My Ash Wednesday Sermon

The Power of the Cross and Your Birth
Romans 3:10-18

Human beings need no greater indicator of our personal and corporate sin-laced existence than the growing membership in our cult of personality. We are a culture obsessed with self. Sadly we find many influential churches speaking in the name of Christ pronouncing this same self-aggrandizing message – it says you are spectacular. You are glorious. You are special. You are everything.

But it’s all a lie. And worse yet, it ridicules the cross of Jesus Christ.

Tonight we begin a sermon series that will continue on Sunday evenings on the power of the cross and its practical implications on our daily lives. We begin tonight on Ash Wednesday with the topic of how the cross teaches us truth about our birth. The cross says something far different to us about our birth than we will hear anywhere else.

Romans 3 is written specifically to a group of people who had every reason to boast in their birth. Jews were the Old Testament chosen people of God who, based on simply being born a Jew, were marked by a covenant relationship with God and all males were given the sign of that covenant – circumcision – when they were only 8 days old. In the book of Romans, Paul spends the first 2 chapters describing the sin-filled, guilt-ridden, debauchery-minded nature of the gentiles. To this the Jews would have declared a hearty “Amen!” But things change a bit when Paul gets to chapter 3. Look at verse 8:  What then? Are we Jews better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.

Paul then cites several Old Testament verses, including a few Psalms, to teach the truth about who we are as human beings as soon as we are conceived in the mother’s womb. He echoes the words of King David who says in Psalm 51:5 – “I was born a sinner – yes from the moment my mother conceived me.” Although we tend to think of sin in terms of things we “do”, the Bible speaks of the root cause of why we do them…we are born with a sin nature. Sin, then, runs deeper than doing things that displease God. Sin is who we are by nature when we are conceived. Jerry Bridges says it like this, “Sin, however, is more than wrong actions, unkind words, and even evil thoughts we never express. Sin is a perverted principle or moral force in our hearts, our inner beings.”

Begin to rightly understand this and the cult of personality begins to crumble. In its place is a cross. Here are three quick thoughts about our birth and the cross.

1. We came from dust. If anything should highlight the falsity of our own greatness it should be our humble beginnings. Ecclesiastes 3:20 says, “all are from the dust, and to the dust all return.” The cross says something important to us here. The very existence of the cross of Jesus Christ, and that God chose us in Christ based on the work of the cross, provides the necessary framework for us to understand who we really are at birth. Ephesians 1:4 says, “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”  To be chosen in Christ is to be chosen based on the work Christ has done on the cross, not the work or the greatness we have done in being born. And this happens before the foundation of the world. Thus, before you were born, God knew you needed the cross. Any hope we have in this life is based solely on God preparing a way before we were conceived and the cross is that way. That there was a cross in mind for us at the point of our conception speaks loudly to the depth of our need for Savior. Because of this, the cross says to us, “You had nothing. You could do nothing. You were hopelessly dead even with your new life on earth. But God….But God…But God.” You and I came from dust. The only hope we have is “but God…” and those are the words of the cross of Christ.

2. To dust we will return. Behind every hello is an inner, dreaded knowledge of an eventual goodbye. Behind every beginning is the dawn of the end. Behind every birth is the sting of the enemy…death. Just as the cross has something essential to tell us about our birth, it also has something essential to tell us about our death. The cross says to us at our birth, “because you are wrapped up in sin and yourself, you need me.” The cross says to us at our death, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). It was impossible for us to avoid sin when we came from the dust. But because of the cross, it is possible to avoid sin when we return to the dust. We will all die, and we should remember it. But will we die well?

3. We were born to die to ourselves. Jesus, who is God and the second Person of the Trinity, was uniquely chosen by God to be born in flesh for the sole purpose of dying. His being born to die is significantly different than our being born to die. He was born to die as the perfect God-man so that we could be born to die to our sin-infested nature. But we are certainly called to die. “Take up your cross” Jesus commands. “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” Paul explains. “I have been crucified with Christ” the Galatians were taught.

So what is your worth? What is your greatness? Only when we die to ourselves and are made alive in Christ Jesus do we find worth. But make no mistake, this isn’t your worth. This isn’t your greatness. You are dead, remember? This is the worth and greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ. God has spoken over you the truthfulness of your identity in Jesus. Not you, only him. Not you, only Him. Not you, only him.

T.S. Eliot wrote this concerning Ash Wednesday:
Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy
But speak the word only.

God is speaking the word over you tonight. They are words of repentance and reflection. But they are also words of ownership. “You are mine” he says. “And my Son is yours.” Live in Him. Live in Him.

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