What God Says About Fasting
March 8th, 1964 @ 8:15 AM
WHAT GOD SAYS ABOUT FASTING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-8-64 8:15 a.m.
In the fifth chapter of the Book of Luke beginning in verse 33:
And they said unto Jesus, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but Thine eat and drink? They never fast.
And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?
But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
"While I am here", said our Lord, "while I am here the bridegroom, while I am here my disciples do not fast. But when I am taken away then shall they fast." Yet I never did it in my life. Not in my life. Yet the Lord said, "When I am taken away My disciples shall fast." I do not even know what He is talking about. I have never experienced it, nor have I ever seen it in any Baptist congregation to which I have ever been introduced. Yet I have thought of this for years and years and years.
In 1950, that has been fourteen years ago, Dr. McCall who was then executive secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. McCall and I landed at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey on our trip visiting the mission fields around the world.
After we had gone through customs we stepped to the front of the house of customs and so by taxi into the city of Istanbul. It was raining, and at the door of the customs house there stood a tall, handsome, young Greek with an umbrella over his head. And to every one that left the house of customs to enter into the city he asked, "Are you the Baptist missionaries from America? Are you the Baptist missionaries from America?" And to the stream of people he asked that question. "Are you the Baptist missionaries from America," standing there in the rain with an umbrella in his hand. "Are you the Baptist missionaries from America?"
We were toward the last to leave the building and I heard him ask that question over and over again. And I said to my companion, "I wonder if the young man is thinking about us." So when we came to the door and he asked us, "Are you the Baptist missionaries from America", we answered, "We are from America and we are preachers in the Baptist faith, maybe you are looking for us." And he said Tom Holloway had written to the American Bible Society in Istanbul that we were to be there at such and such date, and he had met each plane and wanted to know if we were the ones Tom Holloway referred to. With gladness we introduced ourselves. "We are the Baptist missionaries from America."
We went first to the American Bible Society and their auditorium and attended a service that night. Then we went to a restaurant, one known to him, a native restaurant. And he ordered for us, I could not read the menu, could not talk to the waiter. And he ordered as he thought would be a delight to us. And when the waiter brought in the food and sat the table I looked over at him and there was no table setting there and there was no food brought in.
And I said, "There are three of us, there are three of us, for him, for you."
He said, "No, no. This is my day of fast." He said, "Every Wednesday, every Wednesday I fast for my people and for the city that they might be saved."
We ate that luscious dinner, that delicious dinner that he ordered, and then after we had eaten he said, "Every Wednesday night we have a prayer meeting in our home. Would you like to go and attend that prayer service?"
"Oh, yes," we said. He lived over the Bosporus. He lived in Asia. We got a ship, a boat, a ferry; we crossed over the Bosporus Strait. That was our first time to put our feet in Asia. And we made our way on a streetcar to his house. There we met his father and his mother and his two sisters and two Armenian couples who had come for the prayer meeting, and all of us prayed and testified and sang the praises of the Lord Jesus. Then the two sisters served refreshments, but he did not eat. That was his day of fast. Fourteen years, fourteen years and I have thought of that again and again and again.
We shall address ourselves this morning to what God says about fasting. First of all does it have a place in the Christian religion? Does it have a place in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, or is fasting like the sacrifices of the old covenant, like the ritual in the temple? It belonged to another dispensation. It was a type and a figure and has passed away, having the substance we no longer live with the shadows. Is fasting no place in the Christian religion?
First of all we take our question to Jesus. Then we take our question to the practice of the church in the New Testament.
First of all to the Lord Jesus: in the text that I read, "But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from then and then shall they fast in those days." Our Lord Jesus said, He said that His people would fast. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter six, our Lord said about fasting:
Moreover when you fast, not if, Moreover when you 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 the reward."
"But thou, when thou fastest," not if, "when thou fastest anoint thy head and wash thy face,
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which seeth in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly."
When you fast, when you fast.
