Background Scripture: Psalms 51
Quote of the Week: "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." -- Mahatma Gandhi
Back in 1830 George Wilson was convicted of robbing the United States Mail and was sentenced to be hanged. President Andrew Jackson issued a pardon for Wilson, but he refused to accept it. The matter went to Chief Justice Marshall, who concluded that Wilson would have to be executed. "A pardon is a slip of paper," wrote Marshall, "the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged."
After David sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba, he added to his sin by having her husband Uriah murdered. God sent Nathan to confront David with his sins. God offered David a pardon, but it was David that had to accept it by asking for forgiveness. David realized his sin and Psalm 51 records his plea for forgiveness. This Psalm is all about "What To Do When You've Blown It." We can learn from David's example how to make things right whenever we make a big mistake. When that happens, we often make the mistake of thinking that God hates us because of what we've done. Perhaps we think that because it seems that others may choose to remind us of our sin over and over, throughout our lives. The truth is, God loves us no matter what. When we sin, even when we sin big, He wants to forgive us and help us get back on our feet.
What does God's forgiveness mean to me?
One day, while his army was off in battle, King David was on his palace roof and he saw a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing herself. One could question whether David should have been at the palace while his army was in battle, but even so, what should he have done when he saw this woman? We encounter the same choice today with sin. We can do as David did, and linger, which only served to increase the desire to sin or we can choose to step away. Rather than stepping away, David's passion was aroused and he sent over messengers and ordered her to be brought to him. He entered into an adulterous relationship with her, as she was a married woman. Additionally, her husband, a soldier in David's army, was away fighting for his king.
Later, when David learned that she was expecting a child, he panicked and tried to cover up his sin. David ordered Uriah, the husband, home from battle and sent him down to his home, hoping that he would sleep with his wife and the child would then be accepted as his own. If this happened, everything would be okay for David, right? How many times in our lives do we make things worse by attempting to cover things up? Uriah was a soldier, committed to battle, and though he came home at the king's orders, he would not go down to his own house and be with his wife. He slept with the soldiers at the palace and returned to battle the next day.
David knew that ultimately his sin would be found out so he took another step. This is always what sin does---it leads us deeper and deeper, farther than we ever intended to go. Before the king knew it he found himself forced into a desperate attempt to cover up his evil. He ordered Uriah to be put at the forefront of the battle where he would most certainly be killed. When news of Uriah's death reached the king he felt he had safely covered his sin. That was, until the prophet Nathan confronted David head on with his sin.
What is the first thing David did after being confronted with his sin? He sought God's forgiveness. This beautiful Psalm teaches us how to seek God's forgiveness. David understands that sin is like a crime. If a criminal is going to be delivered from the effects of his crime he needs not justice but mercy. Isn't it amazing how we tend to want others who have sinned to deal with justice, while we plead to God for mercy when we have sinned? Justice demands punishment of sin. Sin is an illegal act, a violation of justice, an act of lawlessness, of rebellion and therefore requires mercy to be right with God. David pleads for God's mercy on the basis of God's love and compassion. David understands that he himself deserves nothing from God, that God is not bound to forgive him. Some people are never able to realize forgiveness because they think they deserve it, that God owes it to them. But David knows better.
In verses 3-6, we see a frank and full acknowledgment of sin. David says, "I know my sins, I'm not trying to cover them up. They are always before me, this double act of adultery and murder. I am guilty." He does not try to cover them or to blame God for them. He didn't try to sweep it under the rug. David takes ownership of his sin by saying admitting that it was his fault. This is another reason many cannot find forgiveness for sin. Some suffer for years with a guilty conscience because they are not willing to come to the place where they acknowledge their sin. They will not call it what God calls it. We all tend to cover up sin and make it sound nicer than it is. We use pleasant names to describe it, but that doesn't change the nature of sin.Isn't it interesting that we have one list of terms to describe sin in us, but an entirely different list to describe the same sin in someone else? Others may have prejudices, but we have convictions. Others may have a foul temper, but we are seized with righteous indignation. We often try to excuse our sins. We can never be forgiven while we do this, for the first step in the process of forgiveness is an acknowledgment of sin. David acknowledges his guilt in these verses. Is there some sin in your life that you need to acknowledge before God?
Who are you really blaming when you blame others for your sin? Whenever we blame our sin on someone else we are ultimately blaming it on God. Eve blamed her sin on the serpent. Adam blamed it on the woman that God had made. Both of them were really blaming God for their mistake. People often desire to pass the buck, blaming their own behavior on something that someone else may have done. We all must acknowledge our own sin as our our own. David doesn't pass the buck here. He takes on the full weight of his actions and accepts the blame.
Several years ago basketball star Dennis Rodman made the headlines when he kicked a cameraman during a basketball game. (This was obviously many years ago, as the current generation may not even know that Dennis Rodman played basketball, as well as the other outlandish things he has done). Luckily for Rodman, he escaped criminal charges and got by with just an 11 game suspension and a $200,000 payout to his victim. A few days after the incident Rodman discussed the event in an interview, and his attitude reflected anything but an acknowledgement of guilt. In fact, he insisted that what he had done wasn't all that bad. He played himself as the victim in this whole ordeal, since he was being forced to pay money only because he's rich. After all, he said, he just gave the guy a little tap. He must have forgotten that everyone saw the footage (no pun intended) of the assault. The bottom line was, even after the payout and the suspension, Dennis Rodman didn't believe he had done anything wrong.
