The following are the notes from this week’s CROSSROADS lesson. Words in bold identify key phrases from notes pages handed out each week. If you would like copies of our slides, please feel free to reach and request them. As these are from the notes pages for each week, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.
Today we’re going to take a little break from our normal lesson and talk about what we are celebrating today on Ash Wednesday and why it’s so important to our personal relationships with God.
WHAT IS ASH WEDNESDAY?
ASH WEDNESDAY is the beginning of this season called ‘Lent’ that builds up to Easter Between Ash Wednesday and Easter, we hit PALM SUNDAY where we remember Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and GOOD FRIDAY, which was the day Jesus was crucified. After EASTER we wait 50 days and then hit a holiday called PENTECOST which is where the Holy Spirit was sent from heaven to earth.
It’s kind of easy to sit back, stare of this timeline, and just kind of boil Ash Wednesday down to the first day we start looking ahead to Easter. In reality, Ash Wednesday becomes a crucial day to beginning this season of Lent where we spend time refocusing on God. Think of this like winter break from school. You spend all fall going to classes, doing homework, and taking tests. After a while, you’re burnt out and you need time off to reset. With any luck, you come back in January a little less stressed than you might have been in November or December. Lent is the same type of deal for us as Christians. We spend all year long trying to be good Christians and trying to do follow Christ, but we slip up, make mistakes, have spiritual highs and lows, and eventually just need time to stop and reflect on our spiritual lives. Lent provides us this opportunity by challenging us to stop what we’re doing, REPENT, CONTEMPLATE, and CELEBRATE what we know is coming in just a few weeks on Easter.
WHY WE CELEBRATE ASH WEDNESDAY
Now you may ask “what exactly do you mean when you say we spend the season of Lent repenting, contemplating, and celebrating?” I’m glad you asked.
First, we repent because, well, WE CAN. We take for granted the fact that we can repent for our sins on our own because it’s so easy to forget (or ignore) what it was like to follow God before Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Sacrifices had to be offered regularly at the temple and would serve as a ‘representative’ sacrifice for our sins. It wasn’t really covering our sins; it was just showing our devotion and submission to God and, in turn, God would tolerate our actions. All that changed when Christ died on the cross. Christ became THE sacrifice that would legitimately absolve us of our sins; God wouldn’t only “tolerate” us, but rather he would readily accept us as guiltless individuals because the penalty for our sins had been covered. Take a look at how Paul explains this in Hebrews 7.
Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.
For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do—first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all time when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:25-27)
Because Christ died for our sins, we no longer have to go through a priest who atones for our sins. We can go directly to our God and lay whatever is on our hearts or minds at God’s feet. Don’t take for granted the fact that you can go directly to your God with whatever good or bad is in your life, knowing that He will love you just the same.
The second thing we do during lent is contemplate our lives. We contemplate because WE NEED ACCOUNTABILITY. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 13.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless you fail the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Paul is telling the people in Corinth to test their own thoughts and beliefs. Because so many of us are busy every single day, it’s easy to completely overlook what you’re doing in your own life. That’s one of the reasons it becomes so useful to have a season like Lent that reminds us to stop and contemplate what we are doing, where God stands, and what we need to improve in our lives. This is the main reasons people sometimes give up something they like for the season of Lent (like soda, snacking, or something else they know they’ll miss); when they crave that thing it reminds them to stop and contemplate God.
Finally, Lent causes us to celebrate the GLORIFIED CHRIST. We spent days and weeks preparing for holidays like Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas because when the day comes we want to get the most out of it. Lent is essentially the same thing. Lent allows us time to stop and think about what Christ did… and what he didn’t do. Remember, Christ didn’t just die. We focus a lot on the sacrifice, but the really amazing thing about Easter is the fact that Christ was fully glorified through conquering death. Take a look at Hebrews 2 for a moment.
But we do see Jesus—made lower than the angels for a short time so that by God’s grace he might taste death for everyone—crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death. (Hebrews 2:9)
It’s important when we celebrate Easter that we remember that the most awe-inspiring part of the holiday is not Christ giving us a gift; it’s Christ conquering sin’s penalty… death… which is the greatest statement that God could possibly make in terms of showing his power. Sin is something that we introduced into this world and as a result, we deserved eternity separated from God. When Christ died and rose from the dead, He showed us a mercy that mankind can’t really comprehend and in that mercy he also shows his greatness. This Lent season, starting here on Ash Wednesday, let’s celebrate who Christ is, contemplate the place he holds in our hearts, and search for any part of us that we feel needs to be offered to God in repentance.
The meaning of Lent, and subsequently of Ash Wednesday, may seem a bit depressing and maybe a part of it is. No one enjoys thinking about the fact that they have sin in their life. However, there is good news as well. The good news is that this season sets us up for something more awesome than anything that is found in any other history book or religion on the face of this earth: the image of Christ risen from the dead in a display of his power and his love. It’s a picture that shows how powerful our God is and how great a gift he offers us through his death on the cross. It’s through seeing his power over death that we know we have the power to overcome whatever hardship, worry, or temptation we may be facing in our own lives.