Now there was no commandment, now there was no commandment, there is no commandment about fasting, but the devout and the pious Jew fasted. Anna, for example, when the little Lord Jesus the baby was brought into the temple, Anna a devout prophetess four and eighty years of age beyond the death of her husband, giving herself to prayer and fasting. Anna was one of those devout Jews.
The Pharisees, as usual in their hypocritical delineation of all religion, the Pharisees reduced it to a custom. That is why the Pharisee stood in the temple and prayed with himself saying, "O God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men. I fast twice in the week." The Talmud says that the Pharisees fasted on the second day of the week, that would be Monday, and on the fifth day of the week, that would be Thursday because they said on Thursday, on the fifth day Moses went up to Mt. Sinai and received the Word of God, and he came back forty days later on the second day of the week. And in order to be known as holy men they put ashes on their head and on their face and rubbed it in their beard and they looked malodorous and lugubrious and melancholy and they went around with that sad, disfigured countenance in order that people would say, "Look, there is a holy man of God."
"That," the Lord Jesus says, "has no part in the humbling of your soul before God." For example, the Talmud said, "Whoever makes his face black," that is a common expression among Jewish writers for fasting, "whoever makes his face black on account of the law in this world, God will make his countenance shine on the world that is to come," so in order to have a reward in glory and to be received among men as being holy why they did those things, the Pharisees. But the Lord said:
Not you, not you. When you fast and you, not if, when you fast you comb your hair and you shave and you adorn yourself and you smile and you be as though you are a triumphant, victorious overcomer before the Lord, that you fast unto God and not that men say, Oh what humility and what profound depths of devotion.
So, the Lord Jesus spake of our fasting.
Second, we address ourselves to the church, to the church. All the Lord Jesus wanted was to be sure we were sincere in what we did; that was all; not to pray hypocritically on the street corners to be seen of men, but to pray sincerely. When we give, not to sound trumpets before us that men may see how generous we are, but, to do it sincerely, and when we fast, not to do it with disfiguration of countenance, but, in triumph unto God, sincerely.
Now we address ourselves to the church, to the New Testament church, fast. We follow the Word of God. When Saul was stricken on the road to Damascus and he was blinded, they led him by the hand into Damascus, and he was three days there without food and without water praying unto God. And in the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Acts there were in the church at Antioch:
prophets and teachers like Barnabas, and Simeon and Saul,,and they ministered to the Lord and fasted.
And as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
Now, and when they had fasted and prayed they laid their hands on them and sent them away.
And one of the most remarkable things, and after that first missionary journey were concluded they went back and visited the churches, and when they had ordained them elders in every church and had prayed with fasting they commended them to the Lord on whom they believed.
Ah, what a departure. What an amazing, amazing difference in our people today. There when they called the pastor and when they ordained them for his ministry they fasted and prayed. I never heard of a Baptist church doing that in my life, nor did I ever hear of any other church doing that. We call our pastors by some kind of gimmicks. We get programs and we get questionnaires. I could not tell you the number of questionnaires I have received. How tall is he? How fat is he? What does he weigh? How many kids do they have? How does he act? What about his wife? What about his kids? What about this? What about rab dah! They fasted and they prayed when they ordained these men of God and called the pastor.
Then Paul, in the second chapter of Corinthians and in the sixth verse, speaks of the ministries of the men, both he and those that are with him, in necessities in afflictions, in distresses, in strife, in imprisonment, in tumult, in labors, in watchings, in fastings, plural. And I turn the page in that same 2 Corinthian letter and the eleventh chapter as he describes his ministries "In weariness and in painfulness and in watching often in hunger and in thirst and in fasting often in cold and nakedness, in fastings often, often. [Verse 27] This is the great apostle to the Gentiles. And then the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, James, the Lord’s brother, in writing to his people, "be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaven. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up."
I have taken this to the Lord and He said "just be sincere but when you fast." I have taken it to the church and the churches in the New Testament fasted and prayed.
