Kanon Simmons delivered this message at the Raiford Road Church Ladies banquet on 4/24/2015
Last year I wrote a couple of posts about using outlines to help us understand the Bible’s message. “The Value of an Outline” stressed the importance of outlining an entire book of the Bible before studying any of its smaller parts. The next post, “Speaking of Outlines,” attempted to provide a model for outlining passages. Now that I am teaching an online hermeneutics course for the seminary, I am more convinced than ever that outlining a passage is the most important first step to interpretation.
Our class was recently assigned with outlining Psalm 51 and then providing a single statement that summarized the main idea of the text. It was fun to see how this short little Psalm began to make so much more sense when we understood how it was organized. Let me show you how I would outline the Psalm and how it shapes my understanding of the book.
This Psalm actual has two introductions. The first introduction is found in the superscript above vs. 1. While the titles that your Bible assigns to the Psalms aren’t inspired, the superscripts are. They typically let you know who is writing the Psalm or how it was to be played. However, this superscript is quite unique. Here the superscript tells us not only who it was written to, and who it was from, but the historical setting in which it was written. Here we learn that this Psalm was written as a response to David’s infamous sin where he forced a woman to have sex with him, then killed her husband so that he could marry her. This Psalm is David’s response to one of the worst, and most famous, sins in Jewish history.
The second part of the introduction is found in the first two verses. David sets the entire tone of the Psalm by crying for mercy. This second part of the introduction tells us how David is going to respond to the sin we mentioned in the superscript. This introduction sets the stage for David to offer his repentance as a model for us to follow. Also, this introduction establishes the assumption that will never again be explicitly stated in the Psalm, namely that David’s appeal for God’s mercy is completely dependent on the character of God, namely his steadfast love and his abundant mercy.
It may be helpful to mention why I believe this is an introduction as opposed to David’s first point. The first reason is because it seems to so closely mirror the second point in vs. 7-12. This suggests it is a sort of forecast of what is to come. A second reason is that the next three points follow a logical sequential order. These two verses, on the other hand, mention or assume all three points without regard to their logical development. This suggests that they are foreshadowing what David will seek to establish in his Psalm.
- Superscript – The Psalm is framed as a response to one of the worst, and most famous sins in the history of Israel.
- vs. 1-2 – We realize that David’s response will be one of repentance and that his appeal will be on the basis of God’s great character, namely his steadfast love and abundant mercy.
The first step in David’s repentance is confession. In verses 3-6 we get a glimpse of what confession should look like. Watch how, in these 4 verses, David repeatedly humbles himself and lifts up God as just and good. Watch how David never seeks to justify himself. He never seeks to find a solution. He never suggests that there is any speck of good in him that might persuade God to have mercy. He simply confesses his failure.
In verse 3 David acknowledges his sin, admitting that he is aware of it and it is constantly on his mind. In verse 4 he makes two startling confessions. First he claims that it is against God, and God only, that he sinned. This is startling because we would assume that he would recognize the sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, his son who dies for his sin, the army of Israel, and the entire nation. In fact, there are very few people who he did not sin against, or that his sin did not affect. Yet he still says, against you and you only have I sinned. As startling as this is, his second confession in verse 4 is even more shocking. David confesses the evil he did is “so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” While it is shocking to hear him say against you only have I sinned, it is more shocking, and admirable, to hear him confess that he deserves God’s judgment.
Verses 5-6 continue to make the case that he deserves judgment. In verse 5 David admits his lowliness in every respect, being sinful even from birth. In verse 6 he admits that he is without excuse. God has high standards of “truth in the inward being,” and God has taught him wisdom. Yet in spite of God’s desires, and despite the fact that God has taught him better, David still stands guilty before him.
- Psalm 51:3 – David acknowledges his guilt and confesses that he is deeply affected by it
- Psalm 51:4 – David again confesses his sin, making it personal between him and God. He also confesses that it makes him guilty and deserving of any judgment that God may bring.
