Steve Myers gives a powerful sermon about how and why we should fast and get away from our sins
[Steve Myers] Well, it is the Day of Atonement. It is the fast. It is the day that we come together and we worship and honor God. It’s a special Sabbath day. A high Sabbath day. In fact today, a regular Sabbath and the Day of Atonement all in one, and it is a day that is a reminder of so many different things. So many different aspects to the Day of Atonement that we can’t even talk about all of the implications, spiritually speaking, of this very day. Mr. McClain touched on just a couple of things, focusing on the fact that we are in a battle. We are in a spiritual battle, and in Corinth, Paul posed the question, “Why aren’t the weapons that we fight with physical? Why aren’t they carnal weapons?” And little later on, he answered his own question, “Because we’re not fighting a physical battle.”
Now today, we’re reminded physically of the battle we’re fighting as we deal with not eating or drinking, but the real battle is the reminder that this is a spiritual battle. We’re not wrestling against flesh and blood. Ephesians 6 certainly reminds us of that. We are fighting spiritual warfare not against human enemies, but we are by fighting against spiritual wickedness. We are battling against Satan. We’re battling against the rulers of the darkness of this age, and it’s in a plane that we can’t even visualize. We can’t see it because these are demonic enemies and opposition that is much stronger than we are. And so, we continue to face this trial as we live this life, and it is a test. We’re reminded of that test especially today. How do we pass that test? How can we stand against such evil foes?
Christ set an example for us when He was about to face the challenge of His life. In Luke 4, He was about to begin His ministry. He was led into the wilderness by God’s Spirit, and before that temptation what did He do? He fasted. He fasted. He ate nothing. He drank nothing. And Luke 4 even has a little bit of humor in it when he said, he recorded for us, “He was hungry.” He was hungry. He fasted so He was spiritually ready for the battle. So Christ set the example for us that if we’re going to survive spiritually, we better fast. We better use this spiritual tool so that we can overcome. You probably remember the story about when the disciples were sent out, they tried to exorcise a demon that had come into the house. But who got exorcised? They got the exorcises. They ran out of the house beat up and naked. “Why?” they asked Christ. “Why couldn’t we cast out this demon?” And what was the answer? “Because it only would come by prayer and fasting.”
So how can you cast out the demonic influences in your life? How can you rid yourself? We have to submit to God in prayer and fasting, and trust in Him. God doesn’t hedge on this at all. He has some pretty strong words for His people when it comes to overcoming the evil that surrounds us. Isaiah 58 zeros in on some important words for us today. Certainly, these were words for His people many years ago but they apply as much today as ever. Isaiah 58, we’ll start at the very beginning of that chapter. As we read maybe a familiar section of scripture, but begin to notice how it ties in to the Day of Atonement.
Here God says, “Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” God required Isaiah to do this. Why? Because we are sinners. Because we do fall short, and it’s not because God isn’t with us. It’s because of our response to God. It’s because of our actions. It’s because of our choices. And here, Israel has gotten themselves into a bind because of what they did. Because of what became more important to them than God. If you look at verse 2, the New Living says, “They act so pious! They come to the Temple every day.” They come to services every day. “They seem delighted to learn about Me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of God. They asked Me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near Me.”
Verse 3, “We fasted before you!” they say. “Why aren’t you impressed? We’ve been very hard on ourselves and you didn’t even notice it!” God says, “I’ll tell you why.” God says, “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with Me.” Verse 5, “You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap. You cover yourself with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think that this will please the Lord?”
You see, God doesn’t hedge any words. He didn’t with them. He doesn’t with us. God tells us in no uncertain terms what the problem is. What’s the problem? He says it’s selfishness. It’s disobedience. It’s contention. It’s disputes. It’s even feeling sorry for yourselves that can be an issue. Wickedness, sin, oppression, all of those fit into what God is talking about. In verse 3, the NIV says, “…on the day of your fasting,” and verse 4, “your fasting ends with quarreling and strife,” and so I wonder whose fast is this today? Whose fast is this? Verse 5 God says, “Is this the kind of fast that I want? Is this the kind of fast that I require?” So He poses that question. Is it or not? So we begin to ask ourselves, “Is this God’s fast?”
