“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
One of my favorite characters in the Bible is a man called Nehemiah. I want to tell you why, but first I need to give you a little history lesson. A very short one, I promise. In 605 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded Jerusalem and besieged the city. He destroyed some of the city, killed many people, and took others prisoner. Over the next 20 years, whenever there was a rebellion, he would march back into Jerusalem, destroy more of the city, kill more people, and take more prisoners.
Many years later, under the rule of King Darius (537 BC), the Jews were allowed to return to their land, and they started rebuilding the city and the temple, but the walls were still broken. And this brings us to Nehemiah. Nehemiah, one of the exiles, was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, the current ruler. One day his brother came from Jerusalem to visit and described the condition of the city to Nehemiah, especially the state of the walls that were never rebuilt. Distressed by the news, Nehemiah broke down and wept. Then he spent days in prayer and fasting, trying to understand why they couldn't build the walls.
Some might have concluded that it was bad organization or a lack of resources that prevented the rebuilding of the wall. Although both were contributory factors that needed to be addressed, Nehemiah understood that the real problem was sin! And this included his own sin! So he began by confessing it. "I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's family, have committed against you," he said. "We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses" (Nehemiah 1:6-7). Then he went to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls in 52 days!
Now, what has this have to do with today's passage? A lot, really. See, over the years, God has sent prophets to the Israelites, warning them about the consequences of their sins, but instead of paying heed, they had the prophets put to death. Now God had sent his Son, hoping they would listen to him. But we all know what they did to Jesus. Why? Because they portrayed themselves as holy people, devout people, and they didn't like anybody telling them they weren't. So they proved how "holy" they were by committing murder!
Let us not be like them. Let us, instead, be like Nehemiah and tell God that we are sorry: first for our sins, then for the sins of our family, then for the sins of the church, and finally for the sins of our nation and our world. And we have God's assurance that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). We also have God's promise given right through Scripture that if we repent, he will restore us that we may serve him; and if we utter worthy words, we will be his spokesman (see Jeremiah 15:19).
May the Spirit be with you.