2-17-21 Ash Wednesday

Bible Text: Matthew 6:16-21 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Lent 2021 | Every Lent is a time to reassess our lives, the way we live, to realize that everything else is acting, an embarrassing show, except life lived under God and for heaven. This is what Jesus is saying when He warns against hypocrisy. The word hypocrite means actor. We could just as well translate Jesus’ words, Don’t be actors. Don’t act as if God doesn’t exist, as if He doesn’t see everything you say and do and even think. The reason you have religious hypocrites is the same reason you have outright pagan pleasure-seekers. They don’t really think God is watching. So the religious hypocrites do what they do, give money, go to church, dress up, pretend that they’re Christian people in public or at church while they live like heathen at home, because they’re trying to impress people. So they’re acting, acting as if God doesn’t exist. Which is, of course, embarrassing. The outright pagan pleasure-seekers also do what they do because they don’t actually think God is watching. As the psalm says, God is in none of his thoughts. So this is the first lesson we need again to take to heart this Ash Wednesday. God exists. And while others may be impressed by our acting, God most certainly isn’t.

So what does this look like, this life lived knowing that God actually exists? I’m going to treat this in three points. The first two have much more to do with your relationship with God. The third has to do with your relationship with everyone and everything else.

So first, life lived not acting is a life lived knowing you are a sinner. You can’t hide anything from this God. You can’t hide what you look up on the internet, what catches your eye. You can’t hide how you talk about others behind closed doors. You can’t hide how you snap at your wife or husband or children or friends. You can’t even hide your thoughts, your anger, your apathy. Nothing. As the psalm says,

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

It is very easy to forget this. Because our Father dwells in hiddenness. Our translation says, he dwells in secret. I don’t even know what that means. The Greek says, in hiddenness. You can’t see God. But he’s not a secret. Again, listen to the psalmist, the fool says in his heart, “there is no God.” It’s foolish, stupid, intellectually vapid, simply silly, to think that God doesn’t exist. His existence is no secret. It hasn’t been in any generation. But God is hidden. You can’t see Him. And no one has ever seen the Father. This is what St. John says, “No one has ever seen God. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.”

So the issue is not that God is a secret. But that we can’t see Him, and so this makes it very easy for us to act as if He doesn’t exist. And so it has to be our constant exercise to stop acting. Every single day of our lives. He is hidden, but He is there. He contains everything. There is nowhere He isn’t. As the psalmist says,

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
Now this would be simply terrifying if, first, we stopped acting and actually realized God is looking at us, and then second, we understood what the psalmist tells us, “God is angry with sinners every day,”

“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
    evil may not dwell with you.
5 The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
    you hate all evildoers.
6 You destroy those who speak lies;
    the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”

But once again, our acting is quite cavalier at this point. God is hidden. We trust our eyes. And we think life lived actually contemplating God’s anger against sin is not the life we want to live. But your choice is either to go on acting, or to face reality. I can’t see gravity either, but it does what it does. The God whose nature it is to demand righteousness sees you, personally, your life, how you live at home and what is in your heart.

Second, realize who reveals the Father to you. The Father is hidden. Jesus reveals Him. Philip says to Jesus, Lord, show us the Father and we will be content.” And Jesus says to him, “Have I been with you so long and you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” And when Jesus reveals the Father, He reveals not simply that God knows your sins, but that God has so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. The Son reveals the God who is not eager to cast you away from His presence, but who suffers all to make you His children, forgive you, and teach you how to live in His Kingdom.

So it’s not a frightening thing to know that this God sees everything. It’s frightening if you hold on to your sin, of course. It’s frightening if you think you can live by some cheap grace, act as if you’re a Christian, but behave like a pleasure-seeking heathen at home. But to us who confess our sin and genuinely want to do better, there is no greater joy than knowing that God is always watching. This is the great promise of the Lord Jesus, that He is with us always even to the end of the age. That we are never alone. We live life with the God who has redeemed us with His own blood, who became our Brother and wears our flesh and blood, in whom the Father is not hidden, because here is the Father’s love, that casts our sins away and welcomes us to be His children and rely on Him in good times and in bad, until we see His glorious face in the resurrection.

This means we aren’t acting here in church either. God speaks here. Jesus forgives here. The world of unbelievers is acting. They live life on a stage. Acting as if this sinful life is all there is. But here we have no reason to act. It would be embarrassing to act. Because reality itself proceeds from the God who speaks here. This is God’s house. Here the Lord Jesus descends with His body and blood to unite us to Himself forever. Here angels sing with us. Here we address the God who is hidden from our sight without doubt that He hears us and will answer us. Don’t let a second of your time in church be acting. Pay attention to every word, as words you speak to your Creator and as words spoken from your Creator and Redeemer and Comforter to you personally. And revel in it. There is no greater joy in all the world than to hold converse with God most high. And then live it.

And this leads to the third point about not acting, but living. Christians live the faith. If I am aware that Jesus is in my marriage for instance, I won’t think of cutting down my wife. I’ll instead treasure her as the gift she is and let her know it every day of her life. Because Jesus is literally with me, not simply teaching me how to treat my wife but also there to urge me to do it! If I understand that my children are God’s gifts, trusts from Him, not to do with as I please but to raise as His children, I will love them and discipline them and teach them as if God is watching, because He is. And if God created my mouth to speak with Him and of Him and to build up and not to break down, and I know the God who gave me my mouth is with me always, I won’t think of using filthy language, or cussing, or mocking, or insulting, or being mean. Because that would be acting. Acting as if God doesn’t exist. And that’s embarrassing, silly, wicked, and utterly unsatisfying. And it’s against the nature of the Christian heart, which really has the Holy Spirit dwelling in it, who really inspires us to love our Lord Jesus and love one another above ourselves.

And because God is with us, because we have been freed from acting, from hypocrisy, we pray at home, do devotions at home with our families, where nobody else knows about it, and we don’t think it strange: “why do this, when no one can see?” That question makes no sense to us! It’s the most natural thing in the world, to sing with the angels at home, to read God’s Word at home, to pray to Him, because we’re not acting. Jesus is our life.

So here is the call of Lent. No acting for us. Do not be like the actors, Jesus says. We literally live by the forgiveness of our sins. The reason your mortal body will take on immortality is because right now God speaks forgiveness to you. The reason you, who are dust and must return to dust, will be raised incorruptible, is because now you live your life washed clean from sin, fed by the body and blood of your God and Brother, and standing, living a Christian life in God’s presence.

So let’s make this a point this Lenten season, 40 days, enough to establish a habit that will last for life. Live every day with the conscious realization that your Lord is with you that what you do is not done in secret, but in full sight of the Lord who has bought you with His blood, forgives every sin, and delights in Christians who do His will. God grant it to us all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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