Confession and Commitment
There are a lot of things that can humble you. Sports is one of the best for me. In my head I can think I am pretty good. I can picture myself nailing the game winning shot in the NBA finals. I can utterly dominate in the driveway with the eight year old kids. Those things can give me a big head. But when I get out with some other guys my age or especially if I get out there with some young bucks who play hours and hours each day, I know I am going to get some humble pie. I m going to see myself for what I am. And in many ways that is the best thing for me. Humility is a good thing for all of us. It is silly for me to think so highly of myself, it’s ridiculous for me to pretend I can hang with those other guys. I could try. I could blame it on others every time I make a mistake, miss a shot, throw a bad pass. I could blame it on my old shoes. But everyone knows. I need to live according to who I am. Humility is the best thing for me.
There is a similar thing but on a spiritual level happening in chapter 9 of the book of Nehemiah. This book is about the restoring of Jerusalem in the 5th century bc. The city was destroyed because the people rebelled against God and he handed them over to their enemies. The people have been trying to restore the city and right now we are in a section on the restoring of God’s people. In chapter 8 the people read the word of God. They had been neglecting it. They read it and the priest give the meaning of the word and the people are affected by it. In chapter 9 the people are humbled and they begin to confess their sin. The people see how great God is, and they are humbled. They are acknowledging their wrongs.
It is a good thing when we see God for who he is. When we see his greatness, we become much smaller. When we see his holiness, we see how unholy we are. The only appropriate response to his greatness is a humble confession of our shortcoming.
These people saw the merciful and holy character of our blessed God and it led them to confession and recommitment.
We are going to read this in sections. Lets look at verse 1-5.
Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God. 4 On the stairs of the Levites stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani; and they cried with a loud voice to the LORD their God. 5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, "Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. (Nehemiah 9:1-5 ESV)
The first thing that is done by them is...
They confess. convey the acknowledgment of sin, individually or nationally. The basic idea was clearly observed in David's personal confession described in Psa 32:5 “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Psalm 38:18 “I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.” (Psa 38:18 ESV)
Making known the sin to God and not hiding it. It is important to note that the confession of sin is to be made to God. This stem was also employed when the great confessions of Israel's sins were made by Daniel (Dan 9:4, 20), Ezra (Ezr 10:1), Nehemiah (Neh 1:6), and the people of Israel (Neh 9:2-3) during and after the Babylonian captivity. National confessions of sin were normally public. God greatly desires that we acknowledge our sins before him (cf. 1Jn 1:9) in order to maintain a proper relationship with him.
They are humbled. Sackcloth (Hebrew שַׂק saq) is a term originally denoting a coarsely woven fabric, usually made of goat's hair. It was furthermore a sign of submission (1 Kings 20:31-32), or of grief and self-humiliation (2 Kings 19:1). It is often associated with ashes. a self-imposed means of mortification of the flesh. Earth on their heads. Dirt or ash were often rubbed on themselves to show their abasement. Often poor people will have dirt on their face because of their inability to bath or practice regular hygiene. It reflects their humble condition. This action is intended to convey a person has been brought low. It is outward expression of how they feel inwardly. They are brought low.
They confess their Sins: The word here for sin occurs about 580 times in the Old Testament and is the principle word for sin. The basic meaning of the root is to miss a mark or a way. In Jud 20:16 the left-handed slingers of Benjamin are said to have the skill to throw stones at targets and "not miss." In a different context, Prov 19:2 speaks of a man in a hurry who "misses his way" (RSV, NEB, KJV has "sinneth").
The verb has the connotation of breach of law, i.e. failure to live up to expectations, in Gen 40:1. and the accusatory thrust of the word, fault,
Iniquities: activity that is crooked or wrong: — 1. (conscious, intentional) offense, sin 2S 2224; — 2. > guilt (incurred by offense, sin). “Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” (Num 15:31 ESV). You will never know how to serve God if you are not reading your Bible.
