Eternal Savior Lutheran Church

A member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

2688 North Park Drive
Lafayette, CO 80026
303-665-6105
» Get directions

Ash Wednesday – February 22nd, 2012 – A Call To Repentance

Introduction: Grace be to you and peace, from God our Father, and from our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text is the Epistle Lesson just read, from 2 Cor. We begin with prayer.

Dear fellow disciples of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ:

  • There is a convergence between what God declares to His people through the prophet Joel, and what Jesus taught in our Gospel reading:

“’Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

  • The opposite of this is what Jesus warns against in the Gospel reading, and it is in reality a very wicked and wretched thing, displaying our “religiosity” publicly so as to “impress” others with how “righteous” we are. This is a matter of external behavior and posturing, superficial and hypocritical, and does nothing in regard to what God is truly concerned about, and that is our “heart-condition.”
  • So, all of this is really a very existential matter, a matter of the heart, who we really are and how we are going to relate to God, whether in brutal honesty and integrity, or in hypocrisy and dishonesty. It is clear what is important to God, and what He knows to be important also to the quality of our being, our spirit, our inner life. This is a matter of His great love for us, and He is “abounding in steadfast love,” for He is concerned that we be healthy in our hearts and minds, our inner being – and this requires honesty, truthfulness, and integrity. And so:

I. God’s Call To Us Is Away From Self-Righteousness And Self-Reliance – Which Is Enmity Against God And Hypocrisy

Gospel: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father Who is in heaven.”

Statement:

  • What strikes human beings as perfectly reasonable and logical is that “godliness” is an external thing, what a person is doing, what can be “seen by other people.” This is especially helpful in the little game we like to play of elevating ourselves above others and asserting that we are “superior” to them. We believe that if we can establish this “superiority” over others, that this will also “commend us to God.” In reality, just the opposite is true – those who do this “will have no reward from your Father Who is in heaven.”

Application:

  • What strikes us as completely unreasonable, illogical, and even deadly is “pleading guilty” to God and others. We know how others will treat us if we admit our guilt, and we assume that God will do the same. So we feel compelled to engage in this superficial and hypocritical “religious” behavior to “prove” our righteousness. Unfortunately, it is just this hypocrisy, dishonesty, lying, and deceiving which is unreasonable, illogical, and deadly – and God will have no part of it. In fact, He finds it abominable and promises even greater punishment to those engaged in this rebellious idolatry against Him! For it is as the apostle John states it:

1 John 1:8,10 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. . . . If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

Transition: So God calls us away from this rebellion and hypocrisy, not for our death and destruction, but in love for us, so that we might “return to Him.” For:

II. God’s Call Is To His Gracious Redemption – His Gracious Mercy, Forgiveness, Pardon, And Peace In Christ Jesus

Text: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Statement:

  • This is a completely different kind of “righteousness” that we are to embrace – not our own “righteousness,” but rather “the righteousness of God.” It is provided for us in Christ – through Whom God has reconciled us to Himself, “not counting our trespasses against us.” God has actually made Christ “to be sin for us.” Now we have become totally and perfectly “righteous” in Christ! God is reconciled toward us – and this is exactly what Joel proclaimed about God:

“Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

Application:

  • So, to return to God, to embrace His gracious mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus, to rejoice in His reconciliation and His gift of “righteousness” in Christ Jesus, this is to be “reconciled to God.” On the other hand, to engage in the hypocrisy of self-righteousness, which seems so reasonable and logical to us, is utter rebellion against God. In fact, to reject this great gift which God has given to us in His beloved Son, His whole suffering and death on the cross, is really bitter hatred and rejection of God! And so the invitation:

“Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

“Be reconciled to God.””

Transition: One of the saddest realities of human life is that there are so many who reject this love of God, and refuse to be reconciled to Him. One of the reasons for this is that they object to God’s messengers, the servants of His Word, and so we must understand that:

III. God Calls Us To His Redemption Through A Humble And Despised Ministry Of His Word – So We Must Take Care Not To Reject Him By Despising The Appeal Of His Servants, As Hypocrites Do. Rather, We Should Be Genuine In Our Devotion To God

Text: “Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. . . . as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

Statement:

  • This is a rather bizarre description of those who are “servants of God” – we might expect them to appear more socially acceptable and prominent. But they are as people found Jesus Christ Himself to be – and they are rejected for the same reasons as He was. Indeed, people judge themselves to be more “righteous” than the servants of God, just as they judge themselves to be more “righteous” than Jesus, and so they “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” so to speak.

Application:

  • But just as the call of God is to humility, so He uses humble, weak, and easily despised people to do His bidding, to be His ambassadors, to make His appeal to us. So let us take care not to reject Him by rejecting His servants.

Conclusion:

  • The message of God, the appeal of His love to human beings, to return to Him in repentance, and to take comfort and solace in His gracious love, mercy, and forgiveness, has been the same from the beginning.
  • The “servants of God” throughout the ages have also been much the same – unremarkable people who simply appeal to their fellow human beings “not to receive the grace of God in vain.”
  • Those who come to God have also been much the same – whether rich or poor, privileged or common; they have forsaken self-righteousness and self-reliance in repentance and humility, and have humbly taken refuge and great joy in God’s wondrous love and salvation in Christ Jesus. I pray that each and every one of us are among them! Amen.

Votum: And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in the true faith, which is in Christ Jesus, even unto life everlasting, Amen.