What Are You Giving Up For Lent?

lent is for lifeWhat are you giving up for Lent? This is a question that is being asked by many practicing Christians this time of year. I hadn’t given the question much thought until recently when it dawn on me just how trivial many have made the season of Lent. I mean, think about it! First of all Jesus said that when we fast we are not to make it public knowledge. In other words, the fast should be a private thing between the believer and God. Now, I know that there is some historical and biblical precedent for public fasting, but I think most modern Christians, particularly those in the West, really don’t understand the biblical concept of fasting. In the Bible, people fasted, not so much to give up something, rather to make themselves more available to God and for his service. However, many Western Christians are using this season to fast by giving up sodas, sweets, and other non-essential things in a vain attempt to identify in some small minute way with the sufferings of Christ. But can the suffering that Christ endured really be compared to the slight inconvenience of sodas or chocolate for forty days? We observe the season of Lent in such a trivial sacrifices, but I wonder are such small inconveniences really indicative of the real spirit of the season?

Jesus gave up his life, and we think we are really doing something special when we give up sodas for forty days? The call of Jesus involves more than just a ceremonial, trivial, token 40-day fast during the season of Lent. The Lord calls us to live a life of sacrifice! The dedication and perseverance that many display during Lent was not intended to be seasonal; it was intended to be a life-style!

Now, I am not advocating that there should be no fasting or sacrifices during Lent, all I’m saying is that I think we should be more serious about what the season really means. I think the spirit of the season would be better served, not just by giving up sodas for forty days, but rather by understanding Jesus calls us, not just to a season of sacrifice, but rather to a life-time of sacrifice and dedication!

The Offering of Isaac: Another Look at Genesis 22:1-19

As long as I can remember, I have always heard this text preached and taught with the main point being: “The Lord will provide.” And it’s true; the Lord did provide a sacrifice for Abraham to offer in the place of Isaac. But is that really the main point of the story? It certainly is the climax as we read with anxious anticipation of Abraham binding Isaac to the altar with his hand at the apex of the swing as he prepares to cut Isaac’s throat! And then suddenly, just in the nick of time, Abraham hears the voice of the angel of the Lord, calling his name from Heaven! “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the lad, and do not do anything to him, because now I know that you do fear God, for you have not withheld your son, your only child from me.” It is after Abraham hears this that he looks and sees a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. He then takes the ram and offers it up as a sacrifice instead of Isaac.

But contrary to tradition, I would like to suggest that the statement of the angel of the Lord provides the real main point of the story! That point being: “God will allow one to keep that which is nearest and dearest only if one is willing to give it up!” To prove my point, we might want to note the immediate context. It was because of family conflicts that Abraham had just sent Ishmael (the other son) and Hagar (Ishmael’s mother) away. The text in Genesis 22:2 accentuates the value of Isaac. Abraham was instructed to: “Take your son.” (Which one Lord?) “Your only son!” (Remember, since he had sent Ishmael away, Isaac was all he had left!) And just so there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings, the angel identified the son by name: “Your only son, Isaac.” And for further identification, Isaac is described by the angel to Abraham as being “Isaac, whom you love.”

We need to remember at this point that Isaac was the son of promise! He was the miracle child! He was the one that God had promised to Abraham! He was born passed time, yet he was to be the one through whom all of the promised blessings would flow! This is the son that the Lord told Abraham to sacrifice!

Now some have debated what Abraham was thinking but it appears that he fully expected Isaac to return home with him. He tells his servants in Genesis 22:5 “You stay by yourselves here with the donkey, while I and the lad will go on there, so that we can worship and return to you.” And chances are, he didn’t say anything about the real purpose of the trip to Sarah because she would have had a stroke! The Hebrew writer gives us a hint in Hebrews 11:17-19: “It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again.” (NLT)

Therefore, I think the real lesson of this story is that sometimes we will be tested to see where our true devotion lies! In this day when many in the world of Western Christendom, particularly here in America, are obsessed with blessings and being blessed, the question is: “Do we value the One who gives blessings more than the blessings themselves?” It could be that the only way we can really know is by being faced with the decision or possibility of having to give them up!  Are you willing to give up that which you have prayed so long and suffered so hard to get? Are you willing to sacrifice and give your “Isaac” up? If you are not willing, it has become an idol! And the last time I looked, the Bible says that God is a jealous God! He will not tolerate idols! He said: “Thou shalt have no other gods before (that is; ahead of and instead of) me!” And when we make something an idol, if we don’t repent, God will eventually institute his Divine Separation Plan! Either he will take it away from us, or he will take us away from it!

Look at the concluding statement in verses 15-18: “Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven. He said, “By myself I swear, (declares the LORD) that it is because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only child, that I shall really bless you. I shall really multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and like the sand which is on the seashore, so that you may possess the gate of your enemies. And all the nations of the world will find blessing in your descendants because you have obeyed me.” The truth is: We all want to be blessed, but if we really want to be blessed, we must be willing to give up our “Isaac.” Only then will it be known if we really love the Giver more than we love the gift!

Comments are welcomed!