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Psalm 51:1-17

Psalm 51 has to be one of the most gut-wrenching, yet beautiful Psalms. It is the cry of a broken man – broken by the weight of his sin. David pens this psalm after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. We’ve heard the story before, but do we fully understand just what David’s sin meant for him? In taking Bathsheba, David committed the sin of adultery at the very least, if not rape. In order to cover up this first sin, David had Bathsheba’s husband murdered. If we continue in the story, David did everything he could to cover up what he had done. He tried to hide it and fool everyone, including himself. When we look at the law, there is no ritual, there is no sin offering that can be made to restore David. There is no way out for David, only punishment. And what is David’s punishment? Death. David is well aware of what his sin will cost him. He knows he has no other choice than to call upon God and plead for God to show mercy.

David opens this Psalm with the cry, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” This cry is a statement of faith. Everything else that David says in this Psalm flows out of this faith declaration. David is declaring who God is – a merciful, loving, and forgiving God. David recognizes his faults and failures yet trusts that God will remain faithful to God’s character. David is calling out to the God who declared “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a). David is asking for God’s mercy to be poured out because of God’s unfailing love, his hesed. David then goes on to ask for God to wash away his sin and make him clean. David knows that he can no longer be in relationship with God because his sin has made him unclean. In order for his relationship to be restored, he must be made clean again. In verses 3-5 David confesses his sin before the Lord. He does not try to cover up his sin any longer; he lays it all out before God. He confesses that his sin is “always before me” – even though he tried to hide his sin, he discovered he could not. His sin would not leave him alone.

If we’re honest, we’re a lot like David. We do not want to face our sin any more than he did. We would rather cover up our sin. If you look at the Church today, how often do we even talk about sin? We’ve even changed our language. Do we even call sin – sin anymore? More often than not you will hear believers make statements like “it was a mistake…” This Psalm reminds us that even if we’ve become good at hiding our sin from others, God knows. Sin is sin and needs to be called out. Sin is sin and needs to be confessed.

But if we look at this Psalm as a whole, the focus on this Psalm is not on David and his sin. The focus is on God and the grace of God that is freely given to all! David knows that it is only by God’s grace that forgiveness for his multitude of sins is possible. He describes it so beautifully in his prayer for redemption and reconciliation in verses 10-12: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right 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 sustain in me a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12). David’s prayer here is not wishful thinking. Once again, David is crying out to God with complete confidence that God will not only hear but answer his prayer because he trusts in the faithful love of God. “This great song, pulsating with the agony of a sin-stricken soul, helps us to understand the stupendous wonder of the everlasting mercy of our God” [1]. David’s request doesn’t end with his own personal requests. He asks God to do all of this so that he can tell others what God has done! David recognizes that God’s redemptive work is not just for him, that God wants to redeem and reconcile all people to Godself.

One final lesson we learn from David is that we must go through the process to get to the redemption! We must first recognize and confess our sin. We must call upon the merciful God to forgive us and restore us. Let us not rush through the process. That is what Lent is all about. Taking time to be with God; to let Him work in us and through us. So, let us not be in a hurry to rush through Lent because its uncomfortable or because it causes us to look at ourselves, our choices, our faults, our sin…do not rush. Take time. Go slowly. Allow God to do the work that is needed to bring full redemption and restoration to your life. Even if that work is painful and causes us to make some hard changes. Let us come before the Lord with a “broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17). God wants to create something beautiful in your life; to make you more of a reflection of God in this world. So let us come before God in confession, trusting that our God is faithful to not only redeem us and reconcile us, but to create something beautiful in us and then, we get to go into the world as a witness of the transformational love of God! [1] “Psalm 51.” 2015. Enduring Word (blog). December 21, 2015.