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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
It’s hard to believe the season of Lent will begin this week if you are hearing this podcast the week of its release. Lent is something much of the protestant world has forgotten, unfortunately. It has long been part of the Christian Calendar of special remembrances and festivals, but when many of the current protestant denominations grew out of the Catholic and liturgical faiths, we sometimes threw the baby out with the bath.
Why do I say that? Why do I think we need to take a look at the Christian Calendar presented by some of the more liturgical fellowships? What is so important about those dates that we should drag them out of the closet as fundamentalists or charismatics? Are they necessary for our worship? No. Are they required to keep us on track with God? No. Are they critical to our study of Jesus and what he has done for us? Again, I’d answer no to the question. So why am I bringing it up the day after what has been named Transfiguration Sunday and just a few days before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten Season?
First, let me say that it has only been in the last couple of decades that I really let the Christian Calendar take root in my own life. And even so, many of the special days remembered by the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches will not be a part of my celebrations for a variety of reasons. But there are some that I think are good to embrace as remembrances of what Jesus did for us. And those fundamentalist and charismatics will agree that some of the calendar events are indeed special.
Who would argue that we should not remember Easter and its immediate predecessor Good Friday? Or how about Pentecost, the birth of the church? Those are predicated on Christmas, so shouldn’t that day be a part of our celebrations?
So you see, we do pick and choose what parts of the Christian Calendar we will celebrate or use as part of our worship. It’s just that in the last couple of decades, I’ve learned more about how the early church fathers used some of the special days to teach their congregates about the events of Jesus life and how they should emulate him in their daily walk. We must remember the majority of the early Christians were uneducated. Many could not read or write and even if they could, they didn’t have access to scriptures or books or literature to help them know who Jesus was, what he did, or how they could find peace in his forgiveness.
Consequently, the church provided special days to remember events in the life of Christ and the church to share the story of his life to the masses. The argument for why we don’t observe them from some is many were taken from pagan holidays and transformed instead into Christian holy days. I don’t disagree. But is that wrong? To transform something that was perhaps an evil practice and make it a holy one? If that’s wrong, then perhaps we need to look at ourselves. Jesus transforms this evil, sinful person into his likeness when we ask forgiveness and follow him. So why can’t we use some of those worldly things, transformed, for holy purposes?
Remember the dream Peter had about the banquet God provided of unclean animals? What God has made is never unclean. God makes all things good. So all 365 days of the year are good because God makes them. If we can use some tools to better remember what he has done for us, then isn’t that a good thing even when Satan tries to twist them into something bad?
Well, there is a little of my thought process to tell you we should embrace some of the calendar we have sometimes forgotten. One of those times is the Lenten Season. It begins with Ash Wednesday which this year falls on March 6. It began as a time of preparation for new Christians before their baptism. In the New Testament, believers were sometimes baptised immediately after their conversion. In the latter part of the first century, especially before Constantine became a believer and declared Christianity freed from persecution from his throne, believers began to desire baptism on Easter.
By the time Constantine became emperor, the church also had a problem with young believers not really knowing what they signed up for. The disciples were dead. Jesus had ascended. There were no authorized canons to show this is what the church believes is the definitive word of God. And they couldn’t read it anyway. It was necessary to teach these new Christians and make sure they knew the cost.
So the early church fathers like Ignatius, Origen, Hippolytus, Ambrose, and Augustine all recognized the need for a time of preparation before baptism into the church family. Kind of like doing the ground school training before you let the student pilot solo behind the controls of a plane in flight. Do they really believe and know what’s coming?
It wasn’t long before the standard preparation time became 40 days to coincide the 40 years the Israelites spent in the desert preparing to enter the promised land or the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his ministry and fighting the temptations of Satan. Baptismal candidates would spend 3 hours a day for 40 days with their teacher, not counting Sundays, days to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. In a nutshell, the church wanted to make sure they knew about Jesus. They knew about their lostness without him. And they knew the commitment they were taking, the cost of being a follower of Christ.
Jesus told us to count the cost before launching into something and the cost of being a Christian is everything. He said if you don’t die, you can’t live. If you don’t take up your cross and follow him, you’re not one of his. It takes everything to be a Christian. In the early church persecution was real. We sometimes think we are persecuted in this country because someone points a finger at us and make snide remarks.
In the early church, Christians couldn’t shop in the open markets. They were all dedicated to pagan gods and you had to bow to those gods to enter. They couldn’t get jobs. Most of the jobs were owned by those who wanted to kill Christians, not help them. They often lost their property, confiscated by the religious leaders or the state because of their “rebellion.” The often lost their family. Either because of shunning when they accepted Christ as Savior and no longer upheld the pagan rituals of their family’s traditions or the state took their children because of the “abuse” by these rebellious parents. And sometimes the cost meant death.
The cost of being a Christian in the early church was everything. If the candidate wasn’t prepared to give up everything, including their family and their life, then baptism and the church were not for them. Lent was that time of study and preparation for baptism in the early church.
After Constantine, however, the church discovered the preparation for baptism were a good time for all the congregation to be reminded of their commitment. It was a good time to prepare for the most important event in the history of Jesus’ time on earth. In our culture, we have managed to make Christmas really important with all the celebrations and presents. But I think we have really made Christmas in this country about money more than anything else.
Easter is really what Jesus’ life was all about, though. He came to give his life as a sacrifice for you and me. But if had just died on the cross, he would not have been remembered. He would have been another good man who rebelled against the Jewish leaders and the Roman government and he lost as evidenced by his crucifixion. If his tomb had stayed sealed on that third day, there would be no New Testament. There would be no early church. There would be no days to remember. It would be over.
But it didn’t end there. Easter came. The tomb opened and he walked out...alive. More than 500 people saw him over those next 40 days before he ascended into heaven. His early kingdom has grown exponentially and men and women are willing to die for him even those he left this place on a cloud 2000 years ago. Easter is what Jesus came to do. Yes, he came to die as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. But more than that, Jesus came to live again to prove he has power of death and the grave. He has the power to transform us into something better.
Easter is coming. Lent is almost here. How will you prepare? What will you do to know Jesus? What will you do to know you are lost without him? What will you do to know the commitment you make when you say yes to his will? What will you share with those around you that are on their way to an eternity without him? How will you show others just what Jesus means to you as you prepare to celebrate his resurrection in a way you have never celebrated before, fully prepared to worship the risen Lord this Easter.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.