The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the very heart of Christianity. The good news of the gospel is that God has acted in history to conquer evil and reconcile sinners to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For those who have been united with this Jesus – who have submitted to him as savior and Lord – have been united with him in the likeness of his death and will one day be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection (Rom. 6:5). Lent, therefore, is about living out of our union with, and identity in, Christ. Lent is first and foremost about the gospel making its way deeper into our lives.
WHAT IS LENT?
Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate the death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday) of Jesus. It is this very preparation and repentance – aimed at grasping the intense significance of the crucifixion – that gives us a deep and powerful longing for the resurrection, the joy of Easter.
As the title of this devotional suggests, Lent is a journey to the cross: meditating on our sin and weakness, looking to Jesus as our perfect example and substitute, and being heightened in our worship of his victory over Satan, sin, and death. On the cross, Jesus took our place to appease God’s righteous anger toward our sin and rebellion. He was separated from God so that we could experience union with God. He was crushed by God so that we could be adopted by God. He was raised with God so that we too might be raised with God. The drama of how this unfolded is the story of Lent.
The journey of Lent is to immerse ourselves in this grand story so that it might increase our appreciation of Easter and love for Jesus. May we mourn the darkness in our hearts and rejoice in the light of God who came into the world to save us!
WHAT IS ASH WEDNESDAY?
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. - Mark 8:27-30
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season. The aim of Ash Wednesday is threefold: to meditate on our mortality, sinfulness, and need for a savior; to renew our commitment to daily repentance in all of life; and to remember with confidence and gratitude that Jesus has conquered sin and death. Our worship today should be filled with gospel truth because it is a witness to the power and beauty of our union with Christ and to the daily dying and rising with Christ that comes with this unity.
During a traditional Ash Wednesday service, ashes are applied to the worshiper’s forehead (the “imposition”) in the shape of a cross. In Scripture ashes or dust symbolize mortality (Gen. 18:27), mourning (Est. 4:3), judgment (Lam. 3:16), and repentance (Jon. 3:6). An ashen cross serves as a reminder that you come from dust and to dust you shall return one day. It is also a call to “Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).
NOT MEREY EXTERNAL
You may be familiar with the outward aspects of Lent: ashes on foreheads, conversation about giving up sugar or caffeine or TV. But Lent, like spiritual life in general, is not merely external. There are internal realities that give depth and meaning to our actions, things like humility, sacrifice, repentance, and faith. In other words, there is more to Lent than deciding between coffee and TV. You could, of course, just decide that you are not going to drink coffee for forty days and be done with it, but to do so would be to deprive yourself of far more than coffee. You would miss something that God wants to do in you this season.
Jesus fasted from food and water for forty days in the wilderness. It was not a religious ritual or merely a display of his restraint. Rather, it was a time of trial and temptation which he endured by entrusting himself to God and being nourished on the Word of God. The point of the wilderness, for Jesus, was to experience the real presence of God with him, and power of God at work in him.
Though they may look the same from the outside, participating in Lent and “playing” Lent are entirely different realities. So give up coffee if you want to, but don’t pretend that the absence of a beverage will sufficiently help you draw near to God.
The Lenten practice of denying usual comforts is a means of deepening our sense of union with Jesus, and reorienting our life around the things of God. We give up that which distracts and entangles because we want to experience some real joy and freedom in Christ.
When considering what to give up for Lent, begin with whatever habits or things lie at the heart of your consumer lifestyle. Forsake them for the sake of being consumed by the God-life. Lent is not about what we do for Christ. It is about plumbing the depths of what he has done for us.
- In what areas of your life have you settled for the appearance of godliness?
- In what ways do you sense a need for the Spirit of God to make Jesus real to you?
Will Walker. After six years as a missionary to college students at the University of Texas and four years as an associate pastor at Coram Deo church in Omaha, NE,followed God’s call to plant Providence Church in the fall of 2010. He currently writes for World Harvest Mission and New Growth Press. Will and his wife, Debbie, are the parents of two boys, Ethan and Holden.
You may also enjoy reading Prayer Life by Winfield Bevins.