Are you one of those who is giving something up for Lent? While this has not been popular among Protestants, some Lutherans and many Roman Catholics follow this tradition that has its origin in the ancient Church. Often after years of instruction in the faith, adult catechumens underwent rigorous tests during the 40 days of Lent. This was especially true when the Church was under persecution. Personal sacrifices during Lent were used to test the commitment of adult catechumens in preparation for their baptism on Easter Sunday. Back then, it was understood that the baptism of water might well be a prelude to martyrdom by a baptism of blood. Over time, personal sacrifice during Lent by the baptized was viewed as an expression of solidarity with these Christian wanna-bes and has been associated with Lent ever since. The later tradition of fasting as a salutary expression of that sacrifice connected the forty days of Lent with the forty days in the wilderness when our Lord endured a fast after His baptism.
Also from the ancient world, when one was called upon to accept some grave sacrifice, perhaps even the offering up of one’s life, the expression was to drink from a bitter cup. And, sometimes, literally. Think of Socrates who accepted his own death sentence by drinking a cup of hemlock.
In the same sense, our Lord struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane over the cup His Father was poised to have Him drink—to offer up His body and blood as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world (Luke 22:42). You may recall a similar cup that the Lord God instructed Abraham to deliver to his only son, Isaac (Gen 22). How much would father Abraham be willing to sacrifice for the sake of His love of God? How about his only son? If we were to eavesdrop on our Lord in anguish in the Garden, we might well ask the same question: How much would God the Father be willing to sacrifice for the sake of His love of sinners such as each of us? How about His only begotten Son? With father Abraham and with God the Father, we see two cups—each filled with much passion. Two cups—but only one to drink.
We learn from Genesis 22 that the cup intended for Isaac was just a test for father Abraham. And, of course, Isaac is never told about the bitter cup ahead of time. He learns only when Abraham’s knife is poised; and then also, they both learn it was just a test. Isaac is to be spared. However, with God’s Son, our Lord Jesus, it was different. No test! He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all (Rom 8:32). Indeed, for us all. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).
Here again, played out on a hill in the mountains of Moriah not far from where Abraham first built his altar; 2000 years later, God would pass His bitter cup to His chosen son of Abraham—His own Incarnate Son. And also by contrast, as Jesus indicated to His disciples on three separate occasions; He saw it coming. Here in the garden, our Lord experienced incredible passion about The Passion. Luke reports that the intensity caused capillaries on Jesus’ forehead to burst causing Him to sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:24). Knowing in advance, the Son accepts the will of the Father so that while we were enemies of God, Jesus will drink the cup and die for us.
It was always the plan. It was always the cup.Before the foundations of the world (Eph 1:4), the Father destined to send His Son into the world to drink the cup of our salvation (Ps 116:13). It is a cup that will cause His blood to be poured out so that we might also be partakers of this cup. Dying to sin, and being raised up unto newness of life, we partake of the cup of blessing that we bless for the forgiveness of all our sins (I Cor 10:16).
Let’s return to the question: Are you giving something up for Lent? Let me encourage you to do so. But, what would be a fitting thing to give up, especially during the season of Lent? After passing the test, Abraham thought that sacrificing a nearby ram caught in a thicket would do just fine for the time being (Gen 22:13). What do you think would be a fitting sacrifice to give to the Lord? It is a tough question for two reasons. First, we do not have anything that He needs. And secondly, whatever we have that is worth anything, He gave us. On a rather mundane level, it has been popular to think about giving up for Lent some food you really enjoy. How about your favorite meat? Or (Lord forbid!), perhaps chocolate?
Let’s come at this a different way. I believe that there is one thing that our Lord wants all of us to give up all the time, but perhaps, especially during the penitential season of Lent. For Lent, He wants you to join Him in His passion as He walks to the cross. He is preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice for you and He wants you to sacrifice something to Him. What does He want? He wants you to sacrifice your sins. Give them up to Him with a broken and contrite heart because it is a sacrifice that He will not despise (Ps 51:17).
This is not some clean-up-your-act program. Rather, He wants you to give Him the guilt of your sins to make sacrifice for it, and in return to give you His righteousness. He will drink the cup of salvation so that your cup might be overflowing with the living water of your baptismal grace and the cup of blessing in His blood for the forgiveness of your sins.
During this Lenten Season, your Lord is preparing to sacrifice His body and blood as the perfect sacrifice for your sin. This is what He is preparing to give up for Lent. This is the bitter cup from His Father that He prepares to drink. It is the cup of salvation.
So, for this Lenten Season and all seasons, make the one acceptable sacrifice unto to the Lord as you prepare for His passion—the one thing He desires. Give Him your sins! Get passionate about His passion by giving up and giving over to Him your transgressions... that He may have them, that He may die for them, that He may drink this bitter cup on account of them. And then come to His table—to have His bread and the cup of blessing that we bless. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow... well, tomorrow will be like today. Tomorrow you live! Today, tomorrow, and forever.