Pictures of forgiveness
Psalm 51 For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. 14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
He suspected it was an ambush. The sweet-sounding invitation to come over and join her on Tuesday afternoon. The plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and glass of cold milk. “Have a seat,” she smiled. He thanked her and ate a cookie.
“So, you wanted to talk?” She did. Not about the unseasonably warm weather or her grandchildren’s new puppy. Other things weighed heavy on her mind. She was concerned, she said. There were things he needed to know. Things about someone in the church.
“Oh,” he said. “Yes,” she said.
Because he just needed to be aware of this person’s history. You know, since he was the new pastor and all.
“Oh,” he said. “Yes,” she said.
He took another bite of cookie. She cleared her throat and began, “Well, Pastor, there’s a person in this congregation who ...” “These are good cookies,” he said.
“Well, thank you,” she said. “So, as I was saying, there’s a person who ...”
But again, he spoke. “Before you begin, can I ask you something?” “I suppose, if you must.”
“Are you about to tell me about someone else’s sin? Because if you are, I need you to do something for me first.” “And what exactly might that be?”
“First, tell me three of your deepest, darkest sins – you know, the ones you’ve been hiding from the world for years, the ones you don’t want anyone to find out about.” “I can’t do that! Anyway, that’s no one’s business but my own.”
He picked up another cookie. Met her eyes. Chewed and swallowed. Finished off the milk. “So, what I hear you saying is that you are perfectly willing to confess someone else's sins, but not your own?”
A long silence followed. Finally, she said, “Have I told you about my grandchildren’s new puppy?”
Tonight’s worship service is not about exposing other people’s sins. It is about exposing your own sins. It is about you being willing to confess your sins to the Lord. Learn from the example from David.
The Holy Spirit inspired King David to write Psalm 51 after Pastor Nathan confronted him with his sins of adultery, murder, deception, and lack of repentance.
In Psalm 51, you don’t find David shifting blame to Bathsheba for bathing in the open. Nor does he downplay his sin by saying that others are doing the same thing. He knows that his sin is his fault. It was a sin against Bathsheba, with whom he had committed adultery. It was a sin against Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, whom he had brutally murdered. It was a sin against all the people he ruled, because he covered up his sin from their eyes. But, it was first and foremost a sin against God. It was a sin that came from deep down in his sinful heart. It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t an unhappy coincidence. It wasn’t bad luck. It was an expression of the corrupt nature which had been lurking inside of him from his conception.
David confesses: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
All too often we try to dismiss our sins in terms of mistakes we might make or slip-ups that cause problems or good things we sometimes fail to do. We get it wrong. David gets it right. Sin isn’t something we do. Sin is something that we are. It is part of us. It is in our DNA. It has corrupted us completely.
David uses word pictures for what comes from our corrupt nature. He calls it sin. Sin means missing the mark. God tells us to perfectly hit the bullseye every time. We’re shooting our arrows into the ground, off into the woods, not even close to the target. David calls it a transgression. Transgression is crossing the line. It is God telling us not to go somewhere and we decide to ignore His command and do what we want to do, go where we want to go. David calls it an iniquity. Iniquity is like a deep stain on our skin that we can never wash off on our own. It is part of who we are.
David wonderfully captures just how sinful we are. God expects holiness from us. We miss that mark of perfection with all the filthy words that pour from our mouths, the dirty thoughts that consume our minds, and the harmful actions we commit against ourselves and others. We know what God says is right and wrong, but we still move in with our boyfriend or girlfriend, we drink too much, we cheat on our homework, we stir up controversy on social media. We know all of that is out of bounds, but we just don’t care. We are guilty. And we lie around in this guilt, soaking in it like a hot bath. It fills every one of our pores.
In Psalm 51, David does not appeal to God’s justice, because in God’s justice, he would be dead and burning in hell. Instead, David appeals to God’s mercy, unfailing love, and great compassion. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion …” Martin Luther described God’s unfailing love as “goodness in action.” It is God’s unwavering devotion to the salvation of His people. This devotion finds its fulfillment not in our actions, not in our confession, not in our ashes – but in the cross of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Our great sins can only be removed by God’s greater forgiveness.
