Sermon on Psalm 51: Repentance

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The following sermon, preached on September 11th, 2016, explores scriptural repentance, and how God’s Word teaches us that God truly transforms us in a radical way. God is capable of cleansing us from all of our sin (Psalm 51:2). The good news from Psalm 51 is that God can actually give us a pure heart (Psalm 51:10)! Please click the play button on the audio widget below to listen to the sermon. (The audio can also be downloaded below, as a podcast.)

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The text follows below.

(Note concerning the sermon text: the sermon text reflects the actual manuscript and was written to be spoken colloquially, not academically, and may contain grammatical errors such as run-on sentences, or special notation like the asterisk, or the like. Thank you for your understanding.)
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Psalm 51 reads,
“For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
4Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict, and justified when you judge.
5Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
14Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, you, God, will not despise.
18May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

OK, well, this morning we are going to be talking about the various things in this Psalm and what it means for us today—For example, what does it mean by “wash away ALL my iniquity,” (v.2) and “create in me a PURE heart,” (v.10), and what’s this about being sinful at birth (v.5) and God desiring a broken spirit? (v.17). Well to sum it all up, this morning we are talking about repentance, and really the focus is, the truly, extremely powerful action of God, in our honestly repentant lives that He enables us to live, to be entirely cleansed by His action of the Holy Spirit, to purify and sanctify our hearts and free us from the power of sin. So that’s what we are talking about this morning; it’s the same thing this very Psalm is, as a whole, talking about.

OK, this Psalm reflects a time in the life of King David of Israel. Many of you may know that King David is at one point called, a man after God’s very own heart in 1 Samuel 13:14. But now, we see here, that this David is at an all time low. David had viciously killed one of his own soldiers, Uriah, with the nefarious desire to steal Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and, well, David did so, and he thought he had gotten away with all of these things, too. But, as the title for the Psalm indicates—verse 1 or before verse 1— the Prophet Nathan had called out David on all this, in 2 Samuel 12, where David is humbled and seeks to repent because of all his sin.

So, the Psalm really wants us to look at it and see what repentance is all about. What is repentance all about? Well if we look all throughout the Scripture, as a whole, we see that repentance is the truly-turning-away from sin, that God works through us, so that we can and will live a life where not only have we stopped the sinful behavior, but also we have done a complete lifestyle change—transformed by God. This is what, in the ancient Greek language we find in the Scripture, the verb μετανοέω, from μετάνοια, really means, a turning around. And this word for repentance is even stronger with the Hebrew, found in the Old Testament, “shuv” שׁוּב,shin, shureq, bet, meaning literally to turn around, or a return, bodily, physically spinning 180 degrees. So, in other words, according to God’s Word, if you say that you have repented from something, your actions will prove it, because you will no longer be controlled by that sin in your life, since God has transformed you.

OK, so to get at the heart of this repentance in this Psalm, I believe we have to carefully notice verse 4 of Psalm 51. Psalm 51:4 says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict, and justified when you judge.”

But OK, so why does it say, “Against God only have I sinned”? and what does this have to do with repentance, or even God creating a pure heart? Well, good questions. Right now, I want everybody to consider a certain way of thinking about things. I want everybody to think about how there are only, really, two beings in the entire universe.  Sounds strange, but hear me out. I want everybody to think about this. We know that only God truly knows the secrets of the heart, right, so, therefore, in one way of thinking, there are only really only just two beings in the entire universe. There is really just, you, yourself, and there is God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And so, when it comes to what I’m truly thinking or feeling, there are only two, in the universe, who know the whole truth. So when we think about repentance this way, and the fancy word is “existentially,” I believe that we, all of us this morning, can say, with the Psalm, that when we sin—even though it is true that all sin also hurts other people—it is OK for our hearts to cry out in genuine repentance, “Against you only have I sinned,” because only God truly knows the real depth of it all.

And you know—I have to say something here. When we read these intense words of repentance in Psalm 51, God does not pretend like David never sinned. God does not pretend like I never sinned. Have you heard that before, or ever mistakenly thought that way—That God pretends like you never ever sinned, and he just *poof* fixes it for you? —Like the cross was a magic trick, and that sin is something abstract? No, that is not right, it is never correct. God does not pretend like I never sinned. Sure, I absolutely believe, that God saved me, and is even saving me right now, because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and, my faith in Him that he enabled me to have by His prevenient grace—But, the point of this Psalm, and the entire Bible, is not that God loved us so much that he pretended like we never sinned, but that God actually did something about it, in fact, He fixed it. God sent His one and Only Son, to bridge that impassable gap that sin creates. Far from saying, “Oh, so-and-so is truly repentant, therefore they are forgiven,” no no no, God, God is the one, who acknowledging our sin, doing something about it, actually came to Earth, to completely destroy and eradicate sin, forever. This was done by Christ, and the sacrifice on the cross, His being raised by the power of God, and His pouring out of the Spirit, into our hearts—God Himself, the sinless one, inside me, inside you, inside us, to cleanse us from all unrighteous, and all wickedness (1 John 1:9), and all iniquity, Psalm 51:2. This is actually what repentance is all about, and the key verse on this point, is really Psalm 51:10!

