Guest speaker David Brickner walks us through Psalm 51 as a model for repentance in our own lives.
The Psalms is my favorite book of the Bible so it’s a privilege for me to be able to be a part of this series. I’ve chosen my favorite Psalm out of the book for us to take a look at today. Psalm 51, is a Psalm of repentance. I’ve entitled this Repentance as a Lifestyle. Maybe you’re like that southern gentleman who went to church, heard his pastor preaching on repentance, went up to him afterward, and said, “Pastor, now you’ve gone from preaching to meddling.” Repentance starts to get a little scary for us. But it’s meant mentioned over 70 times in the Bible. It’s an important concept for us to dig into.
The Hebrew word for repentance or repent is shoov. It sounds like move only with a ‘sh’ in front of it. I want you to remember shoov because in one sense it means to move, to turn around from the way you’re going and move in the opposite direction. In the Bible’s context, it means to go from walking away from God to walking toward Him. How many of us don’t see the value in moving toward God instead of away from Him? That’s the concept that comes into play here in Psalm 51. There are seven different repentance Psalms that King David penned. This is a fourth of seven. I think it’s the most beautiful. It’s the longer of them all. Also, it’s the transparency. The raw emotion, honesty, and context of the Psalm make it stand out.
When I first became a believer in Jesus, someone said a word of prophecy over me that has stuck with me. Regardless of what you think about words of prophecy, I’ve been grappling with this one because she said, “David, as you grow in the Lord, you’re going to grow into a person just like your namesake, King David.” The Bible says of David that he was a man after God’s own heart, which is pretty cool. Who doesn’t want to be someone after God’s own heart? There are many wonderful things in the Bible, both in the Psalms and in 2 Samuel about the life of David that is admirable. Some are kind of tough. That’s the backdrop of this Psalm. Look at the superscript there at the top, it says, “To the chief musician, a Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him after He had gone into Bathsheba.”
Many know this story, but perhaps you don’t and that’s okay. I encourage you to read it. It’s found in 2 Samuel 11-12. David was a warrior king and every spring he would go out with His armies to fight against the enemies of Israel. They had multiple enemies, but there was one spring where he decided to hang the back. The armies went and he stayed. Sometimes when you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can get in big trouble. Have you found that? Well, David found it in the worst way possible. He was standing on the palace roof looking out over the city and just happened to see this beautiful woman Bathsheba. She was bathing on her roof. He was struck and filled with lust. As kings could do, he commanded that she be brought to him. He had sex with her and she got pregnant.
There were more complications, as you could imagine there usually are. Bathsheba was married to Uriah who was one of David’s generals. David decides, “I’m going to figure out how to cover this thing up.” They always say the cover-up is worse than the crime. He figured he would have Uriah brought back from the battle lines so he can go in and sleep with his wife and no one will be the wiser. Except for the fact when Uriah came back, he had loyalty toward his men who were in battle. He absolutely refused. Even when David tried to encourage him strongly, he refused to go and sleep with his wife. David had to come up with plan B. Plan B was, “All right, send a message with Uriah to the generals.” It said, “Put Uriah at the front lines. When the battle gets really heated, tell your men to fall back.” That’s what happened. Uriah was killed or rather murdered. David thought, “Well, at least I got rid of the problem,” but you never do. What David did became known to the greatest spiritual leader in Israel at the time, the prophet Nathan.
Nathan came to the king and told him a story. He said, “Oh, king, there’s a very wealthy man in your land, a man who when visitors came from afar, instead of going to his flock in abundance, he went down to a very poor man who only had one lamb which he loved. He took that lamb and killed it to feed his guests.” When David heard about it, he was enraged. In his hypocrisy, he said, “Such a man should not be allowed to live.” Nathan said, “Oh, king thou art the man.” It’s one of the greatest moments of confrontation and drama in the scriptures. David pens Psalm 51 out of the brokenness that came from that confrontation. It is powerful. It’s about this idea of what David did, the dark place that he went, the huge broken thing that he did, the sin. Many of us don’t deal with or think of ourselves as murderers or perhaps even adulterers. All of us, in one way or another, carry stuff. Mistakes, problems, and sins that we’ve made in the past, the shame and guilt that goes with that. In the same way, we all need to experience God’s cleansing power in our lives. Regardless of the depth of our problems and brokenness, we can all identify with what David says. We can see in his words of hope for ourselves as well in this idea of repentance. Not only a one-time thing but perhaps even as a lifestyle, as a spiritual discipline. David understands who God is, what sin is, and what true repentance is.
David cries out in verse one, “Have mercy upon me, O God. According to your lovingkindness, according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is always before me. Against you and you only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight. That you may be found just when you speak and blameless when you judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and sin, my mother conceived me. Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part, you will make me know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness that the bones you have broken may rejoice. Hide your face for my sins and blot out all my iniquities, create me a clean heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
“Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me by your generous spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners shall be converted to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation. My tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness open, O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall show forth your praise, for you do not desire sacrifice or else I would give it. You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart. These, O God, you will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion. Build the walls of Jerusalem. Then you shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness with burnt offerings and whole burnt offering. Then they shall offer bulls on your altar.”
Amid this darkness, David grabs hold of repentance as a gift from God. It changes his life and it can change ours as well. We can understand as David did who God is. The nature of God is foundational because a lot of us carry around incomplete, slightly crooked, or broken views of who God is. Perhaps because of how we were raised. Some people think of God, and they see some kind of a tyrannical figure. Someone who’s just there looming, lurking, and waiting for us to trip up so He can punish us. Others may see God as just kind of a distant person like a kindly grandfather who really doesn’t pay much attention or care much about the things that we do good or ill. David knows different. David knows God is consistent. Theologians call this the attribute of immutability. He is always the same. You can count on Him to not act differently from one situation or one person to another. Notice in verse one, David says “have mercy upon me, according to Your lovingkindness, according to the multitude of your tender mercies.” In other words, act like I know you act in accordance with how your nature is, God, you are a good God. He doesn’t need to be convinced, cajoled, or placated.
We don’t have to wonder when we come to Him what kind of mood He’s going to be in. He’s always consistent. He says through the prophet Malachi, an Older Testament prophet, “For I am the Lord, I do not change. Therefore, you are not consumed.” When we understand that God will be consistent, we don’t have to fear coming to Him. It’s important for us to not just know about God, but to know Him, to know who He is. Who is He to David? He’s gracious. His cry for mercy is with an expectation of a response of grace. It’s been said that justice means getting what we deserve. Mercy means not getting what we deserve, but grace means getting what we don’t deserve.
The fact that God is gracious doesn’t mean that we won’t have the fruit of our problems in our lives. He’ll be merciful, but He’ll also be gracious. Look at the words that He uses to describe here. He has lovingkindness. That’s that word grace. That’s how it’s translated here. Grace, lovingkindness, chesed, in the Hebrew means the riches of God wanting the very best for us. He wants to pour that out regardless of whether or not we deserve it. He has not just mercy. David says your tender mercies. There’s a loving, nurturing mercy that God brings into our lives. A generous spirit. He’s not going to say, “What? You Brickner, you’re here again? You’ve had enough opportunity. Get out of here.”
He’s generous, overly generous. His giving is greater than our capacity to receive. David says, “You are in the midst of this situation as you are the God of my salvation.” It’s very personal, very transparent. Is He the God of our salvation? I hope so. It makes all the difference in the world. When we know this about God and we know who God is, we have no fear in coming to Him because we know that He wants what is best for us. He’ll do what’s best for us. He’ll be consistent and gracious, but He will also be just. This is important too because the person who thinks that God is some kind of grandfatherly character who really doesn’t care about what we do or don’t do, David says, “No, actually God is the judge of all the earth.”
David says in His repentance here, “Against you and you only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight.” Now, how could He say that? Had David not sinned against Bathsheba? Against Uriah? Well, of course, he had. Any time we have some aspect of sin or brokenness in our lives, it doesn’t just impact us, does it? Other people around us are hurt often as well. The only cry for relief and justice that either Uriah, Bathsheba, or anyone else can make is because justice is fully established in the character of God Himself. Only because of who He is and the standard that He has set can we know good from evil, right from wrong, truth from falsehood. They are fully established in Him. There are so many places in our world today where there is sin, injustice. We know ultimately that God is a just God. He’s going to make all things right in the end. The claim for justice anywhere in the world is based upon the fact that He is a good, gracious, and just God who really does care about what’s going on in this world that He’s created.
When we realize what God is, who God is, what He’s like, then we’re going to have a better sense as David did of the true nature of sin. We tend to struggle with repentance as a lifestyle because we haven’t always fully grasped the true nature of sin. Some of us will say, “Well, it’s just the worst form of behavior. I’ve never done anything as David did so I’m okay.” Or we’ll see it like so many people do who get caught in some kind of a scandal, whether it’s a government official or Hollywood and the cameras, they get up and say, “I made a mistake.” For me, a mistake is when you turn the wrong way down a one-way street, it doesn’t exactly describe the depth of what sin is. David does in the words he used in this passage. He sees it as things, which separate us from God, anything big or small. He uses the word transgression which is like crossing a boundary. We think of our neighbor’s house, that would be a boundary. If you break into your neighbor’s house, there are consequences. There are all kinds of boundaries in this world that are set and established because of who God is. We often cross over those boundaries. The other one is missing the mark. That’s what iniquity means. There’s a mark that’s been set. You have an arrow that you pull back and shoot at the target, but the arrow falls short. It goes to the right or left, it misses.
All of us have participated in behaviors. Some say, “Yeah, well, I’m just not that sinful.” Think of it this way. Two men are caught around an erupting volcano and they run to get away. Their only escape is blocked by a river of lava. They know they have to jump it to get away. One of them is an old man, the other is young and they both take a running start. The old man leaps as far as he can, but it’s only a few feet. Into the boiling lava, he falls to perish. The young man, much stronger, healthy, leaps very far and he almost makes it, but not quite, same fate. God doesn’t grade sin on a curve. In reality, anything that separates us from a holy God is sin. Where does it come from? David says in verse five, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” He’s not talking about what was going on when his mom got pregnant. He’s talking about something that all of us when we are honest recognize. There’s something broken in this world. Even in the smallest of children we see selfishness, all kinds of things that demonstrate the fact that unlike what many of us would like to believe and what religions teach, we aren’t born good. We’re not even born morally neutral. We’re born broken. That’s what David is talking about here.
To quote another famous Jewish poet that I enjoy, Bob Dylan in his song Saved, he says, “I was blinded by the devil, born already ruined stone-cold dead as I stepped out of the womb.” That’s part of the reality of the sin that we’re talking about. Think about it this way. Have you ever bitten into an apple and found a worm inside even though there’s no hole on the outside of the apple you bit? How did that happen? Simply this. An insect laid an egg in the apple blossom. As the blossom turned into an apple, that egg inside hatched and that worm began to chew its way out, out to the outer side. It’s a picture if you will, of sin, which is in our hearts from the very beginning and eventually chews its way through wrong attitudes and actions out into our lives. The impact is often brutal.
What does it do to us? David says here it’s a joy killer in verse 11, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, God.” Through this experience, he had lost His joy. I have to say I know what that’s like too. I don’t know, it makes me sick actually to think of the number of days in my life where I’ve walked around joyless in my life because there’s something that I haven’t dealt with between me and God. I, for whatever reason, pride, inattention, didn’t shoov, didn’t move back toward Him. I took my time and lived in joylessness. It also limits our access to the very presence of God and the power of His Holy Spirit. He says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and also do not cast me away from your presence. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.” All these things, the person who’s ever experienced what it means to be in a relationship with God, this is like torture.
Yet, how often do we live in this kind of God removed state? That’s why repentance, turning back toward Him needs to be not just a one-time or once a month thing, but a daily thing that I need to eat every day. It should be part of our spiritual discipline. Once we understand what sin is like and the corrosive nature of it in terms of our connectedness to God, then we respond out of desperation, hopefulness, and need by repenting. David has a very clear view of what repentance truly is. It’s not merely saying I made a mistake. That’s important to realize when we do, but unless we fully understand what repentance truly is, we’ll resist the process. It requires a certain amount of self-awareness, transparency, and a willingness to come to grips with who God is and what sin is. When we repent, it’s not merely acknowledging a mistake. It’s not merely embarrassment or shame. It’s not merely disappointment or regret. There are a few things that David says in this Psalm that are very poignant. First, he starts with a cry for mercy. We know mercy means not getting what you deserve. If you’re crying for it, you know what you do deserve. You’re coming to God now asking for mercy because you don’t have a leg to stand on. There’s no trick up the sleeve. There is no hope that we can negotiate out of this one. It’s just I’ve got no other hope, but the mercy of God.
He says blot out my transgression like there’s a book somewhere where it needs to be erased. David thought that he had escaped notice. He thought he had covered it up with plans A and B. Neither of them worked because ultimately God’s truth has a way of shining a light on our lives. David says. “So please, God, you got the book, wipe it out, erase, use some Wite-Out, whatever you have to do, God. Help me here.” He uses some very interesting language as well that comes from ancient Israel worship. He talks about hyssop. Purge me, wash me. These are words that are very descriptive of the Older Testament process of people being cleansed from ceremonial impurity.
If you were coming down with leprosy, which is a dreaded skin disease, you could go to the priest and sprinkled with hyssop in the hopes that God would heal you at that moment. David’s saying, “I’m like a spiritual leper.” Very graphic words. Or if you come in contact with a dead body, you’re ceremonially unpure. You have to go and be cleaned up, you need to be washed. A leper, white scales on your skin make me whiter than snow, God. Heal me. Bring life from these dead bones, which you have broken. These are graphic words, descriptions that leave us feeling like, “Boy, I don’t know if I want to do this.” Here’s why it’s so hopeful. It is because you can’t, we can’t, I can’t. He says, “Created me a clean heart, O God.” You see, this is all a work of God. It’s supernatural work that we can’t do on our own. It’s only because of His grace that we’re able to realize our need to repent. It’s only by His grace that we can be forgiven and restored. Who can create a clean heart except for God?
