...this people draw near me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me....-Isaiah 29:13
The tenth chapter of Ezra presents a remarkable scene. Those Israelites returned from Babylonian exile are standing in the open square in front of the rebuilt temple.
They are not listening to a sermon from Ezra, the man God has sent to minister to them. He is inside, clothes torn in mourning, praying for forgiveness for his people.
And they are outside, men, women and children, in the cold December air on the temple mount in the rain. They are shivering, the Bible says, because it is cold and wet but also out of fear because they have disobeyed the Lord their God.
And they were weeping.
And yet I was strangely convicted as Brother Billy preached through this text this past Wednesday night.
Yes, I have felt sorrow and conviction over the sins I commit. How could it be otherwise for the person renewed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit?
But to weep in that sorrow and conviction?
Could it be, as our pastor commented, that we have lost our ability for Godly sorrow?
Scripture's call to personal holiness is clear and unmistakable.
I was struck as well by the thought that many of these Israelites had not committed the sin of intermarriage with their pagan neighbors (the cause of their weeping and repenting). They mourned for the sins of their nation.
When I think of the Pilgrim father's commitment to make their new world settlement "a city on a hill," a shining light for their apostate homeland, and look at the America we live in today, I feel despair, anger and disgust.
I shake my head in wonder that Christian bookstores are filled with works on how to have my best life now while our faith is increasingly on the defensive. If you were to look for J.I. Packer's book, Rediscovering Holiness, you might not find it.
Church attendance seems to be optional. Many who do attend are entertained by bands and flashing lights and are lifted to an emotional high but hear nothing of substance from the pulpit.
It seems the vertical has vanished from worship and it's all about the horizontal; what can we do to make you feel good about yourself.
No wonder we have lost our ability to weep.
But our God is able to save to the uttermost, and we know that what seems impossible to man is imminently do-able for our Sovereign LORD.
It would seem that earnest heartfelt prayer is what is needed at this time.
Yes we must pray for our nation and her leaders. But much more than that, our prayers for the Church must be fervent and heartfelt.
The returned Israelites wept, perhaps in part, because the memory of an exile imposed by an angry God was fresh in their memories.
May we never have to recall such a memory.