1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 (NKJV)
6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as [our fathers] also lusted… 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent. As I mentioned in my newsletter this week, Lent is a period of preparation like the season of Advent. It is time to anticipate the arrival of Easter and the glorious good news of new life as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection. As the historic acclamation declares, Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ shall come again.
So let us consider in the next few weeks what focusing on Christ’s death and resurrection teaches us. First, Lent serves as a reminder of the true severity of our sin and the reason for Jesus’ death on the cross. While we often treat our sin with a breezy familiarity, Jesus’ death on the cross forces us to reckon with its true gravity and pervasiveness. We simply cannot save ourselves but stand ever in need of Christ – in need of His substitutionary death on the cross for forgiveness and in need of His resurrection power for obedience.
This week for my OT Bible reading I was in the book of Numbers. Because of their sin and unbelief, our fathers were doomed to wander 40 years in the wilderness. While wandering, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram compounded this sin by organizing a mass demonstration against Moses and Aaron. They complained that Moses wasn’t being sufficiently democratic; that they should be able to perform the same duties as the priests. “You take too much upon yourselves,” they complained, “for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” Haven’t you ever heard of the priesthood of all believers, Moses? God didn’t look kindly on their protest and judged their rebellion, commanding the earth to swallow some of them alive and consuming others with fire.
One would think that our fathers’ response to God’s visible and powerful judgment would be contrition and repentance. But not so. “On the next day,” Moses writes, “all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the Lord.’” Rather than acknowledging the real cause of the calamity that had struck them – their persistent and ingrained sin and rebellion against God – our fathers chose to blame Moses and Aaron. “The calamity that struck Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was your fault, Moses and Aaron! You are to blame!” Because of this renewed sin, God acted in judgment once again – plague began to make its way through the camp. So Moses urged Aaron as the high priest to enter into the camp and to burn incense, intervening between God and the sinful people. Aaron listened to Moses, God listened to Aaron, and the plague was stopped.
This story reminds us of two things – two things that Lent was crafted to highlight. First, it reminds us of the ingrained and serious nature of sin. As Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). And this sin deserves the wrath and judgment of God for it is an attack on His Lordship and an affront to His holiness. Second, the story reminds us of the mercy which God has displayed in raising up a Great High Priest to stand between Him and His sinful people. Just as Aaron stood between God and Israel, interceding on Israel’s behalf, so Jesus stands between God and us, interceding on our behalf. Jesus stands between God and us, covering the guilt of our sin by His sacrifice and assuring us of God’s blessing rather than His curse. As we sing in the communion hymn:
“You who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great here [in the death of Christ] may view its nature rightly here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load, tis the Son the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.”
And so reminded of the seriousness of our sin but also of the greatness of God’s mercy in Christ, let us confess our sins to the Lord – our sins and the sins of our people – and seek the Lord’s forgiveness.