A Spiritual Checkup

Andrew Curry

Senior Pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Lisburn
July 7, 2024
Psalm 51



Well, good morning. It's a real privilege to be with you, and it's lovely to get through a new fellowship with so many of you. There's always so many new faces every time I come to Trinity and that is such a wonderful thing, such an encouragement to be able to come and to worship with you. And at the same time, I don't have a lot of words this morning as a matter of introduction, and really it's because of the passage that I want us to draw our attention to: Psalm 51. It's a sobering passage. If I was to stand and simply talk about how much I love and I'm thankful for this congregation, that would be appropriate. But there's a different tone that I want us to strike this morning. So let me pray and ask that God would settle our hearts and focus our minds as we come to such an important chapter within the Scriptures. Let's pray. 

[Prayer] Heavenly Father, we are so thankful for who You are, that You are the great God of heaven above all, the One from whom everything has come. Lord, we want to recognize that You are the all-seeing God, the all-knowing One, the One who knows the very desires of our hearts. And yet, Lord, we thank You that in Scripture through the work of Jesus Christ, You have revealed Yourself not just as the Heavenly One, but as the Heavenly Father. We ask that in this service this morning that You would speak to us. as Father, Lord, that You would help us to see the great need that we have, that as one who You care for, who so often needs rebuke, Lord. We pray that You would speak challenge to our hearts this morning. 

We ask, Lord, that You would humble us. We recognize, though, the truth of what we have just sung, the tendency of our heart to wonder. And, Lord, how often we need You to draw us back with those bonds of grace, to draw us back to focus on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We pray and ask that this morning You would humble us through exposure to the Word, that You would help us to see how small, how insignificant, how pathetic, Lord, we are. how fleeting our commitment is, and yet how altogether sufficient the work of Jesus Christ is. 

We pray that afresh we would cast ourselves upon Your tender mercy. And we pray, Lord, for the work of the Holy Spirit to remove the callousness from around our hearts, to grant us a sensitivity to the truth of the Word, and again, to draw us in adoration to our Savior. So we pray, Lord, that You would expose our sin during this time of study, but, Lord, that You would also draw our attention to our Savior, in whose name we pray. Amen. [End] 

We do live in a society that is obsessed with their health, whether it be diets, exercise, vitamins, whatever it happens to be. This particular generation is one that is concerned with the physical. And yet the reality is Scripture makes clear there is a particular disease that is destroying life. There is a particular disease that you were born with, one that you can't creep away from; and no amount of medical research, no amount of exercise, no particular type of healthy eating is going to resolve the issue that you have. 

This morning what I want us to do with this particular psalm in Scripture is to undergo a spiritual checkup, to be able to hear what the Word says about the fatal condition that you are suffering from. And because of the man who penned this psalm, this is the psalm that we are going to as we undergo that spiritual checkup. 

King David is the man who wrote this particular psalm in Scripture. He was a man himself who needed such a checkup. He had sinned. He'd slept with another man's wife. He'd orchestrated the massacre, the murder, the killing of that husband, Uriah, so that he could take this lady to be his own. 

A year has passed, almost a year. He has taken Bathsheba into his home. He has married her. She is expecting. And then there is a visit. God sends Nathan the prophet to come in and Nathan tells David a story, a story about a man who is rich, who's well-off, who has hundreds of sheep, but he has this impoverished neighbor. Then upon guests coming to the home, instead of taking one of his hundreds, he slips over the fence and he takes the ewe, the one belonging of value to that neighbor. He takes it, kills it, and offers it to his guests instead. 

David, he is horrified at the injustice of the story. And so as king of the land, he stands up and he orders that recompense be made, that everything be righted, that this man should suffer for the way he treated the one who was vulnerable, only to have the prophet Nathan turn around and point at David and say, "David, you are that man!" And all of a sudden, like an avalanche, the reality of what David has done comes crashing down upon him. And it's in that frame of mind that he pens Psalm 51. Let me read the text to you and then we'll begin to break it down. 

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being, and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart. 

"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. 

"Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise. For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. 

"Do good to Zion in Your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will You delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on Your altar." 

