By millroadchurchsw19, Feb 16 2015 09:16PM
Two sermons preached on 15th February 2015, three days before the start of Lent.
The morning sermon was on the general purpose of a Church Year and how we can justify Lent as a time to teach the doctrine of holiness rather than as a time to multiply superstitious practices and absurd fasts.
The evening sermon looked at Matthew 4:1 and Jesus being led away by the Spirit in the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. The sermon concentrated on how satan is dangerous and not to be played with like a toy by setting ourselves up with Lenten temptations. God provides us by the Spirit to undergo many trials which are prepared most suitably for our sanctification.
The text of the morning sermon is available to read. See below.
The evening sermon can be heard as a video here, but do appreciate that the sound not the picture is the better quality.
Notes used in preparing MORNING SERMON:
Lent Sermon - for Sunday before Lent and 1st Sunday in Lent - Temptation
Here is a question? How holy are you?
Is there anything you have tried to make you more holy?
Lent starts this year next (or last) Wednesday - 18th February. Lent is a time for teaching Christian holiness.
Lent is much misunderstood and some explanation is needed. Typically Lent is so abused with superstitious practice that most serious churches have dropped it completely. Isaiah 58 serves as a warning about unholy fasting.
We will consider:
First, that Lent, draws our attention to the existence of the Church Year and alerts us to the importance of using the Church Year properly and profitably. Two main points under this subject are that the Church Year is primarily a teaching Calendar, not a Calendar of festivals, holy days or holidays. Second, we must remember that these teachings apply all year, not just in the period in which they are taught.
Second, we need to know the means by which Lent may be used profitably to encourage a holy life. Lent may be used profitably to encourage a holy life through teaching the biblical doctrine of sanctification or holiness. This is to encourage the use of regular public worship and private concentrated devotions and the correct use of the everyday activities of life, again, throughout the whole year.
1. Lent highlights the fact of the Church Year. We note first that the Church Year is largely an invention of man. Anything not invented by God is not necessarily wrong but it can be dangerous. So the Church Year needs to be used carefully to be profitable rather than a hindrance.
For example, being a period of forty days, the season of Lent is a lengthy one in the Church Year and so it stands out. In fact it is such a long time that it has a dangerous tendency to take on a peculiar life of its own and even to usurp the true doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as we will see later.
Origin of the Church Year
How did this Church Year come about?
Why have a Church Year at all if it isn't commanded? First, the year is a natural part of creation. The world goes round in circles in years and seasons. Like the family the seasons make up the backbone of society. The year determines the most fundamental industry of all, farming, and so inevitably forms a pattern of life for the whole of society.
Second, the Christian Church inherited something of a Church Year from the Old Testament and did not seek to overthrow it. Thus the Sunday became the Sabbath, Passover became Easter. Pentecost saw the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Third, the Bible commands that churches are orderly. Everything is to be done decently and in order. Thus there are term times and holidays. Rather than having conferences and events every 11 months or every 13 months they are held annually so that people can keep their diaries clear. Annual events are easy to remember and so a Church Year may be very naturally be used to advantage.
The Church Year is especially helpful in ensuring that no fundamental Christian doctrine is neglected for too long. Interestingly the year starts at the beginning of December with Advent and the hope of the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Major themes then are The Virgin Birth, the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and The coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. Finally there is Trinity Sunday teaching the heart of the vital doctrine of God. The second half of the year half from around June to November is divided up into about 25 weeks after Trinity Sunday where there is plenty of time to emphasise other doctrines and Christian duties.
Interestingly most churches that reject the traditional Church Year create their own year by marking various anniversaries such as New Year, the Protestant Reformation and Church or Pastor’s Anniversaries. We are to remember the past rather than forget it. We are to put our past sins behind us but we are not to forget God's past mercies toward us, for they endure forever. Churches remember the World Wars on Remembrance Sunday. We should remember the Protestant Reformation. Should martyrs be forgotten?
What is important is that if a Church Year is used it is only used as far as it is helpful and that any false traditions are removed.
