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February 25, 2024

For Lent, I’m Laying My Sins on Jesus

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7

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So, what did you give up for Lent this year? Did you give up anything at all? It’s okay if you didn’t, I didn’t either. But perhaps you’re like me and wonder, “what’s the big idea behind Lenten sacrifice anyway?” For many, Lent is giving up some indulgence—like candy, greasy food, or even red meat—for 40 days. Conversations often start with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Sadly, the emphasis too often becomes a distortion of Lent. Some churches even put orders in place concerning what to give up for Lent—no red meat on Fridays, etc. And with a lack of focus and misplaced priorities, Lent can become a short-term diet or counseling exercise, a focus on the regiment of people’s deeds rather than on the perfect record of Christ’s deeds lived for us. Lent to many can become a glorified detox, all of which begins with the hedonistic chase of gluttony beginning on the famous Carnival, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, whatever you call it. In other words, many miss the point of Lent, for they don’t see it as the valuable time to focus on Christ and his suffering and death. That’s the essential element of Lent. Lent sharpens our focus on what God has given to us through the cross of Christ.  It all starts when the law of God brings into stark view what has caused his bloody death: our sins. We bow our heads as the publican in the temple did and pray, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But Lent does not leave us in anguish and hopeless fear. The gospel raises our eyes to the cross where we see that Jesus has paid fully for our sins. Jesus said, “It is finished.” Like the publican we go home with the comfort that we are justified—loved and forgiven by God because of Jesus. We offer God our praise and are filled with a renewed desire to serve him as dear children. So, continuing in the season of Lent, I would like to focus on this theme, “For Lent, I’m Laying My Sins on Jesus.”

(We Pray…)

So, one could say that if you’re going to give something up for Lent, giving up sin would be a good idea. But is that idea even possible? Though we have been given a new man through baptism, our sinful flesh does not disappear from our lives. To put it this way, though we are children of God, we are very much like children. And as children we find out that God’s law, what He expects us to do and what commands us to avoid, accuses us daily for careless failures as well as for unloving and defiant disobedience. Sin still lives within us. Like Paul we know, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

So, to say, “I’m giving up sin for Lent” may not be the most realistic way to put it, for Paul showed us the somber reality of it. Though in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul seems to tell his congregational audience to stop sinning. He tells them to abound more and more in their walk towards God. He refers them to commandments that He, God’s apostle, charged them with. He tells them that they should focus on their sanctified life by staying away from sexual immorality, by respecting their own bodies and their wedded relationships with their spouses, by throwing passion and lust away, and by not taking advantage of one another and defrauding one another as if this world were all about out witting your neighbors in a game of survival of the fittest. And Paul also tells them moreover that there is no trickery or way to justify this behavior, for the Lord is the avenger of all such things. The Lord hates sin knows every sin and will one day punish the evildoer. Bottom line, there was no hiding it, God would see their sins and call them out for what they are.


And so, that’s a stern command and warning. But like telling a cancer patient “don’t have cancer or else!” Is Paul really demanding the impossible: stop sinning? Paul urged and exhorted, he gave commands, and he calls our attention to the teaching that we should live in holiness and avoid uncleanness. But instead of trying to make excuses to sin every once in a while, like Mardi Gras, only to work it off later during Lent, Paul gives a solid basis for his charges to the Thessalonians and all Christians: “We urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus…you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus…God called you through the Gospel to sanctify you. So, yes, a better way to put it is not, “For Lent, I’m giving up sin…” but “For Lent, I’m laying my sins on Jesus.”

And so, we have seen that we are forgiven children but still disobedient—saints and sinners at the same time. So, instead of making up ways to give up sin for Lent, let us return to the gospel—the Savior’s cross—for forgiveness and strength to renew our efforts to be the children God has made us. We cannot earn his love and acceptance. Peter stumbled miserably trying to do this, and so did all the other disciples as they fled into the night at Gethsemane. But Jesus embraced them in forgiveness. That forgiveness made them ready to serve. Reminders of his forgiveness sustained them in the years ahead as they, like us, struggled to live as disciples and children of God. Each Lenten season, we come to the cross, humbled by our sins but then rejoicing that God has done what we could not do even after we know Jesus. Only the cross brings forgiveness and strength to live as God’s children. And so, here’s where we lay our sins on Jesus rather than think that we can find power in ourselves to stop sinning. The cross of Jesus is the only source of true power to continue as a follower of Jesus. Nothing we make up can accomplish that power. This is why, when giving encouragement, Paul refers to Jesus rather than man’s own heart for strength. But how do we know that Jesus is the certain solution. What is it about Him that works in all people? What is it that motivates us while we are alive to proclaim His name? Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” He is the only way to provide the light which pierces the gloom and despair in our hearts. During this time of lent, where it can seem like a dark and gloomy time, Jesus provided the proof that He is the light of the world. When He tread His weary passion journey, taking upon Himself the cup of suffering His Father sent Him to drink, He did the works of His Father by working to keep perfect obedience in our place. He trudged up to calvary to provide the once for all sacrifice which paid for all our sins. And so, when we sing this season the Lenten hymn, “On My Heart Imprint Thine Image,” Picture this: the burnt bulb of sin is being removed from our hearts, and in its place the Holy Spirit fastens a new one. One shaped like a cross. It beams forth, shining out and casting away the darkness, and in florescent light says, “I, the light of the world, Jesus Christ, have saved you from sin’s plight.”

And so, back to the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” If you think that giving up something for Lent makes you worthy of forgiveness and God’s approval, your picture is blurred. That is like saying to yourself, “For Lent, I’m going to trust in myself as hard as I can to give up sinning.” When this happens, your vision shifts from the cross and God’s undeserved gift. But if you give something up for Lent so that you can think more often and more clearly about what Christ has done, there is no distortion. The whole point is to focus on Christ and His work done for us on calvary’s cross as our life, our hope’s foundation, our glory, and our salvation. The whole point is focusing on Christ alone. The whole point is the basis which Paul gives the Thessalonians to refrain from sin and serve God in their sanctified walks, and that basis the Lord Jesus. The basis is not our self-acclaimed confidences which say, “For Lent, I’m going to stop sinning,” but our God given confidence, “For Lent, I’m laying my sins on Jesus.”

And so, when we think that we can offer God anything for the gift of the cross, it is like trying to buy gold with play money. No matter how much we have, it will never be enough. Therefore, Lent helps us focus not on what we can do for God, but on the gold of forgiveness, life, and salvation that God freely gives to all sinners. That’s a Lutheran emphasis. When we understand this, we come back to the cross for comfort and strength, not just at Lent, but regularly in our worship throughout the church year.

And in conclusion, I like the way Paul approaches the way in which we view our sanctified lives as Christians. His approach demonstrated with the Thessalonians is a great example. It is a wise pastor that can make a heartfelt pat on the back precede a necessary correction, and that is what Paul does for the Thessalonians and all believers of all time. The apostle bases his admonitions and warnings entirely upon the doctrine which he had just laid before them. He entreats them in the Lord Jesus, on the basis of whose redemption and for whose sake all Christians endeavor to lead such lives as are in conformity with their calling, such lives as will please the Lord. The Thessalonians had learned from the apostle and his companions in just what way they should conduct themselves in the various situations of life, just how they should arrange their lives through the light of the cross of Christ. Since, however, a Christian is always in the making and never attains to ultimate perfection in this life, therefore the apostle begs and entreats that they should aim to excel ever more in their Christian life. And so, how does one do that? Is it by leaning on oneself this Lenten season and beyond, saying, “I’m giving up sin for Lent?” No. But by leaning on Jesus for repose and saying, “For Lent and beyond, I’m laying my sins on Jesus that I may be forgiven and made a child of God.” Amen.