Today is Ash Wednesday; launching the season of Lent. Although no one is exactly sure where the tradition began, an common outward sign of sorrow, grief, and mourning is for someone to dress in sackcloth (or to tear up their clothes) and to put ashes on themselves. We find many examples of this throughout the Old Testament; especially whenever someone came to the realization of the consequence of their sin and chose to repent. To repent just means to have a change of mind about and to change course.
Today, you may have seen people with ashes on their forehead. This is a common tradition that some churches practice. The ashes on one’s forehead remind themselves and everyone else that they are a sinner in need of repentance and also of the certainty of death. After all, we all came from dust and ashes, and to it we will return.
Although neither Ash Wednesday nor Lent is mentioned nor commanded in scripture, the purpose and principles of this season certainly are Biblical. Lent is a season that begins 40 days before Easter and is one where Christians reflect and focus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Common practices to bring about this focus are disciplines such as fasting and repentance.
Tonight, we’re going to dig in deeper and understand that it’s not the outward person that God is concerned with, but rather the inward person. He requests not that we tear up our clothes, but that we tear up our hearts and truly repent before Him. Tonight, we learn about true surRENDer.
In Joel 1-2, we find a prophetic word regarding the coming Day of the Lord. It begins by describing the great army of the Lord coming in like locusts and bringing total destruction to everything in their path. Then, it presents a choice that the Lord’s people have the opportunity to make and finally, God’s response to them. This plea of the Lord, however, is one that applies at any given time to anyone. It’s the plea that if we turn to the Lord with all of our heart, that He will turn to us and restore us to Him. It’s a plea to surRENDer our entire selves in full trust in Him.
For time’s sake, we’re going to skim through Joel 2.
11 The Lord thunders
at the head of his army;
his forces are beyond number,
and mighty is the army that obeys his command.
The day of the Lord is great;
it is dreadful.
Who can endure it?
Rend Your Heart
12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the Lord your God.
To rend literally means to tear into pieces. However, it’s not our clothes that God wants us to rend – it’s our hearts. God’s desire is to create within us a pure and undivided heart. In order to do this, we have to surRENDer to Him in repentance.
That’s exactly what Israel decides to do. They all gather together and enter into a season of fasting and repentance. They abandon whatever they are doing and fully surRENDer to the Lord. They cry out to God and beg Him to spare them.
The Lord’s Answer
18 Then the Lord was jealous for his land
and took pity on his people.
19 The Lord replied to them:
“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
an object of scorn to the nations.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.
Tonight, let us come before the Lord with a commitment to surRENDer to Him – to rend our hearts in repentance. Surely the Lord will have compassion on us and fully restore us, no matter what may have been stolen from us and destroyed in our lives. Our season of mourning will surely end in rejoicing and praise! After all, He is our God and we are His people – in this there is absolutely NO SHAME!