Build: Confession

November 8, 2022
Series: Build
Topic: Confession
Book: Nehemiah

Speaker: Michael Dennis

Audio Download

Bible Passage: Nehemiah 9:1-38

This morning we are teaching through the book of Nehemiah.  If you are new to the book of Nehemiah, then you need to know the book of Nehemiah is in the Old Testament.  The book of Nehemiah is about the history of Israel and this morning we are going to look at Nehemiah 9.

If you scan down to the last couple of verses in Nehemiah 9, page 48 in your devotional, we see the people in Nehemiah’s day are in “great distress.”  Do you see that?

The word “distress” means extreme anxiety.  The people in Nehemiah’s day were in a place of extreme anxiety because their city, the city of Jerusalem has been destroyed.  Their walls and gates, their means for safety have been burnt down.

And on top of all that the people have turned their backs on the God of Scripture over and over and over, so that they are a people who are in a place of “great distress.”

I think it’s possible that many of us, if not all of us have layers of distress in our life this morning.  It might be because we feel like our means for safety and security in our life have been destroyed.  Our economy isn’t as strong as we thought.  Our politicians aren’t as reliable as we thought.  Austin city as a whole, isn’t as stable as we thought, so that as a result there are fractures of “extreme anxiety” in our life.

It’s possible we see layers of distress in our life because of familial relationships, estranged friendships, concerns about our physical health, or even things going on at the soul level, but I am guessing that many of us, it not all of us see fractures of destress, fractures of anxiety in our life.

This morning, in Nehemiah 9, we are going to see three sub-points of how we might respond when we see layers of great distress in our life; 1.  We Confess.  2.  Why We Confess.  3.  God’s Response.  Let’s look at our first sub-point; 1. We Confess.

  1. We Confess. (vs. 1-4)

Nehemiah 9:1, “1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them.”

Let’s start with background.  Nehemiah 1-6 looks like the book of Nehemiah is all about rebuilding the walls and gates of Jerusalem but as we get to Nehemiah 8, we see the book of Nehemiah is really about rebuilding a people for God’s glory.

Last Sunday we saw Nehemiah gather the people in the center of the city to hear God’s Word, turn from their sin, worship the Lord, so that Nehemiah 9 is really a prayer of people responding to God’s work in their life.

The reference to “the twenty-fourth day of this month” is important because “this month” is the seventh month in the Hebrew Calendar and the seventh month in the Hebrew Calendar is a special month for the people of Israel.  (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Feast of Tabernacles.)

This might not mean anything to most of us today, but the seventh month in the Hebrew Calendar is September-October, which is when the harvest would come in for the people and it was during the harvest season that the people of Israel would celebrate the Lord’s faithfulness in their life.

This is important because in the context of Nehemiah 9 we know the people are in “great distress” (vs. 37.). We know the people’s lives have been turned upside down, and yet even in their great distress we see God’s Word teaching us to remember His faithfulness in our life.  Does that make sense?

This doesn’t mean the “great distress” isn’t stressful.  It is stressful.  The people are fasting, wearing sackcloth, throwing dirt upon their head, so that they are grieving the brokenness of the people, but at the same time it’s important to see God’s Word teaching us to remember, “Even in seasons of extreme anxiety we want to remember the Lord’s faithfulness in our life.”

Listen to me, it’s possible that you might push back on this passage this morning because you are thinking to yourself, “Michael, you don’t understand the distress in my life.  The distress and anxiety in my life isn’t because of the economy, politicians, cultural events, the distress in my life is because I’ve made some decisions that brought this distress and anxiety into my life.  I dropped the ball at work or school.  I didn’t show up for my kids.  I did the thing, said the thing that I shouldn’t have done or shouldn’t have said.”

Listen to me, that’s the very context of Nehemiah 9.  Nehemiah 9 is not about a people who stumbled into distress.  Nehemiah 9 is not about a turn of bad luck.  Nehemiah 9 is about a people who repeatedly ignored God’s Word, repeatedly turned their back on the Lord and caused this distress in their life and still on the 24th day of this month the people are gathering to remember the faithfulness of the Lord’s hand in their life.  Look at verse 2:

Nehemiah 9:2, “2 The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.” 

In verse 2 we see the people separating themselves from all those who were outside of Israel, because what the Lord is doing in the hearts and minds of His people isn’t about those who were outside of Israel at this point.

The God of Scripture cares about people outside of Israel, but in verse 2 the God of Scripture is rebuilding a people for His glory so that in Nehemiah 8 (gathering together to hear God’s Word, celebrate His faithfulness in their life, remembering His goodness) and as a result they are moved to “confess their sin and the sins of their faithers.”

It’s possible that some of us are thinking, “What’s confession?”  We’re all at different places on our spiritual journey so I don’t want to assume.  Confession isn’t telling the God of Scripture something He doesn’t know, so that the God of Scripture is like, “You did what?”

Confession is coming into agreement with what has already been declared right and wrong according to God’s Word.  I will say that again, “Confession is coming into agreement with what has already been declared right and wrong according to God’s Word.”

Remember, the people of Israel were meant to be a people who were set apart for God’s glory, reflect the glory of God to the world, a people that showed the rest of the world what it was like to walk with the Lord, and yet for generation “them and their fathers” have dropped the ball, turned from the Lord, so that in Nehemiah 9 the people are coming together in confession so as to say, “You are right, Lord!”

Yes, Lord, we and our fathers ignored Your Word.  Yes, Lord, we and our fathers didn’t do what You called us to do.  Yes, Lord, we hardened our heart toward You.

Therefore, if we should find ourselves in places of distress, be it distress that we caused in our life, or distress someone else caused or distress from circumstantial events, we want to FIRST, remember the Lord’s faithful hand in our life.

We want to remember the God of Scripture has poured out His goodness in our life.  The God of Scripture is the One who provides for our needs.  The God of Scripture is the One who will accomplish His work in our life, so that under the umbrella of His goodness we are moved into a place of confession where we come into agreement with what has already been declared in His Word.  Does that make sense?  Look at verses 3-4:

Nehemiah 9:3-4, “3 While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God. 4 Now on the Levites’ platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God.”

Are they in distress?  Yes.  Are they overwhelmed by life circumstances?  Absolutely.  In verse 3 we see the people listening to God’s Word for a ¼ of the day and then another ¼ of the day they are in confession and worship to the Lord their God.  ¼ of the day was based on a 12-hour day so we’re talking about a 6-hour worship service of confession and worship to the Lord their God.  That’s a long worship service!

But I want us to focus on the title “Lord their God” because when come to the Lord in confession and worship, that’s why we are here this morning, we aren’t just confessing and worshipping to an anonymous being out in the cosmos.

We are confessing and worshipping the “LORD.”  The name “LORD” in the original language is the personal name for the God of Scripture, “YHWH.”  It is from Exodus when Moses asks, “Who shall I say sent me?”  And the Lord responds, “I AM WHO I AM.”  The great I AM sent you.

Every time you see the name “LORD” in Scripture it is God’s way of saying, “I AM (FILL IN THE BLANK!”). It is God’s way of covering His basis.  We might ask, “Are you glorious?”  I AM.  Are you the sustainer of all things?  I AM.  Are you personal?  I AM.  There is nobody like the God of Scripture and it’s important to remember that when we are in distress and when we bring our confessions to the LORD, we are bringing our confessions to the great I AM.

This is important because if you believe the LORD is just an anonymous being out in the cosmos then why would we bring our distress and anxiety to Him?  Isn’t that why we bring our distress and anxiety to a bowl of ice cream or scroll through reels to escape our distress and anxiety?  Is that why we try to sleep so we don’t have to think about our distress and anxiety?

Is that why we turn to substances so we can numb our distress and anxiety?  We jump into a romantic relationship to forget our distress and anxiety.  We change jobs in Austin, friends, cities, and churches in Austin so we don’t have to think about our distress and anxiety.

But God’s Word, Nehemiah 9, is teaching us to bring our distress and anxiety to the Lord, because He is the creator of all things.  He is the One who is in control of all things.  He is the One who is able to work His purpose in our life according to His will, therefore, we turn to Him, and we confess our need for Him.  Let’s look at our second sub-point; 2. Why We Confess.

  1. Why We Confess. (vs. 16-17)

Nehemiah 9:16-17, ““But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments. 17 “They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them.”

In verse 5 we see the people gather for a prayer and this prayer basically does an overview of Israel’s history and how they have failed to follow the Lord over and over and over.

In verses 16-17 we see a snapshot of their failures as they recount their “fathers have acted arrogant and stubborn, refused to listen to the commandments, or remember the wonderous deeds of the Lord” so that generation after generation after generation we see the people of Israel have ignored God’s Word, turned their backs on the Lord, harden their hearts toward the Lord, so that the great distress in the life of Israel is ultimately because of their sin.

The word “sin” might be a familiar word or unfamiliar word but again, we are all on in different places for our spiritual journey, so I just want to make sure we are all on the same page.

The word “sin” is an archery term when the arrow would miss the mark of the bullseye.  It was called sin.  If the archer took 100 arrows and shot 99 arrows into the bullseye but if the next arrow was just out of the bulls-eye range, then they would say the archer “sinned.”  This is why the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

You need to know the God of Scripture didn’t create the world full of distress and anxiety.  The God of Scripture actually created the world to be perfect.  You can read Genesis 1-2 and see everything is perfect.

It says, “Adam and Eve are naked and unafraid.”  There was no shame.  There was no hate.  There was no distress and anxiety, so that all of creation was perfect but in Genesis 3 we see Adam and Eve sin against God, so that all of humanity is born into sin and we see a world of distress and anxiety.

This is important because the distress and anxiety in our life isn’t a “you” problem, like you are the only one who has this problem.  The distress and anxiety in our life is a human problem.

This is why the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5, “12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

You know those scenic moments when you are at a lake and the lake is perfectly smooth, so that the lake looks like glass reflecting the glory of creation off the water.  At some point someone will throw a rock into the water because it’s fun but inevitably that one rock ripples into the water so as to distort the image of the mirrored lake.

God’s Word teaches us that Adam is the one who threw the rock into the mirrored water so as to distort all of God’s creation for the rest of humanity, so that we see distress and anxiety.

Therefore, this is why we come to the Lord in confession.  We are coming to the Lord in agreement with what has been declared right and wrong according to God’s Word.

We are confessing, “Yes, the world does not look how the Lord intended the world to look.”  Yes, my thoughts do not think about the world the way God’s Word teaches me to think about the world.  Yes, my life does not look like God’s Word teaches me my life is supposed to look.

In the context of Nehemiah, the people’s lives are running toward everything in life but toward God, so that in Nehemiah 8 and 9 we see the people turning their lives toward the Lord to line their lives up with Him.

In the same way, no matter where we are on our spiritual journey, we would do well to ask ourselves this morning, “Is my life lined up with the Lord?”  Am I remembering His faithful hand on my life?  Am I acknowledging His faithful hand on my life?  Am I remembering His goodness in my life?  Am I bringing my distress and anxiety to the Lord, or am I just trying to busy myself, so I don’t have to think about the distress and anxiety in my life?  Our response is to turn to the “LORD” in confession.  Let’s look at our last sub-point; 3.  God’s Response.

  1. God’s Response. (vs. 16-17)

Nehemiah 9:16-17, ““But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments. 17 “They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them.”

In verse 16 the people are confessing their sin and the sin of their fathers.  Verse 17 is specifically about a time when the Lord rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt, parts the Red Sea, does wonderous works in their midst, and the people of Israel, their rebellion, actually appoint someone to “return to their slavery in Egypt.”  Who does that?

And again, it’s not like this a one-off event.  In verse 18 the prayer recounts how, the Lord provides for Israel and Israel responds by making a golden calf, and then bows down to worship the golden calf for the provision in their life.  In verse 26 the prayer recounts how, the Lord has sent people into their life to help them, encourage them remind them of the Lord’s goodness, and Israel killed those people.

In verse 34 they recount how their kings failed to lead them to the Lord, their priests failed to follow the Lord, and verse 17 says, “But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them.”  Isn’t that amazing?

Put yourself in God’s shows.  Imagine if you created a people, gave them life, talents, and abilities, and then created a place with land, water, and animals for those people to enjoy?

Now remember the only reason those people and that place exist is because of you, the creator of all things, single handedly keep everything going.  It’s because of you there is oxygen.  It’s because of you there are rains to water the land.  It’s because of you that the waves of the ocean don’t destroy everything.  It’s all because of you!

Now imagine you pop in on them one day just to see what your creation is up and imagine if those people you created were actually giving their affection and adoration, not to you, but to a rock, or a tree or an object they whittled out of wood.

Imagine if you heard them taking credit themselves for everything you created.  Imagine if you heard them saying you didn’t even exist.  Imagine what that would feel like?  Don’t you think you would be a little frustrated, annoyed, or irritated?

But instead, 17 teaches us God’s response is, “But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them.”  Isn’t that amazing?

We need to hear that this morning.  The Lord our God is gracious and compassionate.  There is nobody out of His reach.  There is no distress or anxiety that is greater than Him.  Even when we bring our distress and anxiety upon ourselves, there is nobody outside His reach.  We need to hear that this morning.

Listen to me, this is the good news.  Verse 17 is the truth of God’s Word that we need to hear, memorize, tattoo on our arm but as good as that is you need to know that’s not the greatest hope of God’s Word this morning.

Can you imagine if the greatest hope we had in life is that for eternity we will see failure after failure after failure in our life and the greatest hope we had is that the Lord is gracious and compassionate?  In some ways that is encouraging, but if that cycle went on for eternity it would become depressing, right?

That’s why Jesus is so important.  Jesus is God in the flesh.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Word in every way.  Humanities story is a story of failure after failure after failure and Jesus’ story is that He is the One who comes to put an end to our failures.

It’s why Jesus lived a perfect life.  It’s why Jesus laid down His life at the cross.  It is at the cross that Jesus takes our failures and crushes them.  It is in the resurrection that Jesus takes our failures and conquers them.

You see the God of Scripture didn’t just create a world and then periodically check in on us to see our failures.

The God of Scripture created the world, saw our failures and then He entered into our world to put back into place what He created life to look like from the beginning.  His name is Jesus!

Jesus has come to call His people to Himself.  Jesus has come to say, “Turn to Me, trust in Me, and I will make you new in Me.”

It is in Jesus that we have new lives.  It is in Jesus that we have the hope of not just grace and compassion but the hope that One Day, all things will be made new, and we will never see failure again.  That’s the greatest hope of God’s Word, but we must respond to Him.

In the context of Nehemiah 8 we see the people respond.  At the end of Nehemiah 9 we see the people respond.  The God of Scripture is full of grace, but we must respond to His grace.  The reason we are here this morning is to be reminded of God’s glory, but we must respond, turn to Jesus and trust in Him.

If you don’t know what that means then come and talk to me, talk to the people we have to pray for you at the back, but don’t leave here today without responding to God’s Word.