Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Return to the Restoring God

My Sunday School lesson from Feb. 15, 2015 ...

Sunday we continued our study in Nehemiah, moving into chapter 9 when the past sins of the Jews were revisited in an acknowledgement that they messed up a lot and needed reconciliation with God.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** The people repented.

--- In the last session (Nehemiah 8), the people had listened and understood as the law was read to them; they had been away from God’s Word for a long time. As a result of hearing the law, the people realized their sin, both personally and as a group, and they began to confess their sin to God.

THE GREAT GOD (Neh. 9:32)

32 So now, our God—the great, mighty, and awe-inspiring God who keeps His gracious covenant—do not view lightly all the hardships that have afflicted us, our kings and leaders, our priests and prophets, our ancestors and all Your people, from the days of the Assyrian kings until today.

*** Confession is good for the soul.

--- The Israelites acknowledge their sin and dependence on God.

--- Nehemiah’s people recognized that their ancestors and they had behaved arrogantly, rebelling against their benevolent God. Time and again they turned aside from God and His loving direction. The people’s sin resulted in chastisement and bondage, yet God remained forgiving and merciful. He fulfilled His promises despite their sin. When the Israelites forsook the Lord, He removed His protective hand and they suffered under oppressive enemies. When they cried to God, He rescued and redeemed them. This cycle continued over centuries, yet God never abandoned His people.

--- Once the people had confessed and were forgiven, they could see God in this fresh, big way – “great, mighty and awe-inspiring.” God’s greatness is intimately related to His goodness.

--- We, too, can call on the Lord in our times of trouble. Our great God loves us and wants to restore us as we turn from our sins and return to Him. However, we must approach God in repentance, with reverence and awe.

--- In a simple way, confessing sin is recognizing sin as God does—with no sugar-coating or excuses. Have you ever tried to withhold a confession, as if God wouldn’t know?

*** QUESTION - Why is it easy to identify and point out sin in other people? Why is it hard to identify and confess sin in our own lives?

THE CONFESSION (Neh. 9:33-35)

33 You are righteous concerning all that has come on us, because You have acted faithfully, while we have acted wickedly. 34 Our kings, leaders, priests, and ancestors did not obey Your law or listen to Your commands and warnings You gave them. 35 When they were in their kingdom, with Your abundant goodness that You gave them, and in the spacious and fertile land You set before them, they would not serve You or turn from their wicked ways.

*** It is by God’s grace that we are saved.

--- Nehemiah and his people understood that the only way they might seek God’s forgiveness and restoration was in God’s goodness and grace. You are not entitled to a problem-free life regardless of how you act.

--- Verse 33 stresses that while God acts faithfully, we act wickedly, therefore we need to confess. 1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

--- QUESTION - What does unconfessed sin do to our relationship with God? How does prompt confession of sin impact our relationship with God? (Unconfessed sin always breaks our fellowship with God.)

--- C. S. Lewis said: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” In what ways have you seen sin be a gradual, slippery slope?

--- Even when the people sinned, they remained His people. Whenever they repented and returned to the Lord, He graciously received them as a forgiving father receives a repentant son (see the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:20 - So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.).

--- QUESTION - Why do we reject God’s warnings? What makes us keep sinning?

*** Two steps forward, one step back.

--- Nehemiah chapter 9 looks back at the history of Israel and a history of spiritual failure. They would be blessed, then get stiff-necked and fall into sin. God would have mercy and save them. Then it would start all over again.

THE REQUEST (Neh. 9:36-37)

36 Here we are today, slaves in the land You gave our ancestors so that they could enjoy its fruit and its goodness. Here we are—slaves in it! 37 Its abundant harvest goes to the kings You have set over us, because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and our livestock as they please. We are in great distress.

*** QUESTION - What was the “great distress” the people were experiencing? (They were slaves where they should have been free, they paid taxes that left them poor, their “abundant harvest” was taken by the kings).

--- The people’s words of confession were honest and heartfelt. After confession comes their request. After God had worked to get the Jews back to the Promised Land, rebuild the Temple and restore Jerusalem, they were still under foreign control. How could they enjoy the land that God gave them if they were practically slaves in it? Yet they took responsibility for their predicament.

*** The New Covenant provided the ultimate way that confession is good for the soul.

--- Romans 10:9-13: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

TAKE AWAY POINTS

*** Evaluate your prayer life this week. Is there a heavier emphasis on “asking” in your prayer time? Is there enough emphasis on “confession?”

*** Carve out some quiet time this week to ask God if there’s any unconfessed sin you need to address.

*** Thank God for his forgiveness and grace that allows you to be saved despite your sins.

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