Saturday, March 23, 2024

2024.03.23 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 6:16–18

 Read Matthew 6:16–18

Questions from the Scripture text: To what religious exercise does Matthew 6:16 now refer? Whom are they not to be like? What do the hypocrites do when they fast? For what purpose? What do they already have? Who is to be a contrast to them (Matthew 6:17)? What are they to do instead? In order to prevent what (Matthew 6:18)? Who is their target audience instead? Where is He? Where does He see? How will He reward them?  

What is Christian fasting? Matthew 6:16–18 prepares us for the morning sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these three verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that Christian fasting is a period of not eating in order to enjoy God as all of our delight and the One upon Whom we entirely depend.

Christians fast. Jesus assumes His disciples will fast (Matthew 6:16), even as on another occasion, He says plainly that they will do so (cf. Luke 5:33). A life without fasting isn’t a Christian life any more than a life without prayer (cf. Matthew 6:5-14) or a life without works of mercy (cf. Matthew 6:1-4). What is fasting? At the most basic level, it is abstaining from food. But, obviously, Christian fasting is more than that. Indeed, as the Lord Jesus is now teaching, it is more and better than any other nutritional or religious fasting.

Christians enjoy fasting. It is the hypocrites who fast with a sad face (Matthew 6:16). They even make their faces look artificially sad so that everyone can see how sad they are! They are like their spiritual fathers, in Isaiah 58, who thought the more miserable they were, the happier God should be (cf. Isaiah 58:3–5). This was a great mistake. Time set apart to God should be a joy, not a pain, as the conclusion to that chapter taught about the Sabbath (cf. Isaiah 58:11–14). It is true that fasting is joined to humiliation and repentance and great pleading with God, throughout Scripture.  But, as the Lord Jesus has been teaching us in this sermon, the proper complement to mourning and humiliation about ourselves is rejoicing and exultation over the Lord (cf. Matthew 5:3–8). 

Christians enjoy fasting for God (and God in their fasting). One reason that you might not know that mature Christians are fasting is that they don’t tell you about it! The Lord even directs extra care with our morning routine so that others will not know that we are in a mourning routine (Matthew 6:17)! Like works of mercy and prayer, our fasting is to be kept between us and the Lord. Our Father sees the secret place in the heart (Matthew 6:18). Here, it is most clear that this “secret” place is not necessarily the closet (though we do have Him there, when we sneak away to be alone with Him, cf. Matthew 6:6). For the Christian, the secret place is a place that he can take with him wherever he goes. It is the communion—the shared life—between his soul and his heavenly Father.

So Christian fasting is not just enjoying God more than food or needing God more than food. It is that—and more. Christian fasting is a fitting conclusion to this section of the sermon on the mount, because its essence is to find God as our great reward. It is enjoying God more than all created things and needing God more than life itself. It finds Him to be marrow and fatness for the soul (cf. Psalm 63:3–5)!

What are you most susceptible to enjoying more than (or apart from) the Lord? What are you susceptible to depending upon instead of Him? When have you fasted? When you do fast, what is your plan for keeping it between you and the Lord? What is your plan for enjoying Him in it? 

Sample prayer:  O God, You are our God; early we will seek You. Our souls thirst for You; our flesh longs for You, as in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water. And with this longing, we have sought You in the holy place, to see Your power and Your glory. Because Your covenant love is better than life, our lips shall praise You. Thus, we will bless You while we live; we will lift up our hands in Your Name. Our souls shall be satisfied with marrow and fatness, while our mouths praise You with joyful lips, through Jesus Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP63 “O God, You Are My God” or TPH63A “O God, You Are My God, Alone”

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