Please turn with me to Daniel chapter 9. The year is approximately 538 B.C. and the aged Daniel has been reading the scripture, the book of Jeremiah, or at least excerpts of the book. Jeremiah prophesied before, during and after the fall of Jerusalem in 586-587 B.C. Parts of the book, if not all of it, got to Daniel exiled in Babylon.
Imagine Daniel’s thrill at the discovery of these words, “This is what the Lord says: When 70 years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come to pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:10-14
I’m sure when Daniel first read that his heart beat faster and his mind began to do the math. He was among the first wave of exiles deported in 605 B.C., 70 years from then would be 535 B.C. Remember it is now approximately 538 B.C., very near the completion of time God would exile His people. So he does just what the text prescribes, he sought the Lord with all his heart. Let’s listen in on this humble-aged saint’s earnest plea and see how it remains instructive for us. Daniel 9:1-19
There are a few directions a minister could go with this text and be faithful to it. He could preach on the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. If God promised He would return His people after 70 years of exile, why pray some might ask. That didn’t prevent Daniel from donning sack cloth, fasting and imploring God to do what He promised. It rather encouraged him to pray. That’s instructive.
One could also speak of our prayer hearing and responding God as we see Gabriel coming to Daniel carrying with him an answer to his prayer. (We didn’t read that part.)
How our prayers impact the unseen world or how reading and knowing the scripture impact our prayers, all of that is very instructive, but I am choosing to emphasize the substance of his prayer, the content of 4-19. I think we are meant to give it careful consideration. In Acts 12, after James was martyred and Peter was arrested awaiting his execution, we are told the church prayed. But their prayers are not recorded for us. What they prayed was not the emphasis or the focus, but that they prayed and the Lord heard them was. I think we are meant to consider the substance of this prayer. So much of it was preserved because it serves as a model prayer—it is instructive for the Church.
I’m not going to analyze all the aspects of his prayer. I will summarize his main plea as this, ‘Just as You brought Your people out of Egypt long ago and made a name for Yourself that remains to this day, so bring Your people out of exile as You promised for the sake of Your name! Let Your people go and restore Jerusalem…’ I am going to emphasize how this prayer instructs us most. It bears the marks of a sound corporate confession of sin. Did you notice how familiar these words were when I read them minutes ago? They were familiar because much of this prayer was used in this morning’s Confession of Sin. A sound corporate Confession of Sin will do at least two things. It will keep us thinking biblically about ourselves as sinners and it will keep us thinking biblically about God.
- As we think biblically about sin, let me mention three facts about our sin observed from our text. Sin is rebellion against God. Sin is communal and sin is continual. In sum, we are a community of rebels, who sin continually.
- Our sin is a rebellion against God. v. 9
“Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.” We sin daily by committing crimes we ought not to do and we sin daily by omitting good that we ought to do. The Bible also teaches we sin not only in our outward actions, but with our words and still more inconspicuously in our thoughts and motives. Our sin goes down deep and we offend each other all the time. But at bottom, sin is rebellion against God. We, all mankind, have participated in high treason, betrayal of the worst kind, mutiny on a cosmic level. Each of us as individuals are guilty of rebellion, but we don’t rebel alone. We rebel as a community.
- Our sin is communal.
Daniel uses the first person plural. “We sinned, we have done wrong,” etc. and not just his contemporaries, but their fathers who rest in their graves. The sin of one member of the community affects others. The more righteous were exiled along with the less righteous. Our sin is communal, so we have corporate Confession of Sin. We are a body. We are a building. We are the bride. We are not many bodies, buildings, and brides, we are one!
- We are a community of rebels and we sin continually.
Notice the words of v. 13 “…all this disaster has come (past tense) upon us, yet we have not sought (present tense) the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to Your truth.” We continue to sin even though we’ve been disciplined by something as drastic as exile. A sound corporate confession will keep us thinking biblically about ourselves.
Why is it important to keep these truths before us? At least four reasons came to my mind.
- First and foremost it glorifies God. Listen to the words Joshua spoke to Achan. “My son give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel and give Him the praise. Tell me what you have done, do not hide it from me.” Joshua 7:19 Confessing our sin, admitting our fault and guilt and blame, honors God, it give Him glory and praise.
It is for our own good that we accept the Divine Doctors’ diagnosis of our condition. Consider how harmful it would be to ignore the Doctor’s diagnosis. Suicidal. “Slippage in our consciousness of sin, like most fashionable follies may be pleasant, but it is also devastating. Self-deception about our sin is a narcotic, a tranquilizing and disorienting suppression of our spiritual central nervous system.” [Comelnelius Plantinga, Jr.]
To ignore and suppress the truth about ourselves is to deceive ourselves which is devastating. We do incalculable harm to ourselves. “When I kept silent I wasted away.” We’re not really hiding anything from God.
“O Lord, all that we are is laid bare before You. What could be hidden within us, even if we were unwilling to confess it to you? We would be hiding You from ourselves, not ourselves from You.” [Augustine] It is for our own good that we agree and accept the truth about ourselves as God sees it.
Embracing the unvarnished truth about ourselves tends to cultivate godly sorrow/contrition that leads to repentance, lasting change and growth.
Romans describes three types of sinners. Chapter 1 describes people who sin and approve of others who commit the same sins. Chapter 2 describes people who sin, but disapprove of others who commit the very same sins—hypocrites. Chapter 7 describes people who sin and disapprove of their own sin. That is us, that is every true Christian. We disapprove of the sins we commit, it rightly bothers us, it grieves us. “Repentance should be part of the rhythm of congregational life.” [Phillip Ryken] In the corporate Confession of Sin, week by week we fan the embers of repentance.
Fourthly, accepting and confessing the unflattering news about ourselves prevents a “cheap grace” mentality.
From “City on a Hill” this is Phillip Ryken again, “People are prone to believe in their own basis goodness. In America this cause is advanced by the aggressive proclamation of the good news of self-esteem. People need to feel better about themselves, not worse. Or at least that’s what some pastors think, so they tread but lightly on the toes of fallen sinners. They preach grace without ever preaching the law, self-acceptance without repentance. What is missing is an evangelically orthodox doctrine of humanity as created in God’s image, fallen into depravity, and spiritually dead apart from the regenerating work of God’s Spirit.”
Not until a man understands how deep the debt of his spiritual bankruptcy was will he appreciate the grace that saved him for what it is—amazing, overwhelming, leveling him with awe, wonder and tears of relief and joy. It is vital, critical, that we think biblically about ourselves as sinners. We are a community of rebels who sin continually.
Imagine the Church without a corporate Confession of Sin in their liturgy or, perhaps worse, one whose confession is diluted and superficial.
Listen to this corporate Confession of Sin offered at a Church we visited on vacation back east.
“God of redeeming grace, have mercy on us as we confess our sin. Charged to travel light, we overburden ourselves. Commissioned to preach repentance, we ourselves do not change. Cautioned to avoid violence, we are quick to confront others. Called to be reconcilers, we create divisions. As Christ sends us forth and equips us to serve Him, cleanse us of abusing His trust and His name.” Amen.
Please tell me we are not done; I need more time and need much more help. After getting used to our corporate Confessions of Sin, I hardly felt like we confessed our sins at all on that Lord’s Day. It was way too brief, we hardly got going. It was way too superficial, “Charged to travel light, we overburden ourselves.” It was way too weak, “Cautioned to avoid violence,”? Try commanded! It was way too nice, of all the offenses we are guilty of this sin finds its way into this brief, superficial, weak, nice confession, “We are quick to confront others.” I suppose what bothers me most as I ponder it is that it is way too man-centered. Our offenses are primarily against man. It is all about how we have failed one another except for this last phrase, “Cleanse us from abusing the Lord’s trust and name.”
