There was once a father who believed in boundaries. He clearly defined them for his family. Sometimes the children thought the boundaries were too much. Since the father was gracious and kind, the children would ask the father about the nature of these boundaries. The father would carefully explain why they were necessary. The children did not necessarily like the boundaries, but they trusted their father. As they grew, the boundaries became fewer and fewer. The children were becoming accustomed to the boundaries and the routine they produce. They liked the fact that they knew what to do and what not to do. So, they assembled and formed a committee called CCPB—children concerned for the permanence of boundaries.
They approached their father and said: “Father, we don’t like that you are giving us more freedoms. We don’t think we are ready to live without these boundaries. We are surely going to perish.” The father hugged that lovely committee and said: “My children, it is time for you to take my boundaries and apply it to your new communities. You need to embrace your new freedoms and create your boundaries based on what I have taught you.”
The committee quickly disbanded and went their way eager to apply order to their new-found freedoms.
Beloved, our freedoms are never devoid of boundaries. Order is always on the table; without it, the table comes crashing down. Our Lord gave us this orderly institution. We are not to follow it mechanically, but joyfully. The same God who gives us order is the God who gives us abundant joy.
“The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.”
Adam’s acceptance of Eve’s role reverses his rejection of his wife earlier. He chose to restore community with his wife, rather than pursue the game of blame. The pain endured by all the women in the Old Covenant came to an end in the last Eve of the Old Covenant, Mary. Eve, then, is the mother of all living. She is the mother of life and from that life, Jesus, life is given to all those united to him.
This morning it is the Supper that restores community. The meal Adam and Eve shared at the Tree of Knowledge destroyed their community, even though it had the outward marks of community. The meal we share with Jesus restores all true community in the bond of the Spirit. This meal is an affirmation that the Seed of the Woman is our life.
In Isaiah 43, Yahweh, the Covenant Lord, says that He is making something new. He is re-creating the world. He proves that by making a way in the wilderness and making rivers run through the desert. Why would God perform such works? “That the people He formed might declare His praise.”
The Lenten Season is a season to remember the works of God. As Christians, we meditate with gladness not only on His present work for us, but also His past work on our behalf. This is why Lent is a season where we practice the art of remembering our Lord’s death. Jesus, fulfilling Isaiah, became a drink to His chosen people; Jesus gave His life that we might live and declare His praises. And this is what we do as we enter into worship. God is re-creating us and causing us to see that His works for us in the past are the guarantee that He will do it again for us in the present and in the future.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, you feed us with by Your Spirit; You make a way for us when we believe there is no way possible. All these things You do so that we might declare your praise. Enlarge our hearts with gratitude, strengthen our faith with hope, and build us up in praise that we might ever remember your works for us, Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.
The topic of food is one that comes up quite often in this season of Lent. Providence Church believes fasting is biblical, but we have not issued a fast for the Church. So we have not approved any any practice over another. Individual practices or the lack thereof are left to the discretion of the individual family during the week. Rather, as a Church, we focus on the worship observance of Lent in preaching, singing, and colors. We don’t want any Lenten food factions; no eating of a particular brand or a particular type of food will give you any greater special grace in God’s sight. Similarly, no giving up of a particular food or habit will get you closer to God unless it is grounded in the act of repentance and good works towards God and man.
In this Lenten Season I want you to remember that “Christians have only one food law: Take, eat; this is my body. Only one food unites us, the bread and wine of the Lord’s table.”
We can have all the diversity on our nutritional choices, but at this table there should be no division or doubt that this is God’s food for us.
Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?
As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.
I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.
It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.
In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.
It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.
It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.
Lent and Wilderness
Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.
In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.
We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.
The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.
Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.
But Why 40 Days?
Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.
Should Lent be Observed?
Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.
Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.
I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:
The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.
The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.
As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:
Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance. But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like. “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.
If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.
The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.
Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (sex, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They demand self-control and patience. They demand spiritual growth; they demand kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions means you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly.
As we embark in this Lenten Journey, we follow the footsteps of our Lord from His entrance into the wilderness and His entrance into death for three days.
Luke 4 offers an extraordinary glimpse into the temptations Jesus endured in the wilderness. The typological significance of the event is inescapable. Jesus is the Final Adam. He puts an end to a long line of failed Adams. He hears the whispers of the Tempter and strikes back. When Adam heard those first words he sat attentively in the classroom and absorbed every lie as if it came from His Creator. Adam lost his ability to discern truth. He mastered listening, but forgot that to be a good theologian in God’s Garden, you need to be a good exegete.
In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. Just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.
We are not to sit at temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee from it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.
On this first Sunday of Lent, the Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of its former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke 4, we need to sit in Yahweh’s house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.
This Trinitarian life is given for us in many ways. The God who is Three and One gives us Bread and Wine in the midst of the congregation. The Oneness of this body is joined with the Many bodies worldwide forming the glorious body of Christ.
As we eat and drink, remember our oneness in Christ, but also remember our diversity. We are not robots made the same way with the same personalities, rather we are image-bearers, or better, worshiping humanity, made differently, but exalting as One the One who is One and Three.