Thursday, December 29, 2016

Two mites


"And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” (Luke 21:1-4)

As I was studying this passage I read several commentaries and one thing was noted more than once.  God does not measure the gift by its value in reference to what others have given, or even what its value in society is monetarily. But rather, God measures the gift by what was held onto - what remains in the givers possession.  I don't necessarily disagree... but there is a matter overlooked which is of great importance, the faith which the woman had.  She knew her Lord would supply her need (Phil. 4:19) since she was a widow and had had experience with God, He always provides for His own.

...for these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God… (vs. 4a)

How we give is very important.  Are we with open hand or closed fist?  Is our giving generous or do we hold back when we could give?  Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, was an open handed giver.  Yet no matter open or closed our hand - we must be thoughtful in our giving.

I say thoughtful because to fulfill Paul's request that no collection be made when he arrived in Corinth (1 Cor. 16:1-2) required thoughtful and planned giving.  Bob Pierce was not a thoughtful giver, though he was very generous.  He once took a wad of money from his wife, which was for the rent and gave the whole amount in a certain Church service. 

Yet that generosity violated another principle, taught in 1 Tim. 5:8, "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

Bob Pierce's family suffered much due to his generosity in part.  This is a presuming upon God. (His story is told in Days of Glory, Seasons of Night.)

In our text the widow who put in all that she had couldn't violate this principle, since she was a widow.  She had God alone to provide for her.  James tells us, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." (Jam. 1:27)

This woman was better the recipient of offerings than the offeror!

Finally, we ought to be cheerful in our giving.  Paul tells us this in 1 Cor. 9:6-7:
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.


Lord help us, to be cheerful, generous, and thoughtful as we give, that you be seen to be the truly generous and gracious God you are, before all men!

Amen.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Counted Worthy?


But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Luke 20:35-36)


In verse 35 we read “But those who are counted worthy…”
 
‘counted worthy’ is  translated from the Greek καταξιόω and is a conjunction of two Greek words:

κατά - Preposition that intensifies;

αξιος - worthy.


It means essentially, to deem entirely worthy - not simply to indicate a worthy one.  But one who is exceptionally or especially worthy of that which is discussed.

But who is worthy to attain eternal life? None!  There are none who do good, no not one. 

And this verse seems to indicate not only are there some, but that whomever they are - they are exceptionally worthy!  There is no explanation except in the blood of the blessed One. 

 
Paul explains in Romans 4 about this.  It’s called imputation.  I like the way the ESV translates the verses,

That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Rom. 4:22-25)

 
When Christ was on the cross, one of the two entirely unworthy thieves called to him, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This man was not worthy.  In fact, one could argue he was most UN-worthy!  Yet Christ’s response, “Today you will be with me in paradise” tells us what happened.  The thief placed the whole of his hope upon the One who alone is worthy - even exceptionally worthy to attain eternal life. 

Paul explains this plainly in Philippians 3:7-11.  He tells us it is by knowing the Lord through faith in Christ that we get His righteousness.

That I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:8-11)


Oh! That all my children and loved ones desired Christ like this! - Indeed, would that I loved my Lord all the more!
Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Messiah for Everyone

(This message was preached at Heritage Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 12-7-16: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=127162156536 
THESIS: To explain the parable and what are both the warnings and the blessings to us as Christians.

18 And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not? 19 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.  21 No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. 22 And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.

Luke’s account of this parable concludes, “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better. (Luke 5:39) We’ll be focusing on verse 21-22.  As a young man I recall reading and re-reading it, in different translations…mulling it over and thinking that I am in deep water – and theologically I wasn’t ready for the deep side of the pool!  As far as that goes, I am not claiming that I have mastered the depths, but let’s together explore the mysteries of our God.

From the outset, consider that this parable is comparing old and new.  How they are different and what that means to us is what we will be exploring.  My goal for you tonight is to explain the parable and what are both the warnings and the blessings to us as Christians.

There are two comparisons made – old and new cloth, and old and new wine.  In both comparisons Christ makes the statement that no one does the thing.  No one sews new cloth to old cloth – no one puts new wine in old bottles. No one does these things.  Why?  It’s self-explanatory – the loss of the garment or the wine. 

