After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
It’s one of the few places in scripture that fasting is mentioned apart from prayer.
I think that’s for the same reason that prayer — and God Himself, for that matter — are never mentioned in the book of Esther, though fasting is. If we can’t see them there, we’re not reaching the right conclusions. If Esther and her people fasted without praying, then all they did was go on a diet. If justice for her people happened without God, then coincidence is king of the universe, because Hamaan was evil and deserved the consequences of his murderous bigotry.
Likewise, if Jesus went out into the wilderness to prepare for His ministry and fasted without praying, then He was simply on a radical weight-loss program, perhaps designed to make Him look like an ascetic shaman. If He withstood even just the temptation to create food for Himself without the strength that comes from communing with God, then prayer has no power and He was not God’s Son — only a starving mystic with extraordinary self-control.
I’ve blogged a little about fasting before. I’m no expert on it. There are right ways to do it. There are wrong ways to do it. Books have been written about it. Some are doubtless more valuable than others.
With or without reading them, I think we can draw the conclusion from scripture that God’s people fasted, and almost without exception, accompanied their fasts with prayer. Sometimes they expressed petitions and desires. Often they simply praised Him. Other times they mourned and/or repented. They expressed the depth of their need for and dependence on God by going without physical nourishment. In this way, they told Him that He was more important to them than food; that their god was not their stomachs; that they hungered and thirsted for His righteousness; that they had tasted and seen that the Lord is good; that their communication with Him was sacred and private and not for the benefit of being seen by others and regarded as somehow holy for what they had done without.
But if we think we can follow Jesus, minister as He did, resist temptation, and do the things He did while regarding this practice as optional — I believe we’re fooling ourselves.
Fasting is not simply a quaint and ancient custom or a passé commandment from a set of laws that have all served their purpose.
Fasting is a recognition of God’s providence.
It is the physical, expressing the spiritual.
It is hunger, declaring desire.
It is emptiness, seeking fulfillment.
It is the way Jesus chose to prepare for His life of ministry, and to build the strength of His character, His self-discipline before facing forty days of temptation from Satan’s seemingly undivided attention.
You see, that’s what the other synoptic gospel writer, Mark (1), does not fail to communicate:
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
Nor was that likely the last time Satan tried:
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. ~ Luke 4:13
If fasting was a source of spiritual strength that could empower Him to journey all the way from the TransJordan to Galilee (see the next verse) … to withstand temptations to satisfy self, seize easy power, trade faith for fact … then why do we ignore, neglect or even reject it?
Following Jesus means fasting and prayer.