"Is There Hope for Me when I've Blown It?"
March 26/06 Psalm 51
Nobody wants to be held hostage. For months we were concerned about four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams who'd been kidnapped by an insurgent group in Iraq calling themselves the "Swords of Righteousness". There were 2 Canadians, 1 American, and 1 from Britain. Our anxiety increased a couple of weeks ago when the American was discovered dead, having been shot. Then Thursday the news was released of a dramatic rescue: a military operation involving soldiers from several countries had snatched the 3 remaining hostages from their captors' grasp, without a shot being fired. How wonderful!
Understandably, their reactions to being free are very positive. The British man said, "It's great to be free." One Canadian man's brother-in-law said they were a little bit numb then added with a laugh, "Actually, we're jumping up and down." The other Canadian's brother said they were relieved this nightmare has come to an end, adding the whole family has huge smiles on their faces; in his words, "Elated is an understatement." And the co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Toronto admitted, "Our hearts are filled with joy this morning."
We can praise God the carefully-planned military op was successful. But there is another kind of captivity from which no elite military team, no SWAT squad can provide rescue. That's the captivity of sin, with its cage of guilt and shackles of shame. It robs people of joy and makes them long for freedom from the destructive forces they see at work in their own lives.
When we are abducted by evil and give in to sin, there is usually some short-lived pleasure or gratification. But that passes quickly and we feel guilty because the conscience inside us, with which we were designed, signals to us that we've broken God's law and fallen short of His standards. People respond in typically one of a couple of ways. Some find guilt gives way to shame; they start to despise themselves, and may eventually become self-destructive, fearing they're no good or worthless. In others, guilt is countered by defiance; they become brazen in attitude, refusing to acknowledge what the matter is. Such people may become rebellious, hateful, unfeeling (as their heart hardens in response), and destructive toward other people. Either way, guilt burdens the heart, distances from God, and brings destruction., which is the Enemy's goal (Jn 10:10).
Psalm 51 is a valuable nugget of Scripture in which David did not rebel because of his sin but acknowledged it. Seeking God's cleansing, this inspired though faulty leader teaches us today that even if we've 'blown it' with regard to sin, God can restore us to joy and meaningful impact in our lives.
When we've blown it, the first step on the road to recovery is to admit we HAVE blown it. As regards sin, that means we come to share God's view on the truth about our woefully fallen actions. The second part of v4 in Psalm 51 talks about having "done what is evil in Your [God's] sight". Can we leave off with the excuses and rationalizations and attempts at justification and simply accept how objectionable what we've done actually IS to an absolutely holy, perfect God? Come to see it as God sees it, not through the accommodating eyes of sinful man. V3, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me." NLT: "I recognize my shameful deeds - they haunt me day and night."
There may be many dimensions to our sin. The title of the Psalm refers to the time David committed adultery with Bathsheba. Skimming through the story, you can start to understand there was not just one sin, but a whole complex of evil with its consequences that contravened several of God's laws. It all started when David didn't go out with his army as leaders usually do; was he being lazy or selfish? Next, he happened to see a neighbour lady bathing; there's lust. That led to the actual physical act of adultery - breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Then came a sort of false witness when he called Bathsheba's husband Uriah back from the front and deceptively declined to tell him what had happened. David then wickedly plotted to induce Uriah to have relations with Bathsheba as a cover-up for her pregnancy by getting him drunk. But Uriah refused to go home and take advantage of his marital status, objecting that his fellow soldiers had no such luxury. His innocence and righteousness stand in start contrast to David's appalling lack of integrity.
Determined to try to eliminate the threat, David arranges for Uriah to be killed in battle, and other soldiers die as a consequence of the order; there's both murder and manslaughter being committed. Another of the Ten Commandments forbids idolatry; Nathan the prophet hints at this when he speaks for God saying, "Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes?...The sword will never depart from your house, because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own." (2Sam 12:9f)
In addition to breaking many of God's laws, David's sin led to painful consequences for many. Uriah and fellow-soldiers were already casualties. God predicts David's own household will rebel; civil war will result! His wives will be violated out in the open; David will be publicly shamed. The baby boy with whom Bathsheba is pregnant will die. As well, the Lord declares, "by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt..." (2Sam 12:14) God was being blasphemed and His reputation trashed. All this from one little one-night behind-the-scenes indiscretion! The sword - violence - would afflict David's household as first Amnon then later Absalom, like their father, "grabbed" what was not their own, abusing their royal power. What deadly fruit was produced by David sowing one little wild oat.
So when David admits in v3, "I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me" - he was overwhelmed by the gravity of what he'd started. He confesses now in v4, "Against You, You only, have I sinned..." - not denying the harm he'd done to other people, but acknowledging his taking advantage of others, exploiting them, was sin also against God, breaking His moral code; just as Jesus inextricably linked for neighbour with love for God.
