05 May Psalm 51 – Why did I do that?
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 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. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Have you ever experienced a moment where you ask yourself, “Why did I do that? I can’t believe I just did it.” Tonight I want to talk about sin and how we can repent from sin. The word repentance is an interesting word. We used it all the time in church but we have no idea how to do it. And we do not know how to do it because we think we know it already. Many of us equate repentance to feeling bad and guilty after you do something wrong. So you did something bad, you felt bad about it, and you said “I’m sorry.” But that is not repentance. Repentance is so much more than feeling bad about your sin. And Psalm 51 is possibly the best passage in the Bible for us to learn how to repent. Through this psalm, David will show us the root cause of sin and how to be healed from sin.
Let me give you the context for this psalm. This psalm is written by King David and the caption tells us that he wrote this psalm after Nathan the prophet came to him and rebuked him for his sin. The story goes like this. One day, David was walking on the roof of his house and he saw a very beautiful woman bathing. If the Bible calls you very beautiful, then you must be very beautiful. David was intrigued and he went, “Olaalaa… check out that girl!” and he found out that the woman was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. So David sent his wingman to take her to his house and David slept with her. Few weeks later, Bathsheba found out that she was pregnant and she sent message to David saying, “I am pregnant.” This put David in a big dilemma because Bathsheba was not a stranger. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, one of David’s most trusted warriors. He was one of David’s closest friend back from the days when David was still a fugitive. And when David slept with Bathsheba, Uriah was out risking his life fighting David’s war. Can you imagine how messed up it was? Then David tried to cover it up. He called Uriah back from the frontline and asked him questions on the condition of the battle. After David made sure that he asked Uriah enough questions to get rid of any suspicion, he said to Uriah, “Well, thank you Uriah for all your hard work. It’s getting late now so you should go home, take shower, eat a good meal, and have sex with your wife. Don’t worry about going back to the battle tonight. You can go back in a day or two.” Uriah replied, “There is no way I can do that. All my comrades are fighting a war right now. There is no way I can go home and enjoy the company of my wife while my men are out in the cold risking their lives. I won’t do that.” Can you see how good of a man Uriah was? So what did David do? He wrote a letter to his general, Joab, and he gave the letter to Uriah for him to deliver to Joab. In the letter, David told Joab to send Uriah to a very dangerous mission and to make sure he does not survive. So Uriah delivered his own death letter. Joab did what was commanded and Uriah died in a battle. As soon as the news of Uriah’s death reached David, David took Bathsheba and married her. David thought he got it covered. No one would find out about his sin and his evil plot. Till few months later, Nathan the prophet showed up at the palace.
Nathan was very wise. He did not confront David straight away but he told David a story. “David, I have a story to tell you. There was a rich man who owns lots of sheep and there was a poor man who just had one little lamb. But this lamb was the poor man’s treasure. The man slept and played with this lamb and the lamb was like a daughter to him. But then one day the rich man stole the lamb from him and killed it in order to feed his guests. What should we do with the rich man?” David was furious. “As long as the LORD lives, this rich man deserves to die. What a wretched man. I will make sure that the poor man receives justice. I will make the rich man pay for what he did.” Nathan looked at David and dropped the bomb. He said, “You are the man!” With this statement, David’s world was turned upside down. He realized that he had sinned against the LORD. He realised that he deserved death for his crime. But the wonder of all wonder, David did not die. David deserved to die but he lived. And in what was probably the darkest day of his life, he wrote Psalm 51. Some of you are thinking right now, “How does this story has anything to do with me? I will never sleep with another person’s spouse and kill their spouse!” Do you know that David is called a man after God’s own heart? If a man after God’s own heart can do this, what makes you think you won’t? Don’t overestimate yourself. All of us blow it. But Psalm 51 shows us that there is hope for us.
So, Psalm 51. Four things. The appeal; the problem; the solution; the result.
Psalm 51:1-2 – 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!
I love David’s opening lines. When David realised that he sinned, he quickly made an appeal to God. David knows that the only one that can save him is God. There are two unforgiveable crimes in the Mosaic laws: deliberate murder and adultery. And David ticks both boxes. He is two out of two in the list of crimes with no forgiveness. He knows that he deserves death. The law of God demands it. So what did David do? He appeals to the highest authority. He appeals to God. David knows that it is God who demanded justice from David but David also knows that the only one who can save him is the same God who demanded justice. So David makes an appeal to God. But pay attention to what he says. David does not appeal to God based on his position as a king. He does not say, “God, I am the king of your people. You should be more lenient to me. You should save me some face.” David does not make an appeal based on his past performances either. He does not say, “God, I was faithful to you for many years. I had the chance to kill Saul but I did not. I killed Goliath and I won many wars. I wanted to build you a temple but you told me that I could not. I led this nation to love you and fear you as their LORD. And if that’s not enough, I wrote many psalms. Please look at my past records and forgive me of my sins.” David also does not make his appeal on how sincere he is in repenting, nor in future promises that he will do to make up for his sins. David does none of it. David knows that his position and performances mean nothing in the eyes of God. So David makes his appeal based on something else. He appeals to God based on God’s mercy. David understands that the only thing that can save him is the mercy of God. David does not appeal on his goodness but on God’s goodness. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” This is a very fundamental lesson that we need to embrace. The only thing that can save us from the wrath of God toward sin is the mercy of God. The only one that can save us from God is God.
Psalm 51:3-6 – 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.
Okay, these four verses is very fundamental to the doctrine of sin. Let me break it down into three parts. First, everyone have awareness of sin. David says that he knows his transgressions. The word know here is from the Hebrew word, “yada” which means knowing something intimately. David is saying that he is not only know about his sin but he knows his sin really well. His sin is ever before him. It is like a living nightmare. It is like a blue-ray that keeps on playing at the back of his mind. Everyone is intimately aware of their sins. But what we do most of the time is we try to supress that awareness. We distract ourselves with many things so that we don’t have to face the reality of our sins. If we can be honest, we know that there is something wrong with us but we try to ignore it by pretending that it does not exist. Everyone have deep intimate awareness of their sins. They might not call it sin but they know that there is something broken inside of them.
Second, sin is primarily against God. This might surprise you. But David clearly says that, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” But as we know from the story, David not only sinned against God. David sinned against Bathsheba. I don’t think Bathsheba had any choice when David send his messengers to take her to his house. David sinned against Uriah. He plotted Uriah’s death. David also sinned against his family and Israel. And what David is saying here is not that he does not sin against those people. Of course he sinned against them but all of those sins are nothing in comparison to his sin against God. Yes our sins hurt other people around us but the ultimate horror of sin is that sin is an attack against God. Let me give you example. Let’s say that I see a cat and I don’t like cat and I slap the cat in the face. What happen? The cat run away. Let’s say I don’t like you and I slap you in the face. What happen? You let me slap you on the other side of your face because you are a Christian. Let’s say I slap my dad in the face. What happen? He slap me back ten times. Let’s say I slap a policeman. What happen? Jail. Let’s say I slap our Prime Minister in the face. What happen? You will not see me for the next 10 years. But let’s say I slap the God of the universe in the face. What happen? And this is the horror of sin. When we sin, we actually slap God in the face. Because every single commandment comes from God. When we break them, it is an assault against God. The sin under all sin is sin against God. Martin Luther puts it this way. He says that you cannot break other commandments of God unless you first break the first commandment. With another word, you cannot kill, steal, lie and commit adultery, unless you first break the first commandment, which is, “you shall not have other gods before me.” When you break God’s commandment, you are actually putting something else in the place of God. You are rejecting God as God and you are slapping him in the face. Let me show you. Raise your hand if you ever tell a lie. If you do not raise your hand, you are lying right now. Why do you lie? We can lie for different reasons but ultimately we tell lie because it brings us more benefit than telling the truth. Agree? Why do you lie to your girlfriend? Because you don’t want your girlfriend to think bad of you and you don’t want to make her upset. What you are doing is you are putting your girlfriend’s opinion and feeling in the place of God. Are you lying in order to make more money? Then that means that money is more important than God. Do you see what happen? The sin under all sin is sin against God. David understands this.
