Today many Christians across the world will celebrate Ash Wednesday. As a Baptist, the liturgical calendar has never been my strong suit, and I have to admit that I was confused the first time I saw the ashen crosses–which was while I was in college! However, throughout the years, I have come to respect those who participate in this event, this partly due to my cousin-in-law (is that a thing?), a Methodist minister, who spends a lot of thought, prayer, and energy to explain the importance behind this date on the Christian calendar each year.
I was reading 1 John this morning and came upon this verse: “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” And I thought to myself, why on earth would anyone want a Christ-less Christianity? This is what Ash Wednesday is all about…a God who was willing to come down to earth and sympathize with lowly men. The Son of God who went into the wilderness to be tempted and tried as Israel was, but to succeed. A Savior who did not come to earth to lord it over mankind, but to identify with our every weakness, to be tempted in every way as we are, and to be without sin.
“Well, I don’t want a God who came down to earth just to stick it to us.” But that’s not the point. Jesus didn’t come to point out our sins, shortcomings, and failures. The law does a fine job at that. No, the righteousness of Jesus we see in the wilderness (Matthew 4) was not a showy display, but rather the demonstration of an obedient Son’s love for his Father.
You see, Jesus had to identify with us in our every failure, yet be without sin, so that he might become qualified as our high priest, offering his own blood as a perfect sacrifice in behalf of sinners (Hebrews 4:15). The wilderness temptation of Jesus which we celebrate on Ash Wednesday is about identification. It’s about a Savior who wasn’t afraid to become like us in every way, except one–he was without sin. Not so that he could proudly judge us, but so that he might take that sinless life and hand it to us–as a gift.
Ash Wednesday is a call to repentance. We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us have turned to his own way, but the LORD has laid upon him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Going astray is not merely a mistake; it’s sinful. Jesus’ back was laden with stripes, his hands were pierced, and he was killed because his sheep went astray. However, he was willing to chase us into the wilderness. Like Israel, we all wander in the wilderness bitten by snakes and prepared to die in sin. However, if we will look to that serpent on the pole (Numbers 21:8), that Man whom God made to be sin for us, we can become the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 5:21).
To heck with Christ-less Christianity. I’ll have my Jesus and love Him too.