Ash Wednesday

Turn To Jesus

Some sins are uncomfortable. Now, when I make that statement, I am not talking about the fact that there are sins that we do that are uncomfortable. What I’m speaking about is the fact that there are sins that the bible speaks about that we don’t usually like to speak about. It seems safe and allright to speak about gossipping and greed. But what if it’s a different topic? Then it just doesn’t seem right or permissible. What if we start talking about websites that no one should visit—and yet we do? What if I jumped into the role of your doctor for a moment and told you to stop eating all those big macs, bacon and brownies. Oh, you can talk about some topics, pastor. But don’t go there. What I eat is my business. What I watch is my business. But the Holy Spirit reserves the right to preach against not just the sins we are familiar and comfortable speaking about, but also the ones we are not comfortable speaking about. And this evening we see that so very clearly as the Holy Spirit reminds us about Judas. And so, in Matthew 27, we read: 1 When daybreak came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put him to death. 2 After tying him up, they led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 3 Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said. “What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”” (Matthew 27:1–4 CSB17)

In these words we see the end of human hope for Jesus. If there were a chance of Jesus getting through Friday without being murdered, as we read these words, we realize that hope is gone. And we aren’t the only ones who realize that it’s gone. Judas realizes that, humanly speaking, all hope of Jesus not being murdered is gone. And it affects him deeply and profoundly. Judas is filled with regret and remorse. Judas feels such shame and pain over the fact that he is the one who stabbed Jesus in the back. He is the one who paved the way for Jesus to be murdered.

But, my dear friends in Christ, notice what word is not used in these words. All the english translations use words like “regret” and “remorse” for the word, accurately reflecting the greek word.1 But what word should we have expected to be there but is not? It’s another “R” word. Where is Repentance? You see, there is a huge difference between Regret and Repentance. Regret and remorse is suffering the shame of your sin. It is feeling absolutely horrible over the sin you have committed because of the shame and embarrassment you have brought on yourself. But what is it not? It is not repentance. Repentance has two parts: first, repentance is terror. It is a recognition that your sins rightly cause you shame and earn hell for you. But there is also a second part. Repentance is not just terror. It is also trust. It is trust that when Jesus promises that his blood covers your sin, he means it.

Now, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, look at Judas. And when you do you see that there really is not a whole lot of difference between pride and despair. Pride is the arrogance to think that you are so good that you don’t need forgiveness. Despair is the arrogance to think that you are so bad that there is not way that Jesus’ blood could cover your sin. Both of these attitudes bluntly and boldly call Jesus a liar. Pride calls Jesus a liar when he says that we are sinners. Despair calls Jesus a liar when he proclaims that there is forgiveness for sin.

So what do we learn from all this? Though it may not be comfortable for us or even acceptable for the sinful society around us, we look at Judas and repent. We repent both of our pride and of our despair. We turn to Jesus. And instead of wallowing in our sin, we trust Jesus’ promise that all our sins are forgiven there on that cross. And yes, that means the sins that we don’t talk about because they are so sinful and so shameful. They are forgiven.

And so, we turn away from shame to Jesus. But in our final verse we turn yet again. We read: “So he threw the silver into the temple and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5 CSB17)

We turn away from shame. And we also turn away from suicide. In our churches, in almost every instance, we do not bury those who have committed suicide. And we follow this practice for a very real and important reason. But it might not be what you expect. For we do not avoid burying people because suicide might be an unforgivable sin. Take, for example, a Christian who drives home drunk. That is a sin. Let’s say that the scenario gets even worse though. Let’s say that he swerves across the line and kills both the people in the car he hits and himself. Will he go to heaven after committing such a grievous sin? Since he believes in Jesus, his Savior, the answer is, “Yes.” For whether we know it or not, we are continually and constantly sinning in our hearts. No, instead, we do not bury people who have murdered themselves because they preached with their actions. By killing themselves, which only God reserves the right to do, they preached a sermon of despair. With their last act they preached that as many promises of forgiveness as Jesus has preached to them, the don’t believe them.

And so, what do we do with all of this? We turn to Jesus. We turn to Jesus by turning away from our shame. But we also turn away from suicide. And we do that by preaching against it. In my ministry as a pastor suicide has only brought pain and misery to the survivors who are left. When people contemplate suicide they pretend that they are doing this for their family. But really, truly, they are doing it for themselves. It only brings pain, not peace, to those who survive. It does this because the loved ones who survive cannot ask the person that most important question, why. And they also do not know the answer to that question, where. They do not know if that person is in heaven or hell. If that person died in despair they are not in “a better place.” No, they are in a worse place. They are in hell. And so, in the same way you would yell and scream and plead to the child who wanders into the busy road to get out of the road, do the same with the person thinking about suicide.

And if you, yourself, have thoughts to just end it all, preach the same sermon to yourself. Suicide makes nothing better. Instead, it makes everything worse. But also turn to Jesus. For Jesus has said, “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Whatever sickness or tragedy you face, Jesus is there with you. And not only is he with you but his is also there for you. Jesus perfectly trusted in his Father for you in your place. Look to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was being pressured by Satan to dive into despair that he sweated drops as thick as blood. He did that for you because you could not. And he died for you so that whatever sinful, shameful, painful sin you have committed, it is dead and conquered there on that cross along with all the other sins the world has committed.

So, my dear friends in Christ, turn to Jesus. Turn away from shame. Turn away from suicide. And Turn to Jesus. Amen.

1 “ⲙⲉⲧⲁⲙⲉⲗⲏⲑⲉⲓⲥ” (Matthew 27:3 GNT-ALEX)

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