Tuesday, August 7, 2012

There Is Hope

I have been leading/participating in a Bible Study on the book of Nehemiah for the past seven weeks. Tonight will mark our last session.

I have to say, the book doesn't end particularly well. As was typical of Israel's history, they had repented and made an agreement with God. But at the very end of Nehemiah, once again they backslide into sin. The book ends with Nehemiah beating people up and pulling out their hair. Not a stellar "the end".

It is difficult to study Nehemiah without taking a look into the book of Ezra as well. These two guys were contemporaries and both were responsible for leading groups from Babylon back to Jerusalem. Just from reading their books, it seems to me that these two were as different as night and day. While Nehemiah was the organizer, the planner, the administrator, Ezra was more the spiritual leader, the priest. Together they were able to accomplish much toward rebuilding Jerusalem. Beautiful view of the body of Christ ~ but that is for another post.

In the last chapter of Nehemiah and chapters 9 and 10 of Ezra, we have differing viewpoints of the same occurrence. The people have made a commitment to God to keep their race pure and have fallen back into the sin of intermarriage (along with a vast array of other faults). It is at this point that Nehemiah goes postal on the offenders. Ezra's response in chapter 9 of his book is vastly different. He tore his tunic (an expression of grief/repentance), tore out his own hair and beard (again an outward expression of sorrow over sin albeit a painful one). Then the Bible says, he sat appalled.

When on earth was the last time we sat appalled over sin? When was the last time we saw something that just made us sit and wonder in sorrow over what we have done or seen? We have so much stimulation coming at us through the media and much of it has a negative effect on our conscience. I will be the first to say I love a good crime drama. Every time I watch, I witness a murder or some kind of mayhem done to another person. Do I become so desensitized to these images that it doesn't even bother me anymore? The same goes for sex, adultery, drinking, abuse, etc. Even if, in our hearts we know its wrong, we become so used to tuning it out or off that when we experience the same behavior in real life, it has no effect on us any longer. We just never seemed to be appalled anymore.

Once he was through sitting appalled, when it was time for evening sacrifice, Ezra moved to a position of even greater humility. He got on his knees, spread his hands out before God and spent the next nine verses (in our Bible) confessing and begging forgiveness. Verse 1 of chapter 10 says he was throwing himself down before the house of God weeping. His repentance and response to sin was so demonstative that he drew a large crowd. His repentance led others to repentance. Often, we are too ashamed of what we have done or we are too embarrased to "carry on" so in the presence of others. But it may be this very admission of guilt, prayer for repentance that someone else needs to see.

The wonderful thing in all of this is forgiveness. In verse 2 of Ezra 10, Shecaniah says, "We have been unfaithful to our God..." Yes they had. Yes we have. All of us. Every last one. "But in spite of this, there is still hope..." Yes there is. For all of us. Every last one.

Nehemiah 9:17 says "You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love." There is hope. John 3:16 says "God SO loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes on Him might have eternal life." There is hope.

Whatever you have done. Whatever you have seen. Wherever you have been. There is hope. Nothing is impossible with God.

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