Is Fasting for Today? A Paradigm Shift on Fasting from Matthew 9:14-17

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May 26, 2021

s fasting for today?

The Scriptures say this in Matthew chapter 9:

"Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, 'Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?'"

Among 1st-century Jews and the public during that time, fasting was a mark of piety. Even John's disciples agreed in part with the Pharisees on the question of fasting. Jesus' disciples were also aware of the importance of fasting, knowing how it could posture someone to the things of God.

So why were Jesus and His disciples feasting?

"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 will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.'" 

In this wedding illustration between Him and the Church, Jesus teaches that the time to fast is directly connected to the bridegroom's presence. Jesus' disciples were not fasting because they knew something John's disciples had not fully grasped: that Jesus, the Word made flesh, was among them.

In this verse, Jesus also reveals that the true purpose of fasting is a deep longing for Him and His presence. Fasting, by physically humbling oneself, is a spiritual discipline born out of a desire for the very presence of God. Because of this, Jesus' disciples had no reason to mourn or fast when the Messiah Himself was among them. 

But what happens when the bridegroom is violently taken away? What happens when He is betrayed, arrested, denied by one of His closest friends, mocked, beaten, tortured, and crucified on a cross on the hills of Calvary? Indeed, it was a time to mourn. Yet, He rose from the dead on the third day.

Does this mean we no longer need to fast?

"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. 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."

Just as pouring new wine into old wineskins is foolish because the wineskins will burst and ruin the new wine, so is fasting when it is a time for rejoicing. Likewise, it is inappropriate when the guests of the bridegroom are rejoicing and feasting at the wedding without the bridegroom present.

In these metaphors, Jesus is making the point that there are both appropriate and inappropriate times for fasting. For the Church today, the discipline of fasting is a physical expression of spiritual hunger for the presence of our King. Even though we have the Holy Spirit, Jesus Himself now resides at the right hand of God until the Second Coming. In this passage in Matthew 9, we find that there will come a time when the people of God will fast because Jesus is not with them in the flesh. That time is now.

We often are told that in comparison to eternity, our lives here on earth are short. For all eternity, we will be in the physical presence of Jesus. The guests of the bridegroom will have no reason to mourn or fast in that time.

Therefore, Christ's followers' only opportunity for all eternity to fast is when they are still walking on the earth.

Fasting is not a form of bodily mutilation or asceticism. When practiced with a pure heart, humility, and obedience, fasting leads to great devotion of time and prayer in longing for the presence of God. This passage in Matthew 9 is an invitation to fast in our day. Christians ought to heed this invitation with pure and humble hearts to satisfy our natural and holy desire to be in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  

Will you fast?


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