Lent begins on Ash Wednesday this week. Each year at Gateway, we observe Lent as the 40 days before Easter of putting aside some things to focus more clearly on Christ. We do not do this in a sacramental sense or because we have to. We know that this is not commanded in Scripture or required. We do not believe that one is more holy if they fast or that they can get God to do things for them through their sacrifice. Rather, we do it as a means of spiritual discipline in the same way that we pray or read Scripture or obey God. We do it so we can meet with God and open our hearts to Him more fully.
I have a little book of Lenten and Easter devotions and in it is an inclusion from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He quotes Mark 8:31-34, and then he goes on with commentary:
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man mustsuffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Suffereing and Rejection are the summary expression of Jesus’ cross. Death on the cross means to suffer and die as someone rejected and expelled That it is Peter, the rock of the church, who incurs guilt here immediately after his own confession to Jesus Christ and after his appointment by Jesus, means that from its very inception the church itself has taken offense at the suffering Christ. It neither wants such a Lord nor does it, as the Church of Christ, want its Lord to force upon it the law of suffering.
This makes it necessary for Jesus to relate clearly and unequivocally to his own disciples the “must” of suffering. Just as Christ is Christ only in suffering and rejection ,so also they are his disciples only in suffering and rejection, in being crucified along with Christ. Discipleship as commitment to the person of Jesus Christ places the disciple under the law of Christ, that is, under the cross.
Bonhoeffer goes on to say that the kind of suffering that is being talked about here is not something that we bring upon ourselves or any kind of self-mortification to gain righteousness. Rather, the suffering that we go through – that is a “must” – is the rejection and persecution that we naturally experience from joining together with Christ and following Him in His work and mission in the world. He says that it is a “must.” Are we ready for this? Expecting it?
When we fast, we do not mortify our bodies in order to gain righteousness or to be approved of by God. We also do not think that by fasting or putting certain things aside that we are suffering. Rather, through forsaking food or certain things that we usually rely upon, we learn how to better rely on Christ and find our identity in Him. When the moment of rejection and real suffering comes, we will be people who know how to rely on Christ instead of ourselves or the things that we are used to.
Taking 40 days for Lent to focus on Christ, fast, pray, and remember how to depend upon God instead of anything else is something that can strengthen us spiritually. We can also prepare for the celebration of Easter Resurrection by preparing ourselves for it instead of just letting it sneak up on us.
Following Jesus in life leads us to the Cross. We will bear reproach, suffering, and rejection from the larger society. Lenten fasting is a way to meditate on that and worship Christ through trusting in Him above all things.
Gateway will be encouraging a fast from Tuesday evening at 5pm until Wednesday evening at 5pm for those who want to join us to prepare our hearts and learn again how to depend solely on Christ to meet our needs. Join us?