Midweek Fellowship – April 20, 2016
“The Power of Hunger”
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
There is an amazing story in Exodus chapters 32 and 33. The people of Israel have just committed their great sin concerning the golden calf. The Lord informed Moses of their sin and then said, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let me alone, that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great people.” (Exodus 32: 9-10) God’s intention was clear: He was going to crush Israel, and start over with Moses. But the next verses are shocking: Moses intercedes, and the Lord relents. (Exodus 32: 11-14)
Nevertheless the Lord punished Israel heavily, then told Moses that He was sending the people on to Canaan, but that He would not go along for the trip. He said, “And I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perezite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, lest I destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33: 2-3) The story continues, “When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning.” (Exodus 32: 4) The people did not miss the point: There was no rejoicing over the promise to possess Canaan, because the Lord said an angel would go with them, but He Himself would not.
Again, Moses interceded (vv 12-13). Again the awesome response in verse 14: “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” Just to be sure, Moses continued to press his case: “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by You going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33: 15-16)
God’s response? “I will also do this thing which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight, and I have known you by Name.” (Exodus 33: 17)
Just sit back for a moment and realize what just happened! A man changed the course of Almighty God through intercession! This is why we have been spending so much time dwelling on prayer for almost this entire year so far! (We began January 12) But stop and think with me for a minute: was it prayer alone? Remember, Moses had been fasting for the previous forty days, as well!
One man brought such a deliverance through prayer and fasting!
This is what Isaiah chapter fifty-eight is about. Fasting is far more than humbling yourself or some kind of spiritual hataw or litmus test. Isaiah says it is power to set people free. And if you read it carefully, especially verses 6-12, you can see the spiritual benefits of this spiritual discipline.
Why do you think Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days, just like Moses. Certainly He did not need more influence with God, since He was “very God of very God.” But Jesus had a desire, a mission, a purpose, which He wanted to fulfill. Isaiah had said the Spirit was on Him “To bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to prisoners, and to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, to comfort all who mourn.” (Isaiah 61: 1-2) He also proclaimed God’s desire “to open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and heal the legs of the lame. He said the scorched land will be a pool, the exhausted and feeble and anxious will be delivered. (Isaiah 35: 1-7)
These things were Christ’s mission. How was He to accomplish it? He had just been filled with the Spirit, but the Spirit Himself seemed to think there was a further need. He sent Jesus into the wilderness for a time of ? What? Fasting. If you want to see something interesting, look again at Isaiah 58 and compare the promised results of fasting there with what he had predicted in chapters 35 and 61; you will see great similarities.
Another promise of fasting in Isaiah 58 is in verse 8: “Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth, and your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. This is a description of a man delivered from sin, or temptation. Where did Jesus get the power to resist the temptations of satan that were soon to come? From His fasting.
Verse 9 shows us another benefit: “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’” Answered prayers spring from times of fasting. As we said last week, prayer and fasting are Siamese twins.
But let us not forget the whole point of Isaiah 58: fasting is not just for your own sake, but for the sake of others. In other words, there is a realm where your fasting breaks the yoke in the lives of others. That was the primary goal of Jesus’ forty-day fast. It was to prepare Him for His ministry, yes. It was to prepare Him for the temptation of the devil, yes. But His primary goal was for the promises of Isaiah 35 and 61 to come to fruition: for the deliverance of God to come to others.
From this perspective, let us look more closely at the story of Jesus fasting in the wilderness, from Matthew 4: 1-2: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.”
Wow, Jesus really had a different metabolism than I do. According to this, He fasted forty days, then became hungry. Lest we be confused, the word translated ‘then’ means later or afterward. Do you see what I mean? He got hungry after the fortieth day. If it were me, it would be after the thirtieth, or the tenth, or more likely, about 10: 00 am on the first day. What is Matthew saying?
Obviously he is not talking about just physical hunger here. There was a spiritual hunger that was whetted and increased by Jesus’ physical hunger. His physical hunger brought forth a spiritual result. To insure Jesus fulfilled His mission and purpose, there needed to be a hunger for its accomplishment. His hunger to fulfill God’s will had to be stronger than His physical hunger for food, a temperate climate, and other creature comforts. For you see, you can complete your purpose when you are hungry for it. You can overcome temptation when you are hungrier to fulfill God’s will. That is fasting. This is what it brings to us - and to others, as well.
For Jesus was there in the wilderness not just for Himself, but for us. This is the higher realm of fasting: fasting for others, so that the yoke can be broken in their lives. If you know of brothers or sisters whose hunger for the things of God has waned, we can do like Jesus: fast for them, hunger in the flesh, that they might hunger in the Spirit. As we learned last week, we refuse food for one of three reasons: depression, disease, or devotion. Our hunger birthed out of devotion can bring healing to those who have lost their spiritual hunger, due to being spiritually sick or depressed. This is the power of fasting!