Summary: This is an introduction to Psalm 51.
I hope that you all know that today marks the first Sunday of Lent, which is the season of preparation for our greatest Christian celebration, that of the Resurrection of Jesus. I won’t be at all surprised if that comes as news to many of you, especially as the official beginning of Lent this past Wednesday – known as Ash Wednesday – was likely overshadowed in your activities this past week by that other cultural holiday – Valentine’s day – which was the next day. And given the choice between sackcloth and ashes and reflecting on sin, and heart-shaped chocolates and flowers and reflecting on love and romance, I know which way a lot of us will lean…
It feels early to be preparing for Easter, and in fact it is early, since Easter Sunday this year is March 31, and so I’m going to ease us into the journey this morning and set up the steps ahead of us as we journey towards the empty tomb.
What is Lent?
The Lenten season is the 40 day period (not including Sundays) which leads to Resurrection Sunday. In some ways it parallels the purpose of the Advent season which leads to Christmas, in that it is a time of preparing and waiting, but in other ways it is the opposite. Advent is about the themes of hope and joy and love and peace, and it is a time of feasting and celebrating that leads to the big celebration – while Lent is about the themes of confession and repentance and sin, and it is a time of restraint and sacrifice and simplicity. Lent is most familiar as a season where people “give something up”; usually something that is a pleasure or indulgence, such as chocolate (and that makes me wonder how many people that normally give up chocolate for lent chose to wait until after Valentines day to start!). Some Evangelicals who observe Lent chose not to give something up, but to take on some spiritual practice that they may not normally do, such as reading through the entire New Testament. Either way, the result is the same – it is a deliberate, specific time of readying ourselves to remember and celebrate both the death of Christ, and more importantly the resurrection of Christ.
Which begs the question, what about you and me? What are we going to do or not do for Lent, as a personal decision that will aid us in arriving at the Good Friday and Easter Sunday celebrations with ready hearts? You might not have thought of that yet, but I think it is pretty important. In light of what Jesus has done for us, I think it is pretty important that we spend some time, that we exercise some discipline, and arrive ready to worship our Resurrected Lord Jesus in the way that He deserves. I’ll leave that question with you for today, with the strong encouragement to make a decision about this before you go to bed tonight. Decide today, and start tomorrow.
Ok, that’s a general introduction/background, let’s pray and then I’ll get a little more specific.
Why Does God Hate Sin?
Here’s a question I’d like you to think about for a moment, since Lent is a season of confession and repentance from sin: why does God hate sin? I think we’d all agree that God does hate sin, but I’m not sure we really and deeply understand why God hates sin. And I think that is pretty critical to how we then see our sin and respond to it. So let me invite some responses from you – what do you think – why does God hate sin?
God’s hatred of sin is a direct manifestation of His love for us. God hates sin because He loves us. We tend, in our minds and more likely in our emotions, to go the opposite way: when we think of God hating sin, we then think of ourselves as sinners, and think/feel that God’s hatred of sin somehow translates to God angry at us or rejecting of us or condemning of us. God hates sin, there is sin in me, therefore we think God’s hatred is directed at us. So then we imagine ourselves as needing to do something to appease God and remove that hatred from us, so we confess and hope/trust God will forgive (though sometimes we still aren’t really sure, because maybe we didn’t “get it all” or “do it quite right” and are still not really sure it will be very long before we sin again and be right back where we started). Does that sound familiar? IT IS REALLY WRONG!! IT IS REALLY BACKWARDS!!
We have to begin at a different starting point – that God’s hatred of sin is a direct manifestation of His love for us. God hates sin because of what it does to us – how it robs us of life and joy, how it promises something that will feel good but that ends us harming us, how it dulls our ability to actually enjoy all that God has created us to enjoy, how it takes something good that God created for our pleasure and twists it into something that enslaves us. God hates sin because He loves us and wants something so much better for us.