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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Blessed is he Whose Transgression is Forgiven!
Text:LD 51 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-12-03
Updated:2017-12-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 130:3,4                                                                                  

Hy 3:1,5  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Psalm 32

Ps 32:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 51

Ps 32:4,5

Hy 15:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, there are many things you could say about the Psalms, but perhaps the most significant is this: they are real. The Psalms are such true-to-life and personal expressions of what moves in the hearts of God’s children. As we read the Psalms, we can relate to their different moods. We find ourselves echoing the words of thanksgiving in Psalm 100, taking up the words of joy in Psalm 150, and praying the words of quiet trust in Psalm 46. Taking them onto our lips and into our hearts, these are the prayers that we ourselves can offer.

But we find ourselves echoing other words from other Psalms too. For the Psalms aren’t always full of the happy spirit of a person who’s walking close to God. In this same book of ancient prayers, there’s the anguish of sin, and the burden of guilt. There’s the pain and regret and shame of a life of hidden wickedness. There’s even the fear that sin has broken our fellowship with God, and that it can’t be fixed.

For example, we hear the anguished words in Psalm 51, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight” (vv 3-4). Sad to say, but these words too, are very real for us. This is a prayer that we’ve had to offer up, time and again: “O LORD, forgive. O LORD, please don’t cast me away because of my sin.”

But whenever we find ourselves in that kind of guilt and misery, we need to keep reading. Because there’s always hope. There’s a lot of sin, but there’s even more grace. The same David who poured out his broken heart in Psalm 51 is speaking with courage a few verses later: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me by your generous Spirit” (v 12).

Yes, it’s amazing how little this kind of prayer has changed. We still pray to God, “Forgive us our debts,” as God’s children have always prayed. Only now our prayers are richer, and our comfort is deeper, because we know Christ. So we give our “Amen” also to David’s words in Psalm 32. We identify with this Psalm too, which is so realistic in its hurt and its hope. And then we give thanks for a mercy made more sure in the blood of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at Lord’s Day 51,

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven!

  1. we feel the pain of guilt
  2. we know the joy of release
  3. we gain the resolve to change
     

1) we feel the pain of guilt: For some of the Psalms, we know the situation behind them, the exact circumstances that gave rise to their words. And we know because the Psalm heading tells us. Take Psalm 51 again, for example. There the heading spells it out: “A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” This is something that we can picture quite easily. We see David, beside himself with sorrow and guilt—perhaps collapsed on the floor of his palace—still in those dark days after committing adultery and then ordering Uriah to be killed in a desperate attempt to cover it up. We can hear David’s terrible cries echoing throughout the palace halls, “Have mercy upon me, O God” (v 1).

But when it comes to Psalm 32, we are given no window into the events behind it. The heading (in the NKJV) simply says this is a Psalm of David, “A Contemplation.” To contemplate something is to consider it carefully, to turn it over in your mind. Instead of being wracked with guilt over one particular offense, in this Psalm David is reflecting broadly on his sins. There’s not one transgression on his mind (that we know of), but many sins.

And perhaps it’s better that we don’t know the situation behind this Psalm. For maybe  we’ve read Psalm 51 before with a bit of detachment. We think about adultery, we think about murder, how reckless David was, in just doing whatever he wanted—and perhaps we think to ourselves, “I’m a sinner all right, but I wouldn’t do that! That’s going too far.” We try to put some distance between Psalm 51 and ourselves.

But there’s no avoiding Psalm 32. This Psalm deflates our pride, and it doesn’t allow us to talk about greater and lesser sins. There’s no one who can say, “I wouldn’t do that.” Because we’re all sinners, and in such an ugly diversity of ways. To make his point, David —just in the first two verses—uses four different words for sin: transgression, sin, iniquity, deceit. In this contemplation, he’s taking a full inventory of his heart. He wants to peer into every dark corner.

As the Catechism puts it, “Do not impute to us, wretched sinners, any of our transgressions” (Q&A 126). Implied in that word “any” is that our sins are many—so many! If we’re honest with ourselves and honest before God, Psalm 32 is “our” Psalm. These ancient words are the headline for our lives: We are guilty.

