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Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018 - St. Matthew 6:16-21

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Posted: Thursday, February 15th, 2018 by Pastor Westgate

Today is Valentine’s Day. Lovers are telling their beloved throughout the land how much they love them. They use candy and cards and flowers and chocolate. Kids gave cards and candy to their classmates and awkward situations were easy to find in the workplace. Restaurants are making plenty of money, unless people are going some other day because today’s Ash Wednesday.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Over the course of 40 days – that number excludes Sundays – The Church prepares us to celebrate Easter. We prepare by hearing our fight in this world is not just against the various problems that come up every day, but against the devil, who teams up against us with the world and our sinful flesh. We prepare by hearing the account of our Lord’s Passion, which shows us what He has done to defeat Satan for us men and for our salvation.

So today our Lord tells us to pick our treasure, our #1 treasure, the most important thing in our life. Is it candy/chocolate? Is it a spouse, sibling, or friend? Is it work or home? Is it a sport or team or TV show? Is it a particular pet sin you just refuse to give up or even deny is a sin? Is it Jesus? Pick your treasure wisely. Don’t pick your poison, unless you plan to get rid of it.

There’s a reason Valentine’s Day is called Valentine’s Day, and why those cards are called valentines. Long before this day became a day for lovers, it was a day to remember a Christian saint. St. Valentine was a pastor in Rome, the story goes. He was thrown into prison for confessing Christ and was about to be martyred. Now he had a friendly relationship with a young girl, so he wrote her a note the day of his death on a piece of paper; he signed it “Your Valentine.” That paper just happened to be shaped sorta like a heart. From this story, we don’t know if it’s true or not, comes our practice of cards and calling people Valentines.

One thing is true: though we don’t know much about Valentine – he is shrouded in mystery – he was a preacher of Christ. Christ was his Treasure. He was put to death, it seems, because he preached even to the highest officials that they should renounce their idols and confess Christ, the only true God, as Lord and God and Savior. In response they jailed him. But he did not change his mind. He confessed Christ to the death and received the crown of eternal life. He rejected treasures on the earth for the Treasure above, Christ Himself and His Salvation. He rejected his life temporal and gained life everlasting.

So what do you treasure? Does something compete with Christ for your life? Can anything truly take His place? Can anything fill the great need He can fill? Is your focus on things temporal and earthly or on things eternal and heavenly? Is He your treasure or is something else instead?

We have 1 great need. Eternal life – rescue from death. Many people don’t consider this. They think it’s not real or not that important. They may think if it is real, God will let most anybody in, themselves especially, just not that really bad dictator across the sea. But is that what God says about this matter?

He says eternity is very important. We may think this life is long, but it’s awfully short, especially when you compare it to eternity. Eternity never ends. Wherever you end up when you die, there’s no end to your residency there. Choose wisely. Only 1 choice, only 1 treasure leads to heaven; all the rest lead straight to hell.

Therefore cry to God Who performs all things for you. What does He do? He gives you refuge under His wings until all the calamities of life are overpast. So what are life’s calamities? All sorts of things. Death can certainly be connected to calamity, especially when it’s not expected and due to sickness. We can use the word for times when sicknesses afflict many people, or when truly bad weather or natural disasters strike. All these things exist for one reason: sin. Sin destroyed the perfect world God created. It brought disease, disaster, and death into the world.

But it is not just sin in general that brings these things. It is our sin. We are sinners. We sin. Our iniquities condemn us. They tell us we are guilty of sins we don’t even realize we’ve committed. They remind us how we’ve despised our parents, hated people, lusted after the supermodel, took a toy from our little brother, and lied about just about anything. We find ways to have time for anything but God. We are sinners, and we must admit it. We deserve nothing but the calamity called eternal death. How can we escape our sins? For St. Paul is right when he tells us we can’t escape sin and death on our own.

But what wings? God doesn’t have wings. He’s not a bird. He’s spirit, and spirits don’t need wings. So what is the Psalmist talking about in today’s Introit? The Psalmist was a Prophet. He saw a shadow of things to come. He saw arms stretched out, lifted up in the air, of a body not on the ground, nailed to a cross. He saw a shadow of Christ crucified for the life of the world, for your salvation. At The Cross you find rescue from all evil. There you see God loves you, desires to save you, is not your enemy but your friend. There you see the devil’s power destroyed, the world judged, and your flesh put to death that you sin no more. There God defeated calamity so that in the life to come there will be nothing but eternal joys supernal.

Now sin can’t chain you anymore. It must let you go. It must let you do what is right. For Christ has forgiven your sins. He has been punished for all of them. And since He received your punishment, death can’t hold on to you anymore either. It must let you escape your grave when He gives the command. Hell cannot have you, for heaven belongs to you.

Christ is the only one who can do this for you. He alone has conquered sin, death, and hell. No mortal can do it. He alone can bring you into a joyful eternity. So make Him your heavenly treasure. Let nothing else get in the way. Treasure Him and Him alone. Let nothing separate you from Him. Let nothing become more important to you than His Word and His Salvation. For when that happens, grace slips away and is lost.

Therefore call on Him to be merciful to you. Only by His mercy do we remain faithful to Him. He alone can save us from the reproach of the sins that would swallow us up. He alone can save us. He alone can deliver us and purge away our sins. This He will do for His Name’s sake, for the glory of His Name. For Jesus’ Death glorifies God. There you see His almighty power on display. There you see Him defeat sin, death, and Satan. There you see the ugliest thing in history become your most beautiful treasure. There you see God is the truest Valentine you could ever wish for. Christ crucified – make Him your treasure unto life everlasting.

Categories: Pastor Westgate's Sermons

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