Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship, June 9 2024

June 9, 2024: Message: The Model of Repentance | Scripture: Ezra 10:7-17 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

Worship Songs: Before The Throne of God; I Am Not My Own; Christ, Our Hope In Life and Death

Full Manuscript


If able, please stand as I read to you from Ezra 10:7-17.  TWoL: 7 And a proclamation was made throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the returned exiles that they should assemble at Jerusalem, 8 and that if anyone did not come within three days, by order of the officials and the elders all his property should be forfeited, and he himself banned from the congregation of the exiles.

9 Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. 10 And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. 11 Now then make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” 12 Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said. 13 But the people are many, and it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open. Nor is this a task for one day or for two, for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. 14 Let our officials stand for the whole assembly. Let all in our cities who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every city, until the fierce wrath of our God over this matter is turned away from us.” 15 Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supported them.

16 Then the returned exiles did so. Ezra the priest selected men, heads of fathers’ houses, according to their fathers’ houses, each of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month, they sat down to examine the matter; 17 and by the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women.

Ezra has broken down—really, from here on out, Ezra’s role becomes muted.  He might still have a strong presence among the people, but for the rest of this part of Ezra-Nehemiah, he only speaks three sentences, and they’re not very new sentences.  In fact, verse 7 signals a true shift in the focus of who is leading and directing Israel. 

See, after Ezra finds out about the people’s sin, tears out his hair, rips his clothes, and falls on his face in prayer, we see Shecaniah speak for the Jewish leaders and elders.  Then, after Shecaniah says what they, as leaders of Israel, need to do, in 10:5, Ezra does this thing: “[He] rises up and makes the leading priests and Levites take an oath to do what Shecaniah has told them to do.”  Then Ezra withdraws. 

In essence, what’s taking place here is a change of guard.  Notice that Ezra, isn’t included or referred to as one of the leading priests and Levites—they’re a separate entity now.  Ezra sort of becomes like a retired consultant, and now it’s up to those whom he leaves in charge not to screw it up.  In fact, shortly after these events, it’s likely that Ezra leaves Jerusalem and goes back to Susa for a little while. 

And there’s a reason for this.  God sent Ezra to call his people back to holiness.  They had the temple, but they didn’t have the heart.  Ezra’s shown them the heart.  He’s exhibited for them what true remorse and repentance over sin looks and sounds like, and now, it’s up to the people whether they’ll adopt that same heart and walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord.  They’ve had the crutch of Ezra’s tears and zeal for their souls, but now, the question is will they cultivate their own sense of ownership over each others’ lives—and not just any sense of ownership, but a holy sense of it—a God-fearing, Bible-obeying sense of it—the kind of sense that Ezra displayed when he found out about Israel’s sin. 

Ezra wouldn’t be around forever, but God’s people were meant to be, and these leaders, as we’ll see in our text, understand that the only way they last is if they are drastically, urgently, and intentionally involved in one another’s lives to quite an extreme degree. 

And this morning, I’m hoping that that kind of drastic, urgent, and intentional involvement might rub off on us in our own community and accountability as those who follow the example of our greater Ezra in Christ.  Just like Israel does here, we are to cultivate a holy sense of ownership—a God-fearing, God-imitating, God-desiring—sense of ownership over each others’ lives and that begins, in our first point, with a willingness—a joy—a conviction to struggle together. 

1) Struggle Together

What do I mean when I talk about struggling together?  Well, our narrative begins with the context of deep, sorrowful urgency.  Ezra and Israel are weeping.  Shecaniah, like I said last week, is telling Ezra and the leaders that this sin needs to be dealt with now—the foreign women, their children, and their idols need to be cast out.  And as the leaders are literally sworn into office, they’re asking themselves how do we take this sorrow and the urgency over our sin and fulfill our oath?  Or more importantly, how do we get the rest of our people to come listen to what Ezra has to say to us before it’s too late?

And believe it or not, what they do is threaten their people.  They send out a missive telling everyone in Judah and Jerusalem to show up before God’s temple within three days.  If they don’t do this, then they’ll be stripped of their property and their identity as Israelites.  Not showing up meant a total and irrevocable ban from the congregation of the exiles—barred from covenantal union to God and his people.

Said another way, they force the Israelites to struggle.  First, we must remember, back then, they didn’t have cars, so for some of those on the outlying parts of Judah to get to Jerusalem, they would have been required to travel almost without stopping.  And what’s worse is that they’re to do this in the winter.  We’re told it’s the ninth month—the twentieth day of the month, which means this is the backend of December.  Rainy season.  I imagine lugging your things in the winter, as it’s raining, is not an easy thing to do.  Then, when they get there, they’re forced to stand or sit in the open, uncovered street, listen to this man talk about their sin, all while that rain poured down upon their heads.

