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Fourth Midweek in Lent

Psalm 51

James T. Batchelor

Fourth Midweek in Lent
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Wed, Mar 11, 2015 

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Based on the Sermon Series:

Psalms of the Penitent by Rev. John C. Wohlrabe Jr.

Concordia Pulpit Resources: Volume 25, Part 2, Series B, February 22–May 24, 2015

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The Biblical heading of Psalm 51 says, “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” This heading once again reminds us of the adultery that David committed with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder David committed in an attempt to cover up his adultery.

For a while David fell under the control of Satan the accuser.  David suffered great pangs of conscience as long as he tried to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah.  This demonstrates something that I call Satan’s 1-2 punch.  Satan not only tempts, but, after sin, he lays on the guilt with his accusations.  Before you sin, Satan does everything possible to make the sin attractive.  After you sin, Satan does everything possible to convince you that your sin is so bad that God will never forgive you.  In this way, he hopes to bring you to despair so that you will reject your faith.

Thankfully, David had a pastor, the prophet Nathan.  Nathan brought David’s sin out into the open.  At first, this may seem cruel, but by proclaiming sin, the pastor is God’s agent to give the opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness.  Nathan performed this service for David.

God often uses suffering to bring understanding.  David’s burden of guilt caused him to realize that he was sinful and corrupt through and through.  He was sinful from the very moment he came to life at conception.  The treatment for sin was more than just behavior modification.  David needed to be re-created, reborn.  As a contrite penitent, he prayed for a clean heart and a right spirit.  From David’s struggle we learn that the penitent prays for — and from — a purified heart.

Martin Luther wrote, “A true and penitent heart sees nothing but its sin and misery of conscience. He who still finds any counsel and help in himself cannot in all earnestness speak these words; for he is not yet altogether miserable but feels some comfort in himself, apart from God’s mercy. . . . These are all words of a true repentance which magnifies and multiplies the grace of God by magnifying and multiplying sin. The apostle [Paul] says (Rom. 5:20): ‘Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’ ” (AE 14:166).

The penitent has sorrow over actual sins, those sins of thought, word, and deed, those sins of commission and omission carried out by every one of us every day of our lives.  David confessed before God: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” He then told God, “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” (vv 3–4).  When sin becomes manifest to a person, he or she must say “Amen” to the divine sentence, just as David does to the Word of God spoken by the prophet Nathan.  All self-justification on the part of the sinner actually accuses God of unrighteousness or injustice.  Or as John wrote in his First Epistle: “If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 Jn 1:10).

Yet David not only confessed his actual sins, but he also acknowledged his original sinful nature.  The penitent recognizes that he or she is sinful through and through even from conception.  Paul wrote to the Romans (5:12): “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin . . . so death spread to all men because all sinned.” With the apostle Paul, you and I are called to acknowledge ourselves as the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15).  This is a matter of being totally honest with ourselves and with God.

God calls us to confess the truth about ourselves.  We are sinners.  Luther wrote: “Therefore God is not justified by anyone except the one who accuses and condemns and judges himself.  For the righteous man is, first of all, one who is the accuser and condemner and judge of himself.  Therefore he justifies God and causes Him to win out and to prevail.  On the contrary, the ungodly and proud man is, first of all, the excuser and defender, the justifier and savior, of himself.  For that very reason he automatically says that he does not need God as his Savior, and he judges God in His words and de-justifies Him and accuses Him of being a liar and false” (AE 10:236).

God’s Word reveals the truth about us and God.  God must destroy the old sinful heart and create a new heart within us.  God must do this because we were dead in trespasses and sin (Eph 2:1).  Dead people can’t do anything.  Only God can do the cleansing.  Martin Luther wrote: “Anyone who looks upon sin as something outward only cannot remain in this grace but must slide backwards and thus remain without grace and become worse than before, although he does not see or realize it. Now with us the situation is that Adam must get out and Christ come in, Adam become as nothing, and Christ alone remain and rule. For this reason there is no end of washing and cleansing in this life” (AE 14:167).

That is David’s prayer in Psalm 51.  His prayer of confession acknowledges his sin AND it also trusts that God’s cleansing from sin is thorough and complete.  Sin is blotted out.  Sin is washed away.  Sin is cleansed completely.

