Sermon Manuscript – August 19, 2007

Christians love testimonies. I’ve seen many given in churches, at conferences, youth camps, and on the mission field. I’ve even given my own once or twice. Well, the Bible is full of testimonies. The Apostle Paul gives his conversion story a few times in Acts. The blind man healed by Christ said to the Pharisees, “What I do know is this: once I was blind, and now I see.” And there are many others.

Now, I’ve seen many testimonies go wrong, too. We like to be front and centre, to wrap glory around ourselves. And when giving a testimony, it’s often far too tempting to take the opportunity and make the story about us. Even stories of one’s sinful life in the past become a means of self-exaltation; I’ve heard people talk for 80 percent of the time about how bad they were, how much they did wrong, how lost their situation was, and then basically just tack on a bit about God loving them and saving them at the end.

So it’s nice to find something like this in the Bible, something to learn from and imitate. A Biblical testimony. A person’s one words about how God changed their life, how He set them straight, how He was faithful to them, and how they responded in praise.

This is a psalm of thanksgiving, composed for worship. Let’s try to picture what it must have been like the first time this message was preached, the first time this song was sung. Picture the Jewish tabernacle – a large tent, decorated with gold cords, bronze altars and tables for worship scattered about. There would have been many of the priests, dressed in flowing white robes and wearing colored tassels. These priests were scurrying around, preparing to lead a nervous, buzzing throng of worshipers in some kind of ceremony.

And then a big man steps forward. He’s probably in his forties or fifties, dressed in fancy purple robes. His face and arms carry scars from battle. But his hands carry no sword – instead, they carry a shepherd’s harp. This is David, king of the Hebrews, prophet of God, writer of our psalm. And he’s come to testify to God’s goodness, to share a song with his people.

And there’s a story here. We don’t know the details, but we do know this. David had sinned – he had become proud. David had become rich. He had gone from a fugitive on the run to a conquering hero, a lowly shepherd to a great king. He had slain lions and felled giants, conquered cities and crushed armies. He had taken his capital city of Jerusalem in a lighting raid, and now he ruled from that mighty mountain. Looking out over the valley below, from the towering, thick walls of that fortress, watching his tough, battle-hardened warriors doing their drills in the courtyard below, he must have felt pretty secure. Look to verse 6: as he watched the wagons of tribute from other lands trundling through the gates, as he saw the sacks of wheat and the stacks of weapons and the piles of gold being stored in his treasury, in his prosperity he pridefully said to himself, “I can never be moved.”

As if his own efforts had won those riches! Yes, David was a military genius. He was a great leader, a skilled tactician, a masterful politician. And yet – all those abilities, all those victories, all those blessings had been gifts from God. Grace – undeserved, unmerited favour from God. David had prospered not by his own hand, but because of the hand of God. And it was to God that the credit and the honour and the glory belonged.

But David, in his pride, patted himself on the back as if he had done it all. And as God has done so many times throughout history, he reminded David just who was in control. And it seems God did it in the most ironic way. David, the man who had killed lions, who had felled giants, who had seized mountain fortresses, who had put whole armies on the run, was himself struck down by germs, by foes so small he could never have seen them.

See, judging by our psalm, verses 2 and 3, he’s just recovered from some terrible disease. Illness was a very serious thing back in these times. The Bible tells us of different kinds of diseases, ranging from the dreaded skin condition called leprosy to mysterious plagues that killed thousands in a matter of days.

And what was called medicine in the ancient world was often more superstition than science. The Egyptians, for instance, could perform some complicated surgeries – for example, if you had pressure on the brain from a concussion, they could drill a hole in the skull to relieve it – but they mixed this knowledge with pointless pagan sacrifices and superstitious rituals for the gods. We don’t know what disease David had had. Maybe, like Hezekiah a couple hundred years later, it was boils. Maybe it was dysentery, which killed a lot of people back then. Maybe it was plague, or malaria, or food poisoning. Whatever it was, David had probably tried everything – olive oil, herbs, water, boiled figs, sacrifices, and so on. But the illness had still brought David down to Sheol – the realm of the dead. He had been on the verge of death.

But here he was, and he had come to praise the Lord. Inspired by the Spirit, he had written a song. A song to testify to God’s goodness, to give glory to the Lord, in the presence of the people. So first – let’s see how David testifies. How does he praise His God?

HOW DAVID PRAISED GOD

The whole psalm is enclosed, bracketed, by praise. We see it in verse 1, at the beginning, where he declares, “I will extol you, O Lord.” We see it again at the end in verse 12, where he proclaims, “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”

David begins and ends with praise. His worship, his adoration is like parentheses, like bookends holding a stack of books, his words of testimony, together. That’s a lesson right there. Worship’s not just something we do on Sunday morning, at the very beginning of the week. It’s supposed to start and end everything we do, guide our every action and thought! Everything we do, we are to do it to the glory of God! We were saved not for us, not for our sake, but for the sake of God’s glory and God’s name. Our whole lives are to be an offering of worship!

Notice, also, that David is speaking for himself here. “I will extol you.” “I will give thanks to you forever.” “My glory may sing your praise.” David’s worship is heartfelt, and personal. It is an expression of his personal, individual relationship with God. David will praise his God even if no one else will. His worship wasn’t dependent on anyone else.

And – he did it. He worshiped. He didn’t just sit there in the service like a spectator. Worship, to David, was something he was responsible to give, not just the priests and Levites. Praise and adoration wasn’t something he could subcontract out to the temple, or delegate to the clergy. As a believer in God, David took ownership of his duty to worship. He participated!

May we do the same! How long did I sit in churches, judging them by how they entertained me, looking for what I could get out of it! How shameful I was, going to watch the performance, sitting like a spectator while others did the work! May God forgive me. May he forgive us all, for we all fall short of the glory of God, we all fail to give Him the worship He deserves. Church is not a spectator sport! We must all lift Him up in praise!

But notice that, in verses 4 and 5, David changes direction. The rest of the psalm, he’s talking to God. But here – he addresses the crowds. He drops his face from the heavens, his hands fall from the skies to point to and embrace the worshipers, and he calls out to them. “Sing praises to the Lord, all you saints! Give thanks to his holy name!” All of you – praise the Lord!

See, David saw his testimony, his experience, as a blessing given to him, that he might bring others to worship. The reason David had come to the tabernacle, the reason he had come to share his testimony, was to see his people praise their God alongside him. True testimony doesn’t just point to God – it points others to God! Even David’s prayer to God in the psalm had this in mind. “Will the dust tell of your faithfulness,” David asks. Tell whom?? Whom shall the dust tell of God’s faithfulness? David is concerned that others hear of God’s greatness and mercy. David is concerned that others learn to worship God – not for their sake, though their lives depend on it, but so that God gets even more glory! That God may be exalted not just by David, but by others, too!

