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The Lenten season begins today, Ash Wednesday, and continues until Easter. Lent is 40 days long, corresponding to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, but extends over a period of 46 days because Sundays are not counted as part of the traditional Lenten season.

Since the date for Easter is set based on the lunar calendar — the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox — the season of Lent begins on different calendar dates each year. Though it began on March 6 last year, with Easter on April 21, it is earlier this year — Easter is April 12 and Lent begins today.

The first full moon after the vernal equinox is April 7, making Sunday, April 12, the date of Easter in most Western Churches.

On most years, the date for Easter or Pascha falls later in the Eastern Churches. Easter dates were the same in 2017, but this year the date is April 19 in the East (Eastern Churches use the same formula to determine the date for Easter but use the Julian Calendar, while Western Churches and most of the world use the Gregorian Calendar).

Some churches do not observe the season of Lent at all. It is not specifically commanded or forbidden in the Bible, so churches that do not observe the special season cannot be faulted, and anyone who insists it must be strictly observed goes beyond the teaching of the Bible. Nevertheless, the observance of Lent can be a good thing if it is observed with the purpose and intent of considering Christ’s sufferings and death for the sins of the world (often called His passion) and as a special time of self-examination and repentance.

While many would simply go through the outward forms of repentance — including ashes on the forehead and fasting during the season — the Bible calls for true contrition and sorrow over our own sinfulness and faith in the shed blood of Christ Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Joel 2:13 says, “Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.”

Psalm 34:18 says: “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”

Psalm 51:16-17 says: “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

John, in his first epistle (1 John 1:8-9; 2:1-2), writes: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness … If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

God desires that we live in continual repentance — acknowledging our sinfulness and the judgment we justly deserve but then looking in faith to Christ Jesus and His death on the cross for our sins and trusting that in Jesus we are forgiven and accepted of God. Therefore, as we contemplate the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ bitter sufferings and death for the sins of all, it is certainly also a fitting time to examine ourselves and see that it was for our sin that He suffered and died such an agonizing death.

As Isaiah 53:5-6 says, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Many, of course, speak of giving things up for Lent, and giving up things that we might focus on Christ and what He has done for us can certainly be a good thing. But, we need to always remember that our giving up something, whether it be through fasting or some other form of self-denial, can never merit God’s favor or blessing. Our observance of Lenten self-sacrifice will not somehow atone for our sins and make us acceptable to God. It is only through faith in the shed blood of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), that we receive God’s pardon and forgiveness and are acceptable in His sight.

It is God who makes “us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6,7).

It’s really too bad that more people do not observe Lent in a Biblical and Scriptural way — not just giving up some item for 40 days but, rather, repenting of sin and evil and looking to Christ and His cross for pardon, forgiveness and life eternal. In fact, it’s sad that true Lenten contrition and repentance are not observed by more people year-round!

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]

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“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.’ But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.” Luke 18:31-34

This was now the third time in the Gospels that Jesus clearly told His disciples that He would be handed over to the Gentiles, cruelly treated and crucified (Matt. 16:21-23; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 9:51). But they still did not understand. In fact, it was not until after His resurrection that Jesus’ disciples finally came to understand why it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and to die and then rise again on the third day (cf. Luke 24:44-49).

And so it is with those around us in the world today. They hear that Jesus was betrayed, tortured and crucified, and they hear the accounts of His resurrection, but none of it makes sense to them. It appears only as a great injustice against the prophet Jesus of Nazareth.

And so, in their preaching and teaching about Jesus, the significance of the cross is overlooked and Jesus is held up as a mere example of loving one’s enemies and serving the needs of mankind. To many, Jesus is no more than a prophet who was ahead of His time, a prophet who sought to teach love and acceptance for all, regardless of nationality, race, sex or lifestyle.