He goes on to say, “so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” David agrees with God’s verdict of him. He does not make excuses and he is not shifting the blame. He does not say, “God, this is not fair. Bathsheba is too beautiful. It’s her fault for being so beautiful. I’m just following my urge as a man. And God, why did you make her so beautiful if you know that one day I will see her taking a bath and fall for her? If Bathsheba looks like my grandma, then this would never happen.” David owns his sin and he confesses that God is right, true and blameless. If God send David to hell, God is innocent. David does not make any excuse. Do you realize that we always have a way to not see what we do not want to see? You can always find a point of view and angle that hides reality. You know this. You see it all the time. You know that there are many people who look taller in picture than they are in person. You know that there are certain angles and certain point of view, that makes someone look taller in the picture than they really are. If the camera just hits you at the right angle, your leg looks long and it looks wonderful. You can always find a way to hide the reality. But David does not do that. David owns his sin and refuse to blame anything or anyone but himself.
But the third thing is probably the hardest to take for modern people. Third, all of us were born in sin. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David is not blaming his mother for conceiving him in sin. He is making a point that he was already sinful from the moment he was born. This is what theologians called the original sin. Listen. Sin is not first and foremost what we do but what we are. We are not sinful because we sin but we sin because we are sinful. David’s sin is not a freak accident. It is not something that shows up out of nowhere. Before David committed adultery with Bathsheba, David first desired to have sex with someone who was not his wife. Before David murdered Uriah, David thought of all the plans and how to execute the plan to perfection. Puberty did not cause David to sin. The problem with David is the same problem that all of us have. We were born with sinful heart. Which mean, all of us have propensity to sin ever since we came out of our mother’s womb. No one was born innocent. None. If you have kids or if you are a Sunday school teacher, you would know this very well. Why does some kids love to bite other kids? Have you ever wonder? Do they see their parents fight for TV remote and bite one another? I hope not. Why is it that their favourite word is “no” and “mine”? Why are babies extremely self-centred? Have you ever meet an unselfish baby? No. From the moment they were born, they demanded your attention. None of them were born and think, “Dad, Mom, thank you for giving birth to me. Especially you mom. Thank you for the long hours of labour you endure for my sake. Now that I’m out, you can rest. I’ll behave myself and you don’t have to worry about me.” No. From the moment they were born, they were crying, “I want your attention, now! Feed me and make me warm.” And this self-centredness does not stop in babies. It continues to affect us. You don’t believe me? What is the first thing you look at when you look at a group picture? How do you decide between good and bad group picture? You. And it does not matter if everyone in the picture looks bad. As long as you look good in that picture, you will post that picture. But it does not matter if everyone looks good in the picture. If you look bad in the picture, you delete that picture. All of us were born in sin.
If we understand this, we know that what caused us to sin is not our circumstances. We sin because we want to do it. No one can force us to sin. We sin out of our own choice. Our circumstance is only the occasion for sin but not the cause of sin. What should bother us is not the fact that we sin but the fact that we have the desire to do it in the first place. St. Augustine, who wrote extensively on the original sin, gave a very good example. When he was 16 years old, he and few other teenagers broke into a pear garden and stole pears. Augustine then tried to contemplate on the reason he stole the pears. He realized that he was not hungry. He also did not like pear. Then why did he stole those pears? His answer is very revealing. He said that he stole those pears because he found pleasure in stealing those pears. He liked it because it was forbidden. He had no interest in the pears until somebody said, “You can’t have those pears.” Then suddenly he really wanted those pears. Sounds like you and me? This is the reality of our hearts. When we look at David, it is easy for us to think, “There is no way I would do that. There is no way I would have sex with another man’s wife and there is no way I would murder anyone.” But Psalm 51 tells us that all of us are capable to do what David did. Do not overestimate yourself. You are capable of a lot worse than you are willing to admit. Given the same opportunity and circumstance, we can easily repeat David’ sin. And my friend, it did not take much for David to commit adultery and murder. All it took was a single glance. That’s it. David looked at where he should not look. And out of that single glance, it led to adultery, lies and murder. Sin always started small. Sin always lies to you and tell you that you have it under control. It is only a glance. No harm. But that is the lies of the devil. Sin is infinitely serious and it is an assault on God. Do you know what caused the chaos and havoc in the world that we lived in today? Just one sin. One. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and because of it, the son of God had to die. Never ever take sin lightly.