This is how David testifies. That’s a testimony of praise – that’s what it looks like.

Now. Let’s see why he had come to praise God.

GOD RESCUED HIM FROM DEATH

Verse 1 says that God has “drawn” David up. That Hebrew word was used to refer to drawing water from a well. What was David drawn up from? Verse 3 tells us: from Sheol, from the realm of the dead. Which is interesting, because the Old Testament often compares Sheol to a pit. A dirty, muddy hole deep in the earth.

Remember the story of Jeremiah? He was a messenger from God, and carried a rather unpopular message – saying God was going to destroy the kingdom and kill the people and send the children to exile and other not-so-pleasant things. Anyway, his preaching got him in trouble and he was tossed into a cistern – a deep hole used to store water. Jeremiah 38:6 tells us there was no water in the cistern – only mud – and Jeremiah sank in it.

That’s an Old Testament picture of death. A deep, dark, dirty pit so deep, with mud so sticky, that if you fall in it you can’t get out. You’re helpless. You can’t escape death – there’s no going back. And David, as his illness got worse and worse, must have felt like Jeremiah in that hole, sinking deeper and deeper in the mud, getting weaker and weaker from the struggle, all hope fading faster and faster, death coming closer and closer.

Left on his own, Jeremiah never would have gotten out – he would have drowned or suffocated or starved to death. But Jeremiah was saved – an Ethiopian servant dragged him out of the hole and rescued him from certain death. And just like that man, God had come to David in his hour of need and dragged him out of the pit of death. The Lord had come with healing in his wings, and snatched David out of the clutches of the sickness that threatened his life.

David came to praise the God who saves! That’s important. David knew that the only reason his physical life had been spared was because of God’s action – he never could have saved himself. David had to be drawn – dragged – out of the clutches of death by God himself.

And for us, as Christian believers, that should remind us of our own salvation. Jesus Christ, in John chapter 6, once used the same image to speak of God’s action in our own salvation, where he told the Jews, “No man can come to me unless he is drawn” – dragged! – “by the Father. And I will raise him on the last day.” Like with David, we were all mired in the pit of sin, with no hope of saving ourselves. And then the Father drew us – dragged us – out of the muck and gave us to Jesus Christ. We were, like David says in verse 3, restored to life from among those going down to the pit. He saved us, and that’s why we’re here today. Like David, we’re here to praise the God who saves!

David came to praise the God who rescued him from death.

That’s the first reason.

GOD ANSWERED HIS PRAYER

There’s another reason David came to praise the Lord that day. He had prayed to God for rescue. He had thrown himself before God and asked for healing.

And there’s a lot we can learn from David’s prayer. First, look at verses 2 and 12 – look how David addresses God. “O LORD my God,” he says. In the Hebrew, it reads Yahweh, my Elohim. This says something. Elohim is actually a plural word – it is sometimes translated “gods.” But when it is applied to a singular object – an undivided being like the God of the Bible – it adds weight and intensity to the title. The stress of the word Elohim is on majesty and power – and when this plural word represents a singular being it intensifies that meaning – it stresses awesome majesty, and unimaginable power. Elohim – the mighty and awesome God.

But David combines it with a much different word – the word Yahweh. See, Elohim is more of a title. It is descriptive. It says something about God, emphasizes his power, his glory. But Yahweh is not a title. It is a name. More than that, it is the personal, covenant name of God – the name he revealed to Moses at the burning bush, the private and special name God used, and uses, with His special, chosen people. This is a covenant name, which signifies the close, intimate, intense, loving relationship that God shares with that particular people that He has bound to himself by covenant. Using it is almost like being permitted to address a really important person by his first name – only far better. It’s a reminder of the close, personal relationship David shared with God.

And combined, it’s like saying, “You are my God, my awesome God.” Yahweh, my Elohim – it blends love and power. Tenderness and strength. Intimacy and majesty.

That’s Christian prayer – right here in the Old Testament! That’s because we Christians are the new Israel – we are God’s covenant people! God has bound us to Himself by the blood of Christ. He has made us His own and loved us, known us in a way unlike the rest of the world. We have a relationship with God – a family relationship, a close, special relationship – and it is in the context of that relationship, in the trust and intimacy of that covenant arrangement, that we can approach our Father in heaven. Like David, we pray in remembrance of the special relationship we enjoy with God, knowing we belong to God!

Second: verse 8 does not render the Hebrew very well. The English says “I cry”, and “I plead for mercy.” It sounds like David just did it, and it happened. Actually, in the Hebrew, it is more persistent, more long-lasting, than the English makes it sound. David didn’t just cry once; he cried out continually. He didn’t just plead one time – he did it persistently. David was like the widow Jesus described in the Gospels, who went before the judge again and again pleading for justice. And as with the widow, David’s persistence was rewarded. See, Christian prayer is to be heartfelt and sustained. When we continue to offer our prayers up to God, not giving up, not losing hope, even when it takes a long time, this shows faith and trust in God. David prayed persistently and continually. That’s how we, too, should pray.

And third, look at verse 9. What is David’s concern? Does he mention his own life or comfort or hopes that will disappear if he dies? No – he points out that he will be unable to praise God if he dies! David’s concern is not himself – it is the glory of God!

How often do we pray like that? Are we concerned enough with seeing God exalted in our prayers, or just in Him dealing with our issues? When we pray, it should be for things that give God praise! Our first concern in going before God with anything in prayer should be to see God exalted – to see God make even more of Himself in our lives!

David prayed to the glory of God. That’s the prayer that God answers. David was at that tabernacle to praise God – to say, “I cried out to my awesome God, and He heard my cry. I prayed, and He answered me. I praise Him, for He knows my voice and comes when I call!”

GOD RESTORED HIS JOY

But David is not just here to testify about God rescuing him or answering his prayers. God has done even more than that. We see it in verses 5, 11 and 12: God took David’s tears and replaced them with joy. He had changed his mourning into dancing, removed his sackcloth robes of grief and clothed him with gladness. Think about that! Not only has God restored him physically – but emotionally, and spiritually! God doesn’t just heal the body – he heals the soul!

God is concerned with the whole person. His goodness extends to every aspect of our lives. We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and God sustains us in heart, soul, mind, and body. David asked for deliverance from disease – God did even more than that! He restored David’s hope! He lifted up David’s soul along with his head!

Even when we recover from a terrible illness, or when a fearful crisis has come and gone, or when the physical damage of a catastrophe has been repaired, we all know that deep emotional and spiritual scars may remain. I’ve known soldiers who returned from war zones, men physically intact, safe and sound – in body, anyway – in a secure and peaceful country. And yet their joy, so to speak, was gone. Looking in their eyes, they seem decades older. What they had seen and experienced had damaged them, emotionally and spiritually.

See, God is in the business of healing His people. And not only does He promise to raise us in perfect, everlasting bodies on the last day, but He also promises to wipe every tear from our eye. And while the end is not yet here, we as God’s people have the privilege of asking for those things now. God still heals today – both the body and the soul.

And that’s why David praised God. This is David’s testimony to the people: God rescued him from death, God answered his prayer, and God restored his joy.

CONCLUSION

Why does David testify? Why is he calling others to worship? We’ve looked at it in some detail. But as we leave today, let’s boil it down to the central verse of the psalm – verse 5.

“FOR – his anger is but for a moment, and his favour is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

For – a very important little word. The crowds, the nations are called to praise, FOR – because – while weeping and suffering and calamity and disaster and punishment may remain for a while, God’s faithfulness is much, much greater.

David had sinned, and called down God’s judgment upon him. And God’s wrath is terrible. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, the Bible tells us. God was angry with David, because he sinned. And disaster fell on David as a result.

But not all disaster is a result of one’s own sin. David called all the people to rejoice – not because they had all been punished alongside him, not because they had all been sick, but because as human beings, as residents of a fallen and dangerous world, they all knew what it was to suffer. They all faced their times when God had turned, or seemed to turn, His face away, when the light of day that shines from his face suddenly faded, and a long night of pain and tears fell on them.

I’ve been there. Brothers, sisters, we’ve all been there. It’s a fact of life in a fallen world. Paul told the Philippian Christians that it had been granted to them not only that they believed, but that they would suffer for Christ. Suffering is part of this life, and it is an inescapable part of the Christian life, as well.

But unlike the world, we have hope! Our God is with us through the night! Even when we can’t see Him, He’s there and looking out for us. In the middle of the night, in the midst of the darkness, even as there is no end in sight to the pain and the tears, we as children of God have this hope: The joy is coming with the morning!

Night never lasts forever. It has its time, to be sure. Night always comes. As Ecclesiastes puts it, there is a time to laugh, and a time to cry. And when it comes, it remains for a while. Pain and suffering are rarely only a moment, in our perspective. They hang on for a while. Wars drag on for decades. Cancer can linger for a long time, and even come back after being defeated once. Grief at the loss of a loved one is a slow process that can take months, even years. These things hurt. They bring physical and emotional and spiritual pain, and the scars they leave may not be visible to doctors and nurses. But with God, these scars will fade. These nights shall pass.

Compared to the shining promise we have with Christ – eternal life, a perfect, pain-free, everlasting life of pure joy and wonder – no trouble here on earth can really be said to last for more than a moment. And God brings healing and joy even here, in this life, as His people call out to Him. David stands before the crowd and testifies, “My God heard my cry. My God healed me. My God gave me joy again. That’s my God – join me and praise Him!” We’re in that crowd. Some of you may be in the middle of that night that David talked about. Listen to him. Remember David’s testimony: weeping may last for the night – there’s a time for it. But joy is coming. Joy will come.

God gives joy to His people. Don’t forget that. And praise Him for it.

– Jeff Jones

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Sermon Manuscript – 12 August 2007

Our text today is Psalm 139. It is a psalm of David, like Psalm 51, the first psalm of our series. Unlike the last two, this psalm is not a lament. It is an outpouring of praise. And today, we are going to be looking at what David is praising God for. What moves David to sing? Why does he praise God? Let’s read.

GOD KNOWS HIS PEOPLE INTIMATELY

Let’s start at the beginning. David tells God that He has searched Him and known Him. If we look to the end of the psalm, David closes with the same words. In fact, the idea of knowledge – of God knowing us – just saturates this psalm. The knowledge of God – God knowing David, knowing His people – is, really, the theme of this psalm. So then – what does that mean? What does it mean to be known by God?

Well, God knows all things, including knowing everything about every person. The Bible is very clear that God has complete and comprehensive knowledge of all things, past, present, and future. Nothing escapes His notice; nothing confuses Him; nothing catches Him by surprise.

And yet the Bible records things that God says, that Jesus says, like this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ How can Jesus, God become flesh, the God who knows all things, say that he did not know someone? Because in the Bible, like with us, to know a person is to have relationship with them. It is to value them, to care for them. It is intense. It is personal. It is an action! When God knows someone, He is doing something!

One of the things I find most remarkable about my wife is her familiarity with our eleven-month-old son. He cries, and I just know he’s upset about something. She knows that he’s hungry. Or that he needs a bottle. Or that he needs his diaper changed, or that he’s tired, or lonely, or scared. I wish I could read him that well, and it never ceases to amaze me that she can! She knows him, even better than I do. She knows him well.

There’s a whole world of difference between knowing something and knowing someone. To know something means to have knowledge about it. But to know someone means far, far more than just knowing facts about that person. Take George Bush, for a moment. I know about him. I know who he is, where he’s from, who he’s related to, what jobs he held before becoming President, what things he’s done since coming into office, and so forth. I know many things about George Bush. But even with all that, I can’t say I know him. That would be a lie. Because if I say I know him, I’m claiming to have a relationship with him. I’m claiming to be personally acquainted with him.

Put another way: I’m glad my wife knows me! I’d be crushed if all she wanted to do was to know things about me, like my height and weight and interests and background and activities, but didn’t care to actually know me personally! It’s not her knowledge about me that makes our relationship special; it’s the fact and the way that she knows me that matters!

It’s the same way in the Bible – in fact, even more so. Knowledge is intense – it is intimate. When we say God knows a person, in this special and particular way, it’s the same as saying that he loves them. God’s knowledge is active, like his love is active, and indeed his knowledge in action, when directed toward a person, is love. To know a person is to know them intimately, to love them. It’s no coincidence that in Genesis 3, when the Bible says Adam knew his wife, a child was the result!

Knowing someone is far different than knowing something. And that’s what has David so amazed in our Psalm. David’s not just in awe that God knows things about him. He is overwhelmed at the intensity and the intimacy of that knowledge. He is in awe that God knows him! God knows all His ways, knows every word before he says it. God knows his rising and his lying down, his every thought and word and action. And, even more than that, this knowledge is not passive! It’s an active thing! God has searched him and known him! David’s thoughts have been discerned from afar – distance is no obstacle to God, who seeks out his every thought anyway! In the very section where David talks about God’s knowledge of himself, there’s all this talk of hemming him in, behind and before; this mention of laying a hand upon him. David hasn’t changed topics here. This is God’s knowledge! In action! God actively knows him, relates to him, loves him, to the extent of going before and behind him, like an army’s vanguard and rearguard. God lays a hand upon him – an image that, to a Hebrew, means to embrace and to guide a person, like a father’s strong, warm hand upon an infant’s shoulder as he learns to walk, keeping him safe and straight. God’s knowledge actively, lovingly surrounds him, guards him, guides him, protects him!

