Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
February 13, 2013 – Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17, II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
From the book of the Prophet Joel:
“Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
From St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians:
We beseech 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.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the 40-day period of preparation for Easter Sunday. The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness and are a sign of humility. Lent is a penitential season marked by prayer, fasting, and abstinence. This fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance, however, it is also a call for us to take stock of our spiritual lives.
The righteousness of the Pharisees during the time of Jesus has quite often been brought into question as being insincere and dishonest. It was thought that they practiced their religion for the applause of men, not for the reward of God. But true righteousness must come from within. We all need to test ourselves from time to time to see whether we are sincere and honest in our Christian commitment.
The Pharisees were known for their giving alms to the poor, praying, and fasting. These disciplines were important in the religion of the Pharisees. Jesus did not condemn these practices, but He did caution us to make sure that our hearts are right as we practice them.
The Pharisees used almsgiving to gain favor with God and attention from men, both of which were wrong motives. No amount of giving can purchase salvation; for salvation is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). And to live for the praise of men is a foolish thing because the glory of man does not last (1 Peter 1:24). It is the glory and praise of God that really counts!
Our sinful nature is so subtle that it can defile even a good thing like sharing with the poor. If our motive is to get the praise of men, then like the Pharisees, we will call attention to what we are doing. But if our motive is to serve God in love and please Him, then we will give our gifts without calling attention to them. As a result, we will grow spiritually; God will be glorified; and others will be helped. But if we give with the wrong motive, we rob ourselves of God’s blessing and reward, and rob God of glory, even though the money we share might help a needy person.
Does this mean that it is wrong to give openly? Must all giving be anonymous? Not necessarily, for everyone in the early church knew that Barnabas had given the income from the sale of his land (Acts 4:34-37). When the early church members laid their money at the Apostles’ feet, it was not done in secret. The difference, of course, was in the motive and manner in which it was done.
The second discipline that the Pharisees practiced was to have a meaningful prayer life. Jesus gave us four instructions to guide us in our prayer life. We should pray in secret before we pray in public. This means we should establish a personal prayer life with God, before we pray in public. It is not wrong to pray in public, such as in church, or even when blessing food or seeking God’s help. But it is wrong to pray in public if we are not in the habit of praying in private.
Prayers should be sincere and always in His will. The purpose of prayer is to glorify God’s name, and to ask for help to accomplish His will on earth. “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done in earth.” We have no right to ask God for anything that will dishonor His name, delay His kingdom, or disturb His will on earth.
We must pray, having a forgiving spirit toward others. Forgiveness belongs to the matter of fellowship. If I am not in fellowship with God, I cannot pray effectively. But fellowship with my brother helps to determine my fellowship with God; hence, forgiveness is important to prayer.
Since prayer involves glorifying God’s name, hastening the coming of God’s kingdom, and helping to accomplish God’s will on earth, the one praying must not have sin in his heart.
The last discipline that the Pharisees practiced was fasting. The only fast that God required of the Jewish people was on the annual Day of Atonement. The Pharisees fasted each Monday and Thursday and did so in such a way that the people knew they were fasting. Their purpose, of course, was to win the praise of men. As a result, the Pharisees lost God’s blessing. As with giving and praying, true fasting must be done in secret; it is between the believer and God.
One of the most important things in this life, is to be reconciled to God. Because of his rebellion, man was the enemy of God and out of fellowship with Him. Through the work of the Cross, Jesus Christ has brought man and God together again. God has been reconciled and has turned His face in love toward the lost world. The basic meaning of the word reconcile is “to change thoroughly.” It refers to a changed relationship between God and the lost world.
God does not have to be reconciled to man, because that was accomplished by Christ on the cross. It is sinful man who must be reconciled to God. “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail. The Person who reconciles us to God is Jesus Christ, and the place where He reconciles us is His cross.
When Jesus died on the cross, He took our sins on to Himself. If we were to think of this in banking terms, the word is imputation. This simply means “to put to one’s account.” When you deposit money in a bank, that money is credited to your account. When Jesus died on the cross, all of our sins were imputed to Him – put to His account.
What was the result? All of those sins have been paid for and God no longer holds them against us, because we have trusted Christ as our Saviour. But even more: God has put to our account the very righteousness of Christ!
Reconciliation is based on imputation: because the demands of God’s holy Law have been fully met on the cross, God can be reconciled to sinners. Those who believe on Jesus Christ as their Saviour will never have their sins imputed against them again. As far as their records are concerned, they share the righteousness of Jesus Christ!
The Prophet Joel proclaimed over 2000 years ago to “Blow the trumpet!”; a call to the people to repent of their sins and seek the Lord’s help. But whatever we do in our relationship with God, we must be sincere. It’s easy to participate in a religious service, but quite something else to humbly confess your sins and bring to God a repentant heart (Matt. 15:8-9). May we use this period of Lent to do some soul searching and come to a deeper understanding and relationship with God through His Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting of our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.