The Journey through Lent

The Journey through Lent

 

Text: Ephesians 2:4-10

 

We have been journey for several weeks through that time of the year we call Lent. And still after all these years of observing the season of Lent there are still people who respond to Lent with the words, ‘I don’t like Lent’. When you ask why there are numerous reasons. One is that people don’t like Lent because everything gets so dreary in church, and because you have to ‘give up’ something you like. And some say it because during Lent there is a sense that you have to pretend to be pious in a way that, deep down, you knew you are not.

 

Well, who would like Lent if that is what it is all about? As we enter the 4th Sunday of the Lenten season it is important to reflect on what is about Lent that is important. After all if we look at the aforementioned answers to why people don’t like Lent we can see why people don’t want much to do with Jesus Christ especially if we look at him the same way people tend to look at Lent. And if we take it one step further, don’t we often treat our whole life as God’s child similarly – like an unpleasant burden that one somehow has to endure?

 

The apostle Paul wants us to forget that kind of nonsense. The only way we can do it is once again to take a good, close look at what God has done. And what he has done, says the Bible, is given us both ‘A New Standing and a New Stance.’

 

The couple came to the marriage preparation seminar and someone asked that obvious question, ‘What is love? and then the leader proceeded with a long-winded explanation. “Love isn’t this. Love isn’t that, love isn’t…’ Finally the young couple broke in and said, ‘You have made it quite clear what love is not; now maybe you’d be kind enough to tell us what it is!’ Of course, the leader had been busy doing exactly that. you can more easily recognize what love is if you know what it is not.

 

Paul helps us understanding our ‘standing’, helps us to see who we are, by saying repeatedly what we are not. “You are dead in your transgressions and sins.” (Eph. 2:1) which means you are not anymore. “You are no longer foreigners and aliens” (v. 19) which means that you no longer have that standing. Of course, sin is still around, and it’s still around in your life, not just someone else’s. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:18) But even though sin is real, and even though you still feel the pull and tug of it, you are not dead in it anymore. You’re not buried in it, it no longer surrounds you and holds you the way the ground surrounds and holds a dead body in the cemetery.

 

So what is the point we are getting at? If we’re not dead in sin, if we’re not foreigners and strangers to the Lord anymore, then what are we? Paul doesn’t keep us in the dark about that, either. Your standing, he says, is this: “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph. 2:4-5) For sure God still sees our sin. He doesn’t gloss it over. He doesn’t say that it makes no difference. But despite our sin, he has made us alive, and he has shown us kindness and mercy. He treats us just like one of the family.

 

The Lord doesn’t give us that new standing because his laws do not matter or because he is just so feeble that he cannot do anything about it while we just go our own way and do as we please. He gave us that new standing even while remembering that his laws had been broken and that the penalty had to  be paid by someone. So God did lay the penalty on someone. It wasn’t just anyone; it was the Lord Jesus, God’s one and only Son, who took our penalty. His life fulfilled to the letter all of the Lord’s expectations, and his death paid in full for people like us, whose lives never could meet those expectations.

 

“Through him we… have access to the Father.” (v. 18) and this gives us a new standing before God. Lent is not a time to work and sweat and strive and struggle to try to talk God into giving us a new standing; it is a time to pay attention to the work and the sweat and the strife and the struggles of Jesus, who bought us a new standing, made every payment on it, and gives it to us by grace – free of charge.

 

When God gives us this new standing, it is just a standing. Note well that Paul does not say God has merely given us an opportunity, a chance to get something good some day off in the future. No “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” (v. 6) Right now, already today, the Lord looks on us as already raised and already at home in heaven. God regards our resurrection and our ascension as a sure thing, even though in this life the mopping up is still going on. That mopping up, unpleasant though it may be at times, does not change the sure result: We’re His.

