Confession: The Blessing Nobody Expects

What comes to mind when you think of confession?  Think about it for a moment.

For some, the thought might be a simple private prayer, or for some a confessional booth.  For others, no specific images might come to mind, but just a feeling of someone “out to get you.”  I expect some of you thought of the Spanish Inquisition, or at least the Monty Python skit making fun of it[1].  Where do these ideas come from?

The blame belongs in many places: secular culture, bad experiences with church, an emphasis on external over internal religion, and even Monty Python comedy skits.  My fantasy baseball league even has a team named “Spanish Inquisition” because the manager of that team thinks no one expects him to win – not even himself.

The mocking of secular culture aside, confession is an uncomfortable topic even for sincere Christians.  In Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, he shares the tension over confession between Tolkien and his then-fiancée Edith.  Tolkien was a practicing Catholic, while Edith was a member of the Church of England.  They had agreed as a couple to be Catholic, but Edith “began to dislike making her confession.  It was therefore all too easy when she was worried about her health (which was often) to postpone going to mass. She reported to Ronald [Tolkien] that getting up to go to church early in the morning and fasting until she had made her communion did not agree with her.”  She insisted “my health won’t stand it.”[2]  In my own Protestant church, we have a weekly prayer of confession, which the pastor regularly defends the importance of.  Few of us probably look forward to confession, whatever form we practice it in.

Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash

This discomfort with confession seems to be a shared part of mankind’s fallen nature, but if we look at well-known Bible verses on confession, we find that it is really about restoration, a rebirth of man’s relationship with God and a renewal of man to his ideal nature.  It is as different from God being “out to get you” as it could be.  1 John 1:9 encourages confession, because: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  God wants to give us forgiveness and cleansing, not condemnation and guilt.  Isaiah 1:18 explains this cleansing more poetically:

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
            they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
            they shall become like wool.

Confession doesn’t need to be a dirty word.  The word “confess” means loosely to say the same thing about something, so confession means we agree with God (say the same thing he does) about sin – that it is bad.  But confession also applies to the rest of 1 John 1:9, that God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Full confession includes agreeing about the steadfast and dependable character of God, His faithfulness and justice, as well as His desire to forgive and cleanse.  If we doubt this desire, consider what He voluntarily suffered on the cross to provide for this forgiveness, and to demonstrate His enduring love.

By adding confession about the good things of God to our confession of our sin, our confession does not make us miserable about our own condition but shows us how different we are from what God wants for us, how deeply our sin needs to be corrected, and how wonderfully God has provided for the removal of sin.

But this does not come easily.  Referencing Hebrews 4:16, which says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” Puritan preacher Thomas Watson wrote that “Christ went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace.”

Why is this?  Could it be that we have trouble whole-heartedly confessing that “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”?  Monty Python joke that “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” but do we fully expect God’s throne to be one of grace when we come to confess?


[1] If you’re not familiar with the skit, here’s a 4-minute example: https://youtu.be/Cj8n4MfhjUc
[2] Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography.  (1977).  P. 68-69.

Compassion for the Harassed and Helpless

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” – Matthew 9:35-36

Jesus lived under the greatest empire the world had yet seen, and in a deeply religious Jewish culture developed over centuries.  The people had powerful leaders, both political and religious.  Why then were the people seemingly without a shepherd to lead them?

The Roman Empire touted widespread peace and prosperity due to the Caesars and their government.  But the people still had many unsolved problems and no hope.  “Throughout all the cities and villages” were diseased, afflicted and helpless people, and Jesus could help them all in ways the Romans could not or would not.

The Jewish Pharisees, jealous of Jesus’ ability to solve problems they could not, claimed “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”  They rightly described His power as supernatural, but they called it evil.  Even as He was performing life-saving miracles, they could not tolerate Him as a rival, and so rejected the people’s only hope.

So, the people remained “harassed and helpless,” not knowing who to trust.

Is your culture also faithless?  Your workplace?  Your community or household?  Jesus encouraged His disciples to see rampant lack of faith as an opportunity to show the crowds the compassion of Jesus: “Then He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” – Matthew 9:37-38

Today, pray for workers to bring in the harvest.  Also, know that God might make you and I those workers.  As in Jesus’ day, it is up to individual disciples to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom – through compassionate action and often in spite of what those in charge of other kingdoms might prefer.  Harassed and helpless sheep can be frustrated and difficult, but only humble disciples know the problems on the streets of their cities and villages best.

Pray for the compassion of our Great Shepherd who can work miracles. Is there a need He can meet through you today?

Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

[This Rewind Wednesday was originally posted in April 2022]

“A New Leaf” – A Poem for Everyday Grace

Dear fellow travelers,

Today I am re-sharing a poem last posted in January.  While it would make a great New Year’s Day post, its point is relevant every day, every hour, and every moment we may need it.  God’s grace is available to us at all times, because God is always faithful, as Lamentations 3:22-24 says:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
            his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
            great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
            “therefore I will hope in him.