But they miss the point! They miss what the Old Testament prophets said of the coming Messiah and Savior. They fail to understand that all the Old Testament sacrifices pointed ahead to one perfect sacrifice which the LORD Himself would provide (Gen. 22:13-14; Exo. 12:1ff.; Lev. 1:3-4).

They fail to see what the prophets said of the Messiah when they described how He would “redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Ps. 130:8; Cf. Psalm 22 and Isa. 53).

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, calls the cross of Christ a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1:23). But to those of us who have been brought to faith in Christ through the preaching of the Gospel, Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross are “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

What if Jesus had not gone to the cross? What if He had not passively obeyed the will of the Heavenly Father and permitted Himself to be arrested, mocked, scourged, beaten and crucified? What if He had demonstrated His divine power and come down from the cross? As St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:17-19, our faith would be futile, we would still be dead in our sins, we would have no hope of the resurrection, all who died in the faith would be lost forever, and all that we suffer in life as Christians would be for naught.

As Jesus said after His resurrection, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).

It was necessary that the Christ be true God and true man that He might take our place under God’s law and fulfill it for all men. It was necessary that Jesus, true God and true man, go to the cross and suffer and die in our stead to make full atonement for the sins of all mankind. And it was necessary that He rise again in victory that we might repent of our sinful ways, place our faith in Him and be justified, forgiven and absolved of all our sins and be given the sure hope of life everlasting (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4, 20-23; 1 Pet. 1:3-9).

Because Jesus went to Jerusalem to fulfill the Scriptures and suffer and die for our sins, we have through faith in Him forgiveness and life everlasting. God grant us saving faith in Him!

Dear Lord Jesus, open our hearts and minds to understand Your Word and to trust in Your atoning sacrifice on the cross as the only means of our salvation. Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12

By nature after the fall, all of our hearts are full of “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). Instead of loving the LORD and desiring to do His holy will, our thoughts, as a result of our fallen and sinful nature, are “only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

As Christians, who trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for salvation, the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and gives us love for God and holy thoughts and desires. As the Bible says, we are “washed … sanctified … and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). Our “body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 6 19).

Yet in this world, we are still sinners. Like David, we need to acknowledge our sins, turn to the LORD for His grace and forgiveness, and pray that God would create “a clean heart” and “renew a right spirit” within us.

When we consider how we continue to come short and fail to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit through the Word, we deserve to be cast away from the presence of the LORD and have His Holy Spirit taken from us. How we grieve God’s Spirit when we go our own way and sin rather than give heed to the admonition and warning of God’s Word (cf. Eph. 4:30)! With David, we all have reason to pray, “Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.”

When we turn aside from following the Holy Spirit – when we turn into sin and evil – the joy which comes from being an heir of salvation and walking with the Lord is overshadowed by guilt and despair. We feel God’s wrath upon us. We know that we have failed again and are deserving of His everlasting punishment (cf. Ps. 32:3-4; 51:3-5).

But, like David, we look to the LORD God for mercy, acknowledging our sins and failures to the LORD and turning to Him for pardon and forgiveness for the sake of the Son, Jesus Christ, and His innocent sufferings and death in our stead.

We pray with David in Psalm 51:1-9: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.”

And, we also pray with David: “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.”

Only God’s Spirit can restore in us that joy of knowing that in Jesus we have forgiveness for all our sins and eternal salvation! Only the Holy Spirit can uphold us and keep us in the true and saving faith!

Let us then pray: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.” Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness … So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” Genesis 1:26, 27

The LORD God created the first man and woman in His own image and after His likeness. Since God is a spirit, the image and likeness spoken of here refer not to a visible likeness, but to a spiritual likeness. We learn of this image of God in the New Testament.

Colossians 3:10 says of the new man or new nature in Christians, that it “is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.” Ephesians 4:24 says of this same new nature that it “after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

Thus, we see that the image of God is having a knowledge of God and His perfect will and also being truly righteous and holy. Adam and Eve were created with perfect knowledge of God and His will and, in the beginning, had only holy and pure thoughts, desires, words and deeds.

