God's Gift of Forgiveness
What Do You Have to Say for Yourself?!
A sermon based on Psalm 51:1-9
Sunday, March 10, 2013 – Lent 4C
The little boy stood in the hallway with a marker in his hands. The ink was not just all over his hands, but all over the walls. And as dad came down the hallway, he quickly dropped the marker and shoved his hands in his pockets. But it was too late to hide what he had done. Dad saw. His guilt was impossible to hide. And with a stern voice, dad demanded, "What do you have to say for yourself?"
Fast forward a few years. The same little boy came running into the house. He went to grab the baseball he had just overthrown through the kitchen window. But dad was standing over it. And with a stern voice, dad demanded, "What do you have to say for yourself?"
Fast forward a few more years. The young man opened the door as slowly as he could, hoping it wouldn't creak and give him away. He was several hours past curfew. But dad was still up and turned on the light as he stepped through the door. And with a stern voice, dad demanded, "What do you have to say for yourself?"
A good father confronts his children when they've broken the rules so that when they're all grown up they'll never have to hear the judge, the jailer, or the executioner ask, "What do you have to say for yourself?" And God our Father is a good father. He knows our sins and in love he confronts us asking, "What do you have to say for yourself?"
When he confronted King David with that question David answered, "I'm guilty." And by God's grace and mercy, he could also say for himself, "I'm forgiven." That's what he had to say for himself. As we listen to the first half of Psalm 51, a psalm that King David wrote when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, we're reminded that we too must answer that question, "What do you have to say for yourself?" with "I'm guilty." But thank God that we can also answer, "I'm forgiven." Psalm 51:1-9...
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 that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teachme wisdom in the inmost 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.
I. I'm Guilty
An elderly man once asked his grandson, "Do you know what the hardest word to say in the English language is?" His grandson guessed "antidisestablishmentarianism?" then "supercalifragelisticexpialidocious?" But grandpa replied, "No. It's 'wrong.'" Experience had taught him how difficult it was to say, "I am wrong. I was wrong to do what I did," and he wanted to teach his grandson how important it was to learn how to say those words.
You remember how difficult it was for King David to say those words. After sleeping with another man's wife, he thought he covered up his sin by offing the guy. He felt no need to say, "I was wrong," or, "I'm guilty," because he figured no one knew what he'd done. But God knew. And with no remorse for his sin, David remained unforgiven. If left on his own, he would have ended up in hell. So God in his love sent the prophet, Nathan, to confront him and ask, "What do you have to say for yourself?!"
And by God's grace, David was brought to repentance. This Psalm shows his sorrow over his sin. Notice how he piled up the words for his guilt. First, he talked about his sin. That word means to "miss the target." A "Whoops!" But what he did was no accident. It was deliberate. So he talked about his iniquity. Literally that's perversion, like bending a paper clip so out of shape you can't bend it back no matter what. He talked about his transgressions or his trespasses. This was his willful rebellion when he knew better. God drew a line and said, "Do not cross. Tresspassers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." And he stepped accross anyway. And though it's not a part of our text for this morning, in verse 14 he prayed, "Save me from bloodguilt," recognizing that what he'd done should have cost him his blood—his very life. David finally admitted, "I'm guilty."
Friends, if we're honest, we must admit the same. You and I have missed the target of God's law. He says to love others, not just when we feel like it, but all the time. Whoops. We miss. We pervert God's will and twist and distort his words to suit our evil desires. We deliberately cross the line that God says, "Do not cross," and deserve to be prosecuted to the full extent of the Law! And we're sinful not just by what we do, but by the very nature of who we are. We too must confess, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Born to sinful parents, we were born with the terminal illness of sin. And that disease ran deep. You see, God doesn't just want people who look nice on the outside as they cover up their sinful thoughts and plans. No! "[He] desire[s] truth in the inner parts!"—literally, in the hidden parts, where no one can see, in your thoughts, in your attitudes, in your soul!
Even if you can hide your sin from others and look good and upright on the outside, you can't hide your sins from God. He knows what you've done. Maybe you haven't physically hurt another person, but have you hurt their reputation by talking behind their backs? Maybe you haven't slept with someone you're not married to, but have you had an impure thought you let linger? And if you think that sin is no big deal because your thoughts don't hurt anyone, think again! Parents, would you want someone thinking those things about your son or daughter? Neither does God want people thinking such things about his sons and daughters. God knows all that you think, say and do and by your sinful thoughts, your perverted words, and your rebellious actions, you hurt him and you stain your soul.