- Psalm 51:5 – David again confesses his guilt, this time recognizing the utter sinfulness that has characterized his entire life, since birth.
- Psalm 51:6 – David confesses awareness of God’s good standard, the same standard which he broke.
A Plea for Mercy
The second step in repentance is a plea for mercy. In verses 7-12 David repeatedly begs God to work on his behalf to restore him. He never offers any help. He never suggests that he can do anything to make this right. Instead David stoops to begging. He humbles himself completely recognizing that only God can fix this awful mess that he is in.
Notice that each line is a request to God. David begs; purge me, wash me, let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones that you have broken rejoice, hide you face from my iniquities, blot out my transgressions, create in me a clean heart, renew a right spirit within me, cast me not away, restore unto me the joy of my salvation, uphold me with a willing spirit. At every line he is recognizing his need for God. In every stanza he begs for God’s intervention. It was for David to sin, it is for God to make it right.
There also seems to be a progression in Davids requests. Verses 7-9 appear to deal primarily with David’s sin. He wants them forgiven. He wants them wiped away. David does not want to stand guilty before God any longer. Then in verses 10-12 he begins asking for something even more bold. Not only does he want to be forgiven, he wants to be made right. He doesn’t simply want God to not be angry, he wants God to be happy. This is clear when he begins asking for joy and a restored relationship. David’s fear isn’t simply being found guilty, it is losing his good relationship with God.
- A Plea for Mercy
- Psalm 51:7-9 – David begs to have his sin covered and forgiven.
- Psalm 51:10-12 – David begs for God to restore him to a place of joy and right relationship with God.
A Worshipful Response.
The third step in repentance is a worshipful response. In verses 13-19 David assumes that that forgiveness he begged for has been granted and he moves toward how he will respond. One may be tempted to believe that repentance is a two step process, confess and plea for mercy, but here David shows us that true repentance is demonstrated by a worshipful response to God’s mercy.
David’s first response is to tell other sinners of God’s ways. He becomes an evangelist. Because he has been forgiven, he will plead with others to come and be forgiven as well. He will beg others to avail themselves of God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy. His delight in God’s mercy toward him will become evident as he talks to everyone he meets, begging them to come and see that the Lord is good.
Verses 16-17 then introduce a surprising response, at least for that time. David says that God doesn’t delight in sacrifice. This seems to be a strange claim indeed, especially considering how many sacrifices God commanded the people of Israel to make. If God didn’t want sacrifices, then why require them? Fortunately David goes on to explain. What God really wants is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The same kind of broken heart and contrite spirit that David offered in the first two steps of his repentance.
Verses 18-19 make the preceding verses even more clear. He explains that if God restores Zion, or builds up the walls of Jerusalem, then he will be pleased with the sacrifices. Its clear that this is metaphorical language. Why in the world would God not be pleased with sacrifices in vs. 16, but once some walls go up, then in vs. 19 he delights in them. The answer lies in understanding everything that came before in this Psalm.
David was the representative of Zion and Jerusalem. He was the one with broken walls. His sin was what destroyed his life, and his relationship with God. To use a hermeneutics phrase, David is using Zion and Jerusalem as a metonymy for himself. No sacrifices could have made his situation better. No bull or calf was good enough to make things right between him and God. In fact, every sacrifice he made would have been a repugnant odor in the nose of God. Yet, when God restored his walls, when God forgave his sin, when God restored their relationship, then and only then would David’s sacrifices please God. Only then would David be able to respond in worship.
- A Worshipful Response
- Psalm 51:13-15 – David invites others to experience the grace of God
- Psalm 51:16-19 – Why God’s work must proceed David’s sacrifices for them to matter. Or why God’s grace always precedes true worship.
The Main Idea of the Message
So what is the main idea of this Psalm? How would you summarize it in one sentence? It is difficult to reduce such a beautiful Psalm in only one sentence. At the same time our outline should help us give a pretty fair representation. My sentence is:
True repentance is marked by confession, a plea for God’s mercy, and a worshipful response to God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy in our lives.
