Monday, January 18, 2010

What New Fasting Points To

[These thoughts follows the sermon, "Out with the Old, In with the New". If you'd like to listen to that sermon, just click on the title.]

"No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins - and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins."

- Mark 2:21-22

Looking at this text in its paragraph, we see that John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting...participating in what I will call old fasting. The foundation on which their fasting was built was that of the mourning of the sins of God's people and the hope that, one day, a Messiah would be sent to redeem them. It is this fasting that we see described most clearly in the life of Anna, the prophetess, who was "waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Lk. 2:38).

When questioned why His disciples are not joining in with the fasting, the answer seems obvious. The fasting of John's disciples and the Pharisees was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mk. 1:1). True...the fasting of the Pharisees had become an empty ritual meant to give them a greater sense of self-righteousness (Lk. 18:11-12). However, the original intent of fasting, which was distorted by the Pharisees, was to mourn over the sins of God's people and long for the day when a Redeemer would come. When Jesus came, this was fulfilled. The clearer answer is in Jesus' words in verse 19 of Mark 2, where He points out that the mourning pictured in fasting was inconsistent with the joy associated with His coming as the bridegroom of God (Is. 65:2; Ez. 16:8; Hos. 2:19-20).

When fasting returns (Mk. 2:20), it will be a new kind of fasting (Mk. 2:21-22). No longer will the people of God fast in the hopes that a Redeemer will one day come. Instead, they will fast knowing the Redeemer has come and has dealt with the sin that once separated them from God. This is the new foundation for abstaining from food for a time...for wanting God more than we want food. This desire...this discipline...this fasting...would be fueled by the person and work of Jesus Christ in history.

This new foundation for fasting is now the only acceptable foundation for fasting. As Paul warned, "For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). If the person and work of Jesus Christ are not the foundation for our fasting, then we build our lives of spiritual discipline on sinking sand (Mt. 7:26). This indicates where the new fasting should point us.

The new fasting points us to the fact that all of life...not just our fasting...must be built on the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ and His gospel are the only foundation for our preaching, our teaching, our parenting, our marriages, our singleness, our prayer lives, our children's ministries, our youth ministries, our senior adult ministries, our evangelism, our deacon ministry, our mission work, our relationships within the church, our ethical decisions, our hospitality, and the list could keep growing.

It is when we shift these areas to a different foundation that things begin to fall apart. They may go well for a season...or for several seasons...maybe even for the rest of our lives on this earth. However, in the end, they will be revealed for what they are. There is a day coming when "each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:12). How will we give account of those parts of our lives which are not founded on the gospel? How will we explain our decision to parent apart from the gospel...or do deacon ministry apart from the gospel...or relate to others in the body of Christ apart from the gospel...or any of these other things?

It seems that we would do well to consider these questions now...examine our own lives now...examine all of it now...and plead with God for the grace needed to found all of life on the gospel. We don't do this so we can build up our own sense of accomplishment, put notches in our "gospel belt," or gain a sense of self-reliance or self-righteousness. Rather, because of the gospel's power in our lives, "we make it our aim to please him" (2 Cor. 5:9).

After all, "no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him" (2 Tim. 2:4). And where would the recipient of this letter get the strength to stay free of civilian pursuits? "You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:1). The very gospel which calls one to Christ for salvation is the same gospel which empowers the Christian to remain free of civilian affairs.

So, we fast with the gospel as our foundation. Because of this gospel, we are free to fast with the knowledge that our sin has been forgiven, and we will one day cease fasting as we feast with our bridegroom face to face (Rev. 19:6-9; Rev. 22:12-21). Even so...come, Lord Jesus!