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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Preached At:
Title:Seeking Forgiveness and Feeling Forgiven
Text:LD 51 Psalm 32:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness of Sins

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 406 - Exultant Praise
TH 499 - Rock of Ages
Psalter 34 - Gracious Guidance

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

Seeking Forgiveness and Feeling Forgiven

HD LC 51, Psalm 32:1-11

A 1996 article in the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported how psychologists and therapists were beginning to understand that forgiveness was needed in healing. A therapist and social work professor remarked “Thirteen years ago, I began to think about forgiveness as a way to heal pain, but there was nothing in the literature. I asked why psychologists don’t talk about forgiveness, and I was told that it was a theological concept, that psychologists deal with understanding. To people of faith, the power of forgiveness comes as no great revelation. It lies at the heart of Judeo-Christian teachings.” Sounded really hopeful!

But what’s bizarre, shortly thereafter, is that at the National Conference on Forgiveness in Clinical Practice, therapists, social workers, nurses, and even clergy, came together to discuss that forgiveness is not just an act triggered by God. It’s an act of will - a decision to release bitter thoughts of resentment; and the act of saying sorry frees oneself from guilt. In other words, to them, forgiveness can happen without God. But we would disagree. There’s no forgiveness apart from God. Forgiveness is not a decision of the will to release bitter thoughts of resentment. Saying sorry to release yourself of guilt is also not genuine forgiveness. Why? Forgiveness is not for us! That’s pop psychology. Seeking forgiveness is God-centered. And we are free in conscience only when God forgives. And we can truly forgive another only because a holy God has shown mercy to us when we humbly admit our great sins against him.

This is what we see in the fifth petition. God, don’t count toward us our transgressions and evil, but forgive us because of Christ’s sacrifice. And the evidence of such humility and forgiveness is seen in us wholeheartedly forgiving our neighbor. People forgive because they’ve been forgiven. People don’t forgive, because they have not sought forgiveness from God. Or their repentance is insufficient. 

Let’s consider the topic of forgiveness from Psalm 32 in 4 facts. Firstly, it’s a blessed thing to be forgiven; secondly, it’s painful not to seek forgiveness; thirdly, it’s a joyful thing to boldly seek forgiveness; and fourthly, God demonstrates amazing grace when he forgives. 

The first fact - it’s a blessed thing to be forgiven. Psalm 32 was written by David. While we know in Psalm 51, it was adultery and murder that brought him to seek forgiveness from God; we don’t know the exact situation here. Maybe he was just speaking generally about forgiveness, and then using himself as an example. This was so he could encourage others to repent. So we learn several generic things about repentance. True repentance requires a thorough knowledge of sin. David speaks generally in verses 1-2 about three aspects of sin - not just sins of commission or omission. But these verses say - “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity.”

The Hebrew word for transgression speaks of rebellion - like people just don't want to obey God. They want to do their will - like children who fight against their parents’ will. Or like us being tempted, just giving in to our will instead of God’s. For repentance to be genuine, this rebellion must be admitted. The Hebrew word “sin” means to miss the mark. These are the actual offences of thought, word, and deed. And God’s standards are very exact. In archery, the archer tries to get the gold or the center target. It’s also called a bull’s eye because English archers in the past would practice by trying to shoot an arrow through the eye socket of a bull’s skull. God’s bull’s eye is tiny - we can’t hit it. For repentance to be genuine, people must acknowledge such failure. And the Hebrew word for iniquity literally means crookedness. By nature sinners are can’t be straightened. They're rebellious at heart, unable to make God’s mark. Why? Because they’re crooked in nature.

This is why it’s such a blessing to be forgiven. God extends a 3 fold forgiveness to those who come to him for forgiveness. Transgressions are forgiven - or carried away. God removes the rebellious nature far away. It’s like a burden that can’t be shaken off - but God lifts it. That’s the meaning of forgiveness in Hebrew. Sin is covered. Sin’s shameful, dirty, offensive. But God conceals it - not to hide it for deception, but to conceal it out of kindness. When drunk Noah was naked, his children Shem and Japheth covered him. It was a merciful act. When the High Priest at the Day of Atonement came before the Lord, the altar of incense was moved within the veil, and the smoke from the altar would shield the priest from the mercy seat - the place of God’s holiness and glory. Leviticus 16:13 says, “And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover (that’s the same word) the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not.” It’s an act of mercy when God covers sin. God also does not impute or charge that iniquity to the one forgiven. When Abraham believed, God counted his faith as righteousness; so upon repentance, sins are no longer counted.

