That Jesus practiced fasting is illustrated for us in Matthew chapter 4, where He fasts 40 days and nights in the desert prior to the temptation. It is also expected that He fasted on the Day of Atonement as Lev 16:29 commands.
That Jesus taught fasting is obvious from His Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:16-18).
Yet in spite of personal practice and appreciation for it, Jesus and His disciples were clearly not known for fasting.
One particular day, the contrast could not have been greater. “Jesus and his disciples had just come from the feast in Matthew’s house; and this seems to have occurred on a day when the disciples of John and the Pharisees likewise thought they had to fast (Mark 2:18). Here they were fasting, and the disciples of Jesus were feasting!”
Matthew records, “Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”
It was Pharisaic practice to fast on Mondays and Thursdays. Such a regular practice (which John’s disciples apparently emulated in some fashion) is impossible to keep secret. But if one is not careful, it becomes a signpost of personal piety to all who look on. Indeed, that others notice can easily become the whole point of the fast if one’s fleshly desire for recognition and importance has not been thoroughly replaced by humility and an overwhelming desire to hear from God. Like everything we do for the Lord, it can become a point of personal pride – a statement of the flesh that we are better and more deserving than others. More deserving to have our prayers answered. More deserving of favor. More deserving of honor for self-sacrifice. More deserving than the others around us, who are not achieving the same level of piety.
Such thoughts occur naturally when the eyes of our heart have moved from attention on God to attention on self. But these sentiments are worse than foolish. They are diametrically opposed to what the practice is supposed to be for.
Jesus equated fasting with mourning. Fasting is meant to be driven by a hunger for God so great that we deprive ourselves – the thought of feeding one’s stomach gets completely lost as we mourn our own brokenness and long to be reunited with Him in spirit and in body. As one commentator noted, “Fasting accompanies mourning and is not to be a mechanical arrangement that is followed merely on fixed days. When the heart is bowed down, fasting is a proper expression of its feelings.”
Fasting is not primarily a tool of self-expression or self-discipline. It must be understood as an expression of lament. Like a friend of the bridegroom who finds out the bridegroom is taken just before the wedding day, we mourn for what is lost, and we grieve that all is not as it should be.
Fasting prepares us for the deepest and richest spiritual communion possible. It clears and liberates our minds to understand and grasp what God is saying to our spirits, and conditions our bodies to carry out His perfect will which is good and pleasing and perfect.Julio Ruibal
Why and when do you fast?