I don’t think I need to long get into the particulars of how the loss occurs, except to say torn clothes and broken bottles are pretty useless.  For the sake of the younger among us, the phrase bottles might better be rendered wineskins.  You might even think of a leather water canteen…  After a while the leather gets stiff and loses its pliability.  As wine ferments it needs room for the fermentation process to occur – as gasses build up.   So an old leather pouch – a wineskin, has no pliability to allow for the fermentation to continue, and the pouch bursts.  The same with clothing.  A new shirt, unshrunk may fit nicely, until it’s washed.  But how many of us have lost a perfectly fitted shirt to the first wash in the machine!  You have to plan for that and buy a larger than normal shirt.  Thankfully most material is pre-shrunk, before the sewing process these days.

As I was preparing for this message I read many commentaries.  I looked up many cross-references.  My thought at the first was that the new wine and the new cloth was the Church, and the old Israel.  This troubled me, since it meant even more study.  How Israel and the Church relate is not a small theological matter.  Men with longer and greyer beards than I, have long studied it. Terms such as dispensationalism, and replacement theology are quickly tossed around like theological bombs. And there are distinctions between Israel and the Church. What our job is today is not to settle the disputes – but to grasp Christs’ teaching in this parable.  If we limit ourselves to this goal, we should be able to look for warnings and blessings and leave tonight more blessed than we arrived.

There are 3 main interpretations of the parable in no particular order:

            1. Israel replaced by the Church.

            2. The Legalistic Judaism vs. Grace in Christ. (also a variation, the Mosaic Law vs. Grace.)

            3. The forms and shadows of the Old Testament being fulfilled in the realities in the New Testament.


Providentially I have been working my way through Luke in my personal quiet time and arrived at Luke 20:9-19.  This is another parable which informs us as to the one in Mark we are studying.  Please follow along,

9 Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.10 And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. 11 And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. 12 And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. 13 Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. 14 But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. 15 So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? 16 He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.

17 And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?18 Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. 19 And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them.

This parable – One can hardly call a parable, in the sense that it is also a prophecy of sorts is simply fascinating!  We read here in verse 16 that the vineyard owner will, as a result of the death of his son, give the vineyard to others!  We know plainly that the chief priests and the scribes recognized that it was they who would lose the vineyard, since they replied, “God forbid!”. Amazingly, their hearts that were so dead, that though they realized it was them to whom the parabolic prophecy was directed, they still the same hour sought to lay hands on Him!  Talk about blind leading the blind!

But is this parable speaking to the truth we are trying to get at in Mark 2?  I want to say no, it is not simply the fact that at some level Christ is taking the vineyard away.  Yes, there is a truth in the parable, which applies to our text – but not simply.  Yes, clearly the Jews have lost something.  And clearly the Church is a new body.  But is it really that simple?  I say no it is not. 

A great many of the commentaries I reviewed seemed to make the old out to be the Mosaic Law.  This I reject outright.  Christ himself stated categorically in Matthew 5:18, “til heaven and earth pass one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, until all is fulfilled.”  Some writers went so far as suggesting Christ was bringing in a new salvation!  This is plain bald faced heresy. 

I believe the answer is primarily found in the 3rd of the 3 main interpretations. The forms and shadows of the Old Testament are being fulfilled in the realities in the New.  To illustrate this, let’s travel back to the garden and consider God’s response to Adam’s sin.  In Genesis 3:15 we read of a seed who would crush the serpent’s head.  As early as Cain – some theologians have thought that Eve’s comment in Gen 4:1, “I have gotten a man from the Lord” was a confession of her belief that perhaps even Cain was the seed?! 

We know how wrong that was in Cain’s murder of Abel.  Yet God’s plan cannot be thwarted by Cain.  He simply blesses Eve with Seth. This promise can be traced right through the Scriptures and it’s a most beautiful exercise to do so.  Even when the sons of God chose daughters of men as wives, and it looked as if all hope was to be lost, Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  All through the redemptive history we see a golden thread of hope found. 

In Gen. 12:3b we read God’s promise to Abraham, “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Later in Gen. 25:23 we read of how two nations were in Rebecca’s womb.  The war between darkness and light was even being waged in her body! 

And here we are, in the Christmas season, to remember the birth of our Saviour, the Seed who crushed the head of the serpent.  We read in Galatians 4:4 that “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.”  The birth of our Saviour was not to be thwarted by Herod – though he slay thousands of innocent baby boys.  An act which was prefigured historically by Pharaoh in respect of Moses.  God will deliver his people!