Let’s look at Psalm 51:10. Psalm 51:10 says, “10Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” God’s Word is telling us that..we actually can have a pure heart, right now, because of God’s Holy Spirit filling us and the repentance that necessarily comes with it, from God. The Hebrew word here, the adjective, “pure,” טָ֭הוֹר, (tet, he, holem-wav, resh, in the Hebrew) actually literally translates: pure, as in, clean, where the same word is used of “clean animals,” animals without blemish, etc., for sacrifice, an image used of Christ himself!—the sacrificial lamb of God. It means that there is no defect, not one defect, such that we ourselves, the clean, cleansed ones, would be prevented from being in God’s presence. When elsewhere the Psalmist prays, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4), and the desire of your repentant and true heart is for a pure, purified heart, I really sincerely believe, that God will give you a pure, 100%, clean heart, and cleanse you, from all of your sin. That’s what this Psalm, and the Bible as whole, says, plain and clear.

But Pastor Michael, some have said to me on this point, Pastor Michael, what about Psalm 51:5: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Doesn’t this mean that we are just utterly sinful, even from birth, and that we cannot ever hope to be clean in this life, here, right now? Aren’t we all just hopelessly lost sinners doomed to die a wretched death? Well, to this attitude I have to ask: Have you read the rest of Psalm 51, or have you even read the very next word, in Psalm 51:6? The word is, “Yet,” in the NIV. The word is “Yet,” or “But,” or—what about the original language of Scripture? “Behold, ” or “That’s not all there is to it,” in the Hebrew, הֵן, he, tsere, nun. And what about the rest of the Bible? Have you maybe heard the most famous verse, John 3:16? But, Yet, Behold, For, God so loved. The entire point of the Psalm, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is not that you are a sinner, but that God fixed that problem, already; it is finished.

This morning, the message is that you are not just a sinner, tied to your past and the things you regret in your life, and that’s all you can ever aspire to be..no no no! but instead.., God has loved you so much, that He himself, God himself, sacrificed His life, the very Creator of the Universe, died for the very beings He Himself created—put Himself at our disposal in fact, so that—“so that,” “yet,” “but,” behold, Jesus says, we might have life now, right now, and life abundantly (John 10:10) to go and sin no more, from now on, in this life, the very words of Jesus—a life not defined by sin, or the impasse between ourselves and others, but a life where God bridged the gap, and fixed the problem, and would completely sanctify us, giving us a clean heart, so that sin would no longer be our master (Romans 8), which is what is the case, yes, from birth (Psalm 51:5), “but,” “yet,” behold, not after, by God’s prevenient grace, going before, even when we are in the womb, says Psalm 51:6, we are saved through the sacrifice and blood of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, which God gives us the faith to believe in, and repent.

This morning I want everybody who is down on themselves, I want everybody who is letting the past control them, or who is feeling guilty because of something in their lives, doesn’t matter what it is, day in and day out, to know this: Yes, we are all messed up, and God’s not pretending like we aren’t. Why not? Because God cares. God already fixed that problem—that’s the entire reason and purpose of the Bible, which God has given to us. I want us all to hear these words of the Scripture:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:25–27. “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts . . . so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6); “God himself, the God of peace, [may] sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:23), you can actually, quote, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:48, because, quote, “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). God’s Word doesn’t say this to scare us, but to give you joy because He actually does make you holy, perfect, now.

This morning, my plea is that you give your heart, you give your life, to Jesus. He is powerful, and He is able, to fix you, to cleanse you, and He wants you, and nothing is too hard for God. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a Christian, or you once were, or you still are, He is still waiting for you, in fact He is wooing you, to give more of yourself, to completely entirely trust in Him, because God is not going to force you to love Him, since a forced love is not love at all; but Scripture teaches that God will truly sanctify, and purify your hearts, and remove from you, all impurity, that you actually may and do have, a pure, perfect heart.

If God is working on your heart this morning, and you know you need to repent, like Psalm 51, or if you need to make a move, or come to the altar, or simply pray where you’re at, please, let God take control, give to God what Jesus has already bought and finished, and paid for, on the cross. Give yourself over to a life that is truly life, to a pure heart, and a steadfast spirit, in the Lord, that the Holy Spirit can work in you.