Meaning of Lent
and the Origin and History of Lent

What is the meaning of Lent? How did it start? Why is it 40 days?

Learning the origin and history of Lent from the bible will help you keep a true Lent.

The Biblical Number 40

In the bible, the number 40 (and 4, 400, 4000) is usually associated with chastisement, discipline, penance - which is often necessary when God wishes to use a people or leader for his purposes:

  • It rained 40 days and 40 nights when God destroyed the world by a flood.(Genesis 7:12, 17)
  • Moses was 40 years in the desert before God sent him back to Egypt to help deliver the people from slavery. (Acts 7:23, 30; Exodus 7:7
  • God punished his people to wander in the desert for 40 years for their sins. (Acts 7:36; Numbers 14:33))
  • Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days before his public mission. (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 1:14)
  • Jesus stayed on earth 40 days after his resurrection to finish his instructions to the apostles. (Acts 1:3)

Lent - 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting

3 great leaders of God's people performed a total fast of 40 days in union with God, because God wanted it. They were

  1. Moses (Exodus 34:28)
  2. Elias (1 Kings 19:8 [or, 3 Kings 19:8])
  3. Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 1:14)
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. After 40 days and nights, he was very hungry. Then the devil came to tempt him 3 times. The devil even quoted from the bible to deceive Jesus. Jesus overcame the devil by quoting the truth correctly from the bible.

Jesus shows us the importance of being prepared for the temptation through prayer and fasting, in order to get the power and strength from God, because in our own strength, the devil will be too clever and too powerful over us, and we will fall.

The First Followers of Christ

When Jesus was alive, the apostles did not always perform the religious ritual fast. They were very busy learning from Jesus, and they had a lot of walking to do, going between Galilee and Judea, which usually took several days to walk. And Jesus sent them on mission to go visit different towns, with no food or money. (Matthew 10:1, 5-15; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6)

They had plenty of inconveniences. For example, they were not received in one town (Luke 9:52-53); they were hungry on the Sabbath and plucked ears of wheat and ate the kernels - probably raw. (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1)

Jesus defended them from those who accused them of not fasting, but said when he was gone, they would fast. (Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-20, Luke 5:33-39)

The History of Lent in the Early Church

In memory of Christ's fasting and praying for 40 days before his public ministry, the early church devoted some time to the preparation of Easter, which was - and still is - considered the greatest feast in the church year.

The celebration of the birth of Christ was hardly observed, and is found in only 2 of the gospels (chapters 1 and 2 of Matthew and Luke) because the greater emphasis was put on our redemption and salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ, and the early years of Christ were only seen in light of his true purpose and mission in coming to earth.

During the time before Easter, special instructions in christian teaching were given to catechumens - believers who were not yet baptized - and then they were baptized during the special Easter Vigil Service held throughout the night before Easter.

And so, Lent was truly a preparation for a total commitment to Christ and his service. It was also a special time of annual spiritual renewal for those who had already become Christians.

Lent in the Church Now

Over the years, the ceremonial customs and observance dates and how many days in Lent may have changed, but substantially, it's still all there.

It's still a time, a season of repentance, penance, prayer, begging God's forgiveness and mercy, and putting into practice Jesus teaching how to get to heaven.

In many denominations, adult baptisms can occur year round, after a period of proper preparation, but some still occur at the Easter Vigil. Whether or not there are baptisms on Easter, the entire community - in many churches - makes a public renewal of their baptismal commitment to reject Satan and all his tricks, and follow Christ and his teachings, as the only way to heaven.

The Origin of Lent

Actually, God is the author of the first Lent. Jacob and his sons and their families had moved to Egypt because of a severe famine for 7 years. During hundreds of years and many generations - they were in Egypt exactly 430 years (Exodus 12:40-42) - they grew into a great multitude, having their own territory to raise their families and sheep.

Then came a wicked ruler, who put them all into slavery (exodus 1:8-22) This lasted for many decades - at least 80 years. God raised Moses to deliver them. The people cried out for deliverance. (Exodus 2)

At the word of Moses, and because the Egyptian ruler had a hard and cruel heart, God caused great and terrible plagues to afflict the Egyptians, 10 in all, before the wicked ruler finally freed the slaves and let them leave to go back to the promised Land. (Exodus chapters 3-12)

This period of slavery is a reminder of the purpose of Lent, how we are chained by sin and should cry out to God, obey his instructions, thank him for his miracles, especially for sending Jesus as our Savior, in order to be delivered from our sins.

What Finally Happened

The first time the Passover was celebrated, God gave instructions to Moses, and Moses then told the people, what to do to reach safety. It is called the Passover, commemorating how the angel of death in the 10th plague "passed over" and didn't kill the first born of the faithful Israelites who obeyed these instructions, and who then within days "passed over" the Red Sea bottom on dry land.

Finally, the wicked ruler in Egypt let them go. They were free to follow God back to their own country, going into a much better place. They didn't have to worry about getting whipped or tortured all the time, or even killed, at the whims of cruel slave drivers.

