by Gina Gardner, Steppes of Faith
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1 NKJ
For many people, this is the season of Lent. The big build-up to Holy Week. This is the time of year when many believers give up something for 40 days in remembrance of Jesus’s time of fasting in the wilderness and fighting off Satan’s attacks just before Jesus began His ministry. I’m not Catholic, but I’m curious about this special call to prayer and repentance, so I did some research.
I found it interesting that God doesn’t command us to acknowledge Lent or fast during this time of the year. God only commands that we keep the Passover, but not the Passover meal as the Jewish faith practices. In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, Paul writes,
“Therefore, purge out the old leaven that you may be a new lump since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Purging out the old leaven symbolizes being separated from the bonds of sin, evil, and death, that you are separated from your old life because of the perfect Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. So we, as followers of Christ, are supposed to continually celebrate the “feast” of the new Passover (Jesus). In other words, we’re supposed to celebrate our salvation and faith in Jesus by trying to lead holy and righteous lives every day. Our fasting has more to do with spiritually resisting temptation and daily leaning more on God’s strength and wisdom.
But what about Lent and the whole Lenten season? Aren’t we still supposed to abstain from something?
A Brief History of Lent
It’s true that fasting is extremely common throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, prophets and kings like Jehoshaphat commanded the Israelites again and again to fast for God’s protection and provision. People often fasted when they were sad or in distress.
Later, during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:16, He reminded the crowd how to fast correctly right after He said, “When you fast….” Notice His choice of words. Not if you fast, but when. Jesus clearly knew how powerful fasting is. It’s a wonderful way to grow closer to God.
Lent wasn’t mentioned until sometime between 130-200 A.D. by Father Irenaus in Lyons. He set it up to only last for three days. After some time, it extended into seven days. But by 325 A.D, the Council of Nicea, which was a council of Christian bishops based in the city of Nicea (now called Iznik, Turkey), was discussing a 40-day period of fasting leading up to Holy Week in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.
The 40-day season was eventually and unofficially adopted into practice by Pope Gregory sometime between 540 and 604 A.D. He moved the first day of fasting from the 40th Sunday of the year to a Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) so that there would be exactly 40 days of fasting, not including Sundays, leading up to Easter Sunday. Only Western, mainly Catholic, churches work this way. Eastern Orthodox churches have it set up differently.
The Nuts and Bolt of Fasting
There are many ways to fast. As far as I know, there is no one way to do it.
As it technically stands right now, we’re supposed to:
- Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
- Not eat until after 3:00 p.m.
- Not eat any meat, fish, or any animal products like dairy (cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc,)
There seem to be a few exceptions. Many churches are allowing their congregations to eat fish and have small snacks so that manual labor workers can keep up their strength. Some churches are also allowing their congregations to eat meat during the week (except Fridays), and they can be forgiven of eating dairy if they do something incredibly kind for someone.
Needless to say, the rules are rather relaxed and are often different depending on which church you’re in. It’s also dependent on whether or not you want to observe Lent at all since it’s not Biblically commanded. But if you do, you’re at least supposed to give up something.
You can give up something like chocolate or soda pop for a certain period of time (even social media). You can give up one meal each day or all meals one day a week. Or, you could go hard core and not eat at all for many days and drink only water. Whatever you choose to do, the main and most important idea of Lent remains: It’s about focusing on God and using His strength when Satan tries to tempt you so that you grow closer and more trusting in God.
For mortal people, that can be tough. Jesus, on the other hand, likely had an easier time of it. Not just because He’s God, but because He knew the right tools to use.
Four Tools Jesus Used and You Can Too
As you know, Jesus Himself dealt with temptation while He wandered the desert for the 40 days before His official ministry began. Satan personally took on that task and dueled with the Son of God instead of sending one of his little, winged demons to do it. I think it’s a pretty good assumption that Satan spared no energy in trying to bring Jesus down. He wanted Jesus’s power and position, after all.
