who have the Kingdom of God within them.
It feasts while it fasts. It longs for Christ while at the same time being filled with the presence of the Spirit of Christ.
It is a testimony that what it has is the very best yet unfinished. It longs for the finish to come.

We don’t fast like the saints of the Old Testament did. We fast IN CHRIST. We fast FOR CHRIST. We fast with a SURE HOPE. We fast with JOYFUL MOURNING.

Jesus said the time would come when His disciples would fast. That time is here dear ones. It is now. It is time for us to test the commitment we talk about, sing about, read about and pray about.

The time has come for us to fast.

To listen to the post, visit the Internet Archive page, or use the player below.