Caught! - Psalm 51

This is a sermon by Viv Whitton from the evening service on 26th August 2012.

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Psalm 51 (2 Samuel 12:1 -15)
Caught!
 
Introduction:              Public and Private morality – does it matter?
In my lifetime 2 American presidents, have been disgraced, lying to protect their reputation. The heir to the British throne has publicly admitted adultery, and many of our politicians have been caught out fiddling expenses and cheating on their spouses.
What is it about power and influence that makes such people think that they are above the law?
That morals don't matter and anyway that they won't get caught out?
That they can bend the rules to suit themselves?
That they have a right to keep their positions of power and influence no matter what they have done.
Our story tonight shows that it's nothing new, today the difference is simply the immediacy of the widespread publicity that is generated by any indiscretions. More than ever it's image that counts.
I'm fascinated and somewhat disgusted by the latest revelations about Prince Harry because there's lot's of blame for the security men who allowed the incriminating photos to be taken,and hardly a whisper of criticism of Harry's actual behaviour as role model for our young people.
Does it matter – of course it matters, David's life story shows both that these things do matter to God and that there are practical consequences of sinful behaviour which cannot be ignored.
And these principles hold good for all of us.
Back in 1000 BC David was the most successful king Israel has ever had. From the time when as an adolescent he trusted God and killed the giant Philistine warrior Goliath he had demonstrated all the right attitudes of loyalty, zeal and faithfulness one might expect to see in a God anointed king.
On assuming the throne he had unified the kingdom, dealt with Israel's enemies and set up his capital in Jerusalem.
Indeed a man 'after God's own heart'
Why oh why then this affair with Bathsheba? - He already had his pick of beautiful women, several wives, why risk everything for another?
Some have said that he should have been at the front with the troops not back in Jerusalem, but the art of good leadership is appropriate delegation, and David had a first class army commander in chief of the in general Joab. Others say that Bathsheba shouldn't have been displaying her wares in full view of the palace windows and that David shouldn't have been looking anyway.
Maybe - my theory is simply that David had become just that bit complacent – all major issues were under control and he was off his guard having a well earned break. It is just at such times, when we least expect it, that temptation strikes, then we rationalise and give way, so compromising our integrity. You might liken it to middle aged spread – that time when TnT becomes FnF, you're established at home, busy at work, you've done your bit at church – your reputation is good, and bingo your'e at your most vulnerable.
I hope David had twinges of conscience – but there is no evidence to support it and life in Jerusalem went on pretty much as normal – Bathsheba. pregnant, moved into the palace, and court life continued - but you can be sure that David's inner circle will have known what was going on even without Facebook and the Sun newspaper, they will have known that David had engineered the death of Bathsheba's husband Uriah, and their respect for him and his integrity will have plummeted.
Then the prophet Nathan stepped in - he is the real hero of our story tonight – because it is never easy to challenge the established order. God was prompting and Nathan was obediant, not that that necessarily made it any easier - David had already shown himself to be ruthless in getting his own way, if Nathan was careless he could easily end up in the same as Uriah.
The way he managed the situation is masterful, by getting the king to publicly condemn himself out of his own mouth he brought David down to earth with a bang.
If only we had Christian leaders like him today prepared to stand against the tide of compromise! To fearlessly take a lead in our national life. Full marks for the Roman Catholic church in Scotland and its stand today on marriage.
For the record David still had to bear the consequences of his actions – both in his personal life and through ongoing political strife - the course of history was changed by his adultery.
Our theme tonight however is not about the practical consequences of David's behaviour, but how it affected his character and attitudes, the sort of person he became.
In practice this incident actually marked a profound change for the better in David, Nathan's challenge became a Eureka moment when the scales dropped from his eyes and he saw himself and his walk with God in an entirely new light – Psalm 51 explains all this for our benefit from 6 perspectives:
1.    He recognised something of the nature of sin:
1.    That whatever his doings, inside he was rotten to core, that sin is endemic (v5) expresses it in poetic language – that from childhood there is a bias to sinful action and reaction which for David peaked at this incident.
2.    And that when we see our sin for what it is, it torments and taunts us (he said v3 my sin is ever before me) rendering us impotent. Satan is not called the accuser for nothing. Many of us have wounds from the past of which Satan delights to remind us about at key moments. The message of this psalm is not that they can be forgotten but that they can be forgiven, we can in Jesus know complete cleansing.
2.    V4 He recognised that the primary (and ongoing) problem was that he had wronged God – that you can't keep in relationship with God when you've wronged your fellows – and God doesn't forget – Uriah may have been yesterday's news at court but not with God. To put it bluntly God was mighty upset that his chosen king would behave like this. Justice demands judgement - which must be the least popular aspect of God's character. Many folk will subscribe to the concept of the love of God but baulk at judgement. David now recognised that God's judgement was necessary and entirely fair
3.    He recognised that external show doesn't matter. How often do we worry more about how others think of us rather than what God thinks. How easy it is to focus on the externals when v6 makes it crystal clear that God delights in truth and wisdom in the inner heart. God is not impressed by meaningless ritual – then through the sacrificial system or now in our Sunday attendance for it's own sake, v16 makes it clear that David had come to realise that external sacrifices made without inner change were an absolute waste of time.
4.    He recognised the personal consequences of sin – the grave risks he was taking. Our world has gone health and safety mad, we have to do risk assessments for the the most mundane of activities. Within a few weeks there will no doubt be one of those ridiculous no news stories about schools banning conkers or similar. In my view God has created Conker trees for small boys to collect and cause mischief. Be that as it may David did a fast personal risk assessment which showed the 3 things he would lose:
1.    The presence of God. God does not fellowship with sinners, David had known first hand the privilege of communion with God the Almighty, the most precious 'pearl' imaginable   v11a
2.    Strength for service – David had known the power and strength of the Holy Spirit, he had seen what happened when his predecessor Saul had disregarded God's command, now he risked losing it himself – and he had the sense to know that if he attempted to lead Israel in his own strength he would fail. Friends without the anointing touch of God's Holy Spirit all our service for the Lord is pointless, we cannot achieve anything of value without Him however erudite our teaching, however hard we work v11b
3.    The Joy of salvation v12, some people think that being a Christian is all about doom and gloom, and we do have to admit that backslidden Christians often are pretty miserable, but those who are walking with God know a 'joy unspeakable'.
For David the joy had gone.
5.    Recognised that he could do nothing but ask for mercy The psalm starts in v1 with this great plea for mercy. His only hope was in the love and mercy of God – friends it still is, and if we have any doubts about the willingness of God to extend his mercy to us it's been demonstrated fully in Jesus.
6.    Recognised need for complete inner cleansing, there's a lovely old word used in many versions which stresses the point that David is asking of God to 'purge me' – the sort of cleansing David talks about in v7 and10 isn't a superficial wash down it's a total purge or deep clean. It's a bit like the situation in a hospital when some virulent new bug attacks and normal cleaning isn't enough to beat the infection, so they close wards, bring in a hit squad and sterilise every nook and cranny - that's the sort of deep cleansing David knew he needed and so do we!
So if God is merciful and we can know inner cleansing, what do we do then?, what will really please God?
Well David promises to share his new found knowledge v13, and praise God but crucially he has realised what God really wants of us, what really pleases Him, is spelled out in v17 'a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart'.

