Confession and Repentance – Ezra 10

“While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1 ESV)

What does confession look like? What does repentance look like? Throughout scripture we see various forms of sorrow, from weeping to tearing the garments, sitting in sackcloth and ashes to hanging oneself. Yet whether one shows these outward signs of an aggravated conscience or not, we know from the Bible that true, “godly sorrow brings repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Confession, no matter how emotional, is empty without repentance.

What exactly is repentance? Repentance is often defined as a change of mind. And if one truly changes his mind, a difference in behavior will manifest. In other words, repentance is true confession in action. Without a change of outward behavior, inward change likely did not happen.

In Ezra 10 we see both confession and repentance. Recall that in chapter 9 it was revealed that the people had sinned against God by marrying the pagan peoples they were expressly told not to marry. Chapter 9 ends with Ezra’s intercessory prayer and Chapter 10 is about the people’s response. What do we see in their response? We see their confession and outward sorrow expressed in tears and words. But we also see their repentance in determining to put away their wives and return to purity before God.

While their repentance is the most relevant point for us, the question will undoubtedly linger – why would God allow divorce, doesn’t he hate it? Indeed God does hate divorce; but in this circumstance, the preservation of the people of God – the very people from whom Messiah would come – was at stake! The evil of divorce was necessary in order to make right the evil of intermarriage. We we explore this more on Sunday.

The chapter – and the book – ends with a list. Imagine having your name on this list! Rather than a place like Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith”, your name would be among those guilty of disobeying God, recorded in a chapter in the Bible for all to read for the next several thousand years! The sins of the people were public and so this was made public. However, thankfully, their repentance was also made public. Like these individuals, you and I are all on the list of sinners. The question is, are we also written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Such a privilege is only granted by God’s grace in Christ, and manifested in our confession and repentance of sin.

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Remain Fixed on Jesus – Hebrews 12:1-2

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)

Our Lord Jesus taught us that anyone who serves Him will assuredly follow Him (John 10:27, John 12:26). To that end, this passage in Hebrews teaches that we are to do so by imitating His earthly example. Having endured hardship, the original recipients of this letter were called to look upon Jesus’ suffering on the cross as the model for continuing endurance in their Christian life.

For those in Christ, the picture of a “race” well illustrates our Christian life; there are many parallels: having been born again, we are all now to be firmly engaged in our race (following Christ), ever striving towards the finish line of eternal glory. Just as runners face physical obstacles which may hinder their racing ability, Christians too face the challenges of this life. Indwelling sin, if not repented of, is a great hindrance (“weight”); therefore, it must be “[laid] aside,” lest it compromise our obedience to Christ and jeopardize our run.

Additionally, Christ’s example is our model for persevering through persecution and suffering. Just as the original recipients of this epistle faced trials and tribulations in the path of obedience to Christ (Hebrews 10:32-34), we too are called to endure such sufferings by looking to our Savior’s perfect example. Jesus Christ, the Holy One of Israel, suffered a brutal physical death at the hands of evil men. Verse 2 teaches us that he endured this punishment and God’s wrath because he was ever-fixed upon the “joy that was set before him,” namely, securing salvation for His people. Not even the shame of the cross, the weight of the sin He bore, nor the physical miseries He shouldered could keep Him from pursuing this joy. It is because of our Messiah’s single-mindedness and faithful determination that He was able to persevere and finish His earthly mission. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Let us therefore remain fixed on Jesus, looking to His earthly example of faithfulness to sustain us and motivate us. As we strive toward the “finish line,” enduring the trials of life, our gaze must always be on Jesus – our Savior, that we may finish our race well and lay hold of our eternal prize and inheritance.

The Olivet Discourse 6: How to Be Ready for His Coming – Matthew 24:45-25:13

 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Mt 25:13

As we continue our study of the Olivet Discourse, we find that after recounting the signs of His soon return, Jesus relates four stories illustrating the unexpected arrival of the end of the age. Whether it be: sooner than expected (24:45-51), or later than expected (25:1-13), the message is the same – Christians must be prepared for Christ’s return. Jesus’s purpose in this sermon as a whole is not so much to supply us with a calendar of end-time events, as it is to instill in us a hope that Jesus can return at any moment, so we must be ready.

