If you have your Bible, we’re in the book of Ezra today as we wrap up our Spring Sunday morning preaching series called, “God Help Us.” Today, we’ve titled this message, “God Help Us Repent.” We’re covering a lot of ground this morning in Ezra chapter 9 and chapter 10, but before we get there, I was just thinking about what a great series title this is: God, Help Us.
What a simple and profound declaration with three parts. We need help. Our help comes from God. We’re all in this together.
“God, help us.” It’s more than a statement. More than a request. It’s a confession.
“Lord, on our own, we are not, we do not, we cannot, or we will not. We need you. So help us, please.”
So, if you’re able, and if you believe that, pray those three simple words with me as a humble confession this morning. “God, help us.” Amen.
Before Meredith and I moved here to Iowa, we lived in an older house in Pennsylvania that was sort of tucked back into the woods. Our back yard dropped off into a ravine, with a stream and some railroad tracks at the bottom. So there was always some kind of wildlife running around in our yard and sometimes even in our house.
One summer, we noticed that there was a really bad smell coming from our pantry, which was under the stairs going down to the basement. So, Meredith said, “Hey honey, maybe you should go check that out. It’s starting to smell really bad.” And I said, “Babe, it will go away.” Well, it never went away, and we’re still married today, so obviously at some point I went down to investigate the smell. I looked at every single can of soup and box of pasta down there, but I couldn’t find what was causing the smell. So, I pulled everything out of the pantry and still couldn’t find anything. I ripped up the carpet and that wasn’t the problem either. At this point, I’m in way too deep to stop so I’ve gotta find out what’s making this terrible smell. And I don’t want to go back upstairs without an answer, so clearly I have no option but to start tearing out the drywall.
I pulled the drywall off the wall on my left – nothing. Then I started ripping the ceiling down – I still didn’t find anything. Finally, as I’m tearing into the last wall, the smell just gets so bad I almost can’t stand it. And when the final piece of drywall comes off the wall, there it is – the source of that terrible smell – a nest of mice. All curled up and hidden in some insulation. Every one of them dead. Not just recently dead either. Like, fur and flesh dripping off the skeleton dead. These guys had been down there a while.
And I’m telling you, I’m glad Meredith wasn’t down there right then because she would have seen her grown man husband dry heaving in that stairwell pantry. “God help me!” To this day, even in a different house, I open our pantry doors very very slowly!
We laugh at that story, but the truth is, we all have things hidden away in the dark recesses of our lives. Secret thoughts. Hidden motivations. Sins from long ago that still haunt us. Some of us have been trying to cover up the stench of sin for a long time, but it just won’t go away. We keep thinking, if I just ignore it, it will eventually fade, won’t it?
This morning, we’re going to rip away the drywall in our lives. We’re uncovering the hidden sins and putting them where they belong. And it all starts with repentance. So, God, help us repent.
Last week, we left Ezra in Jerusalem with the small group of Israelites who had returned from Babylon in the second wave of exiles that came from the Babylonian captivity. Remember, Ezra is the man who, “…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) We found out last week that he was a man of authentic character who loved Yawheh and knew the Old Testament Law inside and out. So imagine Ezra’s joy when he was finally able to worship God in the newly rebuilt temple there in Jerusalem! Something he and the other faithful Jews had only imagined while they were still slaves in Babylon.
But sin had hidden itself behind the walls of Jerusalem and it didn’t take long for the familiar stench to reach Ezra’s nostrils. Less than five months after he arrived in Jerusalem, we read in Ezra chapter 9:1-2 – After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.”
And so here we find the first key to repentance this morning, and we’ll continue to uncover these as we walk through this passage. Here it is:
#1. Call Your Sin What It Is (Ezra 9:1-2)
What’s happening in these two verses? Since the beginning of the Jewish nation, God’s desire was for them to be separate from other god-less nations. Set apart from people who didn’t worship Yahweh. Not because the Jewish people were superior in any way, or because they had earned this status somehow, but because they had been chosen by the Lord to be the nation through whom the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would come. So, for generations and generations, God tells His people – don’t intermarry with people who don’t follow me. Don’t water down your worship by inviting foreign “gods” into your family. Why? Because there is only One True God and when you put anything or anybody else on the throne, even a little bit – that’s sin.
And sin is described in this passage with a few words that are pretty strong. Verse 2 says that the Israelites didn’t separate themselves from the pagan nations around them. It’s an active word that means to intentionally create distance, or to purposefully disconnect two things. Our passage calls the worship rituals of the pagan people, “abominations.” It’s another really strong word that refers to something that causes disgust or even hatred. The false worship of these foreigners was disgusting in the sight of God. So, the Jewish exiles that had returned to Jerusalem were flippant in their obedience and they were passive in their pursuit of purity. And the end of verse 2 tells us that this led to a culture of faithlessness. Instead of distancing themselves from the idol-worship pagans, they had turned away from God.
