Ash Wednesday 2017 (Joel 2:12–19)

March 1, 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO


Capital letter LORD (you know, LORD spelled with all capital letters in the Old Testament)—yes, that LORD is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” That’s Yahweh. That’s His name. That’s what LORD in capitals means.

That’s Jesus. He’s Yahweh in the flesh. That’s why people wanted Jesus dead: He walked around and said He was Yahweh. He proved it with His death and resurrection, but His death and resurrection weren’t only some litmus test for His claims.

No, Jesus is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” It’s cross won, empty tomb proved. But it’s more than even that. He delivers it. He delivers it tonight. I deliver it. His mercy is to “forgive iniquity and transgression and sin.” That sort of mercy,


[I. Confession is based on mercy and not quid pro quo.]

Mercy is delivered. Mercy is received. Mercy isn’t earned. If it could be earned, then it wouldn’t be mercy. Earned mercy doesn’t exist. Mercy flows freely and only from the one who shows mercy. When mercy (forgiveness of sins) is delivered in the Absolution, it’s the same way. It’s not earned. Confessing our sins doesn’t earn us the absolution. Confession and absolution go together, but it’s not a transaction. It’s not like giving the cashier money, and you walk out with a Casey’s donut.

The Cashier letting you leave with the donut isn’t her being merciful. It’s your right to have that donut. You paid for it. The Lord’s mercy, His forgiveness isn’t earned. Not by you, anyway. When it comes to His mercy, the Lord supplies everything. You don’t bring anything of value to the table. You’ve got nothing but sins and resistance. Then in our brokenness, we think that our confession, our motive, our feeling before God is what gets us the goods.

But the Lord is merciful, and He supplies everything. That’s what Joel preaches: “Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God?” When He leaves a blessing, He leaves the very means to thank and praise Him. He would even give the grain and drink offerings that were offered to Him.

Everything flows from the Lord’s mercy. He took up our sins, He died and rose, and He delivers that mercy, that forgiveness to us in the Absolution. It’s on the basis of the Lord’s mercy that we confess our sins. It’s on the basis of His promise to forgive, that He is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Yes, we should confess. The Lord calls us to do that: “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” But He demands us to do far more. He commands us to put away our sins. Don’t just put on an outward display of being sorry. Actually stop your sins. Put them away. Jesus shed His blood for them, died for them, rose to free you from them. He delivers that freedom in the Absolution. So, why continue to live in them? Why keep anger going? Why fill up the browser history again? Why forsake the Lord’s mercy-filled Word? And why think that our often half-hearted confession earns something from the Lord?

[II. The (P)riest(s) stand(s) in the Temple—in the breach.]

Who will stand in the breach for us? Between us and God? Who will weep and cry out for us, “Spare Your people, O LORD,” when we’re here with our sins and thinking that our confession earns, even in some small way, our forgiveness. Well, there was One. One faithful and true High Priest. He cried out, “Father, forgive them.” He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” He cried out, “It is finished,” and He breathed His last.

We care more about what tortures we can put ourselves through, we care more about the outward show of repentance. There is fruit keeping with repentance, but we want to put the apples before the cart and the horse. “Rend your hearts and not your garments.” Yes, that. Do it, without any thought of any earning of forgiveness. Forgiveness was already earned for you by Jesus when His heart was rent, pierced with a spear for you. Rending garments does no good because Christ’s weren’t when He was crucified for you.

But even now in our sins, which we do daily and much, there’s a go between. I can tell you: there’s no one here who doesn’t need forgiveness, and there’s no one here who’s sinned so bad they can’t be forgiven. The LORD Jesus is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” “It is finished,” He said.

Who will stand and cry out, “Spare Your people, O LORD.” Well, the one who has a Word from the Lord, the one to whom the Lord said, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” That’s me. Forgiveness was won by Jesus, and now He’s worked it out so it’s delivered to you, too. I’m here by the call and command of Jesus to forgive your sins, all of them—big ones, little ones. Freely and fully they’re forgiven. They’re forgiven according to the command and the promise of Jesus, our Lord. We confess and are forgiven not as a transaction, but it’s all on the basis of the Lord’s mercy and His promise to forgive.

What happens tonight, happens by the command of Jesus. Jesus is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” He crosses and empty-tombs for you. That’s mercy! He delivers it, too! He’s sent His man to do it. Mercy, forgiveness is delivered.

There is confession, and there is absolution. No mere outward displays here. We mourn our sins, but we should put them away. We want to do better. And Jesus isn’t a divine cashier. He’s merciful and gracious. Freely and fully winning forgiveness of sins on calvary. Freely and fully forgiving them here and now. Jesus’ mercy, His forgiveness, is delivered to you. So, let’s get on with it already!


1 thought on “Ash Wednesday 2017 (Joel 2:12–19)

  1. Phil Friedrichs March 6, 2017 — 5:58 pm

    Oh, but our feelings are our friends – satisfaction of our abilities to please God, or abject despair – we love them both. Like to wallow in them to. Thanks for keeping the message of God’s mercy before our meandering eyes!

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