Jean’s Gospel: The Fast of Christ
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’ ” (Matt 4:1-4)
The Scriptures describe two types of fasts. The first type is a voluntary fast, such as a fast of penitence. The second type of fast is involuntary, such as what Christ suffered immediately after his Baptism. This article is devoted solely to the topic of the involuntary fast.
Jesus did not desire nor ask for this fast. Matthew wrote that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit.” Mark wrote that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). It was the will of God that Jesus suffered this fast for us: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb 5:8-9); and “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15-16a)
For our sake Jesus suffered every temptation the devil could throw at him (including in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross), and He prevailed over Satan every time. Therefore, Paul wrote most confidently: “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)
“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matt 9:15)
Jesus prophesied that after His crucifixion Christians will fast. Some of us have already experienced (or are experiencing) an involuntary fast. Jesus fasted from food in isolation in the wilderness. However, there are other types of involuntary fasts. It might be a severe, even life threatening, sickness or disease; it might be a catastrophic financial collapse resulting in the loss of home and possessions; it might be the death of a life partner. In some countries, severe famine or war causes hunger, even starvation.
Despite the nature of our fasts or the severity of the temptations we will face in the midst of them, Jesus suffered just as we do and prevailed over them for us. He suffered hunger, poverty, unimaginable physical torture and pain, was crucified, and experienced the anguish of separation from His Father. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). And we are privy to how His sufferings end: God raised Jesus from the dead! When Jesus returns our Father will raise us too! “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” (1 Cor 15:52b)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Gal 5:16)
His fast weakened Jesus physically. The devil attacked Him during His fast, because that is when His flesh was vulnerable. The devil worked by tempting Christ through His bodily needs. Notice the juxtaposition of “led up by the Spirit” and “tempted by the devil.” The devil works through the weakness of our flesh to battle with the Spirit for our loyalty.
“And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ ” (Matt 4:3)
The devil tempted Jesus with unbelief and avarice. It was as if the devil said: “Look at these stones Son of God. Satisfy your hunger with these. What a fine Son you are that your Father led you out here into the wilderness alone with nothing to eat? Are you sure God is well pleased with you?”
The devil uses hunger, isolation, disease and heartbreak to tempt us. He may point you to your non-Christian neighbor who has more than enough of what you lack while cursing Christianity every day. He may point you to immoral shortcuts to end your fast. He may tempt you to despair of living at all. His objective is ultimately to destroy your trust in Christ. During an involuntary fast, we are most susceptible to the devil’s temptations.
“But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’ ” (Matt 4:4)
Jesus knew and trusted that life is ultimately sustained by the Word of God, as Paul later taught: “he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25) and “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We cannot see God sustaining all life with our senses, because He works veiled behind creation, for example, using the farmer, seed, baker, delivery man and storekeeper to provide us with bread.
But when He removed the bread from Jesus, the Word of God remained. A fast can only remove created things from us; it will never take the Word of God from us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matt 24:35) Therefore, Jesus did not despair but held fast to the Word of God.
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:31-33)
Even when outward nourishment was taken from Him, Jesus was nourished inwardly by the Word of God, which was sufficient to sustain Him until bread was restored.
It is a great temptation to look only at the stones and what is uneatable and to think of nothing but the sustenance of the body. But even if the pantry is full of bread, still man does not live by bread alone. Therefore, whether the pantry is full or empty, we will live by the Word of God, which will never be taken from us. Here is a morsel of that Word, which is able to nourish you during any involuntary fast:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17) Amen.
Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.