So here stand the Jewish exiles – the nation chosen by God to bring the Savior into the world – in the shadow of the newly rebuilt temple – a symbol of the very presence of God in Jerusalem. And their response? Outright and blatant idolatry.
D.A. Carson says this, “The heart of all evil is idolatry itself. It is the de-godding of God. It is the creature swinging his puny fist in the face of his Maker and saying, in effect, ‘If you do not see things my way, I’ll make my own gods! I’ll be my own god!’ It’s no wonder that the sin that most frequently leads to God’s wrath is idolatry – that which removes God from His rightful throne.”
Recently, I was talking with a friend who just came to know Jesus and is really growing in his faith. He was telling me about a time in his life when he claimed to be an atheist, and he made this incredible statement. He said, as an atheist, “It’s not that I didn’t believe in God, I just believed that I was God.”
I wonder how many of us that would call ourselves Christians here today would admit that we sometimes live as though we are God. Like we are really on the throne of our lives. Watering down our worship. Living like practical atheists.
You know, part of the problem is that we’ve come up with a bunch of different words to help us now feel so bad about sin in our lives. We talk about “making mistakes” or we say, “nobody’s perfect”. We hear about politicians and their “indisgressions” or “questionable choices.” If someone dares to confront us, we shrug our shoulders and respond at the least with a quick, “My bad” and at the most with a “How dare you judge me.”
Friend, if that’s you, let’s call it what it is. That’s sin. When you give your heart to anything but the Lord (a relationship, a job, a bank account, a hobby, a dream, a reputation, your kid’s success at school or in sports) that’s sin. And just because you’re not as far gone as the family next door, doesn’t mean it’s not!
But I’ll just be the first to say I’m in the same boat this morning. When I gossip because my heart wants to lift myself higher than someone else, that’s sin. When I’m critical in my spirit because I think my idea is better than yours, that’s sin. When I’m bitter and resentful because someone else is getting the credit for something I did, that’s sin. When I’m flippant with my wife instead of genuinely listening, that’s sin. When I get short with my son because he wants to spend time with me but I just want to sit on the couch and “rest my eyes” for a few minutes (that’s what people my age call naps), that’s sin.
It’s not just a misstep, a misunderstanding, or daddy being a little grumpy after a hard day. It’s sin.
And I wonder if maybe there are some things in your life that you’ve allowed to capture your heart other than Jesus. Maybe there’s something you’ve allowed to creep in and water down your worship. For the Israelites it was marrying women who didn’t follow the One True God. What is it for you?
Repentance recognizes the stench, rips away the drywall, and calls sin what it is.
Here’s a question that might help you as you begin this journey of repentance this week. Ask yourself: What are the areas of sin in my life that I tend to downplay, justify, or ignore?
Make the commitment to truly repent of that sin today by calling sin what it is. It’s sin. Say it with me, “SIN”. See, you can say it. For some of you, that’s the first time you’ve said the word!
So, Ezra hears this news about the way the Israelites have ignored God’s commands and jumped headlong into sin with the pagan nations around them, and how does he react? Look at Ezra 9:3-4 – 3 As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice.
Here’s the second step in our journey of repentance this morning, and you see it in Ezra’s reaction to the Israelite’s sin. You need to…
See Your Sin Like God Sees It (Ezra 9:3-4)
Twice, Scripture says Ezra was appalled when he heard the news. He was completely undone. Shocked and in horror, he tears his outer cloak and his inner garment – sort of like a jacket and a t-shirt. Then he starts pulling pieces of his own hair and beard out. And this seems a little strange to us, because when was the last time got some bad news and the first thing you thought of doing was ripping your shirt in half?
But this wasn’t a strange reaction in Ezra’s culture – in fact, it was pretty standard practice to see someone tear off their outer cloak when they got news that made them sad – especially when they found out that someone they cared about had died.
And then Ezra pulls out his own hair and rips out part of his beard! I’ve never been able to grow a super manly beard, but I do shave once a week – on Sunday mornings! And the first time I touch my face after I shave, there’s always a split second where my face feels a little naked. Right guys?
Ezra is so completely undone by the sin of his people, that he reacts as if someone has just died. Sin was serious to Ezra because sin is serious to God. Watch how God refers to the sinful Israelites in Isaiah 65:5 (NLT) – These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away. And then again speaking of sin in Revelation 18:5 (MSG) – 5 Her sins stink to high Heaven.
Like a dead carcus hidden away, sin stinks to God. And how did Ezra respond?