That’s why a forgiven man is blessed! There are manifold blessings. Blessed is the man. The word “blessed” means happy - as in happy birthday, happy new year, happy anniversary, happy happy. Happy is a spiritual word. Zacchaeus received Jesus joyfully because Jesus would dine in his home and forgive him. Like the lame man healed by Peter and John was leaping and praising God. Happiness is to know the Savior. Because there’s no longer any guile - any deceit! All pretense, self-justification, hypocrisy are melted away. We are bare before a Holy God. There’s no escape or hiding. To such a person, God forgives all sins. And that burden is lifted. But this happiness and release can not be experienced when there’s no repentance.

In fact, it’s painful not to seek forgiveness. That’s the second fact. And here, David shares his experience of how when he didn’t repent, he had a guilty conscience. Verse 3 says, “when I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” When he did not admit his sin, he experienced spiritual and physical anguish. Ironically, when I keep silent, I will roar. The word “roar” means a groan or distressed cry. That’s the irony. A conscience unforgiven will remain guilty. And guilt torments the conscience. In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story - “The Tell Tale Heart” - a murderer killed and dismembered an old man in his house, and hid the body parts under floorboards. The neighbors heard the shout and called the police. As they investigated, he told them he shouted from a nightmare as he slept. So as the police talked to him, they were sitting directly above the body parts. As they talked, the man heard a beating heart, that grew louder and louder. He thought it was the old man’s still beating heart. He wondered why the police were still chatting. They were mocking him. Surely they heard! He could take it no longer and he confessed! Tear up the floorboards! He’s there! There’s his beating heart you hear! But the beating heart was his own guilty conscience all along. Unconfessed sins affect the conscience. 

The failure to repent resulted in his bones wasting away, his groaning all day, and his strength being sapped. This speaks primarily of spiritual suffering. The word bones in verse 3 is the Hebrew word “etsem.”  In the NASB it’s translated as “body.”  The word is used in the Old Testament to refer literally to our bones; like Numbers 19:18 - “And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone…” But sometimes it’s used to speak about the innermost being; like Job 7:15 - “So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life.” Here, the psalmist is most likely using it figuratively to speak about the inner being. Failure to confess sin is destructive to our life. Never underestimate the impact of retaining sin. Such suffering does affect the body. People with troubled conscience have troubled faces. A hardened jaw-line, a furrowed brow, even some medical conditions because of stress – hypertension and bruxism. These are possible physical symptoms of spiritual problems. 

In addition to this anguish, David shared he felt the pain of God’s displeasure. Verse 4, day and night God’s hand was heavy on him. This spoke of chastisement. In 1 Samuel 5:6, God’s hand was heavy on the city of Ashdod because they stole the Ark of the Covenant. He made them suffer; they had illnesses. But God’s hand was also heavy on David. On God’s people, it’s not meant to destroy, but to restore. God’s hand cares and protects his people. Isaiah 41:10 - “…be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” So God chastises us with his heavy hand so we may turn to him. Like the prodigal son - his suffering returned him to his father. Luke 15:17-18 records that he came to himself - he said how many servants his father had - that he would return back and say “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” Suffering and anguish are God’s loving reminder that we have violated His ways. Psalm 119:71 says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” Furthermore, our unrepentance causes suffering. David described his anguish like oppression. In summer in Judea, cool evenings and mornings led to dew covering the ground. But the moment the oppressive summer sun emerged, the moisture dried up. Such kind oppression drove David to repent. Why? Not to destroy him, but to forgive him.

But we see a warning. Verse 10 - “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about.” Those who refuse to repent; whose transgressions are not forgiven, sins not covered, iniquity still counted - they’re called wicked. Despite God’s goodness, they refuse to repent. Their anguish is not a heavy hand, but an eternal fire. This was a warning to the unforgiven. 

But when we come before God, there’s joy. We next see the art of repenting. Thirdly, it’s a joyful thing to boldly seek forgiveness. How do we repent? Verse 5 - we seek forgiveness by acknowledging sin, by not hiding iniquity, by confessing transgression. We compare with verses 1 and 2. When we confess transgression, God forgives our transgressions. When we openly acknowledge sin, God will cover and conceal them. When we don’t hide iniquity like secret gains, God will write them off. And therefore, in the art of confession, there must be certain actions. We must be specific - to acknowledge. We must be open, and not conceal. When we don’t keep, God will remove them.

