Lent is the darkest season of the Christian calendar. We anticipate Christ's birth during Advent and we celebrate his arrival at Christmas. After Epiphany, we meet Jesus in many manifestations. During Lent, however, our tone changes dramatically.
In Lent, we share the rejection that Jesus encountered when religious leaders and people turned away from him and plotted his death.
Lent is 40 days in duration, however, Sundays don't count. Sundays mark the weekly anniversary of the Resurrection, so if you give something up for Lent such as chocolate or steak, you're exempt on Sundays. Different denominations and traditions calculate the 40 days differently, but the number remains consistent among the universal church. Why is this number significant in the Bible?
- It rained for 40 days and 40 nights during the flood (see Genesis 7:12), and Noah waited another 40 days before opening the window in the Ark after it had stopped raining (see Genesis 8:6).
- Twice throughout Moses' life he spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai with God (see Exodus 24:18 and Exodus 34:28).
- The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (see Numbers 14:34).
The most significant connection for the duration of Lent, however, is from Luke 4:1-15, the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil for 40 days in the wilderness. Luke tells us that Jesus fasted, prayed and was hungry.
Like a defender in football attacking a quarterback's sore shoulder, the devil went after Christ's physical need by saying: “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3). Doesn't that seem like kicking someone when they're down?
This may seem at first like an annoying, childish request, but it is so much more. The devil is challenging Christ's identity, divinity, authority and ultimate role as a Saviour. Like we see many times throughout the Gospels, Jesus does not give in and show he has anything to prove. Christ simply replies, “It is written: 'People do not live on bread alone' ” (Luke 4:4). When Matthew tells this story, Christ replies, “It is written: 'People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God' ” (Matthew 4:4). Christ quotes Deuteronomy in these passages.
The devil attacked a specific weakness of Christ that day—hunger. There will be times when we will have specific weaknesses that will make it easy for the devil to attack. When we face these situations, we need to hold fast to Christ and live on the words of God. It will not always be easy, but we can do it.
The next temptation the devil put on Christ was the temptation of fame, power and glory (see Luke 4:5-7).
There will be times when we will face the temptations of putting ourselves first, exalting ourselves and putting others down. We do this when we think seniority belongs in a church family. We do this when we want to feel power and control. We do this every time we say we do great things and forget to acknowledge God. Like Christ, we need to remember to “worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Luke 4:8). We need to stop worshipping ourselves, serving our own interests and putting ourselves first.
The final temptation in this short story is an attack on the relationship between God and Jesus. Satan asked Jesus to throw himself off the highest point of the temple and even quoted Scripture: “For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone' ” (Luke 4:10-11). Christ countered with Scripture as well: “It is said: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test' ” (Luke 4:12).
There will be times when our relationship with God will be attacked. Sadly, these attacks may come from friends and family who are battling their own spiritual journeys. Maybe these attacks will come from co-workers who do not see value in a spiritual connection to God.
But just as Jesus was led into the wilderness for a sacred time to prepare for his ministry, mission and mandate, we, too, should participate in Lent so we can prepare ourselves for all God has in store.
We do not have to take part in the fasting, alms-giving or penance of Lent. But we should revere and reflect upon the saving work that Jesus accomplishes for us at the end of this Lenten journey.
Let's prepare our hearts, minds, souls and bodies in a way that embraces the Lenten season and the significance it holds for our spiritual lives and journeys. Let's embrace Lent through the reading of hymns, the study of Scripture, the practice of prayer and by reflecting upon the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Captain Mark Braye is the corps officer of Temiskaming Community Church in Temiskaming Shores, Ont.
(Photo: © Ingimage.com/Andriy Kravchenko)