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FASTING AND PRAYER IN A TIME OF APOSTASY
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Now I want you to turn to Luke, chapter 4, verses 18 to 21. I am repeating those verses from the reading Mr. Prudhomme gave a few minutes ago. Luke 4:18-21 is on page 1077 of the Scofield Study Bible.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:18-21).
You may be seated.
Jesus read this passage from Isaiah 61:1, 2. When He had read those verses He said they were fulfilled in Him. He was the one that had been anointed to preach the Gospel. He was the one who God had sent to heal the broken hearted. He was the one God had sent to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind. He was the one God had sent to set at liberty those who were bruised and oppressed.
They hated Him for saying that He was the one. They were His own neighbors and friends, in His home town of Nazareth. They said, “Is not this Joseph's son?” (Luke 4:22). “And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath” – full of anger (Luke 4:28). They got up from their seats and drove Him out of town. The crowd pushed Him toward the edge of a cliff – and were about to throw Him down to His death. “But he passing through the midst of them went his way” (Luke 4:30). Matthew Henry said that He either blinded their eyes or filled them with confusion, “For his work was not done, it was but just begun.”
He left Nazareth and went down to Capernaum. In the synagogue there was a demon possessed man. My wife Ileana and I were there. We saw the ruins of that ancient synagogue. The demon possessed man cried out with a loud voice,
“What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34).
And Jesus said, “Be quiet. Come out of him!” The demon threw the man down and came out of him. The people who saw that were amazed. They said, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” “And the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about” (Luke 4:37).
Then Jesus left the synagogue and walked across the street to Peter’s house. When Ileana and I were there I was startled to see how close Peter’s house was to the synagogue – only a few steps away, on the other side of the street. They have excavated Peter’s house and you can see the foundation of it to this day. Peter’s mother in law was in the house with a high fever. Jesus rebuked the fever and it left her. As the sun was going down that afternoon the people brought those who were demon possessed, and had diseases. He laid His hands on them. Every one of them were healed. The demons came out shouting, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!” And the wonderful account goes on and on! I love to read it!
Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.
(“Tell Me the Story of Jesus” by Fanny J. Crosby, 1820-1915).
And the story goes on, after Christ went back to Heaven. We see the same power of Christ, coming down from God. And it goes on, in the churches of the first, second, and third centuries – and it goes on in many parts of the “third world” to this day. New Christians are flocking to the “unregistered” churches by the tens of thousands in China, and other parts of the developing world.
But something has happened to our churches in America, in Europe, and in the West. Something terrible began toward the middle of the 19th century in the Western world. Starting about 1830 many things began to change. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that nearly all the problems in the church today can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century – criticism of the Bible, the discovery of the Gnostic-polluted Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts, the “decisionism” of Finney, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Campbellites, the Seventh Day Adventists, instant baptisms, Darwinism – all of these things sprang up within about 50 years of each other! It was a remarkably confused and demonic era. And then you had World War I, which gutted Europe. And the churches themselves were gutted. We never got over it. The liberals were telling the churches that man is basically good – that man was moving upward, evolving into a wonderful world. World War I blew that idea clear out of the water! People didn’t know that the Bible says man is evil. The common people didn't know that the liberals had misled them. They thought Christianity was absurd. It was just a fairy tale. We’ve never gotten over that. Then there was World War II. Look how many from that generation rejected God. They said, “I can’t believe in God because of Auschwitz – or because of Hiroshima.” They hadn’t been taught what the Bible says about the total depravity of man. Our great grandparents and our grandparents turned away from the churches. They became a generation of agnostics and atheists. And now we face you – their offspring.