And we know it’s real, because the pain is real. That’s how David describes it, that he was becoming physically sick because of guilt: “When I kept silent, my bones grew old, through my groaning all the day long” (v 3). His bones felt like they were rotting, like his body was coming apart at the seams—and why? Not because of cancer or broken bones or old age, but  because of sin! His sin was literally eating him up.

That can sound strange at first. What does an intangible, “spiritual” thing like sin have to do with our physical bodies? You can go for countless scans at the hospital, but they’re never going to find any sin-spots or guilt-tumors. David is surely imagining things about how sin was affecting his body. He was a holy hypochondriac!

Yet think for a moment of how God created us: as a unity, body and soul. Not as two separate and distinct parts, but one complete person in God’s image. That means there’s always a close connection between our inward and outward, between spirit and flesh. That means that if you’re afflicted on the inside, even if you’re just thinking about something deeply negative, your whole life can feel rotten—your very body and bones can be weakened.

Perhaps you can relate to this. It’s how sin can gnaw away at you, how sin unsettles your life, and particularly unconfessed sin. This is what David’s talking about, “When I kept silent, my bones grew old.” When there’s a sin we haven’t acknowledged—when we’re dragging it around because we haven’t brought it to the Lord—then we’re going to feel it. It’s hard to pray. There’s no joy. Worship feels empty. You see the shadows in everything. If you don’t confess, that burden is only going to get heavier. That lingering ache will only get worse.

And we have to see this not as a punishment, but as God’s mercy! David talks about this in the next verse. He knows who’s afflicting him, because he prays, “Day and night your hand was heavy upon me” (v 4). Feeling the sting of guilt, feeling a hot iron burning into your conscience is—in a certain sense—a very good thing. It is God’s gracious hand. It is his hand, correcting us, disciplining us, urging us to return.

It’s when we can’t feel that hand anymore that we should worry. It’s when we’ve become numb to sin after so many failures, when we’re not shocked by its ugliness—it’s then that we should worry. You should worry if you’ve come to a place where you’re OK with living apart from God, when blatant sinning doesn’t bother you anymore. But if it hurts and grieves you, then know that God is pulling you back. And you need to listen to that!

What else does that gracious activity of God feel like? “My vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (v 4). Guilt for sin made David lifeless—paralyzed, with no desire to keep going. It’s miserable, but this again is God, patiently teaching. He wants us to understand the fundamentals of life, that if we’re not right with Him, there’s nothing left. What’s the point of your life, if you’re not worshiping the true God, or trusting the Saviour? There really is no point.

Well-chosen are the Catechism’s words, “Do not impute to us wretched sinners” (Q&A 126). We are wretched without God, because without His help, we are captives to a cruel master. Without receiving God’s grace, the guilt that’s eating away at us now will consume us forever.

Sometimes we try to hide our sins. We cover up our transgressions, even under fine layers of outward religion: in church, singing along, and saying the right things. But this is like wall-papering the mouldy walls in your bathroom—it’s not a solution. The mould is still there, and it’s still going to grow! So instead of deceiving ourselves, we must look straight into the mirror of God’s Word in Psalm 32, and there we must see ourselves.

Even as church-going and Bible-reading Christians, this is who are. Along with the Catechism we must pray that God would remove “the evil which still clings to us.” It clings, like the most stubborn stain. After all these years, it’s still there; we can’t get rid of it by ourselves. Not by ourselves, but only with God.

For there is a way to deal with our sin! Like David does, crying out in the midst of his pain, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and my iniquity I have not hidden” (v 5). And praying this petition, echoing this Psalm, calls us to be specific. Remember that it calls us to contemplate our sin: to sit back, and reflect on what we have done.

And we shouldn’t only think about the “big ones,” the major blunders we’ve made, the terrible sins we’ve committed over the years. There’s probably a fair few of those. But we should think broadly about our life and everything that fills it. Where is the sin in the routine of my everyday activity? What are my shortcomings in how I treat my wife, my husband, my children, my friends? How am I proud? How am I ungrateful before God?

