Do please take a Bible in hand and turn with me to Psalm 51; Psalm 51, page 747 of the church Bible. Psalm 51, as you may know, is the great penitential psalm, a psalm of confession, crying to God for cleansing and pardon. The historical context is provided for us in the superscription at the head of the passage which reads, "To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him after he had gone into Bathsheba." So you remember the situation. David has committed adultery and Nathan has confronted him with the Word of God and David was deeply convicted of his sin. This is his prayer as he turns back to the Lord.
And while we're going to read the psalm together in just a moment, it's not my intention to work through it all this evening, rather I want to direct your attention to verse 13 in particular where we're shown how the work of grace for which David cries, the work of grace in his life, relates to the ministry David purposes to exercise. In other words, he understands that if he is to faithfully discharge his duties as Israel's shepherd, he must himself become intimately acquainted with the mercy of God. And we're going to consider the teaching of our passage under three very simple headings. We'll think, as you can see from the title of the message, we'll think about the motive and the method and the mission of faithful ministry. The motive, method, and mission of faithful ministry. Before we read the psalm together, let me invite you to bow your heads with me as we pray. Let us pray.
O King Jesus, rule Your Church now, by the royal scepter of Your holy Word. For we ask it in Your name, amen.
Psalm 51 at verse 1. This is the Word of God:
“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, and we bless the Lord that He has spoken in His Word.
I wonder if those of you who are involved in any capacity in teaching on any kind of regular basis would agree with the thesis that a teacher who is not a learner is a liability. A teacher who is not a learner is a liability. To try and teach what you don’t know is a recipe for disaster. Isn’t it? Whatever we might say about teaching in general, it’s surely beyond all dispute that what the Church of Jesus Christ needs is not men to teach about a Jesus they’ve never met, but pastors whose preaching is the overflow of deep, personal acquaintance with Him. Psalm 51 verse 13 is a reminder that faithful ministry to others happens when God is at work ministering to us.
Notice how verse 13 begins. “Then I will teach.” Then I will teach. The word “then” is supplied in the English translation – it’s not there in the original – but that’s what the Hebrew means. What David says in verse 13 follows as a consequence of what he’s been saying in the rest of the psalm. Here’s the motive, first of all, for David’s ministry. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love,” and then, “I will teach.” “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin,” and then, “I will teach.” “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; let me hear joy and gladness. Hide your face from my sin and blot out my iniquity,” and then, “I will teach.” “Cleanse me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence nor take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” “Do a fresh and renewed work of grace; forgive and cleanse and renew my heart. Come to me, by the Gospel as it were. Minister to me the pardon You provide for sinners who come to You in faith. And then, I will teach transgressors Your way.”
You may have seen the news reports the other week about the man who committed suicide by stealing an empty airplane from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport where he worked as part of the ground crew and he crashed it into an island nearby. He managed to take off, even perform some impressive aerial acrobatics much to the amazement of air traffic control. It turns out, this man did not have a pilot's license and had never flown a plane before. When they asked, he told air traffic control that he learned to do what he was doing from playing video games. Of course, the one thing he couldn't learn from a video game, the one rather complicated maneuver that he couldn't just intuit his way through, was how to land. I won't repeat the rest of the tragic tale, I'm sure you can guess if you don't know how things ended, but my point is that virtual learning can take you quite far. This man was able to take off and perform loops in the sky without ever having flown a plane before; no firsthand acquaintance with all that's involved in flying a plane. And yet, he managed to do a lot but he didn't know everything he needed to know to be safe. That kind of learning you can't get from books or from video games for that matter. No, for that, you must have personal experience. You have to sit in the cockpit and perform the maneuvers.
Personal Experience of Truths
Look, a minister can fake it pretty effectively for a while. We have books, we have learning, we have plenty of head-knowledge. More is required if a minister is going to fulfill his ministry safely in a way that serves others rather than endangers them. For that, he must have deep, personal experience; experience of the truths that he preaches. David, in verse 13, isn't trying to strike a deal with God. This isn't sort of quid pro quo. He's not trying to leverage forgiveness. You know, "If I agree to teach, will You forgive me? How about that?" That's not what this is. This isn't a plea bargain because he finds himself now in a foxhole, in a jam, and he's trying to bargain his way out. That's not what's going on. No, this is David's resolution, his commitment that when the cleansing power of Gospel mercy breaks in upon his heart he will not keep what he's come to know for himself to himself. He will tell others trapped in sin's snare how to find deliverance.
