For many church traditions, today marks the beginning of the season of Lent. It is a period of 40 days leading up to Easter. It commemorates Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness without food, tempted by the devil. Christians who observe Lent often incorporate fasting during this time, either from food or by giving up a luxury, as a means of following in Jesus’ footsteps. This is also a time of mourning over sin and meditating on Jesus’ death, the great cost required for sinners to be saved instead of judged. The purpose of Lent is the preparation of Christians for both the memorial of Christ’s death on Good Friday and the glorious celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
You might have read that description and thought, “That sounds like an incredible experience. I want to participate.” Or you might have read it and thought, “That sounds like man-made religion and legalism. It’s not appealing to me.” Many throughout church history have had both responses. So we as elders are not putting before you an expectation to participate in any way as described above. But we see this season as an opportunity to focus our hearts on Jesus and think more carefully on him, his character, and ultimately his life, death, and resurrection. I like to think of it as softening the soil that the Spirit might saturate it. Each Wednesday of the Lenten season, we will be looking at the character of God found in Exodus 34:6. We’ll see how Jesus demonstrated that character, and we’ll learn how we as his followers should seek for his character to become our character.
Exodus 34:6-7 is the first time in the Bible that Yahweh, the God of Israel, describes his character. What is this God like? He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, overflowing with loyal love and faithfulness. These words are repeated in part or in whole all over the Old Testament. How does that character play out in relation to people? He forgives them of sin, iniquity, and transgression against him. Yahweh is remarkably generous! But he is also remarkably just – those who reject him will not be cleared of their guilt. They’ll receive the judgment they deserve. The whole story of the Bible shows God carrying out his good character with his people Israel. And as we will see, God’s character is most perfectly and ultimately displayed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The innocent was declared guilty, so that the guilty could be declared righteous before God. Hallelujah!
This description of God’s character follows Israel’s idolatry and breaking of their covenant with him at Mt. Sinai. They couldn’t go 40 days themselves without giving themselves over to sin in the presence of the Lord. The people of Israel seem ridiculous to us until we realize we’re looking in the mirror. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned – every one – to his own way. We worship our own golden calves and reject this generous God. We deserve to be rejected ourselves. But God has met our sinfulness with compassion, grace, slowness to anger, loyal love, and faithfulness. Jesus is the ultimate expression of his goodness to us. All our sin, iniquity, and transgression can be forgiven because of Jesus the Savior. Let us consider at the beginning of this Lenten season the size of our sin and the beautiful character of our God who washes it away with the blood of Jesus, transforming us to live like him.
Additional Resources for Exodus 34:6-7:
Music Resources for the season of Lent: