Theme: Moments of Memorization from Psalm 51
1) What David did to God (vv.2, 5)
2) What God did for David (vv.10-12)
3) The Fruits of Being Forgiven (v. 15)
Apologies are cheap these days. It’s almost unheard of to see a public figure genuinely apologize for something they did wrong, even if they are caught red-handed. Usually they offer a press release or have an aide or public relations person issue a statement. It doesn’t often feel like it’s coming from the heart. More common today we see people using social media like Twitter to issue apologies. Again, there is lack of sincerity. Word length is capped on Twitter. Grammar is often bad or misplaced. And, it’s too easy. Just type and click without thinking much.
It is indeed rare to see the side of public figures that we see in this psalm. David wrote this at the height of his power as king over Israel. And Israel was no little nation at this time. They were powerful. David pours the content of his heart onto the paper. We get an honest look at how he felt about himself. The importance of this psalm cannot be explained fully in one sermon. As we do with many sections of Scripture, we focus on the most important passages and we work on committing them to memory. Memorization of Scripture is a good thing for all Christians to do and it’s never too late to start. Usually we think of memorization as something for children to do because it comes easier for them. But, it’s a valuable practice for us all.
When we read Psalm 51, there are several memory verses that come to mind, and we use those verses as the substance of our message today. The first moment of memorization involves sin as we read from verse 2 and verse 5: “According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.”
It’s significant that David starts this Psalm on a positive note. This psalm is listed in a group that we call the penitential psalms, because they express great sorrow and repentance over sin. In this way they are examples of lamentation but the very first thoughts express positive things. David can be positive in the midst of his sin because he focuses on God. “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness, According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.
As David describes his sins, he gets quite specific, but he never despairs because he has God. It is God’s mercy, God’s lovingkindness, and God’s multitude of tender mercies which sustain David. These qualities remind David that the Lord will wash away his sins, however dark and personal they may be. Let’s remember what these sins were. The preface of the psalm tells us that David wrote these words after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and after God’s prophet, Nathan, came and exposed that sin to David. As we know, adultery was not the only sin David was guilty of in this situation. It started with lust in his heart, from which the adultery was produced. He then lied about what happened and tried to deceitfully cover it up. He suppressed his guilty conscience and tried to run from the truth, which led him to issue commands to the head of the army to abandon Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, in battle, thereby essentially signing his death sentence.
The hearer gets a real look at the guilt in David’s heart as phrases in this psalm remind us of these sins. Verse 14 states, “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God.” Verses 7-8 take hope and comfort in the Lord’s cleansing forgiveness, which wipes clean the ugly record of our sins. But, of all things, it is David’s relationship with the Lord that he is most concerned about. He writes, “Against, You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” It’s take an honest heart to recognize two things here. First, that all sin is against God and ultimately that is what makes it most dangerous. David is not denying that he sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, and anyone else. But, of all those affected, it struck first and foremost against God, and that is what bothered David most.
Most people today don’t think about God when they sin. Common attitudes are that as long as an action doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s okay. Within that kind of thinking, people often refuse to curb sinful desires and thoughts, choosing to believe that it only becomes sinful when it affects someone else. What about one’s relationship to God? No matter how secret we try to keep something, God always knows. David properly recognizes that if one’s relationship with God is not right, no other relationship matters. Very often, when sin finally manifests itself publicly in a person’s life, it’s primarily because they have neglected, abused, or even destroyed their relationship with God long before.
The second important thing that David confesses about his sin is that it is completely his fault. This, too, is uncommon. Most people will try to find an excuse to offer or someone else to blame. But, notice how personal David gets, going all the way back to his own conception: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” If ever there was a moment when David could blame someone else, this would be it. But, he accepts full responsibility. He doesn’t try to pass off blame on his parents by saying it wasn’t his fault because he was born this way. He doesn’t complain against God for unfairly judging his sin because there’s nothing he could have done about it. David is honest about his futility from birth and that, as a helpless sinner, he needs God’s mercy. It was David’s sin that caused him to act against God. It was sin he had from birth. It was sin that caused bloodshed and filth. It was sin that affected every part of his being. And sin that only God could take away.
Enter, now, the beautiful memory verses of God’s grace and mercy. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and uphold by Your generous Spirit.
Here we see what Christ’s atonement does for sinners. God takes everything that David did against Him and blots it out, wipes it away. He answered David’s plea in verses 2-3 with a resounding “YES!” But, salvation is more than just what God takes away. It’s also about what He freely gives in His grace. He wipes David’s record of wrongdoings away and then creates something new in their place. A clean heart. A steadfast spirit. An abode for the Holy Spirit to dwell. These promises are all contingent on Jesus Christ’s fulfilment in the sinner’s place as the one Savior and Mediator. To have these gifts we need righteousness. Sin’s dominion in our hearts is exactly why we fall short to begin with. Jesus wipes that sin away, but also creates righteousness in its place. Therefore, we move forward from forgiveness renewed and also with hope for the future.
Paul describes this re-creation in Christ in this way, 2 Corinthians 1:20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
Do you feel guilty because of your sin? Are you concerned about facing God one day? Do you have questions in life? Of course, we all do, that’s part of being human. God reassures us, all of His promises are “yes” in His Son, Jesus. There’s no need to worry or doubt with Christ in your heart, for He takes care of the unknown. Sometimes people get fed up with the Christian faith because they still have struggles even after coming to faith. When actions and works are over-emphasized, people begin to make those things the measure of what it means to believe in Jesus. Therefore, it is assumed that if you truly have the Holy Spirit in your heart, you won’t have questions, doubts, struggles, or problems. But, this is hardly the case. When people have this brand of Christianity in their minds, they get upset when life doesn’t seem to instantly change for the good.
The Christian life is far from easy. Very often, declaring and confessing Christ in life will bring more hardships. The key to being a Christian, and the great gift of faith, is not that sin’s problems magically disappear and life becomes easy. The key is that we have the Holy Spirit. David’s measure of hope in believing God was not about the absence of trouble. It was that God was with him despite the trouble, trouble that he caused. He prays that God would keep the Holy Spirit in his heart. He boasts that the Holy Spirit upholds his faith. There is no hope in becoming an instantly perfect person.
The last memory verse of this psalm deals with the natural response to being forgiven of sin. It is the simple joy expressed by a Christian. David writes, O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. What a clear proclamation of true worship! The Lord must first open our lips to sing His praises. As Hebrews says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).” Only those who have Christ in their hearts by faith can offer true praise of God, because God is the one who must first open their hearts and lips.
That praise is likened by David to offering a sacrifice. Sacrifice worship was so important to the life of the Old Testament believer. Every act of public worship was built around sacrifices. Those sacrifices would indeed be symbolic of an offering to God, namely, something that sinners return to the Lord as a thanks and praise for His blessing. But, more importantly, sacrifices foreshadowed Jesus on the cross, the ultimate sacrifice. They were to be reminders of what God would do for the people, just as He did for David, by taking sin away. The book of Hebrews also states that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).” To save our lives, God had to offer up His Son’s life. Life for life. Blood for blood. That is true sacrifice.
So, although we offer sacrifices to God as thanks and praise, they are always flowing from and mirroring the one sacrifice of Jesus. It’s easy to forget this. David reminds us that the sacrifices we offer are not to be hollow rituals done out of compulsion. As he says, the Lord does not desire these kinds of sacrifices. Rather, “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.” True sacrifice is just like Jesus’, it means something. It comes from the heart of someone who truly believes that they are sinful and that they have been forgiven by Jesus.
As our memory verse states, faith leads us to come to God again and again in repentance. He convicts us with the Law of condemnation and restores us with the Gospel. He opens our lips to make these confessions. And where the Holy Spirit is present in these ways, there will also be words of worship for what God has done. These fruits come naturally. They need not be threatened out of the person by works or emotion. They are produced just as fruits are in the natural world, by connection to the Vine (John 15:5).
One word of praise that David mentions is spreading God’s Word. What better way to honor His work and name than sharing it with someone else who has the same needs we do? After God renews his heart, David writes, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.”
Psalm 51 is a deeply personal look into David’s soul at a time when he was feeling a lot of regret and guilt. Remember that these verses apply to your heart as well. When you are plagued by your own sins, or maybe before then when you hardly think of them, remember these three memory sections. Commit them to your heart and mind. Use them again and again, for the same reasons David recorded them.
Remember what you have done to God: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 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. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Remember what God has done for you: 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
And remember the fruits of being forgiven: 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.