Nepaug Bible Church - - Pastor's Prayer Meeting Lesson Notes -

Matthew: Jesus As Israel's Messiah And His Kingdom
Part XI: Christ As Israel's Messiah By His Surpassing Righteousness
M. The Biblically Consistent Righteousness Of Christ's Subjects Regarding Fasting
(Matthew 6:16-18 et al.)
  1. Introduction
    1. When Jesus said that one's righteousness had to exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees if he were to be a part of the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20), He had to clarify to His Hebrew listeners how that could be, for the Pharisees adhered to the principle of Halacha, "concern for every jot and tittle of performance" regarding the Mosaic Law, Zondervan Pictorial Ency. of the Bible, volume Four, p. 748.
    2. Matthew 5:21-7:6 provides many illustrations of Jesus' point, with Matthew 6:16-18 exampling how His kingdom righteousness on the subject of fasting far surpassed that of the Pharisees (as follows):
  2. The Biblically Consistent Righteousness Of Christ's Subjects Regarding Fasting, Matt. 6:16-18 et al.
    1. When Jesus mentioned fasting (Matthew 6:16a), he introduced a subject that creates a lot of questions for Christians today, for various Charismatic believers practice fasting, and many other Christians do not.
    2. In Scripture, "fasting always had a spiritual purpose and is never presented as having any value in and of itself," John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 1-7 : 1985, p. 400.
    3. Actually, "the only fast commanded in Scripture is the one connected with the Day of Atonement . . . [when] all the people were to humble [their] souls' (Lev. 16:29; cf. 23:27), a Hebrew expression that included forsaking food as an act of self-denial. That was a national fast, involving every man, woman, and child in Israel . . . (I)t occurred . . . one time a year . . . only as . . . part of the Day of Atonement," Ibid.
    4. Since the Christian is no longer under the Mosaic Law as to jurisdiction (Romans 7:4-6), he does not observe the Day of Atonement with its fast. Thus, God does NOT require Christians to fast today!
    5. However, the Hebrews added fasts, and "(m)any Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), usually on the second and fifth days of the week . . . (T)hose two days . . . happened to be major Jewish market days, when cities and towns were crowded . . . They were, therefore, the two days where public fasting would have the largest audiences" in which the Pharisees could impress onlookers. (Ibid., p. 401)
    6. There is actually nothing wrong before the Lord in fasting as a Christian: many Old Testament saints practiced it (Samuel, Hannah, David, Esther, Daniel) and Jesus, Paul, John, Anna and John the Baptizer in the New Testament fasted (Ibid., p. 400), but Jesus' concern was the way the Pharisees misused the practice to parade a false righteousness before others instead of using it righteously, Matthew 6:16-18:
      1. Jesus asserted that whenever His disciples fasted, they were not to be as the hypocritical Pharisees who fixed themselves up to look like they were "suffering" from hunger before the throngs they were trying to impress on their fast days (Matthew 6:16a), for such hypocrites had their reward, the approval of the human onlookers in the marketplace, Matthew 6:16b.
      2. Rather, whenever His disciples chose to fast, they were to present themselves before others in such a way that onlookers would not even know they were fasting, Matthew 6:17-18a.
      3. God in heaven would see the secret suffering of hunger (Matthew 6:18b) and, upon seeing it, would openly reward the believer for the godly motive behind it, Matthew 6:18c.
    7. For us today then, we have the following applications on the practice of fasting:
      1. Fasting is not a required practice, nor is it a means of improving our Christian walk, but, if we choose to fast, it is to be practiced as an expression of a heartfelt concern over some issue of "testing, trial or struggle" before the Lord as was practiced by believers throughout Scripture, Ibid., p. 402.
      2. If we choose to fast, it should not be practiced in a way that impresses onlookers and exalts ourselves, but expressed our private reliance upon God for His help, with the hunger of fasting being a symbol of human weakness and need before Him, and God will publicly honor our appeal according to His will.
Lesson: Fasting was required under the Law only for the Day of Atonement, but since we are not under the Law, we are not required to fast. However, if we DO fast, it should express a need for God's help, and be practiced in private, not for show before other people, that God may meet our heart's needs.

Application: If we choose to fast, may it be done in privacy and in humility before the Lord for His help.