Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Is This What You Call a Fast?

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? (Isaiah 58:5)
Is this the kind of fast that God intends, the kind that pleases God? That’s an important question as we approach the season of Lent. You might be surprised to hear that the answer is No, this is not the fast God is looking for from his people. To find out why, let’s drop back a few verses, to the beginning of the chapter.
Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. (v. 1)
God has a bone to pick with his people. They were rebellious. They had perfected the practice of sin. They were unrepentant. But they sure knew how to put on a good religious show.
For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. (v. 2)
As if. They were acting as if they were eager to know God’s ways. As if they were a nation that did what was right. As if they were a people who had not forsaken the commands of God. As if they wanted just decisions from God. As if they really wanted God to come close to them. But it was all an act, a front, and not the reality of their hearts. God came near enough to see that.
“Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” (v. 3)
But now they were perplexed. They fasted. They “humbled” themselves, getting out the sackcloth, scattering themselves with ashes, putting on the mournful face and getting all hangdog. Yet, God had no regard for any of it. What’s up with that? Ah, but here’s the problem:
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. (v. 4)
For all their fasting, all their supposed humility, there was this huge disconnect. It did not reflect what was going on inside. How they actually treated others gave the lie to their religious show before God, and it is about this falseness that God challenges them:
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? (v. 5)
There is a fast God does desire, and we will look at that next time. But for Ash Wednesday, we must first reckon with the old dead ways so that we may embrace the new and living way God has for us in Jesus the Messiah.