Tag Archives: wilderness

First Sunday in Lent

A Good Conscience

As we begin the Season of Lent, we are reminded of the forty days in which Jesus was in the wilderness, preparing for his earthly ministry. There he was tempted by the Devil to give it all up and take the easy rout out. The Gospel of Mark quickly covers this event with little commentary. Nonetheless, the wilderness experience of Jesus is the traditional setting for examining our own wilderness experience and preparation for ministry and daily life in the Faith.

We  often focus on disciplines during Lent, in the interest of helping to eradicate of certain sinful practices in our lives. The question for us today is how do we best do that. Today’s appointed scriptures seem to address that question directly. We look at two covenants which God made with humankind. The first one is from Genesis:

God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”   (Genesis 9:8-11)

God had eradicated evil from the earth by eradicating the evil people through the great flood, saving only Noah and his family.

The second covenant began at the start of Jesus’ ministry. Reading from Mark:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:9-11)

What was this good news? God was going to eradicate the power of sin in our lives. The only penalty for that sin would be borne by Jesus alone, on a cruel cross. How do we participate in what Jesus is accomplishing in our lives. The psalmist wrote:

Show me your ways, O Lord,
and teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.

Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.   (Psalm 25:3-6)

We need God’s help. The Apostle Paul explored how to eradicate the power the sin in his life lives. Reading from Roman:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?   (Romans 7:18-24)

Was Paul, so to speak, trying to give up a few things for Lent? If so, he was not succeeding. He was saying that he could not overcome sin by his effort. Our intentions may be good, but we have little ability to carry them out. Ever have trouble with New Year’s resolutions? We may be able to give up some small things during Lent, but that is often met with limited success.

How does God eradicate the power of sin in our lives? The Apostle Peter wrote:

Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you– not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.   (1 Peter 3:18-22)

Peter is comparing the two covenants we mentioned. The second one has to do with our conscience. Jesus removed all our guilt on the cross. But Satan, who is “the accuser of the brethren,” is constantly reminding us of our slip ups. His plan is to burden our conscience and in so doing cause us to lose faith.

What do we do about that? The Apostle John wrote:

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.   (1 John 3:19-20)

The good news is that God’s understanding of reality is not dependent on our understanding. He bases his evaluation of us through the blood of his Son. Not only that, he offers us a way to clear our conscience. The Apostle John wrote:

If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:9)

God does the cleaning. We cannot clean ourselves. We can confess our sins and we can pray for help in overcoming our sins. And we can allow ourselves to be discipled. The psalmist write:

Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.   (Palm 119:11)

The first covenant with Noah, dealt with the flesh. The second covenant deals with the Spirit. During this Season of Lent, will we try hard to eliminate certain sins in our lives and end up in frustration. Or will we follow the example of the Apostle Paul, who struggled with his flesh. He then overcame his struggle by the power of the Spirit through the blood of Jesus. He turned the whole struggle over to Jesus. Jesus has won the victory for us. Paul wrote:

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!    (Romans 7:25)

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The Season of Lent

The Wilderness Experience

The Season of Lent is a time of fasting and prayer for the Church. It corresponds to the time of preparation that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning His earthly ministry. Scripture tells us Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit for forty days of fasting and prayer. Thus, Lent begins with the service of Ash Wednesday and runs through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. This time period is actually forty six days, because the six Sundays in between the beginning and end of the Lenten Season are not really part the days of fasting. Sundays are always days of celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.

Historically, in the Easter Church, Lent has provided a time in which new converts were prepared for Holy Baptism. This practice is still observed in many liturgical churches.

Why should we observe this time of preparation and what does it mean to each of us and the Church today? Clearly this observance is not required for salvation. The saving act of Jesus on the cross and our response to His loving sacrifice is required, followed by our endurance in the Faith with His help. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that life does present us with wilderness experiences.

What is false is a church that suggests that Christians should not have them. We do have them. Job stood head and shoulders above his peers as a righteous man in his day, yet he experienced a terrible wilderness experience. The false triumphalism found in some of today’s churches would have us believe that such experiences should not occur, bringing condemnation on those who go through them because they do not have enough faith.

If we have wilderness experiences as a matter of course then why designate an appointed time to go through one within the Church Year? Is not this appointed time artificial? It is my belief that the Season of Lent in the early church was very much influenced by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is better to observe a wilderness experience appointed by the Holy Spirit than the one that is unscheduled and catches us by surprise. We may still endure unscheduled ones but we might be better prepared for them, having benefited from the teachings and disciplines of Lent. Jesus required preparation in the wilderness through the Holy Spirit in order to begin His ministry on earth. He experienced other wildernesses as well, Gethsemane being one of them.

Our purpose for Lent should be the same purpose that Jesus had for entering the wilderness: to prepare for ministry. We all have a ministry if we are Christian believers. Lent should be a time of fasting and prayer, self-examination and repentance, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. It should be a time of setting aside the things of this world that so easily creep in and devote ourselves more to God and His Word.

What should Lent not be? It should not be about our attempt to impress God by what we are giving up for Him or ny what spiritual gymnastics we are putting ourselves through. The “giving-up” notion is fundamentally flawed. It makes us dread Lent. We then cannot wait for Lent to be over. That is why Mardi Gras or Carnival has such an appeal for many people.

Too often Lenten promises are like New Years resolutions. We make them but we don’t keep them and then we are under condemnation. Satan has a field day with us. He loves our false humility and piety. God does not want us to prove who we are. He wants to prove who we are, if we will allow him to do so. He is the author and finisher of our faith. We just need to submit ourselves to him.

It is said that we often grow through our struggles and trials. This may be true, but it is not necessarily true. A greater truth is that our struggles do teach us that we cannot get through life on our own strength alone. The struggles often drive us to God. It is God who then changes us and not our struggles. Why should we wait for a crisis to go to God? Why not go to Him early and often?

Perhaps the best observance of Lent would be to approach God with faith in the saving blood of Jesus, asking Him what He would have us discover about ourselves and about Him. Let Lent be a time of intentional fellowship with God in prayer, seeking His will and wisdom for our lives so that we might be better disciples of Jesus Christ and living examples of God’s love for the world.

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