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LSB Ash Wednesday Sermon – 2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:10

February 19, 2015

February 18, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“For He says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

“Now. Now. Now.” The word conveys an urgency. Parents tell it to a teenager: “Clean up your room now.” It is uttered by spoiled children, like Veruca Salt in the Willy Wonka movie: “Don’t care how, I want it now.” It is used in names of political organizations: “Democracy Now. Equality Now. Stop Hunger Now.” The word demands an action. Something is to happen with immediacy. No time to delay. No opportunity to defer until later. It must happen now.

Paul uses the word, too. He uses it to convey an urgency to his audience in Corinth. The apostle speaks of his desire, a desire that is aligned with the Divine Will: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’” Paul speaks about the necessity of reconciliation. Sinners are to become righteous. And God has provided the way: reconciliation that comes through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

But note the urgency that is conveyed in the apostle’s words that follow: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” When is this reconciliation to take place? Now. When is the grace of God to be received? Now. When is God going to listen and give aid? Now. The matter of is of such great necessity that there is no time to wait.

That urgency with which Paul writes about the need for reconciliation may strike us as a little misguided. Now. Now. Now. That is what the apostle demands of his audience. But that was written nearly two millennia in the past. If it were so urgent, why is there so much time gone by? What is so urgently important that has waited for 1,900+ years?

It is true that Paul’s statement is nearly two millennia old. But the matter that he writes of is not so old. Yes, the event that he describes is: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” That has taken place in ancient days. But the reconciliation between God and mankind takes place not just in the past, but in the present. It is a situation that happens in the here and now.

The apostle’s writing is not just about how mankind was reconciled to God in history. No, it is an exhortation that is spoken in each individual’s life. That takes it from something that is thousands of years in the past to something that is contemporary. God desires you to be reconciled to Him. And that is to happen at this time: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Paul’s urgent words are to be heard by you who are not like Jesus. You do know sin. You are not full of righteousness. The record of your behavior is poor. The statements of the psalm that you prayed did not just describe King David; they have spoken concerning you: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Such words speak about the necessity of being reconciled to God. For this description does not reveal a hotbed of holiness, but a cesspool of sinfulness.

But it is precisely in that situation that the LORD’s statement concerning Himself spoken through the Prophet Joel is so pertinent: “‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the LORD, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” The LORD’s will is to be reconciled with you. And He does not want to put that matter off.

“Yet even now, return to Me….” That is the LORD’s desire for you. And that is echoed by what was stated by the apostle: “For He says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The LORD’s will to relent from disaster is current, not just a past opportunity that has elapsed or a future opportunity that may never come. It is for you this day. Even this night is the time of the LORD’s favor and a day of your salvation.

The LORD wants you to return to Him now. He wants you to be purged and cleansed now. He wants to answer your pleas now. He wants to extend His blessing to you now. He wants to spare you from any possible disaster now. So the invitation goes out again this Ash Wednesday: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” 

“Be reconciled to God.” Be reconciled by lamenting over your sin and mourning now. Be reconciled by making your petitions to Him now. Be reconciled through confession and absolution now. Be reconciled by recalling the death of Him who knew no sin now. Be reconciled by receiving the grace that comes from Jesus now. Be reconciled by being set apart and made holy again now. Be reconciled by having table fellowship with your Redeemer now.

Now. Now. Now. The forgiveness of sins is here for you now. Life is here for you now. Righteousness is here for you now. You don’t have to go away searching for it. You don’t have to wait until another day to obtain it. You don’t have to lament any missed deadline that has passed. “For He says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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