Now we address ourselves to why, why that has been common among the people of the Lord. Four reasons: first, because there is something in human nature that commends it. We are turning to primeval and fundamental impulses when we announce a fast. There is something about human nature; there is something about the way God made us; there is something about it that when we meet great affliction or sorrow or grief or need God, there is something about human nature; the man turns to fasting and to praying.
And Jonah entered the great city of Nineveh and said, "Forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed. Forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed." And the word came to the king and the king gave commandment and he stepped down from his throne and he took of his robes and put on sackcloth and he commanded the great city, every man turn from his evil way and every man fast. Man and beast dress in sackcloth and fast. It may be God shall be merciful. That is a heathen monarch, typical of all of humanity. [Jonah 3]
In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, in that terrible storm at sea Paul said to his companions on board, he said, "For fourteen days you have fasted. Now eat meat. For God will deliver us. There stood by me the angel of the Lord and said, ‘Paul, I have given you all of these fellows.’" There is something in human nature that responds like that in times of difficulty and sorrow and grief and hunger for God.
A second reason, it was mandated of the Lord God Jehovah in the Old Testament, the Day of Atonement. All of the other rituals and rites and gatherings and convocations of Israel, all of them were feasts, the Passover feast, the Pentecostal feast, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Dedication, the Feast of Purim all of them were feasts. But there was one mandated of God which was a fast, and that was the Day of Atonement. And to this day there is only one sign of a Jew that is imperishable, and that is, if he is a Jew, he observes that day of fasting. They call it today Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, of confession and appearance before God.
Third reason, by the example of holy men, holy men, we are encouraged to think of this spiritual exercise of fasting, Moses, forty days and forty nights before God fasting, Elijah, in the wilderness, forty days and forty nights fasting, and the Lord Jesus driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness forty days and forty nights fasting, and Daniel in the depths of the grief of his soul because of the captivity of his people, three full weeks fasting, the example of God.
A fourth, it is a natural response; it is a natural response of a devout soul before the Almighty God, a natural response in bereavement. And Hannah wept, and Hannah wept and did not eat. And her husband said, "Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat? Am I not better to thee than ten sons?" And Hannah wept and did not eat, bereavement. And David lay all night upon the earth and fasted and refused to eat, pleading for the life of the little boy. And David fasted when Saul and Jonathan were slain in the Mount of Gilboa. And David fasted when Abner was slain, grief, grief, bereavement.
In times of great national crisis, at the defeat of Ai, at the defeat of Ai, Joshua and the elders of Israel fell down on their faces before the Ark of the Covenant and fasted all day even unto the evening crying to God. And Jehosophat when he was told of the invasion of the Moabites and their confederates proclaimed a fast and cried to God saying, "We have no might against this great company that cometh out against us, neither know we what to do but our eyes are upon Thee." And the next verse, "And Judah stood before God with their little ones and their wives and with their children." [2 Chronicles 20:12-13] In the day of great national need Esther said to Mordecai, "Mordecai, tell my people, tell my people to fast, to fast for I shall go in to see the king and if I perish, I perish. But tell my people to fast and to pray." [Esther 4:16]
And in days and times and seasons when direction was needed from heaven, and Ezra said,
I am ashamed to ask the king for a military escort, for soldiers to accompany us across the desert on our trek back to Zion. I am ashamed for us said Ezra, I have told the king, I have told the king, I have said to him, God helps the people and protects the people who place their trust in Him. And I am ashamed to ask for an escort across this howling desert.
So at the river Ahavah in Babylon Ezra called for a fast and asked the people to fast and pray for the protection of God, and "the Lord was entreated of them," says the Book, "and God’s Spirit accompanied them and His angels went before as they crossed the sands of that terrible desert;" [Ezra 8:21-23] fasting.
