Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins--and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins." (Mark 2:18-22)
PARALLEL PASSAGES: MATT. 9:14-17; LUKE 5:33-39
Do you fast? Why do you not fast? Fasting is the most neglected Christian practice among the evangelicals. May I prove – how many times have you fasted in your entire Christian life? How many times have you prayed? How much money have you given as offering? Yet when the Lord taught on the three areas in Matthew 6, He said:
“Thus, when you give to the needy, … But when you give to the needy, … So that your giving may be in secret. And your father when sees in secret will reward you.” (6:2-4)
“… And when you pray… But when you pray, … go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who sees in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you… And when you pray. Do not … Pray then like this …” (6:5-9)
“… And when you fast, do not … But when you fast, that your fasting may not be seen by others but your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (6:16-18)
No true Christian has a problem when it comes to either giving to the needy – and so you have given so much to the needy, so many times that you cannot even start counting. At the same time, there no true Christian who does not pray… you have spent so much time in prayer, so many times that there has never been a day that has gone without prayer. However when it comes to fasting, many Christians think that it is for the religious fanatics who have unfounded zeal. Yet when the Lord talks about the three, it was all in the same breath! Many Christians have the wrong view of fasting. Listen to this:
“I’ve fasted on several occasions; and nothing happened. I just got hungry … several years ago I heard a couple of pastors discussing fasting. On their recommendation I tried my first fast. They said it was commanded in the Bible and should be practiced by every Christian. Being a Christian, I decided to try it. After putting it off for several days, I mustered up enough courage to start. I couldn’t go to the breakfast table with my family because I didn’t think I would have enough willpower to abstain from eating, so I went on to work. The coffee break was almost unbearable, and I told a little white lie about why I didn’t go with the group. All I could think about was how hungry I was. I said to myself, “If ever I get through this day, I’ll never try this again.” The afternoon was even worse. I tried to concentrate on my work, but I all I could hear was the growling of my stomach. My wife prepared a meal herself and our child, and the aroma of the food was all I could bear. I figured that if I could make it till midnight, I would have fasted all day. I did – but immediately after the striking of the hour of twelve, I dug into food. I don’t think that day of fasting helped me one bit.”
Let us consider this passage before us:
This is the question that faced Jesus and His disciples on this day. The disciples of John were fasting and coincidentally, the Pharisees were also fasting – that is they were fasting for different reasons. The Pharisees fasted often (Matt. 9:14) twice a week (Luke 18:12) – Mondays and Thursdays. We also know that John the Baptist tended to be ascetic from the sort of lifestyle he lived. Therefore, Matthew records that John’s disciples were somewhat offended that the disciples of Jesus did not fast while they fasted as taught by their late master. Even after the death of John, his disciples remained as a different entity, from the followers of Christ, although they related well as evidenced by Matthew 11:2-3 and 14: 12. But it appears here that they were fasting because their master had been killed (probably for God’s direction on the best way forward.
So they wanted to know why the disciples of Jesus did not fast. This question presupposes that they assumed that the three – Pharisees, the disciples of John and the disciples of Jesus, were in agreement as far as fasting was concerned. We will now consider the answer our Lord and Master gave:
In this passage the Lord is simply telling these inquisitors that there are times when it is not appropriate to fast. Therefore the disciples were not fasting. The disciples of Jesus were not fasting at this time because they were with the ‘bridegroom’. As long as they were in the celebration mood ‘they cannot fast!’ They were in a wedding and the feast was in the progress. Notice here then, being with Christ, was a joyful occasion. Being with Christ was equal to being in the banquet with Him. For this reason, how could they fast? In fact, it was inappropriate, improper for them to fast!
This means that fasting has to be done in the right time. When is the right time to fast? Why fast? This question can be addressed well if we ask,
What is fasting?
You notice that fasting is not a condition forced upon a person (2 Cor. 6:5, 11:27). But as it is used in this passage, it is a voluntary abstinence from food as a religious exercise and it is used in Scriptures is always combined with prayer. (1Sam.7:5, 6; 2Sam.12:16, 21-23, 2Chron.20:3,5ff, Ezra 8:21-23, Neh.1:4; 9:1ff, Isa.58:6, 9, Jer.14:12, Dan.9:3, Luke 2:37, Acts 13:2,3, 14:23).
What exactly happens when Christians fast?
Fasting is an expression of:
· Total dependence on the Lord (Acts 13:2,3)
· Sorrow for and in connection with confession of sin (Lev. 16:29-34, 23:26-32, Num.29:7-11, Deu.9:18, 1Kings 21:27, Neh.9:1ff, Dan.9:3)
· Mourning over something bad experienced like defeat (Judg.20:26)
· Arrival of bad news (Neh.1:4)
· A plague or pestilence (Joel 1:14, 2:12-15)
The manner of fasting by the Pharisees was particularly inappropriate because:
· Looked gloomy like the hypocrites, It was like they are being forced into it – it is not heartily, or with gladness and cheerfulness
· They disfigured their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. This is artificial fasting!
· Their fasted was man-centered rather God centered, so they got accolades from men instead of reward from God! (Mat 6:16)This fasting is addressed to men not to God
· They fasted simply because they wanted to observe the obsolete old covenant- Having rejected the mediator of the New Covenant; they remained obstinately in the Old to their own detriment!
· Their fasting was syncretic – mixing traditions of men (the Talmud) rather than depending on the grace of God so made the word of God of non effect! – they insisted on keeping the traditions of men rather than obeying God.
