Please turn with me in your Bibles to Psalm 51. We have been looking at different psalms this month. This morning we come to Psalm 51. It’s on page 474 in the church Bible in front of you. And just before we jump in and read, something to consider. I love old sports movies and a movie that I grew up watching, really on repeat with my dad, was the 1980’s movie, “The Natural.” And it is an incredible story of the baseball player, Roy Hobbs, who is played by Robert Redford. And he dreams of being, he really wants to be the greatest pitcher there ever was. And that was maybe his trajectory. He was a great pitcher. And literally, as he is on his way to the big leagues, he gets sidetracked by a broken relationship. And later on down the road, he ends up getting shot in his side and almost killed and he can no longer pitch. And after months, maybe years of recovery, he starts to be transformed really both in his character and physically into this great hitter. And he gets called up by the New York Knights. And in one of the greatest scenes in sports movie history, in order for them to win the pennant, Roy Hobbs hits a home run. And it’s this amazing scene – as he’s rounding the bases, you know it is a glorious moment for him, his brokenness has been restored, and as he’s rounding the bases you can’t help but notice that his side is blood; that that swing had done something to reenact the gunshot wound. And it is a powerful scene, it’s a beautiful story of redemption, and in a sense, it is our story as Christians and it’s David’s story here in Psalm 51.
Psalm 51 is the story of a desperate man who has been in the fight of his life. He is bruised and he is broken by his sin, he is lost and he is ruined by the fall; he is a bruised reed. He has a limp. He has a dislocation. He has a wound. But in many ways, this is a moment of glory for David. David has a glorious limp. It was Joe Novenson who said, “If I were to ask you, ‘What is David’s greatest victory?’ probably, like me, your intuitive response would be, ‘Well, David’s greatest victory is the giant. David’s greatest victory is Goliath.’ Psalm 51,” Novenson said, “is David’s greatest victory.” This is the greatest victory of David, given to him by God, on the turf of his heart, over his sin and his past.
This is a familiar story. The setting is 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. The Israelites were off at war. David really should have been with them but he’s home and he’s in his palace and he sees a woman bathing on her rooftop, Bathsheba, and he calls for her and he impregnates her. And then to cover it up, he has her husband, Uriah the Hittite, one of his best, really most loyal soldiers, he has him killed on the battlefield. And for at least nine months, David has a quiet conscience. And in 2 Samuel chapter 12, God forces the issue and Nathan confronts him. And as a result of that confrontation, this psalm of repentance is penned by David.
And so if you’re here this morning and you are bruised by your sin, if you’re here and you have a past, if you’re here and you’re brought low by your sin, you’re dealing with guilt or shame, this psalm is for you. Psalm 51, according to Sinclair Ferguson, is “a guiding star.” It’s a guiding star to understanding the Gospel. It’s a guiding star to understanding our great sin and our great Savior. And so with that, let’s go to the Lord in prayer before we read. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, I pray that You would work through the weakness of the words coming out of my mouth, my lisping, stammering tongue and that You would shine the spotlight on Jesus. And we pray this in His name, amen.
Psalm 51. This is God’s Word:
“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.”
Amen. This is God’s Word.
So in Psalm 51, we see a heart that was hardened and hiding become shattered and shaped by God’s grace. We see this glorious limp. We see repentance. And so we’re going to look this morning at the anatomy of repentance. How do I know if I am really repenting? How do I know if God has broken through my hardened and hiding heart? And we see in this psalm that there will be at least two things that happen. There’s a confession and there’s a turning. And so first we’re going to look at, “What do you confess in repentance?” What does David confess here in Psalm 51? And then second, “Where do you turn in repentance?” Where does David turn here in this psalm?
- What do you confess in repentance?