A few weeks ago, I used Psalm 51 in my WLS 6th grade catechism class. We examined the various word pictures the Holy Spirit uses to portray God’s gracious forgiveness for rotten, stinky sinners like us. I asked the students to draw pictures of this gracious forgiveness. Their pictures are going to help us understand what God does with our transgressions, iniquities and sins.
David prays: “Blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” The word translated “blot,” is the same word used to describe what God did with all the people and animals who did not get onto Noah’s ark (Genesis 7:23). They were blotted from the face of the earth. They were never seen or heard from again. That’s what God does with your transgressions and iniquities. He blots them out of existence. (Pic of pencil and eraser). They are erased once and for all time. Because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, your sins are gone. Jesus has blotted them out of His Father’s memory. Your sins will never be seen or heard from again.
“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.”
Iniquity has stained your body and soul with sin. (Pic of shower and soap). David prayed that God would cleanse him with hyssop. Hyssop was a plant with hairy branches that the priest used as a sort of sponge to apply the blood of the sacrificial lamb to the worshiper. We are showered in Christ’s blood. Though we like to bathe in our guilt, Christ washes us clean with His blood flowing from His cross over us and into us.
Christ washes us clean from our iniquity. (Pic of iniquity in bowl). We soak in His gracious forgiveness. It is a cleansing bath that washes us clean from another day of filth, grime, and sin.
He scrubs us clean in our baptismal waters. (Pic of scrubbing). At the baptismal font, Christ poured His water over our heads and into our souls. (Pic of car). Every time we come to worship to confess our deep guilt and hear the sweet words of absolution, Christ is once again pouring His baptismal waters over us. He scrubs us clean again.
Christ sprays us with forgiveness. (Pic of hoses). He washes us. Though we are filthy and grimy in our inborn and daily sins, still, we are made whiter than snow. This is complete and total forgiveness. “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” Because of his manifest sins – murder, adultery, and blasphemy – David’s worst fear was to be denied access to God’s tabernacle. He would not be allowed to enter God’s presence in the tabernacle.
Because of our manifest sins – worry, doubt, anger, gossip, spite, whatever – we do not deserve to be in God’s presence. We deserve to have God cast us from His presence. (Pic of casting). God does not permit sin to have dominion. That is why we come this evening, throughout Lent, and throughout our lives to God’s presence here before the altar. We confess our manifest sins in thoughts, words, actions, and nature. Then the Holy Spirit removes those sins from us. He places those sins on Jesus. Then Christ’s forgiveness has dominion. It is only because of Jesus that we can beg with David, “Do not cast me from your presence.” (Pic of casting).
David lived for a long time in unrepentant and, therefore, unforgiven sin. We, like David, too often live in unrepentant sin. Though it causes us heartache, difficulty, and depression, we can’t get out of it. It is part of our sinful heart. That’s why we pray with David that God would create a pure heart within us. (Pic of hospital). We need a heart transplant.
God gives us the opposite of what we naturally have. Our hearts crank out all sorts of evil. (Pic of hearts). Our hearts are by nature sinful and spiritually dead. Through Jesus, God forgives all our sins and by the power of His Word He creates pure hearts within us. (Pic of hearts). God gives hearts that are spiritually alive. New hearts that rejoice in the joy of our salvation. God washes us clean with water and the Holy Spirit. (Pic of hearts).
God does not ask us to try harder, or to be more sincere, or to be a bit more pious than other people. He demands a holy, pure, and new heart. God won’t accept anything less – only new will do. Thank God that is exactly what Jesus gives you. (Pic of Jesus purifying heart).
God’s love for David made him realize that he didn’t want to stay the way he was. If he stayed the way he was, he was going to hell.
It is the same with us. I’m sure there are people who can tell all kinds of stories about your sins. But the key is, are you willing to tell God about those sins? We can’t stay the way we are. Through Jesus, God makes us different than we were before. (Pic of before and after). This difference comes only through Jesus. His manger, cross, tomb, words, font, table, and Holy Spirit. Tell God your deepest, darkest sins. Then receive the blotting out of your transgressions, the washing of your iniquity, not being cast away from God’s presence, but the Holy Spirit creating a new heart within you. Rejoice in these pictures of forgiveness. Amen.