Fasting, going without food, has been incorporated in the lives of people seeking God for a very long time. The first biblically recorded fast was thousands of years before Jesus. The Bible records people fasting in many different ways and for a variety of reasons. During the time Jesus lived on earth, the Jews fasted once each week. Many of their spiritual leaders, such as the Pharisees, fasted twice per week. As Jesus spoke to the crowds who gathered to listen to him, it is apparent that he expected them to be fasting regularly.
A few days after The Sermon on the Mount, a follower of John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Why is it that John has us fasting and the Pharisees fast, but you and your closest followers don’t fast?” In other words, “The rest of us really spiritual people are doing what we are supposed to be doing, but why aren’t you?” The response Jesus gives to him sounds kind of confusing. Jesus said, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
As we look at the response that Jesus gives, first consider that he calls himself a bridegroom. And while he, the bridegroom, is here on earth with his followers, they are celebrating. But when he is gone, then… In doing this, Jesus introduces a new paradigm of fasting – a fast motivated by a desire to encounter His loving presence.
Previously in Scripture, fasting was an expression of sorrow over sin or a plea for God to physically deliver his people from disaster. But now, through God’s new covenant, the indwelling Holy Spirit, living in each believer, would manifest the presence of Jesus through fasting. Thus, the model Jesus gives his followers for fasting is rooted in a desire for the Holy Spirit to manifest His presence in their lives.