In Light of Our Present Distress, What Do We Need Most?

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 19, number 24, June 4, 2020

“We have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.” -Daniel 9:5

No doubt all of you reading this were appalled at the treatment of George Floyd who died last week under the knee of the Minneapolis police officer who kept him face down while handcuffed. No doubt you likewise are appalled at the anarchy throughout most of our major cities in the U.S., ostensibly coming from the killing of Mr. Floyd. Most of us tend to focus on the spectacular which is often fed by the media of our country. While I in no way want to mitigate the injustice perpetrated on Mr. Floyd, we would do well to remember what is too often ignored, namely that young black men are regularly gunned down by other young black men almost daily in our major cities. Over Memorial Day weekend in Chicago forty-nine young men were shot and ten died.[1] Then the weekend of May 29-31 eighty-two were shot in Chicago and nineteen died from the shootings.[2] In light of this present distress, what do we need most?

By 636 B.C. Daniel the prophet is an old man. He has gone through at least fifty years of the exile in Babylon with the people of God. Now the Babylonians had been overrun by the Medo-Persian Empire, and Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, is on the throne. Daniel had been reading the prophet Jeremiah (Daniel 9:1-3) and was amazed, troubled, and encouraged when he realized that after seventy years the exile would end and the people of God would return to Judah (Jeremiah 25:11-12, 29:10). Instead of merely waiting for the return to the land of Israel, Jeremiah’s prophecy moved Daniel to action—the action of prayer. His marvelous prayer of contrition and confession follows in Daniel 9:4-19. The prayer is divided into two major parts. Verses 4-14 is Daniel’s heartfelt confession and verses 15-19 is his cry for mercy. His confession can be divided further into two parts. Verses 4-10 give us the details of Daniel’s confession. Though he clearly was a godly man (Daniel 1:8) he nonetheless included himself in the confession of sin. “We have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled,” (vs. 5). “We have not listened to Your servants the prophets,” (vs.6). “Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame,” (vs.7). “We have rebelled against Him,” (vs.9). “We have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God to walk in His teachings,” (vs.10).

In verses 11-14 Daniel puts forth the results of their rebellion and recalcitrance. “So the curse has been poured out upon us,” (vs.11). “He has confirmed His words . . . to bring on us great calamity,” (vs.12,13). “The Lord has kept this calamity in store and brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds,” (vs.14). Daniel then pleads for mercy, beseeching the Lord of the covenant “to remove His anger and wrath from His city Jerusalem,” (vs.16). Daniel humbly asks the Lord to listen to the prayer and supplications of His servant, not for his own sake but for the sake of God’s great name, that Yahweh’s face would shine in grace once again on His sanctuary (vs.17). With great passion and contrition Daniel prays, “O my God, incline Your ear and hear. Open Your eyes and see our desolations of the city.” He knows he dare not appeal to the Lord on his or his people’s merits, but solely on the merits of His great compassion (vs.18). Daniel closes his prayer with great passion, “O Lord hear! O Lord forgive! O Lord listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name,” (vs.19).

Here’s the bottom line—contrition and compassion lead to restoration which is what we all need. Do you not see this in the content of Daniel’s burden? By contrition the Scriptures mean a deep, heartfelt awareness of one’s sin by which one acknowledges his own responsibility for it, moving him to sincere, evangelical repentance. By evangelical repentance Richard Owen Roberts means repentance that results in actual change of one’s behavior.[3] We are nor merely to manage our sin but to hate and forsake it. We see this clearly in King David after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. When finally confronted with his sin by Nathan, being convinced of its heinous nature, David repented with obvious grief and humility. He says, “I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin,” (Psalm 32:5). 

Confession of sin means admitting to God that we have violated His law, that we alone have sinned against Him, that we are no longer blaming others for our sin, that we humble ourselves before God. David said, “Against Thee, and Thee only have I sinned and done what is evil in Thy sight, so that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, and blameless when Thou dost judge,” (Psalm 51:4). There is a true confession which leads to a true repentance, and there is a counterfeit confession which yields no lasting repentance.

What does this mean for us collectively and individually, in light of our present distress? The glory of the gospel is this—when we as believers sin, whether it be racism, adultery, lying, or stealing, and when the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, when He enables us to have true, heartfelt contrition, then we will bring forth fruits of repentance, namely a change in behavior. God then promises to bring restoration to us. We desperately need restoration at this time. Then we can know experientially His love and compassion.

The same is true in your church or community. If your church is lethargic, experiencing division or strife, seeing few or no conversions, then perhaps there is corporate sin at work. What must you do? Ask the Holy Spirit to bring sincere contrition to the leadership. Ask God to arrest His leaders—pastors, political office holders, and business leaders. This will lead to true confession and repentance which alone can restore your church or town. Professing Christians who are guilty of racism, when confronted by this heinous sin, must ask God for a spirit of contrition. Without it there will be no true confession, no true repentance, and certainly no restoration. Such believers may continue their church ministry but God’s smile will not be upon it. He will resist that church because latent pride is present and God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). And the same is true for any nation, including your own. Until the people of God are contrite, acknowledging their national sin, they will continue the slide into perdition. The one thing we need today is contrition leading to repentance and restoration.

The glory of the gospel is plain—ask God to show you your sin and to give you a contrite heart. This will drive you to confession and repentance, eventually bringing restoration to those whom you have wronged. There is hope for you and me—contrition, confession, and then restoration. Seek God for it.  

 1 “Memorial Day Weekend Shootings Leave 10 dead in Chicago,” <www.abcnews.go.com> May 26, 2020.
2  “Chicago weekend shootings,” Chicago Sun Times, June 1, 2020.
3  Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, Richard Owen Roberts.

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