The Symptoms

This particular psalm bursts with lots of emotion, and as it does, it paints a picture of the many symptoms and the disease itself that has afflicted David's life, and this morning also afflicts yours. So the first thing I want us to see in the text this morning are, "The symptoms of your condition. The symptoms of your condition." 

Sometimes different symptoms, whether it be a temperature, a lump, a loss of appetite, they give an indication that all is not right. They cause you to go and to seek help, to visit the doctor, to get information that you need. Well, the text reminds us of several symptoms that occur in the life of the sinner. Sometimes, like there was for David, they can lie dormant for a season. They can take time before they begin to bubble up in our life. But very often, even long after we have committed that particular sin, there are moments of quiet, time when life settles down, and all of a sudden these symptoms bubble up to the surface. 

The first one we see in the text is "guilt." The first symptom is guilt, you see it in verse 3: "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me." Again, 12 months have passed since David committed that grievous sin, and yet now, everywhere he looks, he's reminded of his guilty past. He's reminded of what it was that he did. 

As he seeks to lead his army out into war, he remembers, "I should have done that the last time." As he goes for a walk on his rooftop, as so often he did to clear his head, all he can think about now is what took place that particular night. As he spends time with Bathsheba over the dinner table, he continues to think about the husband she once had. As he hears his servants whispering, whatever it is they're whispering about, he in his head assumes they're always talking about the wrong that he had done. Everywhere David looked, it was as if he saw the ghost of Uriah the Hittite, the ghost of a guilty past that kept bubbling up in front of him. There'd been this delay; and yet now, everywhere he was, he was reminded of his past. 

That's how very often how sin works. There can be a delay, but then the guilt comes. And that guilt can cause anxiety. It can cause stress. It can cause a loss of appetite, sleepless nights. But it can also be a tool that God uses to humble us and to cause us to seek after Him for forgiveness. 

What about you this morning? As you look back, what do you feel guilty for? Are there people you cheated, lies you told, hurt you caused? A lot of people sin and don't feel guilt in that moment. They have a way of justifying in their head, "I'm not perfect, I know that." And somehow they justify the behavior, "My heart just lent that way. I know it caused harm, but it was important because of X, Y, and Z." Well, this particular symptom of guilt has a way of haunting the individual. It can lie dormant for years and then quietly bubbles up. Have you guilt this morning? 

The second symptom we see in the text is not just guilt, but a "sense of dirtiness," a sense of dirtiness. Look at the language that is being used in the psalm; in particular, verses 1 and 9. You see the word "blot out," first one: "Blot out my transgressions." You see it in verse 9 as well: "Blot out all my iniquities." 

In verse 2 and verse 7, you have language to relate to "washing." Verse 2: "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin." Verse 7: "Purge me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." David uses language that implies the need for a stain to be removed, the filth that exists upon him. 

That word "blot out," it refers to removing writing from a parchment. Don't think of a pencil and eraser; rather, the vellum, that thin stretched out leather upon which the Scriptures were originally written in that particular day. Think of a scalpel being taken when a mistake appears and it scraped along that leather. A small, thin surface part of it is stripped away so that new text can be written below. That's the idea of blot out: "Scrape away, Lord, the filth. Tear it off." When David looked at himself in the catalog of wrongs that he had done, he's crying out, "God rip out those pages that mark me." 

As he talks about "washing," he's using that language of the launderer, that need for intense washing, a garment that is deeply filthy. David wants a deep clean. The sin of his life has penetrated every fabric of his character. It needs intense treatment. He's crying out, "God, bleach away my sin." 

It's strong language and it implies that David feels filthy. He feels dirty because of what he has done. You know that feeling of unworthiness, of disgust, of griminess as you think about the way that you behaved in that occasion. You think of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth at night wandering around the corridors of the palace continually washing and washing and washing her hands trying to remove the stain of blood from her fingers, but it never gets any less. 

That's David. He feels guilty. He feels defiled. And thirdly, he experiences a feeling of "brokenness." Look at verse 8: "Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that You have broken rejoice." David has a complete sense of brokenness before God. The relationship he once enjoyed with God has been replaced by this deflated sense of brokenness. The pain that he now feels because of the loss of that great joy, that relationship that had once satisfied him, the loss he now likens to the pain of bones being broken. 

