Return With Your Torn Down, Wrecked, And Crippled Heart

Text: Joel 2:12-19

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen

Each year as Ash Wednesday and Lent approach it seems as if I have conversations or hear about conversations of people sharing what they are going to give up for Lent.  Some are giving up the internet, some are giving up certain foods like chocolate and others are giving up certain practices and habits.

I have also noticed over the last several years a back lash against the Lent Season.  In fact, I received a recent email from a friend who said, “Is the attitude and meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent a right posture for forgiven followers of Christ? I don't know, I still feel the sorrow over my lust and arrogance as I confess, but I don't want to live there.  I've adhered to the Lent Season in the past like a 40 day morbid downer broken by un-celebratory Wednesdays and Sundays to be sure to experience the respectful depression for my sin. But I just have a hard time doing it anymore.”  This friend is not alone.  I have noticed many others rejecting the idea of lent and even noticed a comment on Facebook where a friend said that he was giving up Lent for the Lent Season. 

It seems to me that there is confusion over Lent.  Is Lent merely a time for us to externally give things up?  Or, is Lent a time for us to manufacture a rain cloud over ourselves for the next 40 days while taking anti-depressant pills? 

In our text tonight for Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel declares the Word of God to Jerusalem.  He calls them to return to God; to return in repentance, in sorrow for their sin. But why did He call them to return?  The reason why, Jerusalem wandered.  They ran from God and they chased down their own desires and chose ‘self’ over God; thus they continually sinned.  God though called them to return.  He is calling them to return home. 

You see, God was the one who originally pursued and chose Israel.  He gave them the promise of the Gospel.  He claimed them.  However, they would always run.  Therefore, God is calling them to return home to where they belong.  He calls them to return to Him with fasting and with weeping and with mourning.  The weeping, fasting, and mourning are external signs of sorrow.  He is calling them to return and to rip their garments with contrition.  But why the sorrow you may ask?  He wants them to return to Him with sorrow for their rebellion, and sorrow for their wandering because this is indeed regrettable and lamentable.

This Ash Wednesday God is calling for us to return as well.  The calling still echoes for us today.  He is calling us to return with and in repentance. Baptized saints, the reality for us is that each and every one of us is prone to wander and prone to leave the God we love.  We daily choose sin; we turn away from God and His Holy perfect will.  We are no different than Israel.  However, what do we typically do with this calling of a repentant turning?  As human beings we build a defense against God and can easily go through the emotions and do the outward actions along; kind of a false external repentance!  “Woe is me!  I will give up this and I will give up that in order to externally show how sorrowful I am.”  We guard ourselves from the pain of internal sorrow and redirect our repentance to outward actions alone, an outward repentance that the old Reformers call ‘false repentance.’

My friends, God calls the people of Jerusalem to not only return with external remorse but a remorse that is internal.  This repentance is to be one of word, thought, and deed.  He is calling us to contemplate our sin, to let the Law of God humble our pride.  God’s Law is to lead us to contrition, a broken heart.  True repentance is being appalled at sin, our own sin.  True repentance happens as the Law of God penetrates through our defenses and slays our sinful nature at the core, rendering us powerless and guilty. 

So, what this means is that this Ash Wednesday we are to consider our sinfulness in thought, word, and deed.  But are we to be left in a morbid downer mood?  God calls Israel to consider their sin, to not merely wrestle outwardly with their sin, an external repentance if you will.  But God wants to cut through all the stuff of mankind and wants to hit each and every one of us at the core of our being… so that we come to terms with our condition of sin.  But, the question remains, are we left in this sorrow? 

Keep in mind that God calls Israel to “return to Him” with sorrow.  He is calling them to come unto him, to come home with their sin.  It is the same for us!  “So Pastor Richard, I need to ponder my sin so that I can be sorrowful and then go to God with my repentance and sorrow in exchange for God’s forgiveness?  I am to exchange my tears for forgiveness?”  No!  This way of thinking is seeing everything backwards.  This line of reasoning makes Forgiveness into a man-made exchange.  God doesn’t exchange His forgiveness for our repentance.  Our repentance is not some self-generated token that we submit to God to receive an output of grace.   Rather God forgives because of who He is.  It is in God’s nature to forgive, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  This call to return to God is a gracious invitation!  Otherwise stated, we daily are called by His Word, we are wooed by God’s Word to come unto Him for He is gracious and forgiving.  We are called to consider our sin precisely because God is a God who forgives sin!  Christianity is for sinners only!  God’s Word calls out to us to come, to approach God with sorrow, with sin, with torn hearts!  The reason being, God will not despise nor reject a person with a broken spirit.  God will not cast off you with a crushed, torn down, wrecked and crippled heart full of sin.  The reason being?  God loves us when we do not deserve it.  He is gracious.  His heart is warm with mercy for sinners.  He is compassionate.  Even though often provoked by your sin, He does not let His wrath flame up and destroy you.  He is slow to anger.  This is all possible because of Jesus the Christ.  He who knew no sin was made to be sin on your behalf.  Jesus came for sinners like me and you.  The Gospel is for sinners.  Return, believe, trust, know, rest in the Gospel that says to you, “My dear wandering child full of conflict and sin, your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.  You can endure the awesome day of the Lord for Jesus turned away God’s wrath and judgment for you.” 

As we contemplate our sinfulness this Lent season we do so knowing that our sin finds its home not on us, but on Christ’s Cross.  My friends, contemplating the extent of our sin problem, only makes the Good News sweeter still.  For your sin will most certainly expose the depth of your depravity, but take comfort for Jesus the Christ has descended lower than you can imagine; so low that He stepped under your sin, in order that it might rest upon His shoulders where it was crucified, destroyed, and rendered powerless for all of eternity.  Yes, your sin puts you in a tomb, but take comfort that the Gospel puts you in Jesus’ tomb where you find life.  Indeed, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return, but remember more the Cross.  You have been marked and purchased by the Redeemer and belong to Him.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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