The Fundamentalists were fighting for their lives against liberalism. They were good people. I admire them. But they didn’t realize that “decisionism” was bringing in tens of thousands of unconverted people into the churches. That, in turn, produced neo-evangelicalism, which produced people from Fuller Theological Seminary like Rob Bell (Love Wins – universalism). People act like it’s something new. It’s not new at all. People like Bell are simply a new crop of Unitarians. Bell is in fact a Unitarian – so is Fuller Seminary, in all but name. So you have these new Unitarian unbelievers running around calling themselves “evangelicals.” It’s a tragedy! Last year the Southern Baptist Convention lost 200,000 of those people in twelve months! Think of it – almost a quarter of a million people gone from the Southern Baptist churches in 12 months! It’s incredible! They were afraid of ISIS; they saw Christians beheaded on the news, and they were afraid; they were afraid of the sexual revolution; they were afraid of Obama; they were afraid of everything – so they ran away from church to hide! It’s mind boggling. 200,000 people left the churches in only 12 months!
So, that’s where we come in. Here we are in the civic center, in downtown Los Angeles, fifteen minutes from Hollywood – the armpit of the Western world. And we are supposed to have a church carved out of unbelievers! You mean you think a bunch of college kids from non-Christian homes can make up a church? It’s impossible! But, more than that, we are praying for a revival! Ha! Ha! Ha! It’s an impossible dream! Or is it? Humanly speaking it’s not possible. But that’s where God comes in. Jesus said,
“With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
Nothing really important has changed since the first century. Jesus quoted Isaiah and said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). They thought He was a madman. They tried to kill Him right then. “But he passing through the midst of them went his way” (Luke 4:30).
He went out of that synagogue to perform one miracle after the other. Within a few short years His followers were everywhere in the Roman Empire. When they got to the city of Thessalonica the rulers of that city cried out, “These that have turned the world upside down [have come here] also” (Acts 17:6).
Nothing really important has changed. Man is still the same – full of rebellion and unbelief. God is still the same, still on His throne, still all-powerful, still in control. Christ is still the same. He has risen from the dead and He is Lord!
He is Lord, He is Lord,
He has risen from the dead,
And He is Lord.
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord!
(“He is Lord” by Marvin V. Frey, 1918-1992).
“You are Lord.” Sing it!
You are Lord, You are Lord,
You have risen from the dead,
And You are Lord.
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord!
God and Christ and the Holy Spirit constitute the greatest power in the universe! I am convinced that God can send down the power of His Holy Spirit today – as much as He did in the past! We cannot do it. We have no power. But the Bible says, “Power belongeth unto God” (Psalm 62:11). When God pours out His Spirit great and mighty things happen. John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, said that Scotland was saved from Bloody Mary’s sword because “God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in abundance” (The Works of John Knox, volume 1, 1946 edition, p. 101).
When you pray for our church, pray for an outpouring of God’s Spirit in our midst. When you go to evangelism pray for an outpouring of God’s Spirit on our work. When you are driving in your car, pray for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on our work! The great preacher Charles Simeon said, “The work of conversion must be very gradual among you, unless God pours out his Spirit in a most extraordinary measure upon you” (W. Carus, Memoirs of Charles Simeon, 2nd edition, 1847, p. 373).
Remember, we cannot make God pour out His Spirit. I have been praying for forty years for God to pour out His Spirit on this church. He has not done it yet. Now, looking back, I can see, I think, the reasons He did not answer. But now we have a better church. Now the leadership is converted. Now most of our young people are converted. Perhaps now God will answer our prayers – and at least send His Spirit to draw ten or twelve new young people into our church this summer. Please turn to our memory verse on fasting. It is Isaiah 58:6. It’s on page 763 of the Scofield Study Bible. Stand and read it aloud.
“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).
You may be seated. Please memorize that verse. Please open to it and read it as you fast and pray next Saturday. Notice how closely Isaiah 58:6 compares to Isaiah 61:1-2.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn” (Isaiah 61:1-2).
We see by comparing those two passages that the work of Christ may continue on earth now, through God’s answer to our prayers and fasting.
Dr. John R. Rice (1895-1980) said, “I know that real fasting and humiliation of mind as we wait on God will get the blessing God wants to give us!...fast and pray until God meets you in blessing” (Prayer: Asking and Receiving, Sword of the Lord, 1997 edition, pp. 230, 231).
