Monday, December 8, 2014

The Discipline of Fasting. Alive Student Ministry 12/7/14

"The Discipline of Fasting”   (Read Matthew Chapter 4)
Intro: What does it mean to fast, and why is it important?

1. Fasting is between you and God (Matt. 4:1).

Our society encourages us to tell everyone we know about everything that we do. Through Facebook and Twitter, people share what they are up to every hour of the day. It is tempting to do the same when we fast so that people will think that we’re very spiritual. However, we should resist that temptation and not send out a status update to the world that says, “I’m fasting today. Pray for me.” Instead, let it be a personal matter between you and God.

2. Fasting focuses your heart and attention on God alone (Matt. 4:2).

Worldly provisions, such as food, the Internet, and cell phones can distract us from God. When we are willing to give up something that distracts us from our time with God, we are able to focus our attention on Him and, therefore, renew our hearts toward our relationship with Him. Fasting is not possible if we are not willing to give up something that we value. We don’t always have to give up food. For some of us, Facebook, texting, or video games might be the greatest distraction to our dependence and focus on God.

3. Fasting strengthens and prepares you spiritually (Matt. 4:3–4).

When we choose to do away with worldly provisions or pleasures for a short time and focus on God, we often become more aware of His truth and His will for our lives. Knowing His truth and having a solid relationship with Him helps us to respond to any situation with wisdom. 

Fasting helps us focus on God completely and develop a closer relationship with Him.  Examine your life and see if there is something that is distracting you from your relationship with God. Consider setting that thing aside for a period of time and replacing that time to pray and study God’s Word instead.


For many students, fasting is a foreign concept. It seems weird to them. They hear about it in places like the Old Testament, but they’re not exactly sure what it is, much less if they should be doing it and how. They have questions like: “Is it just a food thing? How long should a fast last? What do I do in a fast? What’s the point?” Throughout Scripture, fasting is almost an understood practice of God’s people. However, many modern Christians have lost this discipline. At Alive Student Ministry, we looked to Jesus’ own example to see not only that He did fast but to also discover why.
In the first four chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, the gospel writer introduced Jesus as the Messiah. In the first chapter, Matthew provided readers with a genealogical lesson, tracing the Messiah’s lineage through the generations to David and ultimately to Abraham. In Chapter 2, Matthew shared a story unique to his gospel, as we read about the wise men’s visit to Mary, Joseph, and their toddler son. Matthew described King Herod's plot to assassinate the child whom some believed was destined to be the King of the Jews. Then Matthew explained the steps that Joseph took to protect his young son, fleeing with his family to Egypt and eventually settling in Nazareth. 
Matthew was silent about the remainder of Jesus’ childhood and adolescence and did not reveal more about the life of the Messiah until He was approximately 30 years old. In Chapter 3, John the Baptist, who preached a gospel of repentance to prepare the way for the Messiah, baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. All three Persons of the Trinity came into view: as the Son emerged from the baptismal waters, the Spirit descended like a dove and the Father spoke a word of blessing, confirming Jesus’ messianic identity. The stage was set for the Messiah to begin His earthly ministry. But before Jesus began His ministry of preaching and healing, He followed the Spirit’s lead and journeyed into the wilderness to fast and be tempted. This time of testing and preparation would fortify Him for the difficult work that loomed ahead.
God eternally exists in three Persons, and this passage references all three Persons of the Trinity. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted. When the tempter challenged Jesus’ status as the Son of God, the Son responded by quoting the words of His Father. God deserves humanity’s worship and obedience, and in this passage Jesus demonstrates how practicing the spiritual discipline of fasting can help believers prepare for the work that God wants to do in their lives. When believers forsake food or other things for a time of fasting, they focus on God’s Word and deepen their relationship with Him, which helps them to worship and depend on Him to meet all of their needs.


Matthew 4:1 Jesus obediently followed the Spirit’s leading and entered the wilderness for a period of testing by the devil. Parallel accounts are found in Mark 1:12–13 and Luke 4:1–13. Jesus’ showdown with Satan came on the heels of the divine confirmation at His baptism that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. The devil would question, however, the nature of Jesus’ divinity and humanity by subjecting Jesus to three temptations—three tests that mirrored the Israelites’ experience in the wilderness: hunger, putting God to the test, and false worship. The devil’s temptation of Jesus could have disqualified Him from His purpose as the Savior had He given into one of them and sinned, thus rendering Him unable to provide a spotless sacrifice for the sins of the world. Thus, Jesus was about to enter into a great spiritual war against Satan.
Verse 1 set the scene for the upcoming spiritual battle. Big challenges lay ahead for Him: the beginning of His public ministry and tempting by the devil, His greatest adversary.
Matthew 4:2 Matthew explained that immediately upon entering the desert, Jesus began fasting. In this instance, Jesus fasted from food in an effort to focus on intense prayer. This prayer would prepare Him for the work that God was about to do through Him and the challenges that He would face. Jesus engaged in intense prayer prior to great times of struggle or importance. One such instance was prior to His arrest and subsequent crucifixion. After 40 days and nights of fasting, Jesus was physically famished—a reminder of Jesus’ humanity. In this state, Jesus was especially susceptible to temptations.
Examples of fasting are found throughout the Old Testament. In Scripture, fasting usually refers to abstinence from all food, solid or liquid, but partial fasts are also described. Fasts were observed for spiritual purposes—as an act of worship, in order to seek divine guidance, or to express repentance. Prayer accompanies fasting. Moses refrained from eating bread or drinking water for 40 days and nights as he communed with God on the mountain (Ex. 34:27–28). Ezra proclaimed a fast among the people so that they could humble themselves before God and ask Him for a safe journey (Ezra 8:21–23). Esther instructed Mordecai to gather the Jews to fast on her behalf as she prepared to face the king to plead that the Jews be spared (Esth. 4:15–17). When God revealed to Daniel that the desolation of Jerusalem would last for 70 years, Daniel prayed and fasted (Dan. 9:1–3).
Examples of fasting are found in the New Testament as well. Anna, the prophetess who greeted Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus at the Temple, devoted her life to worshipping, praying, and fasting (Luke 2:36–38). The prophets and teachers in Antioch were worshiping and fasting when the Holy Spirit revealed to them that Barnabas and Paul were to be sent out as missionaries (Acts 13:1–3).
Jesus warned His disciples that the spiritual discipline of fasting should not be undertaken simply to demonstrate superior spirituality: “But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt. 6:17–18). Rather, fasting was to be a normal part of one’s walk with God and done in a way that was not advertised. Although there is not a lot of information or commandments to believers concerning fasting, it was obviously a discipline practiced and expected from God’s followers. Fasting was an assumed practice, as Jesus instructed His disciples how to behave when they were fasting (Matt. 6:16–17). Jesus’ model of fasting in the desert provided an example of preparing for God’s work in one’s life and in growing closer to Him.
Matthew 4:3 With his first temptation, the devil sought to exploit Jesus’ physical hunger. Fasting for such a long time left Him not just hungry but in actual physical need of nourishment. Forty days is generally considered to be the longest that one can fast without causing permanent bodily harm. Calling into question Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, the devil urged Jesus to satisfy His hunger by using His supernatural powers to turn stones into bread. The devil was fully aware that Jesus truly was the Son of God, but he sought to force Jesus’ hand in this test by tempting Him to exercise His divine power. Thomas Long hones in on the heart of the devil’s diabolical plan: “The devil is attempting to beguile Jesus into making the nature of His work too small––satisfying hunger––and the recipients of His work too few––only one, Himself” (Long, 37).
Matthew 4:4 The devil was unsuccessful in his attempt to provoke Jesus to use His supernatural powers for a selfish end. Although Jesus was physically weakened by His 40-day fast, He had been spiritually strengthened by His Father and was well prepared to face the devil’s tests. By quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, Jesus made it clear that He would rely on His Father to provide for His physical needs. God had provided manna for His people in the wilderness; God would satisfy Jesus’ physical hunger in due time. Fully God and fully human, Jesus could have turned the stones into bread; He would later perform multiple feeding miracles, but He chose not to call into question His dependence upon God (Matt. 14:13–21,15:29–38). The Son of God was single-minded and wholeheartedly committed to doing His Father’s will: “My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34).
Ultimately, Jesus emerged victorious from His battle with Satan and confirmed His faithfulness to His diving calling. After two more temptations, the devil departed from Him (Matt. 4:11). His fasting prepared Him for what was to come by helping Him to focus intently on God’s calling, His commands, and His relationship.


We rarely hear sermons about fasting—it is one of the most neglected spiritual disciplines. When we hear stories about fasting in the news, the act is often disconnected from spiritual practice—a hunger strike designed to provoke authorities into releasing a prisoner; a fast undertaken to draw attention to a particular social issue. Yet examples of fasting are found throughout Scripture, and anyone who is serious about being a Christ-follower must pause and contemplate our Savior’s example in regard to this discipline. Richard Foster, author of the classic work Celebration of Discipline, defines fasting as “the voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity” (Whitney, 160). As an act of self-denial, fasting provides us with a short-term opportunity to intensely focus on our relationship with God. Consider the activities that fill your days: From what could you fast in order to be more closely attuned to the words of God that will nourish your spirit?
Satan tempts us to narrow our concerns to our own needs, particularly in the lives of students. Instant gratification and self-preservation are rampant in current and upcoming generations. By practicing the spiritual discipline of fasting, students can train themselves to rise above to trade the desire to meet the needs of the moment for a higher purpose. This is one of the most important lessons that we can teach students who have grown up in a culture that places a premium on instant gratification. Jesus fasted for 40 days to focus on God and prepare for His God-given mission. God has a mission in mind for each of your students. Help them to consider what kind of preparation they need—on an ongoing basis—to effectively serve God. Challenge them to identify things from which they could fast—a meal, texting, social media––in order to focus on God.

Small Group Questions:
  • Why can’t our relationship with God grow deeper if it doesn’t receive quality time and commitment?
  • How did Jesus use fasting to strengthen His relationship with God?
  • How can fasting help us to focus on our relationship with God?
  • Why should acts of spiritual discipline (in this case fasting) be done in private?

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