Beckett: Sermon – Lessons of Lent: Repentance

Date: March 30, 2022
Festival: Lenten Midweek 4
Text: Psalm 51
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Appointed Scriptures: Psalm 51; Revelation 16:1-9; Luke 13:1-5
Sermon Hymn: LSB #423 Jesus, Refuge of the Weary

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Law

These past couple weeks of Lent, we’ve contemplated fasting, prayer, and lament. Lent is often called the season of repentance, which one also does when they fast, and so we contemplate on repentance tonight through the words of Psalm 51. As the superscription tells us, this psalm is in the biblical context of when the prophet Nathan rebukes David for his sin with Bathsheba. Most of us are probably familiar with this account, but perhaps a quick summary is needed: King David, standing on his roof, sees a beautiful woman named Bathsheba bathing. David was instantly filled with lust for her and despite her being married to Uriah—a man who was part of David’s elite soldiers—David sends for her and has sex with her. He commits adultery.

Bathsheba then gets pregnant by David, and to hide his sin, he orchestrated Uriah’s death in battle. Not only is David an adulterer, now he is a murderer. But much as Adam and Eve soon discovered when they sinned, David found that hiding your sin is futile. God sees all things, even the things we do in secret and even the things we get away with. God then sends the prophet Nathan to David to rebuke him in his sin to call him to repentance. He tells David a parable:

“The rich man had very many flocks and herbs, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

2 Samuel 12:2-6

Then Nathan gives David the Law, “You are the man!” Just as the rich man stole the poor man’s pet lamb when he had his own beloved lamb to give, so David stole Uriah’s wife when he had his own beloved wife to meet his sexual needs. And he reveals to David that the Lord, who anointed him as king and delivered him out of Saul’s hand, knows of David’s sin and has brought a curse upon his lineage, and David repents. Like the rich man in the parable, he deserves death, but the Lord mercifully pardons him from what he deserves [2 Sam. 12:7-13].

At some point, David composed this poem in repentance. Our Book of Concord teaches two parts of repentance [Ap XII]. We begin with the first part, which David exemplifies in this song, and that is contrition. To be contrite for your sins is to express godly sorrow, and we see that quite plainly in David. He is distraught over his sin. He’s in despair. His sin is ever before him, and he confesses what he has done. “I know my transgressions,” he says, “and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight” [v. 4]. And then he admits original sin, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” [v. 5]. He acknowledges he was brought into this world as a sinful being and he therefore cannot help but do sinful and evil things. But he recognises and acknowledges his sin before God. He cannot get over the terrible things he’s done.

We all know what it’s like to have our sin ever before us. Maybe it’s adultery like David, whether that’s with another person or pornography, or maybe it’s some other sexual sin. Maybe we have anger problems, and anger so bad that we’ve abused spouse or children. Or perhaps our anger simply causes us to say hurtful things to people. We’re greedy—we want more stuff. We’re gluttonous—we eat more food than we should, and we don’t eat the food we should be eating to care for the bodies God has given us. We’re addicts—we fool ourselves that we have control over the substance when in reality, it has control over us. We’re judgemental—we are quick to condemn the sins of others but fail to see the sin in ourselves. Or perhaps we judge others based on their skin colour, their age, and their station in society. And we’re prideful—we believe and do what is right in our own eyes over against the Word of God. The list is endless.

As the Law does its work in us—if we take heed of it—our sins will be ever before us. We are fully aware of our guilt and shame. We look in the Law’s mirror and we don’t like what we see; we see the muck and grime of our sin. Even worse, there is nothing we can do to remove this filth from us. No matter what we do—no matter the mental or physical exercises—we cannot remove this sin from us. It is stuck on us. We pick at it like a scab on our skin, thinking it will heal, but what it actually does is cause us to bleed more.

As much as the bad things we think, say, and do haunt us, the sins of the world add to the weight. Terrible tragedies like abortion, war, mass shootings, murder, terrible accidents, and so on cover the earth like wildfire. Perhaps we wonder, “Why would God allow this to happen?” Or maybe even like the people in our Gospel reading, “What have they done to deserve such tragedy?” But Jesus does not explain why He allowed the mass murder of Galileans to occur, or the tower in Siloam to fall and kill 18 people. And neither does He say these people deserved what happened to them [Luke 13:1-5]. In a corrupt, evil, and sinful world, these things are inevitable; we shouldn’t be so surprised when they happen.

