Summary: The Wednesday following this sermon begins the season of Lent. This sermon is an attempt to prepare the people for this season of sacrifice and renewal of devotion. First, Lent will be described as a season of fasting or giving up. Some of the reasons for which people give for participating in Lent include: nearness to God, weight loss, detox, etc. Although Lent participants often cite drawing nearer to God, nothing can draw God nearer to us; a better approach is thinking of Lent as a season in which we allow ourselves to be more disciplined and opened to God. Second, the act of fasting will be explored. In the Bible, fasting is a times a private and a public act. Private fasting occurs as (1) an act of penance (2 Samuel 12:15-23; 1 Kings 21:27; Psalm 69:1-15), (2) an act of mourning (Nehemiah 1:4), (3) an act for seeking divine counsel or aid (Psalm 35:13-14), or (4) an act of expressing devotion to God (Luke 18:12). Public fasts were often called to (1) obtain God’s help or protection (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 14:24; Joel 1:14; Esther 4:3; Ezra 8:21-23), (2) to express repentance (1 Samuel 7:6; Jonah 3:5-10), (3) to mourn the death of leaders (1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12). Third, Isaiah 58:1-12 discusses fasting, but it focuses on a few important characteristics of devotional acts for God. The first issue is humility versus hypocrisy. Hypocritically, some seek visible, token acts, such as fasting, instead of overall right living. Humbly, right living is a life lived to God, not a life to put on appearances for others. The second issue concerns empty, rote religious habits. Often times Christians “just go through the motions.” This form of pseudo-holiness is just habit without the right motives behind it. The third issue is how people often use their acts, such as fasting, to manipulate God, like the pagans (v. 2-3). The fourth issue is that human actions need to be ‘self-forgetful” and “outward looking” towards others, especially those in need (the hungry and poor) (v. 6, 7, 10).
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