[Genesis 3:17-19] And to Adam God said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Have Courage by Faith in the Savior
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In the shape of a cross, these ashes of once joyous palms, are now the black, burnt reminder that we are mortal. We too become dust – in accord with God’s strict judgment upon Adam, of whose nature we are born. Remember that you are dust; to dust you will return.
Since Adam’s fall, man lives in slavery to the fear of death. Man either hides his face from death, calling it many other things, medically sedating it, unable to face death’s true nature. Or, man goes to the extreme in trying to prevent death, so much so that he even hinders life.
Man treats death as a biological or medical issue that man can manipulate. Or, man treats death as a beautiful or dignified end to a good life. Man is hiding himself from what death really is.
In truth, death is a spiritual malady – it is our fall, by our fault, from what God had first created for us. “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].
Ash Wednesday is a day to face our fear. I am mortal. I am going to die because I have sinned. The dust of these ashes reminds me.
Yet, there is a Savior from death. God, who sentenced me, also has sent One to deliver me – The cross formed by these ashes reminds. There is a Savior who has died for me. In the Cross of God’s Son, the dust of death has become the gateway to my life eternal.
By facing the truth of death, and in knowing our Savior from death, Ash Wednesday becomes a day of courage. And God’s people become a people of courage. In fact, this year, each week through Lent, “courage” will be the word of the day.
Courage to not be enslaved by fear. Courage by faith. Courage by faith in the One who died and rose – over whom death no longer has dominion – Jesus Christ.
We were enslaved to the fear of death. Jesus was sold at the price of a slave – those thirty pieces of silver – to be betrayed to the cross for us. We were dying by our sin – Jesus carried our sin, the righteous for the unrighteous.
We languished under the curse of God’s strict judgment. Jesus, scripture says, became the curse for us and was hung upon the wood of the cross – “Christ redeemed us – delivered us, bought us back – from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” [Galatians 3:13]
Christ, who redeemed us from death by becoming our sin: “For our sake God made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. A great exchange took place. Sinless-Jesus became Man’s sin on the cross and died the death demanded. Sinner-Man is counted the righteousness of God, in Jesus. Now, Man who was dying is Man at peace with God.
What Jesus did for us gives us courage to be free from fear.
Yet, Ash Wednesday is no less a day of repentance. “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” [Joel 2:12-13]
We repent of what? Today we repent of this: That though we know the Savior from death, we still live in slavery to death’s fear. Like the freed Israelites who wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt because they feared the wilderness, we feel more secure in our slavery to fear than we do in our freedom from it. We shrink back from the victory of our Savior. We live and fear as if it makes no difference that our Savior Jesus died and rose.
We confess with our lips that we have a Savior from death, yet in our hearts have we believed any differently than our unbelieving neighbors? If we forever shrink back into the same slavery to the fear of death that enslaves all others, can we ever be a light and a witness to others that there is indeed a Savior?
Repent from fear and have courage by faith in the Savior. Fear can make us shrink down into a hole. Fear can make us act brashly. Fear can make us into little legalistic code enforcers, waving our finger at everyone else. But courage can make you truly useful to your neighbor.
Courage makes a person reasonable, measured, and unfreezes a person so that they can move forward when others cannot. And one person’s courage often becomes another person’s strength.
In days ahead, some of your neighbors – and some of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ – may remain frozen by fear, unable to move forward. But you can be a person of reason and courage because your fears are stayed by faith in the One who has died and risen for you. By faith in the Savior, many people have done courageous things (Hebrews 11) and have been ruled by peace instead of fear.
Live free. Free from fear’s slavery. You know the Savior. Let “courage” be your word. When another asks, “How can you be calm, at peace, and unafraid with everything that’s going on? Why are you so able to move forward?” You can say, “I believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because He died for me, I will live, even if I die [John 11:25-26]. Because of this Christian faith, I am not controlled by my fear.”
Even before a word is spoken, your peace and reasonableness and courage demonstrate that you believe your Christian faith, and that your Christian faith really means something. Let your faith-based-courage become your neighbor’s strength too, in the hope that they too will believe in the One who died and rose for them.
Ashes. A cross. We are mortal. To dust we will return. And we need not be afraid. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22]. By faith in Christ, have courage all the time. Amen.