And so first, “What do you confess in repentance?” Confession is one of those things that’s part of the anatomy of repentance. You have, to tell the truth. You have to call it like it is in order to really repent. And repentance really begins with confession, and David’s repentance here begins with his confession. Look at the first few verses of this psalm. David uses all kinds of Biblical language to describe the many-sided character of his sin. He says in verse 1 it’s “transgression,” in verse 2 it’s “iniquity,” in verse 3 it’s “transgression,” verse 4 it is “evil.” And notice this, in his confessing, he’s using first person singular. And so verse 1 “my transgressions,” verse 2 “my iniquity, my sin,” verse 3 “my transgressions, my sin,” verse 4 “I sinned and have done evil in your sight.” And so you don’t have to be a Hebrew scholar in order to understand what David is getting at in the first few verses. What is he pressing on us? David is owning it. This is a personal ownership of sin. David owns it. He doesn’t give any excuses. He doesn’t clean it up. He doesn’t sterilize it. He doesn’t say, “This was a bad day.” He doesn’t say, “I hit a bump in the road.” He doesn’t say, “This was a growth area or a growth edge.” David owns his sin. This is personal ownership of sin.
A Precise Confession
And notice this is a precise confession. David says in verse 4, “Against you and you only I have sinned.” So, of course, David is not saying that he didn’t sin against Uriah, that he didn’t sin against Bathsheba or against the nation. But what he’s saying here is that the root sin, and really the sin underneath all of these other sins, is the sin, the evil sin against the character of God. This is a precise confession. David prays in verse 14, he says he has the blood of Uriah on his hands. He says, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God.” This is a precise confession and so David is praying, “I am false and full of sin. I am not who I want to be. I’m not how I want to be. I need Your mercy and I need it in deep, deep ways.” In fact, look at verse 5. David says, “I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.” So in other words, he’s saying, “I know where this came from.” He’s not blaming his mother but he’s saying, “This is not a fluke. This is not out of left field. This is not a random fumble, but there’s an explanation. Here’s the explanation - I sin because I am a sinner. Before I did sinful act number one, I had nature, I had the native twist in my heart to do it.” And so David is praying. He says, “I need grace in the deepest places, in the coldest corners, in the inner parts. There is a place in me that’s hidden, that’s pervasively twisted. There is a spiritual sickness that I cannot fix myself. I need You, God, to go there. I need Your mercy deep.
You see, this is the first and always the hardest step – to confess what is true, to see yourself clearly, to own it, to admit that you are needy and that you are spiritually broken and bankrupt and bruised. This is step one. David no longer needs anyone else to explain his sin to him. He says in verse 3, “My sin is ever before me.” No less than eighteen times in this prayer, no less than eighteen times, David is begging God, he is pleading with God, “Have mercy on me, purge me, wash me, clean me, create in me, renew in me, uphold me, sustain me, deliver me.” This is a man at the end of his resources. This is a posture of need.
I’ve shared this story before, but there is a pastor in the Chicago area associated with Moody Bible College and his name is Joseph Stoll. And Joseph Stoll tells a story about going to visit a ministry that they were associated with called The Shepherd’s Home for Children. And The Shepherd’s Home for Children was a home, it was a ministry that cared for children who had Down Syndrome. And Pastor Stoll goes and he’s meeting with the director of this ministry and he’s saying, you know the director is giving him a tour and he’s saying all kinds of things that they do to show love and compassion to these children. And he says, “You know, we teach the Gospel here. We teach that the Word became flesh, that Jesus lived the life that we should live, and that Jesus died the death that we should die, that Jesus defeated death; He has been resurrected. And we teach these kids that one day Jesus is going to come back and He’s going to make all things right.” And then he pauses and says, “Pastor Stoll, do you know what our biggest maintenance problem is here at The Shepherd’s Home for Children?” And of course, it’s kind of an odd question. Pastor Stoll has no idea. And the director says, “Dirty windows because every day these kids run to the windows and they press their hands and their faces against them and they say, ‘Is today the day that Jesus is going to make all things right?’”
