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What the Bible says about Lent

Matthew 6:16 - Matthew 6:18

Fasting

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Read more from Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament

Fasting (6:1618)

When you fast (6:16).

The law required only one fast a year—on the Day of Atonement. The expression used there is “deny yourselves” (niv) or “humble your souls” (nasb), indicating that in addition to fasting, the people were to demonstrate a humbling of their souls by wearing sackcloth, mourning, and praying on the Day of Atonement (cf. Ps. 35:13; Isa. 58:3). As time passed, fasts multiplied for legitimate purposes, such as a sign of repentance and seeking God’s mercy (e.g., Ezra 8:2123), and certain days of the year became regular days of fasting (Neh. 9:1; Zech. 8:19).

Do not look somber as the hypocrites do (6:16).

Fasting also became legalized among some sectarians to twice a week (cf. Luke 18:12), usually on Monday and Thursday, because Moses is said to have gone up on Sinai on those days. Jesus condemns the practice of hypocritical fasting by the religious leaders, since they were fasting with the intention of getting recognition from the people.

Matthew 6:1 - Matthew 6:18

Giving to the Needy

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Prayer

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Fasting

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Read more from NKJV Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible

Life Lessons: Matthew 6:1–34

Situation

After teaching about happiness and honoring the law, Jesus taught about giving, praying, and worshiping.

Observation

The Lord’s Prayer, a model prayer, is really the disciples’ prayer.

Inspiration

When David says, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6), he’s not saying he wants to get away from people. He’s saying that he yearns to be in God’s presence, wherever he is.

David longs to be in God’s house.

I know what you’re thinking: Sure, Max, but he was David. He was the poet and the prince and giant-killer. He didn’t have carpools and diapers and a boss who breathes deadlines like a dragon breathes fire. I’d love to live in God’s house, too, but for the time being, I’m stuck in the real world.

Forgive me, but I beg to differ. You aren’t stuck in the real world. Just the opposite, you are one step away from the house of God. Wherever you are. Whatever time it is. Whether in the office on Thursday or at soccer practice on Saturday, you are only a decision away from the presence of your Father. You need never leave the house of God. You don’t need to change your zip code or your neighborhood; all you need to change is your perception.

When your car is stuck in traffic, you can step into the chapel. When the gust of temptation unbalances your stride, step behind the wall of His strength. When the employees belittle you, take a seat in the porch swing next to your Father; He’ll comfort you. Remember, this is no house of stone. You won’t find it on a map. You won’t find it described in a realtor journal.

But you will find it in your Bible. You’ve seen the blueprint before. You’ve read the names of the rooms and recited the layout. You’re familiar with the design. But chances are you never considered it to be a house plan. You viewed the verses as a prayer.

Indeed they are. The Lord’s Prayer. It would be difficult to find someone who hasn’t quoted the prayer or read the words. . . .

Children memorize it. Parishioners recite it. Students study it . . . but I want to challenge us to do something different. I want us to live in it . . . to view it as the floor plan to our spiritual house. In these verses Christ has provided more than a model for prayer, He has provided a model for living. These words do more than tell us what to say to God; they tell us how to exist with God. These words describe a grand house in which God’s children were intended to live . . . with Him, forever. (From The Great House of God by Max Lucado)

Application

Take each section of the Lord’s Prayer and recast it in your own words. Consider what it means to you to have a Father in heaven. What aspects of God’s kingdom can you help to build this week? Who do you need to forgive today? What “food” do you need for today? Live in the Lord’s Prayer today!

Exploration

Jesus’ Example—Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12; 9:28, 29.

Matthew 4:1 - Matthew 4:18

Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.

“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.

“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Jesus Begins to Preach

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.

13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—

14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus Calls His First Disciples

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.

Read more from NIV First-Century Study Bible

Jesus’ Baptism and Temptation

Events surrounding Jesus’ baptism reveal the intense religious excitement and social ferment of the early days of John the Baptist’s ministry. Herod had been cruel and rapacious; Roman military occupation was harsh. Some agitation centered around the change of governors from Gratus to Pilate in ad 26. Most of the people hoped for a religious solution to their intolerable political situation, and when they heard of a new prophet, they flocked out into the desert to hear him. The religious sect (Essenes) from Qumran professed similar doctrines of repentance and baptism. Jesus was baptized at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan (see Jn 1:28). John also baptized at “Aenon near Salim” (Jn 3:23).

For Jesus’ temptation, see notes on Mt 4:1–11; Lk 4:1–13.

Many interpreters place John’s baptismal ministry at a point on the middle reaches of the Jordan River, where trade routes converge at a natural ford not far from the modern site of Tel Shalem.