Why do we fast?
Matthew 9:1-17 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city.
2 And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 5 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he got up and [c]went home. 8 But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.
10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
14 Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. 17 Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”
In today’s text Jesus answers a question about fasting. The text says: Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” As I reflected on what Jesus said, it answered for me, the question of if or when I should fast. The attendants don’t fast while He, Jesus is with them. They fast when He is gone. It is true that Jesus is no longer with us in body, but He is ever with us in and through the Spirit. In John 14:16-17;23 Jesus says: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you… If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. ” In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus spoke final instructions to His disciples, the attendants of the bridegroom, before He ascended to heaven. He says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” If Jesus is with us always, if He and the Father make their abode with us, if we have the Holy Spirit abiding with us and in us, should we fast? What would be our reason to fast?
In Isaiah 58 God also speaks about fasting through the prophet. He says: Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday… What we need to understand about fasting is that we don’t do it to affect God, as if by our fasting we would change His mind. If God is far off, if He is not with us, we need to know that they have not moved or left us. They will be with us always. Jesus and the Father abide with us. If they are not with us and we need to fast, it is not because they have left us, but rather because we have left them. If we are not keeping Jesus commandments, if we are not fulfilling His commission to preach the gospel, if we are not doing the things described in Isaiah 58, then we fast so that we are changed; so that we are moved back to the will and the way of Jesus and the Father, to their light and righteousness.
In the text, Jesus continues saying: “No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” If we are to abide in Christ, if we are to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, we cannot do it in our old carnal nature. We cannot expect that the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will conform to us in order that they would be with us. Instead we must be made new to conform to them. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 says: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. We are called to be like Him; to do the things He did and the things He commanded. We are called and recreated to be righteous, like Him and through Him. If we have moved away from the presence, the plans and the power of God; if we have moved from righteousness in Him, then we should fast so that we would return to God and Christ; that we would be made new, conformed to, abiding with and in them.
Thank You heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ and precious Holy Spirit that You neither change nor move away, but You are with us always. Thank You that I am made new, conformed to Your image; reconciled to You and restored to all that You intended through Christ, the cross and the resurrection. If I should stray, then may I fast that I would return to You quickly. Amen.