Sunday, August 09, 2015
Sermon: Psalm 51 You are my Salvation
Here’s a sentence I didn’t ever think I would say: ‘I would have to agree with Elton John.’ While there’s lots of things I would disagree with him, I think he got it spot on when he sang ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word.’ Just think of the last time you were in the wrong - and you try to argue your way out of it; your inner lawyer jumps to your defence to give reasons or excuses. Lots of other words come to mind. Sorry seems to be the hardest word.
If that’s true for us, then it seems to be even more so for those in the public eye. Politicians, sport stars, celebrities all seem to find it hard to say sorry when they’ve been caught out and the scandal breaks. There’s that special, ‘I’m sorry if anyone was offended’ which they don’t mean; and the statement which says I’m sorry I’ve been caught - rather than being sorry for what I’ve done. Sorry seems to be the hardest word.
Over these next few weeks, we’re looking at some of the Psalms from David’s life. Today, in Psalm 51, he’s saying sorry to God. The superscription - the little capital letters at the top of the Psalm - tell us when this Psalm was written: ‘when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.’ We heard the story in 2 Samuel 11-12. David had spied Bathsheba, committed adultery with her, and she was pregnant. Her husband was away fighting David’s battles, so David brings him back to try to cover up his involvement. Uriah is more honourable, so David resorts to murder. He thinks he has gotten away with it. No one knows. It hasn’t made it into the Sunday World or the Jerusalem Times. ‘But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.’
God sends Nathan to speak to David, exposes his sin in his parable of the little lamb, and David is convicted. Psalm 51 is David’s response - not a polished press release, or a hush-up, say little public apology. This is a no-holds-barred confession, saying sorry to God. In it, we see what the writer of the hymn ‘Beneath the Cross of Jesus’ says: ‘two wonders I confess: the wonders of redeeming love and my own worthlessness.’ We see our sin, and our Saviour.
As we dive in to the Psalm, we’ll take it in blocks of three verses each as we see the request, the root of the problem, restoration, the result, and the wider application. So first, verses 1-3, the request. David knows that he deserves nothing, so he doesn’t ask for justice. None of us could stand if God gave us what we deserve. David asks for mercy: ‘Have mercy on me, O God.’ God, I don’t deserve anything, I need your mercy. But he can ask for mercy because of who he is speaking to - ‘according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.’ He knows that God is full of steadfast (covenant) love, and full of mercy. So he requests God’s mercy, to ‘blot out my transgressions.’ - to wipe them away, to get rid of them. He needs to be cleansed and washed from, do you see, his transgressions, iniquity and sin, because they are ever with him, ever before him. He can’t sort himself out. He can’t clean himself up - if you have dirty hands and you wipe your face, you just get dirtier... So he makes this request for mercy.
He need this request because he then addresses the root of the problem: his sin, which brings separation from God. Now, having heard from 2 Samuel, verse 4 sounds strange. ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned.’ And you want to shout out, but David, what about Bathsheba and Uriah? But David is right. All sin is ultimately against God - whatever our sin of choice might be, and whoever suffers, it is ultimately against God - not just a breaking of God’s law, but a breaking of God’s heart. You see God delights in truth in the inward being, God is justified in his words and blameless in his judgement. But we can’t stand because v5 we were brought forth in iniquity and conceived in sin. We don’t start off pure and holy and then learn how to do evil. We are born in and into sin, we’re corrupt already, following our parents and our first parents, Adam and Eve. Our sin runs up against this holy God, and this is the root of our problem. So what do we need? What did David need?
Restoration (v7-12). We need to be restored, as God deals with our sins - to cleanse, wash, blot them out (7-9), and then makes us new in verse 10-12. ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.’ This isn’t something we can work up in ourselves - we need God to do this work of creation and new creation in us. A clean, new heart, not ruled by sin, but listening to God. By giving us the Holy Spirit to fill us and change us. By restoring in us the joy of salvation. You see, it’s only when you realise the depths of your sin that you know the joy of salvation.
This restoration isn’t just taking away my sin, it’s also adding more than we ever had before. So, say that you owed the bank a massive sum of money. Forgiveness is the bank manager cancelling your debt. So you don’t owe any money, but you don’t have any money either. But this restoration that God provides is as if that friendly bank manager not only forgave your debts, but then put a million pounds in your bank account. We don’t deserve it, but God restores, gives us more than we could ever imagine.
And this restoration leads to the result of verses 13-15. When we have been restored, we want others to experience that joy as well. ‘Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.’ Our message can never be ‘you’re so bad, you need to repent’ - but rather it’s ‘I’m so bad, but God forgave me, and he’ll forgive you too.’ Look at what God has done for me! Another result will be that we praise the Lord - ‘my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.’
David doesn’t say, I’ll sing perfectly in tune. He says I will sing aloud of your righteousness. So sing up, or at least make a joyful noise! Don’t just stand there, waiting until the hymn is over so you can sit down again. Sing out your praise to God!
The final verses might seem a little bit contradictory. You see, verse 16 says that God doesn’t want sacrifice or burnt offerings, but verse 19 talks about God delighting in sacrifices and burnt offerings. So which is it? Does God want sacrifices or not? Verse 17 gives us the key: ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.’
God had given the sacrificial system in the first place. The whole range of sacrifices laid out in Leviticus point to Jesus. But in David’s day it would be easy to bring a bull to be slaughtered because that was what you did. It was an external act, on the outside it might look like you’re turning from your sin and turning to God, but who could tell?
God desires truth in the inward being (6). God sees what’s on the inside. So what matters most is the broken spirit, in sorrow at our sin, really, truly sorry, and turning to God in repentance and faith. In a moment, we’ll say the words of the confession. You could probably say it without looking at the words, and without thinking. But have you really confessed? God is looking for the broken spirit, not whether you say all the right words in all the right places.
When Nathan comes to David, David is convicted of his sin. He sees himself as he really is. His transgressions, iniquity and sin. His innate sinfulness. His inability to help himself or save himself. And it breaks his heart, for having offended against a holy God.
Yet in this Psalm, he also sees his Saviour. The God who sees and knows and acknowledges the cry of a broken heart. The God who cleanses, heals, and restores more than we have lost. The God who is holy. The God who is steadfast love and abundant mercy. The God who would give his own Son, in the death on the cross, where his holiness and mercy meet, and our sins are forgiven, our debt is paid, and we are given his righteousness, credited to our account.
So come today, with your heart broken for your sin. Whatever you have done. Whatever burdens you bear. Whatever guilt you carry. Lay them down. Come in confession. And come to the table, to remember his love and receive his grace.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 9th August 2015.