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We’ve Failed...but God
Nehemiah 9
Skip Heitzig

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Nehemiah 9 (NKJV™)
1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads.
2 Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.
4 Then Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani stood on the stairs of the Levites and cried out with a loud voice to the LORD their God.
5 And the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said: "Stand up and bless the LORD your God Forever and ever! "Blessed be Your glorious name, Which is exalted above all blessing and praise!
6 You alone are the LORD; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, And You preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You.
7 "You are the LORD God, Who chose Abram, And brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, And gave him the name Abraham;
8 You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give the land of the Canaanites, The Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, And the Girgashites--To give it to his descendants. You have performed Your words, For You are righteous.
9 "You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea.
10 You showed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, Against all his servants, And against all the people of his land. For You knew that they acted proudly against them. So You made a name for Yourself, as it is this day.
11 And You divided the sea before them, So that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; And their persecutors You threw into the deep, As a stone into the mighty waters.
12 Moreover You led them by day with a cloudy pillar, And by night with a pillar of fire, To give them light on the road Which they should travel.
13 "You came down also on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven, And gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments.
14 You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, And commanded them precepts, statutes and laws, By the hand of Moses Your servant.
15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger, And brought them water out of the rock for their thirst, And told them to go in to possess the land Which You had sworn to give them.
16 "But they and our fathers acted proudly, Hardened their necks, And did not heed Your commandments.
17 They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders That You did among them. But they hardened their necks, And in their rebellion They appointed a leader To return to their bondage. But You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them.
18 "Even when they made a molded calf for themselves, And said, 'This is your god That brought you up out of Egypt,' And worked great provocations,
19 Yet in Your manifold mercies You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day, To lead them on the road; Nor the pillar of fire by night, To show them light, And the way they should go.
20 You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, And gave them water for their thirst.
21 Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness, They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out And their feet did not swell.
22 "Moreover You gave them kingdoms and nations, And divided them into districts. So they took possession of the land of Sihon, The land of the king of Heshbon, And the land of Og king of Bashan.
23 You also multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, And brought them into the land Which You had told their fathers To go in and possess.
24 So the people went in And possessed the land; You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, The Canaanites, And gave them into their hands, With their kings And the people of the land, That they might do with them as they wished.
25 And they took strong cities and a rich land, And possessed houses full of all goods, Cisterns already dug, vineyards, olive groves, And fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and grew fat, And delighted themselves in Your great goodness.
26 "Nevertheless they were disobedient And rebelled against You, Cast Your law behind their backs And killed Your prophets, who testified against them To turn them to Yourself; And they worked great provocations.
27 Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their enemies, Who oppressed them; And in the time of their trouble, When they cried to You, You heard from heaven; And according to Your abundant mercies You gave them deliverers who saved them From the hand of their enemies.
28 "But after they had rest, They again did evil before You. Therefore You left them in the hand of their enemies, So that they had dominion over them; Yet when they returned and cried out to You, You heard from heaven; And many times You delivered them according to Your mercies,
29 And testified against them, That You might bring them back to Your law. Yet they acted proudly, And did not heed Your commandments, But sinned against Your judgments, 'Which if a man does, he shall live by them.' And they shrugged their shoulders, Stiffened their necks, And would not hear.
30 Yet for many years You had patience with them, And testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.
31 Nevertheless in Your great mercy You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; For You are God, gracious and merciful.
32 "Now therefore, our God, The great, the mighty, and awesome God, Who keeps covenant and mercy: Do not let all the trouble seem small before You That has come upon us, Our kings and our princes, Our priests and our prophets, Our fathers and on all Your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until this day.
33 However You are just in all that has befallen us; For You have dealt faithfully, But we have done wickedly.
34 Neither our kings nor our princes, Our priests nor our fathers, Have kept Your law, Nor heeded Your commandments and Your testimonies, With which You testified against them.
35 For they have not served You in their kingdom, Or in the many good things that You gave them, Or in the large and rich land which You set before them; Nor did they turn from their wicked works.
36 "Here we are, servants today! And the land that You gave to our fathers, To eat its fruit and its bounty, Here we are, servants in it!
37 And it yields much increase to the kings You have set over us, Because of our sins; Also they have dominion over our bodies and our cattle At their pleasure; And we are in great distress.
38 "And because of all this, We make a sure covenant, and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it."

New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.

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...but God

Most all of us know that we are not what we should be or could be. Sin has scarred our lives. We are aware of personal failures. The really good news is that we may fail but God forgives. The whole reason for the atoning death of Christ was to provide clemency for transgressions and mercy for our offenses. Nehemiah knew the history of his people, and after gathering them back in the land after the captivity, he prays on their behalf. We learn four vital lessons in this prayer about the human condition and the divine solution.

All of us experience times of desperation, but as James Montgomery Boice said, "If you understand those two words, 'But God,' they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely." In this series, Skip Heitzig explores the "but God" moments of David, Jonah, Moses, and other biblical figures, encouraging us to let the Lord turn our personal periods into pivot points.