You can probably think of others who act as if they have never done anything wrong, but we should ask ourselves if perhaps somebody else might be thinking of us. We're often just that way about our own sin. We try to justify it and pretend that it's not so bad. We try to explain why it isn't really sin. As long as we keep this defiant attitude we can never get completely right with God. What are we demonstrating to God when we ask for forgiveness but continue to live in our sin? What are we demonstrating to others when we blame our sinful behavior on what someone else has done and seek to justify ourselves, rather than acknowledge our own sin?
We can mess things up on our own without anyone's help, but it takes an act of God to get us back on track. We must depend on Him to cleanse us, wash us and forgive us. Too often we are guilty of trying to clean ourselves up and make ourselves look "good" so that we will be acceptable to God. We may not realize it at the time, but this type of behavior is simply not acceptable to God! There is only way I can come to God: "Just As I Am." When we come to Him this way, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Based on David's response, we can see a 5-step plan that can help us get back on track with God? First of all, David would spend time alone with God on a consistent basis. David said, "Do not cast me from your presence" because he recognized that spending time is what gives our lives direction. Are you spending time with God, through Bible Study and prayer? Sometimes, we mistake spending time at church as spending time with God. Is it enough to say that what we may do one or two hours a week suffices for spending time with God? The second step was to be filled with the Holy Spirit. David said, "Do not take your Holy Spirit from me," because he recognized that we need the Holy Spirit's power in our lives to overcome the power of sin.
Third, David asked God to give him a sense of joy. David said, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation," because he recognized that a relationship with God is never intended to make us miserable. We can't get back on track if we think that serving God is torture. Fourth, ask for the power to be consistent. David said, "Grant me a willing spirit to sustain me," because he recognized that we can't be changed if we're not willing to be changed on an on-going basis. You aren't going to get back on track if you are being pushed and shoved to get there. Too often, churches believe that they can strongarm obedience - are you willing to be consistent? And finally, look for the chance to help others. David said, "Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you" because he recognized the Good News is worth sharing with others. How many life lessons have you learned that could be beneficial to others, if you chose to share?
When we ask for and receive God's forgiveness, what should our response be? After David received God's forgiveness, his desire was to proclaim this forgiveness to the world. Do we do that? If you are a Christian, you have the forgiveness of God. David praised God in song for delivering him from blood guilt. David recognized that he had shed Uriah's blood. Therefore he deserved to die himself. Guilt haunted him, likely throughout his life. When God forgave him, he vowed to expound God's pardon to everyone.
Asking for forgiveness involves more than acknowledging sin. When we have sinned against God, it also requires understanding sin violates His standards for living. We must be truly sorry for the sin, and turn away from sin to pursue God. When we have sinned against others, is it enough to just acknowledge what we have done? There are some people that will not even acknowledge their own sin much less show sorrow for it. We all have failed others in one way or another. Have you asked for forgiveness? And, if someone asks you to forgive them, have you truly forgiven them?
Another thing that David brings out in his prayer of forgiveness is that people will do anything to try to please God, except for the things that He wants then to do. Many of today's Christians are guilty of giving the wrong gifts! For example, some will wear their church attendance record like a merit badge. How much do we expect to get out of our time in church if we come simply to be able to say that we go to church? Church attendance is to often considered as a measure of someone's spirituality. David was making a simple statement that it wasn't the sacrifices on the altar that God was really looking for, it was the fact that the Israelites were obedient to the will of God. God wants us to be of a broken spirit and contrite heart. That is how we will serve God.We must realize that sin in our lives is a cyclical pattern. For some, it is the same besetting sin that has plagued them for years. If this is you, are you willing to ask for God's forgivness and turn from that sin? We all deal with different areas of sin. Are you willing to acknowledge sin in your life and seek the forgiveness of God or of others who have you sinned against? So many relationships have been broken due to inability of some people to acknowledge their own sin, or the ability of others to truly offer forgiveness.
The following is a letter written to a man on death row by the Father of the man whom the man on death row had killed:
You are probably surprised that I, of all people, am writing a letter to you, but I ask you to read it in its entirety and consider its request seriously. As the Father of the man whom you took part in murdering, I have something very important to say to you.
I forgive you. With all my heart, I forgive you. I realize it may be hard for you to believe, but I really do. At your trial, when you confessed to your part in the events that cost my Son his life and asked for my forgiveness, I immediately granted you that forgiving love from my heart. I can only hope you believe me and will accept my forgiveness.
But this is not all I have to say to you. I want to make you an offer -- I want you to become my adopted child. You see, my Son who died was my only child, and I now want to share my life with you and leave my riches to you. This may not make sense to you or anyone else, but I believe you are worth the offer. I have arranged matters so that if you will receive my offer of forgiveness, not only will you be pardoned for your crime, but you also will be set free from your imprisonment, and your sentence of death will be dismissed. At that point, you will become my adopted child and heir to all my riches.
I realize this is a risky offer for me to make to you -- you might be tempted to reject my offer completely -- but I make it to you without reservation.
Also, I realize it may seem foolish to make such an offer to one who cost my Son his life, but I now have a great love and an unchangeable forgiveness in my heart for you.
Finally, you may be concerned that once you accept my offer you may do something to cause you to be denied your rights as an heir to my wealth. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I can forgive you for your part in my Son's death, I can forgive you for anything. I know you never will be perfect, but you do not have to be perfect to receive my offer. Besides, I believe that once you have accepted my offer and begin to experience the riches that will come to you from me, that your primary (though not always) response will be gratitude and loyalty.
Some would call me foolish for my offer to you, but I wish for you to call me your Father.
The Father of Jesus