"So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according ot 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." ~ Ezra 10:3
September was a very busy month for my family. We spent a week in Wyoming and South Dakota, and then Cindi and I spent another four days at the G3 conference in Atlanta, Georgia. We were blessed by God in our time away, but we are happy to be back at home with our church family.
During the time away, our church was blessed to hear from two other preachers. One of our own, Richard Marsh, delivered an excellent message from John 5 declaring unashamedly, "Jesus is equal to God!" We were also privileged to hear from another brother, Hans Scheib, who preached from Genesis 26. He exhorted us to trust in the Lord and not be to near to the world. I thank God that these men were able to minister to our church as faithful witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My time to return to the pulpit came this past Sunday and I preached from Ezra 10 on the characteristics of true repentance. You may recall that Israel and Judah had been exiled in Babylon, but God had orchestrated a rescue mission so that a remnant of His people could come back home to Jerusalem. Upon their return, they recommitted to obeying God's law, reinstituted regular worship, and rebuilt the temple. This was a wonderful and emotional homecoming (Ezra 3:12-13). But not everything was as it should be. Some of the men, including priests, had entered into marriages that God had forbidden. When this was discovered, Ezra led the people down the path of repentance. The path Ezra forged has left a trail for us to follow, and there are six markers that can help us identify if we are on the path of true repentance.
1. SORROW (Ezra 10:1,6).
Ezra and the people expressed deep heartfelt sorrow over their sinfulness, including fasting (10:6), laying prostrate (10:1), and weeping (10:2). True repentance will be accompanied by heartfelt sorrow that is produced by the work of God in us: "For the sorrow that is according ot the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10)
2. SOLEMN CONFESSION TO GOD (Ezra 10:1-2, 11)
A truly repentant person will admit to God that they have grieved Him by violating His commands. Shecaniah's confession was, "We have been unfaithful to our God" (Ezra 10:2). If you discover sin in your life, you should bend your knee before God and confess, "I have sinned against you." Remember that mercy comes to those who confess sin (1 John 1:9).
3. SACRIFICE, NO MATTER THE COST (Ezra 10:3-4)
When you read through these verses you will notice that the people's response to their sin was prompt, personal, and painful. Repenting from these sinful marriages was no easy task and it would require great sacrfice on the part of the those involved. Jesus also told us that repentance would require sacrifice. He used the extremely graphic imagery of self-mutilation to illustrate repentance: "If your right eye makes your stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of yor body, than for you whole body to go into hell" (Matthew 5:29). If you truly want to be done with the sin in your life you will take the necessary steps to put it away from you.
4. SUBMIT TO GOD'S COMMANDS (Ezra 10:3, 11)
True repentance is always accompanied by obedience to God's commands. We don't just toss out the rotten fruit, we pick up the fresh fruit of obedience. For this to happen we must agree that God's word is absolutely without error and trustworthy in all it says, and we must also believe that the most practical and beneficial thing we can do is wholeheartedly obey God's word.
5. SEE IT THROUGH (Ezra 10:13-17)
God's people agreed that the sin must be repented of, but they knew that they could not deal with it in one or two days (Ezra 10:13). Instead of rushing the process, Ezra selected a group of men to help investigate the families involved, and after about 75 days the process was complet (10:16-17). Repentance will often be more like a marathon than a sprint. It requires patience and perseverance, and will often require wise counsel. When it comes to repentance remember these two things: 1. Don't rush it. 2. Don't give up.
6. SEE THE HOPE IN SPIGHT OF THE MESS (Ezra 10:2-3).
Shecaniah exhorted Ezra to lead the people in repentance becasue he was confident that their is hope for those who repent before God, and HE IS RIGHT! He knew that God is forgiving, gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness, and that God never forsakes His people (Nehemiah 9:17). When sin is exposed in our lives we maintiain our hope by remembering that God forgives and cleanses all who confess their sin befoe Him (1 John 1:9).
Ezra was a great leader who represented the people well before God, but their is One whom God Himself sent to represent us like no one else can-JESUS! Jesus is our perfect representative before God. Through His death on this cross He has put away our sin by becoming our curse and has risen from grave and now lives with the Father where He interecedes on our behalf (1 Peter 2:24; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 7:3). And just in case there is any doubt in your mind, He is willing and able to cleanse you just like He did the leprous man who cried out, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean" (Luke 5:12). Jesus touched Him and said, "I am willing; be cleansed. And immediately the leprosy left him" (Luke 5:13). Will you go to God in repentance and faith and receive the cleansing that comes through Jesus Christ?
HOW CAN I USE THIS SERMON REVIEW?
1. Examine your personal life, marriage, or other relationships and repent of any sin.
2. Ask God to help you by His grace to live in obedience to His commands.
3. Tell someone you know that Christ is willing and able to forgive them and cleanse them if they will come to Him in repentance and faith.