What does that mean in practice?? well it is very simple, so simple that some of you will dismiss it out of hand as simplistic or beneath you:

There is a Four letter word which describes an unbroken heart, a word we use frequently from childhood onwards, that word is 'M-I-N-E mine' it describes the heart that has me at the centre. The broken heart instead has the cross of Christ at the centre. Then every action, every thought is subject to the scrutiny of Christ – we live in openness with brothers and sisters, and we will have the sensitivity to recognise when his Holy Spirit is grieved, when repentance and restitution is required. It's called 'The way of the cross'. It isn't a popular concept, it doesn't make headlines, and in many ways is very hard to live.
But you do recognise it when you've been with someone who is living that way – they have something of Jesus about them and it is a privilege to be with them. They are often the people whom you least expect, they may well have been through major trauma, they know their saviour well.
Friends that is the way I want to live – will you join me?
May God give us broken hearts!
Perhaps as we approach the communion table we might remember Paul's wonderful words to the Galatian Christians:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Gal 2:20)

For further reflection:

C.H. Spurgeon:

“God is not looking for the powerful and the successful and those who are able communicators. Instead, He looks for the person who has a broken and contrite spirit. Those individuals, whether they are extroverted or introverted, humorous or melancholy, are regularly in the quiet place bowing before God’s Word with a trembling heart and seeking fresh enabling from the Holy Spirit. They have been brought to see that they did not make themselves, nor did they save themselves. They are totally dependent upon God’s grace” (Isa. 66:2).
Alistair Begg:
“In order to break our wills to His, God brings us to the foot of the Cross and there shows us what real brokenness is. We see those wounded Hands and Feet, that Face of Love crowned with thorns and we see the complete brokenness of the One who said, “Not My will, but Thine be done,” as He drank the bitter cup of our sin to its dregs. So the way to be broken is to look on Him and to realize it was our sin which nailed Him there. Then as we see the love and brokenness of the God who died in our place, our hearts will become strangely melted and we will want to be broken for Him and we shall pray, “Oh, to be saved from myself, dear Lord, Oh, to be lost in Thee, Oh, that it might be no more I, But Christ that lives in me.” And some of us have found that there is no prayer that God is so swift to answer as the prayer that He might break us.”
Roy Hession:
'The Calvary Road' see especially chapter 1 on brokenness,
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