In the first half of chapter 24 we learned that Christ will most certainly be coming back in a visible and sudden manner. The purpose of the two stories in our text, along with the next two in chapter 25, verses 14-46, is to teach practical ways for us to occupy ourselves in order to remain watchful for the day of Christ’s return. In all four stories, the central character is the One who is absent, but will return in judgment. The destiny of the individuals who are waiting for this Absent-Coming One depends on how one lives for – or more precisely, whether one truly believes in – this Absent-Coming One. Both parables describe some individuals (servants and virgins) who appear to be waiting for the Coming One, but are nevertheless unprepared. The destiny for these is quite unsettling (see 25:51).

How then is the Christian to be occupied when He comes? Surprisingly, it is not those who are looking up to the sky who are portrayed as ready for His return, but it is those who are faithfully serving at a table with oil in their lamps (24:45, 25:8-10); it is those who are loyal, trustworthy, and true to the tasks they have been given, that are prepared. Jesus challenges us to refocus our attention on the eternal by giving ourselves faithfully to what appear to be mundane earthly responsibilities. It is responsibly living out our present duty as a husband, wife, father, mother, employee, and churchman that promises a future universal blessing (24:47). We can rest our heads on our pillows at night knowing that we are ready for the Great Coming, as we live an authentic Christian life of loving God and others.

The Hand of Our God was On Us – Ezra 8

“The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way.” (Ezra 8:31 ESV)

Ezra chapter 8 records another journey out of Babylon, just as we read in earlier chapters. This is the second wave of returned exiles and they are coming with Ezra himself. Recall that the temple is built and we were recently introduced to the man Ezra, who determined to come to Jerusalem to teach the law of God to God’s people.

Verses 1-14 provide another list, much like the one in chapter 2, reminding us of the importance of one’s heritage as an Israelite in taking part in God’s covenant blessings. Verses 15-20 show us Ezra’s priority in gathering the priests together to serve in the temple. Ezra then calls for a fast and prayer for protection, refusing to ask the king for help, relying solely on God (verses 21-23). The last and longest section of the chapter, verses 24-36, tell us that Ezra delegates the responsibilities of keeping the offering to the priests and that through this journey and return to Jerusalem, God kept them safe from their enemies.

Taken all together, Ezra chapter 8 reveals how determined Ezra was to accomplish his tasks. He prioritized service in the house of God. He wanted to be a good steward with what God gave him. And most of all, he relied upon God’s help to do these things. Three times in this chapter, Ezra says, “the hand of our God was on us.”

We would be pretty accurate to say that the Book of Ezra, in its entirety, is all about the theme of “the hand of our God was on us.” From the stirring of the heart of the kings, to the decrees allowing the Israelites to return, to the blessings along the way and the protection of the enemies, there is no doubt that the Book of Ezra points us to how God sovereignly provides for his people throughout history. Yes, the kings made searches and decrees. Yes, Ezra was determined to teach. Yes, the people came together and finally built the temple. But all of these were secondary causes of their success. The ultimate, or primary cause of success in the story of Ezra is the fact that God’s good hand was upon his people!

The Olivet Discourse 3: The Abomination of Desolation – Matthew 24:15-28

So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand) … Mt 24:15

The Olivet Discourse, the longest of Jesus’s recorded discourses in the synoptic gospels, is prompted by the disciples’ question in light of Jesus’s shocking revelation regarding the destruction of the Jewish temple (24:1-2). “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Mt 24:3). Jesus’s response seems to point to two distinct historical events – the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and His yet future second coming.

In verses 4-14 of chapter 24, Jesus describes a series of “non-signs” of His return. I call these “non-signs,” as the events He prophesies do not point specifically to the end of the age, but instead they are warnings that the disciples would not find themselves deceived by the coming of a false messiah. We have seen how these signs – false prophets, wars, famine, earthquakes, tribulation, apostasy, and a lawless faith and frigid love – were fulfilled, and continue to be fulfilled, throughout the history of the church age. But like birth pains that portend the child’s birth, these afflictions and trials will intensify as the consummation of the age approaches. In particular the “apostasy,” and people following after “lawlessness,” will climax with the coming of “the man of lawlessness,” or “Antichrist;” the one who the book of Revelation refers to as “the beast,” who comes to conquer the saints.