The Psalmist isn't here just listing particular 'sins' but also admitting capital-S "Sin" singular: not individual actions but our born-and-bred sinful condition since conception, our depravity. V5, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." That's not intended to throw any question or blame on his mother's integrity, but simply another of expressing his total and utter sinfulness through-and-through; NLT, "I was born a sinner..." Peterson paraphrases, "I've been out of step with You for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born." As Chuck Swindoll puts it, "your baby has the 'bents'!" There's something essentially sinful deep inside us, soaked through to our core, that predisposes us to do the opposite of what's right.
We know this doesn't line up with God's righteous nature. V6, "Surely You desire truth in the inner parts..." God desires, demands, has every right to expect His creatures to mirror His goodness and equity and truth: but from Adam and Eve on down, the mirror is cracked. We find ourselves drawn to evil almost magnetically. And see the fix it landed David in. Looking back, he acknowledges his dastardly deeds and depravity; all he can pray is (v14), "Save me from bloodguilt, O God..." Under the law of Moses, David's crimes warranted the death penalty on two counts: both for murder and for adultery. He recognizes he has no claim on God at all, but deserves to die.
Cleansed by a Different Sacrifice
Sin is pervasive; it presses in upon us in many forms, not just the more obvious ones such as David committed with Bathsheba. Chuck Swindoll writes: "Because of sin, man has taken - the deity out of religion, the supernatural out of Christianity, the authority from the Bible, God out of education, morality and virtue out of literature, beauty and truth out of art, ethics out of business, fidelity out of marriage." How true - yet how sad! It affects all of us. What is the way out of this bog of badness?
Much of Psalm 51 is a cry for cleansing. David pleads, "blot out my transgressions, wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin...Cleanse me with hyssop..." (the shrub-branch by which the priest sprinkled the sacrificial blood in cleansing rituals) "...and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow...blot out all my iniquity." (1f,7,9) Notice he's asking for a clean-up not just of particular sins or transgressions, but also a wiping-out of his iniquity: that comes from a Hebrew verb meaning to bend, twist, distort - so iniquity is our 'bentness'. The Hebrew word is transliterated as 'avon' (pron. aw-vone) - like the cosmetic company! I suppose Avon manufactures both cleansers and cover-ups: likewise, you can decide what you're going to do with your iniquity - try to cover it up as with blemish cream, pretend it's not there; or let the Master Beautician apply His deep cleansing to wash it away and remove it altogether.
What is the basis on which David appeals for his sin to be dealt with? It's not simply the religious ritual of his day. V16, "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings." This reflects the Psalm just previous, Psalm 50, which likewise notes that God doesn't operate on the basis of animal sacrifice; vv9ff there say, "I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills...Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?" The pagan nations around Israel supposed that's how their idols and religion worked, but Israel's God was different. The animal sacrifices were pointers to something much more mysterious, something not yet unveiled in Israel's history.
The basis of forgiveness is hinted at in v1: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions." Ultimately, God's steadfast love and 'huge mercy' (NLT) would take the form of His beloved Son, come among us to be the perfect substitute and sacrifice required in order for sinful humans to be forgiven. Hebrews 9(12ff) says, "[Christ] entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" Jesus' blood - symbolizing His pure life, offered for each one of us - is the true cleansing agent, saving us from the penalty both of individual sinful actions and our stained consciences and hearts.
You may remember some weeks back we showed a clip from the documentary "Beyond the Gates of Splendour", about Nate Saint, Jim Elliott, and the Waodoni natives of Ecuador who slaughtered the 5 missionaries but later many became Christians through the persistent efforts of the widows. Mincaye, one of the tribesmen responsible for the killing, is now an elder in the church and practices dentistry for the tribe. In his words, "Wangongi [God] Himself, taking the blood from His Son, very strong blood, He used it, like you foreigners use soap and He took His Son's blood and He washed my heart."
There was a cost for the rescue. In the case of the Christian Peacemaker hostages, thankfully the kidnappers weren't around when the operation took place, so it came off peacefully. But it could have been very different, had armed insurgents been guarding the hostages. Soldiers know they may be called upon at some time to lay down their life to free others in such a mission. Jesus willingly sacrificed His life to free us from sin's stranglehold.
Transformed to Teach and Tell
When we acknowledge our sinfulness and appeal to God's mercy for cleansing, He does a miraculous work in our life, sweeping clean our spiritual 'house' so it can be inhabited by His Holy Spirit. It needs to be a thorough housecleaning, affecting all our habits and attitudes - no oily or slimy rags left in musty closets.
A certain fellow wanted to sell his house in Haiti for $2,000. Another man wanted to buy it, but because he was poor, he couldn't afford the full price. After much bargaining, the owner agree to sell the house for half the original price, on one condition: he would retain ownership of one small nail sticking out just over the door.
After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So the first owner went and found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned. Soon the house became unlivable, and the family was forced to sell the house to the owner of the nail! Moral of the story? If we leave the devil with even one small peg in our life, he'll return to hang his rotting garbage on it, making it unfit for Jesus' habitation.
So what's the key to complete renewal? How can we be thoroughly transformed? V17 tells us what God's really looking for, in order to move into our life: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Have you been broken? Are you ready to admit the futile Humpty-Dumpty state of your life, impossible to put back together again without Divine intervention? Peterson paraphrases it, "I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.Heart-shattered lives ready for love don't for a moment escape God's notice."
David calls out in desperation in v10, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me." David had personally witnessed the devastation and mental instability that developed when the rebellion of King Saul left him susceptible to evil spirits. David knew that yielding to God was the only way to become His instrument, moved by His Spirit, helped by His power to face life's challenges.
What's the condition of your heart today? Is it 'pure', clean, 'right with God'? Is there anything of evil trying to take over, kidnap it, hold it hostage? Wouldn't you rather settle things with the Lord and let Him be in control? What else really matters, is worth giving your soul to, in the long run? The inclination of your heart is so important. Spurgeon wrote, "The affections must be rectified first, or all our nature will go amiss. The heart is the rudder of the soul, and till the Lord take it in hand we steer in a false and foul way. O Lord, Thou who didst once make me, be pleased to new make me, and in my most secret parts renew me."
Once that transformation is genuine, it works itself in a way that lets the world know. V6, "You teach me wisdom in the inmost place;" receiving God's wisdom gives us something to share. So, v13, "Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You." Communicate the wonderful news of how Jesus has wiped away your worries and cleaned up your conscience from those past wrongs. Teach others how they can come to know and serve the eternal King.
When our heart's changed by faith in Christ, feelings will follow. V8, "let me hear joy and gladness"; 12, "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation..." Having God aboard, and His promise for eternity, really is something to celebrate, be joyful about! And that joy, if genuine, will seek expression. 14, "Save me...and my tongue will sing of Your righteousness...my mouth will declare Your praise." You want to bless God because suddenly He's on Your side, lifting You up, whereas before He was allowing sin's sorrowful consequences to drive you in your stubbornness and self-sufficiency to Him.
Sprung from a Watery Grave
Brock Gill grew up in Louisiana, with parents who took him to church several times a week. When Brock was in the 7th grade, his father became a pastor. In spite of that, Gill was a very angry and rebellious youth. He admits, "Even though I went to church on Sundays, I lived a totally different life the rest of the week.I hated life and hated everything around me.There were times when I was on the verge of committing suicide.I wanted to run away from home." He and his friends channelled their rebellion into criminal activity; but something was gnawing at his heart. Finally, at a summer camp, Brock Gill finally reached the end of his rope, and surrendered his life to Jesus. He recalls, "It was just sort of a process of God making me sick of the sinful life I was living.I didn't enjoy it; I didn't like it.I knew there was something more." Like David in the Psalm, sinful living was becoming unbearable.
According to the account in LivingLightNews, confessing his sins and asking Jesus into his heart had an immediate effect on Gill. He says, "Once I did get saved, my life was completely different.Ever since then I've been trying to use creative ways to reach people and from there it turned into a full-time ministry and career."
Today, Brock is an illusionist who has performed in outreaches with ministries such as Franklin Graham, John Piper, Third Day, and MercyMe. For example, he'll pull cards out of thin air while wearing a short sleeved shirt; make a key heat up in a participant's hands; find an audience member's selection in a deck of cards. He bought a coffin, cut windows in it and lined it with glass. He fills it with water and invites people to bring chains and locks to lock him up around his neck, wrists, legs, and body. In the next 90 seconds he uses all his dexterity, agility - and oxygen! - to escape. The illusion has a deeper meaning for Brock than just taking the audience's breath away; he relates it to Lazarus being brought back from the dead. He says, "Without Jesus, we're not just drowning, we're already spiritually dead. But Jesus is calling our names and wants to give us life." Like Brock escaping from the coffin, Jesus springs us from the trap we had fallen into through our deadly fallen desires. He renews us through His Spirit. Brock the illusionist acknowledges his tricks don't compare to what Jesus did. He says, "Basically, because of His miracles I believe that He rose from the dead, the Saviour of the world. He's my best friend. He's the one that I serve. He's the one that I choose to live for. He is everything to me." Let's pray.