That is a beautiful picture of a posture of need. First Presbyterian Church, do you have a posture of need this morning? Do you see that you are needy and broken and bankrupt and bruised? Our confessions should look something like David. Confession requires that we see ourselves as we really are. And the weakness and the need and the limp that David is experiencing here, again, it is the defeat, it really is his magnificent defeat that leads to victory. Because in this defeat, David clings to God. He turns to God.
II. Where Does David Turn?
And that really leads us to the second point, “Where does David turn? Where do you turn in repentance?” Biblical repentance starts with a confession. You have, to tell the truth. But there’s a turning that’s part of the anatomy of repentance and there’s a turning here in Psalm 51. The Shorter Catechism defines repentance like this. “Repentance unto life is a saving grace,” meaning you don’t make it happen or muster it up or cultivate it on your own. It’s given to you. It’s a saving grace where “a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin” – so what we’ve been talking about, that you look in the mirror of God’s Word and you see yourself clearly, that there’s a posture of need – so it’s “a saving grace where a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin and apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ, with grief and hatred of his sin, turns from it” – but where? “Turns from it unto God, with full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience.” You see, David here is turning to, he’s clinging to God.
Look at the language in verse 1. He says, “Have mercy on me, O God” – why? He says, “according to your steadfast love.” And so in verse 1, David turns to God’s steadfast love, this covenant word, hesed, the love of the God of the covenant. That if He sets His love on you, He will never ever, ever stop loving you. This covenant loyalty, this covenant faithfulness. Derek Kidner, in his famous commentary on the Psalms, says this in verse 1. He says, “The opening plea is the language of one who has no claim to the favor that he begs.” “The opening plea is the language of one who has no claim to the favor he begs.” In other words, David comes with no bargaining chips and the basis for the mercy that he’s begging for is not his credentials, it’s not his productivity or performance or faithfulness, but the basis for the mercy that he’s begging for is something in God’s character. “Have mercy on me according to your steadfast love.” This is a turning with “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” Look at verse 17. David says, “The sacrifices of God are” – what? Not a promise to do better, they’re not a balancing of the scales by what I can bring to the table. David says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart.” There’s no sacrifice. There’s no burnt offering. There’s nothing. There’s just a broken and contrite heart. There’s just what one author called, “the sweet miracle of empty hands.” There’s just the sweet miracle of empty hands.
There’s a print in my office that my parents gave to me about ten years ago and it’s one of my most beloved possessions. It’s a print of Rembrandt’s, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” And in the painting, the son is lost, he is ruined, he is repellant. He is bald; he’s missing a shoe. The appearance of an outcast. And he turns to his father, he goes home. And in the painting, Rembrandt, taking off of Jesus’ parable, the father is bent over embracing his son with the utmost fatherly care as the son’s head is buried, the prodigal’s head is buried in his father’s chest. It’s a powerful picture, really, of repentance. The wayward son turns and goes home. And that’s what we get here in Psalm 51. The wayward king has come home. He is turning unto the mercy of God.
And maybe that is you this morning. Maybe you are exhausted from your sin, from your hiding, from your travels, from your movements away from God, and you long to be embraced like the prodigal; you long to be home. You long for God to be a hiding place for you. If that is you this morning, one of the most dangerous things that you can do with this text, and really with your sin, is to leave here, to walk out of here today committed to your strategies for cleaning up instead of clinging to Jesus. You know, Kidner goes on in his commentary and he says that “There’s more to forgiveness, though than a tender spirit.” Because he says, “The accusing record of the sin remains and the pollution clings to David.”
The Language of Cleansing
And so I want you to look for a few moments, I want you to look down at verses 7 to 12. We’re only going to be able to skip a rock across this, but David turns to God, he focuses on his heart. And I want you to notice the movement of his prayer here. He starts with cleansing language and then he moves to restorative language. And then in verse 10 he uses creation language. I think this is a great model for us in our repentance. Verse 7, look at the cleansing language. He says, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” And so David knows that he needs this inner washing, this inner cleansing, and so he’s praying, “God, don’t just clean me up on the inside, but be a priest to me. Sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on me to wash me, to make me whiter than snow. I can’t clean myself, God. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. No other solvent will do to wash away my sin, to cleanse me from all sin, to blot out all of my iniquities.” And so David is asking not only for the removal of his guilt; he’s asking for the obliteration of his past record. He wants to be clean.