When is fasting inappropriate for Christians?
· When at a feasting with other Christians (because then you’ll need to expose that you are fasting.
· When sick, e.g. the diabetics, may be advised by the doctor not fast
· When expectant, nursing, or have a physical condition that depended on having a regular diet
In the Old Testament, sometimes a fast was ordered or observed to promote concentration on an important religious act or event, such as national repentance and in the New Testament, fasting was for such important matters in the church like the commissioning of missionaries (Acts 13: 2,3) or the appointment of elders.
When Jesus healed the boy with the unclean spirit and the disciples couldn't, they asked him privately why they couldn't cast the unclean spirit... His response is very remarkable. You can read from Mark 9:29: "And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting." Were they supposed to fast for them to cast out the unclean spirit? Yes! Did Jesus Himself fast to cast it out? There is no evidence that He fasted. But surely how could he lay that demand on the disciples when He didn't fulfill it Himself? The point is that there are things that need fervent and earnest prayer accompanied by fasting! We have to be willing to do that to show God the urgency of the matter we are facing. It is also to show God, our Father that we are in a dire need, and fasting then comes as an earnest and urgent distress call, showing our absolute dependence on Him.
What attitude should we have in approaching or while fasting?
· Fasting is not a show of how religious or holy you are. But it is an act of submission and humility in the sense of denying yourself food for the sake of prayer.
· You should not show people how pious you are by fasting (V. 16)
· It should be something between you and your God (V.18)
· Hypocrisy is not needed while fasting
· Fasting should be done in secret just like giving of alms (6:2-4)and prayer (6:5,6)
The Lord Jesus Expected His disciples to fast that is why he said in Matthew 6:16-17 – “And when you fast… But when you fast…” He gave instructions on what to do and what not to do when we fast, assuming that will indeed fast!
What is the purpose of fasting?[i]
1. To strengthen prayer: Fasting is never without prayer! So John Calvin said, “Whenever men pray to God concerning any great matter, it would be expedient to appoint fasting along with prayer. Please note that fasting is not hunger-strike to force God to do our will! Fasting could be considered an urgent note to the throne of grace to show our total earnest to God!
2. To seek God’s guidance: This is What the 11 tribes did when they were defeated by the Benjamenites two times regardless of their wickedness. See Judg. 20:28 when they sought God’s guidance with fasting, the Lord granted them their request! The church did the same when they were sending out Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:23)
3. To express grief: When King Saul tried to kill David, did Jonathan not grieve at his father’s shameful treatment of David? (1Sam. 20:34).When King Saul was killed, after the burial, they mourned and fasted ‘seven days’ (1Sam. 31:13).
4. To seek deliverance and protection: How did King Jehoshaphat respond when it was reported to him that a vast army was coming against Judah? – By proclaiming a fast, to seek help from the Lord (2Chron. 20:3-4). Esther called a fast of deliverance for the Israelites as well (Esther 4:16).
5. To express repentance and return to God: There are times when repentance is accompanied by fasting in order to show commitment to change and obey the Lord. The Lord specifically commanded His people to signify their repentance and their return to Him by fasting: Joel 2:12, the Ninevites did the same – Jonah 3:5-8
6. To humble oneself before God: Fasting when practiced with the right motive, is a show of humility, and a contrite spirit before God. How did king Ahab humble himself after all his wickedness? By fasting! (1King 21:27-29) David did the same (Ps. 35:13)
7. To express concern for the work of God: Out of concern for the disgrace of the city of Jerusalem, Nehemiah secretly fasted! (Neh. 1:3-4), Daniel did the same (9:3) (False teaching, troubles in the church, need for a pastor, a church, etc. could be a reason for us to pray.
8. To minister to the needs of others: Could you not skip a meal to feed or cloth the needy neighbor? When you fast use whatever could have been spent towards your meals to meet the needs of others! Read Isaiah 58:6-7
9. To overcome temptation and dedicate oneself to God: Jesus is the great example here. He fasted forty days and forty nights to overcome devil’s temptation and prepare for His public ministry (Mat. 4:1-11). Could be at the beginning of a job or promotion that comes with more challenges, ministry, school, change of career, marriage, etc.
10. To express love and worship to God: Fasting is an act of worship as well! Read of Anna in Luke 2:37, She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. She loved God more than food! There are those that the Bible says that their god is their belly, don’t be one of them!
v We cannot manipulate God with fasting! This is what many Charismatics believe that you PUSH – Pray Until Something Happens! Our fasting is not to change God – is to change us, just like prayer. Fasting is a scriptural means whereby we are melted into a more complete realization of the purposes of the Lord in our life, church, community, and nation.
v Confess and repent of fear of fasting now! It seems that many believers would rather give an offering than give up food for a day. Be careful not to have a problem called ‘fasting-phobia’! please do not shy away from the blessing of fasting!
v Will you fast as the Holy Spirit directs? Since Christ expects you to fast, then it means at some time His Spirit will direct you to fast. Do it in obedience. When you need a stronger prayer about an important matter in your life, then fast. when in big problems, or a persistent trouble, then fast. When a major decision is needed, then fast.
v Will you plan a fast of dedication now as an expression of your willingness to fast from now on? This will mark your willingness to discipline and commit yourself to obeying the Lord in this most excellent Christian discipline.
 Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian, p. 157, (A quotation from Andy Anderson, Fasting Changed my Life)
 Arthur Wallis, God’s Chosen Fast
 David Smith, Fasting A Neglected Discipline