Have you ever been too hasty and did a poor job, aimed at something but came up just short. Maybe you have done that in your job with your quota or performance, but perhaps you have done it morally, such as with purity, failing to love others, to tell the truth serving God, to keep God first in your life, share his love with others. Or perhaps you knew what you should do and refused to do it. Those is sins, you have missed the mark, You are at fault and even guilty. We are to confess our sins. See these for what they are- wrong.
They confessed for a quarter of the day (v3). That is a long time to confess sin. It is a long time to hear others confess sin. Must have been a lot of sin. Why are we so unfamiliar with that?
When you realize you have sinned and deserve punishment you can deny it but God sees it for what it is. The only thing that can do that, just like the only thing that can change another person’s disposition to us, is to confess, share what we did and why it was wrong. That is confession. What do you do when you are wrong, and you know you are wrong? Do you hide it and act like it didn’t happen. Pride causes us to hide it, not confess it. It doesn’t work does it.
Recently President Clinton took a lot of flack for statements he made about having apologized to Monica Lewinsky for their affair in the 1990’s. “Have you apologized to her? Yes. Have you talked to her? No.” Generally apologizing requires talking to that person. It requires owning your wrongs. Few people do that.
I can’t tell you how many marriage are ruined by a lack of owning up to failure. It often goes “Have you confessed your sin? Yes. You said you were sorry for specific actions and then said, ‘Will you forgive me?’ No, i haven’t said it like that? Same with God.
Restoring ruins. Often broken relationships are healed not through brilliant argumentation of why you are right, but through humble confession of where you were wrong.
Humility before God leads to humility with others. If God knows everything why do we try and hide it.
We have to own up to our shortcomings and failure. It is the only appropriate response.
% “The most important dimension in godly repentance is the fundamental alteration in one’s thinking with regard to what is sin and what God requires of us in terms both of our thoughts and actions. Repentance thus begins with a recognition of the multitude of ways in which our thinking and attitude and belief system are contrary to what is revealed in Scripture.” Sam Storms, p77.
Confession is done because it honors God. It is the only appropriate response when we see God’s holy and lofty commands. We must mourn, confess, lament. Some people always want to appear that they are in control and don’t do anything wrong. Maybe they feel like they can’t show any weakness and that if they do they will immediately be thought less of, devalued. They always have to be right. That may be great for military commanders, but when you want to build and nurture a relationship with others there must be a confessing of sins and mistakes. And that is releasing! It is freeing. You don’t have to be perfect.
Christians are often known for calling other to repent. There is a place for that. But we also should be a model of repentance. It is judgmental when you are calling me to do something that you do not do.
Confession is to be a part of the Christian’s life. It is to be a part of our worship service. Confession is certainly a part of our conversion:
-and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mat 3:6 ESV)
-Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. (Act 19:18 ESV)
But it is also an ongoing part of life with Christ:
%-”If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1Jo 1:9 ESV)
%-”Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (Jam 5:16 ESV)
%“There is no holiness or Christian life that does not have repentance at its core. Repentance is not merely one element in conversion, but a habitual attitude and action to which all Christians are called.” Sam Storms
If we are not living lives where we are daily confessing our sins we are walking in ignorance of God’s commands or hardness of heart. We sin daily. We ought to confess daily. This practice should be a part of our lives, a part of our worship services, a part of family devotions. A real relationship with God involves recognition of sin and apologizing for it.
They confess publicly. They are hearing what others are sharing. Sometimes we need to confess our sin to God as it is he who we have offended (Psalm 51). Sometimes we need to go to our brother and ask forgiveness (Matt 5:24)
Ironically, their confession also leads to worship (v5). AFter confessing sin they bless God’s glorious name. It is only with someone who loves you deeply that you can confess your sins and then rejoice because of it. It means there is healing. That is the love of god at work. We need to know that love. We need to know what it is to be loved like that. Love is tested in this way, and true love prevails and offers healing and is even made stronger because of the hardship.
Sometimes the path to worship is through confession. Sometimes the path to praise is a trail of tears. Too often we minimize pain, ignore hurts and wrongs, but those hurts and wrongs only grow deeper. I think one reason so many people struggle with depression and chronic grief is they don’t know the place to sit in sackcloth and ashes. They don’t know the place of sorrow. There is a place for it, we see it here.