Leviticus 23 gives us some instructions for this fast. Let’s hold our place here and go back to Leviticus 23. In verse 26, we receive some instructions for the Day of Atonement. And in this particular chapter, God reminds us of some things that ancient Israel had to do and gives us some insight on how that translates to today as well. Leviticus 23:26 Leviticus 23:26And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
American King James Version×, it says, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Also the tenth day of the seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement.’” Now on our Roman calendar, it’s not that, but on God’s calendar, today is the tenth day of the seventh month. The Day of Atonement. He says, “It shall be a holy convocation” so we come together. We praise Him. We worship Him. We have a commanded assembly on this day. He says, “You shall afflict your souls.” In other words, we fast and we keep from our physical bodies the enjoyment of food and water.
He says, “You make an offering made by fire to the Lord.” Of course, without the sacrificial system, we give an offering. Verse 28, it says, “You shall do no work on that same day. It’s the Day of Atonement to make atonement for you before the Lord your God.” This is a time that pictured in ancient Israel, their sins would be covered. God could cover their sins so that His presence could be with them. Was it serious to God? Absolutely. He said in verse 29, “If any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from His people.” That means they’d kill them. You don’t fast, you’re not a part of us. You’d be stoned. You’re not a part of us. That person I will destroy from among His people. So He says, “You don’t do any manner of work. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.”
And so, God gave instructions, and so when He asked the question back in Isaiah, “Do I want you to afflict your souls? Do I want you to humble yourselves?” the answer is yes. Yes. But at the same time, I wonder if that’s the only answer God’s looking for. Is that the only answer? Should I do it? Is the only answer how to do it, or is it why? Why fasting? Why afflict our souls? What should I be learning by fasting? What can I accomplish through drawing nearer to God? What should I be learning on the Day of Atonement and other days that I fast? What is this fast that God mentions?
Now if you flip back to Isaiah 58, God is pretty distinctive about what He wants, and He’s very specific on the why. In Isaiah 58:6 Isaiah 58:6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
American King James Version×He says, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen?” We have to ask ourselves, “Am I fasting today for me or is this the fast that God has chosen?” Because in the next verse, He goes and mentions four things why. Why we do the things that we do. What should fasting mean to me? He says, “Is this is not the fast I have chosen?” The fast that God Himself chose. He says, ” To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?” God gives us four whys in that one verse. Four things that fasting should accomplish on this very day and any day, every day that we fast. He gives us four things why, on the Day of Atonement especially, fasting should loose the bonds of wickedness. Does it? Or do we just have a dry mouth today? Are we just a little extra hungry this afternoon?
You see, if you think back to ancient Israel when that nation began, how did they begin? They came out of Egypt. Pharaoh had rule over them. They were in the bonds of wickedness. They were slaves, and so God said to them, “Remember I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the house of bondage.” We know that Egypt is a representation of sin. Sin binds us and locks us in, and so, Israel was that example for us. That as He brought Israel out of Egypt and loosed their bondage, and He did it in a dramatic way, an amazing way, should be no different for you and I. He breaks the bonds that tie us to sin. He sees the Day of Atonement in a way as a highlight to the breaking of the bonds of wickedness.
Symbolically, their sins were covered on the Day of Atonement when they placed them on that goat and sent that goat out into the wilderness. That goat was very representative of Satan, and it’s no less with us. As we think about this Day of Atonement, we were brought out of sin. We were brought out of this spiritual Egypt, and it wasn’t by a goat. It was by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of His firstborn, and so we have the opportunity to have the bonds of wickedness broken right before us. Sin put behind us.
Puts it a little bit differently in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 2:14 Hebrews 2:14For as much then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
American King James Version×describes the battle that we’re in to keep these chains broken. God describes this for us as He inspired the apostle Paul to write about the battle that we’re in and about fasting. Loosing those bonds of wickedness. Hebrews 2:14 Hebrews 2:14For as much then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
American King James Version×says, “Inasmuch as the children have partaken of flesh and blood” we’re physical beings, “He Himself,” talking about Jesus Christ, “likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” And so, we remember that today that this is representative of that goat that was sent off into the wilderness that inspired Israel to sin. We look to the future Day of Atonement when it will be fulfilled that that demon will ultimately be thrown into the bottomless pit and locked away from humanity because ultimately, Christ has the power to destroy his work. To destroy his ability to influence us. To destroy the impact of Satan himself.
And ultimately here in verse 15, He says He has that power, and He says, “and that power, to release those who through fear of death were all of their lifetime subject to bondage.” See, outside of the realm of God and His Holy Spirit, we are locked in bondage to Satan the devil. This world doesn’t even realize that they’re chained to Satan, and yet we have a Savior who has broken the bonds. Now do we keep those bonds broken or do we try to put those chains back together again? Do we handcuff ourselves? You see, fasting is to remind us that we have a Savior. That we can be loosed of the bonds of wickedness. He says in verse 16 “indeed doesn’t give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.” And we are Abraham’s spiritual seed. Do we turn to Christ and get the aid that we need? Do we stay close in that personal relationship that we said we had when we were first baptized? Do we take advantage of our Savior Jesus Christ?
Because ultimately He says in verse 17, “He was like us.” He was like us. He was made like us. Suffered died like we do. And it says that “He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of you and I.” That propitiation is Atonement. He makes Atonement for us. There’s reconciliation to God because of our Savior Jesus Christ. Because He suffered. Because Ge was tempted. Because He died on our behalf, we can have a relationship with God, and Atonement and fasting should remind us we have to stay sin-free. We can’t become complacent. The Day of Atonement was a stark reminder in ancient Israel that sin costs a life. It costs our Savior’s life as well, and it costs us a life.
Romans very clearly reminds us we are to be a living sacrifice. That this little sacrifice that we go through today of not eating and not drinking should just be a reminder of the greater sacrifice that we have dedicated our lives so that we are that living sacrifice. So that we are allowing Jesus Christ to live in us and through us, so the bonds of wickedness can never return in our life. That’s our goal. That’s the mission that He’s given us, especially on this Day of Atonement. And so He tells us, “Stay that way. I’m giving you the help, the aid, that you need so that you have power over sin. Power over Satan the devil.” You can have that very power, but we have to stay locked in to Jesus Christ.
Paul talked about this over in Romans 6. Romans 6:16 Romans 6:16Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?
American King James Version×, he reminds us not to get tied up all over again. He reminds us that we’ve got to stay close to God, and he reminds us that there are consequences for our choices, and so God’s given us that choice. And in Romans 6:16 Romans 6:16Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?
American King James Version×he says, “Don’t you know that whom you present yourselves slaves, to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death,” that’s the bonds of wickedness. Those are the chains of sin that wrap around us. So either we follow that, “…or” he says, “of obedience leading to righteousness?” So we have that responsibility that fasting reminds us we don’t want the bonds to return. We don’t want to to be in bondage. We don’t want to to go back to spiritual Egypt. We don’t want any part of that, and so we have to present our slaves bound and chained to Jesus Christ.
That’s what he tells us. In fact, if we skip back a couple of verses. Look at verse 12. He says, “Therefore don’t let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.” So fasting should remind us of that. Don’t present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness, for sin shall not have dominion over you. For you’re not under law but under grace. So fasting should loose those bonds so that we can be reattached to Jesus Christ. You see, because of our weakness, because of our shortcomings, it’s almost like those bonds of wickedness grab us, and that rope or chain of sin ties around our neck and chokes us.
But God’s given us a Savior, and since we have yielded to sin in our weakness, in our own human frailty, God has blessed us with the opportunity to fast. He’s blessed us with the opportunity to celebrate the Day of Atonement so that we can be loose from sin and its impact. The Day of Atonement is given to us. It’s kind of like as a spiritual realignment so that it reminds us, everyone all at the same time, that sin has consequences and wickedness is like an evil chain that binds us up, and yet we’re given the hope that we have a Savior. And so collectively we come together, and we worship together, and we fast together so we can spiritually, as the Body of Christ, be realigned with Him once again. So we should never forget the importance of freeing ourselves from the bonds of wickedness.
But God doesn’t stop there. In Isaiah 58 He gives a second thing that fasting should accomplish. He says that fasting should not only “loose the bonds of wickedness,” but back in Isaiah 58, He says it should “undo heavy burdens.” Undo heavy burdens. Remember when we read back there in Leviticus 23, what job did the Israelites have to do on the Day of Atonement? None. It said no work. There’d be no work on this day, so they were commanded not to do any work. They were, in other words, not to be burdened. They were not to be burdened on this day. And ultimately God reminds us sin is the ultimate burden, isn’t it? Sin is the ultimate burden.
Psalms 38:4 Psalms 38:4For my iniquities are gone over my head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
American King James Version×. Turn over to Psalms 38:4 Psalms 38:4For my iniquities are gone over my head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
American King James Version×. We’re reminded of that heaviness that sin casts over our hearts and our minds. How it impacts our life. God wants us to remember the penalty for sin. Fasting should be a reminder of that because He wants us to undo those burdens. So here in verse 4 of Psalms 38, David reminds us, as I’m sure he was reminded of it himself so many times. He says, “My iniquities have gone over my head.” My lawlessness, my sin, in other words, “goes over my head like a heavy burden they’re too heavy for me.”
You see, we can be overwhelmed with sin. It’s a heavy thing to carry sin around. You ever tried to do it? I have. It’s not a good thing. It’s not a good thing. It’s no fun to carry guilt around, is it? It’s no fun to have a guilty conscience. That is a heavy burden to carry. Falling short of the standards of God is a heavy thing to carry around. Sin is a heavy thing to carry around, and guilt is certainly a heavy thing to carry around. But on the Day of Atonement, on a fast day, God reminds us those heavy things can be undone. It doesn’t have to be that way.
As we fast, we’re reminded how weak we are. If you got a headache today, we’re reminded. I don’t usually have a headache because I’m usually eating and drinking, but today I’m reminded how physical I am. I’m reminded that my mouth is dry and there’s no water under the lectern. We’re reminded of those things when we go up to the drinking fountain and we see the sign “not today.” Uh oh. We’re reminded of our shortcomings as a physical human being. And as we realize we are dependent on food and water, because if I don’t have food and water… well maybe not tonight I could probably get away with it, or maybe tomorrow or the next day. But not too far down the line, if I don’t get food and water I am going to die, period.
The same thing is true spiritually speaking. If I don’t have a relationship with God, if I don’t rely on God totally in my life, I’ll have no spiritual life. I will have no eternal life. And so this fasting reminds me as a human being, I am utterly helpless when it comes to anything spiritual. I can’t do it. I cannot do it… I can’t even live without God’s help. If God doesn’t provide me food, I’m going to die physically as well. And so, as I think about this fast that God’s given us, I realize I need God.
We need to rely on the power of our almighty God, and that will loose the bonds of wickedness. That will undo heavy burdens. I can have my sins forgiven because I have a Savior that paid the sacrifice for me. And this fast should draw me closer to God as I realize everything relies on Him and that fast that realizes I am nothing. I need to be humble before the Almighty God who is life. Who has blessed me with this physical life and the promise of eternal life.
You see when I realize those kinds of things, and we allow fasting to turn us from our own selves, from our inward way of looking at life to looking to God. When we call out to God in help, for help, for forgiveness, for reconciliation. That’s the fast God has chosen. That’s the fast God has blessed. If we’re here today and we haven’t prayed, we haven’t prayed any more than we usually would, what kind of fast is that? Is that the kind of fast that God has chosen, especially on this day?
If we haven’t read our Bibles today if we haven’t studied the Word of God at all. What do we do during that time when we normally would be feeding our face? That was extra time today that God gave us to do that very thing. To undo those heavy burdens. To pray and ask God to reveal those things in me that I need to change, that I need to grow in. To draw closer to God. To understand His will even more thoroughly. To read His Word, to study. To talk to Him about it. To grow in that closeness to God. But if I haven’t done those things, I just went without food. That’s all I did. I’ve done those things that He condemned here at the beginning of Isaiah 58.
That’s a sad thing because we still have that burden weighing on us then. We’re still carrying that burden around. We’re still laden down with the influence of Satan in our life. I’m not sure if we’ve really thought about it but do we realize that God can’t really liberate the creation, He can’t really have Christ return, heavy burdens cannot be undone, unless Satan is bound? If Satan isn’t bound, if Satan isn’t shown for what he really is… and of course ancient Israel had that played out right before him. He represented that goat that carried their sins for the deceiver. The abaddon that he really is. Until that happens, there really isn’t liberation. Have you thought about it in that way? That’s what Revelation 20 says.
Now if you flip over there really quickly, Revelation 20. Right at the beginning of the chapter, here’s the spiritual fulfillment of that ancient ritual on the Day of Atonement. Revelation 20:1 Revelation 20:1And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
American King James Version×says, “I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.” That represented the chains that bind us. It says, “He laid hold of the devil, that serpent of old who is… hold of the dragon, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; cast him into the bottomless pit, shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he would deceive the nations no more until the thousand years were finished.”
You see, at that time God will begin that reconciliation process with the world, and it comes when Satan is bound. But before this, you know, we see this as the ultimate fulfillment of Satan being put away. Bonds being loosed. Burdens being lifted. But the problem is that burden cannot be lifted from our life unless we bind Satan now. If Satan isn’t bound in our lives, if Satan has free reign over our minds, over influencing us, are we fulfilling God’s purposes in our life? You see, God’s given us His Holy Spirit. Do we have the power to bind Satan and keep him far away from us? We do. We do. There’s absolutely no doubt about that.
How about James 4:7 James 4:7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
American King James Version×is just what came to mind if you want to turn over there. James 4:7 James 4:7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
American King James Version×is certainly a reminder that we have authority over sin. Not within ourselves. We don’t have that power. God has given us that power. God has given that power to us so that we can overcome. So that we can bind Satan and have him far from us. James 4:7 James 4:7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
American King James Version×, “Submit to God. Resist the devil.” How can we do that? Through God’s Holy Spirit. What is the result once we bind Satan? Once we resist him it says, “He will flee from you. Draw near to God, He will draw near to you.” And so there is no doubt, even today on this Day of Atonement, we’re showing the spirit world a few things, aren’t we? We know angels look into this plan of God, is what Scripture says. You think demons do anything less?
We know they’re out there roaming around. They’re checking us out. What do you think fasting, and especially fasting in the way that God has chosen, what does that tell Satan? That tells him, “Stay away from here. You have no access. You have no access into my heart and my mind.” When we reject Satan, we’re totally rejecting this physical world. This here-and-now kind of lifestyle that we live in. It shows that we’re tuned into God’s wavelength. We’re not tuned into Satan because we count on God for every breath we take.
We count on God for every morsel of food we eat. For every drink that we have. We count on God. We rely on Him, and it becomes obvious even to the spirit world that we are reliant on God. Our strength, our energy, all depends on God, and we’re showing that today. We are illustrating that in our very life today. So when we do that, and we keep this fast that God has chosen, Satan has no other option than to withdraw, and we cast him out of our lives by the power of God.
We can do that continually. That’s something we do constantly. We’re reminded to do that always, and we can then loose this burden and lift that heavy burden, that heavy influence in our life. Fasting is certainly a part of it. Some like to turn it around and say something a little different. I was just reminded of 1 John 5. Over in 1 John 5, some people would say, “Keeping this day is a burden itself, so you want to loose your burden, why don’t you just eat some food? Then you wouldn’t have a burden.” Well, that’s a bunch of baloney. That’s where 1 John 5 came into place. Not that you can eat that baloney today. Notice 1 John 5:3 1 John 5:3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
American King James Version×. 1 John 5:3 1 John 5:3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
American King James Version×, “This is the love of God, that we keep His Commandments.” You say you love God, show it by your actions. Obey Him, obey Him. And he says, “And His commandments are not burdensome.”
So the Commandments, that’s not a heavy burden on us. Commandment keeping actually shows that we love God. He even goes on in verse 4, “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world.” We put to practice this Holy Spirit that God’s given us. He says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” They believe it, and they live by it, and they order their life according to the will of God. They choose that on a daily basis. Fasting reminds us that that is the very thing we are to do.
Now back in Isaiah 58:6 Isaiah 58:6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
American King James Version×He mentioned a third thing. A third aspect as to what fasting should accomplish, especially on this day. But really, any day that we fast, it should remind us of these things and draw us closer to Him. So here we’re told in Isaiah 58:6 Isaiah 58:6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
American King James Version×, this third thing is that God says fasting is “To let the oppressed go free.” Let the oppressed go free. Israel identified with that thought. They had to have because they had been oppressed for hundreds of years in ancient Egypt, weren’t they? Pharaoh was oppressing them. He required more and more from them. But what did God say? What did God tell Pharaoh? “Let my people go.” It sounds a little bit like Isaiah 58. “Let the oppressed go free.”
Today is a day that we afflict our souls as Leviticus talked about. We fast. It reminds us how dependent on food we are. But does it remind us just as much how much we’re dependent on God, and a reminder that God’s the one that can let the oppressed go free? If our fast doesn’t include genuine repentance, if we haven’t gone before God today and asked Him to forgive us, to help us, and to guide us, and to lead us, we missed the point. We missed the point of fasting. You see, God has the authority and the power to forgive our sins. To bring reconciliation. And so, God promises to do that, and so the fast that God has chosen consists in changing, undoing what has oppressed us, and now doing what’s right. Doing what He calls us to do.
If you go back to Romans 5, it kind of fits with the Day of Atonement, because we may be feeling a little weak. We may be feeling like we don’t really have a whole lot of strength today, physically speaking, but notice what he says here. In Romans 5:6 Romans 5:6For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
American King James Version×, he says, “When we were still without strength,” now that’s not talking about physical strength here. Here it’s talking about spiritual strength. How much spiritual strength do we have on our own? Not much. Not much.
He says, “When we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He let the oppressed go free. So in verse 9, he says, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Not only that, we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we now have received the reconciliation.”
In a way, God said to Satan, “Let my people go. Let my people go.” And so, we have the opportunity to be reconciled. When He says, “Let the oppressed go free.” There’s no doubt we are oppressed today, aren’t we? Maybe not enslaved, but anyone feel demoralized lately? Anybody feel discouraged? Maybe on your job, you feel exploited. That’s possible. Depressed. Disheartened. God says fasting even is an answer to that type of a situation. Fasting deals with that, especially if you remember some of the things that happened on the Day of Atonement. Every 50 years on the Day of Atonement was the Jubilee. Might just write down Leviticus 25. It talks about the Jubilee year, and in that special year out of 50 that began on the Day of Atonement, it was a reminder for every generation that people are not to be oppressed.
So if you had sold yourself into slavery, you could be free. if you had sold the land that belonged to your family, you would get it. If your grandfather sold the land that belonged to your family, you would get it back after that 50 years, and so it was a time of release. It was a time of restoration. It was a time of reconciliation. And so, if we fast and we don’t reconcile with God, if we don’t ask for forgiveness, if we don’t have any rejuvenation or reconciliation, we’re going to stay demoralized, we’re going to stay exploited, we’re going to stay disheartened and depressed, but God gives us His fast to free us from oppression.
Now there’s also… on the other hand. If you remember the movie The Fiddler On The Roof “Well, on the other hand, we have this…” Well, there’s another hand to this whole concept of “let the oppressed go free.” Who are you oppressing? Do you oppress anyone? Is there someone we’re holding in our grasp that we’re not letting go free? In the book of Zechariah, it talks about this very thing. Zechariah 7:4 Zechariah 7:4Then came the word of the LORD of hosts to me, saying,
American King James Version×. Zechariah 7:4 Zechariah 7:4Then came the word of the LORD of hosts to me, saying,
American King James Version×talks about the oppression that we cause. Let’s notice it. Here Zechariah says, “The word of the Lord of hosts came to him saying, ‘Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, ”’” So the seventh month would have been the Day of Atonement. “When you fasted during that time of captivity.” He’s asking them, “What about that fast?”
He says in verse 5, “…did you really fast for Me? When you eat and when you drink, did you not eat and drink for yourselves?” Verse 7, “Should you not have obeyed the words which the Lord proclaimed through the former prophets…” What do they proclaim? Look at verse 9. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother.’” He says, “Do not oppress the widow.” He says, “That is unacceptable.” “Do not oppress the fatherless, the alien, or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.” Is that the kind of fast that they had? You know, it’s almost like Isaiah. The bigger question, “What about us?” Is this what our fast encompasses? Does our fast encompass this or not?
So you see, the result for them was verse 11. “They refused to heed, they shrugged their shoulders, they stopped their ears so they couldn’t hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words.” Sure, they went hungry, and then when they could eat, they ate. They never gave God any thanks for it. They didn’t appreciate the spiritual side of life at all. And so, end of verse 12, “’Great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. Therefore it happened just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I wouldn’t listen,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
You see, they fasted and sin persisted, and a big part of that sin was the sin they were committing toward each other. So do we oppress others? Or do we free others? You may say, “Well how do I… I don’t do that sort of thing.” But what about our disapproval? By voicing our disapproval, maybe even thinking our disapproval of others, do we oppress them? When we belittle someone else. When we disrespect others. We make fun of them. We ridicule. Is that a form of oppression? I think it is.
What about when people try to change? When people try to change, do we lock them up in that little box? That they’ve always done that, and that’s the way they are. And you can’t trust them, and that’s who they are. And we keep them pinned up and lock the chain wrapped up around them so that they cannot escape. Is that oppressing someone? How about our judgmental attitudes toward each other? Is that oppression? That’s harshness. Not mercy. Not compassion. Maybe we’re just domineering. We’re just domineering in our jobs. In our families. Over our kids. Our mates. God says that’s unacceptable. This Day of Atonement, fasting, is a time to let go. Let go. Let the oppressed go free. But too often, we place heavy burdens on others.
Of course, you remember that model prayer where Christ said that we’re to forgive others. In fact, our prayer should be, “Forgive us as we forgive others.” And so, good thing to think about on the Day of Atonement. Do I owe anybody something? Maybe it’s not money. Do I owe people… do I owe someone a second chance? Do I owe someone a better deal? Do I owe someone a second thought? You see when burdens are lifted. When sin, the burden of pride, the burden of selfishness. Maybe we can go to our brother. Maybe we can ask forgiveness for something that we did. Maybe we owe someone something, or maybe they owe you something. What would happen if you lifted that burden? How would God view that?
You see, those are the kinds of burdens fasting is supposed to undo. That’s the fast that God has chosen. Loosing the bonds reminds us we got to let them go. Remember the woman caught in adultery they brought to Christ? He tied her all up, binds her up, locks her away, throws her in prison? No, He didn’t, did He? He didn’t. Wrote something down and everybody left, and he said, “Where are your accusers?” She said, “Well nobody’s here.” He said, “I don’t condemn you either. Go and sin no more.” She had a personal responsibility to do what was right from there on out. Christ forgave. Christ lifted that burden. Yes, He had an expectation of obedience, but He loosed her from the bonds of sin, so we have a part to play in loosing those chains. Undoing the burdens and undoing the burdens on others as well. And so we can let it go. Let it go.
There’s a fourth thing that’s mentioned back in Isaiah 58. The fourth thing that fasting should accomplish that’s listed there in verse 6, it’s an important one. It says that fasting should accomplish something “in breaking every yoke.” In breaking every yoke. Does fasting accomplish things in life? I mean, even to people that don’t even understand the true God, fasting does some remarkable things. I was reminded of the story of a terrible locust plague that invaded much of the Midwest back in the 1800s. In fact, it was 1873. And I’ve never heard about it until we were in Minnesota because it affected the whole southwest of Minnesota, and it was an unbelievable plague of Rocky Mountain locusts. And it had been such a difficult plague. They ate everything in sight. Stories are written in Minnesota where farmers tried to cover their crops with blankets just to protect them from locusts. And you know what they ate? They ate the blankets. It was so bad.
And so, the next spring, there was more eggs. More locusts. They were hungrier. More plentiful than ever, and they just swarmed everywhere. And farmers would tell stories of looking up in the sky when they would take flight and it would just be black. They said in some places it looked like it was, you know, snowing in July. It was so bad. And this went on and on and on for four years. Four years this locust plague went on, and desperate farmers were writing the governor. They were writing the governor of Minnesota for help, and so, he wrote a memorandum. In fact a dictate I guess you could say because he “didn’t want to ruin the moral fiber of the poor with handouts.” That was a quote of a letter that he wrote. And so you know what he decided to do? What would stop the poor from receiving some kind of handouts from the state? He called a statewide day of fasting and prayer.
So on April 26th, 1877, those who at least chose to in Minnesota, fasted. Do you know what happened later that spring? There was a late snowstorm that wiped out the grasshoppers, and then there was some type of parasite that came along. in fact, you can’t even find a Rocky Mountain Locust today. They’re gone. They’re gone. There was some kind of parasite.
Some will say, “Well, it’s because they plowed their fields and they killed the larvae and the eggs,” but that just can’t be the case because they were doing everything they could to plow and beat those eggs and do away with these grasshoppers. They were burning tar around the fields even, trying to keep these bugs away and they would not hesitate to eat everything in sight. So it wasn’t until this snowstorm, unusual snowstorm for the time, wiped them out. And then by that fall, by that August, they had the biggest wheat crop ever recorded up to that time.
So you think fasting could make a difference? I mean, even when we do the things of God and we don’t understand everything about it, I think God blessed that. I think God blessed that effort, and it certainly broke the yoke of that Rocky Mountain locust. And God reminds us that we can have every yoke broken. In fact, not just one or two problems that I have I can overcome, He says, “Every yoke.” And when you think about what a yoke is, it’s that thing that attaches to the shoulders of an ox so that they can plow with it. They attach it to the plow and then they can go.
They use that yoke so they can control the animal. They can control that ox so the farmer can get it to do what he wants it to do. And part of that is because of the weight of that yoke, some of it’s the strength behind that yoke. And it is a reminder sin is a yoke that sometimes is wrapped around our necks. What farmer is controlling us? Who’s on the reins behind that yoke of sin that we all too often wear? You see, sin is like that. Satan is like that. He’d love to get that yoke wrapped around our neck and force our head down to the ground so we can’t possibly see the light. And so that’s his goal. That’s his efforts, and yet Christ says it doesn’t have to be like that. Doesn’t have to be like that.
There’s an interesting passage in the book of Lamentations. Maybe not all that often read, but when you look to the book of Lamentations, you find something that’s interesting that has to do with this yoke, and I believe it ties into what Isaiah wrote about for us today. So once you find the book of Lamentations, it’s probably the section that’s not as torn up as some of the others. But we see Lamentations, right at the very beginning of that chapter 1. Lamentations 1:14 Lamentations 1:14The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and come up on my neck: he has made my strength to fall, the LORD has delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.
American King James Version×. In fact, the whole book was written because of a lamentation I guess you could say, for mourning Jerusalem. They were mourning over the destruction that the Babylonians had brought. They were mourning the destruction of the temple, and so you kind of get the mindset of the people, and why this was recorded for us, and why did this destruction come about. Why were the people taken into captivity?
Well here we see… they think that perhaps Jeremiah was the one that wrote this. Jeremiah lamenting Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. So in verse 14, he says, “The yoke of my transgressions was bound,” speaking of Jerusalem. Speaking of the people that were taken into captivity. “The yoke of my transgressions was bound; they were woven together by His hands,” in other words God’s hands, “and thrust upon my neck. He made my strength fail; the Lord delivered me into the hands of those who I’m not able to withstand.” And so we see there is consequence to sin.
When you look back to verse 14, New Living says, “He wove my sins into ropes to hitch me to a yoke of captivity.” I like the way that reads. The good news version says this in verse 14. “He took note of all of my sins. Tied them all together. He hung them around my neck, and I grew weak beneath the weight.” Because sin weighs us down. And whose fault is it? Not God’s fault. He says it’s our own transgressions. It’s our own choices. It’s our own sins and faults and waywardness. That’s what he’s talking about here. Our own choices. Our own iniquities.
Psalms reminds us of the same thing, and the Day of Atonement, fasting, reminds us we have a spiritual problem. This is a spiritual problem. In fact, if there is a problem in our life, probably is a spiritual rather than a physical problem, because can we save ourselves ultimately? Can we solve every problem in our life? Well, we can do some things physically speaking, but when it comes to doing anything spiritual, we’re reminded we can’t beat death. There is no way.
We can’t overcome death. Our problems are spiritual, and so when we have those difficulties that we face. That we deserve, Lamentations remind us. When we’re bound over to the penalty of death which every sin requires, that yoke is set. That yoke is on our neck. Nothing can remove it except God’s hand. Nothing can remove it except His love. Nothing can remove it except His pardoning mercy. That removes it.
And our fasting today reminds us that this life is a temporary thing. We are just temporary physical human beings and yet we’re created in God’s image, and so, God expects us then to change. Fasting reminds us that there is something we need to do, so we consider these four things that fasting accomplishes. Our response should be repentance. To return to God in every area of our life that we’ve departed from.
We got to make sure we have a right relationship with Him. That we have a passion for God’s way. That we have a heart. Not to exclude certain parts of our life that I don’t want to deal with, but that we examine ourselves. We look at ourselves and we draw near to God in order to have the zeal for what He wants us to accomplish in our life and the fast that He has chosen breaks the yoke that binds us. And not just some, but every yoke that binds us.
Christ said in Matthew 11, if we’re burdened down, we’re heavy laden, if we’re dealing with sin, He says, “Come to Me. Take my yoke.” That’s Matthew 11:28 Matthew 11:28Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
American King James Version×. “Learn from Me,” He says. “My yoke is easy. My burden is light.” And so fasting should remind us to draw ever closer to God. To make sure we are lined up with God’s way because Christ sacrificed purged sin. We cannot just be satisfied with a little bit of change. We need a thorough, complete change. Otherwise, we’re no better than those Israelites who just had their sins covered over.
The type of Atonement that God provides through Jesus Christ is complete removal of sin. Complete removal of Satan. We can be thoroughly changed, and God has given us this tool of fasting in order to accomplish that. In fact, He doesn’t say, “So get at it.” He even gives us the encouragement of promises. Blessings that come about because of repentance. Because of change. And through fasting, these things do occur.
Look back to Isaiah 58. In Isaiah 58, just down from verse 6 and verse 10, He says, “If we do these things. If we do these things,” the end of verse 10 says, “Your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as noonday.” We will have a total, complete, different spiritual perspective on life. The character of Christ in us. Verse 11, “The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, strengthen your bones; you’ll be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose, waters do not fail. Those from among you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach. The Restorer of Streets to Dwell in.”
You see, it’s a reminder. The Day of Atonement brought the cleansing of the temple. It’s no different today. God cleans up His people through repentance, and fasting allows a deeper level of repentance and reconciliation, so no wonder God wants us to fast. So on this Day of Atonement, let’s rededicate ourselves to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. That’s the fast we must choose, for that’s the fast God has chosen.