Yet, more importantly, the short time period to get to Jerusalem is a call for them to struggle not only physically or outwardly, but inwardly and emotionally.  The text tells us that as the Israelites sat in the temple square, they were trembling because of this matter—because of their sin.  Three days they’re told to get to the place of God—three days to really think upon why God is calling them.  Three days to evaluate their heart and whether or not they’ll stand before him in joy or despair, and I imagine, like I might imagine for many in our world today, that when they looked into their heart, they likely saw despair. 

This is a desperately urgent picture that our passage paints for us, and yet the Israelites do it.  There’s no part of our passage that says a single one of them failed to comply with the proclamation of the leaders and priests.  All of them show up, which tells us that we need to consider a few things in response. 

First, we need a renewed urgency when it comes to the seriousness of our sin.  I’ve harped on this a lot the past couple of weeks.  Someone asked me once why we talk about sin so much, and the reason we do is because the Bible speaks of it so much—because it’s not a joke—because God takes it very seriously as something that stands in stark contrast to his character—something that he will not simply let go and forget. 

He takes it so seriously that he sends his most beloved possession.  He gives up his own Son—eternal Son.  Some of us have sons and daughters—we’re blessed if we get 50, 60, 70 years with them, and the relationship remains good.  But this was God’s Son—his eternal Son—he has known him as none of us could know another, and their relationship wasn’t just good—it wasn’t just amicable—it was universally incomparable in its perfection and love.  God, the Father, sends that Son to die a criminal’s death upon a cross because of our sin—because of how intolerant he is towards our sin.  And for three days he bore the condemnation that belonged to us. 

Sin doesn’t just affect us physically in this world, it is meant to affect us inwardly—emotionally because it costs the God of heaven—the God who made you and me—the God who loved his Son more than anything he had ever created—it cost him everything.  And he does it so that we might know him.  This is the incomparable love of God, and when we finally grasp that love, it ought to shake us real low in the knowledge of our sin. 

This is why Ezra is willing to repeat himself in verses 10 and 11 once all the people from Judah and Jerusalem have gathered.  Remember he’s broken over this—he’s been weeping and fasting.  He doesn’t want to talk anymore.  He’s at the end of his rope, and still he musters the strength to say, “you’ve broken faith—you’ve acted treacherously before God.  You’ve sinned.  You’ve married foreign women.  You’ve increased your guilt.  And something needs to be done about it.  You need to confess that sin.  You need to rectify your situation in that sin.  You need to separate yourselves from it.”  He loves his people.

And what this ought to teach us, as Ezra lovingly, sacrificially tells the people what’s going on, and as the severity of what they’ve done comes upon their minds, hearts, and souls—as we’re, in our own lives, shown how we’ve acted treacherously—faithlessly—before our God—stabbing him in the heart in our rebellion—we’re meant to feel the urgency of dealing with our sin, and we’re meant to feel it together. 

Notice the proclamation of the leaders and priests isn’t just for those who have broken faith by marrying foreign women—it’s for every person to gather in Jerusalem.  Every single one of them was to feel the weight of their sin both physically and emotionally because, you see, when one of them sinned, and the others didn’t pick up the slack and call that one to repentance, they all sinned in their neglect.  They all failed to value the law of God. 

When one of us is in sin, and the rest of us are trivial about it—nonchalant about it—perhaps even uncaring towards it—like it’s not our problem—we’re just as much at fault as the one who’s committed the sin—not because their sin becomes ours but because our sin is exposed in how little we care about the destiny and the soul of those around us.  It is a sin to neglect being accountable to others for your wrongdoing.  It is also a sin to neglect being accountable for others who’ve done wrong—to be unloving towards your brothers and sisters.  Why?  Because it goes against the loving character of our God. 

This is what all these Jews exhibit as they tremble in fear at their sin and as they stand shivering out in the cold.  They’re willing to struggle together.  Those who’ve done wrong are standing there accountable for their sin, and those who haven’t done wrong are standing there accountable for those who have sinned.

This is also what the leaders exemplify for Israel in the proclamation.  They care so much about their people and fulfilling their oath that they’re willing to do the difficult thing—to make the uncomfortable call of possibly taking people’s property away.  Their proclamation is discipline, yes!  It’s the same thing we are called to do in the church when people in our midst are unrepentant, unchanging in their sin. 