The Language of Restoration
And then he moves to this restorative language. He says in verse 8, “Let me hear joy and gladness.” He says in verse 12, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.” This is restorative language. I love this. “So God, You have removed my guilt, You have obliterated my past record, You have washed me, You have robed me in righteousness, You have made me clean. But God, tell me You’re not ashamed of me. You know, God, maybe, maybe one day You could have joy in me again. Maybe one day You could have gladness in me again. Let me hear joy and gladness.”
You know with my job here at the church I officiate a lot of weddings. It is a privilege; it is something that I love to do. And the more weddings that I do, the more it is pressed home to me that you have a bride’s schedule leading up to the wedding and then you have a groom’s schedule leading up to the wedding, and really they could not be more different. And I married my wife, Lauren, six years ago outside of Boulder, Colorado and these are the kinds of things that Lauren was thinking about the week of our wedding. You know she’s thinking about the reception and the photographer and the flowers and the videographer and the outfit for Friday night and, “Is so-and-so, do they have a ride from the airport?” All of those kinds of things are the things that brides think about. Here’s what I thought about. All that I thought about was my bride. I flew to Denver on Monday, I played golf Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. And so the illustration may break down. I thought a little bit about my putting, but really all that I thought about was Lauren!
What is Jesus thinking about? “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross.” What is the joy set before Jesus? His Bride, His people. He says, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Believer in Jesus, the Lord has removed your guilt, He has obliterated your past record, He has washed you, He has robed you in righteousness, He has hurled your sin into the deepest seas. He has separated them as far as the east is from the west. He has cleaned you. But have you remembered the Gospel lately? He also delights in you. There is a ring and a robe for you. There’s a calf being fattened for you. There is a party about to start in your honor if you would just turn home.
And so David prays, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Notice he’s not praying, “Restore my salvation.” He hasn’t lost it. Just like in verse 11 he’s not saying you can lose your salvation when he says, “Take not your Spirit from me.” You remember David’s story in 1 Samuel 16:13 when he is anointed as king, the Spirit rushes upon him. And so in verse 11, his prayer is, “Let me finish. Don’t take Your anointing away from me. Let me finish.” In verse 12 he’s not praying, “Restore my salvation.” He knows that he has not lost it. He’s praying, “Restore my joy. Restore my joy.” You know, maybe that’s a prayer that you need to pray today. “God, restore my joy. Restore my joy.” Bring your shame, bring your need, bring your heart, bring your mess, broken as it is, come as you are and the joy of the Lord will be a medicine to you. David says that “The bones that the Lord has broken will rejoice.” This is restorative language.
The Language of Creation
And then briefly, he moves into creation language. He says in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart.” This is creation language. This is the word that Moses used in Genesis 1 for God’s creation of all things, to bring light out of darkness, to bring order out of chaos. “And so, Lord, do that to me. Don’t just clean me. Don’t just restore what we had, but make me new. Give me a new love for You. Give me newfound trust in You.” And he prays in verse 12, “Give me a willing spirit.” In other words, “Help me to love what You love, God. Help Your passions be my passions, Your priorities my priorities.” This is creation language.