Consider it, and take an inventory. We do this not because we want to feel the pain of guilt, or because low self-esteem is good for us. But we do this to take those first steps toward joy. Because when we truly confess our sins—when we bring them out into the open—the Father promises that we’ll also know the joy of release.

 

2) we know the joy of release: There’s a marvelous transformation in Psalm 32. There’s no question that these are anguished words and a distressed prayer. The pain is very raw. In spite of all that, notice the opening notes of his song: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (v 1). Before he says anything else, David begins with blessedness. He can’t keep it down for long, because he’s already tasted the power of God’s grace. He’s been renewed by the Spirit of the Lord. And now that new life comes bursting out!

Think of a prisoner, locked up in jail: he’s a serial killer, a dangerous offender, the worst of the worst. He’s been tried, condemned, and sentenced to life in prison, no chance of parole. Society has given up on transforming him or rehabilitating him into someone safe and productive. But where we give up, God does not. For God takes that hardened criminal, and transforms him. He changes his very status from “guilty” into “righteous.” He even sets him free from his prison, and He tells him, “Go and sin no more.”

That’s the blessed reality reflected in those five words in the answer of the Catechism: “Do not impute to us” (Q&A 126). That’s legal language: “to impute” is to lay guilt upon someone; it is to charge and convict and put it on their record. In God’s courtroom, that convicted criminal is us. We’re that dangerous offender, the worst of sinners—and God has every reason to lock us up forever.  

But God the righteous Judge “[does] not impute to us... any of our transgressions, nor the evil which still clings to us.” This is the miracle of God’s grace. My sin doesn’t go on my record. My sin isn’t held against me. By faith in Jesus Christ, I’ve been transformed from the guilty to the righteous, and I’ve been set free.

Read again David’s words in verse 5, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD…’” and—wait for it—“you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Whatever wrongs David had done, whatever ugly things he uncovered in that inventory of sin, God has cleared them away. Even those countless things he wasn’t aware of, the many sins that escaped his notice, even these, God had graciously pardoned. “You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

And what does that forgiveness really mean? Forgiveness means that God won’t let our sins from yesterday affect the way He treats us today. It means that God won’t keep reminding us about how we failed—because it’s done with! On the contrary, He’ll treat us with a new love, a transforming love. It’s a love that is unstained by any evil we have done.

This is the joy of release that David experienced. He knew how God’s forgiveness can mean the lifting away of an unbearable weight, the melting of a painful tension. If you’ve been burdened by guilt, conflicted by all the things you’ve done wrong, how wonderful it can be to talk to God again, and walk with God. To have no fear of his condemnation, but only a sure hope of his continued blessing! It’s the joy of God’s grace, and it’s not far away.

We don’t want to say that we’re superior to David. We don’t want to say that we have it better than the saints of the Old Testament. But we do. For how much greater is our joy! How much stronger can be our confidence in the grace of God our Father! It’s like we get to read Psalm 32 while wearing a set of precision-crafted glasses. They are the glasses focused by the New Testament, the glasses that put constantly before us the figure of Jesus Christ.

We see what He did to accomplish our salvation. We see how He became the guilty one, so that we could be declared innocent. Far better than David ever understood, we know how God made arrangements to pay the penalty for our sin. With good reason, the Catechism puts that in the first line of its lesson, “For the sake of Christ’s blood, do not impute to us…” (Q&A 126). Without his blood, we don’t have a hope. Without his blood, we don’t have a prayer. But for the sake of Christ’s blood, we have peace with God.

This is why we add that little phrase to our prayers, “for Jesus’ sake.” I realize it can become something like an afterthought, an empty habit. But contemplate what it means. It’s a reminder of the one basis for prayer: “For Jesus’ sake, hear this prayer, O God. Father,” we pray, “Don’t answer me because of me. Answer, and forgive, for the sake of Christ’s blood. Father, He’s the only reason I can call you Father, the only reason I can come into your holy presence.”

