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Lent: Remembering what Christ has done for us

February 28 2017
February 28 2017

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Beginning with Ash Wednesday this week, Redeemer joins wCross draped in purpleith the church around the world in entering into the season of Lent, a 40-day period of preparation for our remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion and celebration of his resurrection. As we embark upon this intentional contemplation of Christ’s work, it is important for us to remember that Lent’s significance is not found in what we do or are going to do to be like Jesus. Rather, the significance is found in remembering what Jesus has done for us in our place.

Lent, a term connected to the lengthening of days that occurs in springtime, refers to the practice in the early church of preparing young converts for their first baptism on Easter Sunday. By the fourth century, the purpose of this season had widened to include all believers so that the entire church might focus on preparation for remembering Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The forty-day time frame was inspired by Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness prior to his earthly ministry. For this reason, Lent has been observed in church history with fasting, extended devotionals, contemplating mortality, resisting temptation and the repentance of sin.

Tragically, this has led most of us to think that Lent is about us—our devotion, our efforts to purify ourselves and our sacrifices. Due to the gravitational pull of our sinful hearts, we inevitably want to turn Jesus into an example that we follow rather than a Savior upon whom we depend.

But Jesus went to the wilderness and to the cross not as an example but as our Savior. Whenever we turn Jesus into just an example, we lose what is most precious about the message of the Gospel – Christ’s saving work on our behalf, which wins our freedom from death, the wages of sin. (Rom. 6:23)

In Jesus’s death, we are reminded that mortality was the consequence of humanity’s original rebellion against God in the Garden. There Adam and Eve believed that they could ascend to God’s place and subvert his Lordship and their dependence.

Today, we do the same thing every time we believe that we can live without limits and outside of the boundaries God has given for this world. No matter the area—science, politics, technology, sexuality, health, family, or vocation—when we unhinge our identities from the realities of God and, yes, death, we are denying the Gospel.

The only way that we escape death’s eternal sentence is in and through Jesus Christ! With the freedom won for us in Jesus’ death, we can begin living the life God intends for us to live. Through repentance and faith, we are called to live for him instead of for our sinful desires.

This has a special application to how we understand the Lenten journey. Many of us have been taught that we sanctify ourselves or purify ourselves for God by what we do – specifically when we give up things we love. Therefore Lent becomes a season to give up chocolate, sweets, a glass of wine or something else. In Colossians, Paul asks why we would do this if we have died with Christ. Abstaining from the things of this world has no power over our sinful desires.

Why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- 21 "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)- according to human precepts and teachings?  23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20-23

Interestingly, this is how many of us approach Lent. We think that through the punishment of the body or through depriving the body we restore, repair or purify our relationship with God. This isn’t true. There is no amount of punishment or fasting that we can do to accomplish that task. Only Jesus can do it for us!

Jesus wasn’t just our example. Rather, he was our substitute. He was uniquely doing something that none of us can do for ourselves. At Redeemer during this Lenten season it is my hope that we will not only consider what it means to follow Jesus but to rejoice in the work he has already won for us that cannot be lost.


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