When You Fast (Matthew 6.16–18), Part 3


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What are the purposes of fasting?

First, as we saw yesterday fasting is connected with mourning, especially with mourning for sin. Second, as I hope to show you today, fasting is a way of seeking and clarifying God’s will for our lives. To see this, we need to look at Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4.1–11).

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

Notice four very important words: “led by the Spirit.” God never tempts us to do evil, but sometimes he allows us to go through seasons of temptation in order to make us stronger. In Greek, the words for “temptation” and “test” are the same. In a sense, all of life is a test that God wants us to pass and the devil wants us to fail. Through his Spirit, God gives us all the resources we need to pass the test. The question is: Are we prepared?

Second, notice that temptation attacks us where our identity and mission as the children of God intersect. Notice how the devil prefaces the first and third temptation: “If you are the Son of God….” The devil knew full well that Jesus was the Son of God. The temptations attempted to distort Jesus’ identity and pull him off mission. The first temptation, turning stones into bread, attempted to do so by getting Jesus to use his power for selfish ends. The second, bowing down to the devil, attempted to do so by getting Jesus to use the wrong means (worship of Satan) to accomplish the right end (the obedience of the kingdoms of the world; on which, see Matthew 28:18-20 and Philippians 2:9-11). The third, leaping off the precipice of the Temple, attempted to do so by forcing God to rescue Jesus from the consequences of a reckless choice. In each case, Jesus clarified the meaning of his divine sonship and staid faithful to his divine calling. The question is: When we are tempted, do we remember that we are the sons and daughters of God and act accordingly?

Third, notice that Jesus sought God’s will for his life in Scripture. “Man does not live on bread alone” comes from Deuteronomy 8:3. Deuteronomy 6:13 is the source of “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” And “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:16. All these passages come from the period when Israel wandered in the wilderness following its Exodus from Egypt. During that time, the Israelites were tempted greatly and chose to fail often. Jesus, however, read Scripture and learned the right lesson from Israel’s wrong example. He succeeded where they failed by leaning wholeheartedly on the wisdom of God the Father. The question is: Do we know what God has said, and do we heed his words?

Together with prayer and knowledge of Scripture, fasting helps us to seek and clarify God’s will for our lives, just as it helped Jesus.

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