A CRUCIAL CONCERN
In our study in Ezra we’ve been tracing Judah’s journey from Babylonian Captivity back to the freedom of living in their homeland of Israel under the wise reign of Persia’s King Cyrus and later, King Artaxerxes. Both understood that the subjects of their Persian Empire were happier and easier to manage in the freedom of their homeland than as slaves in a foreign land, as King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had forced them.
From the last two chapters of Ezra, chapters 9 and 10, we are made aware of Judah’s need for repentance and restoration back to God. The priests and leaders had slipped into major disobedience to God by marrying heathen wives whose influence had turned their hearts away from God.
Assuming responsibility for their sin as their leader; grief-stricken Ezra repented as he poured out his confession to God in Ezra 9:5-15.
Let’s consider, in the light of God’s Word, the matter of repentance in general and what it has to do with salvation. Then we will focus in on the repentance in Ezra’s day.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT REPENTANCE?
Jesus repeats twice in Luke 13:3 and 5 “Except we repent we will perish.”
“God commands all men everywhere to repent.” Acts 17:30
Peter commanded in Acts 3:19 “Repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out.”
In Romans 2 we are given two motivations to repent.
1. Judgment is inescapable. Romans 2:1-3
2. God’s goodness, patience and longsuffering leads us to repentance
Luke 24:46-49 records that when Jesus met with His disciples in the Upper Room after His resurrection, in His great commission, He included the need to preach repentance as well as the Gospel to all nations, beginning with the Jews
So if salvation is by faith in Christ alone, where does repentance come in?
We’re not saved by anything we do, including repenting and being sorry for our sins. We’re saved by admitting we are lost sinners, unable to do anything to save ourselves. We’re saved by trusting in the blood of Christ which was shed on the cross in full payment for all our sins. Salvation is totally a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5-6
Though we’re not saved by repentance, but by faith in Christ alone; we’re not going to see our need of Christ, nor desire salvation until we have seen our gross sinfulness and repented, crying out in our hearts for God’s mercy.
Sorrow over sin and repentance and turning away from sin is largely ignored today by many claiming to be Christians. Instead, people ignore the warnings of repentance and continue in their sins with the attitude that since we are justified by faith and since “no one is perfect”, we are to just ignore sin in our midst and preach a positive message of our standing in Christ.
People are flocking to churches where they are never made to feel guilty because the preacher never deals with sin. When people sin and it is open and obvious for all to see, instead of confessing and repenting of their sins, they are directed to counseling for the problems caused by their sins.
Many Christian counselors ignore sin by giving psychological reasons or excuses for the action of their patients and give psychological methods of dealing with sin-caused problems. Life continues as usual, sin is ignored and nothing changes. At the same time, sin and its sad consequences continue to spread and contaminate everyone it touches.
EXAMPLES OF FALSE REPENTANCE
When Pharaoh of Egypt was confronted by Moses and faced the plagues God sent to Egypt, as recorded in the early chapters of Exodus, Pharaoh “repented” of his sins repeatedly; but it was not a true heart-felt repentance, only a temporary, superficial method of trying to get God off his back and off his land of Egypt.
When Esau repented in Genesis 28, it was not over sorrow of sin, but sorrow because he had forfeited God’s blessing on himself by his carnality. In Hebrews 12:16-17 the writer describes Esau’s repentance as a superficial, emotional sorrow. He had despised his spiritual heritage and actually found no heart repentance whatsoever.
Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to his enemies, had a heart of stone with no feelings of sorrow whatsoever. Instead of repenting over his sins, he went out and hung himself.
EZRA’S PRAYER OF TRUE REPENTANCE
In Ezra 9:5-15 we read of Ezra’s repentance as a leader of Judah, God’s favored people, who had turned from God to marry heathen spouses. I commented on this in the previous study in this series. Ezra cried out in brokenness and sorrow, “O, My God” as he confessed the sins of his people. Usually revival and turning back to God begins with the leaders. When Ezra repented, the people followed him in repentance towards God. Even the children joined their elders in repenting and turning from their sins.
THE NEED FOR REPENTANCE
First, sins, such as fornication and addiction to pornography, affect our own physical, mental and emotional health. I Corinthians 6:18
Sin is not just our business. Our sins adversely affect our families for generations to come. It also affects our church family.
But most seriously, our sins offend our holy God and cut our fellowship with Him as Psalm 51:4 and Ezra 10:2 teach us.
True repentance causes us to become specific in identifying our sins. In the case of Judah in Ezra’s day, they became specific in confessing their sins of intermarriage with the heathen. To make matters worse, this was going on among those who had the spiritual oversight of the people. To the people’s credit, they sought a Biblical solution to their problems.
We read in chapter ten that they shivered as they stood outside in the cold winter rain and they also trembled at the Word of God, Oh, that we might see that in our churches. Oh, to see people trembling at God’s Word and crying out for God’s mercy. It happened in early America under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards.
Ezra explained to the people that all their marital problems were not going to be solved in one hour standing out in the cold winter rain; so he instructed the leaders to set up appointments with each family and work out the details as they sought God’s will for each family.
SIN COMPLICATES OUR LIVES
Intermarriage with the unsaved, clearly forbidden in God’s Word, can complicate our lives, even though we confess our sins. I Corinthians 7 teaches Christians married to unsaved spouses are to remain married to them, if the unsaved spouse is willing. Though such relationships can tangle up family life, God can work things out for His glory, if Christians are earnestly seeking His will, in spite of the unequal yoke.
So the people in Ezra’s day vowed to obey whatever God’s Word said, regardless of the difficulties in that marital relationship.
THE KEY TO NATIONAL REVIVAL
II Chronicles 7:14 shows us how the repentance of God’s people can lead to a national spiritual awakening. Such revival and blessing begins when God’s people are humbled and broken-hearted over their own sins. Oh, that God would send revival to our nation and to our world! It all starts with you and me as Christians. Are we broken and humbled by our own sins?
LESSONS FROM OUR STUDY OF EZRA
And so we’ve come to the end of our study of the Book of Ezra. What have we learned?
1. God is sovereign in our lives
2. He guides, provides and protects us as His children.
3. His Word must be central to all we do; including our worship and service for Him.
4. True worship is more than an emotional high. True worship leads us to lives of obedience to His Word and separation from evil.
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