When we pray like that, God will give us joy. That’s how the prayer in Psalm 32 ends, on the high note of “rejoicing in the Lord.” After the distress of guilt, and the pain of being far from the gracious presence of God, David calls on all of God’s children: “Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (v 11). Rejoice, because healing is available for all those rotten bones. You don’t have to live in the misery of your sin. Rejoice, because there’s relief for your burdened heart.

 

3) we gain the resolve to change: I once heard a good comparison for how Christians will treat God’s gift of forgiveness. The person telling the story said that he once had a dog as a pet and faithful companion. At the time, he lived out in the English countryside, so there were always lots of mud puddles and ditches nearby. And like any good owner would, he’d give his dog a monthly bath. But no sooner was his dog all clean and fuzzy, than it’d go and frolic in some dirty water or muck. So much for being clean! After a while, he just gave up on his dog’s monthly bath.

Like that dog, unfortunately, is how we often live. We “get” our grace from God, we receive our cleansing from sin, and then we simply return to what we were doing before. We do the same sin that we did yesterday. We continue to ignore his Word. Or we know we have a problem with anger or lust or envy, but we don’t do anything about it. We just frolic again in the filth that surrounds us. So much for being forgiven!

That’s not how it should be. For having been cleansed, there should be a change. Listen to what David teaches us in his Psalm: “Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you” (v 9). We’ll often be stubborn, and keep going on the same wrong path that we were on before. Like farmyard animals, it’s as if we need to be compelled and forced to do God’s will.

But grace ought to change us. After our cleansing with Christ’s blood and Spirit, we ought to move forward in a better direction. For this reason David is doing two central things in this Psalm. First, he’s asking for forgiveness—we’ve seen that already. And second, David is asking for instruction, for lessons in how to live as a person who is holy and forgiven and dedicated to God.

And God answers him, for the LORD says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you” (v 8). This is the only way we’ll learn God’s truth, if He’ll teach us. So we need to ask Him! This must always be a part of our prayer: “Father, forgive my sins. And Father, teach me how NOT to sin. Teach me how to avoid this temptation and how to beat this weakness. Teach me how to do what is right and good, instead of what is displeasing to you.” This is like David prays in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v 10).

A renewal of life always goes together with God’s grace toward us. It’s even built right into the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The Catechism explains that this kind of activity is the living evidence of God’s grace. That is to say, how do we know that we’ve truly been forgiven? How do we know that we’ve received God’s mercy?

We know, because there’s a change in us, however slight that change is. There’s a new longing in us, however weak. There’s a new attitude toward God, and also a new attitude toward all the people around us: “We find this evidence of your grace in us that we are fully determined wholeheartedly to forgive our neighbour” (Q&A 126).

Beloved, can other people tell that you’ve been forgiven? Do the people who you live with notice that you’ve received grace? What about the people you work with—do they see that you walk closely with the Lord, and depend on his mercy? The Catechism says that there will be evidence. God’s grace has a footprint. His compassion leaves a mark.

So what’s going to be different? What should we do after being forgiven? As we said, we pray that we’ll stop acting like animals. No more are we like the dog who runs back into the mud puddle. No more are we like the horse or mule, which have no understanding but depend on bit and bridle. Instead of just repeating the sins you did last week, or continuing to be complacent and indifferent, resolve to do differently. Pray to God, that He would teach obedience.

As we said, the one change that’s built right into the Lord’s Prayer is the desire to forgive others, as we ourselves have been forgiven. That means if someone has offended us, or hurt us, we’ll try to treat them like God has treated us. So forgive, freely and fully—that is to say, don’t allow someone’s past offenses to keep affecting your relationship today. Don’t keep bringing up what they did wrong. To all people we ought to show a God-like patience, a God-like compassion, a God-like kindness and generosity. That’s living evidence of God’s grace in us!

And the greatest change of all will be in our relationship with the LORD. David calls on us, “Be glad in the LORD and rejoice” (v 11). That says it all, that having been lifted from our sin and misery, having received the healing of the Lord’s grace, we rejoice in God. We’re glad to know Him. We’re glad to be known by Him. So thank God, and rejoice every day, for what He has given you in Jesus Christ!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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