Fasting and Prayer

And when you fast…

It is puzzling how often the phrase “fast and pray” occurs in the Scriptures and yet how rarely it is practiced or even discussed in the American church. Fasting occurs in the Scriptures in several contexts. Fasting is for worship, mourning as well as confession and repentance, decision-making, petitions for help or preparation, and longing for Jesus’ return.

First, fasting is in the context of worship. The church of Antioch, for example, was “worshipping the Lord and fasting.” Coupled with worship, fasting appears as an aspect of personal worship in Deut 9:9 and Luke 2:37, and of corporate worship in Isaiah 58:3-7 and Acts 13:2. In this case, the individual or the church is not fasting for something as much as fasting in worship. It was part of worship. Fasting says, “I worship you; I treasure you, God, more than I treasure _____.”

Second, fasting is often found in contexts of confession and repentance and mourning over sin. This impetus of fasting is observed in 1 Samuel 7:6, Daniel 9:3, and Joel 1:13-14 as people of God are confronted with sin and consequently fast before the Lord. In contexts of confession and repentance as with worship, fasting is performed by individuals and collective groups as they grieve over their personal sins or the sins of the people of God. In some instances, like 1 Samuel 31:13 or Nehemiah 1:4, situations of mourning do not involve confession or repentance of sin directly and yet still occasion a motivation for fasting. When grief ensues or when sin is committed, fasting says, “God, I need you more than anything, more than that which is now lost, or more than that which occasioned my sin.”

Third, fasting is practiced throughout Scripture when people are faced with a decision. The congregation at Antioch fasted before they sent off Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:3, and, following their sending church’s example, Paul and Barnabas fasted before they appointed elders in Acts 14:23. Fasting was characteristic of the decision-making process. People typically fasted during intense times of seeking direction or before making decisions of particular import. Here, fasting says, “God, you alone are wisdom and truth, and from you alone I seek direction and guidance.”

Fourth, petitions for help or preparation often prompt fasting. In 2 Chronicles 20:3-4, Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast for Judah when faced with enemies; in Ezra 8:21, the fast was for protection over the people of Israel before a dangerous journey; and in Esther 4:16, fasting preceded Esther’s going before the king unannounced. In each of these occasions, the fast was not connected directly to making the decision as in the previously mentioned context. Rather, the decision had been made or the cause for concern already enacted. In these instances, fasting was connected to the petition for help in impending circumstances. They faced a difficult situation and fasted as they sought preparation for the task or help from God’s hand. Fasting says, “You are my only source of strength, O God. I need you more than physical sustenance, and I place myself in your hands alone.”

Finally, fasting is prescribed for longing after Christ’s presence, specifically in the second coming. When John’s disciples asked Jesus, in Matthew 9:14-15 (also in Mark 2:18-20 and Luke 5:33-35), why they and the Pharisees fasted but the Lord’s disciples did not, Jesus responded by assigning a specific purpose to fasting: longing for his presence. Jesus said that they had no reason to fast while he was with them, but his disciples would fast when he was taken away from them. Since the ascension, therefore, it has been appropriate to fast for Jesus’ second coming. Fasting says, “I am not made for this world; I am made for you. I long for you more than food. I desire for you to satisfy my soul more than I wish for food to satisfy my hunger.”

These contexts summarize five biblical motivations for fasting. Found on so many pages of God’s Word, can we possibly ignore fasting? As an element of worship, as an expression of dependence, or as a spiritual discipline, fasting is undeniably biblical, not only relevant but significant for each of us. If you would consider participating as we prepare for a day of corporate prayer and fasting on Wednesday, December 16, consider some of the contexts previously mentioned and the passages referenced above. Now to be sure, we have discussed specifically the why of fasting. We will turn our attention to how next week. If you would be willing, consider investigating further by reading and meditating on Matthew 6:16-18, and even watch or listen to a previous sermon from that passage.

