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St. Matthew 4.17/Psalm 51


Ash Wendesday
Lutheran Senior Services at Meramec Bluffs  
Ballwin, Missouri

Wed, Mar 9, 2011 

Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.

Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 After his baptism, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert.  For forty days and forty nights he is tempted by the Devil.  When the ordeal is over, Christ has defeated Satan and resisted all his temptations.  St. Matthew says:

[St. Matthew 4.17]

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Never has a more important sermon been preached in so few words: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

2 Today we begin the season of Lent.  With ashes upon our foreheads, and hearts aware of our sinfulness, we begin a forty day journey of our own in response to Jesus' call—a forty day journey of repentance.  But what exactly does repentance look like?  What does Jesus mean when he says, "Repent!"?

3 The blessed David provides us with an answer.  In our psalm for today, Psalm 51, we pray these words with David:

[Psalm 51.1-9]

1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

4 This is the prayer of the penitent heart.  In this psalm we pray for God's mercy.  We pray for the blotting out, the washing, and the cleansing of our sins.  We acknowledge our transgressions, and we acknowledge against whom we have transgressed: God, and God alone.  But we don't just confess the sins we commit through action or inaction.  We also confess that we exist in a condition of sinfulness and have been sinners since our conception in our mothers' wombs.  Finally, at the end of this opening section we pray that God would hide his face from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities.  Such prayer is indeed the prayer of a repentant heart, and as we pray these words during Lent, we heed Jesus call to repentance.

5 But where does such repentance lead?  It leads us to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  From the moment he began to preach and to say: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (St. Matthew 4.17) Jesus was traveling toward the cross and his crucifixion.  His call to repentance leads us to travel with him to the foot of the cross.  And there we see our forgiveness.  Christ crucified is our forgiveness.  Christ crucified is God's answer to our repentant prayer.  Christ crucified is our hope, and our salvation.  So during these forty days we walk with Christ from the edge of the desert to the top of Calvary, and there behold him bleeding and dying for our sins.  And as we stand at the foot of the cross, God pours down forgiveness in the blood of Christ our Lord.

6 By the blood of Christ, our repentant prayers are answered.  Particularly the prayer contained in the next section of Psalm 51.

[Psalm 51.10-14]

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

By Christ's blood our hearts are cleansed and our spirits made right.  By Christ's cleansing blood we are welcomed anew into the presence of God our Father.  By Christ's blood is the Holy Spirit restored within our hearts, along with the joy of salvation and our freedom as the children of God.  Thus cleansed by Christ's blood, we teach transgressors the ways of God.  Cleansed by Christ's blood we make known the way of return to the Lord.  In Christ's blood is our deliverance from the guilt of our sin and our salvation in Christ.  By Christ's dying and by the shedding of his blood, our tongues are loosed to sing aloud of the righteousness of God.

7 As we make our way through Lent, we fix our eyes on our crucified Lord.  And in faith we offer our own sacrifice of praise to God our Father.  As David prayed in the remaining verses of Psalm 51, so we pray today, and throughout the season of Lent.

[Psalm 51.15-19]

15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

8 With these words we pray along with David, and with all the saints, that God would lead us to worship him rightly.  Not only during Lent, but throughout our entire lives.  God no longer desires the sacrifice of animals, but instead he desires our sacrifice of praise.  So we open our lips cleansed by the blood of Christ, and from our mouths the praise of God shows forth.  We open our hearts washed clean by the blood of Christ, and from our souls prayers of repentance and thanksgiving for Christ and his sacrifice flow forth.  We open our hands made white as snow by the blood of Christ, and from God-given faith, acts of mercy and compassion for our neighbors pour forth.  For through the blood of Christ, God does good unto us, his Zion, his holy people.  And by our sacrifices we confess that Christ's sacrifice upon the cross has saved us from our sin, and his blood, offered upon the altar of the Calvary, is the blood by which we are redeemed.

9 Today, we take the first steps in this our Lenten journey of repentance.  It will be intense.  It will at times be difficult.  But every step along the way, we will be blessed by the forgiving blood of Christ our Lord.  For every day, we will take our stand at his cross, and there we will receive the salvation of our God: forgiveness in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God grant it for Jesus' sake.  Amen.

Invocation In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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