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WHEN YOU FAST

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, July 19, 2009

“When ye fast” (Matthew 6:16).


Jesus Himself fasted forty days before He began His earthly ministry. Jesus said that His disciples would fast after He ascended back to Heaven,

“And then shall they fast” (Matthew 9:15).

Dr. John R. Rice said that this shows they fasted and prayed for ten days before the revival at Pentecost. I think this must have been true! The Apostle Paul fasted and prayed for three days when he was converted (Acts 9:9, 11). Members of the church at Antioch fasted to know the will of God (Acts 13:2). Again they “fasted and prayed” when they sent Paul and Barnabas out as missionaries (Acts 13:3). The Apostle Paul said he practiced “fastings often” (II Corinthians 11:27). And here in our text Jesus tells us we should fast. He said, “When ye fast” (Matthew 6:16).

I have great respect for Dr. J. Vernon McGee. In the 1960s I studied the entire Bible, from cover to cover, listening to his verse-by-verse expositions on the radio. Concerning our text, “When ye fast,” Dr. McGee said, “Fasting has a value for believers in our day, I am convinced of that” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume IV, p. 38).

Many people think Jesus was teaching against fasting in this passage, but they are wrong. He was teaching against “externalism” as the Scofield note puts it. He was teaching against fasting hypocritically. But He was not teaching against true fasting at all. Just the opposite – He said, “When ye fast,” and then He told them how to do it, and why they should do it. Jesus did not say, "If ye fast." Oh, no! Jesus said, "When ye fast."

Fasting does have value today. But even back in his time the famous Bible commentator Matthew Henry lamented “that it is...generally neglected among Christians” (note on Matthew 16:16). About 25 years after Matthew Henry died John Wesley revived the practice, calling on his followers to follow the example of the early Christians by fasting twice a week. Thus the First Great Awakening was born during a time of renewed interest in fasting and prayer. This revived emphasis on fasting had its roots in this statement of Christ,

“When ye fast” (Matthew 6:16).

And the Bible teaches that there are many reasons to fast at times when we pray today. I am going to give three of them tonight.

I. First, we need to fast and pray for God to overcome the power of Satan.

Please turn to Mark 9:28-29. Stand and read these two verses aloud.

“And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:28-29).

You may be seated. As I said in a previous sermon titled “Only by Prayer and Fasting” (June 14, 2009, AM), I believe it is wrong that the words “prayer and fasting” in Mark 9:29 have been removed from most modern translations. I think this has been based on faulty textual criticism. Sadly verse 29 has been removed from these modern translations. They have been influenced by two old manuscripts copied by Gnostically-influenced priests, who took out verse 29. Thus one of the most important reasons for fasting has been removed from the thought of Christians in the West who now read these new translations based on those two questionable manuscripts. No wonder our churches have so little power against Satan! Dr. John R. Rice said, “Let us not doubt that this child was literally possessed of a devil [demon]. Evil spirits are about us” (Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1980 edition, p. 364; comment on Matthew 17:14-21). The Bible says,

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against… spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

It is extremely difficult to build up churches by evangelism today. Some are even saying that evangelicalism in America is dead. It seems to me that the power of Satan is very great in our time. It seems to me that we need God’s power to overcome the “spiritual wickedness in high places.” Let us fast and pray for God to break Satan’s stranglehold! That seems perfectly reasonable in these days of apostasy and coldness in the churches, when Satan holds such power over so many people we are attempting to win for Christ. Sing hymn number 6, “Teach Me to Pray,” the second stanza!

Power in prayer, Lord, power in prayer,
   Here ‘mid earth’s sin and sorrow and care;
Men lost and dying, souls in despair;
   O give me power, power in prayer!
(“Teach Me to Pray” by Albert S. Reitz, 1879-1966).

It seems to me that power in prayer is directly connected with fasting, for Jesus said,

“When ye fast” (Matthew 6:16).

II. Second, we need to fast and pray for God to intervene by
sending revival.

No, I don’t think everything depends on revival. But we have not had a national revival in America since 1859 – and local church revivals have become so rare that few have ever seen one today in our country. I remember Dr. Ken Connolly saying, “We live in a generation that has never known revival.” But the Apostle Paul knew revival! God came and blest the services he held throughout the Book of Acts. We should not be surprised, then, when we read that Paul was

“in fastings often” (II Corinthians 11:27).

Dr. Schaff, the Christian historian, says that the early “Christians appointed Wednesday and especially Friday” as fast days (Philip Schaff, Ph.D., History of the Christian Church, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976 edition, volume II, p. 379). John Wesley revived this custom during the First Great Awakening.

No, I don’t think fasting and prayer will automatically bring revival. Nor do I think there are certain days fixed for fasting and prayer. I do not see that in the Bible. But I don’t see how we can experience revival today without having some days of fasting and prayer. Dr. John R. Rice said,

The greatest saints of God throughout the Bible often fasted. Fasting is often connected with wholehearted prayer, with mourning, with repentance, with seeking deliverance from enemies or wisdom from above. Moses fasted forty days on Mount Sinai, and our Saviour fasted forty days in the wilderness. Joshua, David, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, the disciples of John the Baptist, Anna, the Apostles, Paul and Barnabas, and others fasted and prayed. Saints of God got their prayers answered when they waited on God in fastings and prayer. Since Bible times, the greatest men of prayer have oftimes fasted as well as prayed. A Christian is in good company when he fasts and prays…the Saviour not only fasted [Himself], but He taught His disciples to fast. They did after He [ascended and] was taken away (John R. Rice, D.D., Prayer – Asking and Receiving, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1970 edition, p. 215).

