One of important things good parents do: help/encourage their children to plan for future. So long as it seems they have a future, there is cause to hope – hope they will do well, achieve goals, be good citizens, give you the world’s best grandchildren. If they do something really special like fail senior English or perhaps something more serious, the conversation changes – you’ll just have to manage as best you can, settle for this instead, live with that the rest of your life. If it’s serious enough, then: I don’t know if there’s any hope for you or not.
I expect at this point in Jewish history Ezra was wondering if Israel had a future or not; if a future, then hope; if no future, no hope. Two concepts joined together by God, communicated by Jeremiah:
Jer. 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Jer. 31:17 There is hope in your future, says the Lord, That your children shall come back to their own border.
There Ezra was, only 80 years after the first group of exiles returned to Jerusalem, temple rebuilt but city walls still breached and without gates, people engaged in same sinful behavior that got them exiled in first place. Yes, God had promised “a future and a hope”; he had promised that a future generation of Jews would “come back to their own border”. How could God bless such a sinful people? How could he possibly keep his promise and seem to reward their disobedience? Surely they must have gone beyond the point of no return, tested God’s patience past its limit, forfeited any chance for a future.
Shechaniah didn’t think so; in fact he said, “even now there is hope in Israel”. How could that possibly be? Did Shechaniah recognize that conditions were ripe for revival, that help was present and focused on directing people to God, that follow-through by a repentant people would be met by forgiveness from a faithful God? Perhaps. Let’s consider the text:
A. fertile conditions v.1-2 hearts prepared by God
sensitive leader v.1a
God-given understanding of greatness of sin, sorrow because of offense to God
not afraid to weep in public!!
sensitive to needs of people, demands of God, where to go for resolution – the temple
modeled by own actions how true followers of God should respond to situation – good shepherd/leader
repentant people v.1b
made aware of how grievous sinful behavior was – experienced change of mind/heart about it
“…now that the disease is discovered it is half-cured. Now that the alarm is taken the people begin to be sensible of the mischief, and to lament it, a spirit of repentance seems to be poured out upon them.”Matthew Henry
perceptive spokesman v.2
Shechaniah – observed situation, saw cause for hope: corporate, public acknowledgment of sin; turning to God rather than prideful rebelling against God
remembered God’s promise: 2 Chron. 7:14 “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” ESV
For sinful people to recognize they need hope, they must have a sense of God’s holiness and their own sinfulness. God used Ezra’s example and Shecaniah’s words coupled with internal work of Holy Spirit to accomplish this.
B. focused help v.3-4 resources provided by God
commitment to God v.3a
Shechaniah moved by God to help Ezra and his people – verbalize what needed to be done, also anticipated result
understood – true lasting change must begin with right relationship between people and God
plan of action v.3b
for relationship to be repaired, for reconciliation to occur, must be plan that would put God’s expectations into action – change direction from movement away from God to movement toward God
source of encouragement v.4
by showing strong leadership, Shecaniah encouraged people AND Ezra
no one wants to be first; Shecaniah took away that excuse
without show of support from people, Ezra could easily have remained overwhelmed by problem, unable to act; Shechaniah helped Ezra overcome those obstacles
for sinful people to find true hope, they need someone committed to God who understands God’s plan of action and who will encourage them to do what God requires
C. follow-through v.10-12 people pointed to God
those who were not present to see Ezra’s great distress needed to be informed of the specific problem and magnitude of it, including implied consequences
verbal acknowledgment – what we have done is sin – homologeo; demonstrates change of mind about actions
stated intention to repent – turn from previous behavior and do what God requires
courageous action v.11c
confession, repentance, obedience always requires courage – doing the hard thing, going against peer pressure, overcoming pride (not wanting to be wrong, look foolish)
concerted agreement v.12
Shecaniah’s cause for hope was real: people truly were with Ezra, determined to do what God expected and counting on him to respond graciously to their change of heart
for sinful people to experience true hope, they must respond in faith to the Gospel promise
D. faithful God v.19 sinners pardoned by God
acknowledged their guilt publicly
not only did hard thing regarding family situation, went to temple in daylight; purpose in going: demonstrate faith, receive forgiveness
demonstrated faith in God’s promises by sacrificing
sins committed wittingly: Lev. 6:1-7
key concept: verse 7, priest shall make atonement before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven
not sacrifice of animal that forgave sin: see Heb. 10:4 “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
what it represented: the offering of “one sacrifice for sins forever” (Heb. 10:12) that is able to take away sin
because God is faithful, unchanging
would keep promise made through Moses in the Sinai desert, repeated by John in first century
1 John 1:9
the Gospel promise has value for sinful people because the God who made the promise is faithful
the same God who was the “hope of Israel” Jer. 14:8; 17:12-14 is our hope today; the same declaration of God’s faithfulness made by the Apostle John is true today. If we like prophet Jeremiah pray “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved, For You are my praise.” (Jer. 17:14) God will heal, he will save, he will be our praise.
Even now – in spite of your past or your present – Jesus truly is a “Friend for sinners”, the one who deserves our adoration, who grants forgiveness when we confess our sin to him, who helps, keeps, loves us, stays with his people to the very end.