But the proclamation is also, more importantly, sacrificial, accountable love on display.  The leaders are giving this harsh warning not to be vindictive but to show the mercy of God.  Because if these people don’t show up, then it’s a mercy to take away their property so that God doesn’t judge them more harshly due to the fact that they’ve taken advantage of his generosity.  Yet, more than this, it’s a mercy because by threatening to take away their property, the leaders are hopeful AND are, in fact, successful at calling the people back, making them aware of how they’ve fallen short, and saving them from sure destruction. 

And might I add here that membership in the people of God isn’t required.  None of this was meant to be against the people’s will.  If they didn’t want to be a part of God’s people, then they were free to go, doing whatever you’d like.  You’re free to live in and pursue your sin.  You’re free to transgress the commands of your Creator.  No one wants to hold you hostage.  But if you want to be a part of this—if you want the benefits of God’s love—Ezra’s love—to be included in the communal rights and benefits of God’s people—then you’ve got to heed God’s Word and submit to God’s leaders.    

What we see here in the proclamation and in the suffering of the Jews as they listen to Ezra, standing out in the rain is a holy sense of ownership.  This is covenant union on display.  This is meaningful membership made manifest.  This is how God’s people are supposed to work.  This is the gospel shown in real life.  They’re meant to see the severity of their sin, feel its urgency, and struggle in it—deal with it—sacrifice to rectify it together—even if it’s deeply uncomfortable to do so—even if it means suffering so that others might know peace.  Sound familiar?  That’s because we have the cross and the peace afforded to us in it. 

There will never be a convenient time to fight sin, and there will never be a convenient time to be accountable for someone else’s sin.  But our convenience today ought to be a little thing to give up when the mercy of tomorrow is not guaranteed.  So, take sin seriously.  Cultivate a holy sense of ownership over each others’ lives, first, by walking through the struggle together.  But as you struggle—as you sacrifice for one another—make sure you also respond together. 

2) Respond Together

It’s in verses 12 and 13 where you really see the people begin taking responsibility for one another’s lives.  All of them, we’re told, standing out there in the cold—they don’t riot, they don’t complain, they simply say in response to Ezra’s words, “it is so that we’ve been faithless, and we must do what you’ve said in confessing and separating ourselves from our sin.”  There isn’t a distinction of who says these words—marrier of a foreign woman or not—they all commit seriously to the task set before them.

And I hope it goes without saying but stronger Christians, display your identity in Christ—your honour in Christ—by loving your weaker brothers and sisters.  Be patient with them.  Walk humbly with them knowing how amazing the gift of the gospel was in your life to save you from the wretchedness of your sin.  I was speaking with a brother once who hated doing accountability.  Why?  Because he couldn’t relate to other people’s sins.  He didn’t struggle with the same struggles.  He didn’t really think he sinned.  So, when someone confessed sin to him, he would simply say, “well, don’t do that,” and then he’d move on. 

That’s not accountability.  He would openly and unapologetically choose certain people to fellowship with because he thought they were holy and worthy of his time.  Everyone else wasn’t worthy.  And dear brother or sister, if you think anyone in your midst isn’t worthy of your time—that you aren’t called to serve each and everyone of those sitting around you, then perhaps the emphasis of the gospel has missed your ears and unaffected your heart, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory and righteousness of God.  There is none righteous, no, not one. 

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  So, too, since none of us are above Christ—since none of us are worthy to stand in judgment over each other—all of us are required to die to self, pick up our cross, and follow him—not just in dying to our own sin and not just in caring for people who we think deserve to be cared for but in dying to and for the sins of others—even those whose sins are great. 

Yet, I hope you know, you’re to do this responsibly and not haphazardly.  Right?  I don’t mean go in guns blazing.  I don’t mean force your opinions on others, speak condescendingly, and make them conform to your will—or your singular conception of what needs to happen.  If I’ve learned anything from my time in accountability and small groups, it’s that one size doesn’t fit all, and that the deeper the relationship—the better you know the person—the more you understand their motivations and heart—the more effective your accountability and ownership of one another becomes. 

This is why after the people agree to Ezra’s words, they don’t just jump into it.  They stop and think: “But the people are many, and it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open.  Nor is this a task for one day or for two, for we have greatly transgressed in this matter.”  In other words, they realize that responding together to the severity and urgency of sin doesn’t mean that everything will be fixed overnight.  You can’t just say, “don’t do that,” and move on.  Rather, repentance and holiness take time to achieve and that such a process is different and difficult for every person—a difference that we ought to appreciate and have a patience for in everyone, including ourselves. 

I know a gentleman, a different gentleman from the one I spoke of before, who struggled with coming out of a family of drug and alcohol addicts.  And by his early teens he was fully addicted to drugs and alcohol himself.  But in high school someone led him to Christ.  And everyday since then, he’s been fighting to remain sober.  It doesn’t mean he hasn’t had relapses.  It doesn’t mean he doesn’t still struggle in very serious ways to this day, particularly with the mental effects that come with being a child of parents who are substance abusers. 

But when you look at his life and consider how far he’s come—he’s a man with a loving wife and healthy kids—there is no doubt in my mind that he loves the Lord and desires to be like him.  And there are days where he is at the end of his rope, and he doesn’t think he has the love of the Lord, but he’s told me, “then someone from my church will come, pray for me, sit with me, make sure I go to bed without drinking, and that kind of patient accountability has changed my life forever.”

Responding together means bearing one another’s cross’ as long as it takes, developing that trust and confidence in each other, caring more about the person and how he or she might know Christ better, more than trying to prove to them that you know better or, worse yet, trying to prove that you are better.  Proper accountability doesn’t boost yourself; it requires a dying to self, and it’s a response—a response to the fact that Christ died for worthless sinners, like you and me, so that we might become his prized possession.  So, too, are we to cultivate this sense of ownership over one another and respond to God’s transforming grace together. 

And as you respond this way—as you pick up your cross and the cross of those around you, search together. 

3) Search Together

I’ve said it in our Sunday School, and I need to say it here—our accountability should never stop at getting to know each other and building a relationship, it should never be just about making friends.  Rather, it ought to dive deeply into the inclinations and motivations of each participating person’s heart.  You should be asking pointed, focused, intentional questions: where are you with your sin?  Why did you struggle with that sin this week?  How has your Bible reading been?  How have you been applying the Bible to your life?  In what ways are you resting in the promises of the gospel?  And in what ways do you need help?

This is what we see in verses 14-17—the kind of intentional, searching investigation that the Israelites made regarding their sin.  They wanted it personal and fair in its procedure, so they asked for representatives, appointed officials, likely from each district or region, to stand for their respective people so that they might limit their arguing amongst each other there in Jerusalem and so that they wouldn’t have to keep standing out in the cold. 

Once those officials figured out how things were to be done, they’d go back to their portion of Judah and adjudicate the cases with each accused individual.  And notice the developing legal system—each accused man would be allowed to bring with him elders and judges—really, personal advocates, lawyers—who knew the accused and his circumstances well, and who went with them to the investigation before their respective official so that the undertaking might be properly conducted—so that the character and actions of the person might be rightly evaluated. 

They did this for seventy-five days, we’re told in verses 16-17—roughly 110 or so cases (2 cases a day)—on the first day of the tenth month until the first day of the first month (that’s roughly 75 days on their calendar), and it says they examined—they were meticulous in each matter.  They did as they said they would do, and they did it carefully.  They did it diligently.  They did it searchingly.  They left no stone unturned.  As we’ll see in a couple weeks, they knew and kept record of every person who committed an offence and made sure their wrongdoing was made right. 

Yet, what I want to focus on isn’t only the rightness of it all, but the involvement and deliberateness of others in the lives of these men to get it right—those who officiated and those who advocated.  See, these matters were deeply personal—men who, like I’ve said before, likely loved their wives and their children, so while we should all have a level of investment and ownership towards one another, some of us are called to invest even more into specific ones dear to us—some of us who’ve walked with the Lord longer or who are trusted men and women of God.  And, for those of us who are, we’ve got to constantly remind ourselves that what we’re dealing with is another person’s life. 

We’re not to be flippant with either the commands and prerogatives of God OR with the intimate difficulty that comes with killing sin.  We’re never trying to embarrass the person.  We’re never trying to betray their confidence.  There may be times where you need to bring other people in, especially us pastors, but in those times, we must be careful that it’s not vindictive, arrogant, unthoughtful, or lacking in prayer. 

Yes, our search of one another ought to be thorough and careful so that holiness, righteousness, and restoration to God might abound.  But we’re also meant to search desperately and compassionately, remembering that our official—our judge—our advocate has not treated us or condemned us as our sins deserve.  No, he gives us life—his life—as he takes on our death.  He is intentional about it.  He doesn’t die for our sins generally.  He dies knowing and becoming each and every one of our sins intimately. 

And he pays for them, specifically, with nails through his hands and feet: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, and because we are justified by his blood, how much more, then, shall we be saved by him from his wrath.  He searches us deeply, carefully, compassionately, so that he might satisfy us and offer us forgiveness and righteousness. 

This is what it looks like to cultivate a holy sense of ownership over each others’ lives—that the hope of the gospel might be displayed in how we not only kill sin together but how we grow to be like our Saviour together.  And by his strength and love for us, may we give our every effort to do it until our joy is made complete—until he calls us into glory and are made to sin and weep no more. 

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