Pastor Joel Schwartz - The Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany - Sunday, February 12, 2023

Text: 2 Samuel 11:1-17, 26, 27

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It was Moses’ final sermon to the Israelites. It went like this. “I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands … and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. Moses goes on, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Deuteronomy 30:15–19 (NIV).

What do you think the Israelites chose? Of course, it was a no-brainer, the Israelites chose to follow God. Though they knew God’s commands to be good, they desired to follow him, they were often wayward. They were drawn away from God and worshipped other gods.

What about you, dear Christian? “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.” You know how “he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” He was willing to give up so much to rescue you from death. You know that the Lord is your life. What is more, you know that his commands are good and they are a blessing to those who follow them. Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it. You desire to follow God’s commands, to live the holy life…until you don’t.

Maybe we are not all that different from King David. God blessed David immensely. At a young age he was anointed as the next king of Israel. He conquered the Philistines by slaying Goliath. He was given a wife. So, how did it happen that David, great king David, the one who we are told was “a man after God’s own heart,” how could he fall so far? One of the beautiful things about Scripture is it gives us a picture of God’s people, just as they are. It shows their triumphs and victories; it shows their failures and sins. Scripture tells us that these things are written that we might learn from them.

At this time in David’s life, he was enjoying a lot of triumphs and victories. David was a warrior-king. God blessed David’s endeavors on the battlefield. To the north in what we would call modern-day Syria, to the west in what we would call modern Saudi Arabia and Iraq - David was expanding the borders of Israel like never before. David was the one who conquered Jerusalem, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites and many more. “God gave David victory wherever he went” (2 Samuel 8). God was good and gracious to David and his army!

When it came time to go to war, David stayed home. Scripture does not tell us why. What is the ancient saying? “Idleness is the devil’s workshop/playground.” David’s calling was to be in the field of battle with his army, but now he finds himself idle at his palace, nothing to do in the evening except to look out over his new capital city. As he does so, David’s eyes linger in places they ought not to linger. David desires what God has clearly not given him, what is forbidden him.

Isn’t it how the devil works? He starts with the heart. The devil works to steal our contentment with what we already have. The devil works to stir our sinful nature so we covet something that is not ours. The devil especially takes no pleasure in a harmonious marriage, in seeing married couples live at peace with each other, in raising children that are trained in the way of the Lord. The devil will especially work to unravel marriages that beautifully depict Christ-like love, sacrificial and unconditional love. The devil works to stir the sinful nature in married couples so that they don’t appreciate what God has given them in their spouse. How many of the commandments get broken because of a sin against the very last commandment, “Do not covet”? In this case a spouse begins to desire what is forbidden, what God has clearly not given.

We see what can happen. In David’s case his covetous desires lead to breaking one commandment after another. David calls for Bathsheba. Bathsheba goes to David and the deed is done. Bathsheba returns home. The sixth commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” is broken. Bathsheba sends word a little later, “I am pregnant.” Now fear must be setting in for David. David works to cover up his sin with more sin. He sets in motion plans to bring home Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, all under false pretenses. The eighth commandment is broken, “You shall not give false testimony.” When Uriah won’t fall for David’s trap, David gets even more brazen. He decides Uriah must go. He sends orders for Uriah to be put at the front of the battle, where the fighting is fiercest. David tells his commander to withdraw the troops from Uriah and so he is exposed to the enemy’s attack. That is exactly what happened. The fifth commandment is broken. David has committed murder.

How did it get to this point that David acts so brazen, so bold to set aside God’s commands? It can only be selfish pride. There seems to be a selfish pride in David that believed all the victories and triumphs God granted him were evidence that God was pleased with him. David thought he could do as he pleased. In pride, David acted in his own selfish interests and he hurt him and a lot of people around him, to say the least.

There were consequences. No one can presume to set aside God’s Word and sin boldly against God without consequences. Read on in 2 Samuel chapter 12, and the consequences were real. The son born to David and Bathsheba would die. Family strife would continue until the day David died.

There was the emotional toll on David as he carried the burden of his sin, the crushing of his sin, living in unrepentance for almost a year.

Then one day David’s pastor showed up. This wasn’t something his pastor would do by parchment mail “To: David, Subject Line: Bathsheba.” It needed to be done in person. Nathan went to call out his sin, very pointedly he showed him, “You are the man who deserves to die for your sin.” David confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan, his pastor, responded, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.”

Simple, just like that. David’s sin - FORGIVEN. How can this be when God takes commands so seriously? It is hard to imagine a more terrible sequence than that of David’s sin - Coveting, Adultery, Murder. Those sins were great indeed! God’s mercy is greater than all David’s sin. Christ Jesus is the only reason God forgives anyone, including us.

The words are simple and direct to you on Sunday morning (or Saturday evening), “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Focus on them; hang on to them; cling to them. The Lord has put away your sin; you are not going to die. So simple it is for us! Not for Jesus your Savior.

He had to overcome the devil’s temptation toward selfishness, “You can have all the kingdoms of the world.” Jesus used the Word of God to combat the devil. Jesus went all the way to the cross and paid the penalty David deserved; he took the punishment you and I deserve for our waywardness. Our self-regarding ways, our impure thoughts, our anger and the biting comments that result – paid for! Jesus’ sinlessness for our sinfulness. His righteousness counts for our unrighteous ways. His holy life counts for our unholy life. His death for our life!

We don’t despair. We know, as one hymn writer puts it, “ I really am: how much is truth, how much is sham” (Christian Worship 651, stanza 1) We know all too well how we fall short of the glory of God. God forgave David his sins, he forgave Peter his sins of denial, the Apostle Paul his sins of persecuting the Church. He forgives us too!

David’s story reminds us we need to take sin seriously. We might say to ourselves, “If only the moral cesspool around us were cleaned up, then I could live a more God-pleasing life.” The problem isn’t the situation we live in - it’s what lives in the heart. The enemy is the mirror, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander" (Mt 15:19) One might easily imagine, “I don’t see many in jail for harboring hate or anger or lust in their heart”? “I can let go of the anger or the hate when I want. Right now I’m angry, so angry I can’t forgive. I won’t forgive.” OR another says, “It is just one look, it won’t hurt anyone. I can stop when I want.” Jesus warns in our Gospel that allowing sin to grow and fester in your heart puts one in danger of the fires of hell.

Our life needs to lead to a life of daily repentance. We need to daily repent of the sinful pride that wants to set aside God’s commands and do as we please. We need to run to Christ for forgiveness. Sin in our life and hearts cannot be reformed or tamed; it needs to be put to death. Daily we repent of our sin and we run to Christ for strength and power.

We run to Christ because he empowers us to live a holy life. Paul said in his letter to the Thessalonians, “We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more” (I Thessalonians 4:1-4). “In the Lord” and the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection our lives are to become more and more God-pleasing. In the Lord Jesus and his power we put to death our selfish pride and live a new and holy life. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.