This cleansing of sin is based on God’s gracious work in Jesus Christ.  David called on God to purge him with hyssop.  The application of blood and water with hyssop in the Old Testament foreshadows our cleansing by the application of the blood of Christ through faith.  David also described God’s forgiveness as God hiding his face from sin so that he no longer sees it, as God blotting out sin from his record book and as God washing us and making us whiter than snow.  All of these point to the redemption and complete cleansing that come through Christ, for “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).

Because Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, God hides his face from our sin; God blots out our sin from his record; God washes us whiter than snow; “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19).

David’s plea in this psalm is the plea of a true penitent. David has recognized his total unworthiness and total corruption. Thus, he prays for the miracle of a new creation, performed by the Creator alone. Only the Spirit who hovered over the face of the deep at creation works this new creation in us.  He alone works repentance, faith, and willing service.  He does this through the Means of Grace.

The old Adam in us must daily be drowned and the new man in Christ brought forth.  The Holy Spirit does this through God’s Word, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.  Through God’s Word of Law, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and brings us to repentance.  Through God’s Word of Gospel, the Holy Spirit assures us of God’s forgiveness and love in Jesus Christ, which strengthens our faith.  In Holy Baptism, the old man is drowned, faith in Christ is created, and the Holy Spirit is given (Acts 2:38).  There, we are connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection and walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3–4).  In Confession and Absolution, both corporate and private, you confess your total unworthiness to God, and I have the privilege of standing in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, announcing his forgiveness to you personally.  In our Lord’s Holy Supper, he gives you his very body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine for the forgiveness of your sins.

Genuine repentance produces a renewal for service, service that involves avoiding sin, praising God, telling others God’s Word of truth, and praying for the renewal of all God’s people.  Because this renewal is never perfect in this life, David prays that the Spirit will keep him steadfast and sustain him so that he will not fall again.  This prayer is also an expression of confidence that God will answer David’s prayers, since David says with assurance: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. … O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (vv 13, 15). The psalm is thus also an expression of confidence that God will answer David’s prayer because David promises what he will do when his prayer is answered.

The penitent desires to avoid sin.  The apostle Paul put it this way: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2) Although we sin daily, we are never satisfied with that sin.  We rely on God to forgive us for Christ’s sake and we desire to do better.

The penitent desires to serve and praise God.  Luther says that this can best be seen in the case of the penitent thief on the cross: “Observe a figure of this matter in Christ hanging on the cross. One robber judges, condemns, and blasphemes Him; the other judges himself and justifies Christ (Lk 23:41). . . . For God cannot be praised, justified, glorified, magnified, admired, etc., unless we ourselves are at the same time, and beforehand, disparaged, accused, and put to shame, and vice versa. Where our shame and accusation is in evidence, there the praise of God and the remembrance of His righteousness becomes a reality” (AE 10:240–41).

The penitent desires to tell others God’s Word of truth.  Luther wrote: “That is, let me be bold through Thy strength to admonish and convince all men that they are sinners and that nothing in them is worthy of honor and praise, but that they have deserved only shame and punishment, in order that they might realize that honor and praise are Thine alone because Thine alone are righteousness and wisdom, etc. For no one can honor and praise Thee without rebuking and dishonoring himself” (AE 14:173–74).

The penitent recognizes that only God can do all this and prays that God will do this in Him or her.  David says, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it. … The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (vv 16–17). Concerning this, Luther wrote: “It is as if [David] said: Everything else [God] despises except a heart that is humble and broken, for it ascribes honor to God and sin to itself. Such a heart gives God nothing but only takes from Him. This is also what God wants so that He may be truly God. For it behooves God to give, not to take” (AE 14:174).

The penitent prays for the renewal of all God’s people—the Church.  David concludes his penitential prayer asking God to do good to Zion and build up the walls of Jerusalem (v 18).  The penitent understands that we are not just individuals before God as the Apostle Paul wrote: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:12–13).  Luther wrote: “Thus it is clear that this psalm was composed, strictly speaking, not about David but prophetically in the person of the church. It was written by David as being part of the church” (AE 10:240). The penitent prays regularly for the building up of Christ’s Body, the Church.

In the midst of the Divine Service Setting Three, the penitent prays and believes that God will create a clean heart and a new and right spirit.  God hides his face from our sin; he blots out our sin from his record; he washes us whiter than snow. With David and all the faithful through the ages, together with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify our glorious, merciful God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen

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