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REPENTANCE FROM SIN

(A Series on Ezra: Building His Church)

Westgate Chapel 10/1/95 a.m.                                Ezra 10:1-44

PROPOSITION:  The only proper response to sin is repentance and an immediate, swift and ruthless separation from its clutches.                       

i. introduction

-     FOR the eight months we have been engrossed in the story of the book of Ezra.

-     IT is the story of the Jewish people straggling back from exile in Babylon...between 538 and 458 B.C.

-     THEY make the four month trek back from a dismal period of captivity in a strange and foreign land so that they can rebuild the City of God and restore the Temple of the Most High.

*     They want to be the people of the Lord again.

*     For well over 70 years they had celebrated Passover in Babylon by saying, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

*     They wanted to see the shekinah glory of the Lord over the Holy of Holies again.

*     The sacrifices for sin offered in the altar again.

*     The sweet aroma from the altar of incense in the Holy Place again.

-     YOU see, it was their sin that had landed them in exile in Babylon in the first place.

-     BUT God was merciful to them and allowed them to return to Zion because He had a plan for their lives and their future.

-     BY the end of the book of Ezra the people of God are back in Jerusalem, back in their surrounding towns and villages, back in their fields, back worshipping in the temple.

-     YOU would think that this would be the cause of some serious celebration..and it was for a while.

-     BUT in Ezra 10 instead of celebration, something else is going on.

      “While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites--men, women and children--gathered around him. They too wept bitterly.” (Ezra 10:1)

-     IF you were to turn back to Ezra 9:3, you would discover that Ezra also tore his cloak and pulled out clumps of his hair and beard....and that he had sat down stunned for several hours in the house of the Lord.

-     WHAT was it that had caused such a strange reaction to finally being back in the city of God?

-     IT was sin.....the very sin that had caused Israel all of her heartbreak, all of her hardships, and her exile to Babylon in the first place.....mixing in with the pagan people and their lifestyle.

-     DO you remember the quote from John Bunyan’s book, The Holy War, that I used when I preached from Ezra 9? The Prince says to Mansoul,

      “Nothing can hurt thee but sin; nothing can grieve Me but sin; nothing can make thee base before Thine enemies but sin; take heed therefore my Mansoul for sin.”

-     GOD said the same thing to Cain, in Genesis 4:6, when He saw his selfish anger and jealousy at God’s blessing on Abel’s sacrifice,

      “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? (7) If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.’”

-     IT is the apostle Paul, in the New Testament that writes, in Romans 6:23,

      “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-     AND in Romans 2:5-8, Paul writes,

      “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (6) God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ (7) To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (8) But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

-     SALVATION is by grace through faith.....not as a result of your works of doing good. BUT it does matter how you live after you have come back to the Lord.

-     SO, it is no surprise then to find Ezra in such agony of spirit over finding wanton disregard of sin in Israel.

-     HE knew that it would just be a matter of time and that sin would cost Israel everything again.

-     ALL of the gains, all of the blessing of God, all of the progress, all of the joy of being back in the City of God and of having the Temple rebuilt....all of that would be lost again and all because of sin.

 

ii. the goodness of god is his grace

-     BUT I don’t believe that it was just the possibility of losing their place in Zion that was causing Ezra such agony of spirit.

-     SUCH heart repentance is usually caused by understanding the goodness of God.

-     PAUL writes, in Romans 2:4,

      “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?

-     EZRA was thinking about the goodness of the Lord that had brought them to that place.

*     Persian king Cyrus’ decree that allowed them to go home in the first place.....because God had moved on his heart.

*     The Jewish people leaving the comforts and security of what they had known for 70 years to go back and rebuild a desolate ruined city....because God had moved on their hearts.

*     The safe four month journey back with all that gold and silver, through the treacherous desert....because the hand of the Lord was on them. There was no other explanation for what had happened.

*     The rebuilding of the altar, after 70 years of desolation on the Temple mound, and the smoke rising once again off the sacrifice for sin....because God had helped them.

*     The towns re-settled, the abandoned fields cultivated and productive again....because the hand of the Lord was on them once again.

*     Overcoming of the enemy’s opposition and threats and intimidation.....because the hand of the Lord was on them.

