The lesson today is on the observance of Lent. Lent originated in the 4th century. Jesus and the apostles, the foundation upon which our household of God is built, never observed Lent and did not set it up.
Lent was traditionally observed with prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial [fasting from certain foods and/or giving up some luxuries or festivities as a form of penitence]. Penitential prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three main ways to observe Lent today. Today people give up “vices” (bad habits) for Lent. Some do voluntary acts of charity for others. The abstinence from eating meat on Friday’s during Lent is obligatory for Catholics. Fasting, if it is observed, is generally accomplished by eating one main meal and two smaller meals (less than normal) each day. Interestingly, alcoholic beverages do not break the fast.
The reason that lent is “40” days before Easter Sunday is that Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (the 7th Wednesday before Easter). Ash Wednesday involves the imposition of ashes in the form of the cross on the foreheads of the penitents. The ashes signify mortality and sin (the ashes come from the burning of the ‘blessed’ palms used on Palm Sunday from the previous year) and the cross represents resurrection and forgiveness. When the ashes are imposed, the priest says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
This practice emanates from the use of sackcloth and ashes in the Old Testament. In past ages penitents who had committed grave sins wore sackcloth shirts and had the ashes sprinkled on them – then they were turned out of the church for 40 days and returned on Maundy Thursday [the Thursday before Easter].
Mardi Gras [“Fat Tuesday”] precedes Ash Wednesday as the last opportunity for excess before Lent begins. So, lent runs 46 days to Easter of which 40 days are the days observed since the six Sundays (picturing the resurrection) are not counted.
Now the question is, “What does any of this have to do with the Bible?” The answer is, “Nothing.” Yet the Bible has something to say about this kind of religious exercise.
Lent is not a doctrine of the Bible; it is a doctrine of the devil – Look at 1 Tim 4:1-5. Lent is connected with a church that teaches abstinence from marriage and abstinence from meat, both of which are doctrines of devils.
The ashes imposed on the forehead are a perversion of an Old Testament practice among Jews – Tamar put ashes on her head after she was forced by Amnon [2 Sam 13:19]. Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes after reading the kings decree to kill all the Jews [Est 4:1]. Both of these cases were cases of sadness and despair. But the custom was to put on sackcloth and sit in the ashes [Jon 3:6; Ezek 27:30]. Truly these expressions were started from a heart of utter sadness as in the case of Tamar and Mordecai or repentance as in the case of Job and the king of Nineveh [Job 42:6]. Since Calvary there is no need for the ashes since Christ died and when we get saved we are dead in him [Gal 2:20]. Look at our repentance in 2 Cor 7:10 and compare it to the sorrow of the world which must be done year after year in each Lenten season.
The fast in lent is not a fast that God chose – Look at Is 58:5. We certainly are to fast. Jesus said that we would [Matt 9:15] and Paul did frequently [2 Cor 11:27]. However, no period of time in the year was ever prescribed for a fast. That’s a religious fabrication of man.
God is not impressed with this kind of piety – the piety of those who observe Lent is very similar to the piety of Israel in Is 1:11-15. When Israel tried to impress God with their piety he refused to hear them. Those who performed their pious deeds felt good about what they were doing but the Lord despised them [Matt 6:3-6, 16-18]. These three things, alms, prayer and fasting, are interestingly the very things that make up the Lenten ritual.
Lent has absolutely nothing to do with salvation or sanctification – salvation is not by works of righteousness which we have done [Titus 3:5]. A man is only justified by the faith of Christ [Gal 2:16]. We are not cleansed from our sin by piety and self-denial but only by the blood of Christ [1 Jn 1:7-9; Heb 9:13-14].
Conclusion: And when you are cleansed by the blood of Christ you have absolutely no need for all of these other religious rituals.