But, in his stupidity, the ruler did try to get his slaves back, and he and all the Egyptian army was drowned at the bottom of the Red Sea. Moses and the people sang a song of God's miraculous victory, and Miriam and all the women sang and danced and played tambourines in refrain. (Exodus 15:1-21) Thank God, they were free at last!

We know there were about 600,000 Israelite men, not counting women, children, people of different ancestry, animals, and possessions. (Exodus 12:37) There were probably 2-3 million total people saved, which is about the population of some states in the United States of America, and even some smaller countries in the world.

It was such a large group of people, that Moses, at the advice of his father-in-law Jethro, set up a system of hundreds of rulers and officials to keep them organized. (Exodus 18:13-26)

Freedom from the Worst Slavery

Just as the Israelites were saved from slavery to walk to the Promised Land, through the miraculous opening of the Red Sea by the hand of God, so we are saved - redeemed - from sin and bondage of the devil, to walk as followers of Christ - christians - to heaven, our heavenly country.

Slavery to people is bad. Slavery by sin to the devil is much, much worse.

The Example of Jesus

After 40 days of fast and prayer, Jesus overcame the temptations of the devil. Jesus never committed a sin in his life, never gave in to a single temptation.

But we are not only tempted by the devil, we are sinners, who fall into temptation, and commit all kinds of sins - things that God forbids, such as lying, stealing, cheating, murdering, cursing, etc.

How can we get out of sin? For us, Jesus took the guilt of our sin. Because he was both a sinless man and God, he alone was a perfect and fitting sacrifice to appease the anger and wrath of God against sinful mankind.

The True Meaning of Lent - A Better Sacrifice

Passover was the time Jesus died on the Cross, and 3 days later rose from the dead.

In the Old Testament Passover celebration, a lamb was sacrificed. Years before, God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, to test Abraham's obedience. God stopped Abraham in time, and Abraham offered a ram sheep instead. (Genesis 2:19)

God made clear instructions, to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that these sacrifices of sheep were to pre-figure the perfect sacrifice, when he would sacrifice his only son, and this time, he did not spare the life of his own son.

Christianity observes these Passover mysteries by observing the true paschal victim, not a sheep as of old, but Jesus himself.

Lent - A Preparation for the True Passover

Jesus himself is called the true "Passover", "Pasch", and "Paschal Sacrifice", and the Easter Season (Easter Sunday and the 9 weeks after) and its celebration are called the Paschal season, Paschal time, and Paschal celebration.

Lent is a fitting preparation for the celebration of these, the greatest christian mysteries. These great mysteries are celebrated during the last week in Lent, called Holy Week. It is the holiest week of the year.

And Easter has always been considered by all Christian churches as the greatest and most solemn feast of the entire year, just as the Old Testament Passover was.

In fact, every Sunday, in many christian rites and denominations, is considered a little mini-feast of the resurrection, so in a way, this celebration extends throughout the year.

Lent - A Preparation for Easter

The apostle Paul wrote that if Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17) Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection are the center and focal point of our faith.

If Jesus did not rise from the dead,

  • what he foretold would have been a lie,
  • when he claimed to be God, would have made him a fraud,
  • and his authority and teaching would become questionable.

The Meaning of Lent - A Preparation for Our Own Resurrection

The Apostle Paul says to live with Christ, we must die with Christ. (Romans 6:8; Colossians 2:20)

He also talks about dying daily. (1 Corinthians 15:31) We die to our own will, to sinful pleasures, we make a sacrifice of even good things, to gain much greater and better things.

Then, when we come to physical death, it will not be a dreadful punishment for sin, because Jesus took this horrible burden on himself. Yes, we may have to suffer a little bit, but it will soon be over in a "little while" (John 16:16-19) O death, where is your victory, O grave, where is your sting. (Corinthians 15:55)

The Ultimate Reward for a Good Lent

By making efforts to keep a true Lent, and keeping the spirit of Lent throughout the year, especially on Fridays, in memory of the first Good Friday, we can even look forward to a much better life, a much better world, a world filled with joy, happiness, adventure, unimaginable fame and fortune, you name it !!! because Jesus promised this.

Thank your stars, Christ brings to us true meaning in Lent, our Lenten practices are worth all the trouble, for he has saved and redeemed us, and opened the gates of heaven for us. It is now our duty to do what he says is required to receive his salvation and get to heaven.

Encouraging One Another

To be a follower of Christ is not always easy. Let us encourage one another, for Christ has promised it will truly worth it. Let us walk faithfully with Christ, and die daily with him, in order to rise body and soul with him from the dead, to enjoy everlasting life.

Let's learn how to keep a true Lent. Let's learn about the different Lent activities, prayer, fasting, alms for the poor, and other Lenten practices.

Go to What is Lent - Poems, Activities, and Special Days of the Lenten Season.

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