Of all the Christian T-shirts , the Bible Emergency Numbers is easily the most popular. You can see why. It lists 25 important Bible verses for 25 different situation you might face. Each verse can help guide you through a tough time, remind you to be faithful, or give you the lift you need to get through the day. In this post, we’ll dive into the first of those Bible emergency numbers to help you understand how that particular passage can help.
Sin is a problem for all of us. No matter how much we try, no one can stop. Eve the most dedicated, the most faithful Christian sin regularly. Most of the time, our daily and weekly spiritual disciplines help us receive God’s grace and we rest in his forgiveness.
But every once in a while, we do something truly terrible, something that even horrifies our own consciences. We all have a line across which we can’t imagine we will go. When we do, the guilt can be crushing.
David wrote Psalm 51 in such a circumstance. The superscription describes the setting for the psalm, “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
You know the story. David was on the roof of his palace, looking out over Jerusalem. We already know that he wasn’t supposed to be there. 2 Samuel 11 begins with these words, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel.” David should have been with Joab and all Israel, fighting their the Ammonites.
Instead, David was lounging on his couch before going up to his rooftop. He looked out over the city, and he saw a woman bathing. He asked about her, and found out that she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a soldier in David’s own army. David sent for her, and then he slept with her. Soon, Bathsheba sent word that she was pregnant.
David needed to cover up his sin. He called Uriah home to entice him to sleep with his wife, hoping he would assume that the child was his. When that didn’t work, He had Uriah killed.
After Uriah was killed, David acted like nothing had happened. He married Bathsheba, and went on with his life. That is, until God sent Nathan to confront David. And finally, David admitted his fault.
How could David do something so terrible? The Bible describes him as a man after God’s own heart. How could he sin so terribly? Sometimes we slide into sin. One small sin leads to a bigger one, which leads to a bigger one, and so on. For David, his first sin was lust from his rooftop. His lust drove him to a larger sin. Then his fear of discovery drove him to cover it up. When that didn’t work, he took the last step, killing Uriah.
The slide into deep sin is something we all can do. We get so caught up in the moment that we don’t notice what we’re doing. Then, when we look back, we are horrified at what we did.
David wrote Psalm 51 to ask God for forgiveness:
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!
David does two things in this passage. First, he openly acknowledges his sin. He doesn’t try to hide it. He uses three words, transgressions, iniquity, and sin. He knows he’s a sinner.
But David also has confidence that God will forgive him. Why? He knows God’s character. Have mercy on me, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy. This is who God is. This was how God revealed himself on Mount Sinai. In Exodus 34:6, he goes out saying, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”God is merciful, and David was confident in that mercy.
We know that even more fully, because we see God’s steadfast love and faithfulness through Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection shows God’s great and abundant mercy, because he gives us forgiveness when we don’t deserve it. Why? Because that’s who he is.
In the next section, David wades deeper into his guilt:
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.
While David knows that God is merciful, he also knows that God is just. David fully admits his sin, and he knows that he truly deserves God’s judgment. He knows that he deserves death and hell. God is truly just. Sin requires punishment.
We also see God’s justice in Jesus. God’s justice was met when Jesus took our punishment on the cross. Every sin and iniquity was nailed to the cross with Jesus, who took the punishment we deserved.
David confesses his sin, and asks God for forgiveness. Then, he asks for a new heart.
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.
Part of repentance is the desire to turn away from sin and live a holy life. David calls on God to do more than simply forgive. He wants to have a mind and heart that can obey God. He wants to follow God’s law with his whole mind and spirit.
That’s what the Holy Spirit does for us. He gives us Jesus’ own heart and spirit. He delivers Jesus’ perfect obedience to us, and he turns us to love God’s will.
David returns to his confession of sin by reminding us what God wants from each of us.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
God commanded sacrifices as his means of giving forgiveness to sinners. But a sacrifice means nothing without repentance. So, even though God commanded burnt offerings and sacrifices, he knew that the right heart should accompany it. A broken heart drives us to God for forgiveness. Repentance leads us to ask for grace.
And God responds with mercy. When we are broken by our sin, he forgives. When we ache with guilt, God gives us mercy. When we are horrified by our capacity for evil, God washes our sin away and gives us a new heart.
Psalm 51 is a great prayer for those who feel crushed by their own sin. Instead of denying sin, it leads us to confess so we can receive forgiveness. When you are weighed down by sin, consider turning to Psalm 51 as a guide to confessing and to asking for mercy.
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