He lays himself bare, as if naked before the Lord of the heavens and says, “God, help us. Help us repent. Cause us to see sin the way you do. Help us be repulsed by the slightest hint of sin. Make us dry heave when we get even a whiff.”
One of the greatest ironies in the church today is that there are so many people that claim to be followers of Jesus that live with almost no signs of joy in their lives. In the words of our friend, Pastor Curt from a few weeks ago, some of you Christians need to inform your face. If you’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in your heart then send a missionary from your heart to share the good news with your face!
But I think there’s a reason that so many of you in this church don’t seem to have joy in your life. I think it’s because you’ve never experienced a real, deep conviction of sin. We might say it this way – You won’t get real joy until you get real about your sin.
When you and I see our sin the way God sees it, then we’re on the way to true repentance. When we begin to understand that our sins – each and every sin, not just the “big” ones – that my sin and your sin nailed Jesus to the cross. Until you see the seriousness of our sin, you’ll never see the sweetness of your Savior.
J.C. Ryle said it this way: Christ is never fully valued until sin is clearly seen.
Maybe you’re struggling to see your sin as serious. Maybe it seems like all this talk about sin is for someone else. After all, you’re a pretty good person, right? Better than that guy next to you at least! Here’s what God says about people that don’t acknowledge the seriousness of their sin.
29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:29-32)
Friends, some of you have hearts that smell like death. Does your sin stink to you, or is it just a faint odor that you tolerate, hoping it will go away on its own one day?
Here’s a little exercise if you want to grow to be more like Jesus this week. Read back through the end of Romans 1 and underline all the words that describe the particular brand of sin that you tend to struggle with. Don’t just underline the acceptable ones, or maybe the ones you think everybody struggles with – really take some time to see your sin the way God sees your sin.
If you want to defeat your sin you need to define it the way God does.
#1. Call your sin what it is
#2. See your sin the way God sees it
#3. Confess Your Sin To God And Others (Ezra 9:5-15)
So here’s our friend Ezra. Sitting nearly naked in front of the temple. His clothes torn. Clumps of hair from his head and his beard laying on the ground beside him. But a crowd has gathered there with him too. Vs. 4 says the small crowd is full of people who, like Ezra, trembled at the Word of God and were also appalled at the sin of their nation. Ezra might have felt alone, but he wasn’t. By the way, when you take a stand for what’s right in your school, in your family, and in our country, it will sometimes feel like you’re standing alone – but you aren’t. There will always be godly men and women who will join you. If you wait long enough and look hard enough – you’re never alone when you do the right thing.
And here, in front of this small gathering of faithful people, Ezra falls on his knees, spreads his hands out to the heavens, and shows us the next step in this journey toward true repentance. Verse 6: O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.
And then in verse 10: We have forsaken your commandments.
And then he wraps up this section in verse 15: Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.
If you thought Ezra was going to sugar-coat or gloss over the sins of his nation, he doesn’t! He throws it all at the feet of the judge. Ashamed and embarrassed by the sinful way that the Israelites had responded to God’s commands, he can’t even lift his head. He includes himself in the confession, by the way, even though he hadn’t directly disobeyed God’s command to not intermarry. See, Ezra knew that, while he might not have been guilty of that specific sin, he was a sinner just like everybody else.
It’s easy to see the sin in others, isn’t it? It’s harder to recognize and confess the sin in our own lives. But that’s the way to true repentance. To uncover the hidden sin in our lives first, and then to encourage others to do the same.
I love the way the writer of Hebrews addresses this. 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:12-14)
The writer warns us who share in Christ – people who love and follow Jesus – to keep short accounts of our own sin. To confess our sins to God and others early and often. And if you don’t, you’ll start getting used to that stench of sin and pretty soon you won’t even notice it.
To confess really means to say the same thing God says about your sin. So, here’s something you can do this week to practice this gift of confession. Say it out loud. Actually confess your sins out loud. You don’t have to climb up on the roof and yell, or make a tik-tok video or anything like that, but just verbalize your confession. Here’s what I know about my own life. If I don’t say something out loud, then it’s easier for me to push it aside. But once I say something, especially if someone else hears it, then there’s some built-in accountability to follow through. So, this week, confess your sins out loud early and often. And if you want to get really crazy, do what the Bible says and confess your sins out loud to someone else!
Once you’ve identified sin in your life and called it what it is, and once you’ve started to see that your sin is so serious in God’s eyes that it sent Jesus to the cross, then you confess your sin. You say the same thing God says about your sin. Don’t try to hide it. Don’t try to sugar-coat it. Don’t try to sweep it under a rug or tolerate it until it goes away. Confess it out loud. And then…
#4. Claim The Promises Of Forgiveness For Your Sin (Ezra 9:8-9)
A few days ago, Judah, our 9-year-old, came running upstairs all excited and jumping around and he was talking a mile and minute. We finally got him calmed down, and he told us that he had scored a record number of points on his favorite video game. And he was jacked. So, as a wise father trying to help him understand important life lessons like where to find his value and identity, I responded by saying this. “Judah, mommy and I have decided that the reason we love you so much is because you’re so good at video games.”