In verse 15 Jesus begins to describe the terror of the days prior to His return. Destruction will arrive so quickly that believers ought waste no time in preparing their escape. The imagery of sacrilege that Jesus uses, “the abomination of desolation,” calls to mind Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians chapter 2: “For that day will not come, unless … the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” Matthew also calls us to discerningly read the book of Daniel – in particular Daniel 9:27 and 12:9-11.

This week, read Matthew 24, Daniel 7:19-28, chapters 9 & 12, and Revelation 13:1-10. Try to read them without any presupposed end-time position; as you do, make notes as to what they reveal to you about the “the beast,” and in particular the “abomination of desolation.”

The Olivet Discourse 2: Apostasy and Mission – Matthew 24:1-14

The Olivet Discourse, named for the mountain where Jesus taught his disciples, is Jesus’s answer to His disciples’ question regarding the destruction of the Jewish temple and the end of the age (24:1-3). As the consummate prophet, Jesus answered using a common prophetic practice called “foreshortening,” where there is both a near and a far application to His predictive prophecy. In His answer, beginning in chapter 24 verse 4, Jesus seems to describe signs that would accompany two distinct historical events – the destruction of Jerusalem (which would be fulfilled in A.D. 70) and His yet future second coming.

Though the disciples were asking for signs or indicators of the end of the age, Jesus began his response by sharing a cluster of “non-signs;” that is, He spoke of events that the disciples believed might accompany the end of the world, but in fact were not signs specific to the end. Jesus is concerned that His disciples are not misled; when they would see false messiahs, wars, famines, and earthquakes – signs traditionally associated with the latter days – Jesus said, “the end is not yet,” and He warned them that these things marked only “the beginning of the birth pangs” (24:4-8). Like a woman in labor experiences contractions calling her attention to the child she will soon bear, these recurring events continually remind the church of the nearness of the return of Christ. As birth pains increase in frequency and intensity before birth, so these signs may increase in the latter days. But for Christians, as we see these things happening in the world around us, they ought to be no cause for alarm, for we have been told beforehand that they would happen.

Then beginning in verse 9, with the same heart of preparing and warning His disciples, Jesus foretells of the suffering, persecution, and apostasy that will come upon God’s people. As persecution increases, some will abandon the faith to save their skin. Spiritual life will deteriorate in the church as apostasy, betrayal, and hatred run rampant. Yet at the same time there is this one hopeful sign in verse 14, This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” What we see prior to Christ’s return is a growing polarization between good and evil as God’s people increase in power and witness even as persecution intensifies. So brethren, look up, for your redemption draws near!

Ezra Comes to Teach – Ezra 7

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10 ESV)

The temple was finally finished. The Jews kept the Passover and celebrated God’s faithfulness with joy. After all they had been through as a people, the climax of the story had finally arrived. But, new life had just begun.

Indeed, God delivers his people from all sorts of troubles and bondage. However, the freedom that comes through his salvation is not a freedom from the cares of life, but rather a freedom to glorify God through obedience and a freedom to serve others. We have seen God’s deliverance in the first 6 chapters of Ezra. Now with Ezra himself on the scene, we will see that God’s freed people, in their own land, with the temple in the background, are to live life in light of God’s Word. And God uses Ezra to come to teach, “for Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10)

Lest you think that this role was merely a formality to pay lip service to tradition, you must understand that in teaching the scriptures, Ezra would meet controversy. Derek Thomas previews the chapters that follow Ezra’s arrival: “Ezra is a reformer and Ezra is a preacher, and he’s going to meddle and meddle a great deal in the lives of the people in Jerusalem. He’s going to talk very particularly about marriage and about intermarriage, and it’s all going to get very painful.”

The Word of God rebukes, encourages, and exhorts. It cuts the heart. It is our necessary food and it is also vital for correction. Ezra was entrusted by God to teach it to the people. In fact, his teaching would stand as the authoritative law of the land. The king says, “Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.” (Ezra 7:26)

Ezra had come to teach the law to God’s people. Through the law, the people would be called to obedience but they would also be reminded of their sin. It was necessary, just as it is now, to look to the law of God and see God’s standard of holiness. But as with all people, the Jews would sin. The law reveals this sin, but only goes so far. For those who hear the law preached and feel convicted under the weight of it, another one of God’s amazing acts was needed – one, ultimate act that perhaps that temple in the background might be pointing the people to time and again.