As we journey to Jerusalem on this Pathway to the Passion, there are several pot holes and detours that we must avoid. Chief among them is the tendency to “go through the motions.” As we will discover from our readings today, we dare not travel on “auto pilot.” God desires a true fast, not a facade. He requires our fasting to be heart-felt and life altering, not lifeless and perfunctory. God is also dissatisfied when, rather than offering Him acts of true devotion, we substitute pseudo-pious performances meant to impress Him. As we will see, the Lord takes delight when our journey leads us to conform more and more to the image of His Son.
Read Isaiah 59:1-9a – No Two Ways About It
Through Isaiah, God lays out a strong accusation and complaint against His people. Their sins are to be announced like a trumpet blast! God is aware of the double life His people have been leading. They claim to seek God and to walk in His way. But, God is aware of the duplicitous path they are walking. They have taken a detour into unfaithfulness. As pastor Simon Perry says, “They want the blessings of obedience without walking the pathway of obedience.”
Though the people are performing the religious rituals prescribed by God, their participation is only for show. Immediately following, they return to fussing and fighting. They desire God’s favor, but treat their employees with disdain. Their expressions of devotion do not lead to any change in their behavior. Will God view such a fast as acceptable? Hardly! As the people don sack cloth, heap on ashes and bow low – it is not a fast but a facade!
What is God seeking? What He wants from His people is for their acts of piety to propel them to lives of ministry – particularly to the poor. The fast that God seeks leads to standing against unrighteousness and oppression, setting free the captive, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked, and being honest about their own human frailties and sinfulness. These are the same actions that Jesus would commend in His teaching about the “sheep and the goats” (Matthew 25:31-46).
When their worship finally shapes their lives and compels them to offer acts of love and mercy, then they will hear God’s voice of approval. Only then will their false worship facade become a true fast. Then, they will cry out to the Lord and He will respond, “Here I am.”
Read Psalm 51:3-6, 18-19 – Two Faced – One Broken Heart
King David knew full well what it meant to live a double life. On the one hand, he was a “man after God’s own heart.” David was used of God to kill a giant and bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. It was to David that God extended a covenant – promising that one of David’s descendants would inhabit his throne forever. On the other hand, David was a lust filled adulterer who impregnated a married woman and then concocted a scheme to have her husband killed, which is tantamount to murder. In this passage, David’s heart is broken. He acknowledges his personal sin, and the original sin he inherited as a member of the fallen human race. He confesses his sin in humble repentance. In so doing, David finds that his duplicitous deception and falsehood is transformed to truth. Such a disposition delights God as He instills His wisdom in the penitent heart. A life so inclined to integrity before God may then offer sacrifices acceptable to Him. This is the key to an authentic fast.
Read Matthew 9:14-15 – The True Fast
John’s disciples question Jesus about fasting. They lodge a complaint by asking why Jesus’ disciples aren’t fasting while they and the Pharisees fast quite often? Jesus’ response is a fascinating one. He claims that the wedding guests should not fast while the groom is with them. When the groom is no longer with them, then will be the time for fasting once again. In saying this, Jesus is communicating some great truths. Notably, He is claiming to be God. His answer is reminiscent of Hosea 2:19-23 where God claims that He will be the groom to not only Israel, but the Gentiles! Indeed, Jesus calls Himself the groom. Further, Jesus came to break down the dividing wall. In Him, there is no longer Jew and Gentile – for we are all One in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Those fasting during Jesus’ earthly life did not recognize that the Groom was with them. Their fast was a false fast…a facade based on an inability to recognize that the Groom had come! After Jesus’ ascension, after He is “taken away,” the bride would resume her fast as she waits for the return of her beloved. This is the status of our fast today. It requires a heart inclined to the groom. Desiring to remain “set apart” for her beloved – quick to confess unfaithfulness in humility and sorrow.
During these days of walking the Pathway to the Passion, may we learn to long for Him. And may our fast be from penitent hearts reshaped into the Heart of Christ. May we stay on the straight and narrow path – a path of serving the needs of others. And may we avoid the detours of going through the motions or showing everyone how pious we are. This is the true fast.