I first heard this poem years ago, recently remembered it, and found it online eventually.  The title is “A New Leaf”, author unknown, and compares a child/teacher relationship to us and Jesus.  His mercies are new every morning and every day, not just on special occasions.  God wants everyone to turn to Him at all times.  Don’t wait until New Year’s Day.

“A New Leaf”

“He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done.  ‘Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher?  I’ve spoiled this one.’  I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted and gave him a new one all unspotted.  And into his tired heart I cried, ‘Do better now, my child.’

I went to the throne with a trembling heart; the day was done.  ‘Have you a new day for me, dear Master?  I’ve spoiled this one.’  He took my day, all soiled and blotted and gave me a new one all unspotted.  And into my tired heart he cried, ‘Do better now, my child.'”

Jesus was Born to Overthrow King Herod, but How?

The story of Herod and the three wise men is familiar to most who celebrate Christmas.  After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the wise men came looking for Him, having seen a star they believed signaled His coming.  Arriving in Jerusalem, they asked “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.[1]  Word of this search made it to Herod, the then-current king of that region under Rome’s authority, and his first instinct was to eliminate what he saw as a threat to his own power.  In Herod’s eyes, only he was king of the Jews.

Herod came up with a simple plan: to use the wise men to help him find this threat.  “And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’”[2]  However, the wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went home after visiting Jesus.  “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”[3]

Herod believed so strongly in the necessity of the power of Rome and of his place in it that he was willing to commit mass murder.  If he couldn’t find the one child he wanted, he’d just kill them all.  He feared Jesus (or His followers) would overthrow him as king, and he was right but in the wrong sense.  Jesus would overthrow Rome.  He was born to overthrow every earthly kingdom – that is inevitable.

Much of Rome is already in ruins. Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

Isaiah 40:17 proclaims that “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.”  The word “emptiness” here is the Hebrew “bohu,” part of the phrase “tohu va’bohu” translated as “without form and void” in Genesis 1:2.  This phrase represents empty things with no eternal value or purpose.  So, while Isaiah doesn’t use the whole phrase from Genesis, he uses “less than” for emphasis instead.  When compared to God’s eternal purposes, all that every nation has ever devised and achieved is less than useless.  God has nothing to learn from our political and economic visions – He transcends them all.  No nation can or will accomplish what God has accomplished and will accomplish.

Therefore, Jesus’ other mission was to overthrow Herod’s dominion over Herod.  But Herod was determined to resist.  His heart was so hard that he preferred to hang on to a government willing to commit mass murder to preserve its own self-centered ways.  He thought he could preserve the façade of “Pax Romana,” the idea that worldly government can solve all of our problems, even while he, as an agent of Rome, was killing innocent children.  Herod saw it as in his own best interest, and in the interest of Rome, but this is one of many examples of “a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”[4]

Jesus can overcome death only by overthrowing our views of our own “best interest” and what “seems right.”  He was not born and did not die and rise again just to overthrow Rome, but He came so we would have a way to overthrow ourselves and death itself.  Jesus will establish the only government that will matter in eternity: His Kingdom.  The soul of Herod, and of all of us, will outlive every society that ever existed, and ever will, on this earth.  The nations are all “accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.”  While Herod could find hope in Jesus if he wanted to, Rome itself never had any hope.

Therefore, the question Jesus asks all people is: Will we let Jesus overthrow us or will we, like Herod, go to great lengths to resist Jesus and try to preserve a world that is doomed to fail?

Isaiah 9:6, recently the focus of my Christmas series on 4 names describing Jesus, also says “and the government shall be upon his shoulder.”  His Kingdom will be the only government we need, and He alone is uniquely qualified to establish and rule it.

For to us a child is born,
            to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
            and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
            Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”


[1] Matthew 2:2
[2] Matthew 2:8
[3] Matthew 2:16
[4] Proverbs 14:12, 16:25

What We Need For Christmas Summary

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thank you for reading my series about what we need for Christmas.

Remember that whatever mess we find ourselves and the world in, Christmas is a reminder that God has not given up on us and on the world.  Isaiah 9:6, a prophecy from around 700 BC describes the Christ we celebrate each Christmas:

“And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

To meet our deepest, most significant needs, this Christ is provided for us.
         As Wonderful Counselor, He is our source of wisdom; (covered in this post)
         As Mighty God, He will empower us to live as He did; (this post)
         As Everlasting Father, He invites us with unconditional love into His family; (this post)
         As Prince of Peace, He buys peace between us and Him, and between us and others. (this post)

“Four gifts for Christmas. They are the greatest gifts that anybody can give or we can have, and they are all in Jesus. They are for us. They are for you, if you will have them.” – James Montgomery Boice

Celebrate these gifts today!

In closing here is a video of the Royal Choral Society performing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, for He, the Christ of Christmas, shall reign forever and ever: