The 40 days of Lent for 2014 begin on Ash Wednesday (5th March) and conclude on Holy Saturday (17th April). The quick mathematician will notice that is more than 40 days. Sundays are not included. As a team of clergy and readers we have provided short devotional comments for each of the 40 days and encourage you to read our Sunday lectionary readings in preparation for church to maintain a rhythm of daily readings. It is our hope and prayer that our journey through the Scriptures this Lent will help you grow in faith and understanding of God’s big story.
Day 1 – Wednesday 5th March 2014.
Genesis 1–2 The Creation Account
Why are we here? Why do we exist? The answers to our most searching questions of life concerning our purpose are found in the opening words of the Bible. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. The reason we exist, and the entire world around us, is that God has created. He has a plan and purpose for all that He made. Psalm 19 begins by stating ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork’. All that God has created declares His glory. In Genesis 1:26 we hear the dialogue of the Trinity ‘Let us make man in our image’. Our most profound questions of identity are answered in this verse. Who are we? We are made in the image of God. Something of the glory of God is within each of us. In Genesis 2 we have a second account of creation. In Genesis 2:18 we read: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’. We are made for relationship. The word “helper” means ‘one who supplies strength in the area that is lacking in “the helped”’. No matter how marred the image of God is in us, no matter how broken our relationships with each other have become we see God’s intention; to reveal His glory and to live in interdependence with one another. Where do you find your sense of identity? Do you have a strong sense of purpose? Do you try to compliment and strengthen other people? This passage today is the beginning of God’s story. Tom Clewer, a church leader in South Wales comments that it is here “where we find our worth and our value. The heavens declare the glory of the Lord, the sky above proclaims his handiwork. The real wonder is so do you and I’.
Day 2 – Thursday 6th March 2014.
Genesis 3 The Beginning of Sin
Sin is concept that even in church circles we have become embarrassed to talk about. Most people in society would describe themselves as a ‘good person’. In popular culture sin has either become a cartoon (the little red man with a pointy tail) or limited actions of those who commit heinous crimes. Yet St. Paul was prepared to call himself not just a sinner, but the worst (1 Timothy 1:15). Do you recognise yourself as a sinner? Do you come honestly before God or do you try and pretend you’ve got it all together? I find it fascinating that Adam tries to place the blame on Eve and even indirectly on God rather than take responsibility for his own sin (v. 12). In the account of the Fall we see that the first tactic of the serpent is to unsettle our trust in God’s word (v.1). Failure to trust God’s word leads to giving into temptation. On the First Sunday of Lent we remember that when Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11) He responded by quoting the Scriptures using them as a weapon (Ephesians 6:17) in the spiritual battle of the wilderness. Whereas Adam the first man was faithless, Jesus the second man was faithful (Romans 5:17). In what areas of your life do you need to trust God’s word to overcome temptation? Following their sin Adam and Eve are aware of their nakedness and try to cover themselves (v. 7). God gracefully provides for them a covering of garments of skin (v. 21). It is implied that to do this there must be death of an animal. In a small way this could be seen to be a signpost pointing towards God’s provision of a true covering for sin through the death of Jesus on the cross. Accompanying God’s gift of faith is the gift of repentance whereby we turn from our sin towards faith in Christ. To continue to live repentant lives means to recognise sin in our lives and to turn from it. Is this something that you are doing honestly or are you like Adam and Eve hiding in the garden (v. 8)? Invite the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) to search your heart and convict you of the things that you need to address.
Day 3 – Friday 7th March 2014.
Genesis 15; 17:15-27 God’s Covenant with Abraham
The first 11 chapters of Genesis cover a long period of time very quickly; however, from chapter 12 and the story of Abraham the accounts have far greater detail. In the early chapters the focus is often on the whole human race, now it is on one family.
Genesis 15:6 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible and one that is quoted twice by Paul (Romans 4 and Galatians 3) and by James in his epistle. It was one of the central verses of the Reformation, underpinning Luther’s thought. Abram is credited as righteous by faith, by believing in God’s promise (see Genesis 15:4-5).
‘Righteous’ is a funny word; it’s not one we use much. It can be a way of describing God’s character and his justice but here it means a ‘right relationship’. When Paul wants to explain how we can be in a right relationship with God despite our sinfulness, our failures, our mistakes and wrongdoing he quotes this verse. To explain how we are made right with God Paul uses the example of Abram who believed God’s promise and was declared righteous. For Paul this incident is a helpful illustration for us in understanding what God has done through His Son Jesus.
In 2 Corinthians 5:21 he writes: ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’. Through faith in Christ, trusting in this great exchange on the cross, we have access to a right relationship with God. The Old Testament way of understanding a relationship was to enter into a covenant; not something we talk about doing in today’s culture. The weird chopping up of the animals (Genesis 15:10) sounds like some Damien Hurst would exhibit. It was a standard part of the covenant ritual where both parties would pass through the severed animals to invoke a like fate on themselves should they break their pledge.
We have entered into a covenant, a relationship with God, through Jesus’ blood shed upon the cross. The parallels are clear; it is little wonder that this passage interested Paul so much.
Have you accepted that your relationship with God through faith alone? Do you try and earn God’s favour or have you put your full trust in Jesus’ sacrifice once and for all on the cross?
Day 4 – Saturday 8th March 2014.
Genesis 21:1-7; 22 God’s Faithfulness and Abraham’s Faith
What is your most precious to you? What would you not want to lose? If you are parent then the thought of losing a child is horrendous. This is a difficult passage and it raises many questions. When it is preached on preachers tend to take one of two approaches. They either speculate and reinterpret the passage or they discuss how this incident points us towards God’s willingness to give up His Son Jesus on the cross. One of the frustrations with the passage is that it doesn’t tell us how Abraham and Isaac (who is likely to be an young adult at this stage) feel. We live in an age that is preoccupied with our emotional state. So much of our expression of faith is ‘feelings-driven’. Yet James 2:14-26 makes it clear that true faith is not just about how we feel but what we do. This passage is all about actions. When we analyse Abraham’s actions we see a firm trust in God and a willing obedience to His voice. Genesis 22:5 is the first mention of the word ‘worship’. I find it fascinating that worship is linked with sacrifice from the outset in the Bible. Romans 12:1-2 is often used as a passage to highlight the need to see our whole lives, our every action, as worship. Is your faith just about what you feel? Or is it expressed through what you do? Is worship just something you do for an hour on a Sunday or your every action? The Lord’s provision of the ram caught in the thicket points us forward to His provision of Jesus, the Lamb of God. We must be clear that we are saved through faith in Christ’s deeds alone, nothing that we do or offer. James doesn’t try to explain how we are saved but rather what does faith look like. To do this he turns to this passage and the example of Abraham (James 2:21-23). Alec Motyer comments: ‘A true faith produces results, and in particular the result of costly and wholly trustful obedience to the word of God’.
Sunday 9th March—First Sunday of Lent. Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11.