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Sermon24-12 Mt6 Guide

Matthew 6:16-18, theme verse Matthew 6:18

The praise and honor and glory be to our heavenly Father who seeks true worshipers who worship Him with the Spirit and truth.

In the first Sunday during the Lent which started from the Ash Wednesday, I pray that God may bless you all in His love, grace and blessings. Lent is a season of church calendar to prepare for the upcoming Easter so that during this season, meditating on the suffering of the Lord, we read the Bible, to cleanse our bodies and minds, and check our faith whether we are growing more into the image of the Lord, while volunteering to serve others or fasting for our godly life. And in the early church, this Lent was mainly used to catechize new believers for their baptism, yet as the time passed, all Christians became to observe it as a period of repentance while practicing a godly life through fasting or volunteering. So today after meditating on the fasting which is the most popular godly practice during the Lent, we would like to learn few lessons together.

1)    As we already saw last few week, the Gospel of Matthew was written by Levi Matthew, to the church community of Jewish converts around AD 75-80, after Jerusalem was occupied by the Roman soldiers and the temple was destroyed in AD 70, when the Christian community was separated more and more from the Jewish community, in order to teach their identity and the way of life to Jesus' disciples so that the church community could be established as the missional church to go and make disciples of all nations.

2)    Today’s text regarding on the fasting, in particular, the method and mindset of fasting, is included on the Lord's Sermon on the Mount from chapters 5 to 7 on the character of the disciples and their way of life in the kingdom of God.

3)    However, this tradition of fasting is actually dated back to the commandment of God in the Exodus era. I mean, in Leviticus chapters 16 and 23, in the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the first month by the rabbinic Hebrew calendar, God said, “You shall afflict yourselves,” which means “to fast,” for the atonement of their sins.

4)    Here, the Hebrew word for “afflict yourself” is a combination of the Hebrew word “nepesh”(נֶ֫פֶשׁ), meaning soul or throat, and the Hebrew word “ana”(ענה) meaning to afflict, so literally it means “afflict your soul or throat” which means fasting, and more broadly means “do not follow the desires or lust of your soul.”

5)    In this way, God's atonement consisted of repentance, fasting, and sin offerings which include sprinkling the blood of a bull and a goat and burning them, and sending the Azazel goat, on which all their sins were imputed, into the wilderness.

6)    Yet, from the time they were taken into captivity in Babylon and were unable to sacrifice sin-offerings, they associated only repentance and fasting with the atonement ceremony. And finally after the temple was completely destroyed in 70 AD, repentance and fasting replaced the sin offerings. As such, the fasting that was performed on the Day of Atonement for the forgiveness of sins became a very important godly practice for their sin offering in the Old Testament era.

7)    So, we can find such examples in many places in the Bible. For example, it is written that in 1 Samuel chapter 7, in the end of the Judges period when Israel was under the rule of the Philistines, the prophet Samuel gathered the Israelites together at Mizpah and fasted all day, confessing their sins to return to God so that when the Philistines attacked them after hearing their gathering, God defeated the Philistines. And also, in Esther chapter 4, when Southern Judah was destroyed and the Judean people were taken captive and living there in Babylon, when King Ahasuerus issued a decree to kill all the people of Judah due to Haman's trick, the Jews along with Mordecai greatly mourned and fasted so that God saved them to escape death, using Esther. And even in the Book of Jonah it is recorded the incident that when the gentile people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, believed in God and prayed to God, fasting and repenting, after they heard the warning from Jonah, God did not bring on the disaster He had planned. As such in the times of the Old Testament, not only the Israelites but also Gentiles regarded fasting as an important act of repentance for the atonement so that when they recognized that they were punished by God due to their sins, they confessed their sins and fasted since they thought that the fasting was a very important practice which God heard their prayer of repentance.

8)    Even this fasting was done for the purpose of getting closer to God, as it says in Isaiah 58:2. Because as Isaiah 59:2 says, it was sin that separated God and his people, so they believed that through fasting, which is an external expression of internal repentance seeking forgiveness for the sin, their sins are forgiven and the relationship with God was restored and they draw near to God. Accordingly, the Jews in Jesus' time also practiced a lot this godly practice of fasting more often. And even until today we practice this godly fasting during the Lent, in order to get closer to God.

9)    In that sense, the prophet Isaiah said in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 58 that when fasting, we should not seek one's own pleasure and even should not quarrel with others. Because seeking one's own pleasure, especially during fasting, as an act to satisfy one’s own lust, is in conflict with the very purpose of fasting, which is to afflict one's soul, and also, as James 4:1 says that quarrels come from lust, quarrels ultimately conflict with the purpose of fasting, that is, not following the lust of our soul, so it is said not to seek own pleasure or quarrel when fasting.

10) And also, when we fast, since God the Father is the One who forgives our sins, draws himself near to us and hear and answer to our prayers, so, in today's text of Matthew 6:16, our Lord said “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their face that their fasting may be seen by other”, since the fasting is our practice to God, rather than the people so that if we pursue people’s reward, then we could not get reward from God.

11) In that sense, that’s why the Lord told his disciples to fast before God who is in a secret place. Here the reason why He speaks of God as the One who is in the secret place is firstly, because since God has infinite wisdom and knowledge, so we, who are finite, cannot know or understand everything fully. But secondly because as it is said in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Human looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart,” our God examines everything that is secret in our hearts, in other words, God knows whether our godly practice is directed toward God or whether the motives and intentions are right. And finally, the fact that God knows our secrets, even the deepest parts of our hearts, means that God has the power to heal all our wounds in our deep hearts. In that sense, as God knows and wants to heal our old habits and wounds in our secret places, even in our unconsciousness, but He is waiting until we open and entrust our wounds to Him one by one, so that when we realize and entrust our shortcoming through the godly practice of reading the Bible, serving others or fasting, I pray that we may come to God and open our wounds to Him so that God may heal us in this Lent season.

12) Through today’s Bible verses, we would like to learn few things. Firstly, this fasting as the affliction of our soul is closely connected to the first sin of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In other words, since the meaning of the tree of good and evil was about who would decide good or evil, I mean, whether God will decide or human being will decide, the eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil resulted in that we, human beings  not only began to make our own decision between good and evil, but also began to put our own will and desires ahead of God's will. In that sense, God’s commandment to practice fasting on the Day of Atonement was the commandment that we had to refrain from following our own desires and thoughts, rather to follow and obey to God’s will, which results in the forgiveness of sin and hearing of our prayer and also closer relationship with God. Secondly the fact that God knows everything gives us tremendous comfort to us, I mean, even when our regenerated inner self falls into the temptation of the old habits due to our weakness so that even when our outward behaviors became imperfect, we should not worry too much, since even our Lord knows that our secret inner self is heading toward God with obedient and pure heart so that He may accept our hearts and motivations. So finally since our God knows everything in our hearts that even we do not know we do not need to hide anything before Him, so that we can come before the Lord as we are with just a sincere heart and also God will accept us and love us, and even heal us as the appropriate time comes. I hope all we may experience that acceptance from God so that we may also accept others as they are. That is the grace we hope to experience through our godly practice in this Lent season. Therefore, I pray that we all come to God as we are and lay down everything to God who knows all our thoughts, words and deeds already as David confessed in Psalm 139.

Key Questions as Small Group Activity

Q1 Even though Judges 21:25 says that “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” at that time, God was their King. But they did not acknowledge it so that they did what was right in their own eyes. The fasting also challenged us not to follow our own lust or desires of the soul and the life as our lust demands is the life after we committed the sin to eat the fruit of good and evil. So after reviewing you life to check whether we live in His pleasing will or in our will, I hope you could share your thoughts and deeds to learn from each other.  

Q2 Sisters and brothers, do you have any plan to live the godly life practice such as the Bible reading, volunteering or fasting? I strongly exhort you could do one or two practices in this Lent for your growth in faith. If you have any plan, I hope you could share your plan with each other to learn together.

Love you. Thank you. God bless you.

Prayer Note

Dear ( God’s attribute which you found Today ) God!

Thanks for ( something you received through the sermon or  even during the week )

Praise, gratitude and glory be to You, Lord!

Today, I realized my sin (pains) that ( the sin God reminded through the sermon ),

please forgive (or heal) me and help me not to repeat ( the sins you recognized   ).

I learned that ( something you learned through the sermon                                    )

Please help me to live in that (  learned way of life                                                )

I pray in ( Jesus’ attribute you find ) Jesus’ name. Amen.


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