“When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,’ they will bring disaster. . . . All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 29:19,20).
Daniel J. Habben
I may even be out there right now . . . searching.
Searching for what, you ask?
One of the perks of living in the Caribbean is that I can swim year-round in water that supports hovering stingrays, languid hawksbill turtles, and yellow-striped French grunts that streak around corners like yellow cabs in Times Square. Octopuses are out there too, but they’re hard to spot because of their ability to blend in with their surroundings. So I’m always on the hunt, eager to find one of these elusive and curious creatures.
Repent of our deception
Like an octopus, we too can be masters of blending in with our surroundings, but that’s not always a good thing! For example, we might be all smiles on Sunday as we compliment our pastor on his great sermon about taking our neighbor’s words and actions in the kindest possible way, but come Monday morning, we eagerly dive into the latest workplace gossip like a kid into a pool.
In Deuteronomy chapter 29, the prophet Moses addressed those who were saying, “Yes, I will do everything the Lord has commanded!” but inwardly they were resolving to do whatever they wanted. If they had thought they could get away with the deception, Moses reminded them that they could not. God would bring judgment on those who persisted in such an attitude.
Ash Wednesday affords us an opportunity to take a good look at ourselves and ask, Have I been nodding a public yes to God’s Word while privately resolving to do my own thing? Have I promised to honor those in authority but then, without a twinge of guilt, complained about what a lousy job they are doing? Have I promised to be a servant to others, even as Jesus served me, but then tripped over my own bad attitude when no one notices my service?
Why are we like this—saying one thing and doing another? Because our sinful nature sticks to us like the suction cups of an octopus. And that’s why the message of Ash Wednesday is so critical: Repent! We are invited to swallow our excuses and acknowledge our sins.
Hold on to forgiveness
But don’t stop there. Next, grasp what God has done to save us from those sins. He should punish us for our deception and blot our names from the book of life. Instead God dumped our sins on Jesus. Picture a sea captain whose cargo has caught fire. He jettisons the burning cargo into the ocean, where the water douses the flames and saves the ship. In the same way, the blood of Jesus has saved us by extinguishing the burning cargo of our sins.
We don’t want to be a deceiver like an octopus, blending in and pretending to be what we are not. We are sinners, and we want to hold on to Jesus’ love and forgiveness as firmly as an octopus will wrap its eight arms around its ocean meal. Why? Because Jesus’ love and forgiveness not only grant eternal life but also empower us to say yes to God’s will—not just with our lips but also with our hearts and hands.