This is how the psalm begins, and this is what the psalm is all about. David is saying, crying out, “He KNOWS me!” He’s just reveling in it, exulting in God’s knowledge and love for him. And what a joy, what a privilege that is! And in this same, special, particular, intensive way, God loves all His own. He doesn’t know the wicked, the workers of lawlessness, as Jesus put it; but he knows his sheep. He knows His special people. God knows His people intimately.

GOD IS WITH HIS PEOPLE

Let’s move on to the next section. In verse seven David transitions from talking about the intensity of God’s knowledge – that is, how strong and special it is – and begins to marvel at the extent of that knowledge. That is, David rejoices in how high and how wide, how deep and how long, is the knowledge of God. Words we often ascribe to the love of God fit neatly with God’s knowledge of us, and that’s because, again, to be known by God is to be loved by Him.

Here David talks about our second point: God is with His people. Now, our modern idea of what a “God” is is not the same as what people tended to think back in David’s time. The nations and peoples who surrounded Israel, who even lived among them, believed in national or territorial gods. Gods like that were thought to exercise power and authority over a certain area of land, or over the activities of a certain people. The Biblical idea of one God who rules the entire earth, and everything and everyone in it, regardless of nationality or location or ethnicity or activity, was a strange and novel concept in David’s day. A God who was with his people wherever they went? This was unusual. And David gushes about this aspect of God.

Where can he run? Where can he hide? asks David. You are everywhere! If only Jonah had thought it through a little better! The Spirit of God is everywhere! In heaven – well, that’s where God is! What about Sheol? The realm of the dead? God is even there! David may not have known what we do about the next life, but he did know this: Death is no escape from his God! What about the wings of the morning – that is, the furthest stretches to the east? Or the uttermost parts of the sea – which, to David, was to the west, in the opposite direction – is this where escape is to be found? No! God reigns there too! If God is a God of light, maybe darkness? Maybe refuge can be sought in the shadows, like it could from the sun gods of the nations. But this, too, is fruitless. With God, darkness is as light – God sees everything clearly.

So how does this discussion of God’s universal rule, His omnipresence, relate to David’s theme of a God who knows His people intimately?

I joined the army at seventeen years old, and I did my basic training in a small town in rural Quebec. When I got off the bus and arrived in my quarters, put my bag on the bed, and realized that the long trip to get there was over – that I had finally arrived – guess how I felt? Guess how I felt, three thousand miles from home, surrounded by a language I could not comprehend, immersed in a culture I did not understand, separated from everything and everyone I thought I knew and understood?

I was scared. Terrified, really. I remember looking out that seventh-floor window over that landscape, and I reached for the only comfort I had. I prayed to God. “LORD! Help me! Don’t abandon me! Get me through this! Give me strength!”

There I was, far from home, from family, from friends, from everything I knew and understood, on the eve of one of the toughest times of my life, and in the depths of that fear I knew this: MY GOD IS STILL WITH ME. I can’t run from Him, even if I wanted to! But that also means that life can’t take me away from Him! Death, even, can’t rob me of Him!

See, God knows me! And this means that no distance or struggle or isolation I ever face on this earth should terrify me, because He is with me! To the believer, to the one whom God knows, his universal presence is hope. It is encouragement.

GOD CREATED HIS PEOPLE TO KNOW THEM

The next section is one of the most well-known passages of the Bible. David describes God’s action in creating life. Some of the most awe-inspiring language in the Bible can be found in this passage.

When Erin was pregnant, we went to get an ultrasound at twelve weeks. And because the doctors were worried about Caden’s health and whether we might lose him, we had the opportunity – what turned out to be a blessing – to receive several such ultrasounds. I saw him moving on that screen, listened to his little heart beating, watched it pulsing. We took home pictures of him taken by the ultrasound, and even then he was adorable – I have one of him grinning at the camera, where the orbital bones around the eyes and the tiny little teeth made him look like this otherworldy, alien creature.

I left each of those sessions just awestruck, overwhelmed with a sense of the power of God. Those tiny fingers, those miniature organs, those fluttery little movements were all being knit together in Erin’s womb – knit together by God, before our very eyes.

What a stunning display of God’s glory. It moved us to tears, and moved David to praise. But why here? Why, in the midst of a discussion of how God knew him?

David’s point in this section is not how God made him. It’s why He made him. And that’s where God’s knowing him comes in. In fact, perhaps the most important word in this entire psalm is that little word “For.” God, you knew me; God, you’re with me. FOR you formed my inward parts, knit me in my mother’s womb. God made David to know him. God’s knowledge of David before he was made, God’s intended relationship with David, God’s purpose for him and choice of him, were the reason for David’s creation. God personally knit David together, handcrafted all of his inward parts, tuned all of his bodily processes, so that David might serve Him and worship Him and love Him and know Him. And God had this purpose, this knowledge, long before David was born.

The Bible makes clear that God knows His people – that is, loves them, gives them a purpose, chooses them, sets them apart – before they are born. In a similar passage to ours, God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God parallels – compares – knowing Jeremiah with consecrating him (that is, setting him apart) and with appointing him a prophet. Speaking through the prophet Amos, God says to Israel that “You only have I known of all the families of the earth;” some Bible translations even put it “You only have I chosen.”

What David is saying here – and what God is saying to Jeremiah and through Amos – is that God chose him. That He resolved, before their lives began, to make something special of them and build a special relationship with them. This is a second aspect of knowledge – not only is it God’s intimate love, but it is God’s choice. David’s entire life – from being knit together in the womb on forward – has been guided and constructed by God according to this knowledge. So for God to “know” someone means not only to love them intimately, not only to have a deep relationship with them, not only to guide and protect them wherever they go. For God to know someone also means to choose them, to set them apart for a specific purpose.

The New Testament also uses “know” and “knowledge” in this sense of choosing and appointment and destiny. Peter says he is an apostle of Jesus Christ according to God’s “foreknowledge,” not that Peter just happened to make himself an apostle and God foresaw it, but that God chose him, set him apart, and prepared him for the task. The same concept is found in Romans 8:29, where Paul explains that it is those whom God “foreknew” who would be predestined, called, justified, and glorified. So David speaks for all of us who believe – we have been known from the womb, from before we ever lived. Known by God – that is, chosen by Him, loved by Him, set apart, appointed for His purpose, formed and created for His service.

And therefore, it’s no accident that David slides into talking about the days of his life, written in God’s book. Verse 16 describes these days as having been “formed” for David. A better translation might be “appointed” – God chooses each day of our lives and guides their events according to His plan. They were written in the Book of Life not simply because God passively observed what was going to happen and recorded it, as a mere witness, but because God knew David, had a purpose and a special regard for him, and wrote the story of his life before it ever came to pass. God’s knowledge of the days of our lives, like God’s knowledge of us ourselves, is no distant and passive thing; it is an active and involved knowledge, a loving and purposeful knowledge.

God made each and every one of us for a purpose – both believers and unbelievers. The wicked have their purpose too – as Proverbs put it, God made them for the day of trouble. That’s why it’s of the highest importance that if you do not believe in Jesus Christ, you must cry out to Him and ask Him to save you. But for those who believe in Jesus Christ, who are called by His name, this knowledge is a comfort. God made each and every one of us for this moment in history, to glorify God in this life, and He made us so that He would know us – that he would love us and have relationship with us as we journey the path that He already, in that very same relational, intentional knowledge, laid out for us to walk. We know God because he first knew us. God made David to know him. God made every one of His people to know Him.

OUR FIRST RESPONSE: WE VALUE GOD’S THOUGHTS

What an awesome God! What a gracious God, that not only does He know all things, but that He chose to know us! That it is not enough for God to sit back like a bystander and watch our lives unfold, but that He is right there beside us in everything we do and everywhere we go! That we were made not as some cosmic accident, but specifically and especially for God’s purpose, that He might love us and have a relationship with us! That our lives are not left to be the unfolding of a series of random or pointless events, but that God has already, before time even began, crafted each day of our lives and all the events of human history as carefully as He knit us together in our mother’s womb!

What can we say to all this? What is there to say? How do we respond to such an awesome truth?

The first thing we do is what David did. In verse 17, he marvels: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!” David realized what mattered most. What was most precious to him. He valued God’s thoughts.

Remember what kind of God has been presented here in Psalm 139. A God who is so overwhelmingly powerful, that he knows the secrets of the heart. A God so immense, that no place in heaven or earth, in life or in death, is a hiding place from Him. And yet this is a God who focuses all that power and might for the good of individual human beings. This is a God who creates human beings because he already loves them, and for the express purpose of knowing them in their lives.

If God has truly created us for a purpose, and that purpose is shown to us in the way He knows us – that is, in the way He chose us, set us apart, loves us intimately, and relates to us – then everything He says is precious. Everything He says is good for us. Everything He says can only make us know Him better and serve Him better.

God’s thoughts are precious. The only reason we know His thoughts at all, the only reason God went to the trouble of revealing His will to us through prophets and apostles, the only reason we have this precious Bible at all, is because God wanted us to have it. We would never have had them otherwise – David himself says that God’s knowledge is too high for him, that he would never attain it. God stooped down and revealed these things to us because he knew us – because He loves us intimately, because He chose us, because He has a purpose for us, because He intends to have a relationship with us.

Do you want to know God better? We have His thoughts right here! His commandments, that show us His expectations. His Gospel, which explains the way to be saved. This is precious. And they are vast – so much has been revealed to us here, that no human being could ever hope to fully understand all of it. And think of how much has not been revealed to us! We serve an awesome, awesome God.

How do we respond to the God who knows us? We value His thoughts. We value His Word.

OUR SECOND RESPONSE: WE MUST HATE SIN

What was David’s next response? Look at verse 19 and following. David suddenly, abruptly breaks into a prayer against the wicked. It’s very strong, very pungent – shocking, really. “Oh, that you would slay the wicked!” he cries. “I count them my enemies.. I hate them, Lord. I hate them with complete hatred.”

This seems so out of place in this psalm. Such majestic and beautiful language, such moving and powerful verse, and then – this. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, it seems, David switches from praise to condemnation. From hallelujah to hellfire.

It may seem shocking and out of place. But actually, it’s a vital part of David’s message here. It’s vital, because this is his second response to God’s knowing him. How does that work?

Remember, God knows David for a purpose. God loves him, chooses him, sets him apart, forms him from conception for an intimate relationship with Himself. And this is so important. When we truly know a person on an intimate level, when we love them intensely and value them and set them apart in our affections, we begin to value the things that are important to them.

David has come to know God, because God has known him. And he has come to measure everything and everyone else in light of and in comparison to that which he values most – God Himself. And when David sees the wicked, those who, in his words, speak wickedly against the Lord, and take His precious name in vain, he boils with rage. David knows what a beautiful and precious thing his relationship with God is, and the sight of others spitting in God’s face, mocking His perfect law, trampling on his justice, dishonoring and disrespecting His Lord – it fills David with wrath. Righteous indignation. A pure and holy contempt.

Yes, David’s words are strong. Hatred of God’s enemies – complete hatred – is hard to reconcile with the revelation we have received in Jesus Christ. We are to love our enemies, right? To forgive them, to pray for them? How, then, are we to look on language like this, on our side of the Cross?

First, let’s remember that David was calling on God to act. He wasn’t acting himself. He appealed to God to punish the wicked, to slay them. What David does is express his feelings and frustrations to God. He directs his own frustration and rage not at these wicked men, but toward God in prayer. In his anger – as righteous and justified as it was – he did not sin. Instead, he remembered that vengeance is the Lord’s. He left the punishment of the wicked where it belonged – in God’s hands.

Second, even in the New Testament we see prayers crying out for God to punish the wicked. The saints in Revelation, those who have been martyred and stand before God, call out to Him to act, to bring justice. As Christians, we still have the right and the duty to pray that God will punish the wicked and destroy evil. We pray for this all the time! Remember the Lord’s Prayer? THY KINGDOM COME! That’s not just a prayer for heaven, brothers and sisters! When that prayer is answered and Christ comes, it will be in judgment and millions of stubborn sinners will be going to hell.

And third. When we read something like this and something inside us recoils in horror, that’s not necessarily a good thing. One reason that David’s hatred of the wicked causes confusion and even disgust as we read it is because of a failure on our part. The problem, I fear to say it, is not that David overreacted. The problem is not that David took the problem of wickedness too seriously. I fear that the real problem is that, all too often, we don’t take it seriously enough.

Do we really hate sin? Do we really despise wickedness like David does here? Is sin and evil, and all its agents and manifestations here in this world, really our mortal enemy? Do we really understand that breaking God’s law and dishonouring Him through wickedness and immorality is something that we should HATE? Or does God’s holiness and worth and purity and honour mean so little to us that we would tolerate sin, turn a blind eye to the wicked? How often do we choose not to call a spade a spade, and label evil as evil, because it’s just more convenient for us to compromise?

David does not compromise here. He understands that he has been known by God, and that this is a precious thing. And that being known by God carries with it the obligation to look at sin the way God does. David understands that not only does he have to value the words and thoughts of God – he has to hate and despise and abhor wickedness. The second response to God’s knowing us, then, is this: we must hate sin.

OUR THIRD RESPONSE: WE SEEK TO BE MADE HOLY

But David’s hatred of sin is not an arrogant or prideful one. David is no hypocrite. Even as he cries to God to destroy the wicked, to punish sin and evil, he also calls for God to search him and know him, to find out if there is any sinful way in him. He calls on God to lead him in righteous paths. And that is our third response to God’s knowledge of us: We seek to be holy.

Remember – what God values most highly is holiness. Being set apart, totally untainted and unstained by sin. God desires that we act in a manner that reflects His glory. And so the same unrelenting hatred of sin and disgust at wickedness outside of us must also be turned inward.

God has known us! Remember what that means! He has loved us in an intimate and special way, like a husband’s love for his wife! He chose us and set us apart! Like a husband, by marriage, sets apart his wife for himself! What kind of wife repays her husband’s love – his knowledge of her – by flirting with other men, or destroying the things he values?

God’s love is not free. No, it was extremely costly. It cost Him the life of His beloved Son, who died to set us free from sin. When we remember this – when we think of what it cost our God to know us at all, instead of just sending us straight to hell, how can we tolerate sin in our own lives? How can we put up with evil and wickedness in our personal lives, in our character, in the way we speak and think of others?

David knew this. And so he cried out to God to make him right.

CONCLUSION

Our God is an awesome God. He is the God who knows – the God who not only knows all things, but deeply, intimately, intentionally, eternally knows his people!

Brothers and sisters in Christ! God has known us! Think of the privilege! The God of all eternity, the Creator of our vast universe, the Author of history, the Judge of the heavens and earth, chose to know us personally! He stepped down to our level in Jesus Christ. He died to clear the punishment we deserved for our sins. He chose us and set us apart, loved us intensely and intimately – all long before we were ever born! And in this knowledge, with this purpose, He knit us together in the womb, gave us to Jesus Christ, made us alive together with Him, and throughout our lives, as David says, He still searches us and knows us! God knows us!

How then shall we live? We must value God’s thoughts and words, for they tell us what matters to Him. We must hate sin and evil, for they would destroy what matters to Him. And we must seek to be holy.

How do we do this? Look how David did this. He started the psalm in the past tense – Lord, you have searched me and known me! David reminded himself of God’s love and activity in the past. Then he cried out to God in the present tense – Lord! Search me and know me! He didn’t take it for granted! He understood that the same grace that saves us is that grace which keeps us saved. He reminds us that not only did we only get to this point because of God’s provision and generosity, but we can only hope to go on in the faith that God will continue to provide us the protection that we need.

David cried out to God to make him holy. To keep him from evil. To lead him in good and righteous ways. That’s how we seek to be holy – by valuing God’s thoughts, by hating sin, and by asking for and relying on God’s faithfulness.

– Jeff

Sermon Manuscript – 29 July 2007

I love the Psalms. They express the heart of God’s people. all the joy, all the sorrow, all the rage, all the love, all the anger, all the frustration, all the hope of a walk with God in a fallen world is on full display.

The Psalms are in a class by themselves as Scripture. While being God’s inspired and perfect words for us, they are also the words of men to God. Moved by the holy spirit, real believers facing real trials and struggles poured their hearts out to God in song and prayer. And this has given us a priceless treasure – an inspired hymnbook, full of inspiration and wisdom.

What makes them so edifying to us, I think, is the sheer variety we see in the Psalms. There are songs of praise. There are songs of thanksgiving. Cries for help and cries of joy. Words of anger and words of comfort.

Our text today is a song of confession and lament. Psalm 51. It is a well-known passage, and expresses better than perhaps any other writing the response of a believing heart to one’s own sin and wickedness.

CONTEXT

It must have been a hot day. It was in the spring, when, as 2 Samuel 11 puts it,

“the kings go out to battle.” The beginning of the campaign season, when the rains have stopped and the roads can handle the heavy traffic that goes along with an army on the move. It was probably April or May, and in Jerusalem, that’s a warm time of year. Jerusalem is on a hilltop not far from the Mediterranean Sea, and not far from the desert, either. The climate would have been something like California.

And in an age without air conditioning, as Erin and I found out by experience last week, staying indoors is an ordeal to be avoided. I don’t blame David for going out on the roof, then. He was probably trying to get out of the stuffy halls of the palace and catch a nice breeze.

A twist of fate – well, in God’s world, there are no coincidences. Samuel tells us that Bathsheba was having a bath on the rooftop. And, as it happened, she was doing this at the same time David took his walk on the roof. By God’s plan, these two wound up on their rooftops at the same time. This was a test.

And think about who was being tested here. David was a man after God’s own heart. He was a firm believer in God, a faithful worshipper and servant. He was a prophet in his own right, who wrote dozens of Psalms we still read and sing today. Throughout the Bible, he is spoken of in glowing terms – a king held up as a model to be imitated, an example of living faith.

And yet David fails the test. He could have averted his eyes. He could have gone right back inside, found something else to busy himself. There was a war on, after all – maybe he could have gone over some of the messages from the front, or grabbed a horse and travelled up there himself.

The Bible reminds us that all sin is our own responsibility. God himself tempts no one, though he allows us to face temptation from others. And in every time of temptation, God ensures that we will face no more than we are able to bear. In fact, he gives us a way out. And like I said, David had a way out.

What a devastating fall. An astounding display of sin. We have lust. Covetousness. Adultery. Deception – trying to have Uriah think the child is his, remember? Betrayal. Murder. And so this psalm, even before we get into the text itself, has a vital lesson for us all in its historical context. David was one of the greatest heroes of the Bible, and he failed.Badly. His status as a prophet of God didn’t protect him. His character as a kind and generous man didn’t keep him safe. Within David’s heart was wickedness – the same evil nature that all of us still fight against in our daily walk. If David, of all people, could fall – despite his character, his knowledge, his wisdom, his grasp of the things of God – so could any of us. And not just into any sin – into adultery and murder. Some of the most shocking sins imaginable.

There’s our first lesson. If David could fall, so can we. If he were capable of such sin, so are we. Let us be warned.

Now, the psalm itself. As you read it, you can feel David’s anguish. He is a broken man. He has looked into his heart and examined his ways, and he is disgusted with himself.

There’s three things we can learn from Psalm 51 – three things that we need to hear and apply in our own lives. First, David has some important insights into his own sinfulness. Second, David cries out to God to change his heart. And third, the way David prays – how he approaches God and what he says – is a good example for us to follow.

WHY DAVID WAS PRAYING

First, David talks about his sin. His words about himself should not be taken as exaggeration or hyperbole. David has some valuable insights into sin that we need to recognize. Let’s start at verse 4:

“Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.”

That sounds a little odd, doesn’t it? Against God? God only?

Think for a moment. Just how many people did this sin affect? David was a married man, for starters. What about his wives? By this point, he had at least two – Michal, Saul’s daughter, Abigail, Nabal’s widow, and probably others. David surely sinned against them – breaking the covenant vows he had made to them to be their husband!

What about Uriah? Not only did David take his wife, he betrayed him, deceived him, and killed him.

How about Bathsheba? Whether she has some responsibility in this situation or not, the fact remains that David, like so many men today, looked on her and lusted after her. He treated her like a piece of meat, a means of pleasure. What about her?

