What is Lent? Ask your average person that question, and you’re likely to get a blank stare or a confused shrug of the shoulders. The word Lent is meaningless to most because the meaning of Lent in this country and in most American churches increasingly has been lost.
Lent is not all that important to a society that minimizes sin and waters down God’s holy law. Lent is not all that important to a culture that tries to ignore death by dressing it up with fond memories of those who have died and then vainly hopes for a “better place” that awaits all who have tried to do more good than bad. Many people try to wiggle around the simple truths of God’s Word by reshaping God into their own image. They create a loving God who would never condemn anyone to hell. They imagine that God will be pleased if you simply try hard. But all such attempts disagree with God’s Word. Those ideas will leave them doubting or helpless when they must come face to face with death.
The Word is as clear as it is simple: God is holy; I am not. God sets the standards. If you’re pure and blameless, heaven is yours. If you’re not, you go to hell. The harsh truth is that no one has enough cash to pay for their own sins. No one has stored enough good to offset the filth of their own sinful thoughts, words, and actions. And the wages of sin is death. This is Lent. Though the world around us and our own sinful nature only downplay sin and its effects, Lent shows us the grim reality of our sin, its damaging and damning consequences, and its deserved wages not only in this life but also in the life to come.
But Lent is more about Jesus. Lent shows God’s grace and mercy in action as he sent his only-begotten Son for us. On Calvary we see Jesus pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our guilt. There he shed his innocent blood to give us peace. He suffered what we deserved so we have eternal life—the gift of God’s grace. There he was wounded so we’d be healed. There Christ paid for the sins of the whole world. It is right for Christians to focus on these truths, especially during Lent. It is the message of the Scriptures. Roughly 29 percent of Matthew’s gospel, 38 percent of Mark’s, 23 percent of Luke’s, and 43 percent of John’s focus on Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. The Old Testament doesn’t neglect these truths either. The sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed to the death of the Lamb of God. Those sacrifices and the promises God gave his people picture not only the suffering of Jesus but also his love and willingness to pay for their sins and the sins of all people. This is God’s clear Word during Lent. God erases all doubt about whether we have a place with him, whether he cares at all for us, and whether our lives have any meaning. His Word is true. God does not lie.
Through his faithful and powerful Word, your faithful and powerful God connects you to Christ by faith. By this faith in Christ, you are healed and made whole; by faith in Christ, you are forgiven and justified; by faith in Christ, you belong to God, not just for time but also for eternity. In Christ—and only in Christ—we exchange doubt, hopelessness, and condemnation for complete forgiveness and the sure hope of heaven. Indeed, this is Lent.
This description, entitled “This is Lent” was written by Ross Else is pastor at Emmaus Evangelical Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Arizona, appearing in the March, 2015, issue of Forward in Christ. It has been adapted for use on this website by Phillip K. Lepak