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Sermon for Lent 3 Midweek

Note: This sermon was adapted from one in the CPH Lenten Series, “God’s Gift of Forgiveness” by Pastor Todd Peperkorn.

Sorry there is no audio this week.


“Against You and For Me” (Psalm 51)

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text for tonight is Psalm 51, which we prayed earlier in the service. We’ve been working through the penitential psalms, so far, Psalms 6, 32, 38, and now 51 and trying to find in them the biblical underpinning for what Dr. Luther wrote in the Small Catechism concerning Confession, probably the least well known of the chief parts.  And so we’ll also be examining the explanation of the Office of the Keys as we confessed from the catechism tonight as well.

I think most folks know that Psalm 51 was written by Kind David in the wake of being caught out by Nathan in his adulterous liaison with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his generals.  We see the situation from Nathan’s view; we see it from God’s view.  We don’t see it from David’s point of view.  Just before Nathan comes to him, King David had it made.  He had Bathsheba.  He husband Uriah was dead.  The whole kingdom thought that he was the kind and wise king for taking care of poor Bathsheba in the wake of her husband’s glorious death in battle.  “What a good king we have!” they probably exclaimed.  “He takes care of his poor dead soldier’s wife.”  But this view was far away from the truth.

God saw it all.  God knew that David’s unbelief had driven him to lust, adultery, and murder.  So God sent David a pastor to preach the Law to him.  Pastor Nathan came to David with a story, which we heard before.  When David heard this great misdeed that the man had done, he declared the man guilty, and condemned him to death.  Nathan then said the most pointed Law in all the Scriptures: “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). David’s response gets to the heart of the matter: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).

Very few of the Psalms match up with events as clearly as Psalm 51 and the contrition of King David in his sin with Bathsheba.  Psalm 51 is but lyrical and poetic exposition of what David says in his confession to Pastor Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  David gets to the heart of the matter very quickly.  He has not just sinned against Uriah, his own general, he has sinned against his wife.  And he has not just sinned against them, but, as you well know, Bathsheba is pregnant and so David has sinned against the unborn child.  He has sinned against all those people he has lied to, the whole people of Israel over whom he is king.  He even sinned against his pastor by not going to him to rid his conscience of this great and terrible sin.  He sinned, alright.  He sinned against the Lord.  “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.” (v. 4)  Sin against our neighbor is ultimately sin against God who gave us neighbors to love to be loved by.  David knows his sin intimately but his admission is more than just introspection.  He knows how rebellious he has been; he knows he has sinned against the Lord.

Any sin is fundamentally sin against God (v. 4).  When we confess our sins to God, we are saying in effect that He has every right to condemn us, that we deserve nothing but hell and punishment.  Many believe that God is arbitrary and unjust in His punishment, but we confess in this psalm that He is right and just in condemning us for the sin we have done against Him.  All sin is ultimately against God.  All sin finally is against the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.”  That is the terror of sin that troubles the conscience.  That was Peter’s sin from our reading.  His pride would not let him see himself as a weak sinner who needed Jesus.  It is that same pride that eats away at you and I when it comes to confession.

Some visitors to our church on Sunday morning are offended by the Confession and Absolution at the beginning of the service.  “I’m not a poor, miserable sinner.”  Some see it as too negative.  Even in some Lutheran churches the confession of sins has been replaced with something less severe, or omitted all together.  These are Christians who see the faith as nothing more than positivism, a religion of only the joyful and happy.  One supporter of this view actually calls the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, the “Be-happy attitudes” as if Jesus were some toothy-grinned self-help guru.  If visitors are offended and appalled by the confession of our sins and our sinful nature, going and confessing your sins to God before the pastor is probably seen as even more galling.  Forgetting completely that it is against God that we have sinned, they ask, “What business does the pastor have with my sins with my sins?”

But confessing sins is not a pity party.  Remember the words of the psalm: “For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16–17) So then, hear again the words from the catechism:

What is confession?
Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

Notice that it doesn’t say, I confess my sin, singular or even generally speaking, but my sins, plural.  Now God does call on us to confess our sinful nature.  But what this catechism section is getting at is that when I confess my sins, what specifically I have done that troubles me, that leads me to understand my sinful nature.  So Dr. Luther is trying to help us understand that God wants me to actually confess my sins.  In other words, God wants you to know and acknowledge with your lips what you have done wrong, and that you deserve to be punished for it.  But then God desires that you ask for His mercy and forgiveness, which He gladly and willingly gives.

Perhaps an illustration is in order.  Part of the discipline of teaching children right from wrong is getting them to recognize that what they did was wrong.  So you ask them to tell you what they did wrong.  Now the parent knows perfectly well what the child did wrong.  This isn’t for the parents’ benefit; it’s for the child’s benefit.  It’s the same way with confession.  God desires you to confess your sins not for His sake (He knows perfectly well what you did) but for your sake.  God wants you to see yourself as a sinner. Why?  And this is the most important thing I have to say tonight, so please hear me.  God wants you to see yourself as a sinner so that you to know that you need Jesus.  For Jesus came to seek and save the lost, the sinner, the contrite, the messed up, the ones who know that they live and move only by God’s everlasting mercy. Confession is not an exercise in self-abuse, self-pity, or self-hate.  It’s not just an exercise in realizing maybe you got too big for your britches.  God wants us to confess our sins so that He might forgive them on account of Christ.

This is the true work of God.  God’s proper work is to forgive, to love, to show mercy and pity.  God wants to forgive your sins.  Have you ever paid close attention to how David prays in this psalm?  For a fellow who has committed adultery and murder and brought his kingship, the kingship of God’s own Israel into disrepute, he’s awful confident in his prayer.  “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!” (v. 1–2)  What a great prayer!  David appeals not to God’s justice but to His loving-kindness.  “Cast me not away from your presence.”   David knew the danger he was in.  “When holy people—still having and feeling original sin and daily repenting and striving against it—happen to fall into manifest sins (as David did into adultery, murder, and blasphemy [2 Samuel 11]), then faith and the Holy Spirit have left them.  The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so it can be carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants [Romans 6:14].  If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present” (SA III III 43–44).  “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Psalm 51:12).  God, give me back the joy of living in You.  The joy is more than a passing emotion; it is a contented resting in God.  This joy results from the security of having been reconciled with the Lord and of having peace with him (cf. Rom 5:1).

God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, comes to restore your joy, to blot out your sins, and to save you.  He comes to open your lips to sing His praise.  He comes to give you a new life in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, which is why it is appropriate that we used those words to open our office of Vespers in the evening and Matins in the morning.  He comes to absolve you and free you from your guilt of sin. If God can forgive David, He can forgive you.  It is simple acknowledgement that God has come to you to forgive your sins to put into your mouth the very praise of Him.  So we can pray and sing with the whole Church on earth and in heaven:

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. . . . O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever!” (Psalm 30:4–5, 12b).

“Oh, Lord, open my lips, that my mouth will declare your praise.”

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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