Why the Big Deal Over a Little Ash?

It was dark on my side of the room. The pastor had just announced how to receive your “ash mark.” I was in the front row. It was a bit uncomfortable because I had never done this before. As I sat, preparing myself in prayerful meditation, people began lining up in front of me and the line stretched down the aisle.

I didn’t look up, but bowed my head and prayed. And I heard this man’s voice. It was low, quiet, but firm. I heard, “for the wages of sin is death.” Then a couple of seconds later, “for the wages of sin is death.” Again, “for the wages of sin is death.” And again, “for the wages of sin is death.” For person after person, the same statement was made. With no variation, no hesitation, the man said, “for the wages of sin is death.” He said it to the men in the line. He said it to the women. And every time he said it, he marked another forehead with an ash cross. Each one walked away condemned.

As I sat there, I began to get a picture in my mind; Soul after soul, standing before the God of the universe and hearing the words, “for the wages of sin is death, for the wages of sin is death, for the wages of sin is death.” But then, the man stopped and another, younger man, with a whisper in his voice took his place. Finally, would there be reprieve? And then he said it, “for the wages of sin is death.” This was a new voice, but the same judgment. Truth is truth, no matter who says it. “For the wages of sin is death.”

The line was coming to an end. I knew it was my turn. I stood, faced the young man, and heard as he said to me, “for the wages of sin is death.” And I was marked. I knew I had sinned many times. I knew that sin courses through my veins and is intertwined with every motive, every decision and taints every action. There is nothing pure in me. This is a just judgment, “for the wages of sin is death.” I deserve my mark.

But then, on the stage to my left, was a cross. It was dimly lit. The voice from the cross, invited me, this marked man, to come. I walked to its base, I bowed to my knees. And I saw that this death I carried had been taken by someone else. He never deserved such a judgment as mine. But He offered to hang in my place. Sometime between my judgment and the carrying out of justice against me, He stepped up and stepped in.

And from that cross, He offers to take my sin and my death. I trusted Him as I laid myself on His mercy. I thanked Him for His love. I knew, as I know this morning, that His sacrifice is real and it is perfect and it is enough.

As I walked away from that cross, I heard a voice deep within my spirit, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus my Lord.” “But the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus my Lord.” “But the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Going back to my chair, I was condemned no longer. I had life and hope and faith.

I don’t know where this season finds you. But the invitation is always there. Accept God’s judgment, “for the wages of sin is death.” And then hear the voice from the cross, “come, trust, yield.” And as you walk away, you will leave with the confidence that His love and mercy is enough. Because, “the gift of God is eternal life, through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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