On Sunday, we looked at the story of Ezra. The Israelites had been in captivity in Babylon for 70 years and had finally returned to their own land. They had even been able to rebuild the temple. The prophet Ezra finally came to join them and brought with him the book of the law. When Ezra read the book of the law out to them, they realised that they had been getting a load of stuff really wrong and their immediate response was guilt and shame at their failure. That initial guilt response that all of us experience from time to time is not always a bad thing. It's that nagging feeling that keeps us on the straight and narrow. However, if the nagging feeling sends us into a spiral of shame then it is not right and it certainly isn't of God. Ezra told the people to celebrate when he brought the law to the not to weep and mourn. Why? Because it was a fresh start for them with God not a tool of oppression to guilt trip them into towing the line. Part of the gospel that we proclaim is about understanding that we have all missed the mark. Romans 3:23 says: "All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory."
But our message doesn't stop there. After verse 23 there is a verse 24: "But God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins."
We don't need to live under a cloud of guilt and shame for the ways that we mess up. Yes, I want to follow Jesus with all that is within me. I want to live in a way that pleases him at all times and truly be the person that he has called me to be. Yet, I know that in my weakness I am never going to live that perfect life this side of his return. Verse 24 is an echo of the call of Ezra to the Isrealites not to weep and mourn because of their failures but to celebrate their fresh start in him and we are invited to do the same. As I sign off, I'll leave you with the words of a great hymn that sum it all up:
Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided--
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
As you hum that hymn to yourself, shake off the heavy burden of any guilt or shame of past or present failures that you might be carrying and instead praise God for his endless grace, mercy and love.