We are entering into another season of Lent. Ash Wednesday also reminds us of the first day of the Lenten season, a period of 46 days which focusses on spiritual purification and repentance. According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days of fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Lent originated when the early believers began to mirror this 40 days of fasting as a preparation for Easter. During the Ash Wednesday prayers, the priest puts the mark of the cross in ash on the forehead of worshippers reminding them to that they should observe personal repentance. These ashes are collected from the burnt palms that were used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday, the Sunday before the resurrection Sunday, which marks Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem where he was met by crowds who waved palm branches. Its significance is that Jesus was greeted as a hero and a Messiah by the mob in Jerusalem, where he was eventually put to death at the hands of the Romans at the insistence of the very same mob. The ashes are meant not only to remind Christians about human mortality, but also to express the individual’s desire for repentance and mourning for their own sins. Ashes were used in ancient times to express grief. The gesture was also used to express sorrow for our sins. In Job 42:3–6, Job says to God: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” The prophet Jeremiah calls for repentance by saying: “O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes.” (Jer 6:26). The prophet Daniel recounted pleading to God: “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3).
This is a time to follow Jesus Christ and His teachings, which at its simplest was “Follow me.” He asked men and women for their personal allegiance. He invited them to learn from Him, obey His words and identify themselves with His cause. First, there must be a renunciation of sin. This, in a word, is repentance. It is the first step which marks the beginning of a Christian’s renewed life. It can under no circumstance be bypassed. Repentance and faith go along together. We cannot follow Christ without forsaking sin. Repentance is a definite roundabout turn from every thought, word, deed and habit which is known to be wrong. Repentance is neither of emotion nor of speech. It is an inward change of mind and attitude towards sin which eventually leads to a change of behaviour.
To follow Christ is to surrender to Him the right over our own lives. It is to abdicate self from the throne of our heart and enthrone Jesus as our King, meaning surrendering to His will in our life. This renunciation of self is vividly described by Jesus in three phrases. First it is to deny ourselves, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself.” So it is not in denying certain physical things to our self, but to deny ourself to ourselves. It is to say ‘no’ to self, and ‘yes’ to Christ; to repudiate self and acknowledge Christ. The second phrase which Jesus used is to take up the cross, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. ‘To take up the cross is’ to put oneself in the position of a condemned man on his way to execution.” In other words, the attitude to self which we need to adopt is crucifixion. Luke’s gospel writes these words of Christ with the adverb daily. Every day the Christian is to die for self. Every day he renounces the sovereignty of his own will and renews his unconditional surrender to Jesus Christ. Thirdly Jesus used to describe the renunciation of self as loss of our life: “Whoever loses his life . . . will save it.” The word “life” in this verse denotes neither of the existence of the physical body nor of the soul, but of the self. So in order to follow Christ every day in the true sense, we have to deny ourselves, crucify ourselves and lose ourselves. The full, inexorable demand of Jesus Christ is now laid bare. He does not call us to a sloppy half-hearted living but to a vigorous life of absolute commitment. He calls us to make him our Lord.
To make Christ as the Lord of our life is to bring each and every department of our public and private lives under His control. This includes our careers too. God has a purpose for every life. Our prime business is to discover from God’s Word and then do it by obeying Him. God’s plan may be different from our parents’ or our own. If the Christian is wise, he will live his life neither in a rash way nor in a reckless way. He may already be engaged in, or preparing for, the work God has for him to do or he may not. If Christ is to be enthroned as our Lord, we need to open our minds to the possibility of a change. So dear brothers and sisters in Christ, may this season help us to rededicate our self to Jesus Christ and be a part of His great purpose.