Ash Wednesday: Grace and Peace Be Multiplied To You

Lessons: Joel 2:12-19, 2 Peter 1:2-11, Matthew 6:16-21
Hymns: LSB 610, 607, 611, 625, 616

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      We are now in the season of Lent. Some people loathe Lent, wanting it to be over as soon as possible. They don’t want to go to extra services. Or they don’t like the Lenten hymns. They don’t see the value in Lent, that it is a time of penitential reflection, a time of growth, a time for increased focus in the Word of God. But Lent is good for us, and it should not be loathed. It is good to give up some earthly pleasures during the 40 days of Lent to remind us of our own weakness, sinfulness, and Christ’s perfect obedience and His sacrificial death. It is good to fast. It is good to reflect on our own lives in how we measure up to the perfect Law of God, and to repent. It is good to focus on the bitter sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      For only through the cross do we obtain eternal salvation. Only through Christ’s vicarious atonement can we be counted acceptable before God. Only through the forgiveness of sins can we be confident of our standing before the Judge on the Last Day.

      As Lutherans, we are pretty good at understanding these things. We know that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. We know that we are not saved by our works, but through Christ. We know that we cannot make ourselves perfect, but God counts us completely righteousness when Christ Jesus covers us with His very righteousness. We know that faith is passively received through the Word of God—that the Holy Spirit works faith in us. We know that our confidence is not in our faith or works, but in Christ Jesus who fulfilled the Law on our behalf and cancelled out all our sins.

      Such glorious truths! While other churches certainly touch on these realities, many mingle these truths with various assumptions of man, thereby watering down these realities or corrupting them with false belief. We ourselves are even tempted to disbelieve the truths taught in Scripture, and so we must, as St. Peter writes in our epistle, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Pet. 1:10).

      We confirm our calling as Christians and election into God’s eternal kingdom by maintaining the confidence that we belong to Christ our Savior.

      When we sin, we are doing things that are contrary to the Christian faith. We often sin out of weakness. Our flesh gets the upper hand. We act before we think. We react according our carnal desires. Some sins of weakness happen even when we are aware we are doing them. We don’t always have the ability to stop ourselves when we know that our choices are wrong. This can be as simple as getting more food when we know we are full or even more carnal when we take that second lustful look.

      We must repent of these sins. Even as we plead guilty before God, we cannot number them all. It is not only impossible to keep track of every last sin, but we also don’t even realize that we have committed many of our sins. This shows how far-reaching our sin really is.

      Other sins are done in boldness and self-security. They blatantly go against the teachings of God without regard of their consequences. They are done with the attitude that sin does not matter, and that there should be no penalty for sin. If unchecked, these sins lead to death.

      St. Peter shows two ways in which Christians may walk. He doesn’t even hint at the idea that there could be a middle road. One way is the way of death. It is to lose our privilege of being partakers of Christ’s divine nature. It is returning to “the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire… Whoever lacks these qualities [of being a Christian] is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” These people are sliding back toward their carnal nature. This is tempting for all of us. So we must remain on guard. This reality, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is a good reason for us to maintain the Lenten disciplines of repentance, reading our Bibles, and focusing especially on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      In our Epistle, we hear more concerning the way of life. St. Peter writes, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you… He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature… Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:2-11).

      What Peter is teaching is that the Christian life ought not be stagnant, but should involve growth. Faith itself increases, and so do the fruits of faith—Christian virtue and works.

      As we run our Christian course, we do not continually see growth and improvement. There are ups and down. Our faith can wax and wane, but overall it increases. Our desire to engage in good works also changes, but it should be growing over the course of time.

      Hearing truths like this can cause us to turn inward. How can I make myself grow? Am I experiencing growth? What am I doing to grow?

      Such an inward focus is a tool of the Devil. He wants you to take your focus off Christ and focus on yourself instead. Then he can get you to enter despair, for you see that you continue to remain sinful and cannot rid yourself of even the slightest temptations.

      That is why we need Lent. Our focus, while penitential, remains on Christ. We are hearing His Word of salvation, learning of His Passion, clinging to His righteousness, looking to Him who is the author and perfector of our faith.

      For as Christ continues to come to you through His Word and Sacrament, the grace and peace of Christ are multiplied to you. As you abide in His Word, you are truly His disciples and you become partakers of His divine nature. As you know the truth, it shall set you free of your bondage to sin. Your faith, then, gradually increases. In fact, you don’t usually notice it. It not only comes about in gradual, but lasting ways, but your faith is not in your faith. Your faith looks outside of you. Your faith clings to Christ Jesus. He died on the cross for you. He acquits you of your sin. He declares you not guilty. He gives you the robes of righteousness and the garments of salvation.

      So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, during this Lenten season, give up some of your time. Use it to be in the Bible each day. Use it to be in God’s house each Sunday and Wednesday. Use some time for daily prayer and family devotions.

      God grant that this blessing be yours—the blessing we heard at the beginning of our Epistle: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!” Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen