By Joe Henriques, MBC Tysons Campus Pastor
I used to go to church on Ash Wednesday—the first day of the Lenten season that lasts until Easter—to get ashes pressed on to my forehead. The ashes were supposed to remain in the shape of a cross, but they always gradually turned into a smudge mark. Then for the next 40 days (except for Sunday), I gave up something that I liked.
This year, I gave up Lent for Lent. I decided to celebrate instead of fast. I’m making merry instead of mourning!
Not because I think Lent is a bad thing. Along with millions of people in the big world of Christendom, I agree that it’s a good thing. At a baseline level, Ash Wednesday at least gives those of the Christian faith the same face worldwide.
But, the good was meant to go deeper.
The original purpose of Lent
Since about the 8th Century, Ash Wednesday and Lent, according to Anglo-Saxon abbot Aelfric (955-1020), have been an outward manifestation of inner repentance. “Now let us…strew ashes on our heads,” he writes in his Life of the Saints, “to signify that we ought to repent of our sins…”
The mourning for sins with accompanying ashes is a practice of antiquity. The earliest biblical occurrence is found in the words of Job after he was rebuked by God, “…my eyes see You; Therefore…I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6 NASB). The original purpose of Lent was to help the believer remember his sinfulness and mortality and that he is deserving of death, just as it was for the parents of the human race, Adam and Eve, who, after their sin heard the words, “…for dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). After forty days, we thank God on Good Friday for the Cross of Christ, which delivers us from this death. The day of resurrection that follows is a day of sheer exhilaration and joy that death has lost its sting forever!
The reason for Lent today
I’m afraid that we’ve come a long way from the original purpose of Lent. What Twitter users are giving up for Lent (based on 116,000 tweets) looks more like New Year’s Resolutions than Jobesquian mourning.
Jump into the true spirit of Lent. Prepare yourself for Good Friday (right around the corner). Contemplate the meaning of the Lord’s crucifixion. Get ready for the joy of Resurrection Sunday! Here are two ideas on how to revive your devotion to Christ.
Use Lent to kick-start holiness.
Any one of the items named in tweets that many are giving up could be far beyond a mere New Year’s Resolution. Maybe it is in fact a weight holding a person back from freely living for Christ. Even worse, it could be an activity that has crossed the line from permissible, to excess, to sin. Use Lent to catalyze obedience to the scripture:
“…let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us…” (Hebrews 12:1, Amplified Bible)
Follow Jesus over Passover week.
We weren’t given the privilege of walking with Jesus in person during his last week (how amazing that would have been!), but we can follow him through eyewitness accounts of what he did in his last five days before the cross.
“On March 29, AD 33, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem and boldly predicted that he would soon be put to death—executed on a cross, like a common criminal. So began the most important week of the most important person who ever lived.”
(At the end, please see a suggestion I have for a Bible reading plan from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday.)
“Give it up for Jesus!”
Let’s go back to my story. Why did I give up Lent for Lent this year? Instead of giving up anything for Jesus, I’m instead proclaiming to my world, “Give it up for Jesus!” After all, it’s my 50th spiritual birthday! On March 12, 1964, I believed in Christ. So, because the cross and the resurrection changed my life forever, I’m going for celebration and proclamation!
I invited our staff to join me for a 50th Spiritual Birthday Party in March. While the Bolivian Band, AMA, provided the background music, I shared my story of how Jesus changed my life, and the 40 guests who accepted the invitation shared with each other their own stories of changed lives through Christ.
The cake to the right, made by my granddaughter in the shape of a book, says, “The Book of Life, Joe Henriques, March 12, 1964.” That’s when the Lord Jesus allowed my name to become permanent in his all-important Book! (Rev. 20:12)
Whether Lent for you is a time for remorse or rejoicing, make it special for the Lord. How can you show your love for him over these next few days before Easter?
A Bible reading plan for Passover Week: from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday
The Triumphal Entry
Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:29-44, John 12:12-19
Jesus curses the fig tree
Matthew 21:18-19, Mark 11:12-14
Jesus cleanses the temple
Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18
The authority of Jesus questioned
Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8
Jesus teaches in the temple
Matthew 21:28 – 23:39, Mark 12:1-44, Luke 20:9-21:4
Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:2-11
The plot against Jesus
Mathew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11, Luke 22:3-6
The Last Supper
Matthew 26:17-29, Mark 14:12-25, Luke 22:7-20, John 13:1-38
Jesus comforts the disciples
John 14:1 – 16:33
Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:40-46
Thursday Night and Friday
Jesus’ arrest and trial
Matthew 26:47 – 27:26, Mark 14:43 – 15:15, Luke 22:47 – 23:25, John 18:2 – 19:16
Jesus’ crucifixion and death
Matthew 27:27-56, Mark 15:16-41, Luke 23:26-49, John 19:17-30
The burial of Jesus
Matthew 27:57-66, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:31-42
The empty tomb
Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-10
Mary Magdalene sees Jesus in the garden
Matthew 16:9-11, Mark 20:11-18
Jesus appears to the two going to Emmaus
Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-35
Jesus appears to 10 disciples
Mark 16:14, Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19-25
Source: The NIV Study Bible
 What to Give Up for Lent 2014? Twitter Reveals Top 100 Choices, Christianity Today
 The Final Days of Jesus, Kostenberger
 The NIV Study Bible, Copyright © 1985 by The Zondervan Corporation