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Nehemiah 9-10: True Repentance Print E-mail
Nehemiah
Sunday, 05 June 2016

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Now that I have multiple children in my home, I am expecting the day when I have to tell one of my boys to apologize to the other. And doesnít that always work so well? ĎSay youíre sorry.í ĎIíM SORRY.í ĎNow, say it like you mean it.í Mumbling: ĎIím sorry.í ĎUhhh, say it like you really mean it!í And on and on it goes. It never really works, but we do it anyway. The truth is, just saying that you are sorry does not really mean that you really are sorry. Forced apologies are no apologies at all. They may allow us to move on, but they never really resolve the problem. A true apology comes with a sense of recognition and brokenness over the hurt caused. And it usually leads (at least for a time) to changed behavior.

The Bible makes a distinction between true repentance and just verbal lip service. John the Baptist criticized the religious leaders of his day of false repentance and commanded them: Bear fruits in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). Paul also taught his listeners to repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance (Acts 26:20). It is the difference produced by genuine godly grief and that produced by the world (see 2 Corinthians 7:10ff). The Lord is not interested in, or fooled by, lip service apologies. He knows the difference because He knows the heart. So then, what does true repentance look like?

We get a picture of it in Nehemiah 9-10. The wall is finished (ch. 1-6), the people have been counted (ch. 7), and the Feast of Booths has been celebrated (ch. 8). Ezra has been teaching them the Law and it is having an impact on the people. In fact, one of the first things that they did when they heard the reading of the Law in Nehemiah 8 was weep. Look at verse 9. Since it was a time for joy and feasting, Nehemiah encouraged them to put their weeping away. But we see it return in chapter 9. Look at verses 1-5. The feast was spent in rejoicing, but now their sin must be addressed. They have heard the Word of the Lord and it has broken them over their sin. So what do they do? They repent. They respond with true repentance before the Lord. According to the picture we see in these chapters, what does true repentance look like?

True repentance leads to honest confession (9:6-31)

Their repentance begins with honest confession. And what is interesting about this confession is that it not only involves their own sin but even the sin of their fathers. In fact, the Levites, who seem to be doing the talking here, begin with Creation and work their way forward, confessing the sins of Israel the whole time. Letís walk through this confession, which is actually a great summary of the entire Old Testament.

It begins at the beginning. Look at verse 6. God is the Creator of the universe. He has made all things and all things owe their existence (and allegiance) to Him. We will consider what they say about God in their confession in just a moment. After Creation, they remember Abrahamís calling. Look at verses 7-8. God chose Abram and promised to make him a great nation with a great inheritance. And the Lord kept that promise. They are remembering this promise in the middle of a city in the middle of the Promised Land. The Lord has been faithful. Going on, the Levites tell the story of the Exodus and Godís deliverance of Israel from the Egyptians. They were enslaved and cried out for help and God saved them. He gave them instructions for how to live and worship as His people and provisions for their practical needs.

But they rebelled. Look at verses 16-21. The people grew impatient with the Lord and decided to worship a golden calf instead of waiting on Him. They declared that the calf had brought them out of Egypt. They committed great blasphemies. They do not hide the ugliness of this sin. They admit how heinous it was. Even so, God did not wipe out the people but led them through the wilderness for forty years as a consequence to their continued rebellion. Then the Levites speak about how God gave them the Promised Land. He drove out the nations before them and supplied them with the great inheritance that He had promised to Abraham. The Lord was good to them in every way.

Yet, they rebelled again. Look at verses 26-28. This is a summary of the time of the judges. The people did not do what the Lord told them to do in the Promised Land. Thus, they became idolaters and the Lord gave them over to their enemies. Yet, when they cried out to Him, He raised up saviors, or judges, who would deliver them. But when the judge died, the people went back to their idolatry and the cycle started over again.

After this happened for many years, the people eventually cried out for a king. But the kings did not lead them to obey. And even when the prophets warned them of future judgment, they did not obey. The Levites tell us what happened in verses 29-31. The Lord gave them over to exile for their continued rebellion, but in His mercy He did not make an end of them. In all of this, we see the honesty of the people. They do not make excuses or try to justify their actions, they simply own it. They simply admit: ĎWe are sinners and we have sinned greatly against the Lord.í

True repentance leads to humble worship (9:6-31)

Before we move on from these verses, we need to pause and recognize the praise that these Levites are offering to the Lord. Over and over again in the middle of their confession they talk about the greatness of God. The whole thing begins with Him as the Creator. Look again at verse 6. He has made it all and it all owes Him praise! The fallen world in which we live and participate still proclaims His glory. He is the God who called out Abraham and made Him a nation. And He is the One who saved them from slavery. Look at verses 9-15. God saved Israel through His power and might. He gave them the glorious gift of His Law so that they could live as His people. And He fed them with manna from heaven and water from the rock. He gave them all that they needed, both spiritually and physically.

