FAMOUS BIBLE FASTS: JESUS IN THE WILDERNESS
The Incarnation of Christ must have sent the devil and all the demons of hell into a panic. They were well-acquainted with the numerous prophecies in the Old Testament pointing to the coming Messiah who would rescue God’s people from their sins. The prophets had foretold this event, not knowing fully what the Lord was showing them. (1 Peter 1:10) The people of God had anxiously awaited the fulfillment of this promise for generations. At Jesus’ birth, the promise came to life and God’s master plan of salvation was in full operation.
But Satan did not want people being rescued from the power of sin. He wanted the world kept in their sin and rebellion, and therefore under his power. (1 John 5:19) He would do anything he could to prevent Jesus from fulfilling His mission. We see his attempts to thwart God’s plan even when Jesus was just a small child, when he inspired King Herod to command the execution of a generation of innocent babies in an effort to murder the newborn King. (Matthew 2:16-18)
The Scriptures do not provide much detail about the early years of Jesus’ life. We do not know how Satan may have been working to try to lead Jesus astray or into sin. But we get a very detailed account of a clash between Jesus and the devil that takes place in the wilderness following His baptism.
When John baptized the Son of God in the Jordan River, the Scriptures record that heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove, and Father God spoke these affirming words: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) The very next verse tells us, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)
Jesus goes immediately from receiving this amazing confirmation of His identity—as well as the anointing of the Holy Spirit—into a season of intense temptation. And the stakes are incredibly high. If the devil had succeeded in tempting Jesus to worship and obey him instead of God, then the only plan to save mankind from their sins would have unraveled. This was a battle of epic proportions. Satan was going to do everything he could to overthrow the plan of God.
In verse 2, the Scriptures provide an interesting detail to the account. We are told that Jesus had fasted for a period of forty days and forty nights (similar to Moses’ fast on Mount Sinai in Deuteronomy 9). And due to this, Jesus was obviously extremely hungry. Sometimes, we only consider the fasting element of this story in relation to how the devil tried to use that hunger in order to get Jesus to perform a self-serving miracle to feed Himself. (Matthew 4:3) But there are principles about the preparatory function of fasting in this passage from which we can glean.
Often, we tend to view fasting from the perspective of what is accomplished as a result of the fast. For example, we might believe a fast was successful only if some stronghold is broken, prayer answered, or specific direction given. And while these elements can be the fruit of fasting, I believe there is an overlooked benefit related to what fasting accomplishes in us. I see two principles of how fasting prepares us in Jesus’ wilderness experience.
1.) Fasting Prepares us to Resist Temptation
I do not believe it is a coincidence that Jesus was on an extended fast when this season of temptation occurred. Jesus lived in the Father’s perfect will. He said that He obeyed His Father in everything. (John 14:31) He was not only led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, but He was also led to fast during this time. And that fast prepared Him to face what was coming. I believe this was a strategic, Spirit-led action to prepare Jesus to overcome the temptations that the enemy was going to bring. Fasting brings us into a place of spiritual strength in the Lord that enables us to resist temptation on a much greater level. It is in our weakness that His power is more perfectly manifested. (2 Corinthians 12:9)Fasting brings us into a place of spiritual strength in the Lord that enables us to resist temptation on a much greater level. Click To Tweet
When Jesus went into the wilderness, God already knew in advance that Satan was going to tempt Him. The devil would come to Him three times and attempt to get Him to use His divine nature to accomplish something for Himself out of the Father’s will. Jesus was about to face temptations from the devil that were aimed at destroying His mission on the earth. And these were no small temptations. At one point, the devil offered Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world along with their glory. (Matthew 4:8) If there was any time that the Son of God needed spiritual strength, it was in this wilderness experience.
Embarking on an extended fast during this time may seem counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t Jesus be even more tired and weary and therefore more susceptible to temptation because of fasting? That might seem to be the logical conclusion, but the exact opposite is true. One of the major purposes of fasting is the denial of our flesh. We are telling our flesh no to the things it naturally desires. And as we subdue our flesh by refusing to obey it, our spirit man is strengthened.
This is something easier to experience than to explain. I have found that fasting on a regular basis makes this aspect of fasting much more pronounced. If I stop my regular schedule for a period of time, I can feel my flesh gaining strength. Temptations are harder to resist and I feel myself losing my sensitivity to the Lord. When this begins to happen, there is only one thing that I know that always works. And that is to return to fasting.
If you have are struggling with some besetting sin, attitude of the heart, or overwhelming temptation, spend some time in fasting and prayer. This will help to build in you a spiritual fortitude that will enable you to overcome temptation the way that Jesus did in the wilderness.
2.) Fasting Prepares us to Do God’s Will
It is also interesting to note that no miracles were done in the life of Jesus until after His baptism and subsequent temptation in the wilderness. The Holy Spirit descended upon Him at His baptism and then immediately led Him into the wilderness to fast. In Mark’s abbreviated account, he uses the term sent or impelled to describe how the Spirit led Him. (Mark 1:12) Luke tells us the immediate fruit of this time of fasting and testing: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” (Luke 4:14)
Jesus’ incredible ministry on the earth, which produced countless miracles, mended the broken-hearted, revealed the love of God to the world, and literally changed history, was birthed out of a season of fasting. The Scriptures do not tell us about what took place between Jesus and His Father during those forty days, but one can only imagine the depths of fellowship enjoyed and the revelation He received during that time.
There is something about fasting that prepares our hearts to walk in the plan that God has for us. It enables us to really focus on what He wants us to do. There have been several key moments in my life when I needed an answer from the Lord. And through fasting, He provided the direction that I needed. Fasting is a great tool that God has given us to help us discern His will and receive what we need to accomplish what He has called us to do.Fasting is a great tool that God has given us to help us discern His will and receive what we need to accomplish what He has called us to do. Click To Tweet
This is the reason that I make it a practice to spend at least a couple days of fasting before many of my speaking events or other ministry obligations. I need to prepare my heart to tune into the Holy Spirit. I want to be sensitive to do His will and to speak His words. And I receive a deep sense of confidence in the Lord when I know that I have spent the time I need in fasting and prayer in advance. He is always faithful to show Himself powerful when I humble myself through fasting.
This is why I strongly encourage people who are seeking to know God’s will in certain aspects of their lives to incorporate fasting in that process. There is something that transpires in these times that prepares us for what He has in store.
Just like the other spiritual disciplines, fasting is a multi-faceted activity. Fasting can accomplish so many valuable things in our spiritual lives. Preparing our hearts to resist temptation as well as to seek the direction and empowerment to accomplish His will are just two of the amazing benefits of living a fasted life.
DUSTIN RENZ is the President of Make Way Ministries, a non-profit organization that exists to see the world changed one Christian at a time. He has a passion to see the Body of Christ find rich intimacy in their relationship with Jesus and step out in faith to share the Gospel with the world around them. He is the author of Pile of Masks: Exposing Christian Hypocrisy and Something Better. He resides in Dayton, Ohio with his wife and three daughters.