Ezra Lesson 11. Have you ever had someone apologize to you and you knew they weren't sorry? On the other hand, have you ever had someone apologize to you and you knew they were sorry? What was the difference between the two confessions? What made one real and the other false? Stephen gives us the answer from Scripture.
Other messages in this series are available here: Ezra
Standing in the grocery store line, I was surrounded by magazines and tabloids – and I noticed how several of them included the word Confession.
“So and so confesses to secret love; so and so confesses to secret abuse; so and so confesses to fantasy life”, etc. etc.
Those people, and others like them who hire writers to tell us about their immoralities and infidelities are not interested in confessing – their interested in royalties.
Furthermore, when a person confesses to a counselor or psychologist, they don’t necessarily want forgiveness, they may just want to feel better.
We happen to live in a guilt ridden society, desperately in need of forgiveness, but unable to experience it because they don’t know how to truly confess anything.
I found it interesting to read of two separate companies who are capitalizing on guilt. One company will, for a modest fee allow you to talk to one of their telephone personnel and confess whatever it is you want to confess; another company will actually go and confess or apologize to whomever you want to make a confession or apologize. They’ll do it for you. I read this past week about an enterprising priest who has developed a web page where people can confess on-line.
The truth about true confession is that it doesn’t have anything to do with the internet and it can’t be done for you by somebody else and it can’t be done on the telephone to somebody you don’t even know.
What is true, biblical confession? How does it work – what does it say – how do we feel – what changes as a result of confession? Why do we need to do it if God already knows what we’ve done?
I want to begin our study by reading through this definition of confession. I have attempted to include in this definition every facet of Biblical confession that takes the believer from the very first step.
Confession: to simply admit unfaithfulness to God through your specific sinful thoughts and actions; to totally agree with God’s point of view regarding your thoughts and actions as inexcusable; to humbly accept any consequences brought about by those thoughts and actions; to diligently act in renewed faithfulness toward your gracious, forgiving God.
This, ladies and gentlemen is true confession.
How do I know? Because it has come directly from what we will begin to study this morning – the life and times of an Old Testament believer named Ezra who models confession not only for his own generation but for every generation of believer after him.
Let’s pick up study back up where we left off – with chapter 9 and verse 1.
9:1 Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2. “For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and
the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.”
Here’s the sin – the people have intermarried with the pagan nations around them.
But it’s a bigger problem than marrying unbelievers – it is a threat to the very core of what makes them a holy nation – and the purpose God had in mind for this nation.
Warren Wiersbe reminded me in his writing that the Jews weren’t called a “holy nation” because they inherently holy. There were chosen by God and set apart to do His will. And it would be through Israel, God had said in Genesis 12:3 “that all families of the earth would be blessed”.
Has that come about? Yes! Through the Jews the world has been given three wonderful gifts: the knowledge of the true and living God; secondly, the written scriptures – you hold in your lap or hands a Bible, inspired by God through Jewish writers; thirdly, and most significantly, from the tribe of Judah, a little boy would be born, directly related to King David through a pure ancestral line – and his name was Jesus Christ. The Jewish people gave us the Messiah.
So to intermarry violates and threatens the long plans of God. But it also threatens the immediate well being of people now exposed and vulnerable to idolatry. Malachi informs us that many of these Jewish men actually divorced their Jewish wives in order to marry pagan women.
They, like Solomon before them, were now on the downward slope that led from compromise into idolatry.
If you notice the last phrase – you discover the potential of ungodly influence for we read that the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.
The top leaders of the nation were corrupt. And their evil influence had opened the flood gates of immorality and the accommodation of idolatry.
There is great sin in Jerusalem.
It is at this moment that you and I are given a glimpse of true confession. You see, ladies and gentlemen, when God wants to teach some deep truth, he often illustrates the truth rather than dictating it.
Ezra provides for us, by the illustration of his own life, the ingredients of true confession.
The first summary word I want to give you as an ingredient is the word: Admission.