Outline

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  1. Failure Is Our Problem (vv. 16, 17a, 18, 26, 28, 33)

  2. Forgiveness Is Our Provision (v. 17)

  3. Faithfulness Is Our Promise (vv. 18-21, 30-31)

  4. Following Is Our Priority (vv. 36, 38)

Study Guide

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Connect Recap Notes: Sunday, May 6, 2018
Speaker: Skip Heitzig
Teaching: "We've Failed…but God"
Text: Nehemiah 9

Path

Most all of us know that we are not what we should be or could be. Sin has scarred our lives. We are aware of personal failures. The really good news is that we may fail but God forgives. The whole reason for the atoning death of Christ was to provide clemency for transgressions and mercy for our offenses. Nehemiah knew the history of his people, and after gathering them back in the land after the captivity, he prays on their behalf. We learn four vital lessons in this prayer about the human condition and the divine solution.
  1. Failure Is Our Problem (vv. 16, 17a, 18, 26, 28, 33)
  2. Forgiveness Is Our Provision (v. 17)
  3. Faithfulness Is Our Promise (vv. 18-21, 30-31)
  4. Following Is Our Priority (vv. 36, 38)
Points

Failure Is Our Problem (vv. 16, 17a, 18, 26, 28, 33)
  • Mourning is a sign of maturity. Acknowledging failure demonstrates spiritual development. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). Blessed means happy.
  • Nehemiah 9 is the longest recorded prayer in Scripture. Ezra's prayer acknowledged failure with cries of confession. It is a record of fasting, repentance, and prayer followed by a covenant.
  • Godly sorrow produces repentance (see 2 Corinthians 7:10). Failure doesn't need to be the end of the story; you can have a bright future despite dark failure.
  • Ezra prayed historically from creation through captivity, showing that the human landscape is marked by failure (see Romans 3:23).
  • The story of humanity is the story of sin (see Romans 5:12-21). Sin is in our very nature (see Ephesians 2:1-3). We sin both by nature and by choice.
  • Probe: Share a time when you failed. How did you respond to your failure? Did you conceal it or confess it?
Forgiveness Is Our Provision (v. 17)
  • "But you are God…" is where failure meets forgiveness. Our penchant for sin meets His pardon for sin.
  • God is much bigger than our failures. He anticipated them (see Deuteronomy 28-29; 1 Kings 8:27-52).
  • As Savior, Jesus is ready to pardon our sin. His first words on the cross were, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34).
  • Ezra's prayer was one of confession. To confess is more than to admit something; confession is saying the same thing God says about sin. That leads to repentance.
  • Read 1 John 1:8-9. God is ready to pardon your sin. Are you ready to confess it?
  • Notice the words gracious and merciful. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. In mercy, God withholds the judgment you deserve. Grace is getting what you don't deserve. In grace, God adds the blessing you don't deserve.
  • Probe: Forgiveness is essential to the Christian life. We receive it from the Lord and we are to give it to others. Read Matthew 18:22. Jesus said we are to forgive abundantly. What does seventy-seven times mean? Why is forgiving difficult for some Christians?
Faithfulness Is Our Promise (vv. 18-21, 30-31)
  • God's grace pursues us. God's love is unstoppable, unconditional, unrelenting, and unending.
  • When Israel ran from God leading them into captivity, God listened when they cried. When Israel departed from God, God pursued them (see Hosea, a pageant of God's love in the face of Israel's persistent unfaithfulness).
  • We all sin but God still loves us. "Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more" (Romans 5:20). When sin reaches a high-water mark, grace floods. Sin cannot erect a dam so high that grace cannot overflow.
  • Human love is object-oriented. Divine love is subject-oriented and based on God's character.
  • Probe: Unconditional means not subject to any conditions, wholehearted, complete, and unrestricted. How are God's love and forgiveness unconditional toward His people? Share a personal story about God's unconditional love and mercy.
Following Is Our Priority (vv. 32, 36-38)
  • Notice "Now therefore…" (v. 32). Ezra's prayer mimics Romans 12. Both describe the human condition, acknowledge God's provision, then present a decision to be made.
  • Our failure is met by God's forgiveness and faithfulness. Our response is to follow Him.
  • Israel didn't just feel badly about their past, they followed God into their future. Do not confuse remorse with repentance. Remorse is a feeling and sensation, but repentance is a change and decision.
  • Probe: The Greek word for repent is metanoeo. Strong's Concordance defines it as "the change of mind of those who have begun to abhor their errors and misdeeds, and have determined to enter upon a better course of life."1 Forgiveness is essential but so is repentance. Why is repentance often the first step toward forgiveness?
Practice

Connect Up: "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy" (Psalm 103:8­). How does this summarize God's actions toward people? Share a time He has been merciful and gracious to you.

Connect In: Christians should be people of forgiveness. On what basis do we forgive? "Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). How is our forgiveness based in His forgiveness?

Connect Out: A prominent oncologist noted the refusal to forgive makes people sick."2 What other benefits does forgiveness offer that you might share with someone struggling with an unforgiving heart? Consider these factors noted by the Mayo Clinic:
  • Healthier relationships
  • Improved mental health
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved self-esteem3
1Bible Hub, "Metanoia," 2016, biblehub.com/str/greek/3134.htm, accessed 5/7/18.
2Lorie Johnson, "The Deadly Consequences of Unforgiveness," June, 22, 2015, www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2015/june/the-deadly-consequences-of-unforgiveness, accessed 5/6/18.
3Mayo Clinic Staff, "Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness," November 4, 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692, accessed 5/6/18.

Detailed Notes

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  1. Introduction
    1. Mourning is a sign of maturity
      1. Acknowledging failure demonstrates spiritual progress
      2. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn" (Matthew 5:4); blessed means happy
      3. Confession brings comfort (see Proverbs 28:13)
    2. Nehemiah 9 is a worship service
      1. Very long, filled with confession: a record of fasting, repentance, and prayer followed by a covenant
      2. Several hours reading the Word, several hours confessing (see v. 2)
      3. Longest recorded prayer in the Bible
      4. Illustrates that "godly sorrow produces repentance" (2 Corinthians 7:10)
    3. Failure doesn't need to be the end of your story
      1. You can have a bright future in spite of a dark failure
      2. God meets our failures with His forgiveness and faithfulness
  1. Failure Is Our Problem (vv. 16, 17a, 18, 26, 28, 33)
    1. Ezra prayed historically from creation to captivity, recounting the Israelites' history of rebellion against God
    2. Israelites' problem was sin and failure
    3. Humanity's problem is sin and failure (see Romans 3:23)
      1. Hamartia is the Greek word for sin: to miss the mark
      2. Bible records history of sin, a journal of human failure (see Romans 5:12)
      3. Sin is mentioned 629 times in Scripture; sin is our nature (see Ephesians 2:3)
      4. Without accepting this basic truth, the world makes no sense (see Jeremiah 17:9)
  1. Forgiveness Is Our Provision (v. 17)
    1. "But you are God " is the but God moment
    2. Our failure meets His forgiveness; our penchant for sin meets His pardon for sin
    3. God is so much bigger than our failure
      1. He expected and anticipated our failure (see Deuteronomy 28-29; 1 Kings 8:27-52)
      2. Your sin and failure never surprise God
    4. Jesus' first words on the cross were "Father, forgive them" (Luke 23:34)
      1. Forgiveness is our greatest need
      2. Even the secular world acknowledges the benefits of confession
    5. To confess does not mean to admit; it means to say the same thing about my sin and failure as God says about it
      1. To confess means to agree with God and implies turning away from sin
      2. God is ready to pardon—are you ready to confess? (see 1 John 1:9)
    6. Grace and mercy: two related but different attributes of God
      1. Grace is getting what you don't deserve; mercy is not getting what you deserve
      2. In grace, God adds the blessing you don't deserve; in mercy, God withholds the judgment you deserve
      3. The cross satisfies God's justice to enable the outpouring of His grace and mercy
  1. Faithfulness Is Our Promise (vv. 18-21, 30-31)
    1. God's love is so different than any other love
    2. God's love is unstoppable, unrelenting, unconditional (see 1 John 3:1)
      1. We keep running, God keeps chasing
      2. Hosea's ministry to his unfaithful wife demonstrated this kind of love
        1. Hosea is like God; Gomer is like Israel
        2. We are like Israel, continually going astray (see Isaiah 53:6)
    3. You might worry you've exhausted God's patience
      1. God's patience does have a limit (see Genesis 6:3)
      2. Your concern shows there's hope
      3. There is no dam that sin can erect that God's grace cannot flow over and flood (see Romans 5:20)
    4. God's nature is love (see John 3:16)
      1. Human love is object-oriented
      2. Divine love is subject-oriented and based on God's character
        1. God loves you because He is God and God is love
        2. His love pursues us, but we can move away from or hide from His love (see Jude 1:21)
  1. Following Is Our Priority (vv. 36, 38)
    1. Our response to our failure met by His forgiveness and His faithfulness is to follow
      1. Romans 12 has a similar format (see Romans 12:1)
      2. The Israelites didn't just feel bad about their past; they committed to follow Him into the future
    2. The covenant indicates repentance
    3. Don't confuse remorse with repentance
      1. Remorse is a feeling and sensation
      2. Repentance is a change and a decision
  1. Closing
    1. Today might be the day you need to finally surrender your life completely to the lordship of Jesus Christ
    2. He knows your failures, but He pursues you anyway
Figures referenced: Malcolm Muggeridge, Leonard Ravenhill

Cross references: Genesis 6:3; Deuteronomy 28-29; 1 Kings 8:27-52; Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 17:9; Hosea; Matthew 5:4; Luke 23:34; John 3:16; Romans 3:23; 5:12, 20; 12:1; 2 Corinthians 7:10; Ephesians 2:3; 1 John 1:9; 3:1; Jude 1:21

Greek words: hamartia

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There are 5 additional messages in this series.