What about David’s children? Their father – treating their mothers and his own family with such carelessness and disrespect?

The people of Israel? Their king has dishonoured himself and by extension the entire kingdom. How can David say that he had sinned against God alone?

Because all the people I just listed belong to God. A sin against them is fundamentally a sin against their Creator and Master.

Even more than that, though, is the nature of sin itself. Sin – what is it? It is a failure to meet the standard of God. It is missing the mark. Falling short of God’s expectations.

And so every sin is against God. He is the final Judge. The buck stops with Him. There is no court of appeal. Every single sin ever committed is ultimately and finally dealt with by God, and God alone. Every sin is ultimately and finally against God – and God will require an account for it. Don’t forget that.

That’s the first point about sin – it’s against God and God alone. We can’t blame God for it. There will be no room for excuses – even though God is sovereign, even though your actions are all a part of His plan, it is you who commits them. It is you who forms the desire in your heart – not God. It is you who gives in to temptation – not God pushing you into it. Like David said, “you are justified when you speak, and blameless when you judge.” Our sin is our own, and God will have nothing to do with it. His judgment is just.

Let’s read on: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Is this exaggeration? David elsewhere speaks very highly of his mother. He was the youngest in his family – his mother and father were married. There was no sin in the way he was concieved.

What David is saying, then, is this. He was sinful from birth. This isn’t poetic exaggeration. Human beings are sinful by their very nature. Erin and I saw a little girl of only two or three years old on Friday, ripping a toy out of Caden’s hands at the photographer’s, screaming “No! It’s mine!!” Caden will have fits of rage if you try to take a remote control or set of keys out of his hands.

Sin is not a learned behavior, like talking or potty training. It’s innate and natural, like eating and breathing. We are not sinful because we sin – rather, we sin because we are sinful. The reason every single human being sins and is guilty in God’s eyes, no matter what culture they live in or life situation or upbringing they come from, is because their sinfulness is part of their very nature. Yes, from birth – from conception. And while a very young child, especially in the womb, may not be physically able to commit acts of sin, and while their actions may not be willfully sinful, their basic inclinations are still sinful. Their nature is sinful.

This is an uncomfortable teaching, because it feels wrong. Babies are cute – I know! I know it well! They’re beautiful. But they are also corrupt – born into spiritual slavery. Stillborn with respect to spiritual things. Children don’t grow up naturally generous and giving – these things have to be modeled and taught and enforced. They have to overcome a naturally selfish nature.

And it’s important for us to realize this – vital that we get this. If you don’t get sin right, you can’t get the Gospel right. And if you don’t get the Gospel right, there can be no salvation.

Listen – Jesus didn’t come to maximize some kind of natural human potential, like so many today believe. That’s a false gospel – it’s a lie. The only natural potential in mankind is toward greater and greater evil. No, Jesus came to SAVE us. From what? From sin – from OURSELVES! From what we bring upon ourselves – the punishment and wrath of an outraged and offended God.

That’s the second point about sin – sin is natural to human beings.

And sin must be dealt with. David cries out for God to purge him with hyssop. To purify him with hyssop. What does this mean? In ancient Israel, the Law of Moses prescribed certain rituals be performed for certain problems. David is referring to one of these – the rite of purification for leprosy. He’s comparing sin to leprosy.

In our age, a simple medication can stop the disease (though reversing its effects is a lot harder). In ancient Israel, if a person had recovered from leprosy, the victim was to go to the priest, who would perform this ritual, which I am reading from Leviticus 14: 2-7.

So not only does David compare his sin to leprosy, but he compares the purification from sin to that from leprosy. There’s a lot in common. An animal is sacrificed – a bird is killed – just as Christ had to die as punishment for our sins. The bird’s blood is sprinkled on the leper, just as Christ’s blood washes us clean. The ritual takes place over running water, a Biblical symbol of the water of life that flows from Christ in the form of His Holy Spirit.

David is crying for God to purify Him, to remove the guilt and the stain of his sin. That’s the third point about sin – it must be removed and cleansed by blood. This is what the Father did for us, sending His Son to shed His blood for our sin.

WHAT DAVID WAS PRAYING FOR

But not only must salvation be purchased by Christ on the cross – it has to be applied to the individual believer in his own life. The ritual we just talked about didn’t end with the death of the bird – its blood had to be sprinkled on the leper, applied to the leper. The work of Christ is followed by the work of the Spirit. It’s not enough that sin be paid for – the whole purpose of salvation is not just to rescue sinners from hell, but to restore them to the service of God’s glory.
David realized this. He dredged the depths of his own heart and brought up filth and evil. He was shocked and appalled at what he turned out to be capable of. Horrified and guilt-stricken, he turned to God in prayer, and asked – asked for what?

For help in doing better? No.
For better luck next time? No.

No, David recognized the root of the problem. He saw the source of the evil in his life in his lyin’, cheatin’ heart. He didn’t adopt the twenty-first century attitude – that given the right conditions, the right encouragement, and enough self-esteem, that the good in him would triumph. David knew that there was no good in the heart of man, except for God’s grace.

And so he prayed for the only thing that would help – he prayed for a clean heart.

What I want to draw your attention to is the parallel between his appeal for a clean heart in verses 10-12, and his description of the heart the God desires in verse 17. There, David rules out the idea that sacrifices and rituals can cover sin or cause God to accept a sinner. What kind of sacrifice will God accept? A broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, he says.

Is he talking about two different things? Is he saying that he is approaching God with a broken and contrite heart, so that God will give him a clean heart? Well, David is certainly broken. He’s contrite – that means repentant and ashamed. But I don’t think these are two different things. David is ashamed and disgusted by the state of his heart right now – otherwise, he wouldn’t be asking for a clean one!

No, David is confessing that what God requires – a broken and contrite heart – is something he does not have. How horrible he must have felt here! Not only has his own heart, his own nature, betrayed him and thrown him into the depths of sin – he’s also realized that, as guilty and broken as he feels about that sin, it’s still only the guilt and shame and sorrow of a sinful and wicked heart. It’s not enough! A broken and contrite heart God will not despise – but my heart isn’t that! My heart led me into sin! My shame and my guilt are not enough!

As Paul said, “Who will deliver me from this body of sin and death?”

That’s why he cries out for mercy at the very beginning – he can’t earn God’s favor. All he can do is plead for God’s grace, in hopes that God will Himself make David acceptable in His eyes. That’s the essence of Christian salvation – and it’s the essence of the Christian life after the point of salvation, too. David recognizes that a willing spirit, one that desires to follow God, one that would be acceptable to God, is something only God can give him – “uphold me with a willing spirit.”

