Jonah 3:6 – Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. (NKJV)
For many years, I received the customary ashes for Lent without any thought to the biblical basis of this ancient practice. However, when the priest applied the ashes to my forehead in the form of a cross, I was faced with the unpleasant reality of my own mortality when he recited the following words based on Genesis 3:19 – "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return."
Sadly, these were the words spoken by God to our first parents, Adam and Eve, after they disobeyed His commandment forbidding them to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But in the context of Ash Wednesday, the church is reminded that all have partaken of the same fruit and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet, in spite of that, the ash-shaped cross speaks of hope and salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the light of Scripture, ashes are often associated with fasting and repentance. Today's verse from Jonah is one of my favourite examples. Amazingly, not only did the king of Nineveh repent of his sins, but the whole community followed his lead and turned from their evil ways in response to Jonah's preaching; therefore, God spared their lives.
A thoughtful observation of the king's actions demonstrates a sincere change of heart. Note the following progression of events:
- He stepped down from his place of power.
- He exchanged his majestic robe for sackcloth.
- He sat in dust and ashes.
In the same way, Ash Wednesday encourages believers to examine their hearts in relationship to the Lord. With or without literal ashes, we can look forward to great spiritual blessings in the days and weeks ahead if we are willing to focus on Christ rather than ourselves. What can we sacrifice? We will do well to give up our place of power in exchange for the Holy Spirit's power.
James 1:23-24 – For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. (NKJV)
Let us take this opportunity to re-evaluate our lives through the mirror of God's Word. In what ways do our actions indicate true repentance?
Prayer: Dear Lord, with the ashes of repentance, inscribe Your Word upon our hearts and amend our lives according to Your will. Teach us to number our days that we may gain wisdom, understanding, and abundant life through Your Spirit. Accept our offerings of praise and thanksgiving for Your great sacrifice and love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.