2/18/2021 10:53:53 AM
An Equation for Lent
Pastor Joel Leyrer - Ash Wednesday - Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Dear Friends in Christ, One of the crowning achievements of the artist and sculptor Michelangelo is a 17-foot-tall marble statue of King David as a young man. The size seems appropriate because David is one of those larger-than-life Bible figures. Outside of Jesus and Moses, there is more written about him in the Scriptures than anyone else, and it is fair to say that even those with only a passing knowledge of Old Testament are familiar with his name.
What image of David comes to your mind? Perhaps the faithful shepherd boy, chosen by God at a young age to become the leader of his people. Or his courageous and miraculous victory over the giant Goliath. Possibly the sweet singer and divinely inspired author of approximately half the Psalms, including the beloved Psalm 23.
Or maybe it is the incident in our text. What makes this one different from the others just mentioned is that it does not cast David in a very flattering light. In fact, it depicts what was clearly the darkest period in his personal and spiritual life.
It is said that Oliver Cromwell, England’s head of state in the mid-1600’s, gave specific instructions to the artist when he was having his official portrait made. Recognizing the custom of airbrushing flaws so that a person looks better than he actually does, Cromwell opted for realism and told the artist to paint him “warts and all.”
Well, today we see David warts and all. And while we see his weakness and his downside, we also see how by God’s grace and through the means of a faithful pastor, David came out a stronger child of God.
This event in the life of King David is especially appropriate to consider on this Ash Wednesday. What transpired and what we are about to witness we might call
AN EQUATION FOR LENT
This is it: Confrontation + Confession = Absolution + Restoration. Really, that formula serves us well not just as an equation for Lent, but for every season in a Christian’s life. Let’s take a closer look.
Some of you may remember the backstory. David was now a middle-aged man. He had sent his men off to war, but he himself stayed home. He had accomplished much and was at the height of his fame. Things were going well.
One evening as he was spending time on the roof of his palace, probably to enjoy the cool evening air, he looked down and saw a woman bathing in what she undoubtedly thought was the privacy of her home. David learned that her name was Bathsheba and that she was married to a soldier by the name of Uriah. The story should have ended here.
But it didn’t. She was beautiful, and David couldn’t – wouldn’t – take his eyes off her. He was intrigued and enflamed and maybe a little bored. Taking full advantage of his position as king, he had her brought to him and they slept together. Soon after Bathsheba informed David that as a result of their one night stand she was going to have a child.
David was now faced with a choice. He could have come clean and confessed his sin before God and man, but he chose the path of deception. So began a morally convoluted series of events that concluded with the death of Uriah. It supposedly happened in the line of duty, but in reality, it was a contract killing orchestrated by David.
Shortly thereafter, in what many certainly considered a magnanimous act of compassion and sensitivity, David took the grieving widow Bathsheba into his home and graciously made her one of his wives (he had others). Things would play out with no one but a few trusted subordinates being the wiser. From David’s perspective all’s well that ends well.
There was just one problem. In the verse just before our text we read: “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” Men can be fooled, but God cannot. The fact of the matter is that David himself was not fooled. Some of his most personal Psalms recount the mental and physical anguish that accompanied his unconfessed sin.
So, God, in his grace, sends Nathan into David’s life. The exchange between them is what we heard in our text. Through the story he told David, Nathan exposed the full range of his guilt.
At first David doesn’t know the situation Nathan described wasn’t real. As far as he’s concerned, Nathan may be coming to him as king for his legal advice on how to handle this situation. One thing David does know is that it isn’t right. He is visibly outraged and angered that such a thing could take place and disbelieves that anyone could be so selfish and insensitive and cold. He pronounces a death sentence upon this man.
In so doing he pronounces a death sentence upon himself. Because, as Nathan points out to him, “You are the man.” Nathan then goes on to spell out the consequences David brought upon himself by his actions.
