Ezra 10 is perhaps one of the most perplexing, and at the same time, encouraging, chapters in all of the Bible. Here, we are given yet another of the Bible's list of names, but this time, it's a list of sinners.
Yes, you read that right - Ezra 10 is a long list of sinners, mentioned each one by name.
Here's what's happening: a relatively small group of Israelites have returned from exile to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. And the work is well underway, having encountered here and there some resistance and rebellion but persisting nonetheless. And the more that the Temple comes along, the more the people are drawn to its righteousness and to purify themselves for it.
Because there comes a point when you are trying to make a Temple worthy of your God that you discover that you want to make yourselves worth of the Temple.
So the men realize that exile has done more to them than they really noticed, since they didn't have a central point of faith/obedience from which to live during that time. Many of them have taken wives from outside of their own people, a natural occurrence when you're living as a stranger in a foreign land, but they come now to understand that this has drawn them away and will continue to draw them away from God. In other words, they have sinned.
And as the people gather at the Temple and Ezra prays, they understand what they've done and how it is binding them to something other than their God and they determine not to continue in their sin. Thus, we have in Ezra 10 a list of the men who have married foreign women. In other words, a list of known and confessed sinners.
Contrary to what the church has preached about God for too long of a season, this isn't really God's way. He's not really the kind of God who calls out our sin and publishes it on a billboard and lists us by name when we've done something wrong. He's not all about convicting and condemning us. If He were, He wouldn't have sent His Son to save us.
Yet, here it is - an extensive, exhaustive list of sinners in the Holy Scriptures themselves. What are we to do with that?
A trick question, really.
Because the truth is that the entire Bible's narrative is a list of sinners. You've probably seen something similar to this on a popular meme that circulates from time-to-time. Noah was a drunk, Jacob was a thief, David was a murderer, and so on and so on. The truth is that God's story is told by sinners, in them and through them, from the very beginning. Adam and Eve all the way through you and me.
The fact that Ezra chooses to include a whole list of them is not really all that unique in the Bible, except by sheer quantity. Because in context, even he's not talking about their sin; he's talking about their confession and repentance. This list of sinners is a list of the redeemed, of those returning to righteousness and choosing God all over again.
Just like we do.
Just like we do.
So if you're a sinner this morning (and if you're not yet this morning, give it time and you will be), take heart. God's story unfolds through sinners, sinners so loved they are listed by name. Not for what they've done wrong, but for what they're doing right - returning to righteousness and choosing God all over again. That's all it is. If you're off track, if you're in the wrong, if you're lost and wandering, if you don't know where you are, if you're uncertain, unsure, if you don't know how your name is coming off in His story, if you're worried about how it looks or whether it's real or what matters or doesn't matter or eternally matters, this is it: choose God all over again. For you, even you, are a sinner so loved you are listed by name. Not for what you've done wrong, but for all you're trying to get right.