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Message – While serving the Lord & Fasting, the Spirit spoke
While serving the Lord & Fasting, the Spirit spoke
“(1) Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the Tetrarch from childhood) and Saul.”
Now I will have a little history on what it meant to be a tetrarch and when such a title developed because it was in use in the Bible over 200 year before it was put into “official” use by Diocletian and so on the surface there looks like a historical conflict between the Bible and secular History but it really isn’t one.
In brief the history of the word is much like that of a president. The word president is from old French of around the 8th century and was used as a term for a person who presided over a meeting. Its first “official” use as the title of a national leader wasn’t until the 14th century, though no doubt it had been used informally for governors or leaders in one manner or another long before that.
[Now Herod the Tetrarch was also known as Antipas. He was a ruler of Galilee and Perea during the 1st-century. The title ‘tetrarch’ literally suggests one of four rulers over a quarter of a region or province. This gets a little confusing and I only mention it due to the trouble it can cause.
The title of Tetrarch as an official title was evidently first employed by Diocletian in the 3rd century, but the word “tetrárchēs’” had been in general use for some time and usually referred to a ruler over a ¼ division of a district.
So the very loose way in which Antipas was a Tetrarch was because – Herod the Great and his brother Phasael were at one time made tetrarchs of Judea by Antony.
Herod the Great left half his kingdom to Archaelaus with the title of ethnarch (ethnárchēs [G1481]), ruler of the nation. This half was later again divided in two and placed under the general rule of his two other sons, Herod Antipas and Philip. With Herod the Great’s region now divided four ways Antipas was given the somewhat loose title tetrarch.
An example of this can be seen in Luke 3:1.]
That Manaen was called a close friend of Herod (whose name was also Antipas) is interesting since the same Greek phrase can be equally translated as “a foster brother” of Herod the tetrarch. Language is a funny thing indeed!
“(2) While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.
(3) Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.
(4) So Barnabas and Saul, sent out by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
As they served the Spirit spoke
Now these verses tell us that these prophets and teachers were told by the Spirit to separate Saul and Barnabus for the work He was calling them to.
Now, years ago, desiring to know how I might “serve the Lord” as this passage suggests, I looked the term up in various Greek/English dictionaries and always came away with an uncertain answer. Terms like worship, obey, relieve being used but outside of any meaningful context for understanding what it meant.
It wasn’t until later that I found a study aid for Greek New Testament words in their context that I arrived at a satisfactory answer.
The word comes from another Greek word meaning – public servant.
The verse before offers some clarity because it mentions these men as being among other prophets and teachers – thus the context, along with the meaning of this word and the flow of the statement tacts down a meaning of serving in a religious capacity like a priest or a levite might have under the Old Covenant.
So it is saying that as these men were serving the church in their capacity as prophets and teachers by speaking prophetically and teaching, studying the word as well as praying and fasting – the Holy Spirit spoke.
You know nearly all my Christian life I was looking for some magic formula, some special and specific set of conditions in which the Spirit of God might speak in a fashion such as this – and as it turns out, the “special condition” was, simply doing what they knew to do.
As prophets and teachers they needed to immerse themselves in the Word of God and communion with Him in prayer as well as service to their brothers and sisters.
So “if” there is a special set of conditions in which one might evoke the intervention of God’s Spirit – simply walking in the light you have is it! And isn’t that at least one of the things the Spirit was saying through John when He said in 1Jn 1:1-7,
“(1) This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life – (2) and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). (3) What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). (4) Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (5) Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. (6) If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. (7) But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
The apostles had fellowship with God – eternal life, and if we walk in the light as Jesus is in the light we have fellowship with one another – meaning we have fellowship… a shared experience and resources with our fellow Christians and with the Holy Spirit of God!
Separate and called
This was Saul and Barnabus’ call into Apostolic ministry.
Some claim that only the 12 were apostles. These also claim that Matthias who was given Judas’ position was not given the Apostleship by the Spirit and that Judas’ position was really given to Paul as a man “born out of time”. However, that there were more than just 12 apostles is abundantly clear in scripture and Barnabus was most certainly one of them. The twelve, which included Matthias, were special apostles known as Apostles of the Lamb, but there were several others mentioned in scripture. Barnabus is known to be an apostle by his mention as such in Acts 14:14,15, but also by his apparent apostolic work which he continued independent of Paul at their separating Acts 15:37-40. Contrary to the popular opinion of some – neither Timothy nor Titus were apostles. For more on this please see our article on About Apostles.
The direction of the Spirit was to separate whom He had called.
So in this instance, the call is given by God, but the separating is done by man.
So what did He mean by call? It means to call to the performance of a thing, to appoint unto.
Unto what? The work!
What work? Apostolic work!
What does set apart mean?
Literally it means to define from or to define as separate than.
So in this way it is akin in heart to the word “Holy” which means “other than”.
This word can mean to separate from or cast out of society, but in this case means to separate unto some office or work.
In any case, those called are invited to be different from others and to serve a special function through work given specifically to them to accomplish.
So the Spirit called, but He told all of those who were prophets and teachers to do the separating.
How did they do this?
Well, after the Spirit spoke they did MORE fasting and prayer.
Fasting is beginning to sound important!
The role of Fasting under the New Covenant
I think this issue of fasting needs some addressing!
I am immediately reminded of Jesus’ words to the disciples of John the Baptist who questioned Him as to why His disciples did not fast.
While this is mentioned in other Gospels, Matthew adds something of significance which I find important. Turn with me to Matthew 9:14-17.
“(14) Then John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?”
(15) Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast. (16) No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, because the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be worse. (17) And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst and the wine is spilled out and the skins are destroyed. Instead they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved.”
They didn’t realize it but their question was one that was out of time. The disciples of John were in some measure still living under the Old Covenant, while Jesus’ disciples were being immersed and trained in the New.
Under the Old Covenant, fasting was used much as it is today with at least ONE MAJOR DIFFERENCE.
Under the Old Covenant, mankind had no real union with God. Eternal life through the New Covenant was not available and so fasting was to petition a God Who, in some measure was afar off – for intervention.
Under the New, we are appealing to God as well, but we do so as ones who are united with Him, who work WITH Him and in whom He dwells and through whom He does His work.
Between the Old and the New Covenants was this time of training for the disciples.
- They needed not petition their God, for they walked beside Him.
- They need not draw away from feeding their bodies to feast their spirits for their spirits were in a constant state of being full – their earthly ears and eyes being able to see and hear Him.
It would have been far more difficult to fully mislead one of His Own if knowing the truth of a matter were simply a question and answer away which might be heard with natural ears – and this they did regularly following His teachings! Often we read of them asking Him, “Master, what did you mean by….?”
Jesus told them there would come a day however, when they would, for a time, no longer see and hear Him with natural eyes and ears and in that way, there would be distance between them.
Now this will meet with some advicarial response from the hyper-grace crowd who refuse to acknowledge truths which are plain and self-evident regarding the limitations of our relationship with God while we are still in the flesh. Nevertheless those limitations are highlighted in the New Testament and they are real!
We still have sin and death in the flesh and to that degree the flesh still serves as a veil between us and God.
Paul says we are looking through a glass dimly but THEN (meaning when our flesh is glorified and we stand before Him) THEN – we will see with face to face clarity and intimacy.
What does that mean but that now we both do not and cannot!
Jesus said this even in this very passage by saying, “How can they fast when I am with them – when I am taken away they WILL fast”.
This was not just true during the 3 days Jesus was physically dead.
If you remember the disciples were depressed and mourning and upon hearing He had risen they were in disbelief. That does not sound like people who were in communion with God through fasting.
Jesus warned them before His crucifixion,
John 16:16-24, “(16) In a little while you will see Me no longer; again after a little while, you will see Me.” (17) Then some of His disciples said to one another, “What is the meaning of what He is saying, ‘In a little while you will not see Me; again after a little while, you will see Me,’ and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” (18) So they kept on repeating, “What is the meaning of what He says, ‘In a little while’? We do not understand what He is talking about.”
(19) Jesus could see that they wanted to ask Him about these things, so He said to them, “Are you asking each other about this – that I said, ‘In a little while you will not see Me; again after a little while, you will see Me’?
(20) I tell you the solemn truth, you will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into joy.
(21) When a woman gives birth, she has distress because her time has come, but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the suffering because of her joy that a human being has been born into the world.
(22) So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.
(23) At that time you will ask Me nothing. I tell you the solemn truth, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. (24) Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive it, so that your joy may be complete.”
You can readily see that He was talking about the time He would be in the Father’s presence. He had just told them that this time would be to their advantage since only then could He send them the Holy Spirit, Who would reveal Him (Jesus) to them.
Fasting is one of the ways and environments where that takes place and it was what was happening both at the call and the sending out of Saul and Barnabus.
So what IS fasting?
Well according to Jesus, it is something we do out of missing Him, because we are no longer physically in His presence.
So in some way, fasting allows us to draw near.
As I said earlier, the purpose for fasting under the New Covenant is nearly identical with its purpose under the Old.
Perhaps the best description offered in all of scripture is in the book we are currently studying on Wednesday nights in our sessions Thru the Bible, that of Isaiah.
Turn with me to Isaiah 58…
“(1) Shout loudly! Don’t be quiet! Yell as loud as a trumpet! Confront My people with their rebellious deeds; confront Jacob’s family with their sin!
(2) They seek Me day after day;
they want to know My requirements, like a nation that does what is right and does not reject the law of their God.
They ask Me for just decrees; they want to be near God.
(3) They lament, ‘Why don’t You notice when we fast? Why don’t You pay attention when we humble ourselves?’
Look, at the same time you fast, you satisfy your selfish desires, you oppress your workers.
(4) Look, your fasting is accompanied by arguments, brawls, and fistfights.
Do not fast as you do today, trying to make your voice heard in heaven.
(5) Is this really the kind of fasting I want?
Do I want a day when people merely humble themselves, bowing their heads like a reed and stretching out on sackcloth and ashes?
Is this really what you call a fast, a day that is pleasing to the LORD?”
So here, without saying it directly, God calls fasting pleasing to the Lord.
“(6) No, this is the kind of fast I want.
I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke.
(7) I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people.
When you see someone naked, clothe him!
Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood!
(8) Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive; your godly behavior will go before you, and the LORD’s splendor will be your rear guard.
(9) Then you will call out, and the LORD will respond; you will cry out, and He will reply, ‘Here I am.’
You must remove the burdensome yoke from among you and stop pointing fingers and speaking sinfully.
(10) You must actively help the hungry and feed the oppressed.
Then your light will dispel the darkness, and your darkness will be transformed into noonday.
(11) The LORD will continually lead you; He will feed you even in parched regions.”
What were the prophets and teachers doing when the Spirit led them to separate Saul and Barnabus? Fasting!
“He will give you renewed strength, and you will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring that continually produces water.
(12) Your perpetual ruins will be rebuilt; you will reestablish the ancient foundations. You will be called, ‘The one who repairs broken walls, the one who makes the streets inhabitable again.’
(13) You must observe the Sabbath rather than doing anything you please on My holy day.
You must look forward to the Sabbath and treat the LORD’s holy day with respect.
You must treat it with respect by refraining from your normal activities, and by refraining from your selfish pursuits and from making business deals.
(14) Then you will find joy in your relationship to the LORD, and I will give you great prosperity, and cause crops to grow on the land I gave to your ancestor Jacob.”
Know for certain that the LORD has spoken.”
To highlight what all this said…
Fasting is for…
- Seeking God
- Knowing what He desires
- Drawing Near Him
- to be heard by Him
- To please Him
What is it and How is it done?
Is it just going without food? No it has other components as well, but it ALWAYS involves the abstinence from food.
Let me be clear – I know that in the past we have told people that you can fast anything, but that was stated out of a misunderstanding of what it was for and how it was done.
The main Hebrew word used for fasting is tsom, which means “to abstain from food”, while the New Testament Greek word we translate as “fast” is nesteuo, which means “to abstain from eating.”
Clearly in both testaments, fasting is defined as going without food with a view to one or more spiritual benefits which we have and will cover.
So although the purposes for which we seek God may vary, going without food does not.
I like what Thomas A. Tarrants of the C.S. Lewis Institute said regarding fasting. He said,
“Judging from recent research and anecdotal evidence, it appears that very few professing Christians in America think fasting has a place in the Christian life. Available evidence shows that we much prefer feasting! Yet from the earliest days of the church, fasting has been recognized as an important way to draw near to God, deepen one’s relationship with Him, and seek His help in times of special need. Nearly all of the great spiritual leaders of the church, as well as ordinary believers who have been noted for their devotion to God, have practiced fasting.
…today there is a tendency to expand the word fasting to include things other than food, such as television, movies, internet, social media, or cell phones. Although it is certainly right to abstain from any number of things that are hindering our relationship with God, that is not what the Bible means by fasting. Such abstaining is better described as “saying no” to some form of worldliness or harmful fleshly indulgence. To reiterate, in the Bible, the word fasting means going without food, the purpose of which is to earnestly seek God in prayer.”
How long is a fast and how often were we told to do it?
It can be as short as one meal and we are NEVER given a strict guideline on how often or when.
Now it is a matter of CLEAR, extra-biblical history that for the first 2 ½ centuries of the church, fasting was highly valued and done twice a week, and they were on Wednesday and Friday.
John Welsey speculated that they chose Wednesday and Fridays as their days because Wednesday was the day of Jesus’ betrayal and Friday was the day He was crucified.
How long did they fast?
Fasting was done from morning until 3pm.
This only changed in the 4th century under Constantine and the general end of church persecution.
At that point Constantine had a very paganizing influence over the church. As a result the church became more worldly, introduced the beginnings of institutionalism and the focus of the church moved from love, devotion to Christ and holy living to form, ritual and liturgy.
In such an environment fasting began to be seen as legalistic and an attempt to obtain favor or even righteousness with God by works.
Yet, our Lord commanded it!
So, fasting was to abstain from food, but it was also to…
- Remove ourselves from sin
- Pray for others who are struggling against sin
- Share your food you would have eaten with the hungry
- Provide for homeless and oppressed
- especially those of your own family (some when fasting distance themselves from their family as if solitude during a fast is somehow more godly and yet here we are told the opposite! DO NOT HIDE FROM OR TURN YOUR BACK ON YOUR OWN FLESH AND BLOOD!
- Stop speaking lies and pointing the finger at others
- ACTIVELY help the hungry and oppressed
- Honor the Sabbath & look forward to it!
What was to happen when we fast?
Well according to Isaiah 58…
- Even the darkness will be light around you
- Your godly behavior will go as a testimony before you and God’s splendor will protect you from behind
- The Lord will continually lead you
- He will feed your heart – you will not god hungry for righteousness
- He will strengthen you and renew you
- He will use you to restore others
- You will find Joy in your relationship with Him
These are great rewards and they are all rooted in relationship!