I remember whenever I first arrived out in the States to California to go to seminary, to try and mix and get to know people, I decided I would join in a kind of fun soccer game with some clumsy Americans. And one of them slid in and broke my ankle. Now at that stage, all Europeans have this suspicion of the American medical health system. They don't know how it works. And I was terrified that I was going to get lumbered right at the start of seminary with these unbelievable bills to address this ankle. And so rather than go and get it seen to, I decided to try and nurse it for myself for a while, not realizing it was broken, kind of hobbled around. Somebody lent me crutches. It was a mess, very seminary student type of thing to do. 

Eventually I thought it was getting better, and I went out for a run because I hadn't moved in a long time. I didn't get very far. I didn't get very far before I collapsed, and the pain of the broken bone, the broken ankle shot all the way up through that side. Why? Because that's how it works. You need your bones. When they're broken, the whole body shuts down. We're trapped, we're stuck, we're crushed. 

And that's David. He likens the sense of loss, that relationship he'd once found so much satisfaction, and it's gone, and it hurts. It hurts that it's gone. It hurts that it's so empty, it's so broken, it's so devoid, and all he can think to liken it to is the intense pain of bones being broken. 

Now as we think about David at this moment in his life, it's important that you have in mind he was, he had been a man after God's own heart already. That statement was made about him in an earlier stage. He had experienced grace. He had enjoyed worship. He had known God in a deep and intimate way. It pours through in so many of the other psalms that he wrote. 

And I want you to remember, before we go too far into the study this morning that, yes, this psalm is so helpful for the non-Christian. The Christian, this particular episode that fueled the writing of this particular section of scripture reminds us that far too often the Christian returns like a dog to its vomit. You repented of your sins, you put your trust in Christ, but what has taken place since? The last number of months, what has marked your life? Thoughts, actions, words that are fueled more by sin than by the Savior, things that conjure up these intense feelings of guilt, of dirtiness, of brokenness, that has robbed you of the joy that you once knew. 

Sin does that. It takes the believer and it dampens them, it stalls them. It quenches the fire that they have for the Savior. The things of God that once excited us tire now. We come to church because the habit is there and we want to safe face before others; and yet we come and there's a tiredness in our bones. Do you feel exhausted about the things of God this morning? Well, that says something. 

The last symptom we see here in the text is in verse 4. It says, "Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment." Here David expresses his biggest fear. He is endangered before God. He has sinned against God. And he has no defense. He knows God is just. God always does what is right. And so David must be punished. 

And so he cries out in verse 9, "Hide Your face from my sin, blot out all my iniquities," like a criminal marching into the courtroom who wants to pull his jacket up over his face and hide away. It's as if David, he's so ashamed. He's terrified at the idea of being before the gaze of holy, pure God, that he wants to run away and hide. 

And yet the Psalms are so beautiful because they express the way humans so often have conflict in their very emotions. So he wants to run away and hide in verse 9. But look at verse 11. He at the same time cries out, "Cast me not away from Your presence." Although he's ashamed, he wants to hide away, David knows only before God can he receive help. He needs to be before the presence of God. 

In the prayer, David is confronted with the inescapable reality that God condemns sin, that God hates what David has done, and he wants to run and hide because of that. And at the same time, he feels those cords of grace that insist on pulling David before the throne of grace. 

It's interesting, all the way through the psalm, apart from that little footnote at the beginning, that little inspired footnote, there's no mention through the psalm of adultery with Bathsheba or the murder of Uriah. In fact, if it wasn't for that footnote, we could only guess that this is the particular moment that David is repenting of in this text. And the reality is he did sin against Bathsheba. And even more so, he certainly sinned against Uriah the Hittite. You could even say he sinned against the nation of Israel that he should have been leading properly at this particular moment. 

But the reality is his sin was against God first and foremost. And even though those human dimensions, there was brokenness that marked all of that; yet because his sin was first and foremost against the Almighty, all those human dimensions just fade into the background compared to the fact that he has sinned against the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord Almighty. 

