This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for September 10, 2023. I am hitting most of the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.
The Scripture Reading today is Nehemiah 9:1-6.
I was listening to “the Land and the Book” on Moody Radio last week when the announcer told us that the completion of Nehemiah’s wall on the 25th of the month Elul (Neh 6:15), would be celebrated this year in Israel on Monday Sept 11 of our calendar, that’s tomorrow.
We have been looking at the first observance of the “Three Fall Festivals of the Jewish Holy Year” as celebrated in the first year after the restoration of Jerusalem’s wall by Nehemiah. Our text today tells about the third of these Holy Days. As you may remember, I have told you that there are six feasts and one fast in the “Hebrew Holy Year” calendar. We have now come to that fast, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, a fast of individual and national confession. It is held on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month. This year it will be held Sept 24, 2023. It begins in somber reflection and confession and ends with rejoicing and a feast.
Even in the Old Testament God is telling us that we need to rejoice in what God has provided even more than mourn over how we fall short. At the same time there is a time and place to remember our sins and show our remorse before God. This keeps us humble and avoids pride and superiority over others.
The purpose of confession is to humble the believer in remembering that it is God who has forgiven him or her, and then blessed them beyond what they deserve. The purpose is to recall what God has done for us and lead us to rejoice in Him, not to be proud of what we have achieved. This confession leads to praise of God, not to mourning about our lowly estate and inability to completely obey Him every time.
There are three words in the English Bible used to show our sorrow over our sins and turning away from them. These words are “contrition,” “confession,” and “repentance.” Each one emphasizes another aspect of confession of our sins.
The first word, “contrition,” is more common in the Roman Catholic tradition than in Protestant circles. Nevertheless, it is an integral part of confession. It is “feeling sorry for our sins.” Let me read a passage for Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. In his first epistle, Paul scolded the church about several areas where the church had not lived up to God’s Word. Apparently after they received the first letter, they took Paul’s admonition to heart and began living correctly. They felt badly about their shortcomings and wrote an apology to Paul. We do not have that apology today, but Paul replies to it in what we know today as 2nd Corinthians. Listen to 2 Cor 7:8-11. Here we learn that contrition, feeling badly about sin, is the first step towards repentance and salvation or restoration.
The contrition sometimes is misunderstood as “punishing oneself for one’s sins.” This is not what the Bible teaches. Jesus took our punishment on Himself when He died on the cross. So, the price is paid in full. However, when we sin we need to show our sorrow over what we have done. This is biblical contrition, sorrow leading us to confess and repent, and renew our fellowship with God and Christ.
Our second term is “confession.” Confession literally means “to say the same thing.” Do I really see my sins as a thing keeping me from God? For a non-believer, sin completely separates us from God, and if the situation is not reconciled, that separation goes on into eternity. For a believer, sin separates us from our fellowship with God. The fact that one of my children might displease me, does not mean they are no longer my child. But the “sin,” so to speak, makes family fellowship and family blessing much harder to maintain. In the same way, we need to tell Christ about our shortfalls, and restore our fellowship with Him. See 1 John 1:6-9. Fellowship with both God and fellow Christians is kept by always being ready to confess our wrongs, and that to God, not a mediator. Notice also, if we confess our “known” sins, He also cleanses us from the ones we did not even know we committed. “. . . forgives us of all our sins” (1:9).
Our third and final term is “repentance.” The basic meaning is “to turn around, or to change directions.” In Paul’s day, a Roman military commander directed drills for his soldiers, may shout, “Repent!” and the soldiers would complete what we know as an “about face.” When we repent, we turn around and go in the other direction. The most colorful use of this word is in 1 Thess 1:9, where the word is translated “turned” to God from idols. Now this reference is to “repenting” is for “initial salvation,” not for continued fellowship.
The bottom line is that contrition, confession, and repentance are not just an, “OK I sinned, now let’s get on with life.” God expects change! I know, we may again sin in exactly the same way today, that we confessed about yesterday. But God expects us to keep on trying to reform, and by His grace, eventually we will see progress.
God is not a god sitting on a throne anxiously waiting to drop lightening bults on people, saved or otherwise, who get out of line. But He is also not a Santa Clause, gleefully giving to His grandchildren everything they could ever want, regardless of its consequence.
Just as our “Returned Exiles,” as they referred to themselves, stood on “Yom Kippur” morning and confessed their sins, we too, need to find a time as an individual, or as a family, or as a congregation, to confess to God our sins and shortcomings. This builds in us a humble spirit. It reminds us God has done it, not us. It keeps us trekking on toward holiness, even though we will never attain it here on earth.
And don’t forget, at the end of the day it leads to a doxology of praise to God for His salvation of us (9:5b).
God Bless you,
CH Jim Odell