Friday, May 11, 2007

Psalm 51: The Terrible Trinity

The Bible doesn't pull any punches as it describes the scary reality of sin. You have the powerful words of Genesis 6:5 "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time! Could there be a more forceful way of characterizing the pervasive influence of sin on everything we do?

Or you have Paul building his case for the sinfulness of everyone, that reaches this crescendo, "All have turned away, they have together become worthless, there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:12).

Along with this, the Bible very clearly unpacks the underlying spiritual dynamics of sin as well. Passages like Luke 6:43-45 and Mark 7:20-23, teach us that sin is first a matter of the heart before it is ever a matter of behavior. Romans 1:25 alerts us to the fact that sin, in its essence, is idolatrous. It is when God is replaced as the ruler of my heart that I give myself to doing what pleases me rather than what pleases him.

Psalm 51 is one of the definitional passages when it comes to sin as well. David employs three words for sin that really define the nature of what our struggle with it is all about. The first definitional word he uses is the word, TRANSGRESSION. To transgress means to acknowledge the boundaries and willing step over them. I trangress when I knowingly park in a no parking zone. I know I'm not supposed to park there, but for the sake of person convenience, I do so anyway. Often our sin is just like this. We know that God had forbidden what we're about to do, but for personal success, comfort, or pleasure we step over God's prohibition and do exactly what we want to do. When we trangress, we not only rebel against God's authority, but we convince ourselves that we're a better authority, with a better system of law than the one God gave us. Propelled by the laws of personal wants, personal feelings, and personal need, we consciously step over God's boundaries and do what we want to do.

But not all of our sin is conscious, high-handed rebellion. So, David uses a second word, INIQUITY. Iniquity is best described as moral uncleanness. This word points to the comprehensive nature of the affect of sin on us. Sin is a moral infection that stains everything we desire, think, speak, and do. Sadly, no infant since the Fall of the world into sin, has been born morally clean. We all entered this world dirty and there's nothing we can do to clean ourselves up. Iniquity is like inadvertantly putting a pair of bright red socks into the wash with a load of whites. There'll be nothing that escapes the red stain and remain completely white. In the same way, sin is pervasive. It really does alter everything I do in some way.

But there's a third word that David uses that gets at another aspect of sin's damage. It's the word, SIN. Sin is best defined as falling short of a standard. In our moments of best intention and best effort, we still fall short. We're simply unable to reach the level of the standards that God has set for us. Sin has simple removed our ability to keep God's law. So, we fall short of his standard again and again and again. In your thoughts, you fall short. In your desires, you fall short. In your marriage or family, you fall short. In your communication, you fall short. At your job, you fall short. With your friends, you fall short. We simply are not able to meet God's requirements.

This "terrible trinity" of words for sin really does capture with power and clarity the nature of the war that rages inside each one of us. Sometimes I do exactly what God requires, but I don't care because I want what I want and so I step over his wise boundaries. Sometimes I look back on what I've done, thinking that I'd done pretty well, only to see ways in which my words and behavior were once more stained with sin. And over and over again, I'm confronted with my weakness and inability. I fall short of God's standard even in moments of good intention.

How can this terrible trinity do anything other than to drive us to seek the grace that can only be found in the divine Trinity? In our sin we need a Father who's not satisfied with leaving us in this sad state of affairs, but will exercise his sovereign power to set a plan in place that will rescue us from us. In our sin we need a Son, who is willing to take our punishment so that we can be forgiven. And in our sin, we need a Spirit who will dwell within in us, empowering us to do what we would not be otherwise able to do.

We haven't been left to the ravages of the terrible trinity, because we've been rescued by the love of a better Trinity. Thank you, Sovereign Father, for your gracious plan. Thank you, Sacrificial Son, for standing in our place. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your empowering presence. In you Triune Lord, we really do find help and hope.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Psalm 51: Longing for Jesus

It is dramatic anticipation at its finest. It is the best of foreshadowing. Every line drips with the drama of the necessity of what's to come. It's one of those moments when it's very clear that the present makes no sense without the future. If you know your Bible at all, you can't read Psalm 51 without feeling it. If this Psalm has no future, then it's cries are the vain screams of the tormented heart of a desperate man and little more. David's entire hope in the present is tied to an event in the future. No future, no hope. Welcome to the story of redemption.