This is why we only have one kid. God is saving the rest of you from the consequences of me parenting another child!
Listen, if you’re a Christ-follower here this morning, there isn’t anything you can do to make God love you any more. And there’s nothing you can do to make Him love you any less! The gospel tells us that Jesus went to the cross for your sins. In your place. Instead of you. Let that sink in. God loved you so much that He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to live, die, and be resurrected so that those who believe in Him would receive the free gift of eternal life and forgiveness. (John 3:16)
Here’s the good news: 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Christian, God hates sin, but He loves to forgive. It’s Who He is. He can’t not forgive. And when we confess our sins, it’s like we’re crawling up on the Father’s lap and feeling his strong arms around us. And when we say, “I’m sorry”, he says, “I forgive you. I’ve always forgiven you, and I always will. It’s Who I am and I love doing it.”
One of the greatest lies you’ll ever believe is that you are closest to God when your life is going exactly as planned. When everything is clean and controlled and looks perfect. But watch this – Jesus is nearest to us in our weaknesses, when we are being pruned, when we fail, and when we come back to Him and confess.
In verses 8 and 9 of Ezra chapter 9, Ezra alludes to five different ways that God showed Himself gracious to the children of Israel – in spite of their pattern of repeated sin. See if you can pick out those ways on your own at home or with your Community Group this week. But I bet you have ways you can think of in your own life right now. In fact, this week, when you’re sitting down at the dinner table with your roommates, your friends, or your family, see if you can count all the ways that God has shown you His love and forgiveness in spite of your disobedience. I’m guessing you can come up with a pretty long list. Because the truth is this for every person listening today:
God’s grace is more powerful than your sin.
Maybe that’s the line that you need to remember this morning. Maybe you’re listening to this thinking, “There’s no way I could ever be forgiven.” Maybe you’ve heard us talk about coming to know Jesus as your personal Savior and you’ve dismissed the idea, believing you’re too far gone, your sins are too great, or you’ve used up all of your chances at redemption. God’s grace is more powerful than your sin.
Or maybe you’ve already placed your faith and trust in Jesus but you’ve let the smell of sin linger in your life for way too long. It’s time to stop making excuses. Stop pretending your sin doesn’t stink. Call it what it is. See it the way God sees it. Say it out loud. And then, fall into the faithful, forgiving arms of your Father God.
As the band comes to close our service this morning, I’d like to offer an opportunity for you to respond. If there’s something you need to confess – if God has convicted you today of something you’ve tried to hide in your life, but just can’t keep covering up. If there’s something you’ve been ignoring or trying to tolerate until it goes away. If there’s something that’s nagging at you right now – sin that you’ve glossed over, a hurt you’ve caused in someone else that you’ve downplayed, or somebody you need to go to right now to ask forgiveness.
In a few moments, I’m going to pray the words of Psalm 51 over us. The words were written by a man who was a murderer, a liar, an adulterer, and maybe even a rapist, depending on how you read the story. This is a man who knew a little about the stench of sin in his own heart. His name was David. Remember him? He was the shepherd-king that was also called “a man after God’s own heart.”
If there’s love and forgiveness and salvation for a man like David, then it’s there for you too. So, why not come to Jesus today and confess to Him what He already knows. Repent of your sins, believe in His life, death, and resurrection, and accept His free gift of salvation.
As I pray these words from Psalm 51, and then as we sing, if God is doing something in your heart right now, why not come up front and confess before God and His people.
Pray Psalm 51:
1 Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.
2 Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.
3 For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.
5 For I was born a sinner—yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
6 But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.
7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice.
9 Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.Renew a loyal spirit within me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
13 Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to you.
14 Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;
then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.
15 Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you.
16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Oh God, Help Us Repent.
So there I sat on the floor of my pantry. Cans of baked beans and boxes of dried pasta on the floor all around me. Drywall and insulation strewn around the basement. And a next of dead mice tucked in the corner of a couple exposed two-by-fours. The smell was so bad I had to cover my face. It was worse than anything I’d ever smelled. And there was really only one thought going through my mind at that point – I’ve got to get rid of this thing. So I did. I grabbed some gloves, reached down there and picked up every last trace of that nest and took it out back and threw it as far as I could over the ravine.
Sin stinks. It smells like death. And there’s only one way to take care of it. You have to Take Drastic Action To Defeat Your Sin. And that’s where we’ll pick up the story next week when Pastor Pat concludes our series, “God Help Us.” We’ll see you then.