Summary: God doesn’t expect us to be perfect--God knows us better than that. God does encourage us, though, to acknowledge our sin, seek to turn away from our rebelliousness, and received God’s forgiveness.
Psalm 51:1-19 “A Merciful God”
For decades, the church has focused on sin. Preachers appear to have taken delight in telling the members of their congregation how bad and sinful they were. The theme seemed to be, “If it felt good, then it had to be bad.” Congregational members may not have modified their daily lives, in any way, in accordance with the sermons, but they seemed to get a perverse pleasure in hearing Sunday after Sunday that they were sinners.
Times have changed and in many congregations the focus of the sermons has changed along with the times. Today the subject of many sermons is God’s steadfast and overwhelming love. The motivation behind much of this change is the idea that people respond better to the good news that God loves and forgives, than they do that they are condemned sinners and better get their act together. Certainly my sermons stress God’s steadfast love and constant presence in our lives.
Personally, I like to reflect upon God’s overwhelming love, than I do my sinfulness. I suspect you do, too. There are those times, though, when we are confronted by our blatant sinfulness and brought to our knees by the enormity of our sin. When we find ourselves in this position, the message of this psalm speaks to our hearts. This psalm tells us how we must deal with our sin, if we are to heal and proceed with our lives.
A CRY FOR MERCY
According to the notation at the beginning of this psalm, this psalm was written by King David. When David ascended to the throne, he was described as a man after God’s own heart. In other words, his life was in alignment with God; he wanted the same things that God wanted and sought to honor God in his life. This good king and man of God sinned. He fell, and he fell hard. He raped a young woman by the name of Bathsheba and he murdered her husband, Uriah.
David may have first thought that his actions were mere smudges on an otherwise stellar character. He probably hoped that he had passed under God’s radar screen and that God would allow his moral lapse to pass. It didn’t. God sent the prophet Nathan with a message of accusation and condemnation. Confronted with the magnitude of his sin, David wrote this psalm, crying out for God’s mercy.
David enters God’s presence pleading for God’s mercy. He realizes that there is nothing he can do to rectify the situation. He can’t make things right. He can’t earn God’s forgiveness. So, David asks God to be merciful—not because he is king and has a pretty good track record, but because of God’s love.
Mercy and forgiveness are the means by which David’s sin can be treated. If God forgives, then David’s transgressions will be blotted out, he will be washed from his iniquity, and he will be cleansed from his sin.
Whether our sins are big or small, we always come to God empty handed. We may attempt to plea bargain, or to point out our finer qualities, but we soon realize that our words are empty and unimpressive.
David discovered, in his fall from grace, that God does not require or like religiosity or verbosity. David writes that, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.” We enter into God’s presence humbly, sorry for our words and actions that have taken away from God’s glory, and focused on God’s grace and not our goodness.