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He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a Man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem.
Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered Him punished by God,
stricken by [God], and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him,
and by His wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
(Isaiah 53:3-6)
Last week’s blog post introduced Logistics of Lent, a series that His Own Heart will run through Easter Sunday. Admittedly from what our calendars tell us today, Logistics of Lent sounds like a long journey – and in many ways it is. But perhaps you’ll recall the statement from Part 1 in which I wrote that the details and sheer reality of the Passion of Christ – His trial, crucifixion and resurrection – are too large to fit into even one Testament of the Bible.
This week, I came across something that supports that point. Brooklyn Tabernacle Pastor Jim Cymbala, in conjunction with Ann Spangler, has put together a new and inspirational book set for release on February. Zondervan, publisher of Cymbala’s The Rescue: Seven People, Seven Amazing Stories…, makes the following pre-release statement concerning the book. Having read the work cover-to-cover, I’m quoting the publisher’s statement here because it describes the book spot-on:

A Wall Street broker, a party girl, a student, a homeless man, an addict, a teenage mom, a drug enforcer—all of them spiraling out of control. Each has a reason to despair and a wound that won’t heal. Until something unexpected happens—something that will change their lives forever. The Rescue tells the powerful, true stories of men and women whose lives should have ended badly but didn’t. What happens to each of them will take you by surprise and give you hope. It will restore your sense that no matter what you are facing, Someone good is in control of the universe. Fortunately, that Someone cares about you. If you or people you care about are facing challenges beyond their strength, it may be time to experience The Rescue. 

So, you may be wondering, what does this book have to do with this series or this post? Or even with Lent itself? The answer would be that the text actually has everything to do with the Passion of Christ as well as our preparation for it during this season.
Let’s take a first step of exploration by looking at the obvious. Did Christ’s Passion not serve as a once-and-for-all rescue for any lost souls who would by faith accept His cleansing gift of eternal life? And how did that rescue happen? Was it the result or an afterthought of a God whose human creatures – Adam, Eve, you, me – finally rebelled and wearied Him enough that He threw up His hands and decided to regroup? Or was His rescue carefully, deliberately planned and executed to the letter These are the type questions I’d like you to consider during this series.
I know, I know: I’m suggesting a slightly different approach to Lent for readers who choose to – or not to – observe the traditional routine of the season. If you’ll go with me down this side path for a moment, though, I think you’ll see a parallel that runs between tradition and this approach.
The background I need to share with you is pretty straightforward. Traditionally, Lent began as a seasonal method during which members of the Catholic Church took time to focus on the undeniable value of repentance to God. In its early stages – and even in some denominations today, the 40-day period is linked in similarity to Old Testament fasting and repentance in sackcloth and ashes (e.g. Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3). From the perspective of the church calendar, Lent begins each year on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. In this respect, Ash Wednesday signifies the beginning of the 40 days of Christ’s fasting and temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), and Easter Sunday marks His resurrection following the crucifixion (Luke 24:1-12). Over the years, some Christian denominations beyond the realm of Roman Catholicism came to observe the season as a time for Christians to reflect, repent, and pray as a way of preparing their hearts for Easter.
It is so, so important to share with you at this juncture that Lent is in no way an official institution found in Scripture; in other words, Christians are in no way required to participate in this tradition. To insinuate it as such to a Christian, in fact, is to sink into the muddy and dangerous waters of legalism. But there are Christians from many different walks of spiritual life and theological paths who choose to observe Lent individually as a means of focusing their thoughts on debt cancelled by Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection.
And the methods of one’s participation in Lent are as wide-open as the choice to participate – or not to participate – itself. Below are just a few of the varied activities traditionally used to recognize the season:
  • On the first day of Lent, some Christians mark their foreheads with ashes. This symbolizes sorrow, mourning and repentance for one’s sin. This action stems from the example set forth in Job 42.
  • Some Christians attend churches that hold special worship services or rearrange their regular worship services in such a way that they focus specifically on mankind’s need for repentance. This may take the form of extra Scripture readings, prayer and – in contemporary worship environments – plays that engage member participation.
  • There is also the individual activity of choosing to give up a habit or behavior during Lent as an exercise in prayerful self-denial. These can range from something as simple as withdrawing from social media to a complicated but medically well-organized plan of fasting.
  • Special Lent-driven devotional activities – personal or corporate – like daily Scripture reading, prayer targeted toward a specific person or topic, or volunteer work in within one’s own community – are also popular observances for the season.

 

Again, I cannot impress upon you enough that the choice to observe Lent must be both personal and voluntary. After all, the point of it all is to focus your heart and mind on Jesus during the journey to Easter; you’ll never experience the full spiritual benefit of the exercise as a grudging participant. It just won’t happen.
If, on the other hand, you feel a spiritual nudge to dip your toes into the practice of Lent – or if you’re a seasoned participant looking for something new to delve into this year – the Cymbala book described above is a great option to pursue once it’s released on February 28. A quick and engaging read, every page of this book points firmly toward the subject its title reflects. While its pages record the stories of seven individuals, the reality is that in each of those stories The Rescue reflects some detail or other that resonates – at times even striking a cord of identification – with every believer.
I’m choosing not to go into detail here about the book’s content; you’ll grow so much more from your own reading and reflection of the text. Also, you can see previews and video clips of The Rescue here. My primary prayer in recommending it to you personally is that once you’ve read it, you’ll begin to consider – maybe even record – the story of the rescue that brought or as we speak is bringing you into a full, saving, intimate relationship with the Rescuer. My secondary prayer is that through the rest of our Logistics of Lent series, you will experience with wide-eyed wonder like Robin, the life-altering fact that the rescue afforded to mankind through Christ spans the entirety of Scripture, Old and New Testaments together. Committed to her lifelong Jewish faith and dead-set against the text of the New Testament, Robin was asked by a Christian friend to open her Hebrew Bible to the passage at the top of this post. She grudgingly obliged the friend’s request. Of the experience, Robin says:

I couldn’t believe it. My Bible [the Old Testament] was talking about Jesus. As I read from the Hebrew Scriptures, a clear picture of Jesus began to emerge. Everything [she and her friend] had talked about came together, and I realized that Jesus is the Messiah the Jewish people have always been waiting for (page 86, brackets mine). 

In the coming weeks, we will begin to uncover the ways in which Old Testament and New mesh together in the amazing story of Christ’s salvation to an undeserving world.
Each story in The Rescue is all-at-once its own and everyone else’s because, when you get to the foundation of these seven rescues and your rescue and my rescue, we are all rescued by the incarnation, death and resurrection of the one spiritual Rescuer whose name – what a name – is Jesus Christ. What better way to prepare the heart during the 2018 season of Lent than to contemplate the undeserved rescue fashioned by our Ultimate Rescuer?
– Copyright 2018, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.