HAVE YOU WONDERED? The 40 days of Lent

Russ Whitten
Russ Whitten

As I write this article, it is exactly 40 days before Easter. All throughout the Bible, the number 40 is spiritually significant.

• Noah’s life was transformed in the Ark during the 40 days of rain. (Genesis 7:4)

• Moses was transformed by his 40-day encounters with God on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 24:18, Deut. 9:15-18; Exodus 34:28).

• Moses’ spies were transformed by 40 days in the Promised Land. (Numbers 13:25)

• The nation of Israel was transformed by 40 years in the wilderness. (Numbers 14:33)

• David was transformed by Goliath’s 40-day challenge. (1 Samuel 17:16)

• Elijah was transformed by his fasting and his 40-day journey. (1 Kings 19:4-8)

• The people of Nineveh were profoundly transformed when God graciously gave them 40 days to repent. (Jonah 3:4)

• Jesus was empowered by 40 days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness where He endured the temptation of Satan just prior to beginning His ministry. (Matthew 4:1-2, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-2)

• The disciples were radically transformed by 40 with Jesus after His resurrection. (Acts 1:3)

It later became a custom in the early Church that before the Easter celebration, there would be a 40-day season of spiritual preparation. In the early church, Lent was also a time to prepare new believers for baptism and when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled to participation in the life of the Church. In this way, the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The 40-day season of Lent is an invitation of renewal, re-commitment, repentance and new life. The word “Lent” actually comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “Spring.”

In many churches, ashes are used to draw a cross on the forehead of people to mark the beginning of their Lent fast. Ashes are the traditional sign of sorrow and repentance (see 1 Kings 19:4-8, 1 Chronicles 21:16, Nehemiah 9:1, Esther 4:1, Jonah3:5-9). The ashes represent a person's grief and mourning for their sins — the same sins that Jesus Christ gave his life for when he died on the cross. The drawing of a cross is often done on this day while a pastor recites the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) and “Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Around the year 1797, Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York with the name Isabella Baumfree. After escaping from slavery, she moved to New York City and experienced a call from the Spirit to travel and lecture. She desired a new name that would reflect her new vocation. Reflecting on the Exodus story, she said, “I am leaving everything behind and I’m not going to keep anything of Egypt on me.” She prayed that God would give her a new name. “And the Lord gave me Sojourner,” she said, “because I was to travel up and down the land, showing people their sins, and being a sign unto them. After I asked the Lord for another name, because everybody else had two names; and the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare truth to the people.” Sojourner Truth became a fiery preacher, orator, and abolitionist.

One day, while preparing for a speech in Indiana, she heard that someone had threatened to burn down the building if she spoke there. “Then I will speak upon the ashes,” Sojourner replied.

May this Lenten season remind you that out of ashes comes new life. After a bush fire, the forest is renewed. The place of ash where everything died becomes a place of beauty again. Good does come from bad. Hope does come from sorrow. Trust does come through faith. Strength can come after weakness. The Bible says that all who are afflicted, burdened, brokenhearted and heavy will be given comfort. They will be given an “ornament of beauty instead of ashes” and a “garment of praise instead of sorrow.”

Christians, like Sojourner Truth, declare from the ashes of this broken and hurting world: “From dust you came and to dust you shall return and from dust you shall return again.”

Russ Whitten preaches every Sunday at the 9:30 a.m. Harbor Worship Service at Brotula’s Restaurant, 210 US 98 in Destin and then at the 11:30 a.m. service at The Downtown Church, meeting at Enlightened Studios, 144 Miracle Strip Parkway SE in Fort Walton Beach. He can be reached at russwhitten@gmail.com.