Friday, June 1, 2018

Fasting and Feasting

"Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?” (Luke 5:34).

After Matthew had become Jesus’ disciple, he threw a feast for all his tax collector friends in order to introduce Jesus to them. The Pharisees were very offended that Jesus would attend this feast. One of the objections they threw at Him was this, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking” (Luke 5:33).

Jesus answered that while He was with them, His disciples could only feast. “But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “Look, you’ve been fasting for hundreds of years waiting for the Messiah, the Heavenly Bridegroom, to appear. Here I am. So this is not the time to fast. But soon I shall leave, and then once again there will be a reason to fast.”

What about fasting? In the biblical world, fasting was an important religious exercise. When God instituted the annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in Leviticus 16, He commanded all of Israel to fast during that day. Fasting was also practiced in times of mourning, as well as in times of national calamity. Additionally, a person would enter into a fast to show personal repentance.

During the centuries immediately before Christ, however, fasting turned into an external ritual (Zechariah 7). Ideas developed that a person could accrue merit in the sight of God by practicing fasting. Instead of doing it as a spiritual discipline, it became a perverse kind of piety by which people hoped to earn favor with God. Some of the Jews and Pharisees made a big outward show of fasting, and Jesus repudiated this kind of showy fasting. But Jesus never repudiated the value of voluntary fasting as a spiritual discipline, as a devotional expression. In fact, He stated that after He ascended into heaven, the church would practice fasting as she awaited His return.

The church fathers forbid fasting on the Lord’s Day, because in worship we meet with our Heavenly Bridegroom, but the church has always encouraged the discipline of fasting at other times. If you do not know how to fast, talk with your pastor and learn about this spiritual discipline.