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What About Lent?

People keep asking me about Lent—what is it? What do you do for Lent? What do you think of Lent? So, here are my thoughts about Lent.

The word “Lent” means Spring and in many Christian traditions it is observed for 40 days before Easter excluding the Sundays (46 if you count the Sundays). During this time many traditions encourage the practice of penitence and intentional spirituality as preparation for Holy Week observances. Unfortunately, sometimes people think that fasting or giving up certain practices like TV watching or meat on Fridays helps them earn favor with God—like some sort of spiritual brownie point system.

So after the Reformation, most Protestants gave up observing Lent out of concern for not confusing the issue of salvation by grace through faith. But, if a follower of Jesus wants to practice some form of denial as a spiritual discipline, I have no objection . . . as long as it’s clear that we stand before God not based on our good deeds but solely by God’s grace available by faith in Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah.

As for me, keeping Lent was never part of my spiritual practice. I always felt I shouldn’t emphasize what I give up for the Lord but what He gave up for me. In an ancient hymn that Paul included in Philippians, he wrote, (in Phil 2:5-8), “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Messiah Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a tree.”

This amazing passage says that the Messiah Yeshua was always fully God, but He did not regard this as something to be grasped, meaning He didn’t take advantage of His deity. Rather, He emptied Himself, not of His deity, but He laid aside the privileges of deity and became fully human. But, even beyond this, He wasn’t just a man, He became a servant (or as the HCSB has it, “a slave”). And if that weren’t enough, He willingly submitted to an unjust death as our atonement. And, even more, that death was by crucifixion, death on a tree, showing that He became a curse for us (Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13). At each step, the Lord Yeshua gave up more and more for us.

In my Jewish tradition, at the Passover Seder we sing a song called Dayenu. It means “it would have been enough” and describes all that God did for Israel with the Exodus. Every time we thought God did enough, He did more. And so we sing, it would have been enough. I often think of Philippians 2 as the ultimate Dayenu. It would have been enough if the Lord Yeshua, in all the fullness of His deity, had become a man to identify with us. It would have been enough had He become a man, but He became a servant. It would have been enough for Jesus to become a servant but He willingly died for us. It would have been enough had Jesus died for me, but He even accepted the cursed death on a tree.

The passage goes on to say that because He humbled Himself in this way, the risen Lord Yeshua will be greatly exalted and every person will one day acknowledge that Yeshua is indeed Lord. When I consider how much He gave up for me, I feel I can’t ever earn any standing with Him based on what I give up. All is grace and grace is all I need.

So this season, whether you’re observing Lent or not, as we anticipate the Spring festivals of redemption and resurrection, let’s spend some meditating on this passage, remembering all that Yeshua did for us. And let’s sing Dayenu, it would have been enough but He always gives more and more.

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