Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So, What's Hyssop?

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

PSALM 51:7

It seems such a strange request from a man who’s in the throes of grief over sins that he can’t deny and can’t take back. I would propose to you that it was exactly the right thing for David and for each of us to pray whenever we’re confronted with our sins. But when you first read the word in Psalm 51, it does make you wonder, “What in the world is hyssop?”

Researching the plant won’t give you much help. It produces a delicate white flower and is thought by some to have medicinal qualities. But this is one time that won’t help you. What you really need to know, in order to understand the grieving in David’s request, is Old Testament history. David’s mind goes to that original Passover, when the firstborn of Egypt were stricken dead and the houses of Israel that had blood on the door frames were passed over. What does this have to do with David’s request? Here it is: God directed the Israelites to take a branch of hyssop and dip it in blood and paint the door frames with it.

Here is David, grieved by his sin and bowed before God between the “already” and the “not yet.” Already the blood of the first Passover had protected Israel from death and made their exodus to freedom and the land of promise possible. Already the Mosaic system of constant animal-blood sacrifices covered the sins of God’s people. But the promised Lamb had not yet come. Nor yet had his blood been spilt, once and for all, in the final moment of sacrifice that forever ended any need for further sacrifice.

So reflecting on the past, David’s words actually reach into the future. They form the ultimate backdrop to the future prayer. For embedded in this cry for cleansing that remembers the spilt blood of deliverance (Passover) and the shed blood of forgiveness (Mosaic sacrifices), David cries for the one thing that anyone who acknowledges his sin will cry for—cleansing.

When your sin really does become ugly to you, when it produces pain in your heart and sickness in your stomach, you celebrate forgiveness, but you want something more. You want to be clean. You long to be once and for all purified from all sin whatsoever. You want your sin to be once and for all washed away. You want to be free of every dark residue of sinful thought, desire, word, or deed.

Yes, you’ll love the fact that you can stand before God dirty and unafraid because of his comprehensive and freely given grace. You’ll love the fact that his forgiveness of you has been full and complete. But you’ll grow tired of needing and seeking forgiveness. You’ll mourn the hold that sin has on you. You’ll be frustrated with the way that sin seems to infect everything you do. And you’ll begin to plead for what the blood of Jesus alone is able to do; wash away your sin. In this moment of need and helplessness, you’ll cry, “Purge me with hyssop Lord, dip the branch of your grace into the blood of your Son and cleanse me once and for all!”

David never sang that great, old hymn “Nothing but the Blood,” but maybe he’ll hear it some day and remember the tear-stained prayer that followed the visit of Nathan. Maybe someday he’ll celebrate final cleansing with a chorus of the ages singing:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O precious is the flow,
That makes me white as snow.
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Today do you long to be completely clean? Today will you celebrate the cleansing blood of the son?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Listening to Luther

"With Paul, we absolutely deny the possibility of self merit. God never yet gave to any person grace and everlasting life as a reward for merit...the true way of salvation is this: First, a person must realize that he’s a sinner, the kind of sinner who’s congenitally unable to do any good thing. "Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." Those who seek to earn the grace of God by their own efforts are trying to please God with sins. They mock God, and provoke His anger. The first step on the way to salvation is to repent." (Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians)

I want believe
that there is another way.
I want to think
that I am the exception to the rule.
I grasp at the thought
that my righteousness is enough.
I hold to the hope
that my behavior satisfies you.
I want to think
that you judge me worthy.
It is my evaluation
that I am capable of your standard.
I want to hold onto my assessment
that I am not like others,
I can plainly see
that they offend your law.
I get the fact
that they fall short of your glory.
I know very well
that they can't stand before you.
But I still want to think
that I am not like them.
I want to hold your Word
and my righteousness at the same time.
I want to celebrate the Gospel
and my worthiness together.
But it is
a self-sufficient delusion.
It aggrandizes me and diminishes You.
It minimizes sin and devalues grace.
It asks the law to do
what only grace can accomplish.
It denies the daily evidence
of my sin.
It ignores the true condition
of my heart.
It turns away
from the sacrifice that you have made.
It omits the sovereign plan
of your grace.
It forgets the desperate condition
of my need.
And so I turn
to what I know is true.
I am nothing
without you.
I accept the invitation
of your grace.
I run to the sacrifice
of the cross.
I cry for the help
of your spirit.
I accept the diagnosis
of your Word.
I trust the faithfulness
of your love.
I seek the forgiveness
you alone can give.
And I reject
the righteousness that is my own.