Update: I was recently given the opportunity to preach a sermon on Psalm 51 at Raiford Road Church. If you are interested to see how I moved from the text to a sermon, you can listen to it by clicking the file below. The sermon is a about 45 minutes long.
In church this morning our pastor began his message with a video where people discussed how they view God. Some people thought of God as a father, some a mother, some a nourishing river, and others a provider. Then our pastor pointed out that no one thinks of God as a mighty judge or a consuming fire. No one says, along with the people of Israel,
For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out the the midst of fire as we have and has still lived? (Deuteronomy 6:25-26)
One thing is clear, these people feared God. These people knew that God was righteous and holy… and dangerous. The people were so afraid that they begged Moses to be a mediator between them and God. They begged Moses to talk to God on their behalf and to protect them from God’s wrath and God’s glory. There was no room for a cavalier approach to God. They could not imagine a casual stroll before the throne of a God. They feared God.
When we turn to the New Testament it appears that this fear of God is all but vanished. Instead of fear, the Jewish leaders (Pharisees) seemed to be brimming with confidence. They had no sense of fear of the wrath of God. They were the good people, what did they have to fear?
Jesus points out the folly of their self-confidence and self trust in a parable. In Luke 18:9-14 we read,
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner! I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
My friend, Jonathan Micke, recently preached a sermon on this text. He pointed out that the Pharisee’s problem is not that he has failed to be good, but that he has failed to realize he is bad. The Pharisee’s understanding of his own sin is far too small. If he had even an inkling of how grossly he has offended the almighty God he would be joining the tax collector in crying out for mercy.
Jonathan went on to provide his own story that points out how we are continuing to make the same mistake. He told of a young couple who show up to the pastor’s office for their premarital counseling. When the pastor begins to question them about their purity they confess to having “slipped up” recently after a party. However, they happily assure him that no one saw them and that everything was okay. The preacher responded, “I have some really bad news, someone did see you and was really offended.” Immediately the young couple’s faces fall. They look to the floor in humiliation. Then the young man looks up and asks in a soft, embarrassed tone, “Pastor, who saw us.” When the pastor replies, “Jesus, Jesus saw you,” they both looked up and said, “Oh, only Jesus, what a relief.”
WHAT? A RELIEF? What does it say about our view of God when we are relieved that only He knows of our sin? Have we so completely lost our fear of God that we can be relieved, not grieved, or even petrified when we sin against Him? Have we completely forgotten that God is a consuming fire? We would be wise to remember the warning of Psalm 50:21-22.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart and there be none to deliver.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And in their fear the people of Israel made a very wise request. They begged Moses to intercede on their behalf, lest they perish before the wrath and glory of God. There was no self-justification. They did not seek to represent themselves before the court of God. Instead they put their hope in another, in a mediator, to plead for mercy on their behalf.
If we are wise, if we have any fear of God left, we will make the same choice. Our sin is far too great to stand before God. Yet God has provided a mediator who far outshines even Moses. Paul teaches us in 1 Timothy 2:5-6,
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
It is on account of this mediator, and on no account of our own, that we can have any access to God, much less boldness before Him. For instance, Ephesians 3:11
This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
If we are wise we will shed ourselves of any sense of confidence we have before God. We must realize that our sin is a big deal. Our sin grieves God and earns our destruction. If we are wise we won’t seek to justify ourselves. Instead we will beg for a mediator who can stand in our stead. We will look to one who can approach God on our behalf. If we are wise we won’t seek any access to God without making sure we have Jesus as our representation.
I have attached Jonathan’s entire sermon on Luke 18:9-14 above. I recommend listening to the entire thing, though it is fairly long. At least skip forward to the 42:35 mark to listen to his story. It was a blessing to me and I am sure you will be blessed as well.