A fast commanded by God
Written by Reg Wright
This past Saturday was a spiritually uplifting but physical challenging day. Not only was it a weekly Sabbath but also an annual Sabbath of God – the Day or Atonement. God's people are commanded to fast on the Day of Atonement from sundown to sundown (Leviticus 23:27-32). So I am sure you can now understand why I say it was physically challenging for me.
The Day of Atonement is the only Feast of God when we are commanded to fast. The Bible, however has much more to say about this very important but oft-neglected spiritual key - Fasting. God desires and expects His followers to fast, and not just on the Day of Atonement. Fasting is an important part of building a right and strong relationship with Him (Luke 2:36-37; Acts 13:2).
Godly fasting is poles apart from hunger strikes used to gain political power or draw attention to a personal cause. Fasting liberates us from slavery to our appetites while we focus on the true "Bread of Life", Jesus Christ (John 6:48-51, 63). When fasting, we make a small self-sacrifice to focus on our Savior's awesome sacrifice and plan for us.
By nature we are egocentric (self-centered), and must work at becoming God-centered. A major purpose of fasting is to learn humility - to better understand how great God is and how weak, sinful and needy we are. King David understood this when he wrote, "I humbled myself with fasting" (Psalm 35:13). God delights in humble hearts. He said in Isaiah 66:2, "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word" (New International Version). In Matthew 5:3 Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And now you might understand why I said Saturday was also spiritually uplifting for me.
Jesus made it clear that if we fast to show off - to "appear to men to be fasting" - we are hypocrites and will have no reward from God (Matthew 6:16-18). Jesus did not mean that it is always wrong to tell someone you are fasting. Often there is a practical need to tell someone, like your spouse. Jesus was talking about the necessity of right motives and attitudes.
Jesus spoke a parable in which a proud Pharisee bragged to God, "I fast twice a week" (Luke 18:9, 12). The man imagined himself to be already humble and was proud of it! Fasting with such a conceited attitude is worthless.
God wants us to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:6). When we fast, we increasingly feel hungry and physically weak. In addition to reinforcing the fact that God is the One who sustains us and supplies all our needs, an important lesson of this is that we rapidly become weaker spiritually when we neglect the nourishment of prayer, Bible study and all other efforts to be God's spiritually transformed sons and daughters.
By fasting on the Day of Atonement, we are able to draw closer to God and we can learn more about the wonderful process of reconciliation of mankind to God. Christ is of course essential in this process as our High Priest (Hebrews:4:14-15; Hebrews:5:4-5; Hebrews:5:10) and as our eternal sacrifice for sin (Hebrews:9:26-28). It pictures our High Priest, Jesus Christ, making atonement for our sins, which allows us to be reconciled to God and enter into the "holiest of all", giving us direct access to Him (Hebrews:9:8-14; Hebrews:10:19-20). The Atonement fast also has prophetic significance. This Holy Day also points to the time when Satan will be bound for 1,000 years (Leviticus:16:29-30, Leviticus:16:20-22; Revelation:20:1-3), without which we could not be complete at one with God and Jesus Christ.
Even though going without food and water for 24 hours caused me to become physically weak, I celebrated – I celebrated the awesome significance of this very special Holy Day – the full and complete reconciliation of God and humankind. To learn about the meaning of the Day of Atonement and its accompanying fasting, and how you can have a personal and intimate relationship with God please request our free booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.
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About the Author
Reg Wright is a retired United Church of God Elder and serves as the Personal Correspondent for the Church – answering questions from our readers and viewers on the Bible and Christian living.