So this is how we repent. But we also do it boldly. Verse 6 is a causal clause. If we acknowledge sin, reveal iniquity, and confess transgression, then God will forgive. For this cause, everyone that is godly will pray and confess. The wicked stubborn ones will not confess. But the godly will. They will pray to God in a time when he may be found. This speaks not only about the way we repent, but the urgency of repenting. In the Old Testament, that time was found between 9 am, in the morning sacrifice to 3 pm, at the evening sacrifice in the temple. Those who sinned, would take time off to bring an offering. Their souls were more important than anything else. This was the window God gave them. But in the New Covenant, because of Christ our sacrifice and Great High priest - we can come boldly to God anytime. 

And the result? We will not fear the floods of great waters. Because we repent, we won’t fear destruction. Noah preached for 120 years calling the people to repent as he was building the ark. They laughed at him. And when it started to flood, they cried out for entrance into the ark. But God had closed it. But those who were repentant? Those in the ark? They did not fear. There’s a time period. Repentance is today. And the godly will pray within that time period. 

And this leads to rejoicing. God commands joy. Verse 11 - “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.” Those who repent specifically are forgiven. They come to God without delay. They fear no destruction. And they rejoice. That heaviness, that anguish is removed.  

And we see the last fact - God demonstrates amazing grace when he forgives. Not only does God forgive - he preserves and delivers the forgiven. David now speaks to God personally. And God to David. He has switched from a general advice, to a personal testimony, and now to an intimate address to God. His repentance removed any offense between him and God. Thou art my hiding place - or secret place. God was not just a hiding place, to David God was MY hiding place. God himself will care for his repentant people. He preserves us in times of trouble. We will be free from fear, bitterness, resentment - why? Because we have a savior. No act of the will can cleanse the conscience. No mere declaration can lead to forgiveness. Nothing can bring restoration but the forgiveness of a loving savior. This is why we sing. I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, for his eyes are on the sparrow, and I know he cares for me. 

Not only does God preserve and deliver, he instructs. In verses 8-9, the person now speaking is God - to a repentant David. It’s a promise. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” This is an assurance to those forgiven - he will guide and instruct them. People fear seeking forgiveness - it makes them vulnerable. If I admit an untruth, I’ll get into trouble! And we go through many rounds to determine what the truth is. But when we admit wrong, we trust God to lead us through. When Saul sinned - he would not admit wrong - fully. He even wanted Samuel to honor him in front of the elders of the people. He was worried about a loss of reputation! In the end, he lost his reputation. David in Psalm 51 - against thee, thee only, I have done this evil in thy sight. He confessed. But his repentance overshadowed his sin. He is remembered for being a man after God’s own heart - because he repented! In verse 8, the psalmist uses words like “instruct,” “teach,” and “guide (or counsel).” Those who have been forgiven, learn from their sins.

And one of the things that God does is he transforms the stubborn heart. There are those who are stubborn - they don’t want to admit wrong. They will justify, deflect, reject. They’re like stubborn horse and mule forced to do something. But the forgiven will be of tender heart. We have with a new heart. 

That’s why, being forgiven, we forgive others. What are some practical applications for us? Simply, come to God for forgiveness. Why? There are only 2 choices. Verse 10 says a person can keep his sins and know the “sorrows of the wicked,” or he can confess his sins and know the “mercy” of God. Don’t be a mule! Learn it now - seek forgiveness for sins, iniquities, transgressions - specifically, urgently, so you need not fear but rejoice. Repent and experience the freedom of a clear conscience.

Furthermore, are we forgiving others? Or do we need to seek forgiveness from others? When we have come to God in repentance, he teaches us - guides us - that we be not stubborn. Oh, how we’ve experienced leanness of soul, his heavy hand, anguish and dryness in our lives because we don’t forgive or we don’t seek forgiveness form others. How can God be pleased when there is schism in his body? Or when you haven’t been a good ambassador for Christ?

Lastly, the psalm speaks about the contrast of the forgiven and the unforgiven. And an appropriate question we ask here is are you saved? How do we know? We have come to God for forgiveness; we keep coming to God for forgiveness; we feel his heavy hand on our conscience when we don’t - and when we do, we freely admit our sins. And this shows in our forgiveness of others. This is a mark of salvation. May the Lord help us to pray - forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Sermon Outline:

1. The Blessedness of Being Forgiven

 A. The 3-fold sin

 B. The 3-fold forgiveness

 C. The manifold blessing  

2. The Pain of Not Seeking Forgiveness 

 A. Spiritual and physical anguish

 B. God’s merciful and heavy displeasure

 C. The warning to the unforgiven

3. The Art of Seeking Forgiveness

 A. The 3-fold repentance

 B. The boldness needed in seeking forgiveness

 C. The command to rejoice for cleansing

4. The God that Forgives 

 A. His preservation and deliverance

 B. His instruction and guidance

 C. His changing your heart of stubbornness

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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