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Lent Readings

March 3rd, 2020

Ash Wednesday

Day 1

Creatures of Dust

Genesis 3:17-19

You were made from dust, and to dust you will return. Genesis 3:19

The human heart is full of eternal hopes. Many people don’t recognize them for what they are—longings for the Kingdom of Heaven and anticipation of living with God and his people forever—but everyone dreams. We were designed for such things; God put eternity in our hearts for a reason (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We ought to be filled with hope. But in spite of all our longings and desires, in spite of all the promises we have been given, Scripture reminds us of a fundamental truth from its earliest pages: We are made of dust. And, as a consequence of humanity’s primeval rebellion, to dust we will return.

Scripture portrays our creation from dust and explains why we must return to it, but even without reading its explanations we know the fact of our mortal condition. We are painfully jolted into awareness at every funeral and nagged with a reminder at every ache and pain that comes with age. We may be able to put our transient nature out of our minds for a surprisingly long time, especially when we’re young, but eventually the quickening years overcome our denial. Like Abraham, we come face-to-face with God and are reminded of our materiality (Genesis 18:27). We know our innermost beings were made for more, but our outermost will return to earth. It’s inevitable.

That thought has plagued humanity for centuries and driven many to despair. For those who believe in the Messiah who came to save us, however, it is merely a reminder of what our fate would have been without him. It’s a remnant of the fall, not a lasting legacy. We have no reason to be depressed anymore—not because we have overcome death and decay but because he has. The season of Lent is not a lamentation with no answer; it’s a reflection on what could have been but isn’t, a sobering celebration of how tragic losses are being redeemed. For the heart of faith, Lent reflections take the “bitter” out of bittersweet while reminding us it was there.

That’s a healthy balance. We don’t want to dwell on the painful side of redemption constantly; the gospel places a heavy emphasis on celebration and joy. But we’re always grateful for what the Messiah’s sacrifice saved us from and mindful of what it cost him. Our broken bodies came from dust and will return to it. But our true selves—the people we were created to be—will rejoice forever.

Prayer:

Lord, remind me of my frail condition during this season. Remind me even more of how you overcame it. May this be a time of deep repentance and even deeper gratitude. Amen.

Reflection:

How often do you think about your mortality? In what ways can those thoughts encourage your faith rather than undermine it?

Further reading: Ecclesiastes 3:18-20

When once I must depart, do not depart from me;

when I must suffer death, then stand thou by me.

“St. Matthew Passion” by Johann Sebastian Bach, words by Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander)

 

Thursday

Day 2

OUT of FUTILITY

Romans 8:18-21

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. Romans 8:20

The world lies under a curse of futility. We’ve not only noticed that; we’ve experienced the frustration ourselves. Sometimes our plans work out, and we love it when they do, but disappointment is a universal phenomenon. We lament the challenges we face, and we might implicitly or explicitly accuse God of letting us down—as if he were personally opposed to our sense of satisfaction—even when we know that isn’t the case. It’s as if Eden were a secret garden that we think we might have glimpsed from time to time. But the walls are high, and we can never find the gate. Life as we want it to be is always just out of reach.

Creation was subjected to a curse because of humanity’s rebellion—not primarily as a punishment but as a consequence. God had to let us feel the weight of the Fall and experience the results of our independence from him. Otherwise, we might be content in our rebellion and never cry out for a Savior. We would miss out on the reason we were created and never know the Creator. We would be alive without ever really living.

So God subjected the world to frustration, and today we long for the fullness of our redemption. We live in a world that is marred by deterioration and decay, in spite of humanity’s efforts to prop it up, whitewash its problems, and give it the appearance of flourishing. Through the cracks of this world’s facade, we still see mountains of poverty and injustice, pain and suffering, disease and desperation. But we are masters of illusion, and we willingly attend our own show. We distract ourselves in a world of our making while trying to turn it into a better place.

God does not intend to make the world better; he intends to make it new. His Kingdom is not earth’s home-improvement project but a radical renovation. The Messiah establishes a new government. The Incarnation is his charter document, the Cross his signature in blood, the Resurrection his cultural manifesto. Old things are passing away; new things have come. The Garden of Eden may be out of reach, but the city of God is not. The curse has been broken.

Remember that in this season. We were bound in futility but are now unbound. Though we embrace the solemnity of redemption in a fallen world, the promise looms larger. And every day is an opportunity to experience it more fully.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for breaking the curse of futility. Lead me into fullness of joy. I want to experience every dimension of the promises you have given—for this age and the age to come. Amen.

Reflection:

In what ways have you experienced the futility of the world? In what ways have you experienced the fullness of the Kingdom? How can you participate in God’s “renovation” program for the world?

Further reading: 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

The morning purples all the sky,

The air with praises rings;

Defeated hell stands sullen by,

The world exulting sings.

“The Morning Purples All the Sky,” Saint Ambrose of Milan

 

Friday

Day 3

Citizens of Glory

Romans 8:18-21

What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. Romans 8:18

When a person seeks citizenship in a new country, he or she is usually required to renounce allegiance to the old one. Why? Because sometimes the national interests of different countries are in conflict. No country is well served by the double-minded. Loyalties must be clearly stated.

Those who have entered into a relationship with Christ live in two realms and, for a time, have dual citizenship. But we can retain our loyalty to only one, the world or the Kingdom, because their interests stand in conflict with each other. Much of the Christian life is framed by this conflict; we are constantly having to forsake the old way of life for the new, envision our future and put away our past, and embrace the culture of the Kingdom over the culture of the world and its ways. The realm we see with our physical eyes is subject to death and decay. The realm we see with the eyes of faith is not. Every moment of every day we face a choice: Which realm will we live in, invest in, place our hopes in, and cultivate in ourselves and in the lives of those around us? The choices are rarely easy. It takes time to learn a new way of life.

In the process, we are acutely aware that we are still suffering the effects of a fallen world, no matter how much our hearts long for the unfallen Kingdom. We encounter the pain and frustration of exile from Eden, from original design, from the image of God we are created to carry. “Creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay,” Paul writes (verse 21), because death and decay are still present. Our loyalties may be clearly on the side of the uncorrupted Kingdom, yet our experience is still mixed. Redemption has been freely given but not completely fulfilled. For now, we still hurt sometimes.

As we reflect on the Cross and Resurrection—the exodus from one citizenship into another—we need to keep resolutely focused on the coming glory. It does not and cannot compare to the pain we face today. We have the promise that the benefits of God’s Kingdom always outweigh the costs, even when the costs are excruciating. Hold on to that promise; it will become extremely precious in times of crisis. You are called to celebrate the revelation of the coming Kingdom long before you see it. Your new citizenship is far more glorious than your old.

Prayer:

Lord, just as Jesus lived from heaven into earth’s realm, may I live from spiritual realities while walking in the visible world. Give me revelations of hope, and fill me with visions of the coming glory. Amen.

Reflection:

Why is it important to remember that the glory we are promised outweighs the pain we experience? How does focusing on our citizenship in God’s Kingdom change how we live today?

Further reading: 2 Corinthians 5:6-8

The heavenly land I see,

With peace and plenty blest;

A land of sacred liberty,

And endless rest.

“The God of Abraham Praise,” Daniel ben Judah, adapted from Jewish hymn “Yigdal”


This is the purpose of The Promise of Lent Devotional: to stir up the hope that God has given us in the midst of a fallen world. Each day you’ll read of death and new life, temptation and the power to overcome it, the life and ministry of Jesus, and the transformative power of God.