The time is here for my favorite season in the Church: Lent. It starts every Ash Wednesday (Feb. 26 this year) and ends on Resurrection Sunday. 40 days to be exact. The very number is mentioned over 140 times in Holy Scripture. It signifies periods of testing or trial…40 days and nights God had it rain on His creation to flood the earth (Gen. 7)…40 years the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness (Exodus – Deuteronomy)…40 days and nights Moses was on Mount Sinai when God gave him the 10 Commandments (Exodus 24)…40 days and nights our Lord Jesus fasted and was tempted in the wilderness by Satan. These 40 days we face ahead in Lent are purposeful and lead us to see what Lent is all about: a time for cleansing, instruction, and reflection.
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” 2 Corinthians 7:1
40 days of Cleansing
No, this is not a cleanse diet. Lent is not solely “giving up something” to be better nor is it just about “doing more” to strengthen your personal faith. It is literally the time for us to wash / do away with all the sin that ties us down. It is a purging out of our hearts the idols we worship. What is an idol? Martin Luther said it best: “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god, your functional savior.” It is anything / anyone that we trust in above the one true God (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The tragic and discomforting reality we all are brought to face during Lent is this: there is not a single one of us who are pure in any way. We constantly worship other gods. All of us are guilty of idolatry…chasing after personal pleasure, constantly making sure our self-made status is intact, securing comfort by any means necessary convinced that what we accrue will bring identity and purpose to our existence. These are just a few. We cling to all these things as if they ultimately define who we are; we keep them with such tight fists thinking they’ll save us from whatever it is we fear. Even what may come across as good intentions in front of others, (you know, when we try to “do more during Lent”) there’s always a tint of selfishness / pride to what we think, say, and do. None of us are pure. So to put it simply, we need a bath. Thankfully we are given one every day when God leads us to remember His gracious promises in our Baptism. Yes, that grand, miraculous moment when God the Holy Spirit placed His eternal saving claim on us, entering our very hearts, washing away our eternal death sentence with Christ’s word of forgiveness (see Ephesians 5:26) is also a daily reoccurrence when we cleanse our hearts through daily repentance. Lent: repent and be cleansed. But once we “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit…”, we can’t leave ourselves empty lest we fill up again with sin. Once we clear out and make room, we must furnish ourselves with God’s goodness. This comes of course through the hearing of His Word.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
40 days of Instruction
Throughout the days and weeks of Lent the story of our Savior Jesus is told. Each week passing builds and heightens in tension. Each day passing brings us closer to the darkest day in history, when Jesus would be nailed to a cross and die the death all of us deserve because of sin. Our Lord doesn’t stray one bit from this dreadful task; along the way He even teaches and prepares us for what it will take to follow Him. Lent is never about us and how we need to improve. It is rather the season where we truly learn what our God came to do: come down and die. Out of this, He in turn calls us to die to our sinful selves every day. We are instructed by Jesus to repent, listen, forgive, love, obey, seek to serve rather than be served. We fill our cleaned out hearts with these perfect, righteous words of Christ, which then lead us to reflect on who we are…sinners in desperate need of grace.
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15
40 days of Reflection
When we read the accounts of Jesus’ ministry, hear Him speak truth, see our Lord encounter ridicule and scorn, experience shame and pain, and finally endure an excruciating death, we hopefully think “why?” Why did this Jesus go through all of this? And then it hits us…Christ withstood these things because of me. My sins brought the one true God here to suffer and die. Dying the death I deserve, He saved me, the chief of all sinners. We are brought down to our knees and reflect…I’m not as pure-hearted as I think I am…I’m not better than anyone else…all I have in this world amounts to nothing because I have to pay the piper one day. Truly, the wages of my sin is death, but I’ve been given an amazing gift in spite of them: life in Christ Jesus my Lord (Romans 6:23). Throughout Lent we reflect heavily on our death sentence because of our sins. But we don’t stay stuck there. Remember, Lent is not about us. It is always and only about Jesus. Who He is. What He did. In these 40 days of trial and testing, God leads us out of the valley of sorrow and death into joy and life. “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy” (Psalm 61:1-2). The Lord delivers. The Lord saves. The Lord loves you, chief of sinners. In Christ you are called out from death into life.
Reflecting on Jesus with you, Pastor Sam