Instead, Jesus says these are reminders to repent lest you also perish. “The wages of sin is death,” Paul reminds us [Rom. 6:23a]. Every person, like the great King David, has been conceived in sin. It does not matter who is the worse sinner; all of us will pay the price for our sin, which is death. Therefore, repent! Recognise and acknowledge before God what you have done and what you have desired to do but left undone, lest you perish eternally. Eternal death is far worse than temporal death, which Revelation depicts quite terrifically. Those who refuse to repent will suffer the wrath of God. For these people, such tragedies serve not as reminders to repent but reasons to have contempt for God, and so they perish to eternal death [Rev. 16:1-9].

Gospel

Whether our own sins are ever before us or tragedies in our corrupt world remind us to repent, we express godly sorrow for our sins—we confess them before God. That is the first part of repentance, and we do not remain there. Like David, we come to the second part, which is faith that receives God’s promise. Returning to Psalm 51, the verbs are not questions; they’re imperatives, meaning he expects these things to happen: for God to have mercy, to blot out his iniquities, to wash him, cleanse him, etc. And what is his basis for this certainty? At the beginning of the psalm, he bases his expectations according to God’s steadfast love and His abundant mercy [v. 1]—in other words, according to God’s character, according to His promise to forgive sins. In repentance, you don’t need to ask and then wonder if God will acquiesce. Like David, you simply depend on and expect God’s mercy because it’s what He promised.

God has promised to deliver to you forgiveness of sins in the Word & Sacraments. Our assurance is extra nos, which means “outside ourselves.” Although you can certainly ask God for His forgiveness upon your bed, you do not need to sit there and search your feelings for forgiveness. You have the outward assurance in His Word and Sacraments—His forgiveness hits your ears in Absolution, it touches your tongue and enters your body in the Eucharist, and in Baptism you are literally washed in it.

David uses baptismal language—he desires to be washed, cleansed, purged. This happens in Baptism. When the Word says your sins have been washed away, this means the muck and grime of sin that were stuck on you have been removed and you are made clean. You have been purged with hyssop. This is purposeful language that David uses. The first thing to be purged with hyssop were the sins of Israel in the first Passover in Egypt. God commanded them to use a medicinal herb called hyssop to wipe lamb’s blood on their doorposts, which would’ve been in the shape of the Hebrew letter taw {show the shape, ת}. When this letter is transliterated into Greek, it is the letter tau [τ], which is in the shape of the cross {show shape}. The sins of the Hebrews were purged with lamb’s blood. Your sins have been purged with the blood of the Lamb of God on the cross, who takes away the sin of the world—who has taken away your sin.

David’s prayer is answered in Jesus. In Jesus, God hides His face from your sins; He has blotted out all your iniquities from human history [v. 9]. In Baptism, His Holy Spirit has created in you a clean heart and renewed a right spirit within you [v. 10]. Jesus was forsaken so that you would not be cast away from God’s presence, whose Holy Spirit does not flee from you but rests on you, just as He did in Jesus’ Baptism. When you repent, therefore, you need not wonder whether God will forgive you. Rather, you hear it in your ears, you taste it on your tongue; and even when you repent in private, you can look back to your Baptism where God has washed you, cleansed, you, and purged you with His Holy Spirit. Baptism begins with repentance and ends with God’s forgiveness; each time you repent, then, you practice daily Baptism.

When it comes to sin, most of the time our feelings and our conscience are our worst enemy. Because you don’t feel or think you’re forgiven, you must not be; but the Word and Sacraments purge these lying thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t matter what you think or feel; God has forgiven you! You have heard it in your ears, you’ve tasted it with your tongue, and you know that you’ve been washed, cleansed, and purged in the waters of Holy Baptism. Nothing can be more real and certain than touching and tasting it! Your thoughts and feelings cannot undo what God has delivered to you in your body through these means of grace. God has mercifully given us these means of grace when our conscience is too burdened with sin in repentance. The word “repent” means to “turn away.” When you repent, then, you are not just turning away from your sin, but God also turns away from your sin and upholds you in His Holy Spirit unto life everlasting for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, whose blood has taken away your blood guilt.

Now may the grace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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