Click here for the reading: Matthew 6:16-21.

In the sixth chapter of  Matthew, Jesus begins by explaining the three basic forms of Christian living: charity, prayer, and fasting. These three are part and parcel of the Christian life and serve as a perfect text for Ash Wednesday and the entrance to Lent.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”  Matthew 6:1-2

The Christian is expected to give alms (vv. 3-4), to pray (vv. 5-15), and to fast (vv. 16-18). Yet these must never be done in a way so as to boast or draw attention to oneself. Those who do so are described by our Lord as hypocrites. They are like play-actors who seek only the applause of men.

You are to perform these spiritual acts in secret, making no provision for man’s acclaim. God sees these acts and will reward you, according to the words of Christ. However, we do not do these things for earthly rewards. The crown gained by a life of faith is found in heaven, not in temporal things. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

To be after heavenly things is to be after God. It is to follow Him in a life of faith. Your desire is for Him alone. What do almsgiving, prayer, and fasting have in common? Nothing less than self-denial. We give away some of what we have to those who need it, demonstrating that all we have is God’s. We demonstrate the mercy we have received from God in the mercy we show to others. We pray, a sacrifice of time meant to bring us closer to God. We fast because man does not live by bread alone.

We need the season of Lent and its texts, because we need discipline. We must consider our ways. We consider our ways and amend them according to the Word of God and with great humility. Beware those who would diminish or demean these disciplines. Beware those who boast in themselves, be it for their righteousness or unrighteousness, from their rooftops, pulpits, or digital street corners.

Let the Word of God have its way with you this Lent. Do not be afraid to give, to pray, to fast. Let these disciplines continue with and in you throughout all seasons. Consecrate a fast that will lead to feasting.

Click here for the reading: 2 Peter 1:2-11.

In his second letter to the Church, the Apostle Peter straightaway admonishes the believer to life of faithful devotion to the Lord God. He demonstrates just what Jesus has done for us and how this grants to us “all things pertaining to life and godliness.”

Words like “virtue” and “self-control” have been given a bad name by those who would not want to be associated with words like “fundamentalist” and “prude.” Indeed even the term “godliness” is rarely heard from pulpits and studies. Yet Peter is clear in this text. You have been called to God’s own glory and excellence, and “for this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”

To lack these qualities, says Peter, is to be blind. To neglect love of neighbor or self-control, to refuse to live according to God’s will, is to forget the forgiveness of sins you received (v. 9).

Those who are being saved are elected in Christ before the foundation of the world. This brings great hope to the believer, that from first to last God is the author and perfecter of our faith. However, Peter tells you to be diligent to confirm your calling and election.

We must guard our faith from the devil and seek shelter from the temptations of the world. The promise of salvation is to those who have genuine faith (Matt 10:22, 24:12-13, Heb. 3:6). True faith persists until the end and will bear good “qualities” or fruit.  “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Healthy introspection is not detrimental to faith, if one keeps his eyes on the cross. Peter begins with what is ours in Christ and urges toward cultivating that and keeping it close to us. To grow in godliness is to grow closer to Him. We do so by prayer, meditating on his word, discipling our bodies, and brotherly love. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, keep your ears open to His Word, keep your heart inclined toward Him and to your brothers, and these qualities will be yours.

Click here for the reading: Joel 2:12-19.

In this great age of compromise and equivocation, the temptation to soften the language of “return” or repentance is strong. Yet the message God gives to the prophets is clear: “return to me with all your heart.” The Lord promises mercy to those who return to Him.

The call to repent goes out to all. “Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.” What does repentance look like? Is it different for the young and the old? In what ways do we hesitate to preach, ponder, and exercise repentance, and why?

Contrition and repentance go hand in hand. We must be humbled by the knowledge of sins, knowing first of all that we have offended God and wronged ourselves by giving way to passions and sins.

There is an outward element to repentance that is often lacking and important to highlight as we observe Ash Wednesday. The Word of the Lord says “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”

It is true that the Lord looks upon the heart and not the outward appearance. It is likewise true that the Lord breaks our hearts to bind us closer to Him. The contrite heart at times gives ways to tears, to mourning, to lamenting what we have done. Do not be ashamed of such things. Be ashamed of sin but never of godly contrition that leads to repentance.

The sinner is called to repent, to turn to the Lord, rending his heart, and He responds with mercy.  “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

The Lord Jesus Christ forgives sinners. He forgives those who know they have sinned and turn to Him. We should not be afraid to repent. We should repent daily and mean it. We should let God’s Word work in our hearts, that they be broken and turned to him. He does not turn away the brokenhearted, but binds them up and washes them clean.

Fear not the Lord’s call to repent. Fear not to proclaim the urgency of repentance. Fear the Lord, not men. Trust in Him. It is only in the preaching of the pure Word of God that true repentance is given, that saving faith is kindled, that men reach their heavenly goal.