Today’s Reading: Matthew 6:1-21
The Sermon on the Mount reaches a climax, of sorts, on Ash Wednesday in chapter 6. It could be said that this text on the brevity of earthly treasure is Christ’s exposition of the words spoken during the imposition of ashes, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
These verses are Law. They confront us with our sins of thought as we do perform good works and prayers before men that we might be praised by them. The praise of mankind is a heavy burden. We repent as we read Christ’s commands so clearly laid out before us.
But these verses are also a relief. What a relief it is to put down that burden this Ash Wednesday as we confess before God that we can in no way live up to His Law: “I, a poor miserable sinner…” There is an odd sense of comfort, in finally and fully admitting our weakness, inability, and sin.
We kneel to receive the ashes of repentance. Some will wear them on their foreheads, others only in their hearts. But our kneeling is not under the heavy burden of the guilt of our sin, nor under the weight of the worries and frustrations of maintaining the treasures of the world. It is a kneeling of repentance to receive the gift of mercy.
What comfort as we, kneeling, hear the words, “your sins are forgiven.” “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither rust nor moth destroy….” Unlike the praise and treasures of this world, the treasures of heaven are ours because they do not depend on our continued effort. They are ours because of Jesus Christ – His cross, death, and resurrection. Eternal life is ours, for free, because of Christ’s work and mercy.
We thank God with repentant joy as we recall that we are dust. Yet Christ, our dear Lord, became dust for us to graciously give us the treasures that last.
Prayer: Thy love and grace alone avail To blot out my transgression; The best and holiest deeds must fail To break sin’s dread oppression. Before Thee none can boasting stand, But all must fear Thy strict demand And live alone by mercy (From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee, LSB 607:2).
This devotion was written by Rev. Matthew Andersen – Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Ottumwa, IA.