Thursday, June 21, 2012

Jesus Expects His Followers to Fast

Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio
On Tuesday evening, after my teaching on biblical fasting, one of the attendees told me: "We never hear teaching like this in the church." I would agree. It's not a big crowd-gatherer. Yet I am delighted that 50-60 were at our gathering, with another 70-80 doing this online.

Jesus never commanded fasting, but it seems clear that he expected that his followers would fast. We see this in the contect of his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). Jesus tells the crowd of people, some of whom would be his disciples, "when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,  so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (6:17-18)

In Matthew 9:15 we read: "Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast."

Is it true that Jesus expects me, as one of his followers, to fast? If it is, then surely large numbers of Christians are not meeting this expectation. Many have never heard of it. Very few seem to understand it.

Richard Foster says this last verse "is perhaps the most important statement in the New Testament on whether or not Christians should fast today." (Celebration Of Discipline - 25th Anniversary Edition, p. 53). Foster writes: "Perhaps it is best to avoid the term “command” since in the strictest sense Jesus did not command fasting. But it is obvious that he proceeded on the principle that the children of the kingdom of God would fast. For the person longing for a more intimate walk with God, these statements of Jesus are drawing words." (Ib., 54)