I have a weakness for General Tso's chicken. When I lived in Raleigh, I'd order it for delivery all the time. I loved it so much that one evening right after the delivery guy dropped it off, I was so excited to take it to the table and dig in, I didn't even see the glass of red wine sitting on the coffee table. The food knocked into the glass and down it went all over our light beige carpet. I tried to blot the stain. I emptied a can of carpet cleaner on it. I had the carpet shampooed. And though it looked like it was almost gone, once we started walking on it again, the stain in the pad beneath the carpet came to the surface again. You see it was in the inner parts where I couldn't clean. I could only throw a rug over it.
Well, the throw rug doesn't work with God. We can't hide our sin. We can't clean it out, We have more than a surface character flaw or a few mistakes. We are guilty of rebellion, perversion, and wickedness and are stained to the soul! We have blood guilt and deserve to die for our sins, now on earth and forever in hell.
So what's the solution? Try harder? Clean up our act? It won't work. It might clean the surface, but not the soul beneath. There is nothing we can do. There's no soap or bleach we can buy to clean our souls. When God's Law demands, "What do you have to say for yourself?" we must admit, "I'm guilty. I need help." In fact, that's what you did just say a few minutes ago when you said, "I am altogether sinful from birth. In countless ways I have sinned against you and do not deserve to be called your child." (CW pg. 38)
But thankfully, even though there's nothing we can do about our sin, we, like King David have somewhere to turn...
II. I'm Forgiven
When David was confronted in his sin and finally admitted he had a problem, he did the only thing one can do in such a situation. He turned to God who alone could and would take that sin away. And so after he said, "I am guilty," he could also answer the question, "What do you have to say for yourself?" with the joyous answer, "I am forgiven!"
Notice the cleaning words David piled up. He almost makes God sound like a janitor with all the cleaning that he's doing. First, he prays, "blot out my transgressions." Now this isn't quite like my trying to blot out the wine from my carpet. The word was used in erasing a word from a document by rubbing the leather so hard that the top layer would be removed. It was gone. Next David prayed, "wash away all my iniquity." This is the word for washing clothes with a washboard, beating the clothes against a board until the dirt was gone. Next he prayed, "cleanse me from my sin." Purify or refine me. It's the word used for burning away other materials from iron or gold to make them pure.
But did you notice all these words have a bit of violence to them? Rub the leather hard. Thrash the clothes against the board. Burn away the impurities. So is that how God makes us clean of our sins, through punishment?
Well, yes and no. David based his plea for forgiveness on God's mercy, his unfailing love, and his great compassion. God doesn't want to punish any of us for our sins. Yet, sin cannot be forgiven unless it is blotted out, scrubbed away, and purged. Sin cannot be forgiven without punishment... without death. In Hebrews 9:22 God says, "The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."
So how does God cleanse us of our bloodguilt without shedding our blood? By the blood of another. That's what King David alluded to when he wrote, "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean..." You see hyssop was used in all the ritual purifications. In Exodus 12(:22) God told the Israelites at Passover to "Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe." Then the angel of death would pass over their house. In Leviticus he told the unclean to sacrifice an animal and sprinkle the blood on themselves with a branch of hyssop. But those ceremonies with the blood of an animal and the tree of hyssop were all pointing ahead to the blood of another on a different tree: Jesus' blood shed on the cross. The apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 1(:19-20), "God was pleased... to reconcile to himself all things... by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
Every one of your sins, your perversions, your "Whoops!"es, and your rebellions has been paid for, "Not with gold or silver, but with [Jesus'] holy, precious blood and with his innocent sufferings and death." And so God doesn't hide his face from us, like we deserve. Instead he hides his face from our sins. He pretends as if Jesus committed them instead of us. And so, now when we're confronted with the question, "What do you have to say for yourself?" you and I can boldly say, "I am forgiven!"
It's been said that the memory of a man who's done some guilty deed is like a book with a broken spine: It always seems to open to the same page. But in Christ, the weight of our guilt is gone! The stain is removed! You are forgiven! So am I! We are scrubbed clean in our inner parts, to our very souls. We have been refined and purified to perfection by Jesus' blood!
It's also been said that the softest pillow is a clean conscience! And, through Jesus you and I can sleep well tonight! For we, whose bones have been crushed by the Law, now rejoice in the Gospel! For now, when we're confronted with that question, "What do you have to say for yourself?" we can say, "In Jesus, I'm forgiven. I'm clean. I'm perfect. And I'm bound for heaven!" This is what you have to say for yourself, in Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.