Of course, the fall recorded in Genesis 3 changed all that. Man’s knowledge and understanding of God and His perfect will became darkened so that he came up with his own ideas and beliefs about God and even worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:18ff.). Instead of being holy and righteous and wholly devoted to the service of the Almighty, man became turned in upon himself and lived in disobedience and rebellion against God’s holy commandments. Thus, the image of God was lost!

In believers, those who acknowledge their utter sinfulness and trust in the shed blood of Christ Jesus for their salvation, the image of God is being restored. They have a new nature which is being “renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created” them, a nature that “after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” They, “with open face beholding as in a glass [mirror] the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

But believers in Jesus will not achieve sinless perfection here in this world. They will not perfectly reflect the glory of the Lord. The Bible plainly tells us that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8); and we are encouraged to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus (1 John 1:9; 2:1-2).

However, when the Last Day shall come, all who have trusted in Christ Jesus will be raised up with perfect knowledge of God and in perfect righteousness and holiness. The Scriptures tell us: “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15); “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2); and “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

And so, dear friend, you and I were created in God’s image, created to know God and His perfect will and created to serve God in accord with His will and design. Adam’s sin took from all of us the image of God. Instead of reflecting the holiness and righteousness of God our Maker, we have each gone our own way, seeking to gratify our own fallen and sinful nature and to glorify ourselves.

In Christ Jesus, God’s own dear Son made man, God provided a sacrifice for our sins and offers to us pardon and forgiveness. God the Holy Spirit, working through the good news of forgiveness in Christ, regenerates us, bringing us to faith in Christ and working in our lives to restore the image and glory of God which we had lost. And, when Christ returns and the dead are raised up, then all who have placed their hope in Him will reflect His image and serve Him in everlasting righteousness and holiness!

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that my life does not perfectly reflect Your holiness or Your glory. Wash away my sins in Your shed blood and create in me a new heart and nature which loves You, seeks Your will and lives for Your glory. Amen.

[Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible]

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“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” John 12:24-25

When a kernel of wheat is safely kept and preserved, it remains just a single kernel of wheat. If, however, it is planted in the ground, it will produce more wheat.

Jesus used this illustration from nature to point out that He, should He preserve His life and be unwilling to suffer and die for the sins of the world, would remain alone and save no one but Himself. But by dying on the cross for the sins of all and being buried in the tomb, He would produce much fruit. He would provide salvation for all mankind, and all who place their faith in Him would be saved.

Jesus did not try to preserve his earthly life and avoid suffering the just punishment for our sins. He obeyed God’s Law perfectly in our stead and then willingly laid down His life for us sinners. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…He was buried…He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3,4).

Like the grain of wheat that must be sacrificed in order to produce more wheat, so Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself to save mankind from sin and its eternal punishment. He died that sinful man might receive forgiveness of sins and become children of God through faith in Him. His resurrection on the third day is proof that His holy sacrifice was acceptable to God as full payment for the sins of the world (Rom. 4:25).

This little illustration of the kernel of wheat can also be applied to our lives. We cannot save ourselves or anyone else from sin and hell by our death; but since Christ has redeemed us by His innocent sufferings and death, we are to live our lives for Him (2 Cor. 5:15).

If in this life we try to live for ourselves, preserve our life in this world and are unwilling to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and walk with Him in accord with His Word – if we are not willing to deny ourselves, take up the cross of suffering which we must bear as faithful Christians and follow Jesus Christ – we will end up losing our lives forever! But if we truly trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior and set our hope upon eternal life with Him in heaven, we will then lay down the worldly goals and pleasures of this life and live our lives for the Lord Jesus, who has redeemed us from sin and eternal damnation and has given us a place in His eternal kingdom.

Grant that I only Thee may love and seek those things which are above till I behold Thee face to face, 0 Light eternal, through Thy grace. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #398, Verse 4)

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]

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