Update on Orphan Sunday

Orphan Sunday

As a church we recognize Orphan Sunday in November. What does this designation mean? If we’re not careful, observing Orphan Sunday becomes the Sunday, distinct from all other Sundays, that we mention orphans, announce the need among them, and mourn the fact that so many children are left alone and destitute. And if we’re not careful, our responsibility is perceived fulfilled in commemorating a day known as Orphan Sunday. Jesus calls to more than commemoration. He calls us to action, and he calls us to act specifically on behalf of orphans and widows.
Why Orphan Care?

Orphan Care explains and demonstrates the gospel. Caring for the orphaned is at least an obedience issue and at most a gospel issue. It is first an obedience issue because the people of God are called to care for the orphan from the beginning of Christian Scripture. Directive is given to avoid mistreating them in Exodus 22:22-24; to seek justice for the fatherless in Deuteronomy 27:19 and Isaiah 1:17; to protect, provide, and care for orphans in Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 24:17-22, and Zechariah 7:10; and to help and support the fatherless in James 1:27. God is not simply the Lawgiver on behalf of the orphan yet divinely distant. God the Father is identifying himself Father of the fatherless in Psalm 68:5; seeking justice for the orphan in Deuteronomy 10:18; upholding the fatherless in Psalm 146:9; and receiving those forsaken by father and mother in Psalm 27:10.
Caring for the orphan is most significantly, though, a gospel issue. It is a portrait of the gospel repeatedly painted by Jesus and writers of the New Testament. We, who are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), are at first no part of the heavenly Father’s family but reckoned as orphans. Jesus, not received by his own people, welcomed those who did receive him and gave them the right to become children of God (John 1:11-12). Paul uses adoption language as well in multiple books, perhaps most clearly picturing the gospel as adoption in Galatians 4:4-7. These verses clearly illustrate the gospel as adoption when Paul writes, “God sent forth his Son… to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Adoption, so closely tied to the gospel, demands that orphan care is a gospel issue. As Jesus said to his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).

Your Response

I was delighted to see how you responded on that Sunday to the call to orphan care, particularly through the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) ministry. A number of people expressed interest and asked questions about how they could help. Seven families took their action a step further and signed up for Hands of Hope. And over fifty people signed up expressing interest in the GAL program. We’re bringing the GAL training to Parkwood through our Equip classes to make it even easier for you to follow through in caring for these orphans that are in desperate need of your care and concern. You can express your interest in GAL training that begins January 6, 2016 by completing this form on our website. Foster Care training will also be available beginning on that date.
Call to Continued Care

Parkwood responded on Orphan Sunday, but our job is not finished. If you expressed an interest in GAL, Hands of Hope, or some other form of orphan care, I encourage you to follow through with action. As John encourages us, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1John 3:18). If you did not express interest, consider what God may have you do in obedience to his command to care for orphans or to display his gospel to a world that did not receive him. It is not acceptable that so many children are without father and mother and so many are abused and mistreated. Remember, God is aware of this tragic problem, and he has a solution. He has called his family to be family to those without a family. Indeed, how can we assume that we have fulfilled our responsibility to the orphan by commemorating a single day of the year? Orphan care clearly implicates how we personally obey our heavenly Father as well as how we understand and communicate his gospel. Let us so love the world not only in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Why Do We Place Such a High Value on Growth Groups?

Why we place such a high value on Growth Groups…

The purpose of Parkwood Baptist Church is to glorify God by laboring together for the growth of all believers while going with the gospel to all people(s). The watershed of this purpose statement is the growth of all believers. Magnifying the glory of God is, of course, the ultimate purpose for any local body called by his name, and so we labor together to that end. Yet our laboring together would be in vain if we are not going with the gospel to our neighbors and to the nations. A people seeking to glorify God while not proclaiming his gospel are likely working for their own kingdom rather than the kingdom of God. We must then help all believers to grow so they will not build their kingdom but go with the gospel to all people(s). The growth of all believers is therefore a hinge in the purpose statement that determines whether we will indeed magnify God’s glory by sharing his gospel. In an effort to labor together for the growth of all believers and to communicate our desire to fulfill this purpose, we call our small group gatherings “growth groups.” The name is intentional and clearly implies our desire for these groups to be a place for gospel growth so that our laboring together might be profitable in the economy of God.

The gospel, the good news of the saving work of God through Jesus Christ, serves as the center of our lives and ministry together. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).  Accordingly, a group gathered without Christ as the center ultimately accomplishes nothing. Unless we constantly orient our lives together to the gospel, we will elevate certain aspects of our groups to unhealthy places and inadvertently miss the goal of growing believers who will go with the gospel. We must remain unswervingly committed to the following growth group principles that we might keep Christ central in every way.

Gospel-Centered Growth

Colossians 1:28: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

We gather in our groups to study the gospel of God revealed in the Word of God, the Bible. Each week, we dive into the Scripture personally, then together, to offer insight and application so that we may see every member of the group grow in Christ. A group gathered without the clarity, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture being brought to bear both in our individual lives and in our community will quickly drift to an emphasis far from the desire of God to see everyone mature in Christ. Our desire must not be for our growth only but for the growth of every member of our group, remembering Ephesians 4:15: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” and Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Gospel-Centered Community

John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The gospel of Christ reveals both His love for us and the basis of our love for one another. The gospel meets a basic emotional need. Everyone wants to be loved unconditionally and sacrificially. Ironically, no one is worthy of being loved, or interested in giving love for that matter. The gospel, though, intersects our life at this point of need as Christ loves the unloved and the unlovely. Consistent with his love for us is the command to love others just as he has loved us. Christ compels us to live life together in humility, patience, love, and forgiveness. This love for one another is not only for the benefit of the one being loved but also for those observing outside the community. When we share gospel community together, people see the gospel displayed among us and through us. In gospel community we are at once responsive to God’s loving us, obedient to God’s command to love others, and a witness to the redemption he has wrought within us.

Gospel-Centered Ministry

Matthew 25:40: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Consistent with the expectation to love one another, gospel-centered community serves others in gospel-centered ministry. Jesus, speaking about the judgment, separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep are invited to come and to inherit the kingdom but the goats rejected and cursed on the basis of whether or not they served others. Jesus spoke sharply to those who did not demonstrate the gospel in ministry, explaining that whatever they did or did not do – food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothes to the naked, visit and support to the sick and imprisoned – they actually did or did not do for Jesus. To the same extent that we choose to serve or to ignore others, we choose to serve or ignore Jesus. Likewise, we must serve others to the same degree that we claim to love, live, and surrender to our Savior. Sharing in gospel-centered ministry together provides opportunity and accountability to serve Jesus by serving others.

Gospel-Centered Multiplication

Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Gospel-centered multiplication is the logical and biblical end of laboring together for the growth of all believers. Maturing believers make disciples, not only because discipleship is what they do but also because fishers of men is who they are (Matthew 4:19). Jesus calls his followers to be disciples and to make disciples. In fact, the Christian without a desire to reach the lost with the gospel is an anomaly. Disciples make disciples. They share the life-giving gospel with the spiritually dead resulting in the birth of new disciples. Gathering disciples into groups results in the birth of new groups. Gospel-centered disciples make disciples, and gospel-centered growth groups reproduce gospel-centered growth groups. And so it follows that multiplication must characterize our groups if they are indeed to be called growth groups.
Parkwood desires to glorify God by laboring together for the growth of all believers while going with the gospel to all people(s). Inasmuch as this goal identifies the purpose of the church corporately, it identifies every member’s purpose individually. Glorifying God, laboring together, growing, going, are not merely owned by the leadership or the spiritual elite, but these elements of purpose are the responsibility of every person in the body of Christ. Will you unite with us to glorify God by laboring together for the growth of all believers while going with the gospel to all people(s)? Let me encourage you to join a growth group if you’re not already part of one. And let’s resolve together to ground our growth groups in gospel-centered growth, community, ministry, and multiplication.

