Where Is Corporate Confession Today?
Do you confess your sins? Most people will probably answer with a resounding, “Yes, of course!”. Do you confess your sins to other people? Fewer will probably raise your hands on that one. Let’s be honest, accountability can get awkward.
Last question...Do you confess your sins with other people? I’d assume the numbers have dropped significantly by now. I have to put my hand down for this one. Besides my experience in the Presbyterian church (PCA), I had never even considered corporate confession as a normal part of worship.
In churches today, prayer is usually something to start or end church services with. For some, there may even be some prayer sprinkled in with offering, before and after sermons, or at other designated times. This can be corporate prayer if they are indeed praying for the people gathered together.
What I’m referring to here is a prayer on behalf of others. How often do you hear a prayer that is more than “bless this service”, “bless this offering”, or “help us worship you this morning”? These are certainly good prayers when they come from a dependent, thankful, and worshipful heart.
But how often are those corporate prayers centered on the topic of confession? I have rarely prayed a corporate prayer of confession before a service or sermon. It simply hasn’t struck me as appropriate or necessary, I guess. Truthfully, this may reflect more of my own private prayer life than anything else.
This was not the case for Ezra.
A Picture of Corporate Confession
After Israel’s return from exile, Ezra found out that the Israelites were intermarrying with the wicked nations around them. Appalled, he stopped everything he was doing and lamented over the sin of the people (Ezra 9:1-4). He tore his garments, pulled his hair, and fasted. Afterwards, he prayed a corporate prayer on behalf of the people. Many of the people joined him for this time of prayer and “wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1).
Rather than simply looking down upon the people or praying like the Pharisee, “Thank you Lord that I’m not like these fools!” he opens his prayer with “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). He continues to speak of:
Ezra embraced the sin of the nation because he was one of them. It wasn’t just their sin. In his mind, it was our sin. He even acknowledged that God’s original punishment was less than their iniquities deserved (Ezra 9:13). Ezra knew the weightiness of sin, the wages of sin, and the wonder of God’s grace in spite of that sin. He also loved the Israelites so much that he corporately confessed sin that he hadn’t committed. He was united to the people in such a way that what afflicted them would certainly afflict him.
Do we know such grief over sin? Do we say with Ezra, “O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just” when faced with the consequences of our sin? Do we see sin in the church as something worth weeping and lamenting over? These are serious questions that we desperately need to answer.
How Do You View Others’ Sins?
Are you connected to a local church? When you see the sin of fellow Christians, do you feel the weight of the sin with such fierce agony that you fall prostrate and confess the sin with your fellow saints knowing that their sin affects you?
We all need a dose of the heinousness of sin. The prophets ought to be on our priority lists of Bible-reading to be reminded of the gruesome nature of sin. We should read and tremble at the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). We need to think about the cross and the work of Jesus far more often than Good Friday and Easter. God’s Word shows us why sin should horrify us.
Weep when you see sin in your life. Mourn when you see sin in the lives of those around you. This is the only reasonable response to such deadly evil:
A Beautiful Picture
Ezra paints a beautiful picture of the love Christians must have for one another. We are one body with many members. When the arm gets an infection, MRSA can wreck the whole body. When an appendix ruptures, the whole body is in danger. When the brain deteriorates, the body soon follows. One cancerous cell can devastate the most able-bodied of us.
Sin is more deadly than we usually acknowledge, and when we realize the weightiness of it, we will confess it and beg God for mercy upon us. We will not pray, “God thank you that I’m a model Christian who has never fallen like them.”. Rather, we will pray, “Lord we have forsaken you. Be gracious to us!”
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