We've been going through the book of Nehemiah since the first of the year. It has been a good study and we've seen some interesting perspectives preached from our team. One of the frustrations I've had in preaching is that I feel like I've come across some great thoughts but - because of time constraints - couldn't preach them.
Other times, like now, I think over a passage I just preached and suddenly realize something about the passage that didn't occur to me until *after* I've supposedly fully preached on it.
Of course, that is one thing a blog can be useful for: communicating some ideas that didn't quite make it into the final cut of the sermon. This is one of those times.
On March 1st, I preached on Nehemiah 9. The passage is very powerful. In summary, the people gather for 'church' and read the Bible for three hours straight. Then, for the next three hours they confessed their sins and worshipped God. One point I made in my sermon (which is good to repeat) is that the people first got Bible input, next they confessed, then they could properly worship.
But this got me thinking, two weeks later, about their confession and repentance. There are several instances when this pattern occurs. It seems to be a pattern of revival: the Bible is 'rediscovered,' read, and people realize that they have completely ignored the requirements that God expects of them. They realize that they have been living in utter rebellion to the righteous judge of the universe. This is a bad situation! Then they confess their sin, make changes to repent, and even make restitution for the wrongs they've committed, all so that they will be reconciled to the loving and gracious God, Yahweh.
This happens most notoriously in the reign of king Josiah when they actually stumble across the Bible while doing a periodic remodeling of the Temple - apparently nobody really cared much about the Bible in times previous (2Chr. 34). It happens again in Ezra (chapter 9 and 10), a couple of times in Nehemiah (Neh. chapters 8 and 9).
Here's a weird thing: when we read stories about how the people read their Bibles, then were profoundly convicted, made a big scene of confession and declare repentance; we are tempted think "over-reaction." Really! In our sophisticated, hyper-suspicious post-modern perspectivalistic meta-narrative; we think those people back then were all about the drama and making a big deal about what certainly are minor issues. Clearly, we believe in all our post-modern smugness, they were over-reacting and really needed to chill.
Well, here's our problem. The Bible says that all *those* folks actually reacted properly. According to the Bible, this means that they got it right and we've got it wrong.
I'm thinking about that. What would it mean about my own personal sensitivity to God's holiness and my own sinfulness if I felt so guilty (heavens! there's a word we don't use today) about my wickedness that I would actually feel compelled to wail (who "wails" these days?), throw dirt all over myself, and tear my clothes?
By the way, why *did* they tear their clothes? Well, clothes were invented a Very Long Time Ago (Gen. 3:7) for the express purpose of hiding our 'real' selves - to hide our sinfulness. From that time to this, clothing has been a way of hiding our true natures and making ourselves somehow to appear better than we are. When people 'rent their garments,' it seems to me that they were actually making a very powerful statement of their confession: "Lord, here I really am: I've been hiding behind these clothes (and other things) - be merciful to me, a sinner!"
Back to the point: what kind of confession and resulting repentance would that really mean if I were so humbled by God's holiness that I would authentically wail out loud at my sinfulness? Well, people around me would certainly consider that rather awkward. That would definitely be "not cool."
Hmmmm. I wonder at which attitude God regards more? The attitude that says, "Dude; chill out! Man, you don't see me getting all emo and narcissistic about all my issues, do you?" or "God be merciful to me, a sinner." Look at Luke 18:10-14 for the answer.
All this tells me that I am not as convicted about my sin as I should be.