Sinner, you have sinned against God. You have made God your enemy. The King of kings and Lord of lords is the one that you have shaken your fist before. You're like a field mouse shaking your fist in the face of a giant. It's a hopeless situation for you. Calvin said, "We will never seriously apply to God for pardon, until we have obtained such a view of our sin as it inspires us with fear." That's true. David here is terrified at the thought that he has sinned against the Almighty. 

This morning, as you contemplate all the choices that you have made, the sin that you have committed, do you realize you have committed that sin before God, the all-seeing, all-knowing Almighty? And because of that, in a sense, you are endangered, for you have made God your enemy. 

Well, of the symptoms of sin worked up in your life, do you feel guilt for the wrong you've done? Do you have that sense of filth, of dirtiness, of brokenness that you contemplate standing before they all-seeing God? Do you feel endangered? Yet, the reality is those things are only feelings, aren't they? And Scripture will make clear time and time again that feelings are not what makes the individual right with God. 

A lot of people dabble with church and religion, in particular, dabble with Christianity, because they have moments of guilt, moments where they have a sense of wrongdoing. Maybe even moments where they have a sense that the all-seeing God will judge one day. But symptoms are not enough. Through Scripture you see so many testimonies of individuals that had great feelings, and then greatly rebelled. 

Cain, Genesis chapter 4. He felt endangered before God, didn't he? And what did he do with that? He went to God. He asked for protection. He received that mark, and he used that mark to protect his rebellion. 

The book of Exodus, you have Pharaoh. He comes and he acknowledges his brokenness. In fact, he goes to Moses and he asks the prophet to pray on his behalf. And then he gets in his chariot and he pursues the people of God to massacre them. 

Saul: He felt so guilty for throwing the spear at David. In fact, he said, "Sorry." We can tell our kids, don't we, "Say sorry." He said, "Sorry." A few weeks later, he was up to his old antics again. 

Pilate, the New Testament. Pilate: He has Jesus and he interrogates and he considers all the accusations that are brought, and he sees so clearly Jesus is an innocent man. In fact, he has a bowl of water brought in so he can wash his hands as a public testimony that this man has done no wrong, and then he hands Him over to be crucified. 

The great betrayer Judas. He took his guilt money and he tossed it back into the temple, and then he went and hung himself. 

The book of Acts, you have the Roman governor, Felix. And when Paul stands before him and he preaches the gospel, and we read in the text, "Felix trembled." In fact, only Felix trembled that day. There were many who heard Paul's testimony, but it was as if God was shaking Felix. But many commentators have made the point. The sad reality in that story was Felix only trembled. He trembled, only Felix trembled, but Felix only trembled. 

There is a world of difference between having these feelings of guilt, of remorse, of regret, and true repentance. True repentance is the only way by which the individual can be saved. Don't think you're a Christian because sometimes you feel guilty, or sometimes you feel broken, or sometimes you're conscious that you fall short of the glory of God. Most people feel that way. And many will go to that place where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, and they'll go to that place feeling guilty, and feeling broken, and feeling filthy. And they will go there because ultimately they never knew Him, the only one by which you may be saved. 

Despite the occasional broken emotions they feel, repentance is more than remorse. It is a turning from sin, the sin that condemns us towards Jesus Christ the Lord, the only one from whom we can receive mercy. 

Friend, you may be marked by these symptoms; but unless you go beyond them to see and understand your diagnosis, the problem that exists, and then pursue the cure, it's not enough. 

The Diagnosis

Red spots may be a sign of meningitis. Chest pains are a sign of a pending heart attack. A runny nose is the sign of maybe a common cold. These particular symptoms – guilt, dirtiness, brokenness, feeling endangered – they're merely signs of a more serious diagnosis. I want us, secondly, to "see the diagnosis" in the text. 

David has had Nathan come in and confront him with his sin. Like the doctor that tries to get the patient to understand their condition, Nathan has, with great skill, helped David to see the disease that is destroying his life. And Psalm 51 is a verbalization of that need. It's as if David, he tries to paint a picture to show the many levels and dimensions, the depth of the reality of sin that exists in his own heart. And so he uses different words to describe his sin. 

You see the first word there in verse 1: transgressions. "Blot out my transgressions." The Hebrew word here, from which we get that English translation "transgression," it means to, with intent, cross a forbidden boundary. 

Sometimes people talk about the annals of Julius Caesar. Well, when Julius was north of the River Rubicon, he was on peaceful terms with the Roman Senate because he was in the jurisdiction that he was meant to lead and head. But as soon as he crossed the river into another jurisdiction, it was as if he was declaring war with that legislative body in Rome: "I'll do it my way." And according to the annals, he did. He crossed the river, and as he did, he cried out, "The die has been cast." 

Purpose. Defiance. Determination. That's transgression. With will, we step over God's line. With purpose, we rebel against Him. That's what is meant by this word. When you sin, you're not merely doing something wrong. It's not an accident, "Oh, I made a mistake." Rather, the Bible insists you are purposefully rebelling against an almighty and just Sovereign. 

C .S. Lewis has said, "Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature that needs improvement, he is a rebel that must lay down his arms." That's your condition this morning. The text makes clear, "You're a rebel." 

The second word we see in the text gives us more information. It's the word "iniquity." You see it there in verse 2: "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity." The word means perversion. It refers to the depravity or the twistedness of our nature. David's saying here that, "Naturally I'm drawn. I lean towards forbidden things." An idea is an admission that sin is as much part of David's body as blood is part of David's body. It consumes him. It is him. 

It's the same word used there in verse 5. That phrase, "I was brought forth in iniquity." From the moment the child is born, we will look at them don't we so often, and we see one who is cute and sweet, and we imagine innocence. 

But, no, says Scripture, already. Right from the beginning there's something twisted. There's something off about that child. There's something that is pulled like a magnet towards forbidden things. It's a declaration, this word iniquity, of how unlike God you are. The idea, "Oh, well I was born this way." That's not an excuse, that's the very problem. That's what verse 5 is saying: "You were born that way, that's why there's a need here for you to come to God." You were born that way, and that's the problem. You've never not been this way – drawn towards that which is rebellious and twisted. 

Every sin that you commit is testimony to a demonic disposition that exists internally. Apart from God's gracious hand of restraint upon you, you would run right into the depths of sin. David is shocked, not that he did sin: "Oh, that was out of character." Rather, he is broken here because his sin has exposed just how twisted his heart really is. 

The third word David uses is the word "sin" itself, the one that's most familiar to us. You see it in verse 2: "and cleans me from my sin." That's the word that means to fall short, to miss the mark. You have that illustration of the archer pulls back the bow and arrow, and he releases the arrow, and it flies through the air towards the bullseye. But long before it ever gets there, it falls short, it smacks into the dirt, it misses the target. 

The Bible says, friend, you are made in the image of God. You are made to reflect Him. You are made to be a representative of God here on earth, to show and to demonstrate in the way that you lived, the way that you acted, the way that you related to creation, and indeed, to other people in this world. You are meant to reflect God Himself. And sin is every falling short of that perfect standard, every moment where we cease or fail to be what we were made to be. 

Transgressors, people of iniquity, sin. And the last word we see is the word "evil." It's in verse 4. This is really the center of what sin is: "Against You only I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight." Sin is not merely the wrong that we do, but it's the outflow, it's from a corrupt inner. The sinful actions are coming from the wellspring of an evil heart. 

David here is not confessing that he committed adultery, or even that he committed murder. Rather, what he's saying is so much more than that. He's saying if you could remove from David all of the grace of God and its effect on his life, if you could leave pure David in front of you, what you would have would be one who was evil to his core, one who is the antithesis of who God is, the opposite in character to an all pure and holy God. 

He is evil. As one of the earliest commentators said, "David lays on himself here the blame of a tainted nature rather than that of a single fault." That's what he's confessing: "Lord, I am broken and wicked." David is a sinner. He is a God-hater at his core. That is why he sins because the inside is broken. 

God's ways are so good and so pure, and yet what David wants is the opposite. That's why the Bible says, "We are dead in our sins and transgressions." That's who we are by ourselves. And notice all the way through, as he talks about these different levels and dimensions that his sin takes, he always talks about it in the first person. 

