For My Ashes Tell Me So

We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

1 John 3:19-20

Ash Wednesday and Lent were never much of a part of my spiritual journey when I was growing up. For the longest time I knew about it but I only thought it was a Catholic ceremony because I would see all of my Catholic friends with ashes on their heads as I was growing up. It wasn’t until I got older that I started understanding the importance of this evening. The importance of recognizing that we have come from ashes and that one day we will return to ashes. It’s a sobering thought. It can be a thought that can scare us, it can cause us to question our own faith and our own salvation. It can cause us to doubt our own faithfulness and I think that this doubt can be used by the Lord for depth or it can be wielded by the enemy for separation. Tonight I want y’all to hear the words that John wrote to us in his letter. He wrote this for us to understand that our ashes show us how much Jesus loves us. They show us how great God is.

If was look at this scripture, we really need to go back to 17 and 18 to understand what John was leading with in verse 19. He was addressing these same questions in the hearts of those he was writing to. This question of whether we’re enough because, frankly, we’re not. We are wicked, selfish, and sinful beings. We came from ashes and what we deserve are ashes and our hearts are very good at convicting us of that truth. Our hearts are incredible at retaining memories of how broken we are. I can easily recall the moments where my sin was so great it left a scar on my soul. I will find myself at moments, dwelling on sins of the past and wondering if I have truly been forgiven because I can look at them and find myself feeling the continued guilt that they left on my psyche. I find it hard to believe that I’m alone in this and as I look out amongst you, I can see heads nodding and knowing that there is a universal truth in the conviction of our hearts. If anything, I have a much harder time recalling the moments where I’ve stepped in and helped others than I do the moments where I know I’ve failed.

So if our hearts are so convicting of our sin and the death we ultimately deserve then how can we ever find our hearts at rest in the presence of God and his son who is the one who was elected to judge us? How can God forgive us if we can feel the guilt of our own missteps and misgivings?

The answer is in verse 20. The answer is in the truth that God is greater than our own hearts. GOD is GREATER than our own hearts. God knows all of this. He knows our hearts, he knows our failures, but he also understands the place that we come from. He knows the motives that we have, and he knows the faith and desire we have to follow his son better each and every day. To love those around us the way he loves them. Yes, we fail daily, but God knows us. He knows all of this and he is greater than our hearts’ convictions. So we can rest knowing that His love is greater than our own heart’s guilt.

When I was younger I remember sitting in church and hearing this story and it’s a story that resounded with me enough to be the first thing that comes to my mind when I read this passage. Now, mind you, the theology of the story is broken so please don’t get hung up on those aspects on the story. Instead, focus on the message of God’s love and grace in the face of our heart’s conviction of guilt.

There was a man and he had reached the end of his life. Upon his death he found himself sitting outside the gates of heaven waiting to be judged. As he sat there staring up at the pearly gates and seeing and feeling the wonder and amazement of what lay beyond them he began to start wondering if he would get it. The longer he sat there waiting the more and more he started to recall his own life almost like you do before a big test. You find yourself sitting there, pouring over the material you’ve been studying, wondering if you’d studied the right information and what was going to be on the test in front of you. The more you sit there, waiting for the test to be handed out, the more your confidence begins to fade away and the fear and doubt begin to creep in. This man felt those same things. He started going back over his life and recalling his sins and as he did so, he became more and more convinced of his own damnation. He actually found himself sitting there and feeling nothing but sorrow and regret for all that he had done and wishing he still had the time to go back and tell those he had wronged how sorry he was. But, he knew it was too late. His judgement was upon him. By the time the angel came out to welcome in front of Jesus’s throne to face his judgement he was a complete and utter wreck. There was just no possible way he could ever see Jesus allowing him inside this incredible place he had been staring at for what felt like an eternity. In his own mind, in his own heart, he had already been found guilty.

He walked in front of the throne and found a chair facing Jesus and he could not bring himself to look upon his executioner. He was all but shaking as he took his seat and he finally brought himself to look upon the face of Jesus. As he did, he steadied himself and waited his judgement. Jesus looked completely unphased as he looked back upon the man. He didn’t say a single word but gestured to a wall beside him. The man looked at the wall and as he did, something almost like a screen came to life. The man prepared himself, ready to see and relive all of the sins he had committed to be recounted before him and show him what he already knew he was deserving of.

As the screen came to life it began with him as a little boy. It showed him helping one of his childhood friends after they’d fallen off of the bike. The screen fast forwarded to him as a teenager worshipping at a church retreat that he could barely recall. Again it fast forwarded to the day of his wedding where he made a vow to love his wife faithfully. His children being born. Him being a father and teaching and caring for them. Him loving others and helping others over and over again. All of the goodness of his life was revealed before his eyes and even though he had not realized it, he had begun crying tears of joy and love. He turned and looked up at Jesus, overwhelmed and almost unable to understand what he was seeing. Jesus looked at him with tears in his own eyes and said, “Well done good and faithful servant. You have loved me and you have faithfully worked to love those around you. Your sins are mine to forgive, and your ashes do not define your life.”

God is greater than our own hearts. He overcame our sins and our ashes with the eternal, unfathomable and unconquerable love and blood of his son Jesus Christ. So this evening, remember that from ashes we have come and from ashes we will one day return. But our God is greater than any of that. So repent and hear the good news as we enter into this season of Lent.

Let’s Pray.

About Pastor Payton

Payton splits his time and calling as the Head Pastor at New Hope Methodist Church and Macedonia Methodist Church in Waller, TX. Both churches are members of the Global Methodist Church denomination, and Payton is currently working towards his ordination as a Deacon in the GMC.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *