Ezra Lesson 12 - True Confessions (Part 2)
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? Stephen gives us the answer from Scripture.
In our last discussion, we began an in depth look at true confession.
And, above everything else, we want to understand what the Bible says about the subject.
Our society at large often uses the word confession – but the truth about the average confession is that it isn’t true confession.
People may admit to something – people may be coerced into some sort of plea bargain – people may acknowledge some sort of wrong doing, but that isn’t confession.
So while the tabloids whisper, “True Confessions”, and some television personality or sports star or civil leader confesses to something – it sounds, it looks, totally different than Biblical confession.
To further complicate the issue is the loss in our society and perhaps in our own lives of the sense of shame. A sense of shame today is considered silly, old fashioned, prudish.
Even when someone admits to sin, they are not really ashamed or embarrassed. There is no embarrassment – there is no humiliation – no one today would ever say, even if caught in a terrible crime or sin, “I am so ashamed for what I did or said.”
The truth is, the natural inclination of the depraved heart does everything to resist true confession. Not only because it doesn’t want to admit to sin – but because it wants to sin!
The Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas recently advertised in a full length page add in a business magazine; The page was black with four words written in white across the center of the page – the words read, “Lead yourself into temptation.”
Believe me, you won’t have any trouble at all doing that.
Our society at large is a guilt ridden, sin laden society that constantly attempts to cover over, to lessen, to silence the inner guilt brought about by sin and the absence of true confession.
The answer to guilt, the answer to a troubled conscience and the answer to a heart and mind in anguish over sin is true confession.
We discovered in our last study through the Book of Ezra, a man who illustrated for us what true confession was all about.
And we looked at the first three ingredients of true confession – pulled right out of this scene.
Before we begin, let’s re-read our definition of true confession:
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.
Ezra has just learned that 113 spiritual and political leaders in Jerusalem are guilty of marrying, unbelieving, pagan, idolatrous women. Malachi sheds additional light on the subject – many of these men had divorced their Jewish wives and married Ammonite and Hittite and Egyptian women.
The purpose of Israel was at great risk – idolatry would be taught to the children – Israel’s past revealed they were vulnerable to gods they could see and touch – the remnant of Jews that had come to Jerusalem to restore the city and it’s worship of the one and only true and living God was now guilty of violating the law of God and setting the stage for other gods!
Ezra’s response to the news of sin provides for all time, the nature of true confession.
The first ingredient was Admission – verse 6b. “Our iniquities have risen above our heads, and our guilt has grown even to the heavens. 10. And now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Thy commandments. 11. Which Thou has commanded by Thy servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from end to end and with their impurity. 12. So now do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters to your sons, and never seek their peace or their prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it as an inheritance to your sons forever.’
Ezra admitted the sin as sin. No excuse, no rationale, simply, “Oh God, we have sinned.”
The second element of true confession we noted was aversion to sin. There was shame and embarrassment over sin.
Then there was thirdly, an awareness of God’s grace!
I love verse 13. And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since Thou our God has requited us less than our iniquities deserve. . .
False confession would never say that, “Lord you’ve treated us better than we deserve. . .” No, someone falsely confessing minimizes their sin and usually exaggerates how tough God is and how demanding the church is and how difficult the consequences are.
True confession magnifies our sin, and it magnifies the grace of God who gives us what we don’t deserve and then keeps us from what we do deserve by His mercy.
So true confession involves admission - but admission is not enough. It involves aversion but that is not enough. True confession involves awareness, but even the awareness of God’s grace is not enough.
More is needed . . . more is involved in true confession.
The first three words we’ve studied reflect the private nature of confession.
The final two words reveal the public nature of confession.
And let me add here, that while all confession will not be public – it is very easy to say you are confessing privately and not really mean it.
It’s easy to say, “That sin is disgusting . . . I’m appalled by that behavior . . . I admit I’m a sinner . . . isn’t God’s grace wonderful . . .” It’s easy to sound good but be a hypocrite.
In the last few weeks, one of our presidential candidates gave a big speech about how God and values and his faith were so important to him. In his attempt to convince the American people that we should consider him for president, because of his claim to Biblical values he announced that his favorite Bible verse was John 16:3. Of course what he meant to say was John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Problem was, neither his speech writer nor he knew enough about what he was claiming – he wasn’t familiar enough with Scripture to catch the typographical error. So this presidential candidate in claiming his adoration of Biblical faith said, “My favorite Bible verse is John 16:3.” And how ironic that John 16:3 has Jesus referring to hypocrites saying, “And these things they will do because they have not known the Father.”
It’s easy to say, “I believe in confession . . . I believe in God’s grace . . . I’m appalled by the sin in our society.”
It is the following two ingredients that reveal whether or not you really mean it.
The next ingredient of true confession is bound up in the word: Action!
10:1 Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women, and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. 2 And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam,
answered and said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God, and have married foreign women from the
peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. By the way – did you notice the elements of true confession – there is admission “We have been unfaithful to our God.” There is aversion – we have married foreign women from the peoples of the land” There is awareness of God’s grace – “yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this."”
Then a call to action – verse 3 “So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. (now notice what Shecaniah says to Ezra) 4 “Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.”
May the tribe of Shecaniah increase! People who say to those in leadership over them – don’t lose heart – act with courage.
Let’s just watch what happens next – look down at verse 9. So all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month on the twentieth of the month, and all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and the heavy rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel. 11 “Now, therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers, and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” 12 Then
all the assembly answered and said with a loud voice, “That’s right! As you have said, so it is our duty to do.”
No wonder Ezra and Nehemiah after him will succeed.
Can you see this scene. Ezra, their leader stands and courageously declares the will of God – the people shout, “That’s right”. And they bind themselves to the will of God as their own personal duty.
Any church – any missions organization – any cause for Christ is incredibly blessed to have leaders that declare the word of God – and people within and affected by that organization who respond with “That’s it! Ezra, you’re right. We need to deal with sin – we will obey the word of God as our sacred duty.”
Now this passage raises the question of divorcing these pagan wives. Was divorce right or wrong?
Divorce had become common among the community in Judah and Jerusalem following the exile. Many Jewish men had divorced their wives in order to marry wealthy pagan women. Rabbinical tradition commented that these divorces occurred because the Jewish women had lost their beauty toiling in the sun to rebuild their homes and farms. Trophy wives are nothing new.
One author wrote, while divorce is never God’s ideal, in the Book of Ezra, it was the lesser of two evils. Idol worship was far worse than divorcing idolaters who would have ultimately [diluted, or even] destroyed the restored Jewish community and, God’s special plan for them as a nation.
Another author comments: A desperate situation called for a desperate remedy. An evil had been done with jeopardized the very existence of the people of God and the only right course to bring the people back into alignment with the purpose of God for putting away their idolatrous wives.
The point I want to make, and the point I want you to be marked by is that true confession is willing to do whatever it takes to bring a person back into fellowship with God and God’s will.
Many people will claim to confess – but few will be willing to act.
True confession gets up off it’s knees and makes things right.
The runaway, returns home.
The thief makes restitution.
The adulterer severs the relationship.
The cheater retakes the exam.
The gossip retraces their steps.
The liar tells the truth.
True confession reveals itself in action.
One more ingredient. It is the word - Accountability
A total of 113 Jewish men were involved in the sin of intermarriage. 17 were priests, 10 were Levites which included the singer and gatekeepers, and 86 were tribesmen.
They became accountable to one another as they met with Ezra in the remaining verses of chapter 10.
And they were ultimately accountable to God. That was revealed in a powerful way – did you notice that the last portion of the Book of Ezra
(beginning with verse 18 and ending with verse 44) – it’s simply a list of names. The list of 113 men who had sinned against God and their nation.
Can you imagine being in a list of offenders. Can you imagine your sin being recorded by God in the Bible?
My friend, there are other passages of scripture that let us know that God forgets our sins and iniquities. And there are passages that tell us that every idle word is recorded – every unprofitable deed is listed – and there is coming a day when we will stand before God.
One judgement will involve Christians who will give an account for how they lived their lives and used their gifts and opportunities. That judgement (we call it the Bema seat or the judgement seat) is recorded in the Book of 2 Corinthians chapter 5.
Another judgement will involve only non-Christians or unbelievers. The Great White Throne Judgement is revealed in terrifying detail in the Book of Revelation and chapter 20 where all of unbelieving humanity will be judged according to every deed they ever did. Every thought they ever had – it’s all been recorded by God.
The thought occurred to me this past week. The difference between the believers who are judged and then rewarded and the unbelievers who are judged and then condemned is this word – confession.
Those who confessed Christ and those who didn’t. Those who confessed their sin and those who didn’t.
Simply put, those who’ve experienced true confession go to heaven, and those who’ve refused to admit their sin go to hell.
Dear friends, it is never too early to confess – but one day it will be to late.
I want to make three closing statements about true confession.
1) True confession reveals the sincerity of the heart.
Max Lucado wrote in his book The Applause of Heaven . . . READ QUOTE
Well put. False confession reveals the pride and self-sufficiency of the heart. True confession reveals the sincerity of the heart.
2) True confession requires the submission of the believer.
That’s another way of saying, you are truly interested in true confession when your confession produces action.
I recently read a description of the Welsh revivals of the last century; READ QUOTE
- True confession revives the spiritual passion for God.
David, in his prayer of confession in Psalm 51 pled with God to restore to him the joy of his salvation.
Maybe what you need to revive your faltering, listless, inconsistent relationship with Jesus Christ is not a better study Bible, not a new church, not a new schedule, not a more positive attitude.
What you need is a new awareness of your sin; an open confession of your sin, a new aversion to sin followed by action and accountability.
And that which follows will be a fresh perspective of the grace of God and an intimate, transparent relationship with your Heavenly Father who, on behalf of your confession, restores to you the joy of your salvation.
“‘If we confess our sins . . .’ The biggest word in Scripture just might be that two letter one, “if”. For confessing sins – admitting failure – is exactly what prisoners of pride refuse to do.
‘Well, I may not be perfect, but I’m better than Hitler and certainly kinder that Idi Amin!’
‘Me a sinner? Oh, sure, I get rowdy every so often, but I’m a pretty good ol’ boy.’
‘Listen, I’m just as good as the next guy. I pay my taxes. I coach the Little League team. I even make donations to Red Cross. Why, God’s probably proud to have someone like me on his team.’
Justification. Rationalization. Comparison. These are the tools of the jailbird. They sound good. They sound familiar. They even sound American. But in the kingdom, they sound hollow.”
As people confessed their sin and pleaded for the controlling of the Spirit of God, they did all they could to confess wrong doings and to make restitution. This unexpectedly created severe problems for the shipyards along the coast of Wales. Over the years workers had pilfered all kinds of things. Everything from wheelbarrows to hammers had been stolen. However, as people sought to be right with God, they started to return what they had taken, with the result that soon the shipyards of Wales were overwhelmed with returned property. There were such huge piles of returned tools that several of the yards had to put up signs that read: If you have been led By God to return what you have stolen, please know that the management forgives you and wishes you to keep what you have taken.
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