Today is Ash Wednesday. As far as church occasions go, this is my least favorite. I don’t look forward to going to Ash Wednesday service, I don’t look forward to an entire service of which the main focus is to remind me that my sinfulness was why Jesus suffered on the cross, and honestly, I dislike having ashes put on my forehead. (No, I would not HAVE to have ashes put on my forehead. But I choose to do so. Keep reading.)
Ash Wednesday is an important rememberance day in the church year. Without remembering our sinfulness on Ash Wednesday, there would be no need for Christmas. Without remembering our sinfulness on Ash Wednesday, there would be no need for Easter. Ash Wednesday is important because it reminds Christians how completely, utterly, and wretchedly sinful they are. We are desperately in need of a Savior, and Ash Wednesday reminds us just how much.
Most Christians today don’t seem to realize just HOW sinful they are. If they did, they would worry a lot less about their purpose-driven lives and focus on making sure they are right with God. Because of our sinfulness, we can do nothing to please God. Not a thing. We are spiritually dead. As spiritually dead people, we can’t choose to believe in him, and we certainly can’t “make our decision for Christ,” as is believed by most mainstrem Christians today. Our sinful nature likes to make us think that we can play some role in our salvation, no matter how small. But the fact that we believe in Jesus at all is entirely and completely an act of a merciful God, who (for reasons we will never understand) decided to show mercy and love to us, even before the world began.
But we miserable humans want to believe that we can do something for God that he will like. We want to believe that if we just focus on being inspired and motivated by Jesus, we will be able to live more Christian lives, more Christ-like lives, and if we mess up, we can just try harder the next time. But that’s misguided, and potentially eternally-fatal thinking. We are sinful in every single part of our being. Without Jesus’ blood and righteousness covering us, there’s nothing we can do to please God or choose God or live our lives for God. Ash Wednesday eloquently reminds us through ashes, Bible readings, and songs, how absolutely sinful we are, and how much we need a Savior. And if we don’t keep our focus on that need for a Savior every day of our lives, we might start to think that we can play some role, no matter how minor, in our salvation. If we don’t focus entirely on the cross and our sinfulness that needs that cross, we might start to think that we don’t have that many sins that needed to be paid for on the cross. If we don’t always remember what wretched sinners we are and how much we need our Savior Jesus, we might start to think that because we work harder and and pray more and don’t sin like other people who claim to be Christians, than we are better Christians and God will think more highly of us.
The fact is that we’re all miserable, wretched sinners who are capable of any sin given the right circumstances. There’s a reason why Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Lead us not into temptation.” Every one of us is capable of doing any horrible sin, and the moment we stop believing that, then we’re on a path to not needing Jesus very much anymore. And if we don’t need Jesus completely, well … let’s just remember that Jesus has NEVER needed us. It’s not a symbiotic relationship by any means.
Being reminded of one’s sinfulness is not pleasant. It’s humbling to realize how often I’ve told God, through my thoughts, words, and actions, that I don’t need him very much. It’s easier to compare my actions to those of other people and say, “I thank you, God, that I am not like those other people who …(fill in the blank with a sin).” But if I don’t recognize my own sinfulness, I cannot realize or appreciate what an amazing gift that Jesus gave to me by his perfect life, his suffering and death, and his resurrection.
So, I will attend Ash Wednesday service tonight. I will go forward to have ashes put on my forehead. As my pastor places the ashes in a cross on my forehead, he will say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And, if what’s happened before happens again, I will get a chill down my spine as he says that. There’s no way to escape my sinfulness here on earth. At best, my sinful nature and my new man in Christ manage to strike an equal balance, and at worst, I completely ignore my better spiritual nature. Like every person who has ever lived on earth, my sins will cause me to die. Perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, and perhaps not until 60 years from now. But one day, I will die.
Yet all praise and glory to God, who saw my wretched state, loved me despite my wretched state, picked me up out of the much and mire of my wretched sinful state, and clothed me with the blood and righteousness of Jesus. It is only thanks to Jesus and his death on the cross, the horrible death that I deserved, that I have any hope of heaven. I pray that I will never forget to remember where I came from, always remember where I’m going, and always remember what made it possible for me to go there. I also pray that I always remember to tell others so that they can go there too. That’s what living as a Christian is truly all about.
Jesus, I will ponder now On your holy passion;
With your Spirit me endow For such meditation.
Grant that I in love and faith May the image cherish
Of your suff’ring, pain and death That I may not perish.
“Jesus I Will Ponder Now” written by Sigmund von Berken.
I must add this link to my pastor’s sermon from tonight. It was truly exceptional.