Now we see David in a more positive light because what happens next took no less and maybe even more courage than when he went to battle with Goliath. Confronted with what he had done by his faithful pastor, we read: “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’” To which “Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.’”
How could Nathan say this? On what basis did God take away David’s sin? On the basis of One who would come from David’s line some thousand years later and who during his earthly ministry would often be referred to as “the Son of David.” Forgiveness of sins comes through the Savior from sin.
David’s confession was a recognition not only of his sin against God, but also of his need for God’s grace. And as the Apostle John tells us, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
This incident reminds us that sin – whether David’s or ours – is not simply dismissed or swept under the rug. It was and is atoned for by a Savior David knew was coming and a Savior we know has come. And a Savior whose footsteps to the cross we will once retrace this Lenten season.
Here, then, is what we learn about the nature of true repentance: it goes beyond simply admitting our mistakes or grudgingly acknowledging our wrongdoing once we are found out. True repentance recognizes that we, by our actions, have truly offended our God.
But it doesn’t stop there. True repentance lays hold of the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ through his perfect life in our place, sacrificial death as our substitute, and glorious resurrection as proof that the mission was accomplished.
Because of the work of that Savior Nathan could and did declare to David that his sin was forgiven. And with that pronouncement of forgiveness – the catechism calls it “absolution” – David was restored into a right relationship with His Lord.
Our Psalm for today was written by David and (51) parallels the events of our text. David also composed Psalm 32. Many Bible scholars believe these words are also a reference to this time in his life: “When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
So, the equation was complete. Confrontation + Confession = Absolution + Restoration.
Lent is a 40-day period of spiritual reflection and introspection. It is a time to reflect upon the seriousness of sin and the high cost of our redemption. In looking back at this incident in the life of David, there are deep truths to remember and apply to our lives as we enter another Lenten season. Let’s very briefly consider these three…
#1 – No one is above sin. David is described in the Bible as a “man after God’s own heart.” Yet he sinned grievously. Consequently, he stands as a reminder to us all of what Paul told the members of the Corinthian church (1 Cor 10:12): “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
We live in a world that would much rather redefine sin that confess it; a world that often handles sin by simply anointing it to be something natural or acceptable – or virtuous. Greed becomes ambition. Unkindness becomes assertiveness. Unfaithfulness becomes following one’s heart.
You get the picture. We live in a world which has turned rationalizing away sin into an art form. And sometimes we buy into this.
Let us be on guard. Because of our sinful nature there is no sin that we are not capable of committing. So, we must beware of our capacity for weakness and stay close to the Word which fortifies us and equips us against temptation.
#2 – When we do fail – and we will – we can learn from David both what not to do as well as what to do. The way in which we deal with our sin is not to hide it or rationalize it or minimize it or act as if it doesn’t exist or even defend it. David tried all of that and discovered that such behavior inevitably leads to separating and distancing ourselves from God.
What we must do with our sin is confront it.
That is why every week as a part of our service we confess our sins before God. It is not because God doesn’t know what we do unless we tell him. Nor is it because God wants us to wallow in guilt and low self-esteem. No, we confess our sin so we can understand and with his help embrace his amazing grace to us in Jesus Christ.
Because following confession is the blessed pronouncement of our absolution. Listen to these words, again from King David, in Psalm 103: “[The Lord] does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, SO FAR HAS HE REMOVED OUR TRANSGRESSIONS FROM US.”
Related to this…
#3 – There is no sin for which Jesus did not die or that transcends God’s grace. Satan would have us think so. He would like us to reflect upon our faults and failings and lead us to the conclusion that we are unworthy of God. Jesus would have us take a different perspective. Jesus came to give us a different perspective.
The focus is never to be on the greatness of our sins which, despite our intentions otherwise, will always plague us. Rather our focus is on the greater-ness of our Savior and the depth of his love for each of us, warts, and all.
Confrontation + Confession = Absolution + Restoration. That’s the Lenten equation David discovered. And that’s the formula that defines our lives as Christians. God grant us all another blessed Lenten season. Amen.