Because I’m on sabbatical, this is the first time in years that I won’t be administering the ashes on the foreheads of my church family. I’m glad to be on sabbatical, but I’m sad to miss this. It’s one of the most intimate and meaningful things I do with my church family. Look each of them in the eye, remind them that they are dust, and exhort them to repent and follow Jesus.
My Ash Wednesday observance today consisted of – among other things – listening to a sermon on Romans 1 by the late Mark Ashton, Vicar of St. Andrew the Great in England. He died of cancer on Easter morning in 2010. Maybe in another post I’ll share some of his words about receiving a terminal cancer prognosis. They’re profound and moving. But today, I want to share some of my notes from his sermon on Romans 1. They’re profound too and helped me once again see the significance of observing days like Ash Wednesday. The notes are raw – I didn’t edit them for this post. So, please bear with me. I hope their significance will hit you like they did me today.
THE GOSPEL: Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The Gospel shows us a right/righteous God acting rightly/righteously to make us right/righteous before Him.
How could God be just in declaring human beings innocent when human beings are guilty? This was exactly what unjust judges did and do in the courts. Taking bribes and declaring guilty people innocent. Is God like that? NO! In the cross, God paid the full penalty by putting Christ on the cross. So, his holiness, righteousness, and justice remain intact.
The quote from Habakkuk in verse 17 reminds us that God has ALWAYS dealt like this with His people. In the OT and NT, the man who would be right with God has had to rely solely on God to grant him that relationship of rightness. By faith from first to last.
GOD’S WRATH: Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
The Gospel is necessary because there is such a thing as the wrath of God. This is “God’s wrath poured out from heaven.” It’s not just some impersonal cosmic process of cause and effect – like karma. God is not some morally neutral spectator of some moral process. It’s nonsense to say that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. Sin has no separate existence except as an act of rebellion carried out by rebels (human beings). And how does a rebellion get quashed…by removing or changing the rebels. Sin has no existence except by the thoughts, words and deeds of a sinner. Psalms repeatedly says that God hates sinners. There is no such things as a rebellion as an abstract thing. There are only rebels who rebel. There is no sin for God to hate; there are only sinners. Remove us from the universe, and you have removed evil. That’s why the Bible is so vague about where sin (beginning with the serpent) came from – so that you and I don’t pass the buck. Where does evil come from? Our hearts.
This is why the Gospel is so necessary – and those of us who have it are obligated to share it. Because people aren’t indifferent to God in their sin. They are rebellious and objects of God’s wrath. Without faith in Christ and the receiving of God’s grace thru Christ, we are enemies of God…and God is our enemy. An in all irony, God is also our only hope.