Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Great Confession - Doug Rehberg

Last week a friend of mine came to see me about something she had done to someone a long time ago. She never told me what she had done; it didn’t matter. What did matter was the question she asked, “Will God ever forgive me if I never go and apologize to the one I offended?” I love those kind of questions because they always give me the opportunity to remind myself and others of the incomparable Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Imagine if God’s forgiveness was predicated on the sufficiency of our apologies. How would we ever know if our apology had enough integrity for a Holy God to accept it? Moreover, what would be the threshold of forgiveness needed from the offended party to sway God’s opinion of the sufficiency of our apology? Thankfully, divine forgiveness if not based on the sufficiency of our apology, or the response of another, it’s based solely and exclusively on God’s judgment on His own Son. There’s only one standard by which God grants His forgiveness and that’s the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ.

What’s true of an apology is equally true of a confession. We’ve cited the story of Martin Luther and his insatiable attempts to be made holy through the confession of his sins. Remember, he wore out several confessors in the process, believing that unless he named every one of his sins, he would surely be damned to hell forever. What a glorious day it was when he came to understand the true meaning of Habakkuk 2:4, “The just (righteous) shall live by faith.” What Luther came to learn is what the New Testament overwhelmingly affirms – “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11)

And yet, throughout the history of the church confession of sins is a necessary part of spiritual growth. Indeed, confession is the vehicle by which we continue to stay in touch with who we are and who God is.

Near the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, a German reformer by the name of Martin Bucer took a look at his life through the prism of the Ten Commandments and wrote the following prayer of confession:

“I poor sinner confess to thee, O Almighty, eternal, merciful God and Father, that I have sinned in manifold ways against thee and thy commandments.

I confess that I have not believed in thee, my one God and Father, but have put my faith and trust more in creatures than in thee, my God and Creator, because I have feared them more than thee. And for their benefit and my pleasure, I have done and left undone many things in disobedience to thee and thy commandments.

I confess that I have taken thy holy Name in vain, that I have often sworn falsely and lightly by the same, that I have not always professed it nor kept it holy as I ought; but even more, I have slandered it often and grossly with all my life, words and deeds.

I confess that I have not kept thy Sabbath holy, that I have not heard thy holy Word with earnestness nor lived according to the same; moveover that I have not yielded myself fully to thy divine hand, nor rejoiced in thy work done in me and in others, but have often grumbled against it stoutly and have been impatient.

I confess that I have not honored my father and mother, that I have been disobedient to all whom I justly owe obedience, such as father and mother, my superiors, and all who have tried to guide and teach me faithfully.

I confess that I have taken life; that I have offended my neighbor often and grossly by word and deed, and caused him harm, grown angry over him, borne envy and hatred toward him, deprived him of his honor and the like.

I confess that I have been unchaste. I acknowledge all my sins of the flesh and all the excess and extravagance of my whole life in eating, drinking, clothing and other things; my intemperance in seeing, hearing and speaking, and in all my life; yea, even fornication, adultery and such.

I confess that I have stolen. I acknowledge my greed. I admit that in the use of my worldly goods I have set myself against thee and thy holy laws. Greedily and against charity have I grasped them. And scarcely, if at all, have I given of them when the need of my neighbor required it.

I confess that I have born false witness, that I have been untrue and unfaithful toward my neighbor. I have lied to him, I have told lies about him, and I have failed to defend his honor and reputation as my own.

And finally I confess that I have coveted the possessions and spouses of others. I acknowledge in summary that my whole life is nothing else than sin and transgression of thy holy commandments and inclination toward all evil.

Wherefore I beseech thee, O heavenly Father, that thou wouldst graciously forgive me these and all my sins. Keep and preserve me henceforth that I may walk only in thy way and live according to thy will; and all of this through Jesus Christ, thy dear Son, our Saviour. Amen.”

What is abundantly apparent from Bucer’s confession is that our sin is thorough and pervasive. Who among us can fully understand the depth of our sin? Answer: no one! Indeed, without the convicting power of the Holy Spirit none of us would have the first hint of the gravity of our sin.

