How the Gospel Creates Gratitude: Confession
I’m not a culinary artist, but I do know that there are tasty dishes that contain bitter ingredients. There are many sweet treats that call for vanilla extract. Have you ever tried vanilla extract on it’s own? Cocoa mixed with sugar is delicious; cocoa by itself, not so much. Today we’re considering a seemingly bitter topic together. We’re spending this season of Thanksgiving meditating on gratitude, specifically how the gospel creates gratitude. Last week we looked at the adoration of God. This morning we’re going to marinate on the idea of confession. In and of itself confession is bitter. As sinners we understand this, that’s why our inclination when we sin is to hide in the bushes. We think that confession and exposure will bring pain so we run. What the Bible will show us this morning is that the opposite is true. Confession may be bitter on it’s own, but when mixed with some other holy ingredients, it becomes a life-giving meal.
Confession Sees God For Who He Is
The first ingredient that we see here is that we must see God for who he is. Look again at how Nehemiah starts his prayer in verse 5, And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments. Just like Isaiah last week, Nehemiah too has a very high view of God. He begins his prayer of confession with the adoration of God. Nehemiah doesn’t have the small view of God that so many people hold today. He doesn’t view God as a genie in a bottle, only tapping into him when he needs something. He doesn’t have an impotent view of God, like God is up in heaven losing sleep over whether people will love him or not. He certainly doesn’t view God as his “co-pilot.”
Nehemiah has a sovereign view of God. He is the God of heaven. He is above all of creation. He believes in “God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” He recognizes that God is powerful. He’s great and awesome. I’m guilty of overusing the word “awesome.” When you contemplate the literal definition of the word “awesome” then it probably wouldn’t be used to describe pizza. The ESV says God is awesome. The KJV says terrible. The Hebrew is a participle of the word יָרֵא, which means, “fear.” God is the feared-one.
But not only is he powerful, he’s personal. Nehemiah calls him YHWH, his covenantal name. He’s the one who keeps covenant and steadfast love (חֶ֫סֶד) with those who love him and keep his commandments. This powerful covenant-making God is also the covenant-keeping God. He’s the God who loves his people steadfastly. His love is not like ours. It’s doesn’t waver, it doesn’t depend on his mood. At the beginning of his Institutes, John Calvin says that we only truly know ourselves when we know God, and we only truly know God when we know ourselves. This big view of our powerful and personal God leads us to only one conclusion – we are sinners.
Confession Sees Sin For What It Is
When we see God for who he is, we must see sin for what it is. This is the bitter ingredient of confession, or repentance. You can see Nehemiah’s response in his deeds and his words. Notice his deeds in verse 4: As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Like Isaiah who becomes “undone” before God’s throne, Nehemiah is wrecked. His sin, revealed in the light of the holiness of God, leaves him weeping and mourning for days. It is a dangerous place to be in when confronted about your sin to be defensive, or even worse, callous. Nehemiah’s adoration of God leads him to a posture of penitence. He’s emotionally struck by how wicked he is. Let us be reminded by the Scripture this morning that the way we train our heart to react to sin and confession is either making us into the image of Christ, or it’s turning us into a dragon.
But feeling bad about sin is not enough. Nehemiah sees sin for what it is and then confesses it. Look at verses 6-7:
let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses
At the end of verse 6 he confesses that he and his father’s house have sinned. In Hebrew the beginning of verse 7 literally reads, “we have acted corruptly to corrupt.” They have been unfaithful to the covenant. They have missed the mark; fallen short of the glory of God. Maybe you’re here this morning and you’ve never confessed your sin. The Bible says that you’re dead in your sins. Contrary to what some may say, there’s no such thing as a person who doesn’t need forgiveness. The good news is that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. I know you feel the guilt of your sin. I know you want the feeling of being made right. The message for you this morning is the very first words that Jesus Christ speaks in the gospel of Mark “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1.15).”
The truth is though that confession isn’t just a one-time thing. We have new hearts but they dwell in this fallen flesh. We continue to struggle in sin even as we sojourn toward the new Jerusalem. And that’s why Scripture gives us the promise that if we confess our sins Christ is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1.9). Listen to Hebrews 4.14-16:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus is our great high priest who sympathizes with our weakness and was tempted as we are. He knows the struggle of temptation. There’s no temptation that he didn’t face. He knows what it’s like to feel the pull to look inappropriately at a woman who wasn’t his wife. He knows the temptation to talk back to his parents. He understands the enticement of power, riches, and influence. He was tempted to these things by the devil himself. He knows what it’s like. But the great difference between us and the Son of God is that he never sinned.
Confess your sins to him. Again, it’s counterintuitive. When we’re in the middle of sin we think that hiding will make us feel better. Maybe you stop praying, maybe you stop going to church. You think that if anyone finds out, it’ll kill you, so you keep burying it inside. But the truth is actually the opposite. You’re carrying that sin around like a deadly leech. It keeps sucking you dry until it kills you. The only freedom you will ever find is in confession. Only in confessing your sin to Christ will you find the one who is faithful and just to forgive you and cleanse you because he sympathizes with you, yet without sin. To quote Randall Goodgame, “tell it to Jesus, he already knows. Tell it to Jesus before it grows. We all mess up, it’s sad but true, but that’s what human beings do. So tell it to Jesus for he loves you.”
You’ll notice that Nehemiah doesn’t just confess individual sin, but also corporate sin. He confesses on behalf of the nation of Israel. Under the old covenant Israel lived in a national theocracy governed by a king. Under the new covenant we live in the church governed by the Word and the Spirit. So while the pragmatics differ, the principle is the same. There is benefit to churches participating in corporate confession. It’s a means of grace for us to spend time together confessing sin. Sometimes we do it in the service through responsive readings; sometimes we do it through singing songs about confessing sins. Sometimes you do it in your flock or at Starbucks when you’ve wronged a brother and sister. The bottom line is that a healthy church is a church where confession is a regular part of the life and liturgy.
Confession Rests in the Promise of God
When we’re confronted with the powerful and personal nature of God, it drives us to confess our sins. From that point on we’re defenseless. We’ve prostrated ourselves before the throne of God begging only for his mercy. But the good news is that when we confess our sins, we can rest in the promises of God. Look again at verse 8-10:
Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand
Nehemiah begs God to remember. Remember that he promised to restore those who repent. Remember that he redeemed his people from slavery in Egypt. Remember that he has sovereignly chosen to make his name dwell among them in the temple.
All of these great redemptive acts were signposts pointing forward the great redemptive act in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Cor 1.20 says that all of the promises of God find their yes in Jesus Christ. He is the amen of God. From Genesis 3.15 all the way through the OT, every single promise made by God is fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ. There is no promise unfulfilled. Everything Israel failed to be and everything we failed to be, Jesus is. He is the sinless one. He kept the covenant. And then he died in our place. We bore the punishment we deserve. But none of that would mean anything if he were still in the grave. Hear the good news this morning church, He is risen, he is risen indeed.
Confession is the dirt in which gratitude grows. Confession is a bitter ingredient on it’s own, but when mixed with a big view of God and the good news of the gospel, it becomes a sweet, life-giving meal. Jesus is inviting you now to another holy meal where you’re invited to confess your sins. If you’re here and you’re not a Christian, don’t take the bread and the wine, take Christ. Repent and believe the gospel. If you’re a Christian, but you’re living in unrepentant sin, use holy communion this morning to confess your sins to Jesus. Then and only then will it truly be, for you, the Eucharist.