“First he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (Luke 17:25)We are into the season of Lent, and I feel I must speak with you on suffering and sacrifice -- subjects on which most of us may only have academic knowledge, but no direct experience of. But before I do that, I have first to tell you what Lent is. I’ll try to condense and compress a 1700 year tradition into a few sentences.
Lent originated in the 4th century of the church and is a season that spans 40 weekdays from the Saturday before Easter (not counting Sundays). Originally, Lent was the time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil, the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord early on Easter Sunday. But since these new members were to be received into a living community of Faith, the entire community was called to preparation, which includes, traditionally, penitential prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
That original purpose is now lost to antiquity. Today, Lent is marked (if it is marked at all) by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Easter. Some Christians use this time for introspection, self-examination, and repentance. In short, it is a time for “spring-cleaning” our lives. Some try to follow the example of Jesus in the desert by giving up luxuries, fasting, and practising self-discipline.
Christ’s intense sufferings and death is coming into view soon on Good Friday on April 6. It is at this time in the run up to Good Friday and Easter, that I’d like to call on you to “share” in the suffering and sacrifice of Christ.
We can do this by, for example, going on a partial fast (eat less, or only eat one or two meals a day instead of our normal intake) and put aside more time for prayer and performing merciful or religious acts so that we can really let God into their lives. Treat this as our sacrifice -- not (and I must stress this) to gain grace or favour, but to draw closer to God by identifying with Christ Jesus. By this “suffering” we might heighten the awareness in this season of the suffering caused by our sinfulness.
But why would God want a sacrifice from us? You might ask. The answer is: He wants to see what is in your heart.
Abraham was asked to offer Isaac, not that God really wanted Isaac as the sacrifice, but God wanted to see if Abraham would obey. Abraham did. And at the last moment, the angel of the Lord called out from heaven to stop Abraham and said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy … now I know that you fear God … you have not withheld your son … from me”.
Untold blessings flowed from Abraham’s obedience. Likewise, rich, untold blessings flowed from Christ’s obedience to the Father. We are the recipients of the unearned marvellous blessings that flowed from his obedience.
What then would you sacrifice for him this Lent?
Pastor Robert Chew