What Bucer’s confession clearly points out is that the necessary ingredient to deep and effective confession is a Holy Spirit led memory. Just look at the extent of the confession the people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah 9. It’s all a reflection on their memory. No wonder it’s the longest prayer in the Bible.

We will be digging into this chapter and prayer this week. In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What is significant about the timing of this confession?
2. What is the Lord telling us about the order of His dealing with the people of Jerusalem from 8:1 through chapter 9?
3. Is God’s grace and forgiveness predicated on their confession?
4. What can we learn about our confessions from their posture in verses 1 & 2?
5. Why do they separate themselves again from all foreigners?
6. What is the purpose of such separation?
7. How does verse 7 act as a linkage between them and their forbearers?
8. What are they saying about God in verse 32?
9. On whom are they depending for their righteousness in verse 38?
10. How does chapter 9 drive us to the Gospel?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Bringing Out the Book - Doug Rehberg

Years ago when I worked for the County Manager of Dade County, Florida, I attended a church on Key Biscayne where my friend and mentor Steve Brown was pastor. One Sunday I remember sitting there listening intently to his message on the sovereignty of God. (I remember the last 5 to 10 minutes word for word, and that was 40 years ago.)

Now the custom at Key Biscayne was that immediately after the sermon the congregation would sing the words,

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!”

Then everyone would stand up and greet each other. The service of worship was over.

But this particular Sunday morning I didn’t want the worship to end. So, instead of greeting anyone, I got up out of my seat and almost ran to my car. I was the first one out of the parking lot that day. Rather than heading home, I drove a mile and a half to a deserted section of beach where I spent the next hour or so walking and listening to Jesus’ voice. You say, “Was He a baritone or a soprano?” I can’t tell you. All I can tell you is that for the next hour it was Jesus and me. He was speaking, and I was listening. Have you ever had an experience like that?

Six years ago a dear friend of mine was listening to a sermon delivered in the Barclay Building at the 8:15 service. When the message was over and the music was done, he just sat there. In fact, he says that he sat there for nearly a half hour thinking about what the Lord had just said to him in that sermon. And you know what’s the most interesting to me about that experience? He’s always the first one out!

In Revelation 8 the Bible says that when the Lamb of God opens the seventh and final seal on the heavenly scroll there will be 30 minutes of silence. Now there’s a lot of speculation as to what that means. But among all the interpretations there is a common feature – the awe and wonder of God. The reason there’s a half hour of silence is because no one can speak; they’re mesmerized.

The same is true in Jerusalem in Nehemiah 8. Nehemiah says, “All the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate.” Now remember this is in the wake of the successful completion of the wall. In 52 days they complete a project that had flummoxed generations of Jews. No one could do it until God did it through His servant Nehemiah. In the immediate aftermath the people of Jerusalem gather at the Water Gate and command Ezra to bring out the Book and start reading. And you know what happens when he does? They hear God speak to them. Oh no, this hearing is not just the hearing of the ears. This is the hearing of the heart! This is Key Biscayne hearing! This is 2012, 8:15 worship hearing! This is God one-on-one with each member of that gathered crowd, and the results are amazing. Simply put, the Lord uses the law to dispense His grace.
This is a rich text. It deserves our full attention. In preparation to hear expectantly, attentively, and responsively on Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. Where and what is the Water Gate?
2. How big is this crowd?
3. Who is Ezra? What’s his pedigree?
4. Why does the crowd demand for the Book to be read?
5. Why build a platform in verse 4?
6. What’s the result of this 6+ hours of reading? (see verses 6-8)
7. In light of the people’s reaction to the reading, why do Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites tell the people to quit crying?
8. What is the meaning of the message in verses 10 and 11?
9. What’s verse 12 tell us about the purpose of the law?
10. Who is the Prime Mover in everything that happens in chapter 8?
EXTRA CREDIT: Exposition + Application = ?

See you Sunday!