A word of caution. No days except Sundays can be demanded as Sabbaths. It is not shopping on Christmas Day that should offend the Christian conscience but rather the taking up shopping, sports and our own thoughts on the Sunday Sabbath of the Lord. Exodus 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Scriptural support for the year:
After Noah's Flood: Genesis 8:20 And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. (Genesis 8:22)
God has given these seasons as a covenant remembrance that after Noah's Flood he will not curse the earth again. The seasons of the year are not to be treated as secular but as part of God’s creation and a reminder of his special care towards us.
Psalm 1:1Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night 3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The seasons are used here to illustrate a life that is fruitful in so far as a person depends on God.
Revelation 22:1And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: 4And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. 5And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
Here we see that heaven is even described as having seasons with different fruit each month. While the one great theme is Jesus Christ, both heaven and The Christian Year are rich with the godly variety of changing seasons.
Jesus indicates the wonderful variety in biblical teaching in Matthew 13:52, “Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.”
So how does Lent fit into the Calendar?
The origin of the forty days of Lent is that it was originally invented to prepare people for Easter.
Lent is somewhat of an imitation of the forty days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness that the Lord Jesus undertook. Why should Christians seek to emulate that miracle or any other? Indeed by definition we cannot emulate miracles.
Also the Lord underwent this temptation at the start of his ministry, not the end, so having Lent just before Easter does seem a little strange. Add to this the fact that there is nothing in the Bible to even require an Easter remembrance never mind a 40 day preparation period and we might well ask why Lent still exists in the Reformed worship of our Prayer Book. Simply the Reformers threw out the superstitions and replaced it with biblical preaching as we have heard in the Commination Service.
Which brings us to our second point:
We need to know the means by which Lent may be used profitably to encourage a holy life.
Lent may be used profitably to encourage a holy life through teaching the biblical doctrine of sanctification or holiness. This is to encourage the use of regular public worship and private concentrated devotions and the correct use of the everyday activities of life, again, throughout the whole year.
First, Biblical Teaching on Holiness. The Reformed version of Lent is to use the time as a time for teaching Christian holiness, not a time for false rituals such as ashes on foreheads and giving up chocolate. As Easter is no the only time to preach the cross and resurrection so Lent is not the only time to preach holiness but it is retained so as not to be forgotten.
That this biblical approach is the genuine Anglican one is quite clear from the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book follows the Church Year or Calendar which largely remembers various key events.
Before the Protestant Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, the Church Year had become debased through rituals and superstitions. There was such a multiplication of saints and holy days, that there was not enough time for necessary work and so poverty and hardship were inevitable. This was part of the reason why Roman Catholic nations were left behind the more prosperous Protestant nations. The difference between Protestant North America and Roman Catholic South America shows this difference as does the difference between Protestant Northern Europe and Roman Catholic Southern Europe.
It is important to note that at the Reformation, the Church of England reformed rather than removed the Church Year. Superstitious rituals and many saints days were removed but rather than removing the whole Calendar, biblical teaching was introduced and strengthened. See Article 22 on page 620 of the BCP, Cambridge edition.
Thus the Reformed Church Year removed superstition and reformed the teaching along true biblical lines.
It is therefore very important to understand that any doctrine taught in a particular season is not taught as exclusive to that season. Thus the moderation taught in Lent is not only to be practised in Lent but throughout the whole year. “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” Philippians 4:5 is taught in view of being ready for the Lord’s return, not for 40 days of the year.
Therefore the extreme Lenten fasts and exercises reminiscent of are prohibited. Works of supererogation are false and blasphemous! See Article 14 on page 616 of the BCP, Cambridge edition.
It is a mockery of the Bible to partition off individual doctrines into small parts of the year. Rather the principle of the Reformed Church Year is to encourage all doctrines to be taught regularly each year at certain points so that they might be practised all year, every day. St Paul said in Ephesians 20:27, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” These doctrines, "the whole counsel of God", are to be believed and applied to the Christian life all year round, not just at the season in which they are taught. Thus, the fact that Christ came into the world to save sinners is not just taught on Christmas Day but every day. Likewise when St Paul wrote "we preach Christ crucified" (1 Corinthians 1:23) he definitely did not mean that he preached it once a year at Passover or Easter but rather that he preached it all year round. How else could he say in Galatians 6:14, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” How could he say that if he did not preach the cross all the year around?