And there is hope. Yes, David knows his heart is unacceptable. But he is broken nonetheless. Not broken enough, maybe, not nearly as remorseful as he knows he should be. But there is shame and remorse, brokenness and guilt. These are signs that God is already beginning the process of reconciliation. If it is true that it is not I that does these things, but God working in me, that applies to guilt and shame as well.

Every one of us has screwed up, time and again. And when we do, it has consequences. We begin to doubt our own salvation – David says here, “Cast me not away… Take not your Holy Spirit.” When we fall into sin, God often will pull back from us a little, cause us to doubt and to search for Him again. God wants us in a position where we realize constantly that we need His grace to go on – that we simply can’t do it on our own.

There are Christians who believe that a sinless life is possible on this side of death. There is much truth in what they are saying – we all have the Holy Spirit, and God always gives us a way out. Sin is something that as believers we have power over – we don’t have to sin. But the Bible is quite clear that even Christians will continue to struggle with sin until death. The Apostle John wrote that “if anyone says he has no sin, he is a liar and the truth is not in him.”

This is not an excuse for accepting sin as inevitable, though. Rather, we should look at that truth as a motivation to keep crying out to God, as David did, that He might give us clean hearts, that he might uphold us with a willing spirit. We must never grow complacent – we must always be stretching our arms out to God and pleading with Him for grace.

That’s the second message this passage has for us. We need God to create in us clean hearts. We need Him to uphold us with a willing spirit – to keep us on the straight and narrow by His strength. We can’t do it on our own!

HOW DAVID PRAYED FOR IT

Finally, we could all use a reminder of how God is to be approached after sin. Psalm 51 is possibly the best advice anyone could offer to a Christian grappling with his relationship with God after sin. Is anyone struggling with their walk with God? Does anyone lack joy and wish for God to restore it unto them? If anyone here has sinned and wishes to restore their fellowship with God, this passage is for you. How does a Christian who has drifted from God restore that relationship? What should we ask for? Let’s walk through the psalm and point out a few valuable lessons.

First, notice how David begins his prayer. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness.” This is the Biblical sinner’s prayer – a heartfelt cry for mercy. We think of Jesus’ parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee in the synagogue, where the tax collector prays by saying, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

David pleads for mercy because he knows he deserves punishment. It’s an act of humility. We would do well to remember that in our own prayers. Every breath we take is a gift from God’s hand, and when we sin, the only hope we have is God’s mercy. A humble reliance on that mercy is what we call faith. So that’s the first practical point – beg God for mercy. He is merciful and compassionate!

Next, he confesses his sinfulness. Not only does he confess the specific sin – he mentions bloodguiltiness in verse 14 – but he confesses and takes responsibility for his sinful condition. For his sinful nature. That nature belongs to all of us. It’s ours. And it is our responsibility to deal with it, in the power God provides. Confessing our sins and our sinfulness humbles us before God, because it reminds us that He is pure and perfect and that we do not meet that standard – that we need His help. That’s the second step – confess your sins!

Third, he asks to be purified – to be washed clean. For the Christian, forgiveness of sins is not enough. No – it’s not enough! Not only do we need forgiveness from sin, but we need freedom from it. Whenever the Bible talks about freedom, it means freedom from evil and sin. God has saved us for a purpose – to raise up a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works! Mere forgiveness would get us out of hell, but it won’t enable us to serve God or to live a life that glorifies him. Forgiveness from sin is one thing – cleansing from it and the power to resist it are another. We need both, and we need to constantly ask God for both. We need to ask God to purify us from our sins.

Fourth, he does not complain about the consequences of his sin. David paid dearly for his sin. On top of losing a friend and a solid warrior in Uriah, he was publicly humiliated by the prophet Nathan. Worst of all, his infant son died after only seven days, just as God had promised. David paid dearly for his sin. Did he object? Not in the least. He admitted that God was righteous in his judgment in verse 4. God was in the right, he said. Even more, in verse 8 he asked God that the bones that had been broken would rejoice – in other words, that David might be given strength and wisdom to rejoice in the discipline he had received! When God sends consequences our way, we drop to our knees, we confess that God is right in His judgment, and ask that we may come to accept and rejoice in the discipline that points us back to Him. We don’t complain – we rejoice in God’s discipline.

We’ve already looked at David’s request for a clean heart – one not only free from sin, but one that is as broken and contrite as God requires. Why does David ask this? For himself? Actually, no. The reason David gives for his prayers and requests is not self-centred. It’s God-centred. We would do well to pay attention here. Why does David ask for a clean heart, for a renewed spirit? Verse 13 – then I will teach sinners your ways, and they will be converted to you.” Verse 14 and 15 – that I might declare your righteousness and sing your praise. Why is David asking for a clean heart? That through him, God may be glorified! Do you want to teach sinners God’s ways? Do you want to see unbelievers come to faith? Do you want your praise and worship to be meaningful and edifying? You need a clean heart and a right spirit. Cry out to God for it! Ask Him for it for His sake, not yours! Pray in His name – not yours! Even a prayer for restoration and forgiveness like this is done for God’s glory – like everything should be!

And finally, look to verse 18. David prays for Zion – that’s Jerusalem – that God might be good to them. David did not forget what we all to often fail to remember, and that’s this: Our sin has consequences not just for us, but for others as well. Our sin affects not just our own spiritual selves, but the spiritual walks of those around us. When our foolishness and selfishness brings calamity down, it often causes collateral damage. God warned His people that the punishment for sin would follow them down to the third and fourth generation. Don’t ever forget this, especially within the context of the church, and those who have wives and husbands and children. When we approach God to ask for forgiveness and restoration, we cannot forget those who have been affected by our sin.

CONCLUSION

We stumble and we fall. As long as we have sin in our hearts, as long as we live in this fallen world, we will struggle with temptation and sin, and sometimes we may lose the fight. And when that happens, our relationship with our Heavenly Father suffers. God grows more distant as the Holy Spirit is grieved. Psalm 51 teaches us that restoration and reconciliation are necessary – and that, for the one who cries for mercy out of faith in God, it is a sure hope.

Sitting here this morning, it might be you who has sinned and needs that restoration. Or you may be like the city of Zion, whose pain and suffering David also prayed for. Maybe you’re one of those harmed by the selfishness and thoughtlessness of another. And that sin committed by another has you struggling with your own relationship with God. You have the same hope! The same God who not only waits to hear your prayer, but moves to make your prayer possible in the first place! Who begins the process of healing and restoration before you even think to ask – for how could we ask at all, without the grace of God working through us? Perhaps you do not have because you do not ask. With God, all things are possible. Cry out to Him!

Don’t ever despair. David saw the worst of what man can do, and it came straight from the depths of his own heart. But God, who is faithful – remember, it depends on God – drew him out of the depths and restored him. If David could be restored after such a fall, then nothing you have done is beyond the healing power of God. Cry out to him! Cry for mercy!

– Jeff Jones