And who are these people?  Is Enoch, who walked with God to be discounted? What about Shem – He wasn’t Jewish – but his line was the blessed line.  And though Job was probably contemporary with Abraham, he looked for a Saviour, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; 26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, 27 Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27) Job wasn’t Jewish – but he had his hope in a Saviour – a seed to come.

Surely God’s promise to Abraham is not to be lost.  Yet even in that promise, we see there were those who were called Israel who were not counted among the physical seed.  Think of Rahab the Harlot and Ruth the Moabite through whom David derived.  Are they not Israel because they were not of the flesh of Abraham? And if we think of them, how about those who are truly of the flesh of Abraham, such as Ishmael – Is he among the blessed? Why not?  Because in Isaac your seed shall be called. (Gen 21:12) And Esau, who despised his birthright was nevertheless a physical descendant.  Yet God does have a people.  His chosen ones.  Think about how God contended with Moses after the sin of the people with the Golden calf.  We read in Exo. 32, “And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people!  10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” (Ex. 32:9-10) Both Jesus and John the Baptist reference this.  John says, “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”  In the triumphal entry Christ tells them, “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40b)

Let’s look again at the passage in Galatians 4, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”  You see here I added verse 5.  There is a redemption and an adoption.  Adoption indicates a familial identification.  Adopted children take on the surname of their father.  They get to take part in the inheritance.  And inheritances are never earned.  They are granted for no other reason than the pleasure of the testator. 

Think about how Christ spoke to Nicodemas, a ruler of the Jews, a teacher of Israel.  This man should have been looking for the consolation of Israel – the Messiah, like old Simeon.  This man was a righteous man if ever there was one, yet he did not understand that you must be born again! Turn to the next chapter and we see Christ speaking to an utterly sinful woman of a despised cross-bread people in Samaria!  And what did this woman say? “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” She was looking, just as was Nicodemas for the Messiah, the seed to come.  He spoke of himself, the Messiah, to them both.  And who else was looking for Messiah?  Nearly 2 years after his birth, the wise men of the east came saying, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  These men, Gentiles by definition, were looking for the salvation come from Israel!

So when you think of Messiah in the Scriptures, I want you to think of him as the Messiah for all mankind.  The Jewish nation was the chosen vessel to deliver Him to the world. Old Simeon said He was the light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of his people Israel.  Listen to how Peter describes it, “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you,  11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.  12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaventhings which angels desire to look into.” (1 Pet. 1:10-12)

The question of how the Church and Israel are related is tied directly to his office as Messiah.  Since the Messiah is not for the Jews alone, but for all people we ought to see evidence of it in Christ’s ministry.  We do as I have been showing, and here is another reference, we read in John 10, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”  (John 10:16)

Peter tells us this, “9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Pet. 2:9)

This is not to say that the old wineskin is of no further use to the Lord.  But the purpose for which she existed has by and large been fulfilled in the delivery of Messiah.  However, we cannot overlook what Paul tells us in Romans 11 that God is not yet through with Israel.  Listen to Rom. 11:25-28 , “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. 26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. 28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes.”

And while we can perhaps debate how he will again use them, or if there is another interpretation to consider, it is clear in that passage that we Gentiles have to realize that branches grafted in can be removed just as easily.  This is the warning to us. If we were grafted in due to branches broken off – certainly we ought to hold our stewardship in a reverent manner.  Peter also reminds us to be Holy as I am Holy.   Some of you may be familiar with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  There is a theme in the book where the city of Gondor has a steward.  This steward received his stewardship from his father who had received it from his on down the line.  Once the King returned, he was to relinquish his stewardship.  In the book the steward goes mad rather than return the city to the King.  Tolkien was really just borrowing from the Scriptures when he wrote.  The Jewish nation was a chosen race – they were to deliver the Messiah.  To the Jews were committed the oracles of God.  They were to bring in a light to lighten the gentiles.  Peter states that we are also a chosen nation.  The message of the Old Testament was. “He’s coming!”

We live in New Testament times. So what is our stewardship?  Among our many responsibilities is to honor and obey the Word – living as a holy people should.  But we are also to spread the word of this Messiah!  We are to make disciples, teaching them to obey all our Lord has commanded.  Paul tells us that, “Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” in 2 Thessalonians.

Brothers & sisters – let’s not fall into the same trap as the Pharisees – protecting our stewardship from impurity by adding to it our own wood, hay, and stubble!  Our works will never be a substitute for the pure unadulterated word of God. 

Why did the Pharisees ask the Lord about fasting?  They did so because they had added to the commandment of the Lord.  The only prescribed fast in the Scripture was found in Lev. 23:26, the Day of Atonement, an annual fast.  But the Pharisees would fast on Monday and Thursday as a matter of course.  Adding to the command – they put heavy burdens upon men. 

Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 8, “Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.  12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Heb. 8:7-13

Quoting Jeremiah the writer of Hebrews tells us that the reason the new covenant was brought in, was “because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them” according to the Lord.  Who know brothers and sisters?  Perhaps because we are not working to obey the great commission – our stewardship – our place will be broken off and Rom 11 will be fulfilled. 

We can debate all the day about the eschatological, but the fact of the matter is at least this – we’ve been given a great blessing in the stewardship of evangelism, teaching them to observe all that He has commanded us.  We’ve been given the promise that He’ll be with us always – to the end of the age – at which time we should be looking for Him, our redemption!

Until then – we must not sleep!  Wake up! Do the work of an evangelist!  Spread the Word!  The message of the New Testament is twofold – He came, and he is coming again to judge the living and the dead.  Let’s prepare those living so that if He comes while we are at work, we are all prepared.  If He tarry, we prepare those to meet him after death.  Let’s be sure that for our part – we faithfully work, acting on the stewardship given so that we may be told, “Well done you good faithful servant!”

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away - Blessed be the name of the Lord!


For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.’ (Luke 19:26)

This is a most interesting statement it is found in the gospels in many places twice in Matthew (Matt. 13:12, 25:29) once in Mark 4:25 and twice in Luke (today’s verse and Luke 8:18). It also seems that it is given in the context of teaching and in the context of our passage – Ten servants were given a mina each. So this is directly speaks of what one has and what may be given.

Do you have? You will be given.
Did anyone have a mina before it was given him? No.
And from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.’

Could the understanding of this proverb be as simple as using that gift you have been given to gain more for the kingdom?
How is one found in the Kingdom? He is granted eternal life in Christ Jesus his Lord; therefore the understanding is that you were given Christ.
You now are responsible to see some be given the same grace – Christ – and thereby bring souls into the kingdom.
And when the king returns – you give him the souls whom Christ gave you to begin with. (Psa. 29:2)

Of course this is a spiritual work, so analysis of this type is sure to be faulty at some point. Yet the basic premise is true.  The one who buried the mina, is the one who is called wicked. No matter how halting our presentation of the Gospel is – it is bound to produce fruit – just as seed spread poorly is bound to sprout up and some will come to fruition.

We do have a responsibility to seek and present the Gospel wherever we find ourselves. God will, at his pleasure, give the increase. (1 Cor. 3:6-8) And God is also the one to whom we answer. In the passage before us we read verses 24 and 25,

And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’  25 (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’)

Those standing by the wrong in their judgement. They assumed that their master was like themselves. (Psa 50:21) God alone determines the amount and proper distribution of minas.

After all – was the increase of his minas from 1 to 10 the product of his effort? Not at all! Though he was responsible to trade and do business – the increase is of the Lord. So, should he give great or meager increase is completely without relevance to the equation. What is relevant is whether the servant went out and traded. Did he obey the command to do business? The man who had only the one mina clearly did not. By his own testimony he wrapped it up and hid it. (I will not get into the fatalism of this servant here – I have addressed that in many posts over the years, http://mysoapbox2.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-fatal-choice.html and http://mysoapbox2.blogspot.com/2013/05/did-you-think-to-pray.html )

Verse 27, ‘But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’

Such a statement is bold and may seem over-the-top in our day. Yet, just as the unprofitable servant was a liar lost even what he thought he had, so these men – who openly declared their spite for the king – are deserving of this end.

It is the nature of a kingdom, that all who live within the realm swear faithfulness (fealty) to the king. The kingdom of God is not all that different except that our King is wholly righteous, perfect, powerful, and good, so swearing faithfulness is really a no-brainer!

May the Lord grant us to see the work is for us, and the increase is to Him!

And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

Amen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

True Spiritual Fasting

(This message was preached at Heritage Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 11-2-16: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?sermonID=112162048515

THESIS: To give us a Scriptural understanding of fasting, and how it is a benefit to our lives as Christians.

18 And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?  19 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  20 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. 

Here we have a question posed to our Lord about a practice that is not so well understood today.  Back in the early 90’s I recall a Christian ministry which promoted a formal 40 day fast.  I remember thinking – 40 Days!  I could never do that.  Yet this ministry did present the question to me.  What is fasting? Should Christians do so today?  What is the reason to do it?  If you do a google search on it there are literally 12 million results!  Of course it is popular today to consider it in a medical or physiological manner – but the question before us is not physical, it is a highly spiritual one.  My goal is to give us a Scriptural understanding of fasting, and having done that, determine if and when it is right for us to do so. 

There are about 76 verses, or better – 40 passages in the whole Bible which explicitly refer to fasting.  Pretty slim pickings if you ask me. Less than ¼ of 1 percent of the Bible directly uses one of the 4 biblical words for fasting. Further – explicit teaching on fasting occurs in only 2 places.  That’s simply amazing folks!  If you were to listen to the spiritual gurus of the day – one might think there are whole books in the Bible given over to it.  Nothing in the Law of Moses speaks explicitly to fasting – but there is allusion to it in Leviticus and Numbers.  And the 2 places we do have explicit teaching are not all that well rounded or full.

What do we read?  In our passage today in Mark (and its parallels) Christ is responding to a question.  In the answer we learn only this, that it is assumed as a normal action for a disciple, and that we will do it (when the Lord is not here).  Nothing to tell us why or how or what.  In the Sermon on the Mount we read the only significant instruction on fasting which is explicit in nature. Matt 6:16-19 says, “Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.[1] 

We do not learn why we fast in this verse – only that our motivation should be heavenly – to please the Lord.  We do not fast to gain a reward from men – or if we do, we should not expect anything of the Lord in respect of our effort.  We also learn that there is an apparent reward.  But what is that reward?  We are not plainly told here. 

The other explicit teaching is found in 1 Corinthians where Paul is instructing husbands and wives. “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control[2] Here we get just one small bit of positive instruction – we ought to give ourselves to fasting and prayer on occasion.  We are again not given a reason to do so. 

We have to answer the question of what it is, and why we do it, from examples throughout Scripture.  First of all, Fasting is tied to prayer and humility, and seems to be oriented toward a specified goal.  There are many examples of this.  We see this in Psa. 35:13, 69:10; Neh. 1:4, 9:1; Est. 4:3, 16; Dan 9:3; Jonah 3:5-10; and Luke 2:37.  Psalm 35:13 reads, “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; And my prayer returned into mine own bosom.”[3] Oftentimes we read of the affliction of soul and body in the Scripture.  The Jews seemed to associate fasting with affliction, and especially, the Day of Atonement.  We read in Lev. 16:29, “And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you[4] But you say it never says fasting in that verse.  That’s true, but later in Acts 27:9 a reference to ‘the Fast’ is used to reference the season of year it was – when Paul and his sailing companions were shipwrecked.  Clearly we are to see the Jews made affliction of soul equivalent to fasting. 

The account of David in 2 Samuel 12 is one of the better examples of fasting and its use in the Bible.  Please turn to 2 Samuel 12:15,

And Nathan departed unto his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.  16 David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.  17 And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.  18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?  19 But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead.  20 Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.  21 Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.  22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?  23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

What do we learn from David’s actions and explanation?  First of all, his fasting was directly related to his petition, we read that he besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.  Note his posture – he was laid out on the earth. This is a position of humility.  David did not lay down upon his bed.  Have you ever laid down on the floor – even if it is carpeted, it is not so comfortable? 

Secondly – notice that the elders of the house were not told of his fasting.  They went in to arouse him from apparent sleep, but he wouldn’t come.  That’s how they discovered he was fasting.  And he did this for 7 days!  The whole time that his child was still alive – David ate nothing, but brought himself low before the earth and prayed.  When the child died – they feared to tell him, because they didn’t understand the nature of his fast.  Listen to this in verse 18b, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? They assumed the worst! Maybe David would take his own life?!  They did not grasp the purpose for David’s fast. 

Our 3rd lesson is just that, David had a very specific purpose in his fast, and we have the record of that purpose in the account before us.  Hear David’s words, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?  23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” His purpose was that the child might live.  And since the child did not live we learn a further lesson – our fasting is not a guarantee that we will get what we desire!  And David’s response was not a fatalistic one.  He still honored God.  The fact that he did not respond in a negative manner proves this.  He washed his face, anointed himself and worshipped God!  Then he ate. 