*     The sounds of the prophets’ voices thundering in the streets, like Haggai and Zechariah, calling for the rebuilding of the Temple.....because the Lord was faithful to speak to His people and call them to Himself.

*     The rebuilding of the Temple after all these years that it had been torn down and burnt over....because the hand of the Lord was on them.

*     The return of the second groups of exiles under Ezra’s leadership....because the hand of the Lord was on them.

-     THERE was no possible explanation for all of this blessing, after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, except for God’s goodness and grace.

-     THEY had deserved to be wiped out all together...never to be remembered again.

-     BUT God, who is rich in mercy, gave them another chance and graciously helped them come home and start over.

-     FROM the calling of Abraham, 1,500 years earlier, to the exodus, to the taking of the Promised Land....it had all been God’s grace.

-     THE Jews hadn’t earned or deserved one blessing. It was all grace.

-     AND all that God had asked for in return was covenant obedience.

      “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, (13) and to observe the LORD'S commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

-     BLESSING if your response to His grace was obedience,

      “If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. (2) All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: (3) You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. (4) The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock--the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. (5) Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. (6) You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. (7) The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.” (Deuteronomy 28:1-7)

-     CURSING by God if your response to His grace is disobedience and sin,

      “Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them. (15) However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: (16) You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. (17) Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. (18) The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.” (Deuteronomy 28:14-18)

-     EVEN in the Old Testament it is all grace.....you and I don’t earn the covenant blessing of God.

-     BUT He does expect that His goodness to us will produce covenant obedience in our lives.

-     AND because He is a God who is holy....willful disobedience and sin will bring His discipline and displeasure.

-     IN fact, Jeremiah 52:3, captures the essence of Israel’s exile from Jerusalem, 70 years prior,

      “It was because of the LORD'S anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence.

     

iii. THE goodness of god leads to repentance

-     CAN you understand now Ezra’s great distress?

-     IN spite of ALL that God had done for them, to find that His people had gone right back to the very sin that had caused all of the desolation in the first place...intermarrying with the pagan nations surrounding them, and taking on their godless lifestyle.

-     CAN you understand why Ezra was in such agony of heart?

-     IT was the goodness of God that brought this spirit of repentance on him and the people who saw him that day....and the thought of losing all that God had done for them.

-     LISTEN to his heart in his prayer in Ezra 9:8-15,

      “From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today. (8) But now, for a brief moment, the LORD our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. (9) Though we are slaves, our God has not deserted us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem. (10) But now, O our God, what can we say after this? For we have disregarded the commands (11) you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: 'The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. (12) Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance. (13) What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved and have given us a remnant like this. (14) Shall we again break your commands and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? (15) O LORD, God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

-     WHAT was Ezra going to do in light of all of this?

      “Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, "We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. (3) Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. (4) Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.” (Ezra 10:2-4)

-     IN verse 11 Ezra says to the people,

      “Now make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”

-     PAUL puts it this way in II Corinthians 7:1,

      “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

-     THERE it is again....BECAUSE you have been given grace.....SEPARATE yourselves from ALL that contaminates body or spirit!

-     SEPARATE yourselves from...

*     Greed.

*     Strife and discord.

*     Deceit.

*     Malice.

*     Gossip.

*     Disobedience to parents.

*     Arrogance and pride.

*     Sexual impurity.

-     LISTEN to Paul in I Corinthians 6:9,

      “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders (10) nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

-     SEPARATE yourselves from,

*     Idolatry.

*     Witchcraft.

*     Hatred.

*     Jealousy.

*     Fits of rage.

*     Drunkenness. (Galatians 5:19-21)

-     THE call of the Spirit today is the same as through Ezra 2,500 years ago.

-     SEPARATE yourselves from ALL that contaminates.

-     WHY? Because of God’s goodness and grace to you.

-     AND because the wages of sin is still death.

-     HEBREWS 10:26 says,

      “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, (27) but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”

-     SO, separate yourselves from sin. Repent!

iv. conclusion

-     THE goodness of God to you is Jesus Christ and the cross and resurrection.

*     He has loved you.

*     He has called you.

*     He has forgiven you through Christ.

*     He has blessed you with all spiritual blessings.

-     SO separate yourselves from sin today.

-     AND live in the power of the Spirit.

-     YOU are victorious in Christ.

 

 

 

 

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