With these words, the priest marks a sign of the cross in ash on the Christian worshiper’s forehead: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
It is a stark reminder that we are sinful, fallen and under the curse of Adam. Ashes are used throughout the Bible as a symbol of our mortality, of our sin and of our need for repentance. In the Bible, people don sackcloth and cover their heads with ashes to tangibly grieve and mourn sins. When Job is humbled before the sovereign Lord he says, “I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6). The prophet Daniel’s prayer of corporate repentance on behalf of the people of God is marked with physical signs of grief over sin: “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).
Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of Lent. The period of Lent is a 40-day journey of self-denial. Through “self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 265), we are invited by the Church and the Lord to individually and corporately prepare ourselves for the annual celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus during Holy Week and Easter.
The Ash Wednesday service has a tone of solemnity. We begin in silence with a collect:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have
made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and
make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 264.)
The words of this prayer echo Psalm 51, a prayer of repentance from King David after he committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba. David prayed:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:10-12).
Repentance leads to joy. God longs to restore his people and bring us out of the bondage of sin and death into new life in His son. This is the entire goal of our Lenten discipline—to be restored to the joy of God’s salvation. To be restored, yes, from dust to life.
Ash Wednesday does not leave us in the dust. The season of Lent invites us to the throne of grace. We are invited to the table where the Lord has given us another firm reminder—one of grace, redemption, and restoration. In the bread and wine, we mysteriously commune with the body and blood of our crucified Savior. Through the Sacrament, we remember what He has done for us in bearing in His body the finite and mortal nature of man. By becoming one of us and like us in our death, God has made it possible for us to become like Him.
Before going to the cross,
Jesus took bread. And when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20).
So, today mark your course in ash and set out in the way of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Begin a holy Lent, from dust to life.
Words are powerful.
The words of Jesus, especially so.
The Crucified Life Devotional provides a daily space in which we can meditate on Jesus’ final words from the cross. As we consider His Words, we understand and identify with His suffering in a way that challenges us, transforms us, and ultimately brings us hope.
This unique small group curriculum centers on a DVD teaching series exploring the Seven Last Words spoken by Christ on the cross. There are seven teaching sessions, one for each word spoken by Christ.
As you walk through the curriculum with a small group or Sunday School class, you will have the opportunity to hear in-depth Biblical teaching and openly discuss the teaching in your group. Together, you’ll observe a holy Lent as you study and delve deeply into God’s Word. You’ll also strengthen the bonds of community as you grow together, allowing your lives to be transformed by what you discover.
The Crucified Life is scheduled to be released in October. Pre-order The Crucified Life today!
Faith to Overcome
The last characteristic needed is a certain confidence, we call it faith. No one said that finishing the task that God has put us on this earth is going to be easy.
It’s not going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to require a certain characteristic that will get us through the most difficult of challenges and obstacles that this world. The evil one and all of the forces of Satan that are hosted against God will throw obstacles at the people of God to prevent them from finishing the task that He’s given the people of God to finish.
It will be tempting to give up, to quit. But we have to have a confidence that comes from outside of ourselves, something that will give us the strength to persevere and to have that determination: that single-mindedness; and again, where does that kind of strength come from?
Well, again, the writer of Hebrews, Chapter 12:1-2 describes Jesus as the Author and Finisher of our faith.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 12:1-2
Jesus is the outside source of strength. It takes enduring faith, not in ourselves as the self-help books will often tell you. “You’ve just got to have faith in yourself. You can do it. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” That doesn’t work.
No, you can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. You need somebody else strengthening you. There’s a stained glass window at St. Peter’s of the Apostle Peter trying to walk on the water and it captures the moment when he looks at the wind and takes his eyes off Jesus. Right then, he starts to sink, but as soon as he brings his eyes back upon the Lord, he rises back up onto the water and he is walking on the water again!
Jesus is our focus, the Lord, His will; we have faith and trust in His Word. Jesus said it this way,
I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. –John 5:30
If Jesus says “I can do nothing on my own,” what in the world makes us think that we somehow can do life on our own!?!
What is the Father’s work that you have been given to do? It is not your work. It’s not somebody else’s assignment for you nobody other than the Lord. What is the work that God the Father has given you to do? That’s who you have to trust in: the Father. What has He called you to? It’s faith in the Father, faith in Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith that will get us through.
I love this little poem about a young boy in a race who keeps falling down, desperately wanting to please his dad:
Defeat! He lay there silently, a tear dropped from his eye.
“There’s no sense in running anymore…I’m out…why try?…
“I’ve lost, so what’s the use,” he thought, “ I’ll live with my disgrace.”
But then he thought about his Dad he’d soon have to face.
“Get up,” an echo sounded low, “Get up and take your place.
You were not meant for failure here, so get up and finish the race” …
He resolved that win or lose, at least he would not quit…
And to his Dad he sadly said, “I didn’t do so well.”
“To me, you won,” his father said. “You rose each time you fell.”
And now when things seem dark and hard and difficult to face,
the memory of that little boy helps me in my race.
For all of life is like that race, with ups and downs and all,
And all you have to do to win—is rise each time you fall.
Quit! Give up, you’re beaten,” they still shout in my face.
But another voice within me says, “Get up and win that race.”
“It is finished.” And the last book of the Bible, there are seven letters to seven churches and in those letters, there is a last point that Jesus makes to every one of those churches. Over and over He says: “To him who overcomes… to him who overcomes… to him who overcomes… and to every one of those who overcome…”
Here is a montage of all of the promises offered to those who overcome:
I will give the right to eat from the tree of life which is in the paradise of God. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations. He who overcomes like them will be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my father and his angels. Hold on to what you have so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes, I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my thrown just as I overcame and sat down with my father on his throne.”
Here is the prize promised to those who finish: Paradise of God, the right to eat the tree of life, immunity from the pain of the second death, the gift of some hidden manna!
I am not sure what any of that is, but it ALL sounds awesome!
And there is more: Authority over the nations, dressed in white, never blotted from the book of life, acknowledged continually before the Father and the angels of Heaven, a pillar in the temple of God, the right to sit at the Throne of God with Jesus.
To him who overcomes…“It is finished.”
A Driving Intensity
An example in the Old Testament of one who was a great finisher is a man named Caleb. Caleb was one of the warriors of God who was with Joshua and the other spies when the Israelites first arrived at the threshold of the Promised Land.
It first did not take them forty years to get to the Promised Land. That may be a surprise to read! They got there quickly and crossed over the River Jordan with a group of spies. The spies came back from the Promised Land with a mixed report. Yes, they said, it’s everything that God said it was, a land filled with milk and honey. They brought back some pomegranates and some really great things – but then they also had a little bit of a scary report:
So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height… and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” –Numbers 13:32-33
The fear of the giants spread through the camp. Everybody started to grumble against Moses and Aaron, and said, “What did you do bringing us to this land just to get us killed?”
But two other men, Caleb and Joshua, said, NO. It’s ours. It’s a good land. Let’s go—God is with us! While everybody grumbling and whining about the difficulty of the task—Caleb and Joshua showed the character of finishers. So God sent the Israelites to do forty years of laps around the desert.
In the book of Joshua, you pick up back with the story of Caleb again. The Israelites had started to conquer the land under the leadership of Joshua. But they started to falter in their conquest of the land. Things started to get tough and the tougher strongholds of those groups identified by the spies were holding fast. The Israelites could not vanquish them and so they started to give up on these tougher assignments and these tougher jobs—they started to quit.
Caleb was by then 85 years old. Here is the character of driving intensity (This is all found in Joshua 14):
“You know that what the Lord said to Moses, the man of God, about you and me? Back then I was 40 years old when Moses, the servant of the Lord, sent me to explore the land and I brought him back a report according to my convictions…” Hear the character of determination which Caleb manifest; he had convictions, “… but my brothers who went up with me and made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I however followed the Lord, my God, wholeheartedly, with single mindedness.”
“So on that day, Moses swore to me, the land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever because you have followed the lord, my God, wholeheartedly.” Caleb was saying this: Just as the Lord promised, it’s time for me to claim my promise. That’s basically what he’s saying. He’s kept me alive for 45 years since the time he said this to Moses while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today 85 years old and I’m still as strong today as the day Moses set me up.”
Caleb was as vigorous to go out to battle at age 85 as he was when he was 40. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day!
You heard him. Caleb was a finisher. I love the way the story ends. So Joshua blessed Caleb and gave him Hebron as his inheritance… and there’s this little parenthetical statement at the end of the story here (Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba, Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim.) Not anymore. It is called Hebron, because 85-year old Caleb went up there and defeated the mighty Arba and changed the name! How? Caleb had determination in the strength of the Lord. Give me those hills! Caleb was taking names for the Lord at eighty-five years old!
Do you have a driving intensity like Caleb? Do you yearn to finish what God’s put you on this earth to do! It does not matter how old you are, or how young you are! What matters is that you accomplish your call! What matters is that you have a fire in your bones that says “Give me that hill country!”