“And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 1:8
Ash Wednesday begins the 40-day period known as Lent. During these days of preparation for the great feast of the Resurrection of our Lord, Christians, in repentance and contrition, ponder the saving work of Jesus Christ. This saving work is summed up in the cross. The medieval custom of marking our foreheads with the sign of the cross is a wonderful reminder to us of our sinfulness and God’s graciousness. From ashes we came and to ashes we will return, but God in His mercy will raise our ashes, give us an incorruptible and immortal body to live with Him forever. How can this be? Look to the cross of Christ.
The amazing thing is that Jesus Christ had no need to go to the cross. In fact, if you look at the verses that come before our reading, you will discover that Paul celebrates Jesus’ eternal existence; His equality with God; His divine nature. But because God loved His fallen creation so much, Jesus voluntarily renounced His pre-incarnate glory in order to suffer the humiliation of the incarnation and become the Word made flesh; Immanuel, God with us in His human nature.
Jesus, true God from all eternity, became true man at His incarnation. He was tempted just as we are, and He experienced every human emotion we experience. In every way He was a human being, but with one exception. He did NOT sin. He perfectly obeyed God’s will and Law. Jesus was perfect, He had no need to die, but He, being obedient to the Father’s will, chose to die in our place. That substitution took place on the cross. Jesus took my place, the place of the sinner, and by doing so, gave me His righteousness, so that through faith in Him, when God looks at me, He sees Jesus my Saviour and loves me.
That is why we are marked by the cross of ashes today. Jesus saves sinners, of who I am one, through His cross. Through His death I have forgiveness, life, and victory.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.
(LSB 425 v1)