Intercession is going to God on someone’s behalf. It a holy privilege and duty, not to be taken lightly. It is strenuous and it can be messy. But it is one of the greatest ways we can minister and show love to others. We have learned from Nehemiah and his BURDEN for others, and from Daniel and his IDENTIFICATION with those for whom he was interceding. Elijah modeled how to pray for those who are sick, and Hezekiah showed us how to pray when trouble comes. Today we’ll look to Ezra and learn a less popular prayer – for sin and sinners.
Ezra was a priest who had returned to Judah with a group sent to repatriate the land after seventy years of Babylonian captivity. It isn’t long before some situations come to Ezra’s attention. These situations put the people on the very same track that landed them in captivity- not remaining pure, flirting with idolatry, intermarriage with pagans and so forth. As a good, conscientious, caring priest Ezra intercedes for the people. His prayer is recorded in Ezra 9:6-15.
Mourning for sin precedes the prayer. In verses 3-5, look at how Ezra responds to the news that his people are falling into the same trap of sin. He tore his clothes. He pulled his hair out. He pulled out his beard. He sat down dumbfounded the rest of the day. He didn’t eat or anything else. And in verse 4, he had influence on others, who also mourned the sins reported.
Do we mourn sin? That is, do we mourn the assault on God’s holiness? Or are we more likely to excuse it, to minimize it? “We’re still in a sinful body so we can’t really stop it from happening.” Or perhaps mourn the consequences we face because of our sin? Or do we use the sin of others to self-righteously feel better about ourselves? Let’s be like “all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” and follow Ezra’s example of mourning for sin.
Ezra identifies with his people. Daniel did this too. Ezra doesn’t claim to be sinless. “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you,” Ezra 9:6. Nor does he whitewash what his people have done in the past. “From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today.” Ezra 9:7 He very plainly confesses the sin. “For we have forsaken your commandments, … do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity. Ezra 9:10, 12.
Ezra leaves the outcome in God’s hands. He doesn’t make demands on God’s mercy. In verse 14, Ezra says, “Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?” Ezra 9:14. Rather, Ezra trusts God’s grace since he was able even to approach God with this petition. “O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, … Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” Ezra 9:15
When we begin to understand sin, we abandon any notion of pride or rights. But we also begin to glimpse what a wonder the grace of Almighty God is.
As believers in Christ, a kingdom of priests, let us see interceding for sin, for ourselves or others, as an urgent duty. Let us seek the recognition of God’s holiness and let us have faith in His ability and timing to bring punishment and restoration.