Three Days and Three Nights… Matthew 12:40

Passages such as Matthew 12:40, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” and 1Corinthians 15:4, “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” – are clear to announce that Jesus died and was resurrected on the third day. But questions are often asked regarding the time of the week and the amount of time that Jesus was in the grave. These questions usually center upon the certainty of a Friday burial as well as the possibility of three days in the grave given the tradition of a Good Friday death and an Easter Sunday Resurrection. James Montgomery Boice treats this issue with clarity and precision in his commentary The Gospel of Matthew: The King and His Kingdom (Vol 1, Matthew 1-17, pp. 220-223). If you have ever asked these questions, consider Boice’s response below:

Three Days and Three Nights

No one can read that today [Matthew 12:40, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”] without understanding at once that this is a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection. It is an excellent preaching text for Easter Sunday, but it also involves a problem. In the traditional handling of the events of Passion Week, Jesus was crucified on a Friday and was raised from the dead on Sunday morning. All four Gospel writers placed the crucifixion on the day immediately preceding a normal Saturday Sabbath (see Matt. 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; and John 19:31). Yet if that is a correct understanding of these events, how can it be said that Jesus spent “three days and three nights” in the earth?

According to Jewish idiom, the phrase “three days” does not necessarily mean a period of seventy-two hours. It can mean merely one whole day plus parts of two others. But while this observation helps us deal with texts that say “three days” it does not help us deal with Matthew’s version of the prophecy, for here the phrase is not “three days” but rather “three days and three nights.”

It is possible that parts of one day and one night are involved, rather than three full days and three full nights; nevertheless, three periods of light and three periods of darkness must be accounted for. This requirement, regardless of anything else, is fatal to a Friday crucifixion theory. As one writer says, “Add to the indictment of Friday the statement of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, spoken on the afternoon of Sunday (Luke 24:21), ‘Today is the third day since these things were done,’ and the case looks black indeed against Friday. Sunday is not the third day since Friday.”

There is another difficulty too, a difficulty apparent to anyone who has tried to sort out the events of the final Passover Week and assign them days. On an average, about one-third of the Gospels is taken up with the events of the last week of Christ’s life. This means that the events of this week are given to us in fairly complete detail. Indeed, from the arrival of Jesus in Bethany, six days before the Passover, until the resurrection, every moment seems to be accounted for. Yet when the events of these days are pieced together into one connected whole, one entire day, and possibly two, is lacking. One of the missing days can be explained as the preceding Sabbath, a day in which Jesus rested in Bethany and received those who came to see him and Lazarus. But what of the other day? Can it really be that in a week as full as this one was, one entire day is unaccounted for? How can we explain this omission?

The difficulty of accounting for this day led no less careful a scholar than Frederick Godet to move the events of Palm Sunday to Monday, thereby compressing six days of activity into five. This is interesting, but the same effect can be achieved by moving the crucifixion back to Thursday rather than by moving the events of Palm Sunday forward.

A third difficulty is of a more recent development. The dating of historical events has been a complicated matter, involving the days and times of solar and lunar eclipses and new moons. But in recent years, thanks to the use of computers, much that was formerly uncertain is now known. Thus, to give an example, as recently as 1973 a work entitled New and Full Moons by Herman H. Goldstine was published, from which it is possible to calculate the days of the week on which the Jewish Passover fell in any given year during Christ’s lifetime or thereafter. If such a calculation established a Saturday Passover and therefore a Friday crucifixion for any year near the time at which Jesus must have been crucified, it would provide excellent support for the traditional theory. But, in fact, it does not. Instead, the day before Passover falls on a Friday only in the year A.D. 26, which is too early, and in the year A.D. 33, which most scholars agree is too late.

What are we to do with these problems? Is there a solution? I believe there is and that it is obviously the solution, once we get over the idea that the crucifixion must have been on a Friday, as tradition says. The solution is simply that two Sabbaths were involved in this last week of Christ’s earthly ministry. One was the regular weekly Sabbath, which always fell on Saturday. The second was an extra Passover Sabbath, which, in this particular week, must have come on a Friday.

It needs to be said, in case it is not entirely self-evident, that the Passover Sabbath always came on the fifteenth of the month of Nisan and would therefore naturally fall on different days of the week in different years, as Christmas does in our day. However, it was always observed as a Sabbath. In my reconstruction Jesus would have been crucified on Thursday and would have been raised from the dead sometime before dawn on Sunday morning.