Now, briefly, we have set ourselves, or, maybe it would be more appropriate to say I have set myself, and I invite the church over which God has made me an undershepherd, I invite the church to share with me this experience a fast, a fast. And we shall do it according to the Word of God. As I have read and studied in the Word of the Lord, there are three things connected with fasting. One, confession of sin and fasting, second, the reading of the holy "Word of God and fasting, and third, prayer and fasting.
I am going to be down here at this church house at a set day, the eighteenth of March, Wednesday week, for twenty-four hours beginning at 7:00 o’clock in the morning the eighteenth of March, Wednesday the eighteenth of March, until 7:00 o’clock the next morning, the nineteenth of March, there is going to be a twenty-four hour service in this sacred place, a fasting, and those three things.
First, confession of sin and fasting:
And the men of Kirjathjearim came, and fetched up the Ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar the son to keep the ark of the LORD.
And it came to pass, while the Ark abode in Kirjathjearim, that the time was long; twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.
[1 Samuel 7:1-2]
And they said to Samuel, "Where is God?" "Where is God?" "Where is the Lord, where is God?" The time has been long. Samuel said:
If you do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then come to Mizpeh and I will pray with you,"
And they gathered to Mizpeh, and they drew water, and poured it out on the ground before the LORD as a sign of their humiliation and weakness, and they fasted and they said, We have sinned against the LORD."
[1 Samuel 7:3, 6]
And Samuel took the suckling of a young lamb and offered it for a burnt offering, wholly unto the Lord: and Samuel cried unto the Lord and the Lord delivered his people.
And Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shiloh and called the name of it Ebenezer. Ebenezer saying, "Hitherto has the Lord helped us."
[1 Samuel 7:9, 12]
Ebenezer, stone of help.
Here I’ll raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
["Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," by Robert Robinson 1757]
That is where that came from. They fasted and said, "We have sinned against the Lord."
Why I can imagine an Israelite saying, "Why I have not killed anybody. Why should I say I have sinned? Why, I have not murdered anybody. I have not blown up anybody. I have not robbed a bank." Where in the earth is the sensitivity of the soul that thinks of sin just in terms of a violence he has not committed. Sin is a condition. We are born in it, born in it. Enters every faculty, every emotion, every thought. There is shortcoming and lack in all that we do, even in our prayers are lacking. Even our highest worship does not come up to the high excellence of the Lord God. We have sinned. We have sinned. I have sinned.
And they fasted and confessed their sins before the Lord.
Second, fasting and Bible reading, in Nehemiah [chapter] 9, [verse 3], "And they stood up in their place, and read in the Book of the Law of the Lord their God, and they fasted with sackcloth and earth upon them and read in the Book of the Law of God."
Jeremiah 36 and Jeremiah said to Baruch, "I am shut up in prison; and I cannot go but you, you take this roll of the Word of God and on the day of fast read it in the ears of the people." [verse 5-6] "
And Baruch, the son of Neriah did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him, reading in the Book the Words of the Lord in the Lord’s house.
And it came to pass, came to pass that they proclaimed a fast before the Lord to all the people in Jerusalem, and all the people that became the citizens of Judah.
Then read Baruch in the Book the Words in the house of the LORD,
on the day of fast, standing, reading the Word of the Lord, fasting and reading God’s Book.
And then fasting and praying, Nehemiah 1, "and it came to pass when I heard the words of the description of the breaking up of Jerusalem, the temple and the wall and city in desolation, when I heard it, I sat down and wept and mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven." [verse 4] "Oh let Thine ear be attentive and Thine eyes open that Thou mayest hear the prayer of Thy servant. Oh Lord I beseech Thee that Thy ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant." [verse 6]
Fasting and praying.
Just one more, in the ninth chapter of Daniel, in the first year of Darius, reading the Bible, reading the Bible he says,
In the first year of his reign of Darius, I Daniel understood, reading the Bible, the number of the years, whereof the Word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting,,
And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord,,
And then you have the most magnificent prayers of commitment and dedication and confession in all the Word of God.
And now dear people somebody said, "Do I have to do that?" No sir, there is no commandment concerning it, none at all. "Do I have to do that?" No. No you do not have to do it. No, you sit at that TV and worship there. You build you the finest table and load it down and worship the god of the belly like the Croatians did. Do it. Do it. You do not have to do this. You do not have to do this.
Nor are we commended to God because of our hunger. No. We are no more acceptable to the Lord stuffed than we are empty. It has nothing to do with it. But, but, according to the Word I hold in my hand and according to the experience of godly men, if you would know more of God, and I want to know more, and if you would know more of the meaning of prayer, and I want to know more, and if you would know more of the depths, of the riches, of the grace of the blessed Lord Jesus, fast and confess and read God’s Book and pray.
I would love to know what the Savior meant when He said, "I have meat to eat that you know not of." And coming from the village of Sychar with food for the day and it was eventide and He had not broken bread and the disciples said, "Master, eat. Master, eat." All day long they had made the long journey from Jerusalem. Tired and weary, the Bible describes our Lord. He sat down by the well, on the curb of the well; wearied it says, He sat on the well. And the disciples went in to buy food for Him and came back and laid it before Him and said, "Master, eat. Master, eat." No. He said, "I have meat to eat that you know not of. For My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me in the earth." [John 4:32]
That day begins our divisional revival for our junior parents, fathers and mothers and children. That night at 9:00 o’clock we will have the Lord’s Supper for the month of March, our church covenant day. We shall break bread together on our knees. We shall pray for our services at the Palace Theater. And chiefest of all and most of all we shall ask God to bless us as we go down to that Memorial auditorium Easter Sunday night.
The drift of America is away from God. Our churches are losing their power. We do not baptize, we do not win, we do not testify. We are not able in God as we ought. What do you do? What do you do? The pastor has announced he is going to fast and to pray and to read God’s Word and to make confession twenty-four hours Wednesday of next week, and he invites all the people of the church to share that day of fast and prayer and Bible reading and confession with him. May God speak to us in a way we never thus been able to hear His voice. In His name, Amen.
Now we sing our song and while we sing it, while we sing it, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus. Somebody you, put his life in the fellowship of the church, a family or just one, while we sing our song, come, come, make it now while we stand and while we sing.
WHAT GOD SAYS ABOUT FASTING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Matthew 6:16-18, Luke 5:33-35
A. 1950 trip to Istanbul – young Greek who fasted and prayed for his city
II. Does fasting have a place in the Christian life?
A. Jesus and fasting (Luke 5:33-35, Matthew 6:16-18)
1. When you fast, do it with sincerity (Matthew 6:5)
2. Hypocrisy in the methods and expression of religion (Luke 18:12)
B. The New Testament churches (Acts 9:9, 13:1-3, 14:23, 2 Corinthians 6:5, 11:27)
II. What occasioned it among the people of God?
A. Roots found in human nature (Acts 27:33, Jonah 3:3-9)
B. Mandated from heaven (Leviticus 23:26-32, Acts 27:9)
C. Example of holy men of God (Exodus 24:18, 34:28, Deuteronomy 9:9, 18, 1 Kings 19:8, Daniel 10:1-3, Matthew 4:2)
D. The natural response of the soul before God
1. In bereavement, sorrow (1 Samuel 1:7-8, 2 Samuel 1:12, 3:35, 12:16)
2. In national crisis (Joshua 7:6, Judges 20:26, 2 Chronicles 20:3, 12-13, Joel 1:14, 2:12-18, Esther 4:3, 16)
3. In times of great need (Ezra 8:21-23)
III. Our purpose
A. Confession of sins and fasting (1 Samuel 7:1-12)
B. Reading the Scriptures and fasting (Nehemiah 9:1-3, Jeremiah 36:5-10)
C. Prayer and fasting (Nehemiah 1:4, 6, 11, Daniel 9:2-4)
D. It is not coercive
E. If we could know the meaning of John 4:31-34