He had been so active in the church. Not only had he been an elder, but was always ready to give a hand wherever it was needed and ever so willing to help the pastor, calling on people in some kind of need, giving encouragement and help. If there was ever someone who was a good model of what it meant to put faith into action it was this man. Then the rumours started. He and his wife were getting a divorce after many years of what seemed to be a happy relationship. Stories went around that he was having an affair with another woman. Then one Sunday morning he turned up at church, not with his wife as the congregation was accustomed to seeing, but with his new ‘friend’. The people in church that morning were shocked and stunned. The same question was asked by that congregation that has been asked since the fall into sin by Adam and Eve, “How could someone so good, become someone so bad?”
The same question can be asked about the Old Testament character, David. He had a heart for God from the very beginning. He wrote so many of the songs in the book of Psalms; that section of the Bible that is read and quoted so often. He was a man of courage, facing the giant Goliath. He was a generous and compassionate man, sparing the life of King Saul even though eh was trying to kill him. He was merciful to ward his enemies and loyal to his friends. He was fervent and sincere about his religion. We see him worshiping the Lord with great enthusiasm and emotion. He readily acknowledges that the Lord God Almighty has given him everything:
God has given him victory over his enemies;
God has given him wealth and power;
God has made him king over such a large territory.
And he is not sparing with his praise and thanks to God.
But then we come to 2 Samuel 11 and 12. In an unguarded moment, David gives into temptation. After an afternoon nap, he goes up on to the palace roof from where he can get a good view of the city. He sees a beautiful woman in the house next door taking a bath. He invites Bathsheba over; he sleeps with her; she becomes pregnant. David panics. If anyone finds out, he will be ruined. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, is a soldier and has been at war. He will know he’s not the father. So David arranges for Uriah’s death. He makes sure he is in the front line of the battle and is killed. That left the way opened for David to take Bathsheba to be his wife. Everything was smoothed over and as far as David was concerned, everything had turned out all right. He went on with his life as if nothing had happened. Sounds like the script for a movie. But unlike a movie, this was real.
But how is it that someone so good, someone who claimed to love God and serve him, can become so bad. How does this happen? There would be those who would be quick to label him a hypocrite – and they would be right. And God wasn’t happy with what David had done.
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David isn’t the only one in the Bible who in spite of their piety, enthusiasm for worship, and their diligent following of God’s ways are overcome with sin. The whole Bible describes people who have constantly reacted, rebelled, rejected, and lied their way out of just about every conceivable thing. The Scriptures tell story after story about people who, to all intents and purposes, were loyal and faithful to God and yet let their guard down and were caught up in all kinds of deceitful and sinful deeds. Great names in the Bible are included amongst those who at some time have been caught up in sin – Adam and Eve, Noah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jonah, the people of Israel, the disciples of Jesus, including Peter and Judas Iscariot, Paul and so on. Most of the characters in the Bible are as big a bunch of sinners as the world has ever seen. The miracle of the story is how God has gone on loving and rescuing his creatures.
Only a fool would say that he/she is perfect. We all know that we do some “little” things wrong, but apart from those “little” sins, we are okay. But against the backdrop of a holy, pure, and perfect God, our sin stands out. You know how you can have something that you think is white, until you hold it against something that really is white, and then you see how off colour it really is. That’s how it is with God and us. Without him we think we’re okay, pretty good in fact. We might even think we’re perfect. Up against the brilliance of God’s goodness what we thought was “pretty good” in actual fact is off colour – actually more than off colour – “black as sin”.
Now you might say that this is a very pessimistic view of human nature. In fact, I have known people who have stopped coming to worship because they believe the church is far too negative about human nature. And they could never be more right. Yes, Christianity is pessimistic about human nature. Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity. In sin my mother conceived me” In Romans Paul writes, “There is no one righteous…. They have all turned aside…. There is no one who does good, no, not so much as one” (3:10,12).
The Christian faith is so different to the ideas of our culture which says babies are born innocent, a blank white sheet on which to write the story of their lives. The world believes that our will is basically good and we are free to chase whatever dreams we choose. There are those who believe in the basic goodness of humanity. The Bible teaches that from the moment we begin life, sin is part of us and takes control and leads us down paths that are so contrary to way God wants to go. Through the Bible God tells us things we sometimes don’t want to know. Instead of catering to what we think we need, he gives us something entirely new and unexpected. He shows us what we are really like and what we really need, a new heart and a new life.
God was not pleased with David’s sin and he is not pleased with ours. “The wages of sin is death”, Paul says (Romans 6:23). Like David, we are aware of the ways sin has taken control and we come to God asking for forgiveness. We do this in our own personal prayers and we do this as a community when we come here to worship.
Allow me to say something about that word ‘worship’. We say that here we are worshipping God. This has a strong emphasis on what we do and how we do it. When we are on Sundays we worship God with ourprayers, our singing, our offering of ourselves and our money. You can see that the word ‘worship’ talks a lot about what we do and not much about what God is doing.
You might recall when Sunday morning worship was referred to as ‘Divine Service’. This sounds kind of old fashioned these days but it does help us understand what worship really is. The name ‘Divine Service’ tells us that God is going to do something for us. It tells us that we are going to focus on him and what he does for us. We come to this service with our week of heavy burdens, our sorrows and grief, our upsets and depression looking to God for some kind of help – ‘divine service’ – “godly help” you might say.
At the point in the service when we confess our sin, we acknowledge that we have strayed from God’s ways and we are looking to God for ‘divine service’. We often say ‘I, a poor helpless sinner’ – helpless because there is nothing we can do about our sin, we need God’s help. And if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus died for us, there would be no point in confessing our sin. Because of Jesus, there is healing and help.
Without Jesus, we might as well go on being arrogant and proud and self seeking. What would it matter?
But because we know God and his love for us,
and because we know that Jesus gave his life on a cross for us,
and because we want to be different and find a new way of living,
we humbly ask God to forgive us and help us to change.
The only way for addicts to begin to deal with their addiction is to admit it, name it for what it is. That’s how it is for us. Name it, deal with it, and move on. We don’t do ourselves any favours by pretending that sin is not an issue in our lives. When we confess our sin, we know we deserve punishment for things we have said, done and thought, and the things we have failed to do. We know we don’t even begin to scratch the surface of being good. With David we say, “I have sinned against you Lord”.
And like David, we experience once again the grace of God. We hear again the words, “Your sins are forgiven… Go in peace.” These words tell us that even if we have failed, God still loves us. These words let us know that no matter where we have been, no matter what we have done, the door back to God is always open. When David heard the prophet say, “The Lord forgives you”, the guilt of his past sins had been wiped away. God has forgiven him, even though he could make no claim that he deserved it. Paul wrote, “When the kindness of God our Savior and his love toward mankind appeared, not by works of righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us…. Being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4,5a,7).
The prayer of confession has been called “the gateway to grace”. Yes, we are tough on ourselves and call ourselves “poor, helpless sinners”. But then having once again experienced the grace of God, we move on. We experience God’s unconditional forgiveness. That forgiveness makes us into new people, who live a new life. Holy Communion then, is not another act of confession of our sin, but a joyful celebration that Jesus has died for us. We are free!
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2001, Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.