Verse 3. And when I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled. 4. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering.
Look at the way Ezra refers to this sin down in verse 6 (the last phrase) for our iniquities have risen above our heads, and our guilt has grown even to the heavens.
The mark of false confession is to downplay the sin. “Lord, I know I did such and such, but everybody does it.” Lord, you know that little white lie I told – I’m sorry. Lord, please forgive me for sort of messing up a little bit lately.
That’s false confession.
In other words, Ezra says, “Lord our guilt has grown in this huge pile that now reaches heaven . . . it is sin upon sin, crime upon crime, abomination upon abomination, perversion upon perversion – we are guilty of this huge mountain of sin.
It calls it what God calls it – go back to the definition – true confession simply admits to unfaithfulness to God – it totally agreeswith God’s point of view regarding your thoughts and actions as inexcusable;
True confession admits sin. It lays bare before God your sinful actions and further still your sinful heart. It exposes your motives instead of covering them up.
Look at verse 7. “Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to plunder and to open shame, as it is this day.
Circle these three words and discover what it means to really admit sin – shame . . . iniquities . . . great guilt.
Several weeks ago a man in our church came up and told me about an experience he had – that we both shared – and that was the strange feeling of standing in traffic court – even though it was for a traffic ticket, still, he told me it was really a moving convicting moment to stand up in front of people and in front of the judge and say the word guilty.
True confession says, “Lord, I’m guilty!”
When’s the last time you heard anybody say, “I’m guilty.”
The truth is, we learn at a very young age how to avoid admission to guilt, right?!
Like the little 6 year old girl I read about this past week who was often guilty of lying. Recently, her parents gave her a St. Bernard dog for her birthday – and if wasn’t long before she had told all the neighbors that she had been given her very own lion. Her mother took her aside and said, “I’ve told you not to lie. . . now I want you to go upstairs and tell the Lord that your are sorry and promise God you will not lie again.” The little girl went upstairs, said her prayers, came back down again. Her mother asked, “Did you tell God what you did?” The girl replied, “Yes ma’am I did, and God told me that sometimes He finds it hard to tell my dog from a lion too.”
True confession doesn’t rationalize sin – doesn’t deny it, doesn’t minimize it, doesn’t excuse it, doesn’t say it isn’t there!
But, like C.S.Lewis who wrote of his own self-examination, the Biblical confessor says, “I discovered within me a zoo of lust; a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.”
True confession admits it
But there’s a second element to true confession.
There is not only admission of sin, there is Aversion to sin!
Look at Ezra’s response again in verse verse 3. And when I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled. . .the last phrase of verse 4 . . . and I sat appalled until the evening offering.
That Hebrew word, “appalled” means, “to be horrified; to be shocked; to be astonished by sin.”
Everybody else accepted it . . . nobody else was tearing their clothes and plucking out their beards . . . sure there were other people upset by it, but only Ezra was appalled by it.
Why? Because they had for a generation, accommodated it; they had allowed for it and excused it – they let their daughters and sons date the Hittites and the Perrezites next door . . . they were really nice boys and girls – you just had to look past their idolatry . . . but then they married them and moved the idols into their apartments and their condos . . . it’s no big thing, man relax!
By the time Ezra arrived – the remnant was about to be pulled out by the riptide and didn’t even know it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the first step to no longer being shocked by sin in your life is taken when you are no longer shocked by sin in someone else’s life.
The aftermath of these school shootings has caused an evaluation of the violence in movies and video games. Expert psychologists and have traced real life murder to the exposure of fantasy murder in the games. They now admit that observing violence sets the stage for acting out violence.
No telling how many people have said lately, “Yea, those teenagers have really gotten hooked on movie violence and video game violence and violent themes in music . . . I’m not surprised some of ‘em are actually doing it.”
Then when is the adult world gonna be bright enough to apply the same principle to its own music and to its own movies and television?
We are no longer shocked by sin, in fact, we accept it being played out before our very own eyes?!
