[Note: a shorter version of this article also appears in the March 2013 newsletter of Bethel Presbyterian Church. Yeah, I’m lazy….]
One of the more bizarre news stories I’ve seen in quite some time came out of the Yunan Province of China in 2011. A 37-year-old man named Li Fu decided to visit his doctor to determine the cause behind his frequent headaches. After a routine X-ray, the doctor was shocked to find the source of Li’s headaches: a 4-inch knife blade that had been lodged in his brain for four years! Stabbed during an armed robbery in 2006, Li never knew that the blade had broken off inside his head, and doctors called it a “miracle” that it had not killed him. The blade was successfully removed during surgery, and he is expected to recover fully from this. [For more on this, including pics, check out the article.]
As crazy as this story is, it reminded me of our sin and the purpose of the season of Lent, the forty-day period prior to Easter. For many people, Lent brings to mind fish fries or the temporary denial of chocolate—but it is more than that. One person wrote this, “Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate Good Friday and Easter. Just as we carefully prepare for big events in our personal lives, such as a wedding or commencement, Lent invites us to make our hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ passion and celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.” It is a time to repent and prepare our hearts for the good news of the empty tomb.
Before we celebrate Easter this month, however, we have to remember why we celebrate. We celebrate the empty tomb. The place of our greatest joy reminds us of the identity of our deepest problem. Jesus’ death and resurrection are good news because through them he has conquered sin and death. This is the root of our problem, yet many aren’t even aware of its presence. Like the man who lived for years with a knife in his brain, we often suffer from the effects of sin without knowing the cause of our misery.
Make no mistake about it; this is something with which we are all afflicted. Scripture tells us that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10), that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and that we are “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Once God reveals this to us, opening our eyes and convicting us of our rebellion against him, we find it hard to believe that this could have been there so long without us knowing it. Yet like Li’s doctor, God does not simply diagnose the source of our suffering, he also successfully removes it.
This victorious triumph is what he announces to us in the bright dawn of that first Easter morning. We love to sing about the joy, hope, and assurance that is ours through the work of Jesus Christ, but it is impossible for us to fully rejoice in the remedy if we refuse to acknowledge the ‘sickness unto death’ that lies embedded in us. This is why we prepare for Easter by lamenting our sin and repenting of its twisted desires. If we don’t acknowledge the severity of the problem then the glory of the solution doesn’t resound as it should.
Ash Wednesday began the chorus of the Lenten season in a minor key. This is where it has to start, but it is not where it ends. The prayers of repentance with which we begin Lent are transformed into songs of joy as we walk the road from the cross to the empty tomb. The resounding worship of those who offer praise to the King only finds it full expression when it testifies to cause of the problem as well as the source of the cure. Peter summed this up when he wrote, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18). The more clearly we see the depths from which God has pulled us, the more dearly we respond to him in worship and wonder.