[Read Genesis 3:1-21; Matthew 4:1-11]
The Fasting of Our Lord
A fast is the opposite of a feast. To fast means to refrain from the abundance available to you. Jesus Christ is the ultimate Man of abundance, and therefore the ultimate Man of Fasting. Jesus Christ is King of King, Lord of Lord, the Son of God, King of Heaven. His is the abundance of Heaven and of God’s divine Glory. His is the Power, and Might, and Lordship of God. His is the eternal Banquet-Feast of Heaven. Jesus is the ultimate Man of Abundance – His is the Feast.
But Jesus came to fast. Jesus came to suffer a fast for Man’s sake. Jesus came to refrain from, to set aside, to give up the Feast and the place of Divine Glory that was His. Jesus fasted from His Divine Glory for you. Jesus came down from heaven, was incarnate (made man), born of a woman, born under the Law. Jesus gives up the Feast and lives a Fast – He lives under the curse, under the hardship, under the desolation, under the Cross of Mankind’s sin-broken existence. For the sinner on earth, Jesus refrained from the joys that were His in heaven. He suffered.
Therefore, rightfully so, where does Jesus begin His ministry? On this First Sunday in Lent, we read from Matthew chapter four. Here we encounter Jesus at the starting line of His earthly ministry – we encounter Him fasting in the wilderness, being tempted for forty days under the devil’s thumb.
The entire existence of Jesus on earth – from His conception in His virgin mother’s womb to His burial – is a Fast. So Jesus begins His earthly preaching ministry and His road to the Cross – the ultimate fasting, deprived of life itself – at this starting line of a desolate, foodless wilderness. His journey through Man’s desolate sin-broken existence will finally end at the Finish line of restored divine, resurrection glory at His Father’s right hand.
Jesus fasts in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights and is tempted by the devil. To us, the “wilderness” generally means “a nice place to build a cabin”. In the Bible, “wilderness” means a desolate place, and arid desert. The wilderness is a place of emptiness and desolation – it is a place with no food. Jesus does not go out fasting for forty days as a voluntary spiritual exercise. Instead, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. In the Gospel of Mark it says that the Holy Spirit “drove” Jesus - literally, “cast Jesus out”, “threw Jesus out” - into the wilderness. Jesus fasts because He is driven into a place where there is no food - only stones – by the Spirit of His Father.
This fasting, this starving, in the desolate place highlights the calling God the Father has called Jesus to suffer – and which Jesus willingly suffers. This desolate, foodless place is the beginning of the Cross to which Jesus will eventually be nailed.
Why food? Why fasting? Food – feasting on the one food God told Man to fast from – marked man’s fall into sin. Adam, the first man, was not placed by God into an empty desert but into Paradise, a place of abundance. In the garden where man was first placed, all the abundance of life’s feast was provided. Adam and his wife, Eve, were even given the Tree of Life. They were only to fast from that one Tree of the Garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
God, by nature, knows both good and evil but, yet is Pure Good and remains untouched by evil. Man, on the other hand, when he comes to know good and evil, falls to the evil.
In the garden, Adam had received God’s Word and had taught it to Eve – God’s Word and Command that they were to refrain from that one Tree which would certainly bring death into their existence. The devil, however, came as a preacher who, craftily, taught Eve his own take on what God had said. (From the beginning, the devil has always been a preacher of God’s Word – a false preacher.)
The devil preached to Eve that if they were to eat from this tree, they would indeed come to know Good and Evil, yet this would not – as God had said – lead to death. Instead, by coming to know Good and Evil, their eyes would be opened – they would become enlightened with wisdom – and they would become like God.
Adam and Eve were promised, by the devil’s word, an easy path to becoming like God – a fast track to being elevated to Gods’ Glory. Instead, when they eat, their eyes are opened to shame and sin and fear and death. The life that was once a feast now becomes desolate. We, their offspring after them, are now born of desolate human stock into a sinful existence.
But an Offspring was promised who would fix this [Genesis 3:15]. After Adam and Eve fall into sin, immediately – while cursing the devil – God promises an Offspring of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head. This promised Offspring is Jesus, born of human stock, yet without sin (having been conceived by the Holy Spirit).
Jesus, this promised Offspring, in the desolate wilderness instead of Paradise, faces the same temptation used by the devil in Paradise - the devil tempts Jesus with that same fast track to divine glory. Christ is traveling a path back to Divine Glory that goes through the Cross for Man’s salvation. The devil tempts Jesus with a path that goes around the Cross – a path that avoids the Cross – a fast track that avoids suffering mankind’s sin-caused desolation – a track to glory that won’t save Man.
The devil tempts Jesus: “Use your divine glory now and make bread out of these stones – don’t starve for these sinners”. “Use your divine rule; circumvent this mortal existence – throw yourself from the pinnacle of Temple but live. Give up this life of mortal danger that you’re suffering for these sinners.”
[The devil says:]“Look at all the kingdom and empires of this world and their glory – I will give these to you – restore your place as king of kings now – don’t suffer under the Cross for these people – but instead rule over them.” Avoid the burden of the Cross that begins in this wilderness – take another road.
Christ is tempted with a feast of bread, immortality, and a place as king over all – all things which rightfully belong to Christ and which He will indeed receive – but God’s will was that He receive these things through the Cross – by the path that runs through Man’s desolation – in order to save sin-broken Man and to bring repentant Man up to glory with Him. Christ is faithful. For obedience – and for your salvation – Christ takes the harder road given Him by His Father.
We are in Lent, a season of fasting. But, in fact, the whole life of a Christian is a life of fasting. The fasting that Jesus suffered in the wilderness is the true Christian fasting. True fasting is not a regiment of refraining from meat or dairy or alcohol on certain days of the week or year. Those can be fine traditions – ways of remembering Christ’s sacrifice – but they are not the true fasting.
True fasting means to suffer the Cross appointed you in faith and love. True Christian fasting comes in the form of the many Crosses that God asks His children to carry. God has made many promises and will give you many crosses. To fast means to bear those Crosses patiently and with joy and hope because you believe the promises.
To fast means that you bear the Cross God has given you because you love God and are not willing to forsake Him, His Word, or His Commandments for an easier road. In some way, the devil will always offer you the easier way out – the way of tweaking and adjusting God’s Word and Commands to better fit your circumstances – or to better fit popular opinion. In love for God, we keep to God’s Word and Commands and bear the Cross appointed.
A true Christian fast means to bear Crosses for the sake of your neighbor, your family, your congregation, and your fellow brothers and sisters in the Church. Out of love for all these, you bear with them, you bear with their faults, and you bear burdens in your life for their sake. The devil offers the easier road of blame. And the devil offers you the easier road of your own life-goals and dreams, instead of God’s road of bearing Crosses and responsibilities for others.
The devil offers you a fast track to an easier life now – an immediate feast. God offers to you the true Feast of Heaven’s Banquet – a Feast which comes only at the end of many Crosses carried in faith and carried for love of God and love of neighbor. We follow Christ who paved the road to that true Feast with His own Cross.
Jesus fasted from life itself on the Cross and died. He died for you – He died for the guilty – He died for the unworthy – He died for us who have failed to love God and neighbor – He died to atone for, to forgive, your sins – Christ fasted from Life on the Cross to give failed sinners Life and a Feast. So, let us fast from the temptation of an easier life which avoids our own cross to bear. Follow Christ in faith, bearing your crosses, knowing the greatness of the Feast to come. Amen.