David’s Story to Tell
And so we saw first, in David’s confession, a posture of need. David looks into the Word of God and he sees that he is a sinner. He puts all the cards on the table. And then second, we see a turning unto the mercy of God for cleansing and for restoration and for new creation. And so to bring this in for a landing, what do we do with all of this? I just have two things by way of application. The first thing is that if God has broken through your hardened, hiding heart, you have a story to tell. I want you to notice in verse 13, notice the “then.” He says, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will return to you.” Verse 14, “Deliver me and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.” Verse 15, “Open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.” You have a story to tell. You know we fear exposure. We like to keep the cards close to the vest. You know, “Don’t find out my struggles, my sorrows, my stories, my sin. Don’t ask about my wounds or my weakness. Don’t shine the spotlight on my fumbles or failures or the imperfections in my heart or in my mind.” David was quiet for at least nine months and when God broke through and was merciful to him, purged him, washed him whiter than snow, created in him a clean heart, renewed a right spirit within him, upheld him, sustained him, delivered him, David had a story to tell.
And so you don’t have to, like David, write it down and give it to the choirmaster, but maybe the friend or the neighbor or the co-worker that God brings into your life can hear your story and can say, “Well if God was rich in mercy towards you, if God was rich in mercy towards you, maybe God could be rich in mercy towards me. You know, if God cleaned that, if He washed you whiter than snow, do you think that maybe He could wash me? Do you think that maybe He could deep-clean me and the mess that is my life and my family?” Repenters are the best evangelists. That’s the first thing. You have a story to tell.
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus
The second thing is this, last thing. Maybe your sins aren’t David’s sins. You know, David outwardly committed adultery and was involved in manslaughter. Maybe those aren’t your sins, but maybe your sins are still heavy and you long to be clean and you long to be whiter than snow and your heart is hardened and hiding and all of this, all this stuff that we’re doing, it still leaves you flat and it still leaves you cold. You don’t have joy. Then what do you do with that? Fix your eyes on Jesus. Take the scattered pleas and prayer of David here in Psalm 51 and intersect it and connect it with the life and death of Jesus Christ. Everything that David asks for, everything that David finds here – mercy, cleansing, deliverance – everything that he asks for God either reversed or did the opposite to another King, His own Son. In verse 1 when David pleads, he begs for mercy, Jesus received no mercy. In verse 7 when David said, “Purge me with hyssop,” Jesus was counted as the sinner in your place. In verse 8 when David says, “Let me hear joy and gladness,” Jesus, on the cross says, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” and He hears nothing. He doesn’t hear joy or gladness. Fix your eyes on Jesus.
When was the last time you were blown away or really bowled over that God loves you like this in Jesus? And I’ll close with this story. A little while back I bumped into a story of a young man from Chicago and he moved to Kentucky where he met and wooed and won a young woman. And they moved back to Chicago where they had three relatively blissful years of marriage. And one day this woman fell mysteriously ill. She went into a seizure of pain and lost her mind. At best she was demented; at worst a screaming maniac, so loudly in fact that the neighbors complained and they moved to the suburbs so that the husband could better nurse his wife. A family physician suggested that he take his wife back to their old Kentucky home, that when they moved to the suburbs and that didn’t work, maybe going back to the old homestead would help. And they went for weeks but nothing happened. And so defeated and disappointed, the young man put his wife in the car and headed back to Chicago. And as they got close to home he looked over and discovered that she had fallen asleep and it seemed to him that it was her first deep, restful sleep in a long time. And so when they got to the house he lifted her from the car, he put her in their bed, and she continued to sleep. And he decided just to sit with her in the darkness and so he just sat there while she slept until the sun came up and his bride awoke and she saw her husband by her side and she said, “I seem to have been on a long journey. Where have you been?” And the husband, after speaking for months, for years of waiting, he said only, “Sweetheart, I have been right here, waiting on you the whole time.”
Has it been a long time for you? Maybe never. There is a ring and a robe for you. There is a calf being fattened. There is a party about to start if you would just turn home, if you would go home and buy wine, buy milk without money, without cost. Come home with the sweet miracle of empty hands. Amen. May God bless His Word to us this morning. Let’s pray.
Our great God and heavenly Father, we ask that You would do more than we could ask or imagine, that You would have mercy on us, that You would let the bones that You have crushed rejoice, that You would create in us a clean heart. Restore our joy and give us a new song on our lips this morning. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
©2016 First Presbyterian Church.
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