In Luke 22:31 and 32, Jesus told Simon, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." It's the same point that David is making here. Isn't it? When you have turned back, when you're restored, don't keep it to yourself. Strengthen your brothers. "Then," David says, "when grace has washed my heart and made me clean, when forgiving mercy has restored me," he says, "then I will teach transgressors Your ways." Nothing sustains ministry, nothing will keep you serving and praying and preaching and teaching and loving and giving, Gary, nothing will but the grace and mercy of God toward you personally in the Gospel. Those of us who dare to teach others must work to ensure that our message to others is the fruit, the overflow of our deep, personal acquaintance actually with two great facts principally.
Know our Sinful Hearts
First, we must have a very clear and growing acquaintance with the depravity of our own sinful hearts so that we despair of self-reliance. A minister is to be the repenter-in-chief. Without a clear grasp of how proud and vain and deceptive our own hearts are, we will not likely serve our master in a posture of dependence upon Him, but rather we will rely on ourselves. So we need to see the truth about ourselves, our own wicked hearts.
Know the Savior’s Love
And we also need a clear and growing acquaintance with another great truth, a greater truth. We must know above all the Savior’s love towards us personally as Gospel servants; the Savior’s love toward us in the Gospel so that as we despair of ourselves we will not fail to preach boldly the unsearchable riches of Christ who is God’s great remedy for our heart trouble as well as for yours. It is, as Paul said, “the love of Christ that constrains us.” “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!” It’s because I am so loved that I love. And for the minister of the Gospel that means that we serve others and we preach the Word out of a sense of despairing of self and out of a wonder that we are so beloved in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we want others to come with us to see those twin truths – the wretchedness of a sinner’s heart and the perfect sufficiency of Jesus our Savior. “Then,” he says, “then I will teach transgressors Your ways.” The motive for ministry is personal acquaintance with the grace of God in his own life.
Then secondly, notice what we learn here about the method of a faithful ministry. What is it that David commits himself to? He is the king of Israel and as king, there were doubtless a thousand tasks that he could not safely neglect as he led his people. But his resolution here is to "teach transgressors God's ways." His subject is the ways of God, the life to which God calls us; His law, His character, His will for His people. Transgression is the characteristic mark of people who do not know or do not care to know the ways of God. They make up their own ways. They live according to their own understanding. And when self rules like that, every step we take along the path of our own willful rebellion transgresses; it crosses the line. It's an act of trespass into forbidden territory. The only safe paths are God's ways.
The Ways of God
And David says, “Having strayed myself from those paths, having wandered off into disobedience and sin of my own, having taken a wrong turn time and again and having fallen hard,” David says, “I know the emptiness and regret of that mistake. I know that those detours are, every one of them, dead ends. And so when the Lord restores me, I will devote myself to teaching others the ways of God that they might not fall as I once have.” And so David the king commits himself to becoming David the teacher. “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways.” When grace grips a heart and pardon and cleansing and mercy comes in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we find, awakening in our lives, a growing urge to serve one another. It’s a mark, an evidence of grace. Grace always propels us beyond ourselves towards others. For David, the ministry before him was a ministry of teaching the ways of God, teaching the Word of God, the promises of God.
Order of Priority
Look, isn’t it easy, those of us who serve in Gospel ministry, isn’t it easy to get our ministerial priorities skewed by the administrative and organizational pressures that inevitably come with pastoral office? Isn’t it easy to justify our business and our neglect of our main task by telling ourselves that all the other details to which we’ve devoted our time and effort, well, they’re ministry too? And when David says here, “I will teach transgressors,” he’s not for a moment suggesting that he will neglect the other tasks of kingship any more than I’m suggesting that a Gospel minister should neglect any of the administrative or organizational duties that fall to him, but there’s an order of priority. There’s a definite focus to David’s rededication to the Lord as mercy and pardon come to him. Yes he will rule, yes he will lead, yes he will defend his people, yes he will administer justice; he will do all that a king must do. Yes to all of it, but above all and at the heart of it all, he will teach transgressors God’s ways.
