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A Catholic priest working in an inner city was walking down an alley one evening on his way home when a young man came down the alley behind him and poked a knife against his back. "Give me your money," the young man said. The priest opened his jacket and reached into an inner pocket to remove his wallet, exposing his clerical collar. "Oh, I'm sorry, Father," said the young man, "I didn't see your collar. I don't want YOUR money."

Trembling from the scare, the priest removed a cigar from his shirt pocket and offered it to the young man. "Here," he said. "Have a cigar."

"Oh, no, I can't do that," the young man replied, "I gave them up for Lent."

That is funny isn't it. But that is now exactly were the Lord Jesus is talking about in this part of the Gospel Text Matthew 6: 16-18.

Luke 5 : 27 - 39

A Catholic priest working in an inner city was walking down an alley one evening on his way home when a young man came down the alley behind him and poked a knife against his back. "Give me your money," the young man said. The priest opened his jacket and reached into an inner pocket to remove his wallet, exposing his clerical collar. "Oh, I'm sorry, Father," said the young man, "I didn't see your collar. I don't want YOUR money."

Trembling from the scare, the priest removed a cigar from his shirt pocket and offered it to the young man. "Here," he said. "Have a cigar."

"Oh, no, I can't do that," the young man replied, "I gave them up for Lent."

That is funny isn't it. But that is now exactly were the Lord Jesus is talking about in this part of the Gospel Text Matthew 6: 16-18..

16"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Here the Lord Jesus is saying as in the part we read in Luke 5 don't fast for fasting sake.

I will come back to that, but first this.

We are in the season of Lent, "Lent is often overlooked by evangelical churches that eschew, meaning shun or keep clear from eschew the liturgical calendar such as the Catholics or Anglican churches uses, in favor of following their own themes for sermons and activities. And evangelical churches that do follow liturgy sometimes give short shrift to Lent. Still, many evangelicals do observe Lent, and often do so in ways that they find lead to significant spiritual growth."

Lent the period of time, which is the season of preparation for Good Friday and Easter. Lent the season that begins with Ash Wednesday and ends after forty days, at Easter. A little church history.

What exactly is "Ash Wednesday"? Where does it come from? It's not in the Bible, obviously. But some of its ideas are. Ash Wednesday has its origins in the early Christian Church - somewhere between the sixth and eight centuries. Originally, the idea was that a Christian, as a sign of repentance, would sprinkle ashes on his or her head.

Where did this idea come from? This action came from the Bible; ashes were always associated with humility and mortality, fasting and remorse.

If you had sinned against God, and you felt remorse about that sin, and you were repenting of that sin, then in the Old Testament, you would sprinkle ashes on your head as a sign of sorrow and repentance.

Nehemia 9 : 1 On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having ashes on their heads.  2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers.

Job 42 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

Daniel 9 : 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. 4I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:

Matt 11. 21"Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

Ashes were supposed to remind you that you were mortal, that you will eventually become ashes after you die. We're only ashes, and we need to repent of our sins now while God gives us a time of grace.

During 6th or 7th centuries, Christian churches thought about this idea.

People, in private, at times, would sprinkle ashes on themselves as a sign of repentance. Eventually, this became a public practice. Instead of sprinkling the ashes on your head, the ashes would be rubbed onto the forehead in the shape of a cross.

Back to lent the word is from an old English word and means spring. In Holland the season of spring is called Lente. It is the time that renewal begins in nature the days are getting warmer and that what was dormant is coming to life again. And as was said before, we evangelicals do not have in our churches a spiritual season of lent such as the RC church has it. The only time we speak of it is to remind us that we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of Good Friday and Easter prepare ourselves for that week we call the Passion week which begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter. No the word Lent is not found in the Bible not even in the old KJV. And even RC sources such as the Catholic encyclopedia says that writers of the 4th centuryAD who were prone to describe the many practices of lent as"the Lenten feast of forty days as instituted by the Apostles" the encyclopedia says they had no biblical claim to say so. As I said lent is not practiced in our Churches, lent as a season of fasting and praying, self-examination and dedication in a special way to God.

And the main item of lent we know about or do we? I am speaking of fasting, yes we know about it we know it to be a biblical truth. But that is about all we know about it that it is in the bible. Fasting we also know it means to abstain form certain foods or certain drinks for a longer or shorter period of time. Like the robber who was fasting he had given up smoking. Or the habit we even have in our homes to eat fish on Friday fasting from other meats. And yes we know it is frequently mentioned in the OT. And because knowing God's word we also know of fasting by choice. In the OT we read that days of fasting, abstinence of food to be accompanied by prayer and humbling oneself before God as sorrow for sin were often proclaimed especially in days of national calamity, which in Israel of old and especially in Judges seem to happen often. Judges 20 : 26Then the Israelites, all the people, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offeringsC to the LORD. 27And the Israelites inquired of the LORD. Moses on Mt.Sinai instituted a solemn fast called the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur a day of fasting and prayer, still being observed by the Jewish people today.

