February 22, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from the book of Job.
This past Wednesday begins the forty-day journey of Lent and since we had to cancel service on Wednesday, I felt that it was important to observe Ash Wednesday today. Ashes are a sign of confession, repentance, suffering, and grief. When God first confronted Adam in the Garden of Eden after the fall into sin, He immediately reminded Adam that just as he came from the dust of the ground, so his body would become dust again in death. Although Adam and Eve were created perfectly, they would now die because they broke God’s one command. As their descendants, we hear these same words when we impose ashes: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return!” Death comes to everyone because everyone has received it from our first father and mother, Adam and Eve. Paul writes, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). King David confesses, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Therefore, Lent is a healthy spiritual practice for us because it reminds us that we wear ashes trusting in the mercy and forgiveness of God through Jesus who washes away our sin.
A quick scan through the Bible reveals that ashes play a part in the life of a believer. Job covered himself with ashes because of his grief and shame. Jeremiah reminds us of ashes in Lamentations. Ezekiel prophesized that cities such as Tyre would repent in dust and roll in ashes. Isaiah also warned God’s people that whoever worships idols of stone and wood feeds on ashes. In the book of Esther, after Mordecai hears the murderous plot of Haman, he tears his clothes and covers his head with dust and ashes. After Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh, one of the worst nations in the world, the king and all the people repented with dust and ashes. Finally, Jesus urges the cities of Corazon, Bethsaida, and Capernaum to repent in sackcloth and ashes for rejecting the evidence that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.
The ashes you wear today don’t just remind you of your sin. They also remind you death is our constant companion. Tonight, we sit in dust and ashes with Job. Job was blessed with a large family from God. He had a wife, seven sons, and three daughters. He owned a ton of land, had plenty of servants, and thousands of animals. He was one of the wealthiest men in the east. However, God allowed almost all his earthly possessions to be taken away in one fell swoop. Then, He permitted Job’s body to be so deeply afflicted with boils and sores, from the bottom of his feet to the crown of his head, that he literally scraped his scabs and skin with a piece of pottery to obtain relief. It was so bad that Job’s wife desperately pleads, “Curse God and die”.
Saint Paul warns us that all Christians will suffer. Some sufferings and trials are worse or less than others. Some trials last a long time, others for just a short time. Some are self-made due to our own selfish sins Other suffering is simply brought upon us by others because we live in a fallen sinful world. Martin Luther said, “We are beggars, this is true.” Repentance drives home the point that we are beggars and we are completely lost without God.
However, being baptized into Christ’s death is more than only wearing ashes. Jesus Christ promises to also raise you from the ashes of your death and grave and assure you of eternal life. Jesus promised Martha at Lazarus’s death, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.” St. Paul adds, “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead…we too might walk in newness of life.” You are no longer clothed in death but with life in Christ! After Job endured his ashes and his cross, God raised him out of suffering. Jesus Christ promises to do the same thing for you. He wipes away all your ashes and promises to bless you! Good Friday is coming, reminding you that Jesus Christ has taken all your ashes and old clothing of sin and was nailed to a cross with all of it. The ashes you wear as a sign of repentance and Christ takes them away! This is why Saint Paul says, “[God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” You are righteous! This means life and forgiveness! Easter promises you that God always raises the dead because He raised His own Son, Jesus Christ, who died from the pain of your ashes.
Yes, we sit in dust and ashes today to grieve, suffer, and repent. However, we grieve as Job did. Job had hope and promise in his Redeemer. In the end, brothers and sisters in Christ, you will not be clothed in ashes but in stunningly white robes, washed completely by the blood of the resurrected lamb, Jesus Christ! In Him, you are redeemed. In Him, you are secure. In Him, you are cleansed of your ashes.
Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.