In verses 7 to 12, there are two things that David essentially asks for. And these two things he asks for is the solution for his problems. First, David asks for cleansing from sin. Psalm 51:7-9 – 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. David realises that he sinned against God and the first thing he ask for is cleansing from sin. The word “purge” literally means “de-sin.” With another word, David is asking God to “un-sin” him. He is asking God to wash him from his sin and makes him whiter than snow. This is a very interesting imagery. As many of you know, I love wearing white. And for whatever reason, almost every time when we eat Jajangmyeon after church, I happen to wear white. And inevitably I would spill the black sauce on my shirt. It’s annoying. But praise God for bleach. I can bleach my white shirt and makes the taint dissapear. However, you know that as you wash and bleach your white shirt frequently, slowly the white fades into yellow. But when David speaks of God’s cleansing of his sin, he is confident that he will be whiter than snow. The white will not fade into yellow. When God cleanse David from his sin, it will be as if David have never sin. It will be as if sin has never touch David. The cleansing of God is more powerful than the strongest of bleach.
However, the cleansing of God is extremely costly. It involves sacrifice. James Boice refers to this as the most important yet least understood words in verse 7, “purge me with hyssop.” The word hyssop is extremely crucial in understanding this passage. In the Old Testament, when someone committed a sin, they would come to the priest for cleansing. And hyssop is a small plant that is used like a small brush. So the priest would use hyssop to brush and sprinkle blood over a sacrifice. So when David asks God to purge him with hyssop, David is referring to the process of sacrifice, especially the sprinkling of blood. David knows that the penalty of his sin is death and for him to be cleansed from his sin, there need to be a payment. Blood must be spilled. God cannot just overlook sin as if it did not happen. The author of Hebrews is extremely clear on this point. Hebrews 9:22 – Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Here is something that we know. There is no forgiveness of sins without shedding of blood. In the Old Testament, the blood that was shed was the blood of calves and goats. But in the New Testament, we no longer need the blood of calves and goats because Jesus has shed his blood for us. Hebrews 10:19-22 – Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Here is the good news for you and me. Because of the blood of Jesus, you and I can be cleansed from all of our sins. God can make us whiter than snow. He will not only forgive our sins, he will treat us as if we have never sinned. And all of this are available for us for free. This is the wonder of grace. Christ paid it all with his blood so that we can receive forgiveness for free. Despite all our sin, God makes a way for you and me to be washed away whiter than snow. This is what separate Christianity from every religion in the world. We do not have to work hard to earn our forgiveness. We can be made right with God by simply humbling ourselves before him, confesses our sins and trust him that he has send his one and only Son to die for our sins so that we may live. This is amazing grace. However, forgiveness alone is not enough. It does not matter if we are forgiven from sin if we do not have the power to resist sin. We will fall back into sin. Which lead us to the second thing David asks of God.
Second, David asks for a clean heart. Psalm 51:10-12 – 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. John Piper makes a very good observation. Remember that the cause of all this problem is David’s sexual sin. Yet David does not ask God for sexual restraint. He does not ask God for a better self-control. David understands that his sexual sin is just a symptom and not the disease. The main problem with David is not sexual problem but he has a sinful heart. If the problem with David is that he was born with a sinful heart, then what David needs is a clean heart. David asks God to create in him a clean heart. And interestingly, David uses the word “bara.” This is the word that is used in Genesis 1 when God created the heaven and the earth. David is asking for a brand new creation. He is not asking God to renew his heart but to create in him a brand new clean heart. And this is exactly what God promised to do for us in Ezekiel 36:25-27 – I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. This is the promise that Christ has fulfilled for us in the New Testament. When we put our faith in Christ, we are not only cleansed from our sins but we are given a brand new heart that loves the LORD and want to obey his rules. Or to use Paul’s word, 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. This is the beauty of the gospel. The God we offended is the same God who provided the way of salvation! Our sin is so bad till God’s only Son has to die for it. But God is so loving that he is willing to do it.
