Psalm 51; 2 Samuel 12:13-14
The text for this evening’s sermon is Psalm 51 which we prayed a few minutes ago, and also these verses from 2 Samuel 12: David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
He was a man of great power and authority, highly respected by the people. But He had used his position to have an affair with another man’s wife. He committed adultery. She became pregnant. When nothing else seemed to resolve the situation, he plotted to have her husband killed–quite by accident, of course. The plan worked. He took her to be his wife. This man was the ruler of Israel, King David.
But this was not the end of the story for King David. God sent a prophet to him named Nathan to confront him with his sin. Nathan unmasked David’s scheming and deceptive iniquity, cutting him to the heart with words of divine anger and judgment. David was laid bare as one who had sinned against God.
What we have before us here in Psalm 51 is David’s penitential plea to God following Nathan’s visit. These are David’s anguished words of confession. As we now enter the penitential season of Lent, it is certainly appropriate that we pray and make these words our own and consider well their meaning for our lives.
The Psalm begins with the only words a sinner can say who wants to be forgiven and delivered from God’s judgment: Have mercy on me. God isn’t obligated to forgive you just because you’ve asked. That's not how it works, as if God is a vending machine, and you just pop in the coin of your confession, and out pops the forgiveness you want. There’s nothing you can do or say to climb your way out of this. All you can do is appeal to His mercy and pray for His favor. Your destiny is entirely up to Him.
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” You appeal to God’s mercy because you know better than anyone else how you’ve fallen short of God’s glory. What may be hidden and secret from others is all too apparent to you. Your sin is constantly visible to you, despite your best efforts to forget it or overcome it.
David continues, “Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” On the surface of it, King David had transgressed primarily against Bathsheba and her husband. Murder and adultery are certainly not private wrongs. And yet David gets to the heart of the matter when he confesses that his sin was pre-eminently against the Lord. He had ignored God and rejected God’s ways in doing this. David had made himself to be his own god. That was the core problem.
So also, when you sin, it may be against yourself or others, but first and foremost it is against the Lord. Every broken commandment is ultimately broken in rebellion against God. When people act selfishly, God is being pushed out of His #1 spot. When people abuse the Lord’s name, they’re abusing the Lord Himself. When they fail to remember the Sabbath Day, they’re despising the Lord’s Word. When they dishonor parents and other authorities, they’re dishonoring God who gave those people their authority. When they harm their neighbors or fail to help them, they’re rejecting God’s gift of human life. When they engage in wrongful sexual thoughts or behavior, they’re forsaking God’s gift of marriage. When they take what belongs rightly to others, they are disregarding God as the Giver of all possessions. When they gossip, they’re taking away the good name God has given a person. When they envy and covet, they show dissatisfaction with what God has provided. Against God and God only have you sinned.
David explains why this is, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Right from the very moment you came into existence, this rebellion against God adhered to your being. All of humanity has a nature that is stained with the fall. It’s called original sin, a doctrine confirmed by the experience of every parent trying to raise a 2 year old. No one is able by nature to have true reverence for God and true faith in God. All are subject to His eternal wrath.
What then are you to do? The same as David did. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart.” For now is the time of God’s favor. Now is the day of salvation. “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” The Psalmist pleaded, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.” That is what keeps us from despair and gives us strength for repentance, the sure hope we have in God’s love which does not fail. The Lord does not delight in executing wrath but in showing mercy to those who repent.
David prayed, “According to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.” The imagery here is of a book with a listing of all your sin being completely erased and wiped clean. And such is exactly what God did for you in His only Son, our Lord Jesus. Colossians 2 proclaims, “God forgave (you) all (your) sins, having canceled the written code . . . that was against (you); He took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Jesus erased your name from the document sentencing you to eternal death and put His own name there instead. On Calvary the sentence was fully meted out. Your transgressions were wiped away. For Jesus stood in your place. Just as the infant son of David was the one who died and paid the price for David’s sins, so also Jesus, the Son of David died for your sins and paid the price for the sins of the whole world.
Christ never broke any of the commandments, kept the Law from the heart, and yet He was counted as the Great Transgressor in His baptism and crucifixion so that the unholy world might be counted as righteous before God through faith. To put it another way, the words of this Psalm were made to be the words of Jesus. He cried out on your behalf, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love. According to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.” He who knew no sin spoke these anguished words of confession in your stead. For your sake, no mercy was shown to Him on Good Friday, but we know from Easter morning that His cry was heard. Through Jesus, then, your prayer to God for mercy is answered affirmatively, “Yes, you have My mercy and forgiveness.”
This forgiveness is cleansing, like a filthy garment being purified. “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” In Old Testament times, when a leper was to be pronounced clean, a hyssop plant was dipped in sacrificial blood and sprinkled on the leper seven times. Then he was clean. So you too have been made clean from a leprosy of the soul by the blood of Christ sprinkled on you. I John 1 proclaims, “The blood of Jesus, (God’s) Son, cleanses us from all sin.” God’s mercy in Christ is like a renewing shower, a baptismal washing that rinses away the dirt of sin and makes you pure in His sight. God says through His prophet Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
David prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God.” His prayer was answered when Nathan announced to him, “The Lord has taken away your sin.” The prophet’s words accomplished what they said. So also God creates in you a pure heart by the living words of Christ spoken in the absolution, “I forgive you all your sins.” God’s Spirit creates in you and gives to you a new heart, the heart of Christ. For His body and blood are truly fed into you with all of their renewing power. A heart in which Christ dwells by faith is pure. He lives in you and through you with a willing spirit of service and love towards others. His gracious presence restores to you the joy of your salvation.
Brothers and sisters of Christ, return to the Lord with all your heart this Lenten season. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. Take comfort in knowing that the sacrifice God is looking for is a broken spirit. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” God will not despise a broken and penitent heart.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