“While Ezra prayed and made confessions, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.” Ezra 10:1
In our culture it is often a noble concept that one can make a difference for the masses. We see this concept idealized in the media, through books and movies. Sadly, often those seeking to motivate the masses due so for their own gain, perhaps a stirring speech by a politician for votes or a patriotic call to arms by a power-hungry dictator. It would seem that perhaps this idealism is a redemptive part of our culture, but we must remember that the root often ties back to one major hurdle that the western church has in rebuilding Jerusalem, individualism. This is that pesky hater of Zion that waits for the workers to begin their work then starts to throw spears from the darkness, disrupting the work and sowing distrust among the workers.
The first step in putting down this barrier is humility, which stems from genuine personal repentance. I will not go over the subject again as I talked about it already. It is easy to say that perhaps the message of “revival starts with me” is cliché and ages old, but that depends on how we approach the matter. Being a catalyst for rebuilding Jerusalem goes much further than just repenting on my part. That is a start indeed, but when we repent we must view the affect our sin has on the body. We should not be closet repenters, who then go to church every Sunday and continues to check the pulse of the fellow saints, waiting for our holiness and repentance to rub off on them. It is about being an active part of a body. We will find ourselves against one barrier after another unless we put aside the obsession with self and grasp the concept of Biblical community.
I Corinthians 12 refers to the church as a body with many different members. Continuing with that analogy I may point out that if I have a sore throat, my whole body is in a drag. When I fractured my toe a couple of months ago, it changed the way I walked and the pain caused me to clinch my teeth, which led to a toothache… and so on. As we function (or disfunction) in the Biblical concept of the church as a body when one part is sick it effects the others. This is key, my personal sin never, ever, ever just effects me.
The core example in scripture is when Adam sinned. When Adam sinned, sin fell on all mankind. Since Adam all men from birth are utterly depraved. David sinned with Bathsheba and as a result Uriah was murdered to cover it up and the child that was born as result of the sin fell ill and died. Solomon strayed and God told him what would become of Israel as a result of his sin. It seems we often don’t view these passages of scripture as we should. Many Christians agree with the concept of living in Biblical community without realization of the effect their sin has on the body.
I would like to note that the reason that many churches are sick, weak, and full of holes today is because of the decline in church discipline. God has ordained this function of the body (knowing the effects of individual sin on the church) not only to purify the body, but as an act of mercy toward those that are sinning if perchance they will be grieved to the point of true repentance. Again this is another subject that I don’t feel led to explore in depth.
Ezra and Nehemiah understood how sin effects Zion. They were leaders and as leaders they took responsibility despite the fact that they were righteous men with a jealousy for God’s glory and a passion for the restoration of the glory of the Zion. A good leader lives above reproach without becoming self-righteous, he takes responsibility for the people he has been called to lead. In Hebrews 13, it is clear that those that have authority will give an account for those they lead. In Philippians 4, Paul admonishes the people that “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you”. God is unchanging and thus His methods of leadership can be seen throughout the scope of the story of His people. Ezra understood this and when he found out about the unfaithfulness of the priest, he made confession before the people, weeping and throwing himself down before the Lord (Ezra 10). Nehemiah showed his understanding of leadership in this area before he even rose up as a leader. While still a mere wine-taster for the king he declared upon hearing of the state of Jerusalem, “….even I and my Father’s house have sinned.” (Nehemiah 1:6) If we desire to be a leader, a catalyst, in rebuilding Zion to be a vibrant display of God’s glory to the nations then we must seek to lead in repentance. There is no room for individualism in Zion. Nehemiah understood this, Ezra understood this, and the apostle Paul understood this.
As a final note to drive this point of corporate repentance home I look to the back of the Bible. When Jesus is addressing the churches in Revelations, He offers both commendation and warning in the context of the body has a whole, using a singular reference towards the body of Christ. To be sure these churches had variations amongst them in levels of faithfulness and sincerity, but He called out to the whole church in order that the church as a whole would repent. We are called to “bear one anothers burdens” not to maverick our way through our existence making sure that we alone survive. The survival of one only merely prolongs the inevitable, extinction.
Take courage in knowing that throughout scripture we see not only sin effecting many through one, but also righteousness being spread abroad by the leadership of God’s people. Noah, Abraham, Joseph and on and on. Ultimately, let us look to Christ, the blameless lamb of God who bore the sin of many, bringing life.