Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday: A Devotional Commentary

Joel 2:12-19 “Yet even now,” says Yahweh, “turn to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning." Tear your heart, and not your garments, and turn to Yahweh, your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, even a meal offering and a drink offering to Yahweh, your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion! Sanctify a fast. Call a solemn assembly. Gather the people. Sanctify the assembly. Assemble the elders. Gather the children, and those who nurse from breasts. Let the bridegroom go forth from his room, and the bride out of her room. Let the priests, the ministers of Yahweh, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, “Spare your people, Yahweh, and don’t give your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” Then Yahweh was jealous for his land, And had pity on his people. Yahweh answered his people, “Behold, I will send you grain, new wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied with them; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10 We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together, we entreat also that you not receive the grace of God in vain, for he says, “At an acceptable time I listened to you, in a day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.  We give no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our service may not be blamed, but in everything commending ourselves, as servants of God, in great endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; in pureness, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

Matthew 6:16-21 "And when y o u are fasting, do not be just as the hypocrites, gloomy-faced; for they disfigure their faces in order that they may be visible to people as fasting; amen, I am saying to y o u that they have received their reward. But you, when you are fasting, anoint your head and wash your face, in order that you may not be visible to people as fasting, rather to your Father who is in the secret, and your Father who sees in the secret will reward you. "Do not treasure for y o urselves treasures on earth, where moth and eating destroy and where thieves dig through and steal; but treasure for y o urselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor eating destroys and where thieves neither dig through nor steal; For where y o ur treasure is, there y o ur heart will also be.

Haiti suffered a horrible earthquake in which many have died and many others are suffering. Some believe that the earthquake was an act of judgment by God upon the Haitians for a voodoo ceremony that was performed hundreds of years ago. If that case, the suffering in Haiti will be insignificant to what is about to happen to the United States. Abortion is illegal in Haiti. In the United we sacrifice over 1 million babies to the god Mammon. Our worship of Mammon has caused us to let Haiti live in such poverty all this time. We export pornography all over the world and have done all kinds of other sinful things. If God truly acts in the transactional way that some people think then there is no hope for the United States. People like to give themselves a false sense of comfort by coming up with some reason that the terrible tragedy that happened to somebody else could never happen to them. But if God is giving people what they deserve right now then what happened to Haiti will look like nothing compared to what is going to happen to the United States.

In the Old Testament reading God is calling His people to repentance after sending them a plague of locusts that ate up all their food. The sending of the locusts was not intended to be a punishment for their sins. If that were the case, God would have sent them straight to hell. The locusts were sent as a call to repentance. The surrounding pagans may have enjoyed an abundance of food while the Israelites suffered. That doesn't mean that God loved the pagan nations more than the Israelites. The locusts were a display of God's love towards His people. The fact that the United States has not suffered in the same way that Haiti has should not lead anyone to the conclusion that God loves the United States more.

Earthquakes are some of the birth pangs that remind us that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. These birth pangs should bring us to repentance. They should not bring us to despair. They should turn us to Christ. Birth pangs should turn our attention away from all the stupid things we complain about every day and turn us to Christ. They should turn us to Christ with fasting and weeping and mourning because God is merciful. Our fasting and weeping and mourning do not earn us anything with God. Our fasting cannot pay for our sins. Our fasting and mourning and weeping are useless if they are for outward show. Fasting is beneficial for us. Fasting helps us discipline our bodies and keeps us from being slaves to food. Fasting allows the mind to better concentrate and focus. Fasting allows us more time for prayer and the reading of the Scriptures. Both Paul and Jesus regard fasting as a normal part of the Christian life. Jesus says, "When you are fasting..." assuming that you will fast.

God is merciful. God does not want to destroy you. Through the shed blood of Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins. Through the shed blood of Christ we know that we do not need to worry about treasuring up for ourselves earthly possessions. Those possessions will pass away but we look forward to a possession that nobody can take away from us. They may take away all that we have--even our lives. But they cannot take away the possession that has been won for us by the blood of Christ.

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