Welcome to Lent this week. This 40-day event is central to our beliefs in Christianity leading up to the most amazing event in history, Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
A lot will happen in these 40 days – excitement, betrayal, learning, passion, grief, illumination. Buckle up for a story that the movies can’t out do.
But 40 days? Grab a calendar and start counting, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. When you cross 40 don’t be confused – it’s actually 46 days. By tradition the Sundays during Lent aren’t counted (but Easter is.) Subtract the next six Sundays leading up to Easter and you get your 40 days.
Sound odd? The Bible has always had a strange fascination with numbers – or at least some who delve deeply into numbers see some significance.
And that includes the actual Book of Numbers in the Old Testament. Ever read it? This is the continuing story of Moses and the Israelites after they escaped the Egyptians and wandered the desert of the Sinai. And yes, the book contains lots of numbers – census figures for the tribes (twice,) various heights and weights of official objects, etc.
The fancy term here is numerology, which by one definition is “the study of the meanings of numbers and their supposed influence on human life.”
Perhaps you believe that certain numbers have some influence over things. And if so then the Bible is definitely your book because it is filled with numbers and especially the SAME numbers. Surely the repeated use of certain numbers means SOMETHING?
Let’s start with that number 40. Quickly jog your brain – where have you heard that number before?
There’s the 40 days of Lent (even if it isn’t really 40.)
Remember Noah and the story of the flood? The voyage on the Ark lasted the famous 40 days and 40 nights.
We mentioned Moses and the Israelites above – they did their wandering through the desert for 40 years before finally being introduced to the Promised Land. And before that Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai waiting for the Ten Commandments – not like the famous movie where a commercial break helps to skip that long period of time. Can’t keep Charlton Heston waiting.
David, the greatest king of ancient Israel and revered by God, ruled the country for 40 years.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus traveled the wilderness for 40 days while being tempted by Satan. And after His resurrection Jesus spent 40 days with His friends before His glorious ascension into Heaven.
Gee, maybe there IS something to this numerology after all.
How about the number 12?
Of course with Jesus there were 12 disciples and later 12 apostles. But ancient Israel had its famous 12 tribes, 10 of whom disappeared (and we’re still “looking” for them.) And the number 12 figures in several places in the Book of Revelation.
There are 12 months in a year and 24 hours in a day (divided into two 12 hour periods of AM and PM.)
See how this can become rather consuming? We start looking for 12’s everywhere.
And Revelation is FULL of numbers and connections. There’s the famous 666, the “mark of the beast.” But some counter with 777 which some believe stands for the Holy Trinity and the importance of the three 7’s. Ever wonder why hitting those three 7’s on a slot machine means you just won BIG? You know, “lucky seven?” Hmmm…
Some say the number 7 is the perfect number. Math nuts know that it’s a prime number, meaning that it’s only divisible by one and itself and that’s a big deal. But there’s also secret agent James Bond who goes by the number 007 and in the movies he never loses…
OK let’s catch our breath. Maybe all of those numbers above have real significance – or maybe it’s only because people WANT them to have some significance in our never ending quest to find real meaning to life.
Somehow they believe there’s some super special formula or equation that just explains EVERYTHING. Scientists have been seeking this equation for centuries, a simple definition of why we’re here and how it all happened.
So far God hasn’t tipped His hand to show us. But they’ll keep on looking, one of the hallmarks of science and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Instead of getting caught up in a maze of numbers that may indeed just be a maze of numbers, with no real connection to anything, let’s concentrate on just two numbers as we begin our Lenten observance.
There’s the number 3. That of course stands primarily for the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We could mention that Christ was tempted three times by Satan in that desert, or the three times that Peter denied even knowing Jesus on the night of His arrest.
Instead let’s concentrate on the Trinity and watch how all three figure into the Lenten story over these next few weeks. See how they interact together – Jesus heals the sick with the help of the Holy Spirit. God’s power is revealed on many occasions, from feeding the five thousand to the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
And the resurrection of Jesus? All three are there. Let’s use the fancy French term coup de grace, the final stroke that cements the victory over death and the promise of eternal life for all who believe.
The Holy Triumverate worked together at every stage. It reminds us that nothing is beyond their reach, one in three and three in one.
And then there’s that number 1. One God, the Father, the Almighty, straight from the Nicene Creed. Maker of all things. On whom we can always depend…
“In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge,
to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.” – Psalm 71:1-4 NIV
But YOU are also an important ONE – one person among God’s great creation but still as special as any other. Not more important but not less important either. Just IMPORTANT in God’s eyes.
In difficult times like these we are reminded that God is our ultimate refuge, a place of safety that’s always there. But there’s also the responsibility we are given to help others, in any way possible. Just as the Lord is our rock, so we can be as well to others…
”I have become a sign to many;
you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
declaring your splendor all day long.” – Psalm 71:7-8 NIV
During this Lenten season let us look for those opportunities to praise God for His many blessings, and to be that beacon to those struggling right now. Whether if you do 40 special things for each day of Lent, or just always keep your eyes open for chances to make a positive mark, you could be the refuge for another. ONE person making a difference.
So go ahead and run the numbers, do the calculations, study the figures. And worship this Lenten season with a mouth filled with praise, declaring God’s splendor and glory all day long. When you do, to paraphrase the famous movie line, the odds (the numbers) will always be in your favor…
From George Churchgoer