The 40 days before Easter (not counting Sunday) are known among Christians of many denominations as the season of Lent. It is a time of preparation – for the joy of celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, and for the commitment to follow as His disciples.
But why would Lent last 40 days? Is it just some arbitrary number tossed out there? Not quite. In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels, we read that after Jesus was baptized by His cousin John, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert where He fasted and was tempted by the devil for 40 days and 40 nights. In all of this, Jesus refused to take the easy way to accomplish his purpose, relying on God the Father and trusting in a cross-shaped path.
That amount of time and those tests were no coincidence. The people of Israel had spent 40 years in the wilderness. God had rescued them from slavery and genocide in Egypt, but time and again they didn’t trust God, didn’t want to follow. How then, could God fulfill the promise that through Abraham, the world would be blessed? It was fulfilled in Jesus’ obedience.
And we find other significant 40s in the Bible. Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain with the LORD (Exodus 34:28). In the story of Noah, the rains came for 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:12). In the book of Acts, Jesus was with the disciples for 40 days after His resurrection, until He ascended to the presence of the Father (Acts 1:3).
What I notice in all of these stories is that they mark a time of transition – of the ending of something and the beginning of something new. In Genesis, the ending of rampant bloodshed and the re-establishing of the blessing and commission to human beings made in God’s image. In Exodus, the ending of a time of ignorance and the beginning of a covenant to teach Israel and the nations what living in relationship with God and others looks like. In the Sinai wilderness, we find the ending of a generation of those who rebelled against God and the beginning of a new generation who were called to live into their promise and their purpose. For Jesus, it was the ending of a (presumably) quiet life as a carpenter, and the embracing of the Father’s mission. And in Acts, we find Jesus handing this mission over to the disciples until His return.
What then, does this season of Lent mean to us? In what we give up or let go of, in what we embrace and take hold of, what must pass away in order for the new life and purpose of God to take root and bloom? How will you use this time to seek what God may have for us in this coming year?
Blessings on the Journey,