Verse 1, "my transgressions." Verse 2, "my iniquity, my sin." In verse 4 he says, "have I sinned." David is acknowledging not that, "Oh, people are really bad out there. Oh, humanity is not what it should be." He is acknowledging, "I, I am the problem. I'm, in and of myself, I'm absent from truth, and evil by nature." 

Most of us feel to be. to truly repent, to truly confess our sin to God because we don't really believe this diagnosis. We don't believe that we're really a sinner, "Oh, I made a mistake. Oh, it was so out of character for me." No. "No," says God's Word. That's only the start. That's only the first expression of your broken character. You are the problem. You are a sinner. And sinning is what you do because it's who you are apart from God's grace. This is our diagnosis. 

Have you reached this point of David that you can look into your heart, examine the real you inside, and with honesty say, "God, I am a rebel, a rebel against the Almighty. And there's something twisted. Like a magnet, I'm pulled towards these wrong things. I find myself drawn towards them. And no matter how hard I try, no matter how much cleanup I do, I always fall short of that perfect target I know You have called me to." 

But you know what? It's not just the out here, it's not just the things that I do; but, God, when I look inside, it's my very nature. It's evil. It feels so opposed to all of who You are. And this is Your diagnosis. This is what all of Scripture speaks about. This is you. And until you realize it, until you acknowledge that you are first and foremost a sinner before the holy, all-seeing God, you're like an individual in hospital with their fingers in their ears singing a song to themselves while the doctor tries to plead with them to listen because there is an urgent need of treatment. 

The Cure

Maybe this morning those symptoms of guilt, of dirtiness, of brokenness, of being in danger, they sit upon you, and it tells you you have this heart disease, that you are, by nature, evil, a rebellious, twisted, individual that forever misses the mark of God's holiness. And when you go to the doctor with your symptoms exposed, and a true diagnosis is given, hopefully they're able to then push us towards the cure. If you can identify with the symptoms we see in Psalm 51 this morning, if you're aware of the heart disease that so poetically David has expressed, that heart disease that is killing you, then listen carefully as we see David hint towards the cure. 

What cure? What cure could fix such a mess? What can David do? What can David do to resolve the gulf that has emerged between him and the Almighty? How can he get rid of the guilt and the brokenness and the defilement that he so intensely feels? 

Well, he can do nothing. He can do nothing. There's nothing David can do. There's nothing that David can offer, and he knows it. He needs someone else to act on his behalf. Look at the language again that he uses throughout this psalm, that constant reference to washing and cleansing in verse 2, and the hyssop there mentioned in verse 7. He's using sacrificial language through the psalm because what David needs is, well, a sacrifice, something else to pay the debt that he owes. 

And David's an incredibly smart man, and he's already thought of that. But he's so aware of how deep into his core the problem lies, how so incredibly out of line with who God is, his situation sits, that he reasons in verse 16, "God, You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it. You will not be pleased with a burnt offering." 

David knows that there's no get out of jail free card here, that there's no sacrifice that he can offer. In fact, there was no sacrifice in the Old Testament law for adultery or for premeditated murder. David should have been stoned. That's what the law required. It definitely couldn't simply be dealt with by the death of an insignificant and unaware animal. 

The Hope

So what can David do? Well, it's hopeless. And yet, weirdly, as the psalm continues, it starts to sound not a note of brokenness, but a note of hope. Look at how he finishes this prayer with so many references to rededicated service. Look at verse 18. 

In verse 18, he prays for Zion, for Jerusalem, the city that he ruled over, that God had given to him to be king over. He's now praying again for the city that God had anointed him to look after. In fact, he prays, verse 18, "Build up the walls of Jerusalem." Why? Because that's what kings were meant to do. The king's primary job was to defend the people, build up the walls, make them stronger, make this place safer. He's getting on with his job, with his gifting. 

In verse 19, look at verse 19. It says, "Then You will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on Your altar." The one that David in verse 9 is wanting to hide away from, now in verse 19, he wants to come before and worship with the people of God. 

How does that work? Look at verse 13. He says, "Then" – in the future – "then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You." He says here things aren't simply going to go back to the way they were; rather, he says that through this experience of forgiveness, he's going to be able to be a testimony to others, to help them know the nature of God better. He will have something to teach others and that distress that their sin has brought upon them. 