A Gospel minister is to minister the Gospel. That ought not to be surprising or controversial, but it is one, I think, we often neglect. A Gospel minister ought to minister the Gospel. Gary, out of the overflow of God’s gracious dealings with you, preach the Word to others. Teach transgressors God’s ways. Let the exposition and application of the Word of God be the hallmark of your ministry. Make Christ known. Show us what He’s done, how He deals with sinners who turn to Him. Teach transgressors God’s way. The method of faithful ministry.
Then thirdly, the mission, the mission of faithful ministry. “Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will return to you.” Notice how those two lines parallel one another. That’s a common feature of Hebrew poetry here. The second line restates and amplifies the first line. David’s teaching is mirrored by sinners returning. And that highlights, doesn’t it, the remarkable confidence David has about the goals and the outcomes of his teaching work. Transgressors and sinners are his audience. The ways of God his subject. Teaching his methodology. And when he reaches them with this teaching of God’s ways, His Word, there is an assured result. “Sinners will return to You.” Calvin put it this way. He said, “The sanguine manner in which David expresses his expectation of converting others is not unworthy of our notice.”
Listen, we are too apt to conclude that our attempts at reclaiming the ungodly are vain and ineffectual and forget God is able to crown them with success. God is able to crown them with success. This isn’t a boast by David. “You know, when I teach they just won’t be able to resist! Revival will immediately ensue, and sinners will all come flocking to you!” That’s not what he’s saying. It is, rather, a declaration of confidence. “I will teach; they will return, not because my teaching is mighty or eloquent or clever, but because Your Word is able to give life to the dead and sight to the blind.” “He speaks and listening to His voice, new life the dead receive. The mournful, broken hearts rejoice; the humble poor believe.” The Gospel is the power of God. The power is in the Word. Teach transgressors God’s ways. Preach Christ crucified. Say to the dry bones, “Live!” That’s our task. It’s an impossible task. We can’t turn sinners to the Savior. We can’t make dead people live.
The Power of the Word
When God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones, Ezekiel must have felt, “What a ridiculous thing to be asked to do.” These dry, desiccated bones – an image, a graphic image of lifelessness if ever there was one. But the Spirit of God brings life where the Word is proclaimed and as Ezekiel began to speak to prophesy, there came a rattling sound as God moved by His Spirit and brought life to these dead bones. Your job, Gary, is to teach transgressors God’s way. But David had every confidence as he did that when he proclaimed the truth, sinners would return to God. Sinners will return to God. We have an impossible mission, impossible. It appears to us ridiculous. “Say to Lazarus, ‘Come forth!’” He’s dead. Flatline – beeeeep! There’s nothing. And yet at the summons of Christ in the preaching of the Word, dead men live. So what confidence we can have as we proclaim Christ. Sinners will return to God. The dead will hear and all whom the Father has given to Christ will come to Christ. We do have an impossible mission, but it’s a mission that cannot fail. From our vantage point, impossible; from God’s, certain and sure.
So Gary, let the motive of your ministry always be the grace of God working in your own heart. Tend to your heart. Keep short accounts with God. Stay, as we were singing earlier, “within the shadow of the cross,” that from the comfort with which you have been comforted you might comfort others also. Let the method of your ministry be the clear, bold, urgent, faithful proclamation of the ways of God. Teach transgressors His ways. Do not shrink back like Paul from declaring to us the whole counsel of God. And finally, cling to the mission, the assured mission, the infallible mission of a faithful ministry. An absurd task, an impossible responsibility. We can’t move a sinner an inch away from hell or an inch toward heaven, and yet when we say to the dry bones, “Live!” listen out for the sound of rattling as bone is connected to bone and God reconstitutes and raises up and brings to life what, to us, is dead and seemingly hopeless cases, return to the Lord. We have an impossible task that cannot fail. Brothers and sisters, be encouraged by the boldness of David and by the confidence he had in the Word of God. The mission cannot fail. Yes, these dry bones can live. “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will return to You.” Let’s pray together.
O Lord, we bow before You and we praise Your name that Your Word is living and active, that it is bearing fruit and increasing. We pray that through our brother Gary’s ministry, as the Word of Christ, as the ways of God are proclaimed and taught, that indeed we would see sinners returning to You and dry bones living, for the glory of Christ’s name, amen.
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