Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.
1 Corinthians 5:7
Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
In the name of Christ, our Passover lamb, dear penitent people of God,
Spring is nearly here! It may not look like it today, but very soon it will be time for spring cleaning. Houses, garages, barns, and yards will need cleaning after a long, challenging winter. Today marks the beginning of spring cleaning for the soul – the season of Lent. The way the people of Israel were instructed to prepare for the Passover was that they were to clean their houses thoroughly to get rid of all the leaven or the yeast. As we begin this solemn season of Lent and prepare ourselves for the great celebration of the day of resurrection we are likewise instructed to get rid of the old yeast. To honor Christ, our most precious Savior, we must be ready to forsake every sin. That is what it means to get rid of the old yeast. We do well to remember that it only takes a pinch of yeast to make a loaf of bread rise – a little sin works through the whole person and through the whole congregation of believers. So on this solemn Ash Wednesday our Lord urges on us – Out with the old – in with the new!
Out with the old! This Christian congregation in Corinth to whom Paul writes would fit in quite well in our 21st century world. You see, Paul is writing this letter to them to correct their failure to deal with a man who was living in sin. The Corinthians were boasting about their tolerance. They thought it very big of them and very loving to allow this sin to go on without saying anything about. Paul writes to them and instructs them to deal with this man and his sin. The sin must be pointed out to lead the man to see his error and repent – that is the loving thing to do. So Paul calls on them to deal with their own sinfulness – he calls on all of them to get rid of the old yeast – to repent of their sin.
This message must resonate with us. The cold hard fact is that each one of us is sinful by nature and each one of us is guilty before God. We have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. We have sinned in thought, word, and deed. We have consistently come up short at keeping God’s holy Law. So God’s Word declares, “the soul who sins is the soul who will die.” We deserve only punishment from God both now and for all eternity. We have heard this message a thousand times over – perhaps so many times that we begin to tune them out. So think of it all in this way. Our wealthy Father has given us the keys to his kingdom, but we have walked out the back door and thrown the keys to the kingdom away. We have asked for our inheritance early, squandered it, and now must come back home and beg for a job as a servant in our Father’s house. We have wandered off, gotten ourselves lost, and need our Good Shepherd to find us and bring us home.
Tonight we ask that the God of all grace would lovingly lead us to see our sin and beg for his forgiveness. We ask that God would convince us of the seriousness of our sin, show us how we have betrayed him and dishonored him, and lead us to humble sorrow over our sin. How important it is for us to be like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is what God wants from us and for us. He wants us to come before him with a broken and contrite heart – horrified at our sins and terrified about the consequence of our sin. He wants us to come before him totally depending on him and his mercy. So in the words of Paul – get rid of the old yeast – out with the old – repent – be reconciled to God!
Today we come before our God humbly confessing our sin and begging his mercy. We gather to confess and get rid of our sin. Yes, it is time to be done with sin. Out with the old! But it is also time to replace the old with the new.
In with the new! In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector our Lord Jesus concludes: I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. Paul puts the same thought in this way – that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. Ash Wednesday is not only about confessing sins and begging for God’s mercy. This day is not just about sackcloth and ashes and contemplating the punishment we have earned for ourselves with our sinfulness. Today is not just about begging for mercy and feeling ashamed and guilty. This is not a day of punishment but a day of mercy. So for those of you who think that you only hear about how bad you are when you come to church – listen carefully! Pay close attention to the words of the Apostle Paul – a new batch of yeast –as you really are. Tonight is primarily about being reminded that while we are sinners, in Christ we are forgiven sinners. We are like that tax collector – we go home justified. For we recognize our sin and we recognize and trust that Jesus has paid for that sin in full. So Paul clearly says, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” There is such tremendous comfort in this. For it means that salvation does not depend on us, on our deeds, or on our behavior in the least. Christ has done all that needs to be done for our forgiveness, reconciliation, and salvation. Christ has come as our substitute to be punished for us – to go to his sacrificial death. Because of Christ alone – we are forgiven and heaven is our home. So tonight we find ourselves relieved and comforted above all else. We have come to unburden ourselves by dumping all our sin and all our guilt on Jesus and to receive his righteousness in return. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. In Christ, we are declared not guilty! We are forgiven by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
We are a new creation in Christ – the old has gone our sin is indeed forgiven! Now the new has come. The new person of faith is to be in control of our lives now. The sinful nature need not control us any longer. So our experience on Ash Wednesday is to take out the spiritual trash through contrition and repentance, that is sorrow over sin and trust that sin is taken away by Christ. We entered this sanctuary and began this worship in complete sorrow over our many failures and our insistence on rebellion against the God who has sacrificed his Son for our salvation. This is something we will continue to do throughout Lent. But we also find our solace, our relief, and our salvation in our Savior. We came in solemn sorrow; we leave in solemn joy. We go home justified. We go home comforted.
We also go now to live our lives without the yeast of sin. When the spring cleaning is done, the place looks noticeably different. It may not look perfect but improvement is noticeable. That is the effect of Ash Wednesday. Our lives will look different tomorrow. In the joy of sin forgiven we live in service to our Savior. When the prodigal son returned home – there was much rejoicing. God’s angels are rejoicing in heaven tonight to hear and observe our repentance. This all moves us to a willing obedience. The joy of forgiveness that we feel right now is what moves us to live each day for Jesus. So tonight we set aside the petty arguments, the secret suspicions, the mistrust, the selfishness, the angling always to get my way, the lies, the cheating, the laziness with the solemn intention of not ever picking them up again. Of course, you know you will be back to repent of other sins or even of slipping back into a sin. You also know that your dear Savior will forgive.
Tonight it is out with the old and in with the new. Rid yourself of your sin and its cousin guilt – repent! Live now clothed in the righteousness Christ provided for you through his death and resurrection. By God’s grace the Father sent his Son, the Son was sacrificed for you, and the Spirit brought you to faith in Jesus and preserves you in such faith. Tonight we exclaim, “What a great God we have!” He loves us this much so we want to show our love to him by living by his Word. We set out with the strength of the Spirit and the help of our Savior to serve him in the joy of forgiveness. Go on your way with the assurance that you are forgiven, with the certainty that God loves you from eternity and for eternity, and with the determination to show your appreciation to your merciful God by walking in his ways. Lord, help us and preserve us! Amen.