Reading: Luke 15:11-24
1. Lent is the season of preparation for Easter.
2. Today, Ash Wednesday, marks a traditional 40 day period of preparation in which we are called to surrender ourselves before God in repentance.
a. This service, in its Christian context, reaches back to the sixth century but has roots far deeper than that.
b. In the Old Testament ashes were used for two purposes:
i. as a sign of humility and mortality;
ii. and as a sign of sorrow and repentance for sin.
c. The Christian use of ashes in the liturgy of Ash Wednesday has been taken from this Old Testament biblical custom.
d. However, putting a 'cross' mark of ash on the forehead was a reminder of the seal that is put on a Christian in baptism.
3. The keyword is repentance.
4. There are two Greek words in the New Testament for repentance.
5. The first one is metanoia - which means to change your mind.
a. When you repent, you are changing your mind about your sin – and you are changing your mind for Jesus Christ.
b. When Jesus invites in Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe the Good News”, he’s using this word.
c. He’s saying that if you want to be right with God, you have to change your mind about the way you’ve been living.
6. The second Greek word is anastrepho - which means to turn around.
a. Changing your mind about your sin is not enough.
b. You have to turn your life around. And stop sinning.
c. As Jesus heals the man at the pool in John 5, Jesus prompts, John 5:14, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you."
d. As Jesus offers grace to the woman caught in adultery, he urges, John 8:11, "Then neither do I condemn you…. Go now and leave your life of sin."
e. Repentance is not just a question of acknowledging sin, but of turn away from turn and moving towards Christ.
7. Think of a wife and husband heading towards Liberty Mall – driving down the hill from Hilton. As they near the off-ramp his wife prompts him to take the turn-off but he doesn’t and keeps driving. When he realizes what he has done, he says to his wife, "I’m sorry, honey. I should have gone your way." But if that’s all he does, offer an apology, he’s still going to end up visiting the malls in Durban. While his apology is good, it doesn’t stop them from heading in the wrong direction. What he needs to do is to take the next off-ramp, turn around and head in the right direction.
8. That’s repentance.
a. It’s when you realize that your life is going in the wrong direction - and you turn it around - and start heading toward Jesus Christ.
9. Proverbs 28:13 tells us, "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy."
10. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they always tell you that the first step toward getting sober is being able to say, "I have a problem. I’m an alcoholic. And once you can do this, you open yourself to discover mercy and understanding and support.
11. The same thing is true with God.
12. The story of the prodigal son and loving father is a treasured parable.
a. The son insists upon his share of the inheritance while his father is still alive.
b. The son loses all his inheritance – all his father has strived for.
c. But after he comes to his senses, repentance, a change of mind, he realized the error of his ways, and decide to turn around and return to his father.
d. He got up and went back to his father, and said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son."
13. And notice again the father’s reaction, “Away from me! I no longer know who you are.” No.
a. Instead of rejection, the father embraces his son, Luke 15:22-24, "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
14. As people come to their senses and confess their sin they discover the incredible grace and acceptance of God.
15. That’s what Ash Wednesday is all about.
a. It’s about confessing sin.
b. It’s about admitting to God that on our own, as we are, we are nothing but dust and ashes.
c. It’s about confessing our sins and once again being assured of the incredible love that God has for us that brings Jesus into the world and who is prepared to die that we might live.
16. As we continue in our liturgy this evening, let’s use the opportunity to confess and repent of our sin – let us not for a moment think we can keep sin hidden from God.
a. God has seen every action.
b. God has heard every thought and word.
c. God is already aware of every sin we may have tried to hide from the world.
d. God has already offered himself to us – let us then fully experience his acceptance and grace.