What have we to teach the younger generation - in the grown-up world we give Oscars to adulterers.
50 years ago, I Love Lucy – a show about two married people – was produced by the world – and the world wouldn’t allow Lucy and Ricki to be on the same bed at the same time – they each had there own twin bed, separated by a night stand.
Can you imagine the change – in one generation!
Oh, but aren’t we sophisticated now – no – we’re not sophisticated, we’re sinful.
Listen to Jeremiah speak, “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush!” Jeremiah 8:12
Listen to Ezra in verse 5 But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God; 6. And I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to Thee. . .”
Wanna start a revolution? For the rest of July and see what happens . . . turn off any television show, walk out of any Broadway production or movie theatre that shows or implies sexual relations between two unmarried people, or between a married person with someone other than the person they’re married to. The Biblical names for that is fornication and adultery.
Don’t even look at it? Don’t get emotionally pulled into the scene. Oh and apply that to novels, magazines and music.
Because just as video violence set the stage for real live violence . . . so, media immorality sets the stage, it wets the appetite, it prepares the table for real live immorality.
And the proof that you are already in danger is that you are no longer appalled by it. You’ve lost your sense of shame.
True confession involves admission – it includes aversion; Thirdly it brings Awareness of God’s grace!
In this great prayer of confession, Ezra recalls and verbalizes Five Images of Grace: Notice in verse 8, “But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us an escaped remnant (that’s the first image of grace). In other words, even though we’ve been so sinful, God has allowed a few of us to live in Jerusalem.
The second image follows, and to give us a peg (there it is) in His holy place. The image is that of a peg being driven into the ground which speaks of security and stability.
They are in the land – driven there by the grace of God
Then the word enlightenment brings captures the image of light for one’s eyes. They weren’t left in the darkness of bondage – they were given a new day – with light to walk in.
And further in the verse – they also experienced a “little reviving”. A picture of being brought back to life.
Then finally, in verse 9 the last phrase speaks of a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. It is the image of protection that they have received from a gracious God.
In other words, true confession magnifies the awfulness of our sin and at the same time it magnifies the grace of our God.
The person who is not truly confessing does the opposite to both – they minimize their sin and they minimize the need for God’s grace.
It’s not that big a deal!
May I go on to say that one of the blessings of true confession is that it gives you not only a fresh view of your sinfulness, it gives you a fresh view of your savior.
True confession involves Admission – but admission is not enough – it includes Aversion – but aversion to sin is not enough. It brings and Awareness of grace – but an awareness of grace is not enough.
True confession involves more than this – we’ll discover what it is next Lord’s day.
Before we close – let me give three thoughts to re-arrange our perspective on the subject of confession.
- Confession is an opportunity to remind ourselves that our choices do not bring fulfillment.
- Confession is a reminder that we are not satisfied with delighting in Christ.
Confession is not so much in saying – “O Lord, help me overcome materialism, but O Lord, cause me to enjoy You more than anything I could ever own.”
Confession is not so much in saying, “O Lord, take away my sinful craving, but O Lord, give me a craving for You.”
Isn’t confession nothing more than a reminder that we were not totally satisfied with God.
- Confession is a need, not so much because we broke a commandment of God, but because we broke the heart of God.
The Apostle Paul in dealing with sinful believers in Corinth did not take them through an exposition of the 10 commandments – frankly he didn’t need to – they all knew them by heart. But what he did do was plead with them along this line. His argument went like this – “Listen Christians – have you forgotten that your body is the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit – your body is carrying God around – and when you engage in sin, you take God with you – and how grieved He must be to endure the presence of sin and the unfaithfulness of his son or daughter.
Sin violates God; sin abuses God; it hurts, it grieves God. And the believer who sins and then goes before God with true embarrassment and true shame and true guilt, recognizing the hurt and dishonor he has brought to his gracious God, can experience true confession.
And discover in the process His Lord, Who, in spite of the sin, stands ready to forgive and forget.