Dr. Rice also spoke of “revival brought by prayer and fasting” (ibid. p. 227).

Yet we should not think that fasting and prayer will “make” revival come. Rev. Iain H. Murray correctly says,

God has chosen to make prayer a means of blessing, not so that the fulfillment of his purposes becomes dependent upon us, but rather to help us learn our absolute dependence upon Him… Such an understanding of prayer, far from leading to resignation or fatalism, engenders a spirit of God-consciousness and what a contemporary author calls “radical…prayer and fasting” (Rev. Iain H. Murray, Pentecost Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998, page 69).

It has been well said that “When God intends to bless His people, He sets them first to praying.” John Wesley put this another way,

Let fasting be done unto the Lord with our eye…fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father in heaven (The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, Baker Books, 2000, p. 360).

Fasting and prayer are not the “cause” of revival. God is the cause. In fasting and prayer, we draw closer to God, and when He sees fit, He will send an outpouring of revival. It is all in God’s hands. Yet, it is also true, in a time of revival, people’s prayers will be quickened and become deeper and richer as people fast and pray. It was in a time when God was already sending revival that John Wesley could ask,

Have you appointed any days of fasting and prayer? Storm the throne of grace, and persevere therein, and mercy will come down (Letters of John Wesley, p. 340).

Yet we know by experience that we cannot have meetings for prayer and fasting, like Mr. Wesley described, unless God Himself first gives us power in prayer. God Himself is the author of prayer that storms “the throne of grace [until] mercy [comes] down.” God is the author of intense revival fasting and prayer. Only as God is the author and finisher of it can we fast and pray in a way that pleases Him to send revival. Otherwise all our fasting and prayer will come to nothing. Let us seek the face of God, and give up our souls to Him, and fast and pray that He may be glorified in His church. Only such God-centered prayer and fasting can ever be blest with true revival. Please stand and sing “Teach Me to Pray” again! It’s number 6 on the song sheet, stanza two.

Power in prayer, Lord, power in prayer,
   Here ‘mid earth’s sin and sorrow and care;
Men lost and dying, souls in despair;
   O give me power, power in prayer!
(“Teach Me to Pray” by Albert S. Reitz, 1879-1966).

III. Third, we need to fast and pray for individuals to be converted.

Jesus said,

“When ye fast” (Matthew 6:16).

God said to the prophet Isaiah,

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6).

The boy whom the Disciples could not help was bound with “the bands of wickedness.” The Disciples could not help him because,

“This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).

Are there not some of those who come to church in a similar condition? Has not Satan “the god of this world…blinded the minds of them which believe not”? (II Corinthians 4:4). Does not God speak to us as well when He said to the prophet Isaiah,

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6).

I think Charles Wesley had this verse in Isaiah in mind when he wrote,

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
   He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
   His blood availed for me.
(“O For a Thousand Tongues” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

Please stand and sing it to the tune of “O Set Ye Open Unto Me.”

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
   He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
   His blood availed for me.

You may be seated.

Oh, how we must fast and pray for Christ to do that in the lives of some here who are still unconverted! Oh, how we must pray for Christ to break the power of sin that holds them in the grip of Satan and the world! Oh, how we must fast and pray for Christ

“to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free…”! (Isaiah 58:6).

Pray now for some that you can think of who need to be saved! (all pray). Now sing Charles Wesley’s hymn yet again!

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
   He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
   His blood availed for me.

Charles’ brother John Wesley said it well, in a time of revival,

Have you appointed any days of fasting and prayer? Storm the throne of grace, and persevere therein, and mercy will come down (ibid.).

May we do exactly that next Saturday! May we who are able to do so fast and pray at home, by name, for those who are lost among us! Not all of you can fast, of course. But as time, health, and circumstances permit, let those who are able do so. Then let us come back here to church next Saturday night at 7:30, and pray for them again for a half hour, then break our fast with a meal, and go home rejoicing in God! For indeed, Charles Wesley's hymn is true! Sing it again!

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
   He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
   His blood availed for me.

And in all our prayers, and in our time of fasting and prayer next Saturday, let us remember to ask God to give us power in prayer! Stand and sing it!

Power in prayer, Lord, power in prayer,
   Here ‘mid earth’s sin and sorrow and care;
Men lost and dying, souls in despair;
   O give me power, power in prayer!
(“Teach Me to Pray” by Albert S. Reitz, 1879-1966).

Is there someone here tonight who is lost? We have prayed for you. You need Jesus Christ to set you free from Satan’s grip and cleanse your sins by His precious Blood. Will you come and speak to me and our deacon Dr. Cagan about being saved by Jesus? Let us sing Charles Wesley’s hymn again before you go. Sing Charles Wesley’s hymn again.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
   He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
   His blood availed for me.

If you wish to speak to the deacon and me about salvation in Christ, please step to the back of the church and the deacon will lead you to the inquiry room where we can talk this over. Everyone pray as they go.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 6:16-18.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Teach Me to Pray” (by Albert S. Reitz, 1879-1966).


THE OUTLINE OF

WHEN YOU FAST

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“When ye fast” (Matthew 6:16).

(Matthew 9:15; Acts 9:9, 11; 13:2, 3; II Corinthians 11:27)

I.   First, we need to fast and pray for God to overcome the power of Satan, Mark 9:28-29; Ephesians 6:12.

II.  Second, we need to fast and pray for God to intervene by sending revival, II Corinthians 11:27.

III. Third, we need to fast and pray for individuals to be converted, Isaiah 58:6; Mark 9:29; II Corinthians 4:4.