Friday, April 22, 2011

Why I celebrate the Holy Week

I often get asked if evangelical Christians celebrate Lent or the Holy Week. I would answer, yes, we remember and meditate upon Jesus' suffering, but we don't do the rituals and ceremonies associated with the season. Nevertheless we treat the Holy Week as an occasion to look back at the most glorious display of God's love for mankind: Jesus Christ dying for sinners such as us.

Sadly many people miss the point of the Holy Week entirely: they think that by fasting, by not eating meat on Fridays, by reciting prayers, or even by flagellating themselves, they can earn plus points in heaven.

As has always been pointed out in Scripture, God primarily looks at the heart, not the external observance of traditions. In the gospels, for example, Jesus compares the pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).

The self-righteous pharisee boasts of not having committed gross sins, fasting twice a week, giving tithes of everything that he gets. Meanwhile, the tax collector prays far away, possibly because of shame—he is a tax collector, after all, someone who's despised, almost as a criminal. He can't even look at the heavens and is sorrowful for his sins. In the end, though, God favors and justifies the tax collector. The pharisee's manner of worship is external, motivated by pride. The tax collector, however, worships God with humility, knowing that apart from God's mercy, he is nothing. This theme reverberates throughout Scripture.

This is why the gospel is so offensive to people: it's a slap in the face for people who think they can earn their way to heaven. The gospel, which is central to the Christian message and which should be the sole reason for celebrating the Holy Week, speaks against man working for his salvation. For isn't it true that all men are sinners (Romans 3:23) and are therefore spiritually dead? And common sense tells us that dead people can't do anything much, more so resurrect themselves from this death. Men must be given life, or as John 3:7 puts it, must be "born again." This life is only through Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son (John 3:16).

His dying on the cross for our sins isn't something we deserve at all. He did it out of His love. On the cross He willingly died for our sins to satisfy the judgment of a holy God; as a result, we are forgiven our sins and are given eternal life, forever saved from damnation. Because of this new life in Him, we can now live to please and glorify Him. Good works, then, are the result of, not the means for, salvation.

May you find the real meaning of the gospel message by remembering and studying what Jesus has accomplished on the cross.

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