In the past few years, Southern Hills has spent a good amount of time hearing Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). We went through a 13-week series called Living Jesus where our Bible classes and preaching centered on this Sermon. Many of us vowed to read the Sermon every day of that 13-week time frame. We got to know this sermon pretty well.
Last year, we went through Matthew's gospel with an eye toward discipleship. Again, we spent time in the Sermon on the Mount. We remember that Jesus ended this great teaching with a VBS song. We even sang the song! "The wise man built his house upon the rock...." Sing along! You know the words!
"Whoever hears and does these words of mine is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock. But whoever does not hear and do these words of mine is like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. When the storms of life come (and they will!), the house built on my words of truth will stand; while the house built on anything less will fall and get washed away."
It seems clear that the best thing for us is to hear and do what Jesus says. This is why we spent so much time with this Sermon.
In Matthew 6:1-17, Jesus talks about the three acts of Jewish piety. He says, "You perform these acts for one reason and one reason only: to glorify God. Don't do these things to glorify yourself."
"When you give, don't trumpet your generosity. Give in such a way that your right hand doesn't know what your left hand is doing."
"When you pray, don't do it in a crowded place where everybody can see. Go to your room and shut the door so you can pray in secret."
"When you fast, don't walk around in a "woe-is-me" gloom with your face all disfigured. No, you wash your face, comb your hair, and have some joy about you. Your fasting is between you and God."
We know those verses well, don't we? But the point is not to KNOW the verses. The point is to DO these verses. Notice the first word in each of the three acts of piety. WHEN you give... WHEN you pray... WHEN you fast....
I don't think Jesus is offering us options. "Do this... if you feel like it. No, Jesus commands His disciples to GIVE ... PRAY ... and FAST ... to the glory of God.
You know where I'm going with this, don't you? We do a pretty good job of giving and praying. Yes, we can do better. But at least we're consistent. What about that last one? If I were a betting man, I'd wager that you've heard countless sermons on giving and praying (you got one of those last Sunday!). But how many sermons have you heard on fasting? You can probably count them on one hand with plenty of fingers left over.
We rarely, if ever, fast as a congregation. We may have some members who fast regularly because they are wise hearers and doers of Jesus' words. But most of us don't. Your preacher hasn't. But he's started.
We know so little about fasting that we ask: What is a fast? Why should we fast? Where do I begin? This Sunday morning, we will address all of that. And we will receive a handout to help us get started.
Moses fasted. So did David. Nehemiah, Daniel, Anna the prophetess, Jesus, and Paul did, too. The whole nation of Israel fasted! So, we have plenty of examples to go along with Jesus' commands. So, I wonder why we haven't put any emphasis on it?
Maybe we write off fasting as a cultural thing just for Jews. We lump it in with circumcision and celebrating the Feast of the Tabernacles. But as I read Matthew 6, that whole "Jewish culture" argument seems pretty weak. We should read those verses again... and again... and again.
It's time for a change, church. And the time ... is now. Ready. Set. Go.
"Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods" (Ezra 8:21).