It had been a messy affair. But now things seemed to be going well. Who could fault a king for indulging his fantasies? That’s what kings do. One night you go out for a stroll, you see a beautiful woman, you want her, you send for her, she comes to you. It’s as simple as that. Kings have been doing that sort of thing since the beginning of time. Whatever the king wants, the king gets. That’s why they call him the king. It still happens today. Who is ever really surprised to find out that a president or a prime minister has a girlfriend on the side? It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen, and people hear about it and shrug their shoulders or they make jokes or they don’t like it but they keep it to themselves. Not to justify things, you see, just to observe that this is the way things are.
The king felt like things had finally settled down. There was that problem with the woman’s husband. Not an easy thing to get rid of him. He was the loyal soldier type that wouldn’t easily be tricked. So the king had him killed in battle. Complicated in a way, but the man ended up looking like a hero in his death. Then the king felt free to take the woman as his wife. So he did. Then came the happy news that the woman was pregnant. All was right with the world. But there were other issues. “The thing David had done displeased the LORD” (2 Samuel 11:29). The king was about to learn the hard way that God is not mocked - “Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). Enter Nathan, the man of God.
He told the king a story about a rich man with many sheep who stole from a poor man the one sheep his family owned. What shall be done to the rich man who acted so ruthlessly? “He should be put to death,” the king exclaimed in his anger. Then the man of God delivered his message. “You are the Man!”
In a moment, in one heart-stopping instant, the king knew the truth, knew what Nathan was saying, knew that he was the rich man who had cheated the poor man. The king knew! Very quickly comes the Word of the Lord: “I gave you everything you had. I made you king. If this was not enough, I would have given you more. Why did you despise my word? You took this man’s wife. You had him murdered. There will be nothing but trouble for you from this day forward. Your family will suffer because of your sin. Then came the worst news. “Your son will die.” The king wept and prayed and fasted, but the child died.
Then came time for the king to do the hardest thing anyone can ever do, to look in the mirror and say, “I have sinned." No one wants to say, “I have sinned.” We would rather do anything than say that. But there is no getting right until we admit how badly we have done wrong.
Through his tears and in deep guilt, realising at last how wrong he had been, King David sat down and wrote the poem - Psalm 51. 3000 years later we come back to it again and again because it tells us what it means to come back to God when we have sinned.
It has been the lifeline back to God for generations of believers, first among the Jews who learned it and recited it and sang it, then among Christians who adopted it as their own. If you have blown it, here is a word from God for you. If you look at the wreck of your own life, knowing full well that you are guilty of many foolish choices, if you despair of ever finding forgiveness, journey through Psalm 51 and see what it says to us today.
3 parts to this great prayer - Confession. Cleansing. Consecration. David prays 3 things - Forgive me - Cleanse me -Use me. If your sin feels like a weight upon your shoulders, this psalm is for you.
1. Confession v. 1 - 6
David begins with God. He cries out for God’s mercy, love and compassion to blot out his transgressions and wash away his iniquity. The time for excuses is over. There can be no rationalisation for adultery and murder, no more of saying, “Kings do it all the time” or “I fell in a moment of weakness.” As long as a man makes excuses, he cannot be forgiven because he will not come clean about his sin. If you feel like you need to justify your sin, you are not ready to be forgiven.
God doesn’t make deals. If sin is to be forgiven, it must be confessed for what it is. He doesn’t say, “Boys will be boys” or “I understand how weak you are so I’ll let it go this time." If sin is to be forgiven, it must be confessed for what it is. You can’t call sin “weakness” and expect to be forgiven by God. God doesn’t forgive weakness; he only forgives sin. The king piles up different words to express the depth of his sin: transgression, iniquity, sin, and evil. Looking into the darkness of his own heart, he sees nothing good, nothing to mitigate his enormous crimes.
David says an extraordinary thing: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” He had sinned against Uriah, not once but twice. He had sinned against Bathsheba by stealing her from her husband. He had sinned against the people of Israel. But finally he had to deal with God! All sin is treason against the Almighty. Until we grasp that, until we see it and feel it, until we confess it, we cannot be forgiven.
So David says, “You were right to judge me. I do not question your ways.” “I’ve been a sinner all my life.” “I know you desire truth from the inside out.” The truth can be hard to handle, especially the truth about ourselves. THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE . . . BUT IT WILL HURT YOU FIRST.
Why do most people have trouble growing spiritually? It’s not because we don’t know the truth. We’ve got so much truth it’s coming out of our ears. We hear the truth at church, on the radio, from our friends, from books and CDs and seminars. We get it from the Bible. That’s not our problem.
The problem runs deeper than that. We know the truth but we don’t want to let it hurt us so we deflect it, ignore it, deny it, attack it, argue with it and in general avoid it in any way we can. We put up a shield so we can deflect the incoming bullets of truth. After a while we get so good at deflection that the truth never gets through to us at all. We hear the truth . . . we know the truth . . . but we deflect the truth so it never gets close enough to hurt us. Therefore, we are not set free. We’re still angry . . . stubborn . . . bitter . . . greedy . . . arrogant . . . filled with lust . . . self-willed . . . critical . . . and unkind. The truth never really changes us because we won’t let it get close enough to hurt us. Honesty is the first step to admitting your true condition.
When David cried out for God’s mercy, he acknowledged the true source of the problem and where the healing must begin. As long as we lie to ourselves, we can never get better and God cannot teach us wisdom. Would you like to be set free? It can happen but you’ll have to let the truth hurt you first. David is saying, “I know what you want, Lord. You want me to stop playing games and stop making excuses. I’m ready to do that. No more excuses, no more games. I’m guilty in your eyes and I admit it.”
2. Cleansing v. 7 - 12
David does not hide his sin, and he does not minimise his sin - he begs God for a deep work of grace to cleanse him from the stain of sin. He wants God to wash him from the inside out. Because he wrote this psalm himself, he clearly does not care who knows what he has done and how desperately he seeks the grace of God.
True confession is a humbling experience. When the thing that matters is getting free from the burden of sin - when we no longer sugarcoat our sin - when we desperately seek restored fellowship with God and with his people - when we no longer worry about our reputation - when what God thinks matters more than what others think - then we will find the forgiveness we seek because our repentance has led us back to the Lord. If you look at the requests David makes in v. 7 - 12, you can see clearly a 7 step path of restoration.
A. We need to be cleansed by the blood v. 7 Hyssop was a plant used in the first Passover in Egypt. The Jews dipped the hyssop in the blood of the lamb and then smeared the blood on the doorpost. When the angel of death saw the blood, he “passed over” that house and no one died that night. Jesus Christ is our Passover lamb whose blood now washes away our sin.
Why did Jesus have to die to forgive our sins? The only answer is: Sin is so deeply imbedded in us that it cannot be cured by anything but death. The old life has to die. God cannot improve it. David says to God, “If you are going to deal with this terrible fountain of evil in me, I can see that it must be put to death. It must be purged with hyssop, then I will be clean.”
B. We need new hope v. 8 “Lord, I’ve been down so long, I see nothing but darkness. Shine your light in my heart so that I can sing with joy once more."
C. We need to know our sins are forgiven v. 9 We need to know that God has put our sins far from us. Otherwise our sins will rise to accuse us and a guilty conscience will keep us awake at night.
D. We need a clean heart v. 10 David knows he can’t change himself - unless God makes him pure, he will never get there on his own. Not only that but he prays for a “steadfast” spirit that will enable him to stand strong against temptation in the future.
E. We need the restoration of the Holy Spirit’s power v. 11 Only a true Christian can pray like this. An unbeliever won’t care about being cast away from God’s presence because he was never close to God in the first place. An unsaved person won’t care about losing the Holy Spirit that he never had anyway. The ungodly flee from God’s presence and hide from the Holy Spirit. Only the child of God feels the pain of the Lord’s discipline. Those who have dwelt in the sunlight of his love shiver in the cold darkness of his displeasure.
F. We need to regain the joy of God’s salvation v. 12a Every sin, whether big or small, separates us from happy fellowship with God. It is perfectly possible to be saved and miserable because we do not deal rightly with our sin. David says, “Lord, I’m tired of being miserable about my miserable life. Open the fountain of joy in my heart once again.”
G. We need a new desire within v. 12b “Make me glad to obey you in the future.” He begs God to do some “divine heart surgery” so he will never stray from the right path again.
This is the right road for every sinner who wants to find peace with God. Start with the blood of Jesus and you will end with new hope, new joy and a new desire to serve the Lord.
3. Consecration v. 13 - 17
A. A New Service v. 13
As David considered the lessons he had learned following his tragic affair with Bathsheba, he vowed to God that he would use his experience to cause sinners to return to the Lord. Let a person declare how God rescued him in his moment of helpless desperation, let him speak openly of how he despaired of ever finding peace with God, let him tell how Jesus found him, lifted him up, forgave his sins, gave him a new life and set his feet in a new direction. Let him share that from his heart and people will listen because there is no testimony like the simple truth of a changed life. Converted sinners make the best preachers because they know the truth of what they are saying.
B. A New Worship v. 15
David never forgot his sin or the grace that found him in the midst of his despair. His lips were shut until grace like a river came pouring down from heaven. Then he would not be silent. Truly forgiven people love to tell others what God has done for them.
C. A New Understanding v. 16, 17
You could go to church for a thousand Sundays in a row and it would not remove the stain of even one sin. God doesn’t want more religion. In the old days it was the blood of bulls and goats. In modern times it is church attendance and money in the offering. David knew that no bull offered on the altar could ever atone for the sins of murder and adultery. What God wants is a broken and contrite heart. That he will not turn away.
The title of my message asks a question that I now am prepared to answer. How much sin will God forgive? How far can we go in sin before God will not forgive us? The answer is, no one knows because no one has ever gone that far. No one need ever despair. No matter how wicked you have been in the past, if you turn to the Lord, he will abundantly pardon you.
If God forgave David, he will certainly forgive you. If a murdering adulterer could find grace, there is hope for you and me. How much sin will God forgive? All of it! No sin is beyond God’s grace if we turn to him with a broken and contrite heart. Forgiveness is always possible but only for those who deal deeply and honestly with their own sin.
The question comes down to this. Do you even want to be forgiven? You can harden your heart to the point that you no longer care if you are forgiven. For such people, there is nothing left but the fearful judgment of God. But if you have the slightest desire to be forgiven, if in your heart you want a new beginning, your sins can be forgiven.
It’s not about you. It’s not about your sins. It’s all about God. It’s all about grace.