Here is a great change in the use and purpose of fasting, and the change may be traced to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ that we are studying. What did He say? He did not say that fasting was a form of outward piety. He did not consider it an exercise for the subjection of the body. He did not hold it forth as a means of social protest. He taught that it was to be a personal exercise between the individual soul and God. 

After Jesus came, fasting was conceived of differently. The early Christians were aware that because their sin had been forgiven, they did not mourn for it in the way men did before Christ’s death and resurrection. They did not fast for their sin. They did not fast in sorrow. But they did fast. What was the reason? The reason was their desire to set aside the normal distractions of life in order to seek the clear direction of God for their lives. It was a discipline by which they waited upon God while asking Him to reveal His will to them and to lead them in new ways.

The first real clue to what fasting should mean today comes from a study of the Bible. For the clue is seen in the fact that in the Old Testament period fasting had an entirely different purpose than it does in the New. What is more, the pivotal text upon which this change takes place is the text we are studying in Matthew. 

The first two examples of Christian piety that Jesus gives in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount do not seem particularly difficult. They are giving to the poor and praying. To most people, almsgiving and prayer make sense and are familiar, even though they may not understand them completely or practice them. This is not true of Christ’s third example. The third example is fasting, which means abstaining from food for some spiritual end. Not only does this not seem necessary to most persons, to many it even seems quite foolish or absurd.

Let me ask the question again that I asked yesterday. How did Jesus resist the temptations that are recorded in Matthew 4? Well, in the first place, He had just spent forty days in fasting and in prayer. In the second place, He replied to the devil in every instance by quoting Scripture.