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A pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England – it was the judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. After his release this burglar had been converted and became a Christian worker. Yet as they knelt there, the judge and the former convict neither one seemed to be aware of the other.
After the service, the judge was walking home with the pastor and said to the pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?” The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.” The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.” The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, what marvelous miracle of grace.” Then the judge said, “But to whom do you refer?” And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.” The judge said, “I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.”
The pastor, surprised, replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.” “Yes,” the judge replied, “it did not cost the burglar that much to get converted when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his Savior he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help. But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on level with the burglar. It took much grace to forgive me for all my pride and self deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I sent to prison.” (James Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited 257)
Recalling the past was painful for Ezra. Ezra’s heart was filled with compassion for the people and not condemnation for or condescension on the people. He felt the shame of the people and with the people, and not “for” the people (v 6). The word disgraced in verse 6 means humiliated. The Hebrew text in verse 6 says, “I am ashamed and disgraced to lift my face to my God.” The Chinese way of saying it is, “I have no face to see You.” He wasn’t offended, angry, or outraged, but he was miserable, devastated, and heartbroken. Rebuke, accusation and blame weren’t in his heart. The only anger in the passage was God’s (v 14). His goal was always to invite the people to pray with Him, to confess their sins, and to ask for forgiveness. Unlike Daniel who confessed to God for the sins of Israel with the word “We,” Ezra confessed to God for the people with the word “our” – 6 times from verses 6-7 alone (excluding “our guilt” in Hebrew).
Ezra tore his garment and cloak (v 3), which was an unusual practice because mourners usually rend either the tunic or the cloak. Next he pulled hair from his head and beard (v 3). Pulling hair from the head is bearable, but pulling anything lower than the head is painful. He was appalled, numbed, and dazed, because the transgressors were from the top to the bottom. Those leading the way to sin included priests and the Levites (v 1), and leaders and officials (v 2).
God commanded the separation
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