Turn to Isaiah 58 and we will hear from the Lord what he thinks of hypocritical fasting.  From verses 2 through 7 we read specifically of God’s opinion on Israel’s fasting.  Please let me read this from the ESV,

Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.

Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.

Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?

Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness,

to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”[5]

What we just heard is very important.  We see that fasting, as a practice, with no desire to do right, avails us nothing.  Verse 3 is extremely presumptive, don’t you think?  ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Beloved – do you see how quickly we can revert to a works based righteousness?!  The people did fast.  They did afflict and humble themselves – God never questions the act itself.  What He does, is question the heart behind the affliction.  These people were not a people who did righteousness and turned away the judgment of their God.  Instead, they aroused it against them! 

We read of a similar account in Zec 7:5 – God calling out the people for letting their fasts become meaningless and meritorious for 70 years! 

Humility is hard work.  Not only is the physical act of withholding food physically weakening – the act of spiritually rehearsing your sin and the sin of those in your charge is wearying.  Pleading before the King is not a small matter. But that is exact place He wants you to be! Remember how Esther approached the King? To our view, it might appear presumptive to approach the throne-room uninvited.  Yet she did prepare.  We read in Esther 4:16, “Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish!”[6]

Real humility recognizes the place of men before a sovereign God.  Are you prepared to sacrifice like this – humbling yourself before a God who may turn away from your request?  David did.  He looked to this God – One who owed him nothing, and trusted that perhaps He would hear his prayer.  And when God’s answer was in the negative, he did not question God like the people in Isa. 58 did. 

I think the reason David’s response was so good, was he was under the conviction even yet, for his sin.  It was less than a year since the evil had passed between him and Bathsheba. 

When Daniel prayed in Daniel chapter 9:3 we read that his prayer was with sackcloth and ashes and fasting.  In Daniel 10:2 we read that he had went three weeks without pleasant food, wine or meat and was in mourning. Later in verse 12 – 13a we read that his effort was indeed rewarded: “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days…[7]

We ought never think that our effort – even extreme effort – is of some meritorious nature.  But done rightly, that is to say, in secret, with the glory of the Lord in high regard, it does indeed please our Lord.  The question is, are you seeking the Lord’s will, or seeking to impose upon Him, your will?

We read of another angelic report in Acts 10:30. Listen to the angel speaking to Cornelius, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.”[8] Have you thought about how your prayers are a sweet smelling savor to the Lord?  Perhaps if we kept that mindset, when we pray, we might actually pray with a greater fervency!

Also fasting is a sanctifying grace.  Listen to Joel 2:12-16,

Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:

13and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.

14Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the Lord your God?

15Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly:

16gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.” 

Verse 13 tells us to rend our hearts and isn’t this a sanctifying act?  We should keep our hearts tender toward the Lord, and one way to do it is by the humbling of fasting before our God.

Many of your know that I attend a weekday Bible study and a few weeks ago a brother in the Lord, Carlos, gave testimony of God’s goodness to him in helping his family through a great crisis with his newborn daughter.  And he had brought the wife and baby, as well as his mother along to do so.  Carlos is a relatively new believer, and he is growing like crazy.  Such testimony is always a great thing for us to hear.  But I enjoyed the testimony of his mother and how she prayed for him for 13 years, during his rebellion. 

A couple weeks later I went over to him to tell him how much I appreciated his mother’s testimony, and he told me that she set aside Wednesday as a day of fasting for her son’s sake.  And that it was very hard.  He told me that in the beginning she would fast, and those were often the very days he would be arrested, or have some other crisis occur.  Yet she persisted, and he is very thankful today for this persistent mother. 

Did you notice how she never told any of us that she had fasted those 13 years? We were told only that she prayed for him. I only found out through Carlos later.  This is a true act of Spiritual fasting, and I contend, look at my brother Carlos, who is here today because of the grace of God in that work.

So let’s consider the question given to the Lord on why his disciples did not fast.  The Pharisee’s did it and taught their disciples to do so.  John and his disciples did it.  So what does Christ mean when he tells us that while the bridegroom was with them they could not fast?  The simple answer is that He – being the bridegroom – was in their presence.  And he did end up leaving them, for the 3 days in the ground.  They certainly mourned and fasted and grieved like no other time!  But how does this instruct us today?  Is our Lord, being in the throne-room of God no longer with us – and therefore we should fast?  Well that is a bit of a trick question!  Of course our Lord is with us, through the Word and through the Spirit, but we really ought to avail ourselves of prayer and fasting.  The Book of Acts has the most New Testament accounts of fasting and that by itself is instructive since we are New Testament believers.