April 6, A.D. 30

What does this suggestion do to the problems we have already noted as a result of the traditional dating? It eliminates each one.

  1. There are three actual days and three nights. Jesus had spoken of a period of time beginning with daylight and comprising the whole of three days and nights, with the possible qualification that the opening period of day and nights, with the possible qualification that the opening period of day and the closing period of night need not necessarily be a full twelve hours. This is provided for as follows. Jesus died on Thursday afternoon about three o’clock; hence, the hours from 3:00 P.M. until dusk qualify as the first day. This period is followed by Thursday night, Friday, Friday night, Saturday, and Saturday night; that is, a total of three days and three nights in that precise order. In this scheme of things, Jesus could have risen from the dead at any point after dark on Saturday evening. What we know is that he was raised sometime before the women got to the tomb at dawn on Sunday morning.

Several minor points reinforce this idea. First, when the soldiers tried to explain why they were unable to guard the tomb successfully they said, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep” (Matt. 28:13). That would be a natural way of speaking if the resurrection and the subsequent opening of the tomb by the angels took place at night.

Even more striking is the fact that in the original Greek, Matthew’s account of the events of the resurrection morning begins, “In the end of the sabbaths (plural), as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (Matt. 28:1). The plural has been a puzzle to many translators, who usually change it to the singular, “sabbath.” But the word is plural, and the plural is explained if there were two back-to-back Sabbaths in that week — the special Passover Sabbath, which fell on a Friday, and the regular Saturday Sabbath, which came the next day.

  1. Each day of the week is accounted for. In this new arrangement of events we have the following:

Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath):  Jesus does not travel on this day but rather remains in Bethany with his disciples and Lazarus. Many come to see Jesus and the man he raised from the dead.

Sunday: Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey after having first made arrangements to secure the animal. He goes to the temple area and looks about, but it is late by this time and he returns to Bethany without further recorded actions or teaching.

Monday:  Jesus returns to Jerusalem. On the way he curses the fig tree as a symbol of the barrenness of Israel and as a prophecy of what was coming to the nation. In Jerusalem he cleanses the temple for a second, final time (see John 2:12-22) and returns again to Bethany, where he spends each night of this week save the last.

Tuesday:  On the way back to Jerusalem the disciples find the fig tree withered and receive Christ’s explanation. In the city the disciples comment on the magnificence of the temple and are told that the day is coming when it will be torn down. On the way home Jesus pauses on the Mount of Olives to give what has come to be called the Olivet Discourse concerning things to come. Prophecy dominates the teaching of this day.

Wednesday:  Jesus sends the disciples to make preparations for the Passover, which is, however, eaten that evening without the Passover lamb. Jesus is arrested that same night as he deliberately tarries in the Garden of Gethsemane on what would have been his normal trip back to Bethany.

Thursday:  Jesus is tried and eventually crucified. The trial begins on what we would call Wednesday night (but which is actually the early hours of Thursday by Jewish reckoning) and is completed in the morning. Jesus is crucified. Darkness covers the land from noon to 3:00 P.M. Jesus is buried this same evening by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. The women observe where Jesus is buried and buy spices, but as it is now the start of the Passover Sabbath (that is, the Friday Sabbath that began at dusk on Thursday evening), they are unable to anoint the body until Sunday morning.

Friday and Saturday:  The body of Jesus remains in the tomb. The women and disciples observe the two Sabbaths. Jesus rises from the dead sometime between the coming of darkness on Saturday evening and the coming of the dawn on Sunday morning.

3.  The day of Christ’s crucifixion. The day before Passover, the fourteenth of Nisan, did not fall on a Friday between the years A.D. 26 and A.D. 33. But how about Thursday? Strikingly, the fourteenth of Nisan fell on a Thursday in the year A.D. 30, the most probable year of the crucifixion even by other calculations. Thus, we may conclude with reasonable certainty that the crucifixion of Jesus is to be dated as April 6, A.D. 30, and the resurrection dated April 9.