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) fasted and prayed for three days as he prepared to preach Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God...the First Great Awakening began with that sermon (Elmer Towns, D.Min., The Beginner’s Guide to Fasting, Regal Publications, 2001, pp. 123, 124).
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) said, “I wonder if it has ever occurred to us that we ought to be considering the question of fasting? The fact is, is it not, that this whole subject seems to have dropped right out of...our whole Christian thinking” (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, part 2, Eerdmans, p. 34).
The ancient second century pastor, Polycarp (c. 80-167) said, “Let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning; ‘watching unto prayer’ and ‘persevering in fasting’” (Epistle to the Philippians).
Spurgeon (1834-1892) said, “We have...lost a very great blessing in the Christian church by giving up fasting” (C. H. Spurgeon, “A Desperate Case – How to Meet It,” January 10, 1864).
Dr. R. A. Torrey (1856-1928) said, “If we would pray with power, we should pray with fasting” (How to Pray, 2007 edition, p. 37).
The venerable John Wesley (1703-1791) said, “Have you any days of fasting and prayer? Storm the throne of grace and persevere therein, and mercy will come down” (The Works of John Wesley, volume 10, 1827 edition, p. 340).
The great Chinese evangelist Dr. John Sung (1901-1944) said, “Many [of the young people] held fasting and prayer sessions. The students’ love for the Lord was touching” (The Diary of John Sung, compiled by Levi, Genesis Books, 2012, p. 298).
The pioneer missionary to China, Dr. James Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) said, “In Shansi I found Chinese Christians who were accustomed to spend time in fasting and prayer...a divinely appointed means of grace. Perhaps the greatest hindrance to our work is our own imagined strength; and in fasting we learn what poor, weak creatures we are – dependent on a meal of meat for the little strength which we are so apt to lean upon” (The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, Baker Books, 2000, p. 360).
Dr. Timothy Lin (1911-2009) said, “Our spiritual awareness is often unblocked as soon as we start fasting and praying...This is speaking from my personal experience” (The Secret of Church Growth, First Chinese Baptist Church, 1992, p. 23).
We will have another day of fasting in our church this coming Saturday. I want to give you some points on how to do it.
1. Make your fast a secret (as much as possible). Don’t go around telling people that you are fasting.
2. Spend some time reading the Bible. Read some parts of the Book of Acts (preferably near the beginning).
3. Memorize Isaiah 58:6 during Saturday’s fast.
4. Pray for God to give us 10 or more new people who stay with us.
5. Pray for the conversion of our unsaved young people. Pray for God to do for them what He said in Isaiah 58:6.
6. Pray that first time visitors today (Sunday) will be drawn back again next Sunday. Pray for them by name if possible.
7. Pray for God to show me what to preach next Sunday – in the morning and in the evening.
8. Drink lots of water. About one glass each hour. You can drink one large cup of coffee at the beginning if you are used to drinking it every day. Do not drink soft drinks, power drinks, etc.
9. See a medical doctor before you fast if you have any questions about your health. (You can see Dr. Kreighton Chan or Dr. Judith Cagan in our church.) Do not fast if you have a serious disorder, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Just use Saturday to pray for these requests.
10. Begin your fast after your evening meal on Friday. Don’t eat anything after dinner on Friday until we have a meal at church at 5:30 Saturday evening.
11. Remember that the most important thing to pray for is for the lost young people in our church to be converted – and also for the new young people coming in during this time, to stay with us permanently.
Now, I will give a few words to those of you who are not yet converted. Jesus died on the Cross to pay the supreme penalty for your sin, so you will not be judged for your sin. Jesus rose physically, in His resurrected flesh and bone body. He did that so He can give you everlasting life. Jesus ascended back to the right hand of God in the Third Heaven. You can come to Him by faith and He will save you from sin, and the judgment! God bless you. Amen. Dr. Chan, please lead us in prayer.
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(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Luke 4:16-21.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare” (by John Newton, 1725-1807).