I’d like to address the one significant theological matter.  We’ve looked at what the explicit commands regarding fasting are in Matt. 6:16-18, and 1 Cor. 7:5.  We are to give ourselves to fasting at times, and that we really ought to keep this a matter of privacy.  And this secrecy isn’t simply because our Lord said so.  That would be enough – but I want to give you some further reasons to fast, and to do so in secret.

When Christ answered the question posed, he did so, by referencing the Bridegroom – i.e. himself.  But this begs the question, who is the bride?  And we all in this congregation know immediately that it is the church.  We are the bride of Christ, and we ought to be keeping our lamps full of oil, in preparation for his return.  And serious matters between husband and wife ought to be handled in secret.  Not only that – but it ought to be the case that we do give ourselves to prayer and fasting since that is one significant way we can be close to our husband. 

But brethren – how does fasting impact our relation to the Lord? 

I’d like to bring one further historical case before you – the case of Hannah and Elkanah in 1 Sam. 1:4-19.  We don’t really have time to read the entire matter – but let me paraphrase the backdrop.  Elkanah had 2 wives – Peninnah & Hannah.  Elkanah made yearly trips to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord, and because he favored Hannah, he gave her a double portion of the offering which he brought for sacrifice – he did this even though Hannah was barren and Peninnah had both sons & daughters.  So – as you might imagine Peninnah was jealous.  We’ll pick up the account in verse 7, “And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she (Peninnah) provoked her (Hannah); therefore she wept, and did not eat.”[9] Jump to verse 10, “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.”[10] Finally to verse 17, “Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him. 18 And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.  19 And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her.”[11]  In this account we see affliction of soul – but we also see a trust in the answer – we are told that BEFORE she knew if the answer was positive she was no longer sad.  She worshipped the Lord (v. 19).  Folks, it takes a special kind of relationship with the Lord to no longer be sad – even though the answer had not yet been disclosed.  The kind of relationship between a husband and wife.  Do you have a confidence that the Lord really DOES have your best interests and those of your loved ones, in mind?

When the woman of Samaria was confronted by Christ she tried to deflect her sin by bringing up the question of the place of true worship.  The place is not the central matter according to Christ – but rather the manner of approach.  We read in John 4, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.[12] 

True worship of God, spiritual worship of God, may sometime require fasting.  Such affliction demonstrates to yourself (not the Lord – he knows already) that you really are serious about the matter you have before you.  It also testifies in heaven before the angels of God (and the demons) that God is worthy.  Which by the way, is one of the definitions of worship – the worthiness of our God.  Are you willing to bring the matter before the Lord – in secret – that the Father may be glorified and will you be willing to accept even a negative answer – despite the affliction of soul you put yourself under?  This is evident love for God which the world does not understand. 

Folks – we are not given an explicit command to fast on a regular basis – but we are told we ought to give ourselves to it, should a serious matter arise.  What are matters serious enough to fast?  I will leave that to you – Hanna did so for a child, so did King David.  Perhaps the salvation of a loved one, as my brother Carlos’ mother thought. 

Are you troubled about some matter?  Bring it before the King!  Are we not told that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose?[13]  Trust the promise because it is given upon the ground of a loving relationship with an all-powerful, all loving God who cares for your soul.  Be willing to afflict yourselves when serious matters arise – that He might have the glory – and perchance, as David reasoned, he might hear and grant your petition – because he is so good!

Next time I preach Lord willing we’ll take up the matter of new cloth and new wine.

Amen




[1] The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized English Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1873), Mt 6:16–18.
[2] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Co 7:5.
[3] The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized English Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1873), Ps 35:13.
[4] The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized English Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1873), Le 16:29.
[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Is 58:2–7.
[6] The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized English Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1873), Es 4:16.
[7] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Da 10:12–13.
[8] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ac 10:30.
 
[9] The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized English Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1873), 1 Sa 1:7.
[10] The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized English Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1873), 1 Sa 1:10.
[11] The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized English Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1873), 1 Sa 1:17–20.
[12] The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized English Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1873), Jn 4:23–24.
[13] The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized English Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1873), Ro 8:28.

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