You see, David's sin, Nathan's confrontation, and the resultant conviction and confession are a mini-chapter in the grand, origin-to-destiny story of redemption. David's prayer for forgiveness cries for more than a God who's willing to forgive. David's plea reaches out for an actual means of forgiveness. You may say, "There was one. God had instituted a system of sacrifices for the atonement of sin." But the sacrificial system clearly was not enough. There was one dead give-away; everyday the offerings had to be made over and over and over again. The repetition of the sacrifices was necessary because the blood of bulls and goats couldn't atone for sin. The whole system of sacrifice itself looked forward to the offering of the ultimate sacrifice that would finally and completely satisfy God's' holy justice and anger, resulting in no further need for sacrifice.

David didn't fully understand it, but the cries he prayed and penned in Psalm 51 were a cry for the final Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the drama of this Psalm. In acknowledging the power and pervasiveness of his sin, David isn't only reaching out for full and complete forgiveness, but for deliverance as well, the kind of deliverance that can only be found in the spilt blood of the promised Messiah, who would someday hang willingly on the hill of Calvary. Psalm 51 is a hymn of longing. Psalm 51 longs for Jesus.

As David prayed for mercy, unfailing love, and great compassion powerful enough to wash away transgression and create purity of heart, he wasn't praying for a thing, no he was praying for a Person. Jesus is the mercy for which David prays. Jesus is the unfailing love that is his hope. Jesus is the compassion for which he cries. Yet, David can pray with confidence because the decision had been made. The end of the story had already been written by a sovereign, Savior God. Jesus would come at the precisely planned time. His whole life would march toward that dramatic moment when he would in agony cry out to his Father, "It is finished!" "Father I have done what you sent me to do. I have offered myself as the final sacrifice. Redemption is accomplished."

Every time you acknowledge your sin, you long for Jesus too. But you're not longing for the final sacrifice, because it's been made. No, you and I long for the final deliverance. We long for that moment when we'll be taken to the place where sin will be no more. We long to see Jesus, to be with him, and to be like him. Isn't it comforting to know that that final deliverance has been written into the story as well? It is our guaranteed future. And so we long with hope.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Psalm 51: Already, Not Yet

Psalm 51 lives right in the middle of the "already" and the "not yet." Why is that worth observing? Because that's exactly where you and I live as well. We live right in the middle of God's great redemptive story, that's what the already and the not yet is about. If you're going to live right and well, you need to understand where you're living.

Here's where you and I are, in the great story of redemption. Already the "mercy," "unfailing love," and "great compassion" that David cried out for have been provided for us in Christ. The ultimate sacrifice of forgiveness that David's prayer looked forward to has been provided by the blood of Jesus that was spilt for us on the cross. God harnessed the forces of nature and controlled the detailed events of human history in order to bring his Messiah Son to earth at just the right time and place to provide for you and me the one thing we desperately need and cannot provide for ourselves; forgiveness.

Already the Holy Spirit, for whom David prayed, has been given to you and to me. It's almost beyond the limits of our rationality to consider that that Holy Spirit actually lives inside of us teaching, correcting, convicting, and empowering us every day.

Already, God's great book of wisdom, grace and warning - the Bible, has been given. When David talks about teaching sinners God's way, he looks forward to the gift of the Word, God's ultimate tool of instruction. We live every day with the Word in our hands, celebrating the wisdom that it gives us that we would have no other way.

So, as we celebrate the already, we need to be very aware of the not yet. This world is still a terribly broken place, not yet restored to what it was created to be. There's never a day when we are not touched with its brokenness in some way.

Sin that has wreaked such havoc on each one of us has not yet been finally and totally defeated. The sin that still remains in us, continues to affect everything we desire, think, do, and say. Even in our moments of best attention it's right there with us subverting our desires, capturing our thoughts, and distorting our behavior.

The devil, who is the enemy of all that is good, right, and true, hasn't yet been finally destroyed. He still lurks about with deceit in his eyes, destruction in his hands, and trickery in his heart.

So, we live with celebration and anticipation. We celebrate the amazing gifts of grace that we've already been given, while we anticipate the end of the struggles that will face us until the final chapter of the great story of redemption comes. We do live in the in-between. We do live in the hardships of a world that teeters between the beginning and the end. But we don't need to be discouraged and we don't need to fear, because the end of all those struggles has already been written and so we're guaranteed that the things that are not yet will someday be.