Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our theme for Lent is #hearingthegospel. But, to “hear the gospel” and truly understand it we must first hear the law. For where there is no law there is no gospel.
Ash Wednesday stands in stark contrast to Transfiguration Sunday. This past Sunday we went up to the mountain top and saw the glory of Christ revealed. His clothes because white, His face shone like the sun, Moses and Elijah appeared, and from the cloud the voice of God the Father rang out – “Listen to My Son!” We were reminded of a holy and pure God. A God who does not abide sin, but detests it. A God who demands perfect holiness from His people. A God who terrified the Israelites on another mountain thousands of years ago.
In our Old Testament passage we only get the middle section of Joel 2. Why is Joel calling on the people to “even now…return to [the Lord] with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments?” Because the Lord is coming with disaster to judge His people.
It is from the Day of Judgment that the prophet Joel calls the peoples to repentance. That even though the coming destruction is great and deserved the Lord can and will relent if the Israelites repent, not just in show, but in heart. If they turn to the Lord God. If they renounce their wicked works and ways. “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance,” (Luther, 95 Thesis).
Notice, in Joel 2:12-19 that repentance is not just a sitting down and thinking about the bad things we do and the evil thoughts we have. This repentance is, as Luther calls it, “the hatred of self.” Notice what the Lord calls for: returning with “all your heart,” fasting, weeping, and mourning. Consecrate the congregation, assemble the elders, call a fast, gather the children (even nursing infants), leave the parties, the merrymaking, have the priest lead the people in worship. In other words, stop what you are doing.
In today’s times, we would say, “turn to the cross and repent!” In “A Sermon on Indulgence and Grace” given in 1518 Luther said this, “It is a grievous error for anyone to think that he can make satisfaction for his own sins. God always forgives them out of His priceless grace and demands nothing more than a good life thereafter. Christianity actually does demand something.”
The demand is to love God and love our neighbor. The demand is to live a life of repentance. The demand is to continuously turn from our sin and turn to the Lord. To, as Paul puts it, stir one another up to do good deeds.
And what happens when we live this life? When we repent, and call on the Lord? Joel 2:20-32.