David then asks God to restore to him the joy of God’s salvation. Joy is a not a worldly happiness. The joy of salvation is independent of circumstances. The joy of salvation comes from knowing that we deserved death but God in his mercy comes to us, forgives us and creates a clean heart in us. The joy of salvation is the joy of coming to God empty handed only to leave with the free gift of God’s grace. The reason why many of us lack this joy is because we spend too long looking at ourselves. Yes we need to stop and take a look at ourselves. When we do, we become unhappy; we see things that should not be there and it leaves us in despair. But don’t stop there. After a thorough examination of ourselves, we need to look to Jesus. Spurgeon says that for every one look at self, take ten looks at Christ. And when we look to Jesus, it can make even the worst sinner joyful because we find assurance of pardon and forgiveness. And the promise is not only to create a new heart in us but that God is also upholding us with a willing spirit. There is joy in knowing God will not leave us the same. He will complete the good works he started in us. Therefore our confidence is not in ourselves but in Christ and his power to sustain us to the end. We know for sure that unless God holds us up we will certainly fall. But because God uphold us, we will not fail.
Psalm 51:13-19 – 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
First, we proclaim the gospel to sinners. David has experienced the grace of God and he is compelled to teach other about the grace of God. The joy of being forgiven will lead to wanting others to experience the same thing. If you have been forgiven of all your sins, if you know that God has saved you from the path of eternal death and brought you into the path of eternal life, it is impossible to remain silent about it. Evangelism is not something that we must do. Evangelism is something that flows naturally from our life as Christians. We have the best news in the universe – “Christ has come and died to cleanse you from your sins. He is the only one who can and he will do it if you put your trust in him.”
Second, we praise God. When you realized that you have sinned against God but God in his grace has cleanse you from all your sins through the death of his Son on a cross, then the only natural response that comes out our mouth is praise. We just have to praise God. We cannot not express our thankfulness and gratitude. Praise will overflows out of us. Let me be clear. David sings to God not because God took away all the consequences of his sins. There were heavy consequences. The child of Bathsheba that was conceived in her adultery with David died. And if you read what happen to David’s family after this, it’s messed up. It was the kind of mess that even Jerry Springer would be embarrassed to show. David paid heavy consequences for his sins. But David still praises God. Do you know why? Because despite of David’s sin, David cannot destroy God’s plan A for his life. Out of all the wives that David had and out of all the sons that David had, God intentionally chose Solomon, the other son of David and Bathsheba to be next king of Israel. Do you know what God is saying? God is saying to David and us, “Don’t you dare take sin lightly. There will be a heavy consequences for your sins. Sin is more devastating than what you can imagine. But never think that your sin is beyond my grace. I am so powerful and gracious that I can use your sin and make it part of my plan A. You are never in my plan B. I am that sovereign and that loving. I don’t have plan B. My plan has always been Solomon.” This is why we can praise God. Our sin is great but his grace is greater.
Third, we have humility. What God is after is not a sacrifice but a broken and contrite spirit that knows that we desperately need him. It does not mean that God does not want sacrifice but it does mean that our sacrifice means nothing if we do not have the right spirit. It is only when we know that we are in desperate need of God’s grace that our sacrifices are acceptable to God. What God want first and foremost is not our sacrifice but our trust in him. It is only when our heart is right then God is pleased with sacrifices.
Fourth, we live in community. Psalm 51 starts off as David’s personal song to God. But then it became the song of Israel. This is something that we need to understand. Your Christian life is not just about you and God. We are not designed to live on our own. We are designed to live in a community. We are designed to repent and praise God with each other. We need one another in our walk with Christ. All of us need Nathans in our life who is not afraid to confront us when we sin. We might not like them when they confronted us but we will be thankful for them few years after they confronted us. We are dead without them. So make sure you have Nathans in your life and make sure you are a Nathan to someone else. There is no superman in the church. There is only one Saviour and his name is Jesus. Sin is devastating. Do not overestimate yourself. We need one another to rebuke and to remind us of the Gospel. Christianity is not an individual project but it is a community project. So if you have not join an MC, I implore you to join one.
- There are three main wrong ways in how we appeal to God. Position, past performance, and future promises. Which one do you tend to fall into? Why it does not work?
- “The ultimate horror of sin is that sin is an attack against God.” Is this the way we think of our sin? Why or why not?
- “All of us were born in sin.” Why do the modern people find it hard to accept this truth? Give daily examples that show that all of us were born in sin. (Do not use examples in the script).
- Explain the importance of “hyssop” and how it relates to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus.
- Why is it important for God to create in us a clean heart?
- Explain the relationship between the consequences of sin and the grace of God. Can you see these two work hand in hand in your life? Share your story.
- What does it mean to be “Nathan” to one another? How can we be a better “Nathan” for one another?