Since we are in the time of the Apostle’s Fast, it is appropriate to consider biblical ideas regarding fasting. I was reading chapter 58 of the Prophet Isaiah in the New English Translation of the Septuagint which reminded me more of the Gospel than I had ever thought of before. There are numerous scholars today who write about how the New Testament doesn’t merely quote the Old Testament, but more often the New Testament “echoes” ideas and concepts which are found in the Old Testament without explicitly quoting a reference.
While the authors of the New Testament may have had quotes from the Jewish Scriptures echoing in their minds as they wrote, it is more likely for me that as I read the Old Testament, I have the New Testament echoing in my mind as I’m more familiar with the New Testament than the Old. Below is the passage from Isaiah which I was reading, 58:5-12 (NETS) followed by some the New Testament passages which I heard echoing Isaiah’s words.
 This is not the fast that I have chosen, even a day for a person to humble himself; not even if you bend your neck like a ring, and spread under you sackcloth and ashes – not even so shall you call it an accepted fast.  I have not chosen such a fast, says the Lord; rather loose every bond of injustice, undo the knots of contracts made by force; let the oppressed go free, and tear up every unjust note.  Break your bread with the one who is hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; if you see one naked, clothe him, and you shall not neglect any of the relatives of your seed.  Then your light shall break forth early in the morning, and your healings shall rise quickly; your righteousness shall go before you, and the glory of God shall cover you.  Then you shall cry out, and God will listen to you; while you are still speaking, he will say, here I am. If you remove from you a bond and a stretching of the hand and a murmuring word,  and give to one who is hungry bread from your soul and satisfy the soul that has been humbled, then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your darkness shall be like the noonday.
The parallel between Isaiah 58:6-7 and the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-15) and the parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) seem obvious to me with references to loosing the bonds of injustice, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked and caring for one’s needy relatives. Here is Jesus teaching about the Last Judgment in which I hear the voice of the Prophet Isaiah:
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)
Matthew is considered by many to be the most Jewish of all the Gospel writers and he is often concerned with presenting Jesus as not violating Torah. Matthew however does accept Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah which is influenced by Isaiah’s Word from God. Fasting frees us from selfishness and self-centeredness. Godly fasting leads us to help our fellow human beings to become freed from all manners of oppression and slavery and suffering. Thus Christ echoes what Isaiah proclaimed – or Isaiah prophetically foresaw what Christ would proclaim. Christ accomplished in His ministry and signs exactly what God in Isaiah claims is the kind of fasting He approves of: losing bonds of injustice and liberating the oppressed. What was perhaps unexpected is that Christ frees suffering people from bondage to sickness, sin, suffering and Satan.
In Luke 4:16-21 we have Christ reading from the Prophet Isaiah in the synagogue with another message of Christ bringing liberation to the oppressed through the proclamation of the Gospel. Christ claims to fulfill the scriptural prophecy.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The theme of Christ liberating the oppressed is Christ fulfilling the kind of fasting God revealed through His spokesman Isaiah.