The Sermon on the Mount

Day 18: How to Fast

Matthew 6:16-18, 2 Samuel 12:15-23, Psalm 51:16-17, Isaiah 58:1-12, Revelation 19:6-10


Before I say anything about fasting, you need to know a couple of things.

First, I love to eat. Let me be clear: I plan all vacations around the meals I will eat. Everything else is filler. I do not like meals eaten on the run or quickly. And I like to eat almost anything except olives. No food is safe around me. I love to eat.

Second, because of my love of eating, I may not be the person you want to listen to in a discussion about fasting. I can count on half of one hand all the times I have “successfully” fasted. And even then I was so miserable as to wonder if I was actually doing what I was supposed to be doing. Once I participated in a fast with my church and we broke the fast after a couple of days with—wait for it—a vegetable lasagna. I was nearly enraged because I believe, strongly, that lasagna needs meat and that vegetables are for the salad on the side.

This may sound like I am contradicting my first point above, but I’m not really. Because that’s what fasting does to me, and that is the point of Jesus’ teaching on fasting in Matthew 6:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (v.16).

You have to stop and think about this one. Fasting causes one to feel gloomy, right? You feel physically and emotionally drained. It can be misery. So looking miserable would not make you a hypocrite, would it? Not really. But that is not what Jesus is pointing to. Jesus was saying the hypocrisy is in wanting others to see us as miserable while we fast. The hypocrisy is in saying we are fasting to pursue righteousness when, in fact, we are fasting to appear righteous.

When I was fasting along with other members of my church, I could feel that desire for others to know I was forgoing what felt like my first love. I was dying to tell someone about what I was doing and the pain I was enduring. Every martyr wants their story told, right?

That is what we are supposed to see about ourselves in fasting: our need. If others see us in our misery, we are then puffed up and seen as righteous and holy. We want them to celebrate our sacrifice because when they do, we feel a false sense of security and affirmation.

Fasting is all about seeing our need for Christ because fasting tends to bring out the worst in us, like that insecurity and hypocrisy. Instead of reaching for security in food or others’ lauding our righteous works, we are to believe the gospel of Christ’s forgiveness of our insecurity and hypocrisy. And then, with all the fervor with which we want to lay hold of a meat-lover’s pizza, we lay hold of the righteousness of Christ by which we are secure before our “Father who sees in secret.”

Written by Matthew B. Redmond