Scripture: Matthew 6:16-18
In this week’s lessons, we learn what Jesus said about fasting, and consider its implications for us today.
Theme: New Testament Teaching
After Jesus came, fasting was conceived of differently. The early Christians were aware that because their sin had been forgiven, they did not mourn for it in the way men did before Christ’s death and resurrection. They did not fast for their sin. They did not fast in sorrow. But they did fast. What was the reason? The reason was their desire to set aside the normal distractions of life in order to seek the clear direction of God for their lives. It was a discipline by which they waited upon God while asking Him to reveal His will to them and to lead them in new ways.
How do we know this? For one thing, in the way the apostle Paul links fasting to “watching” in writing to the Corinthian Christians. Here he speaks of the apostles who conduct themselves “as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, and in fastings” (2 Cor. 6:4-5). He is saying that fasting was a spiritual exercise by which he waited upon God to reveal His will to him.
Someone might well ask, “Well, is there any evidence that God actually responded to the fasting of these early Christians by revealing His will to them? Did it happen? Is this theoretical purpose that you have mentioned borne out in practice?” The answer to these questions is “Yes.” And what is more, it also shows that fasting was linked to the two most significant advances of the Gospel in the ancient world following Pentecost.
What were the two major advances of the Gospel after it had been first proclaimed and the Holy Spirit had come on the believers? Certainly, the first was the opening of the Gospel to the Gentiles through Cornelius by the ministry of Peter. Was fasting connected to that great opening? Yes, it was, according to the words of Cornelius. We read in the tenth chapter of Acts that after Peter had received his vision of the great sheet let down from heaven containing all kinds of animals, and had gone on the basis of the vision to the home of Cornelius, this Gentile centurion spoke to explain the reason he had called Peter. He said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send, therefore, to Joppa, and call here Simon, whose surname is Peter… who when he cometh shall speak to thee” (Acts 10:30-32). It was while he was fasting that Cornelius received this important revelation.
The other great example is found in the thirteenth chapter of Acts, the chapter that recounts the start of Paul’s missionary journeys. Here we read that as the Church at Antioch “ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work unto which I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:2-3). In other words, out of that prayer meeting with fasting there came a revelation from God that resulted in Paul’s lifelong ministry to the Gentiles throughout the Roman world.
Why does the New Testament view fasting differently than in the Old? Why did people fast in the New Testament?
What are the two significant New Testament events following Pentecost in which fasting played a part? Why are they so important?
Reflection: Why do prayer and fasting take place together?
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