Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. “Lent,” by the way, is simply the Anglo-Saxon term for “spring.”
Tonight we join millions of Christians all over the world in beginning a special period of discipline, meditation, and study in preparation for Good Friday and the glorious celebration of Easter!
Tonight we recall that our Lord was led – driven, according to St. Mark – of the Spirit into the wilderness in order to be tempted of the devil... fasting 40-days and 40-nights. He was without sin, yet He underwent these rigors that He might remain the spotless Lamb of God... and become the sacrifice that taketh away the sins of the world.
Tonight we also remember and acknowledge our mortality!
• We are but dust... vessels of clay, which grow old and perish.
• Although we are made in our Heavenly Father’s Image, we have but a short span of time on earth to carry out of callings. “Remember, O man, dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return!”
• Life on earth twill soon be past... only what’s done for Christ will last.
But tonight, we especially remember the gravity of our sins and our need to repent.
• To say with the psalmist, “I am sorry for my sins.”
• We do not just turn away from individual sins, but deeper down, we forsake and crucify our old natures.
It is to REPENTANCE that this evening’s lesson speaks.
First, what repentance is not! Verses 1-5.
It is not form... it is not external compliance... it is not appearance.
Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness.
And here is the crux of the issue! They were not such a nation! They hoped to appear, however, as such a nation!
With true repentance, we judge ourselves... They, however, were judging each other... In fact, they were even judging the Almighty!
Wherefore have we fasted... and thou seest not? [Wherefore} have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?
God’s reply? “Because you have discarded My Law, and made your own inclinations law.”
We probably all remember Cain, the world’s first son, who was upset with God because he did not accept his sacrifice!
And we all hopefully remember Israel’s King Ahab, whose wife was none other than Jezebel. Because Naboth would not sell his inherited land to the king, the king was sullen! So Jezebel, the resourceful queen that she was, proclaimed a fast... through which she brought false accusations against Naboth, and had him stoned, thereby letting her husband take his land!
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? ...[is it] to bow down his head as a bulrush...
“...thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men...
It has been famously said that men may go a great way toward Heaven, and yet come up short. Some, indeed, may go to hell... with a good reputation!
Second, what repentance is! Verses 5-7.
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
True repentance deals with sin. It agrees with God that we have wronged Him and failed in how we have lived before Him. It seeks to straighten crooked paths... to amend false ways.
It was the Prophet Joel who cried out: Rend your hearts and not your garments. And turn unto the LORD your God.
And why was the response of the Ninevites acceptable to the Almighty? Because they donned sackcloth and sprinkled ashes? No! Because they repented and changed their evil ways!
True repentance honors God. True repentance humbles us!
It is not enough to look demure. We must repent and change our ways!
True repentance crushes and subdues our corrupt nature! The bands of wickedness must be loosed, or else they will pull us down into something much, much worse!
Third, what repentance yields! Verses 8-12.
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.
Please consider just how much the LORD delights for His children to repent of their wickedness – and to change their ways! Consider His gifts and rewards!
And [they that shall be] of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.
A breach is a break in a protective wall made by the enemy of a besieged city. Consider how many lives, relationships, marriages, families, churches, cultures, civilizations have experienced such breaches! Virtue escaping... judgment rushing in!
We are called to repair such breaches! But how can we if our own lives are breached! How can we take the speck out of a brother’s eye if we have a log in our own!
A breach required lots of work to repair. But if we begin with repentance, the Ancient of Days will give us His great assistance!
As we enter into Lent, let us truly repent of our sins. Remember, O man, dust thou art; and to dust shalt thou return...