What is Lent?

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Before Jesus began his earthly ministry, he withdrew to the desert where he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. Why did he put himself through such a difficult experience? Matthew 4:1 says "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."  Part of Jesus' mission was to demonstrate a life of perfect obedience as a human. Part of that requirement was to face the temptations we face as humans. This intense time of testing, to a Jewish reader, would have immediately echoed the pages of the Old Testament.

Throughout the Scriptures, 40 days is symbolic of a time of purification, testing and judgment. When sin had become so rampant, God chose to purify mankind by flooding the earth with rain that lasted 40 days. When the Israelites constructed the golden calf while God met with Moses on Mount Sinai, Moses interceded for them for 40 days before they would be punished by wandering the desert for 40 years. When Jonah (finally) went to Nineveh, his prophetic message to a wicked people was one of judgment, "Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed." 

Throughout the Scriptures, 40 days is symbolic of a time of purification, testing and judgment.

The Lent season begins Wednesday. Lent is Latin and is translated “lengthen.” This ancient church practice begins on Ash Wednesday and leads up to Easter Sunday. For centuries, Christians have fasted during this season from something in order to focus on Christ’s perfect obedience and sacrifice. Perhaps it is something you eat, do or even something you add to your daily routine. The idea is for some part of your daily routine to be disrupted. When you deny yourself that sugary drink or time scrolling social media, you are being tested as a reminder of the judgment you have been spared because of Christ's pure sacrifice.

During the fast, Christians take Sundays as a day of rest to remind themselves of the coming hope of resurrection on Easter Sunday. This means celebrating our freedom in Christ by enjoying those things you have kept yourself from the previous six days because Jesus has defeated Satan, sin and death. Once you take out Sundays, the season begins to come together. Four days (Ash Wednesday-Saturday) plus six days (Monday-Saturday) for six weeks = 40 days of Lent.

Ideas for things to give up for Lent:

  1. Food/Drink - It could be fast food, desserts or anything that you regularly desire. I'm always tempted to give up vegetables. The point is not to diet, though. I've fallen victim to making my observance of Lent an excuse to kick the bad eating habits I've formed. That's not bad in and of itself, but it mixes my motives where I am dieting to slim down, not giving up something I rely on to remind me of my need of Christ.
  2. Social Media- It's easy to spend hours upon hours of our week on social media alone. It gives us a chance to see what is going on in the lives of others and to stumble across content that we find amusing, thought-provoking and worthwhile. Basically, everything this blog post is not! Giving up social media can provide an opportunity to remind yourself that your acceptance comes not at the hands of others, but Christ alone.
  3. Specific Indulgences - There are any number of interests or hobbies that consume our time. An example: this one is admittedly just for me and a special subset of viewers who love Oklahoma City Thunder basketball and/or the NBA in general. I listen to a lot of podcasts talking about professional basketball, specifically about my hometown, Oklahoma City. It's hours of my week that I look forward to. During Lent, I often turn it off so that when I have a craving for Thunder updates during the week, I remind myself that an addiction to following sports is not bringing me closer to Jesus. But you better believe I binge all I can on Sunday!

We will fail in our fasts. Either by our actions or by our impure motive. But that's also the point. This builds our understanding of our need for Christ and deepens our love and appreciation of Resurrection Sunday! In those moments we fail, we turn to Jesus, our great high priest, for mercy and grace. 

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:14-16‬

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Michael McAfee is the president and co-founder of Inspire Experiences, a teaching pastor at Council Road Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, and an ethics and public policy PhD student at The Southern Theological Seminary.  Michael is happily married to his Sunday-school sweetheart, Lauren Green McAfee. Together, they co-authored Not What You Think.  They have a daughter, Zion.  You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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