Being clothed in humanity, Jesus knew it was possible for Him to give in to temptation. But He is also holy, which means that He did everything possible to stay tough and resist. It’s important to note that He didn’t do this with just pure and godly might, although He could have. Instead, there were a few powerful, Biblically-based tactics He used to successfully fight the enemy, ones you can use too when you fast during the Lenten season or anytime you fast for the Lord.
Here’s how He set the example for us.
1. Jesus Quoted Scripture
After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, Satan tempts a very hungry Jesus to use His power to turn stones into bread. But Jesus answers Satan by saying, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 8:3 that says,
“So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”
Notice that Jesus said, “It is written….” Quoting scripture back to Satan and his demonic forces is one of the most powerful weapons you can use when Satan attacks you. God’s word is always true and Satan knows it.
Remember, it’s called a sword for a reason.
2. Jesus Was Confident of His Power
Yes, he knew He was the Son of God, and He knew He had great power. So when Satan tempted Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple to prove His power and that angels would save Him, Jesus could have almost laughed it off. Instead, He said, “It is written again, you shall not tempt the Lord your God,” a reference to Deuteronomy 6:16.
Jesus didn’t have to try to figure out what would happen or question anything. He knew that because of His relationship to the Father that He had (and still has) great power. And now, because of His work on the cross and our own relationship with the Father, we have that same power over Satan and his demons. The trick is to remember that we have it. Christ’s strength lives within us and we can’t let Satan make us think or believe otherwise. He is a known liar, after all. So don’t forget you have this weapon in your arsenal.
3. Jesus Was Obedient to the Father
In Satan’s third temptation, he took Jesus to the top of a mountain and tried to convince Jesus to worship him in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus answers him saying, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only you shall serve.”
Again, Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verses 13 and 14 this time:
“You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take your oaths in His name. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples all around you (for the Lord your God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth.”
Even though Jesus may have been tempted to take back control of the earth from Satan (since he is the “ruler of this world,” see John 12:31), Jesus instead was steadfastly obedient to the Father, the one true God. We, as children of the Most High God, are also called to obedience in every area of our lives and to not trade our souls for all the kingdoms in the world. When we are obedient we will always experience victory and great blessing.
4. Jesus Leaned on the Father’s Promises
God promises to protect His sheep and to strengthen them when Satan attacks. Remembering His promises is essential so that you never lose hope and your faith can grow. Jesus knew that the Father had not forsaken Him, and neither should you.
Need a few promises to pull out of your pocket sometimes? Here are a few to place in your heart:
“When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; This I know because God is for me.” Psalm 56:9 NKJ
“My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJ
“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4 NKJ
“The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.” Psalm 34:7 NKJ
Lent is Not Just About Being Tempted
It’s so important to remember the true reason for Lent and fasting. It isn’t just a religious activity where you give something up for a while and then go back to it when it’s over. Lent is meant to be a time of focusing on God and drawing closer to Him as you lean on His strength to overcome temptation just as Jesus did. And it’s meant to be an opportunity to tangibly change negative attitudes and behaviors so that when Lent is over your heart is more oriented and open toward the Lord in an eternal way. Although observing Lent is not a commandment from God, it is a special chance to grow deeper in your faith.
It’s also meant to be an opportunity to tangibly change negative attitudes and behaviors so that when Lent is over your heart is more oriented and open toward the Lord in an eternal way. Although observing Lent is not a commandment from God, it is a special chance to grow deeper in your faith.
Fasting was how Jesus prepared His heart and mind for His ministry. It’s how He learned strength and unity with the Father. If it worked for Him, no doubt it will work for you too.
Do you observe Lent? Have you given something up to honor the Lord? How is this experience changing your heart and growing your faith? If you don’t fast for Lent, do you do something else to prepare for Easter and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ? Come share your comments with us.
If you’re a history geek like me, then you might be interested in reading more about the history of Lent and how it affects the Christian church today. Here are two great articles I found about it, one that’s written from the Catholic perspective and one that is not. Both are quite fascinating. At least I think so.
Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/beginning-of-lent.html
Catholic Education Resource Center: http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/history-of-lent.html