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Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - Joel 2:12-19

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Posted: Thursday, March 2nd, 2017 by Pastor Westgate

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He meant that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” That’s how Dr. Luther started his 95 Theses 500 years ago. This is what The Reformation is all about. This is what your faith is all about. You are in need of repentance. What is repentance? It isn’t doing something to get God to be favorable towards you. It’s turning away from Satan to The Savior, from evil to good.

Lent is a time of repentance. The word “Lent” itself has nothing to do with the theme. It just means the days are lengthening. But we aren’t focusing on the weather or the temperature or the sunlight. The theme is repentance. That doesn’t mean it’s the only time we should repent, but The Church knows it’s good for us to focus on this from time to time, to teach us both how full of sin we are and how full of grace God is.

Today we begin our trip up Calvary’s holy mountain, sinners ruined by the fall. We prepare to hear the story of Our Lord’s Bloody Passion and Death by confessing that we are poor miserable sinners worthy of suffering exactly what He suffered. We deserve to be mocked and spit on and insulted and flogged and abused with nails and thorns and spear forever by hell’s jailers.

How can this be? We’re good people at heart, aren’t we? We’re law-abiding citizens, friendly to our neighbors – if we know them, active in the community, church, and school. Our children think we’ve done nothing wrong; at least I thought my parents were perfect when I was little. We aren’t bad people, certainly not like those people lobbying to legalize sin or history’s cruel dictators. We deserve to face hell’s jailers?

We do. Consider your life according to The Ten Commandments. You have not kept them. You were disobedient when you were a child and now you don’t always respect the government the way you should. You often didn’t do as well as you could have on your homework and your eyes have been unfaithful to your spouse. There hasn’t been a day where you didn’t at least dream about being lazy. You may be mild-mannered but you have still been hot-tempered. You may think you’re a nice person but you have been rude. You may like to agree with people but you do enjoy being quarrelsome. You have hurt people with both words and deeds. You may not have stolen, but you know how easy it is to neglect, waste, or harm something without trying.

All these, Luther tells us in The Fifth Chief Part of his Small Catechism, are sins against The Ten Commandments. Why? Because they all oppose our service and love to all people as fathers or mothers, sons or daughters, husbands or wives, or workers, and I could add, students.

Your sins may seem insignificant. But God’s Law says they deserve eternal death, every last one of them. They may not seem too bad to you, just deserving a spanking or a slap on the wrist, but He disagrees; He’s the one that gets to make those decisions because He’s The Creator. You break His Law just once and you deserve eternal death. To be honest, you were born guilty, for you were part of your father Adam, in his loins, the Epistle to the Hebrews might say, when he sinned.

Therefore repent. Let your whole life be one of repentance. For there is not a week that goes by that you don’t commit any of those sins. You know how easy it is to quarrel, to be rude, to waste or neglect. Therefore turn away from yourself, away from all your desires and wants and felt-needs and sins. For as long as you do not look to God you will keep doing what’s wrong over and over. You will be unable to do anything good in His sight. You will remain in your sins. So turn, return to The Lord your God.

Yes, return to Him. Turn your back on Satan, your sins, this world, and your wicked flesh. Turn to The Lord your God. Why? Because “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and He relents over disaster. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him, a grain offering and a drink offering for The LORD your God?”

Who knows? You know. You know because His turning and relenting is pictured before you. His Name is Christ Crucified. There God is turning to you and relenting. He is punishing not you, but His Only-begotten Son instead. He is drinking down His wrath, emptying that chalice down to the dregs, filling that same chalice with His grace, with The New Testament in His Blood, in order to give it to you to drink at this Altar.

God’s wrath is replaced by His grace, by His blessing. He no longer holds your sins against you. He held them against Jesus, pressed them down onto His holy Body, nailed them to The Cross, buried/sealed them in His Tomb. Now He says to you: “I forgive you all your sins.” You are no longer held guilty of them or worthy of everlasting death. Therefore He gives you eternal life as well, for His Christ suffered hell upon The Cross. So lift up your head from sorrow and shame during this time of repentance to see your salvation drawing nigh: the day He raises you from the dead.

So turn to Him, for He will forgive you your sins. He will not only forgive you, but He will remake you. He will create in you a new heart, a clean heart, a willing spirit. That’s a heart and spirit that desires to keep His commands, that desires to do His will, that loves Him and wants to show that love in all it does. The Holy Spirit works in us to act and will according to His good pleasure; that means we desire to keep His commands and work to do it too.

So Lent is not meant to be a time for you to do certain things to show how sorry you are for your sins. It’s a time to remember what Our Lord has done for us. That’s why it’s a time to remember why He had to do it. Then it must be a time to learn what our response is to be. It is not to be one that leads to what our fathers called license. God desires us to be thankful for His grace and show it in our behavior. Therefore God calls on us to fast from sin, not just now, but at all times.

So make this a time in which you examine yourself, your life and your behavior. Examine it not on your own, but with the aid of Scripture, The Catechism, and the hymns of our Evangelical-Lutheran Church which confess our faith and Law and Gospel so clearly. Examine yourself, and see that you are a sinner unable to save yourself. Then look to The Cross, trust Christ, and live.

By means of those things make a treasure for yourself in heaven, and not just any treasure, but Jesus Himself. For by His Death and Resurrection He gives eternal life, and even life now, life that lives with Him and in Him and through Him according to Him. So call to Him: “Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me, for my soul trusteth in Thee.” Why? Because “He shall send from heaven and save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up.”

Categories: Pastor Westgate's Sermons

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