ReTurn, ReBuild, ReNew - Repentance in Action
Today we finish up a series of messages from the book of Ezra. This book is about the return of a remnant of the nation of Israel out of exile and back to Jerusalem. It wasn’t enough just to return, they were returning to rebuild the city. The book of Ezra is focused on rebuilding the temple, while the next book, Nehemiah, focuses on the rebuilding of the rest of city including it’s walls and gates. Finally, we have the last word of our title - Renew.
God was renewing their love and commitment to Him. In our series of messages out of 1 John, we called this revival. God was breathing new life into them by bringing back to scripture, by challenging them in the things they were doing.
I really enjoy watching car restoration shows. There are some shows that while working within a budget, fix a few things, put some paint on it and call it good. The ones that I really enjoy are the ones where they take every nut and bolt off the car and strip it down to bare metal, and start from there. When they are finished, it is way better than it would have been off the factory floor.
It’s always interesting when the get the car back from the stripping process and it is completely exposed. Many times there is some hidden damage from an accident or rust exposed that the paint can no longer hide. On a few occasions, they find some really bad repair work…this one time, someone had shoved newspaper in between the metal panels and then covered the holes with bondo. Imagine if someone tried to weld that panel not knowing…the entire car would have burst into flames.
I think we are all at some stage in our restoration process. Some of us got to start are journey with Christ with a frame off restoration, but even with that done, daily life causes dings and scraps and there’s always maintenance.
Some of us came to know Christ and we only let him take care of the stuff on the surface. Our paint job and rims look good, but we really hope no one every asks to pop the hood to see the engine…the heart.
I thought that was a fitting illustration for where we are going today. The nation of Israel has returned, and the Lord is popping the hood and exposing some things that need to be addressed.
We ended last week with verse 1 of chapter 10, but I want to go back to chapter 9 verse 3 and take a quick look at Ezra’s reaction when the extent of the sin was exposed...
3 When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. 4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.
As a whole, I don’t we as Christians are grieved enough by our sins. We are known for being appalled at the actions of the church or believers, as much as we are known for being appalled by the actions of the world.
I want to start today off reminding us that our sin keeps us from the best God has for us in this life. We should react similar to Ezra when our sins are exposed - not appalled that we were caught, but appalled at our sinfulness. Humbling approaching Jesus asking forgiveness and repenting of that sin. If we don’t do that, it is like we just put a layer of paint over the rust and that rust just eats away at the foundation of the metal until the rust breaks through the paint again and this time the damage is worse.
Let’s begin reading in chapter 10 now...
1 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.
I love this picture of the community coming together and mourning over this sin. According to the records, Ezra was not even guilty of this particular sin, but still he wept because he knew that in order the entire nation to move forward in God’s blessing they had to get things right.
This renewal or revival process is certainly possible in just one person, but when many get together and weep together over their collective sin, the ripple effect impacts more than just those in the room.
2 Then Shekaniah 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.
Many times we feel the disappointment in ourselves and if we are not careful to turn to the cross, we can stay there wallowing in our shame and regret…let me encourage you…there is still hope. Shekaniah recognized God’s grace in bringing them there. They were still breathing and that alone is hope that things can still be made right. No one is ever too far gone to be without the hope of redemption.
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.
There is more going on than just marriages to foreign women. The issue what that these women brought with them the practices of their cultures and worship of their gods and idols to their marriages and their families. They were not willing to give that up and as such remained foreigners married to God’s people.
There is a process by which one can become a converted Jew that requires a complete separation from the birth country as well as a sincere commitment to follow God’s law and denounce any other previous religious ties. The families being discussed here did not do that.
4 Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
What a statement. Shekaniah spoke for everyone in saying that they are willing to follow the lead of Ezra as he follows God’s Word. Whatever needs to happen, they are in support. They are encouraging Ezra to take a difficult stand and position in order that they would do what is right.
5 So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. And they took the oath. 6 Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles. 7 A proclamation was then issued throughout Judah and Jerusalem for all the exiles to assemble in Jerusalem. 8 Anyone who failed to appear within three days would forfeit all his property, in accordance with the decision of the officials and elders, and would himself be expelled from the assembly of the exiles.
This was a serious matter and as such required serious consequences.
9 Within the three days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. 11 Now honor the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”
What was previously only a conversation with a few that were within physical proximity of Ezra, now becomes official to all those living in and around Jerusalem. A proclamation was made. We are going to get right with the Lord and this is how we are to do it.
12 The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: “You are right! We must do as you say. 13 But there are many people here and it is the rainy season; so we cannot stand outside. Besides, this matter cannot be taken care of in a day or two, because we have sinned greatly in this thing. 14 Let our officials act for the whole assembly. Then let everyone in our towns who has married a foreign woman come at a set time, along with the elders and judges of each town, until the fierce anger of our God in this matter is turned away from us.” 15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah, supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite, opposed this.
The logistics of such a decision had to be considered and it was. We get a glimpse into how they would execute this directive. Verse 15 could mean that these guys either didn’t want to do it, or thought it should be done a different way. Either way, we get the sense that there was discussion as they worked out this situation.
16 So the exiles did as was proposed. Ezra the priest selected men who were family heads, one from each family division, and all of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to investigate the cases, 17 and by the first day of the first month they finished dealing with all the men who had married foreign women.
75 days to get through all of these cases of foreign marriage. According to the list that follows, 110 men were found guilty. Out of 30,000 returning exiles, 110 were found guilty and they made things right.
I have a couple of observations for us as we apply this text to us.
Corporate repentance of widespread sin is necessary.
True repentance requires not just confession, but making things right. Sometimes that means making difficult decisions about how we address our ongoing sin.