what God gave up for Lent

I didn’t get a paczki this week, the Polish contribution to Fat Tuesday. I didn’t get ashes on Wednesday either, not that I would mind.

The truth is, I am a Baptist preacher’s kid who grew up without any understanding of Lent whatsoever. I thought it was about something you give up.

But I expect it is more likely about what God gave up. And anything that causes us to contemplate the sobering significance of the cross is worthwhile.

The danger is that we might think our piety atones for our sins.

It doesn’t.

I’m not suggesting everyone who observes Lent believes this. But some do.

I understand the importance of self-denial, of course. I understand the need to conquer those habits that have conquered us. There is even scientific evidence that “the more you practice it to control one behavior — say, overeating — the more it starts to apply itself to other parts of your life like exercising more or drinking less.”

But Lent is not about our self-control. It is about the cross, and calls us to consider its glory and its power. In fact, when the cross of Christ is emptied of its power there is no gospel at all. Lent can do this, if it substitutes our sacrifices for the one Christ made.

We may want to bring our meager offerings and placate an angry God. But God brings his own offering because ours is not sufficient. God brings his own sacrifice because ours is too small.

The doctrine of the cross is, of course, the atonement. Christ died for us, a full and fitting substitute. Christians rest in this and hope in this.

But the cross of that doctrine is equally real. It towers above us in this Lenten season, reminding us that we have sinned. And that we can be saved.

So what did God give up for Lent?

He gave up his Son. There was no ram in the bush, as there was for Abraham. There was no mercy. As Isaiah prophesied, Christ was bruised, beaten, blamed. He was pierced. Punished.

In fact, the prophet tells us, it was the will of the Lord to crush him.

My God, my God, why have your forsaken me? Christ cried.

But the Father did not answer and He did not look, because He made Christ to be sin for us.

The sobering reality is that we have sinned. Our righteousness amounts to nothing. We are unclean and undone.

But are we ungrateful? Or unrepentant?

Lent points us to questions like these, but only if every urge or self-indulgence reminds us of our weakness and causes us to grieve our sin and mourn the sacrifice it required. The very thought of the cross should take away our appetite and break our heart.

And then it should move us to rejoice. The Father loved us. The Son redeemed us. The Spirit fills us.

This too is the message of the cross.

Hallelujah.

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

6 Responses to “what God gave up for Lent”

  1. So simply & beautifully stated Dr. Metts. I was particularly struck by this statement: “The very thought of the cross should take away our appetite and break our heart.”

    This may be why I struggle most of the year to limit my intake of sweets (especially chocolate), but during Lent I am able to give them up. I lose my appetite for them when I realize how much I’ve let them control me instead of submitting myself fully to the control of my crucified & risen Savior.

    At last Sunday’s worship service, a church member performed a simple song he’d written recently: This portion of the lyrics has stayed with me ever since: “God made the tree, that became the cross, on which His Son died.”

    As you said, “He made Christ to be sin for us.” And he even made the instrument of torture & execution.

    Lenten Blessings to you.

  2. All I can do is join your Hallelujah.

  3. In the Reformed Tradition, the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church, during Lent, focus is on the Kingdom coming, not on the Kingdom having come. The readings for Lent and in the Liturgy focus on the spiritual journey of Old Testament Israel toward the coming of Christ and our salvation through Him. Hallelujah is not spoken or sung during the 40 days.
    In the early church, Lent was the preparation for baptism and reception into the body of Christ, the Church. Holy Week, the last seven days before Easter is the preparation for the horror to come. On Maundy Thursday we drink the blood, we eat the body and cry in shame as we are plunged into darkness as the symbols of the Christ are removed from our sanctuary. On good Friday, we return to a barren church and pray for the One who has been taken from us. On Saturday we keep vigil and wait for a sign of His coming. And Easter… Easter is, “HALLELUJAH!”

    • Thanks Ren. As I said my Baptist background puts me at a disadvantage on this topic. 🙂

      I even sing Christmas songs during advent. This post was crypted from a sermon I’m doing tomorrow on Isaiah 53. It was the will of the Lord to crush him. How sobering.

      There I did say that the good news is yet to come, and in that context said the hallelujah comes with Easter..

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