God's Mercy is Bigger Than Our Sin
A sermon based on Psalm 6
Sunday, February 17, 2013 – Lent 1C
I remember as a kid getting pretty sick. My dad, brother and I were out fishing when the two of them got sick first. I thought they were just sea sick until we got home that night and I fell ill too. It was worse than just throwing up, which seemed non-stop. We were fevered, tired, and the worst part was the horrible stomach cramps that seemed to shoot through your whole body. After my mom got the virus from us, though I think she must have been exaggerating, she said the stomach cramps were far worse than giving birth.
Ever been that sick? It drains you. It saps you of every bit of strength you have and leaves you helpless. If you have, you know how King David felt. King David felt sick with his sin. He felt so guilty in fact, that it began to destroy his physical health. He was aching to the core—to his very bones. He couldn't sleep at night, his sins terrified him so much. He drenched his bed in tears and tossed and turned all night.
Psalm 6, our sermon text for this morning, is one of the seven penitential Psalms in the Christian tradition and has been called the Little Book of Job. Because, though we don't know the particular circumstances David faced when he wrote this Psalm, we do know that like Job, he suffered a great deal—he was physically and emotionally hurting, forsaken by his friends, and worst of all spiritually hurting and near despair because of the guilt he felt. But like Job, David's story in Psalm 6 has a happy ending. It ends in rejoicing in God's great mercy that was bigger than David's sin.
And though at times we too suffer physical, emotional and even spiritual pain, in the end we too rejoice because we know that God's mercy is bigger than our sin. In mercy he leads us to repent of our sins, just as he did for David. And in mercy he leads us to rejoice in the end for the salvation and comfort he brings. Listen now to Psalm 6 as King David describes his great suffering and God's even greater mercy which led him to rejoice…
1 O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. 2 Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. 3 My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? 4 Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. 5 No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave? 6 I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. 7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.
I. In Mercy He Leads Us To Repent
We don't know the circumstances of David's life that led him to write this Psalm. It could have been when he fled from Saul who was hunting him down to kill him. It could have been after his adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent confrontation by the prophet, Nathan. It could have been when his son, Absolom, rebelled against him and tried to take his throne. Or it could have been other some other low point in David's life. But boy was it a low point!
David was hurting physically, emotionally, and worst of all, spiritually. He knew that he had sinned against God and he was terrified. His soul was in anguish. The great king who once faced Goliath himself without a shred of fear, this well-seasoned warrior who had gone from battle to battle without flinching, now melted away in fear and terror before a righteous God.
Why? Because he knew his sin and felt a huge burden of guilt for it. One author wrote of these verses, "The greatest anxiety of all comes from the realization that we have sinned. All other anxieties pale by comparison. One would gladly exchange its pain for anything else, even physical pain. It is the anxiety of hell itself." That's what David was feeling.
And this extreme guilt he felt for his sin, whether for a specific sin, or just for his sinful condition in general, caused his body to ache it was so intense. When I was experiencing those stomach cramps it was near impossible for me to be in a good mood. Likewise, enduring such guilt and agony over his sins, it was near impossible for David to have good health. Torture of the soul and agony of the body often react to each other.
David, said, "my bones are in agony." He was hurting to the core, cut to the bone by his guilty conscience. He said, "I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears." Or as we might say, "I'm drowning in my sorrows." He said, "My eyes grow weak with sorrow…" Or again, "I cry my eyes out."
Have you ever had a migraine headache? I never have. But I've been told they make you miserable and rob you of all joy with the unrelenting pain. Similarly, I've been told that rheumatoid arthritis is an excruciating fire in your joints that doesn't seem to ever cease or let up. What David suffered in his guilt was far worse. "My soul is in anguish," he said. And in frustration, close to despair, cried out, "How long, O Lord, how long?"
Why would God allow someone to suffer like this? Why would God allow such misery and pain? Well, we don't always know the specifics to say, "Here's why David suffered…" But we do know that the answer to the question "why?" is always "out of love." In love, God allowed David's physical and emotional suffering to bring him to repentance. In love, God let David feel that crushing guilt.
If there had been no consequences to his sins, no pain that he felt, no suffering, David might have never repented of his sins. He might have never seen his great need for a Savior. He might have died in his sins only to go to Sheol, to hell, where he could never remember God or sing his praise ever again. But because the sin that once seemed so enticing and promised happiness now brought about pain and agony, David recognized his sin and took it seriously. As David admitted in verse one, God was chastising or disciplining David for his sin.
And because of God's discipline, even though David was terrified by what he knew he deserved for that sin—namely, God's rebuke in his anger, God's discipline in wrath—he could confess his sin. And he knew where to turn in his great suffering. He turned to God in prayer to relieve him of his guilt…
David prayed, "O, Lord, not in your anger rebuke me, not in your wrath discipline me…" "Be merciful to me, Lord…" and in verse four, "Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love." David recognized that only God could relieve his pain. Only he could soothe his aching soul. David made no appeals to his faith or how faithful or virtuous he'd been toward God, he didn't try to argue why he deserved better, but instead begged God to overlook what he deserved. He appealed to the one thing that would cause God to act and remove David's guilt and pain: God's great mercy. "Save me," he said, "because of your unfailing love."
Friends, do you shake in terror at your sin? Do you ache all over unable to sleep at night because guilt over what you've done keeps you up at night? That unkind word you spoke to a co-worker? The harsh way you dealt with your spouse? The images you paused to view on the computer? The Bible you left sit on the shelf all week?
Are you terrified by what you've done? That terror over sin is experienced by few—the devil sees to that. But if you've never felt this crushing guilt over your sin, look once at what your sins deserve. None of us deserve the blessings God gives us day after day. None of us deserve to have the health that we have, even if you are sick. None of us deserve to be free from the most excruciating pain at any moment. What you and I justly deserve is to be tortured in body and soul for all of eternity in hell for all of our sins both big and small.
But God's mercy is too great to leave us to that fate. So in his great mercy he sends pain into our lives to lead us to recognize our sin and repent. He disciplines us for our sins, so we cry out to him and beg, "O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Be merciful to me, Lord…Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love." When our pain becomes great enough, we finally turn to God. It's like the man who cried out, "God, enough is enough! I can't deal with my problems on my own anymore." And God said, "Finally you're ready to turn to me!" When we can longer appeal to our strength or our skill or cleverness, when we no longer appeal to our faithfulness or merits before God, but simply rely on his great mercy, God will grant relief and will lead us to rejoice.
II. In Mercy He Leads Us to Rejoice (8-10)
Listen to how quickly David changes his tune: In verses six and seven he says, "I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes." But then in verse 8 the tone of David's song lyrics do a one-eighty: 8 Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. 9 The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. 10 All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace."
I can't help but think the melody of David's song suddenly got much less dreary and much more exciting and upbeat. But what caused David to change his tune so drastically? It was God's great mercy. Satan wanted to rob David of all comfort, to lead him to despair thinking, "God can never forgive me for what I've done. He will never deliver me from my suffering. I'm abandoned. All is lost." Satan wanted David to go to hell where he couldn't praise God ever again, but would join Satan in cursing God forever. But God again demonstrated that his mercy was far greater than David's sin.
Not only did God in his grace lead David to repent of his sins, but in his mercy he heard David's cry for forgiveness, accepted his prayer and forgave his every sin through Christ. So David could say, "Get away from me Satan! You would have me curse God and die, but by God's great grace, I will live and will bless God's name proclaiming the great things he has done."
And what comfort David had! His enemies would turn and flee in disgrace since his appeals to God's mercy calmed that raging storm of despair and fear that David once faced. Though moments ago David was weeping uncontrollably giving up all as lost, in his great mercy, God removed every one of David's sins and turned his sorrow into joy, causing David to rejoice.
And we can be confident that God will do the same for us. If you're feeling that crushing weight of guilt pressing down on you, if you inwardly weep over your sins in remorse for what we've done, whether some specific sin or over our sinful condition in general, then dear friend, take heart. God promises to hear your weeping and your cry of mercy. He promises in Psalm 50(:15), "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." He promises that once he's awakened contrition in our hearts and we cry out for forgiveness he will grant it.
In our Savior we have complete healing of every sin. Because he suffered that spiritual agony for us on the cross when he was forsaken by God we don't need to despair. We won't ever be forsaken. He has turned back Satan in shame and dismay. Death itself turns back in sudden disgrace. And with our sins forgiven, God accepts our every prayer and promises relief from our suffering—if not in this life, in the life to come. God's great mercy calms the raging storm of our fear and causes us to rejoice.
So as we pray this prayer of Psalm 6, we give glory to God for his great grace which is so much bigger than all of our sins. For in his mercy he leads us to repent, and in his mercy he leads us to rejoice in the forgiveness that he gives. Trust in his unfailing love even in the midst of the bitterest suffering. For one day soon he will cause you to rejoice forever in heaven surrounded by God's great love. Amen.