Despite its focus on repentance, Lent is no exception to the gracious focus of all Scripture—Jesus Christ himself. Scripture is always about redemption.
How should we read Scripture in Lent?
Before we look at that question, we have to lift a few burdens.
- First, not all of us are expert Bible scholars, and that’s okay. As the Church Father Tertullian said, “Your faith has saved you, not your skill in the Scriptures.”
- Second, the Bible’s main purpose is actually not to be a collection of moral tales that help us cope with life, although it does provide that.
- Third, the Bible that we use has numbered chapters and verses so that we can find specific places. However, it is not intended to be broken down into minute, numbered lines that overwhelm us.
Having lifted those burdens, we can be free to engage with the Bible in the way the Holy Spirit inspired it.
The story of the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24 is one place to start. Here Jesus goes through all of the Old Testament, Moses, and the Prophets to show how they reveal him. That’s right, the Old Testament’s purpose is to reveal Jesus Christ!
John 3:16 is really the key to all of Scripture:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
We will not always understand all of the details of Scripture, and there are many confusing places. But the main point of the Bible is to prepare the world for the coming of Christ, to reveal that coming, and to call all men to salvation in him.
For an example of how the Bible works, consider the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.
Joseph can be read as a moral tale of patience, trust, and humility. And it is useful to see it that way, but to only see it that way misses the main point. To get a handle on the big picture, let’s review Joseph’s story.
He is loved by his father but misunderstood and resented by his brothers. He is put in the ground, left for dead. He is falsely accused and put again in the ground in jail. Then, by a miracle, he is raised up to the King’s right hand. He uses his position of power not to destroy his brothers, but to save them. In fact, he saves his own Hebrew family, along with the Egyptians, by storing up and distributing grain to everyone. He places his family in a safe place in Egypt, along with the Egyptians.
Jesus is loved by the Father, but his own people and all people misunderstand him. He comes to the earth but is misunderstood, resented, and finally crucified and buried. By a miracle of God he is raised up and seated at God’s right hand. But instead of using his power to destroy us, he uses it to save us. Jew and Gentile, together living in reunion with God and each other. He provides for us from the storehouses of his grace.
The Holy Spirit inspired Scripture, so these historical stories are true, though they are related to us through the People of God and the language and culture of their day. Not all the details directly relate in every way. And yet they are given to us to prophetically reveal God’s love for us through the incarnate Son.
The Bible is our family history—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
It’s all there, and Scripture doesn’t hide from the truth. But also there is God’s intervention in our history, bringing about reconciliation from alienation. The individual stories of each human being (ours too!) intersect with the family history of the human race, and all flow back to Jesus Christ.
Lent is no exception to the gracious key to Scripture.
Paul wrote that there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Jesus came to save us, not to condemn us. Lent, though focused on repentance, is a time of grace, no less than any other time. And reading Scripture in Lent is a continued reading of the story of grace.
We bear fruit when we experience these stories in light of the big story, allowing the love of God to be told to us again and again. We are transformed when the Holy Spirit opens our ears to truly hear and believe that God does indeed love, forgive, and heal us. And when we listen to the stories of those around us, and tell them the story of God’s love, they are called from estrangement from God’s family back to restoration and peace through Christ.
To learn more about Lent, check out our book: Lent: The Journey from Ash Wednesday through Holy Week, edited by Greg Goebel and Joshua Steele, with a Foreword by Tish Harrison Warren.