Moses himself fasted 40 days on Mt. Sinai Exodus 24 : 18. Elijah fasted for forty days on Mt. Horeb, 2 Kings 19 : 8. And the Lord Jesus fasted for forty days at the beginning of His earthly ministry, Matt. 4 : 2 In Biblical numerology the number 40 is the number of probation, testing, and trial. Moses life was divided in 40-year spans or trial periods. For 40 year he was an Egyptian Prince, yes I enjoyed the movie.

"The Prince of Egypt." For 40 years he was in the backside of the desert as a lowly shepherd and for forty years as leader of the people of Israel. As one commentator said. " It took Moses 40 years to find out that he was nobody, 40 more years to find out that he was somebody and another 40 years that God was everybody. Yes you are right that sounds like the days of our life.

The Jewish calendar had 21 fasting days of which the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur was the most important. In the NT we find that the Pharisees had increased the frequency of fasts. And also that the disciples of John fasted regularly. And in Matt. 6 : 16"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Jesus disciples were told to fast not for fasting sake but to honor God our heavenly Father with a time set apart unto God. For that is what fasting is, setting time and ourselves apart unto God.

The early Church fasted. The Apostolic Church held fasts before certain occasions. The church in of Antioch, Acts 13, fasted and prayed before sending out Barnabas and Paul. On Paul's first missionary journey elders for the newly established churches were appointed with prayer and fasting. Acts 14. The early church practiced it; some say as a carry over from Judaism a reminder of old. The old wine skins, the old garments to be done away with when the liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed.

And we as evangelicals have certainly explained it that way for the practice of fasting has almost entirely disappeared form our lives from the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. What is more we don't consider it as necessary or important or needful anymore.

Let me ask you, and myself too, this question. How often have you thought about fasting as a spiritual exercise? What place does it occupy in your spiritual walk or in your view of the Christian life as lived from day to day? Have you ever fasted as a spiritual exercise? What actually is fasting? What is its purpose? I have already said that fasting is the abstinence from food no not so as to be seen by men to show how holy we are or how spiritual. Fasting is for spiritual reasons not for physical as being on a diet to loose weight, not to discipline ourselves for as Christian we are asked to live the disciplined life be true to the teachings of our Lord.

Fasting if we do it, its purpose should be to bring us in closer fellowship with God Therefore it is not necessarily limited to food. It is being willing to give up something for God for the building up of our spiritual life for our walk with God. Fasting when done bring us in closer fellowship with God of seeking God, of seeking fellowship with Him, of truly experiencing the infilling of God's Spirit. Not because it is the law or the church says so because it is Friday so we have to have fish or it is lent no coffee, cake candy or meat. No because that is again what Jesus warned the disciples about in Matt. 6 When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. Not like after the fun times of Carnival come the bad times of fasting. In the matter of fasting if we consider it, we should be very sensitive to the leading of the HOLY SPIRIT who asks from us that we concentrate on God for a season, concentrate upon Jesus and His saving work on Calvary. Concentrate upon the HOLY SPIRIT and His dwelling in us. If we truly want to please God and glorify His name, for such great salvation as He gave us, and do it with prayer and fasting, God will bless us, not because we pray and fast for its own sake, but because we do that what pleases God. Giving Him first place in our life. If we live to the glory of God we do not need to set a special season such as lent apart, everyday should be dedicated to His Glory. Jesus said if we give ourselves to God who is unseen we will know how to eat and drink and dress because we want to do it to the glory of God and not for selfish purposes. When Jesus said this he added a promise that God who sees what you do in private will reward you. With fasting what matters is that we are right with God as those who have crucified the flesh with all its passion for food, clothing, drink, acclaim and desires. Let the HOLY SPIRIT

lead us if He so desires that we should fast and leave it to Him to Glorify God through our life.

Fasting a time set apart for God is good but a life set apart for God is what He requires from each one of us.

Gerald Kennedy in one of his books writes about the old conference minutes of the Methodist church he writes in those days they put down their information by way of question and answer. In the minutes for the year 1791 there was this item. Question #10 : Who has died this year?

Answer: Wyatt Andrews, who died full of faith and the Holy Ghost. As long as he could ride he traveled for the Lord and while he had breath he praised God.

That is all we know about Wyatt Andrews Kennedy writes but it is enough to make me look forward to meeting him in heaven. Traveling to heaven filled with the spirit and praising God"

O the world and maybe even those close to us may never know exactly who and what we are. Those around us may not know about our times with God.

The times we set aside in fasting and prayer for God. But Praise God, He knows and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

God knows and that is all that matters. And one day all will know when on that great and glorious day it will be announced for all to hear that the Father who saw in secret will reward us openly by saying well done you good and faithful servant. You have been faithful enter in the joy of God and all will see a faithful servant entering into the rest prepared for those who love Him. Are they able to see some of it now, in you? A person filled with the Spirit of God praising God while on their way to heaven? May God give us such a life, a life not just set-aside for a season or a day in fasting although it is important but a life dedicated to God, everyday and always.

Pastor Bert Nieuwenhuis is the interim pastor at Somerset Bible Chapel, Manitoba, Canada.

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