 

There is a story of a man who caught in adultery, not once but several times. His heart was heavy, and so he went to a Christian friend about it. The friend listened to the whole sordid tale. He did not excuse it or sanction it, but he said bluntly that it was wrong and a sin against God. The adulterer knew that and had already repented of it. But now he wanted to know whether his Christian friend still wanted to be his friend. The friend responded, ‘Even though I’m so deeply disappointed at what has happened, I still love you and still think the world of you.’

 

The adulterer never expected acceptance like that. He replied, ‘When you say that you still think the world of me, it makes me feel like crawling right under that chair.’

 

At that does seem a little strange. A sinful person felt like crawling under a chair because he didn’t feel at all worthy of being accepted by his friend, who, by the way, was himself a sinner. Yet there are still people who are quite prepared to live their lives the best way they know how, and who even think they may be able to stand before God with their record at the end of time and expect that he’ll have all kinds of respect for the fact that they did their best.

 

And if we feel so overwhelmed by the acceptance of other human beings, isn’t it much more overwhelming to think of the love and the mercy and the standing that has been given to us by a God, who, unlike the man’s friend, is not on the same level with us? When you think of it, it is incredible to realize that whenever the sons and daughters of God felt like crawling under a chair, God never left them there but went after them, pulled them out, embraces them as his own, and gave them a seat right next to Him in the heavenly realms?

 

So these days of Lent that we are journeying through are not a time for thinking, ‘I’m as good as the next person’, or ‘I’ll do my best,’ or ‘I have nothing in particular of which to be ashamed.’ Nor is it a time to take pride in having gone to church for an extra service or two or having lived for 40 days without chocolate as one self-sacrificing person boasted. Those acts of self-discipline never amount to much unless we use them to clear all the junk aside and to sit in wonder before the self-discipline of Jesus Christ, who did without, who inconvienced  himself, and who took the weight of our sin on His own back. He took our standing as sinners to be his own so that his standing as God’s dear child could become our own.

 

At best, we can react to the Lord the way a child whose tears have been dried and who has been given a place of honour at the table. We can only receive that kindness of God, drinking it in with grateful wonder, amazed that God would give us this sort of standing. The simple trust and confidence of a child is the stance the Lord is looking for. The only way to get that kind of stance, the stance of faith, is to spend our days thinking about the wonderful standing that only he could give to us.

 

As verse 10 states, “we are God’s workmanship.”  From beginning to end, we are what we are because of God. He gave us a physical body, which the world can see. He has made us citizens of heaven, which the world will see one of these days, too. In the meantime, we are his children for all the days he still gives us in this life. the world around us needs to see that as well.

 

It doesn’t need to see that we think we’re better than everybody else while we keep busy with things we believe to be important in order to make an impression on other people. It needs to see that Lord has been kind to us, that he has forgiven our sin, and that we are humble and yet somehow boldly thankful in our standing before him.

 

That’s why God has “good works… prepared in advance for us to do.”  (v. 10). He knows what will bring him the most glory. He knows what will strengthen our faith. he knows what thoughts and words and actions will bring the most benefit and blessing to the people whom he sends across our path. So this Lenten season is a time for us to reflect on our new standing before God and to react not just with a faith that not only he can see but with a life that the world can see. True, if we devote ourselves to the good works he has prepared, we may not get the reaction we might like from others. But we’re much more likely to get the reaction he is looking for and much more likely to communicate that message that we belong to him for real, not just as a pious show.

 

“I don’t like Lent’ or ‘I don’t understand Lent’. That is the statement many make. And lots of people really think something very similar about faith in Jesus Christ. And that same faith does look like a burden to us as well whenever we think of our relationship to Jesus and our celebration of Lent as something we make happen. God through His powerful Word gives us the eyes to see our new standing, something he gave us by grace and mercy, so that we don’t have to respond with the old worn-out stance of weariness, self-righteousness, and a self-inflicted burden but can respond with a new stance of an unseen, childlike faith in Jesus and a very visible drive to look like what we are – God’s product from beginning to end.