This is where we see that all of this is His gift. All of this is from Him because of His great love. He wants what’s best for us. We’ll do what’s best for us. He intends good for His children and repentance is the pathway. In these last couple of minutes, I want to throw a few ideas out to remind us of the value of incorporating this into our daily lives. First, repentance, a lifestyle of repentance produces spiritual growth. There’s nothing that can produce greater growth in us than being made right with the Lord. When we’re walking away from Him, we’re separating ourselves from Him. When we come back to Him, we’re drawing closer to Him. David says, there’s a brokenness that we have to be prepared for. When we look around the world and say, “Yeah, we live in a broken world,” but the broken world begins here. It’s tough to be that honest and transparent with ourselves and God. When we do, David says, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” It’s the pathway, the entrance, the portal to His blessing.
When we know who we are in this brokenness, it produces humility. The biggest problem in our world today is pride. The Bible talks a lot about pride, but this kind of repentance develops humility. Isn’t it great to be in the presence of a humble person? I aspire to be humble, but I know that I’m usually prideful. When you’re with somebody who’s truly broken and humble, they’re such a welcoming kind of a presence that you feel at rest. There’s no superiority, there’s no judgmentalism. There’s just a welcoming, warm person. That’s the kind of thing that this produces in us.
Second, this closeness to God comes because we understand this in human relations. You’ve heard this phrase keep short accounts with your spouse, children, and co-worker. If something happens, you get into an argument. If you don’t say anything, if you don’t resolve it, if you don’t come back sometime later that day or whatever, eventually it’s going to build up and there will be walls that are erected. Soon it’s, “where do we begin?” If that’s true in human relationships, how much more so with God? This lifestyle of repentance helps us to keep short accounts with the one who loves us the most with the creator of the universe. We should want to have that experience in our lives.
In addition, a lifestyle of repentance leads to service. A rich life of service both to others and to the Lord. You know who more than a broken person can help another broken person, right? We are wounded healers and David says, “Then once this happens in my life, I’m going to teach transgressors their ways because I’m one of them. Sinners will be turned to you because I know. That’s what I’ve been going through. The deepest wounds of my life have often been the greatest opportunity for me to develop empathy for others similarly wounded, and that’s God’s plan. It’s a principle.” We don’t want the wounding, but God uses it so that we can serve others. What a rich life we can have as wounded healers. But also great service to God. God is calling us not just to serve others, but to serve Him as His worshipers. David now recognizes that once he’s been restored, he says, “Open my mouth and my lips will proclaim your praise. Lips once closed in anguish over brokenness are now opened and joyful in thanks and praise for the mercy of God.” What a great service we have to give to Him when we have experienced His forgiveness.
Last, a lifestyle of repentance reminds us in the greatest way possible of God’s love for us. This story has a bitter ending. The rabbis teach that if Nathan the prophet had come to David immediately after his sin, it would’ve been way too much for him and he would’ve died. God was merciful to wait long enough. When he did come to him, God had another way because he should have died. He should have paid the penalty for murder. Bathsheba did have that baby, but the baby died. The rabbis say the baby died instead of King David. They were right about one thing. David’s son did die in his place, but they got the wrong son. Throughout the Bible, Jesus is called the Son of David. He’s physically descended from King David. More than that, this is a messianic title, a title of kingship. David did experience great forgiveness in his greater son, Jesus who died a death that David and all of us deserve. Jesus rose again to give life and forgiveness to all who call upon Him, to all who shoov, who move toward Him and receive His kindness.
1 John 1:8-9. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful in just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Isn’t that a wonderful promise? We should learn it. We should memorize it. Maybe use it as part of our discipline of repentance as a lifestyle because, in the comfort of His love and forgiveness, we can know that there is more capacity for lovingkindness in God’s heart than there is the capacity for brokenness in our own. That’s a comforting thought. I’d like to lead us in kind of a different prayer. Maybe God has been speaking to you about this subject as we’ve been here together, there’s something that you want to talk to Him about. So I’m going to lead us in prayer and give us a little bit of time to do just that.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for who you are. We thank you that you are the same yesterday, today, and forever. That we can have confidence in your character, your graciousness toward us, your love, and your justice. We come to you Lord, recognizing that all of us here have missed the mark. All of us have fallen short. We realize that we want to turn back to you. We take a few moments now in the quietness of this time to reflect on those things and bring them to you, Lord. Thank you, Lord, that you are indeed faithful and forgive us our sin and to cleanse us. We receive your cleansing, creating in us clean hearts. May you renew a steadfast spirit within us. Fill us with the joy of our salvation and may we experience that not just now, but each and every day of our lives. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.