“On October 3 the people assembled again, and this time they fasted and dressed in burlap and sprinkled dust on their heads. 2 Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners as they confessed their own sins and the sins of their ancestors. 3 They remained standing in place for three hours while the Book of the Law of the Lord their God was read aloud to them. Then for three more hours they confessed their sins and worshiped the Lord their God.”
As we come to chapter 9 we continue to see the shift from construction to consecration. But consecration starts with confession and it is here that we discover that God’s people not only recognize their sins but repent of their sins. Chapter 9 reveals the peoples first heart response to the reading of God’s Holy Word was that they:
- Confessed their sin to God
As we learned last week, God’s people were told to stop mourning and start rejoicing. It’s now later in that same month, the “branch booths” or “tents of twigs” have been taken down. But God’s Word is still given central attention. God’s Word is not just a once a year ceremony but an everyday devotion. This time as they listen to the Word of God instead of responding with celebration, there was conviction, which included both an atmosphere of sorrow and an attitude of repentance. They were fasting, wearing sackcloth, and had put dust on their heads. These were outward signs of inward sorrow and a desire to repent and recommit their lives to God. Verse 2 tells us that they were not just sad about their sin, but they responded by separating themselves from those who would have a bad influence on them. As they heard the Bible read, they no doubt came across Leviticus 20:26: “You are to be holy to Me because I, the Lord, am holy, and have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”Israel’s history tells the tragic story of what happens when believers don’t make a break from the “world.” Some of us have become so comfortably complacent with the things of this world that we are no longer convicted by the Word. What about you are you getting so cozy with the things of the world that you are cuddling up with the carnal? God wants us to live holy lives that draw people to Him. Someone once said that separation without devotion to the Lord can become isolation, but devotion without separation is hypocrisy. Here were people who didn’t just hear with their heads but with their hearts. Listening to God through His word and then responding to Him in prayer should be twin aspects that are true in every believer’s life. There will never be spiritual growth without the regular cultivation of this dual privilege and discipline. It’s not just about hearing God but heeding God. When you compare the two chapters. In chapter 8, Ezra and Nehemiah comfort the afflicted and in chapter 9, the comfortable are afflicted. Joy and grief are two sides of the same coin. Interestingly, if you want to study three of the most powerful prayers ever written, they are all found in chapter 9 of Ezra, Daniel and Nehemiah. Nehemiah 9 records an extended prayer, which is in fact, the longest prayer in the Bible outside the Psalms. So, what about you, when was the last time you wept over the Word because it exposed the hardness of your heart? Many of us care more about our circumstances than we do about character. We look to the Word not for its ability to change us but to change our circumstances. But remember God is far more concerned with your holiness than your happiness. Yet when it comes to seeing sin many of us are overly sensitive to the sins of others and yet shockingly numb when it comes to self-sin. Why is it that we see the sins of others so clearly yet when it comes to our sin things suddenly get cloudy? I believe it’s because many of us have a fairness focus instead of a Father focus. Notice that they stood up and confessed, not only the sins of their fathers, but their own sins as well. There was a solidarity over sin. Here in chapter 9 the people got real with God, unlike Adam and Eve they stopped hiding and got honest about their hearts. Many of us are fearful that others will find out about our failures, so we fake it which leads to us not only becoming frauds but also forgoing true freedom. We end up have to live with the lies as we try to hide our hypocritical hearts. This leads to an even greater focus on the failures of others because the best way to hide your sin is to shine the spotlight on others. We end up in a vicious cycle, sensitive to the sins of others but callous to our own corruption. Between focusing on the sins of others and trying to fake our own righteousness there is little time or effort left to get real with God. Instead of being set free we become self-righteous, instead of becoming a proclaimer of truth we become a hypocrite, a Pharisee. Parents nothing will drive your kids faster and further from Christianity than a counterfeit Christian, but there is also nothing more magnetic than the honest heartfelt confession of a Christian. Why are we so fearful of getting honest about our sin because we have a perverted perspective of purity. We think that in hiding we can be holy, but the truth is we are just hypocrites. We also fail to recognize that confession cripples the devil because when we get honest with God there is no guilt. Forgiveness frees us where faking cages and cripples us. Look the Devil wants to keep you in dungeon of disgrace, shackled to your shame but confession offers us forgiveness and freedom. Instead of a cloudy conscience we can have a clear one. Secrete sin is Satan’s favorite playground. Today are you going to face your failure or keep faking it?