Lent appears to have been introduced simply as a period of preparation before Easter. This implies that Easter was thought to be so holy that some long preparation of personal holiness was necessary in order that people were fit come to Easter celebrations.
We must reject such a notion as quite alien to biblical truth. Of course people should be holy at Easter but the Bible commands us to be holy all the time. So Leviticus 11:44 commands "Be ye holy" even in the manner of eating and does so on the grounds of verse 45 "For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." Peter quotes these very verses applying them to Christians in 1 Peter 1:15 “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." As in Leviticus, Peter is writing of the need to be holy on the widest and fullest and deepest sense.
Now by all means take a season of the year to teach this holy imperative. But never think that some petty activity like putting ashes on your forehead or going without chocolate will so strengthen your will power that you will be holier and holier.
In fact such ideas are most likely based on false teaching. Three of these false teachings are 1, Freewill, 2, Justification by works , and 3, Mysticism
First, Freewill. Behind the Lent activities often lies the idea that human effort can make us fit for heaven.
A second error that brings about much of the Lenten craze is the belief in justification by works. In fact such a false doctrine is not so much taught but is rather the default position when there is ignorance of the true biblical doctrine which is justification by faith alone. This is not exactly the same as the belief of freewill but is invariably connected.
Rather Justification by Faith is the great news that the prophets new but the exact means they hardly new. So 1 Peter 1 on the prophets.
Justification by faith turns mourning to dancing. It turns fasting into feasting as Zechariah 8:19, "Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace."
This does not mean that there is no place for solemnity among Christians. We are commanded "be sober, be vigilant." 1 Peter:5:8 "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:"
Which brings us to a third error concerning Lent which is mysticism.
Yoga is used by many as exercise to stretch the body to avoid illness. However Yoga is a part of Hinduism and falsely claims to be the way to God-like achievements and status. This is what is known as mysticism. It is so absurd that most yoga teachers avoid fully teaching this part of it.
Yet Lenten practise is also taken very seriously by some. Having assumed they have sufficient Freewill and without the knowledge or experience of Justification by Faith, they are forced to seek a mystical approach like yoga to reach a supposedly enlightened state. There is thus Christian Mysticism. Like Hindu Yoga, Christian Mysticism seeks by various practices to reach God.
Thus the great fact toward which Lent was supposed to point, the Cross and Resurrection of Easter, is completely missed!
Easter itself is an extension of the Passover when the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, dead and buried and on the third day he was risen from the dead. Through faith in his blood sins are passed over as they were at the Exodus. In a sense his resurrection is marked every Sunday and indeed every day of the year the Christian says with St Paul "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20.
To go back to try to reenact the forty day fast of Christ smacks of MYSTICISM.
Freewill, Justification by Works and Mysticism are then three great failings of Lenten exercises.
The Church Year is useful if used properly.
The Collect for the first Sunday in Lent mentions abstinence but this should not be taken as some voluntary abstinence to be practised during lent. Any set prayer used at any season, is not to be thought of as applying only to that season.
Note also the fastings of 2 Corinthians 6:5 are not self imposed but are part of the suffering of the Christian life.
But how we fall short in our suffering trials!
Then in Matthew 4:1 we see Jesus who, even after the hardest deprivation, resists evil and behaves sinlessly.
So the lessons are not the outward one of abstaining from chocolate or putting ashes on foreheads. Rather there is a spiritual work from God.
The Bible commands Christians to be holy all the time. Growing in holiness is primarily about being close to God. So Peter quotes Leviticus 11:44, "Be ye holy for I am holy". (1 Peter 1:16). This is the whole theme of 1 Peter which was written to Christians facing trials.
Holiness is not just for the forty days of Lent but for every day. Lent is as good a time as any for ministers to preach on the subject - in fact as Lent is so misused it is a good time to preach holiness - but don't encourage people to go about futile abstinence from good things as if that is making them holy. Abstain from sin and always abstain from sin. By all means use Lent to teach holiness for the whole year.
We have used the old Church of England service called the Commination that is useful to be used on such occasions . It is hard to imagine the liberal ecumenical church of today using such words. The main exhortation is an especially beautiful compilation of Bible passages calling people to faith and repentance, which is where all holiness begins.