They own up to their sin. They also confess the sins of their fathers. Sometimes we are in unenviable places because of what our predecessors did. Their actions affect us. Sometimes its set up patterns that we are entrenched in. Sometimes it is attitudes that we share. We resemble our parents, for good or bad. Sometimes you realize what was done in the past affects you years or even decades later. There is a place to recognize that, confess it, and morn for it.
Confession should be a regular part of a Christians life. One of the reasons it happens here is because they know of the...
- The Greatness of God
I think one of the reasons we do not confess our sins is that we are scared. We are scared someone will use it against us. We have to trust God. From v6-37 is a recounting of their history. It states how lowly they are and how great God is. Let’s read some of this.
%"You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. 7 You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. (Nehemiah 9:6-7 ESV)
"And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, 10 and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day.” (Nehemiah 9:9-10 ESV)
“You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, 14 and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant.” (Nehemiah 9:13-14 ESV)
"But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.” (Nehemiah 9:16-17 ESV)
"And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan. 23 You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess. 24 So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would. 25 And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness. "Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. (Nehemiah 9:22-26 ESV)
...Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. (Nehemiah 9:30-31 ESV)
Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. (Nehemiah 9:33 ESV)
This sobering passage share the gospel repeatedly: God creates his people. They rebell. He redeems them. AGain and again this pattern happens. God’s grace is seen over and over again, and it finally culminates in him sending his own Son to lead his people and to ultimately die for their sin. In the cross of Christ we see the greatness of God’s love and in the cross we see the greatness of our sin. We see why we should sorrow, our sins put him there. We see why we should hope- God atones for sin.
God knows his people are not righteous or perfect. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psa 51:1 ESV).
Love becomes greater when it falls short, and the one who is loved continues extending love until it is received and reciprocated. That love is humbled, and purified, and strengthened.
This is the love of the gospel. We fail to love God. He continues loving us and even sending his son to die. When we finally recognize that we see a love we have never ever known.
That kind of love leads to...
This is the only appropriate response.
%"Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests. (Neh 9:38 ESV)
The people make a firm covenant in writing of what they resolve to do and change.
%“The most sincere of apologies is at best only a start down the pathway of repentance. There must follow a change in behavior.” Sam Storms
What is repentance without the resolution to not do the action again. It doesn’t mean we will execute the plan. But it must involve and admission.
*The promise that we can be forgiven for sin through Christ moves us from humiliation to hope. Humility gets expressed in confession. Our pride resists that and we need to be broken of our pride. But you know sometimes we get so focused on our sins and failures and how bad off we are and that leads to despondence and death. No doubt we should have times of sackcloth and ash. But it should also lead to worship and commitment. Two poles of prideful arrogance or despondent humility.
There is an incredible freedom in the gospel. You don’t have to put on a show. You don’t have to build a facade of who you are. God knows everything about you. He knows every thought. And yet he loved you so much he sent his Son to die for you. Your responsibility is not to go through life without mistakes. But to go through life with a deep love for what he has done for you. To Bless his name in all you do each and every day. To get up when you have failed and to keep your eyes on him. When we see his great mercy to us we want to say blessed by your name. Not us, not our name, but him and his name, for all that he has done!
I initially thought ending with a time of public confession could be appropriate. It also felt a little weird because I have been thinking about this all week, and you would just be hearing. I think true confession is well thought out. What is interesting is they began reading the word on the first day of the seventh month (8:2) and it was on the 24th day (9:1) that they had confession. It’s only appropriate for confession to follow a time of reflection. I want us to end considering the greatness of God, asking him to search our hearts. Confess your sin to God. Next practice confessing your sin to those around you.
- Is confession a regular part of your life? Do you feel the freedom to confess and share your sins? How might your life be better if you did this?
- How does the gospel help us to confess our sins? How does seeing God’s grace over and over again to his people encourage you in your struggle?
- How important is recommitment to confession? What do you think of someone’s apology if they do not voice a commitment to stop doing whatever they did?