What will a congregation come to think of themselves and of God if this is the standard fare Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day, year after year!?! Not very much, I’m afraid, or too much of themselves, not enough of God and inflated views of man, anemic views of God.
Listen to this stanza that worked its way into that congregation’s hymnal.
“We will work with each other,
We will work side by side,
And we’ll guard human dignity
And save human pride:
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
Doomed is the congregation whose confession of sin is so brief, superficial, weak, nice and man-centered. They are better off without one. It amounts to self-flattery. Not for us. Our standard fare must always be confessions that are Bible saturated, God-centered and searching. “We have sinned against You, holy Father, in thought, word and deed by what we have done and what we have left undone!”, etc., etc.
A sound corporate Confession of Sin will do at least two things. It will keep us thinking biblically about ourselves as sinners, but it won’t stop there. It will keep us thinking biblically about God.
When our confessions are no longer rooted in the scripture, we lose our bearings for everything else. Listen to this very same church’s rendering of the doxology.
“Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Christ, all people here below
Praise Holy Spirit evermore;
Praise Triune God, Whom we adore. Amen”
Okay, it is Trinitarian. Hold on, what is conspicuously missing? Praise Father, Son. They are letting go of the Bible’s language for how the first and second persons of the trinity relate to one another. They are ceasing to think biblically about God! A sound corporate Confession of Sin will keep us thinking biblically about God and that will give us hope. As bad as we are, our God is greater still.
- Thinking biblically about our God.
In his prayer Daniel reminds us that our God is great and awesome, a covenant keeping God, a God who has entered into a covenant, a marriage contract with us and that He will always be faithful to His vows and promises to us as His bride. That is how Daniel approaches God, with that understanding and in that context, but the attributes that he emphasizes by repetition are God’s righteousness and His mercy and His God-centeredness.
- He is righteous.
Our God always does what is just and right and fair and best. He has a keen sense of it. He is righteous and He has an expectation that we live righteously! A good confession will not lower the righteous bar, allowing people to think they are mostly good, not very sick—don’t need a doctor that badly. No, a good confession will uphold His righteous standards, humbling us and exalting Him, keeping us constantly aware of our continuing need of Him, but not only that…
- It will emphasize His mercy and forgiveness. V. 9
The most soothing expression of His mercy is found in Micah 7:18. We learn that He is a God who delights to show mercy. It gives Him pleasure to extend it. Tozer says, “Mercy is an attribute of God, an infinite and inexhaustible energy…which disposes Him to be actively compassionate.” It is not a temporary mood. It is a boundless, eternal, overwhelming deluge of divine pity and compassion.
When we come to our heavenly Father confessing our sins privately and corporately, we need to picture Him delighting, joy in His heart, smile on His face, delighting to deluge—drench us with infinite, active Fatherly compassion! Bible saturated confessions will make much of God’s mercy and they will ground all their pleas in God’s pursuit of His own glory.
- He is God-centered.
He loves His glory. He loves His honor. He loves His name. He is uppermost in His own affections. Daniel’s appeal is grounded and finally rests on that truth.
“For Your sake, O Lord, look with favor on Your desolate sanctuary…the city that bears Your Name….For Your sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people, bear Your name.” Daniel 9:17-19
Let me paraphrase John Piper paraphrasing Jonathan Edwards. He does everything to display and preserve the honor and glory of His name, even forgive our sins. It’s a glory issue. God wants His creatures, especially His ransomed creatures, to have grand, enraptured, arresting thoughts of Him and His glory.
It is true. He has not treated us as our sins deserve. But, He has treated Another, as our sins deserve. Why did He do this? Because of His unwavering commitment to His righteousness, His mercy, and His glory.
A sound corporate confession will bleed Bible when it is pricked forcing us to think truthfully about ourselves. We are a community of rebels, who sin continually and it will force us to think truthfully about God however bad we may be. He is far greater still and, therefore, it will always convey hope. Our mountain of sin is easily drowned in the ocean of His mercy. Amen.