Summary: There is no one who ... can stand before God justified and clean because without the blood of Jesus that washes away our sin our righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). (A sermon for Ash Wednesday).



Text: Second Corinthians 5:20 - 6:10

William Cowper, the poet, found peace with God through the words, "Jesus Christ, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins" (Rom. 3:25). He saw therein the satisfaction given to God by Christ, and the forgiveness of His sins through faith in the shed blood. Soon after this he wrote the lines- "Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood, Shall never lose its power; Till all the ransomed Church of God, Be saved to sin no more." (John Ritchie. 500 Gospel Sermon Illustrations. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1987, p. 30).

Jesus, God’s only begotten Son (John 3:16) who was without sin became a sin offering for us: "The lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). He took our sinfulness to the cross as He was crucified and in exchange, He gave us His righteousness, for all who will receive it (Second Corinthians 5:21) which enables us to become God’s adopted sons and daughters (John 1:12-13).

"I do not need to be converted: I never did any harm. Some are like the prodigal son, I am like his brother." The speaker was an elder in the church. He had a high opinion of himself, and his virtues. But the prodigal’s brother in Luke 15:25-33, is a poor pattern. He boasts of his own righteousness, blames his father, speaks evil of his brother, and the last we see of him is outside sulking in disobedience to his father’s call (Romans 10:3). (John Ritchie. 500 Gospel Sermon Illustrations. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1987, p. 116). There is no one who is righteous by his or her own merit wherein he or she can stand before God justified and clean because without the blood of Jesus that washes away our sin our righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The RSV words that same verse this way: "we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment".


An ambassador is a representative who holds citizenship in one country and represents the interests of his or her country in a foreign country. We cannot watch the news with the current events going on---the threat of war in Iraq, protestors without seeing something about the ambassadors who represent their countries on the meeting floor of the United Nations to discuss the pros and cons of going to war. They are political ambassadors. We who are Christians are foreigners in a foreign land in that we are citizens of the kingdom of God who live on earth. We represent our Lord and His interests because we live in the world but we are not of the world. We are Christ’s ambassadors.

As Christ’s ambassadors, we are called to reconcile those who are estranged from God and each other. For one reason or another there are people who are estranged from God. They feel as though God has abandoned them or let them down. Perhaps, at one time they even had a daily dialogue with God in prayer. Yet, for some reason or another they feel as though God has let them down. Or, maybe they no longer feel that they are good enough for God.

"Voltaire once stood watching a funeral procession. As a high crucifix, carried by four men, passed by, Voltaire was seen to raise his hat and hold it aloft in the air until the crucifix had passed. A friend of his noticing this, said, "Well are you at last a believer in God?" "No," replied the atheist. "We salute, but we do not speak". (Hyman J. Appleman. Pointed Sermon Outlines And Illustrations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1953,p. 82). How many are there like Voltaire who salute God, but do not speak to Him?

As Christ’s ambassadors, all we can do is live out what we believe about God’s forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus Christ His only begotten Son. As an old saying says, "You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink". As Christ’s ambassadors, all we can do is try to help those who are estranged from God to find their way back. "There was a man who had lost his way. He asked his preacher to pray for him. At one time he had been a church leader. He had befriended alcohol only to find that he had become a slave to its vice. When he asked the preacher to pray with him he was sobbing as he said, “I know I’m in the gutter. I know it. But Oh! … I don’t belong there, do I?” Tell me I don’t belong there …” The preacher put his arm around him and said, “No, you don’t belong there; you belong to God. At the last heaven is your home!” (W. E. Sangster. Can I Know God?. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960, pp. 60-61). As Christ’s ambassadors, we try to help those who are estranged from God out of the gutter.


Some see us as impostors because they are cynical. One of the reasons that people are cynical is because they feel alienated. They feel as if no one cares and that we are "putting them on". They cannot believe that anyone cares or would care about them. That is the nature of people who are cynical unbelievers. They are skeptical when anyone tries to be nice to them because they have no concept of unconditional love. The cynical do not trust anyone because they think that anyone who shows them kindness is up to something.

Others see us as impostors because they have an atheistic point of view. There was a lady who once worked with a man who was vile. “God gave her a burden for him and she witnessed to him faithfully. He laughed at her and would speak rudely of his sins without shame. In spite of his efforts to trample and rend her (Matthew 7:6), this lady loved him to the end. He committed suicide.” (Billie Friel. Citizens Of The Kingdom. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992, p. 188). Despite the fact that there are people who will label us as "impostors" we have been given a burden for those who are lost. Our burden is to be God’s ambassadors of reconciliation.


We are trampled by those who are of the world. They speak ill of us who are Christians. They (those of the world) call us impostors and liars as they speak evilly unfavorable of us. We call sin unrighteous behavior to those who are blind to what sin is and does. Sin spells disaster. If there was an acronym for sin and what it does, then we would do well to say that sin spells disaster in a progressional way. We could say that the "s" of sin stands for subtle. We could say that the "i" of sin represents how sin is invading. And finally, we could say the "n" of sin represents how sin is nullifying. Sin separates us from God and each other. It is sad that those who trample Christians are themselves blind to how sin has enslaved them and is trampling them!

“A prison chaplain writes of a study in which he talked with twelve inmates in the penitentiary. He asked each “Why are you here?” The answers were instructive: “I was framed.” “They ganged up on me.” “It was a case of mistaken identity.” “The police had it in for me.” Not one said he was guilty of something. They were all innocent. An insurance adjuster said that he would estimate 90 percent of the people involved in automobile accidents see themselves as blameless”. (Emerson Colaw. Beliefs Of A United Methodist Christian. Nashville: Tidings, 1972, pp. 44 - 45). The truth is that there is no one who is without sin because we have all sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). There is only one who is without sin because He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and His name is Jesus Christ (John 1:29)!

We are triumphant because Jesus takes away our sin! Jesus conquered sin, death and the fear of death because the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23)! But, "… the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23 NKJV)! Someone has wisely said that "Christians are to be in the world as galvanized nails in a building, holding it together but not corroded by its acids". (R. Benjamin Garrison. Creeds In Collision. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967, p. 15). That is how we as Christians are in the world but not of the world!

When we come to an Ash Wednesday service like we are doing tonight, we come with a spirit of reverence. When we come together for an Ash Wednesday service, we are reminding ourselves of our sinful past and the price that Jesus paid for our redemption giving us victory over sin’s power and our freedom as forgiven sinners! We come and receive the mark of the ashes in the sign of a cross on our foreheads as a symbol of our penitence and mourning. We receive this mark in the shape of a cross as we remember that Jesus was nailed to a cross as He paid the price for our sins, redeeming and reconciling us 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" (Second Corinthians 5:21 RSV). And for the next forty days (from now until Easter Sunday) we give up something (our favorite desert or type of food) to remind ourselves of our penitence. We exclude the Sundays in that period. But, we remember our penitence the other six days of each week from now till Easter Sunday. We call this time of the year "Lent". Lent commemorates the time of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness for forty days, when Satan whom He defeated in that wilderness and on the cross tempted him. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (Second Corinthians 5:21 RSV). Amen.