Yet, they sinned and rebelled. Even so, He still showed them grace. Look at verses 17b-21. The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, the God of great mercies. He gives His good Spirit to guide us and sustains us on our way. What a great God! And He keeps His promises. Look at verses 22-25. He told Abraham that He would give His descendants the Promised Land and He kept that promise. He filled them with all good things and they delighted themselves in (His) great goodness! But they do not obey. They forsake the Lord and run after worthless idols. He raises up deliverers, but they keep running back to their slavery. And so finally He sends them into exile among the nations. But even then, look at verse 31. He did not end them. He did not destroy them, even though they deserved it. He continued to show them mercy and grace. He continued to send His Son. And even though these Levites did not yet know His name, they knew that they were part of Godís gracious plan to save His own.

Do you see the pattern in this confession? They are honest about their sins. Honest about their rebellion. Honest about how unworthy they truly are. And yet they keep glorying in Godís grace and mercy. The rehearsal of their sin is a rehearsal of His grace! They will not forget their rebellion because it constantly teaches them of His mercy. True repentance will lead us to honest confession. It will bring us to our knees. It will leave us broken and breaking. And when Godís grace meets us in that dirty, helpless place and showers us with steadfast love, our very existence will become a song of praise to Him. ĎI was lost, but now Iím found! I was blind, but now I see! I was a slave, but now I am His son! I was dead and now I live!í True repentance leads to humble praise.

True repentance leads to hopeful cries for mercy (9:32-37)

After their confession, the Levites cry out for mercy. Look at verses 32-37. They recount the great history of Godís mercy toward Israel and they cry out for more. ĎLord we have seen your mercy on our fathers and we have known it in our lives. We are not worthy. We have broken your law. But we cry out for your mercy. Do not let our trouble seem light to you.í An understanding of Godís mercy in the past causes them to cry out for more for the present and the future. They are hopeful in their desperate cry because they have witnessed Godís mercy in the past. True repentance will lead to such a hopeful cry for mercy.

True repentance leads to heartfelt commitment (9:38-10:39)

True repentance does not return easily to rebellion. It longs to obey. It longs to go a different way, which is what we see here. Look at verse 38. When you take your sin seriously, you take steps to fight against it. You renew your commitment to fight it with all that you are by Godís grace. After listing the names who signed the covenant at the beginning of chapter 10, they note itís content in verses 28-29. Look at those verses with me.

They covenant together to be faithful to keeping Godís Law. Specifically they address the issues of intermarriage (v. 30), keeping the Sabbath (v. 31), and making provisions for temple worship (v. 32-39). They commit to not neglecting these areas and making sure that the priests have what they need for worship. They proclaim: We will not neglect the house of our God (v. 39). In short, they make provisions for obedience to the Law. They will not continue to ignore what it teaches. And as we will see in chapter 13, such commitment is not easy to keep, but they make it trusting in Godís grace. They are serious about bearing fruit in keeping with their repentance.

Conclusion

True repentance leads to honest confession and humble praise. It leads to hopeful cries for mercy and heartfelt commitment to obey. So then, let me ask you: have you truly repented for your sins? Have you honestly confessed? Have you cried out for mercy and committed to obey? It feels like an impossible task at times, but we have hope in the cross. For through the cross, we find what we need to truly repent. Jesusí death for all our sins frees us to be honest about them. What have you done that He has not paid for? What could you do that His blood could not cover?

There is no reason to hide from the One who knows everything about you and still died to set you free. Come clean. Repent and believe that He paid the price. And it is the cross that empowers us to bear fruit in keeping with our repentance. Through the cross, we have now become a dwelling place for Godís Spirit, that good Spirit who guides and sustains. Through the Spirit we can have victory over our sin. We can actually obey the commands of God and continue to find mercy when fail. The cross has made true repentance possible for any who will turn to God. Will you do that today? Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 04 July 2016 )

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