It's an amazing turn in mood, isn't it? David comes and he looks forward to worshiping again and serving again and actually having more of a public testimony to proclaim. He's going to serve God once more and become a permanent testimony to God's grace. What a difference from the tear-stained words that the psalm began with. This psalm starts with confession and with despair, and then it finishes with a list of all the things that David will do again to serve and honor his Lord. 

How does that happen? Well, it happens because David is sure he will be forgiven. How could David, this sinner who deserves only punishment, how can he know that God would forgive him? Spurgeon said, "This is a preposterous prayer to express anywhere but before the throne of grace." If David were not conscious of divine mercy, he would have simply broken down halfway through Psalm 51 under the weight of his guilt. 

But he knew what Scripture proclaimed, the earlier parts of the Old Testament. Exodus 34:6-7, "The Lord is a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." 

Did you hear all those words we talked about – the transgression, the iniquity, and the sin? God is able to forgive. David had to read the Torah. He had to write that out regularly. He knew it inside out. He knew that God had provided forgiveness for all who sought it. And yet in this psalm, David is bold beyond words. He knows there's no sacrifice he could bring that would suffice. And yet, he relies on God providing one that he may be forgiven. 

David is trusting that God would provide something David can't: a sacrifice that would actually meet the standard. David is, in effect, crying out what all of us must cry out to find forgiveness: "God, do it to someone else, but don't treat me as my sins deserve. Lord, kill someone else, but don't kill me. Lord, punish someone else, and spare me." 

And although in this psalm we only see clearly his cry for mercy, we know what God provided, don't we? The Person of Jesus Christ, our wonderful Savior, who came, who lived that perfect life, who never rebelled, who never was twisted, who hit the target perfectly as an image-bearer of God, who no evil was found within. And yet, He became the sacrifice that was needed. David, in effect, is crying out, "God, punish someone else, but don't treat me as I deserve." And God said, "Okay, David," because, "He so loved the world, He sent His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." 

The guiltless Son of God was punished for guilty people. The innocent Son of God was willing to suffer that which in the psalm caused David to tremble. The perfect Lamb of God was punished on the cross so that we could have the privilege of being called children of the living God. 

What stage are you at this morning? Are you aware of your sin? Are you suffering from the symptoms of it? If so, cry out to the God who can save. And as we mentioned before, Christian, don't let these words simply wash over you thinking that's just for the unbeliever. Remember David: 12 months of coldness, 12 months of defiance, 12 months of going through all the outward patterns and habits; and yet, his heart was dull and dead, until his conscience was pricked by God, and he once again sought forgiveness. Spurgeon said, "The Christian must never give off repenting because I fear he never gives off sinning." That's so true. 


This morning, carry out that spiritual health check. Look into your heart. Do you have sin that you need to confess to God? Are you plagued with that sense of guilt, that feeling of dirtiness? Are you only too aware of how evil and twisted you can be? Then cry out once more to the God who loved you enough to provide His Son as the perfect and necessary sacrifice. Embrace once more the grace of God and have the joy of your salvation restored to you again. Experience that joy again of once more experiencing God's grace. 

And if this morning you're here and you've never experienced the joy of true forgiveness, the Bible's diagnosis of you is clear. You are a rebel, a twisted rebel that forever will miss the mark of God's holiness, and you are endangered. For one day you will stand before the Almighty to be judged. And yet, God's grace is extended to you also, if only you would seek after Him, if only with David you would cry out, "Be gracious to me, O God. According to Your lovingkindness, according to the greatness of Your compassion, blot out my transgression." And this morning you can have the assurance of knowing that the grace that was extended to David is also sufficient to fully forgive you. Can I ask you all to stand while we close in prayer? 

[Prayer] Create in us a new heart, O Lord, and renew a steadfast spirit within us. Lord, we acknowledge our sin before You. And yet, we praise You, Lord, that You are rich in mercy, You are slow to anger, You are abounding in grace. Lord, cause us to see ourselves truly as debtors to mercy alone, and cause us to leave this place with a renewed thankfulness for the Savior Jesus Christ in whom forgiveness is to be found. 

"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen."