by Kathy Holliday | 5-minute read
This year’s Lenten season finds me with more discretionary time, which has been a bonus for my devotional life. Redeeming my lack of follow-through on last year’s good intentions, I’ve been using a 2020 devotional guide to focus my quiet times. It’s called Journey to the Cross: 40 Days to Prepare Your Heart for Easter.
Unlike some Lenten guides, the aim here is personal intentionality in connecting with God over 40 days. I’ve found it quite helpful in fortifying my vertical relationship with Jesus. Yet, I’ve also felt the need to balance personal focus with the doctrinal foundation of our redemption. Accurate doctrine is important because what we believe is important. It’s possible to come up with all sorts of spiritual ideas, but unless they are God’s truth, they are devoid of power or value. Truth is established by God, and the gospel alone has the power to save. That’s what we have to celebrate.
“…what you believe will shape your spiritual life. … The way you think about God will affect the way you relate to God.”
—From a 2009 Banner of Truth article, “Why is Doctrine Important?”
Apart from right theology, there’s no point to personal devotion, because only God’s truth can set us free.
Easter and Christmas
I’m long past the bunny and chick stage, cute as those were in our children’s Easter baskets. Some years ago, it dawned on me that there’s an inverse relationship between what the world celebrates and what is innately worth celebrating; perhaps it’s a corollary of sorts to Paul’s warning that we “not conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2).
“Cancel culture”? Forget it. It’s demonstrably true that we live in a moral universe, and opinions to the contrary don’t change the fact. The more the spirit of this age obscures what’s important, the surer we can be that what is ignored by the world is what truly matters—or what is “crucial,” a word derived from the Latin crucis and crux, meaning “cross.”(Coincidental? I think not.)
Although Christmas and Easter are the major holidays observed within Christendom, there’s a glaring difference in the way each is observed today. The reason, I think, has more to do with human nature than with merchandising. The birth of a baby intrinsically lends itself to celebration. New life, tiny baby … what’s not to like?
But Easter, observed roughly four months later, is another matter entirely. The Lenten/Easter season also is about new life, but this life-after-mortal-life comes at a price that is hard to face. How people respond to Easter has much more to do with spiritual understanding, and that isn’t measured in sales volume. The Baby celebrated in December has become the God Man, eliciting both worship and violent, murderous intent from those to whom he bore witness of the truth. This makes for a hard sell to consumers. Nothing winsome or cuddly here.
The coming of the Baby fulfilled centuries of Messianic prophecies. The Man’s death, also fulfilling prophecies, occurred because he intentionally submitted to violence and ignominy. Indeed, Scripture makes it clear that actually was his mission. Confronted with this reality, people tend to be repelled or offended; some even take it upon themselves to deny Scripture. But the blood of Jesus, imparted to us through faith, is the only passage to eternal life in his presence.
The full story
It’s important to ponder the reality and personal implications of Jesus’ suffering and the atonement he accomplished on our behalf. Doing this requires us to own our sin and the fact that it breaks our connection with God.
When Mel Gibson’s epic film, The Passion of the Christ was released in 2004, there was much pre-release publicity. I remember a radio interview with Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrayed Jesus. Asked why the film provoked such controversy, Caviezel answered: “People don’t want to look at their sin.” Buying Christmas gifts can be fun. Seeing what was required to cancel our debt of sin is anything but.
The Christmas Baby is a cornerstone in God’s progressive revelation of himself. But we must move on to the “rest of the story” if his sacrificial death is to make a difference for each of us. More than that, the power we need to become like him and accomplish the work he has for each of us to do requires the indwelling of his Holy Spirit in each of us, and that was possible only after Jesus returned to his Father (“…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you,” Rom. 8:11).
Our enemy has, I imagine, delighted in the countless souls who have been helped to enter a Christless eternity by celebrating the Christmas babe, but taking a pass on the death, resurrection and ascension of our savior.
This clarifying quote from the introduction to Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest has helped me. It’s from the late Senate Chaplain Richard C. Halverson:
“The book’s strength lies in its stubborn insistence on the objective reality of redemption as the only secure foundation. Today subjective experience is often accepted as the criterion for authentic faith. In Chambers I am constantly being reminded that the ground of faith and experience is always Jesus Christ himself.”
May our worship and celebration of Lent and Resurrection Sunday be founded on both the historicity of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of transforming us into Christlikeness.