Lent4b (Second in a three part series -- Psalm 25: Our Heartfelt Prayer)
Preached: March 18, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. We continue the three part series: Our Heartfelt Prayer, as we meditate on the words the Holy Spirit gave David to pray from his heart in Psalm 25.
Remember your compassion and mercy, O Lord, for they are forever. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellion. Remember me according to your mercy because of your goodness, O Lord.
The Lord is good and upright, so he instructs sinners in the way. He guides the humble in justice and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth for the one who guards his covenant and his testimonies. For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my sin, for it is great.
Who is the one who fears the Lord? He teaches him in the way he chooses. His soul dwells in what’s good and his descendants will inherit the earth. Those who fear him share the Lord’s close counsel. His covenant is to be made known to them. My eyes are always toward the Lord, for he will free my feet from the trap. (Psalm 25:6-15).
This is the word of our Lord.
The rain came down day after day. Nothing could hold back the waters. The waves washed away countless lives. For a hundred and fifty days Noah waited. All life on land, except those on the ark, was drowned. God’s long-suffering with sinners’ arrogance had come to an end. He had given them a hundred and twenty years to hear Noah’s preaching and to repent, but they refused. The Flood destroyed the world.
But what about Noah and those on the ark? Were they left to fend for themselves, to make the best they could out of the ruined earth? Not at all. After recounting the complete destruction by the Flood, Genesis 8 opens and says, “But God remembered Noah …” (Genesis 8:1 NIV1984).
Now as you would quickly point out to me, God doesn’t forget. He hadn’t lost track of Noah during the forty days that the fountains of the deep burst open and the floodgates of heaven rained down. He hadn’t been busy with other as the waters persisted on the earth for the one hundred and fifty days before they started going down. Noah and all with him had been under the Lord’s constant care and protection the whole time. But now God took action to prepare the destroyed world for Noah, just like we take action when we remember. So our God describes himself with that human term: He remembered.
So also as we call out with David in prayer, “Remember your mercy, O Lord,” we know that he hasn’t forgotten. Rather we’re calling on him to put his mercy into action. We’re calling on him to deal with us not according to what we deserve, but rather according to his mercy, his compassion, his faithful love. “Remember your mercy, O Lord.” That’s the theme today. Remember your mercy, for my sins are great, but your goodness is greater -- part one. Remember your mercy, for I want to walk with you in godly fear -- part two.
Why does David call on the Lord to remember his mercy? Let’s listen to his prayer: “Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to our love remember me, for you are good or Lord” (Psalm 25:6, 7 NIV1984). To paraphrase: O Lord, take action according to your merciful goodness to forgive me.
He talks about the sins of his youth. What are they? Maybe sins of youth bring to mind the raging hormones and indiscretions of youthful lusts. We think of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, but he was no youth when he did that. He was at least middle aged, if not older. What does the Bible tell us about David’s youth? He was obedient to his father. He served the family by taking care of the sheep. He trusted the Lord with his very life, whether that was in his daily chores of watching the sheep or when he faced Goliath. He was loyal to King Saul, even after Saul began trying to kill him. He placed the Lord first even in the most trying circumstances as he lived on the run. No wonder the Bible describes him as a man after the Lord’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). His youth was an example for us all.
So why would David be troubled about the sins of his youth? The answer confronts our own dulled consciences with the greatness of our sin. How often don’t we try to dismiss the sins of youth with excuses like “boys will be boys,” or calling them “youthful indiscretions,” or saying “they’re just going through a phase”? Are we trying to soothe our own conscience by pretending that the young, including when we were young, really aren’t all that accountable? Or we can go to the other end and lament how disrespectful and even obscene the youth culture of today has become. “I mustn’t have been that bad in my younger days,” or if you’re still in those days, “At least I don’t join in with all the junk those kids do.” But those thoughts too try to soothe our conscience by diminishing our sin.
Your conscience knows better, and that’s why the sins of youth can haunt us into old age. I don’t care what your youthful sins were, whether people would list them as small or great, even if your life was exemplary like David’s. Like my sins, yours are sins against God. Yes, you’ve sinned against God whose greatness transcends the universe and whose power fills all. No matter how small the world would count your sin, they are great because of the greatness of the one you’ve sinned against. David knew that. He knew the greatness of his sins even during the times of his life that would be role model for us all to follow. That’s why he calls them rebellious ways. He knew that he had no excuse. His youthful sins were rebellion against his Creator. They were rebellion against his Messiah. They were rebellion against the holy God. So he prays again, “For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great” (Psalm 25:11 NIV1984).
And that is your pray, dear Christian. “Forgive my sins, all my sins, for they are all great. Forgive my great sins, for the sake of your name. Forgive me, not because I’m sorrow, not because I’m praying, not because I’ll do better. Forgive me for your name’s sake, because of who you are, O Lord -- you who remember your mercy.”
Notice how for several verses in this prayer, David describes who the Lord is. He’s proclaiming what the Lord’s name means. That’s what gives him the courage to ask for forgiveness. “Good and uprights is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant” (Psalm 25:8-10 NIV1984). How often do we do that in our prayers? How often do we leave off from the asking and simply speak to our God proclaiming the greatness of his name and the goodness of his mercy, finding our strength and courage in the truth his word has revealed about him? We have much here to learn for our own prayer life. Let’s take a closer look as David describes the Lord’s name.
“Good and upright is the Lord” (Psalm 25:8). But how can he be good to us sinners and yet upright in his justice that punish all who do wrong? We see his goodness and uprightness meet at the cross. There his goodness, his love, gave us his Son as the sacrifice that pays for all sins. There his uprightness, his justice, punished Jesus in the place of all sinners. So now even his justice like his goodness pleads, “Forgive sinners, because Jesus has suffered the just punishment and paid the full price.” As great as your sin is, God’s goodness in Christ is even greater. What mercy he shows us sinners!
So dear sinner, if you’ve eased your conscience by diminishing the sins of your youth or by accentuating the sins of others, stop before it’s too late. See the greatness of your sin and see the even greater goodness of the Lord. His mercy is from of old. His mercy is eternal. His mercy is found only in the cross of Christ where is goodness and justice meet for your forgiveness. So as you recall the his goodness, his love, his truth, his faithfulness, pray with David, “Remember your mercy, O Lord, for my sin is great, but your goodness is greater.”
Now, dear Christians, that you’ve tasted the goodness of the Lord, his great mercy that forgives, don’t we want to walk with our Lord in his ways? We want the Lord to remember his mercy so that we may walk with him in godly fear.
David prayers, “Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him. He will spend his days in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare” (Psalm 25:12-15 NIV1984).
It sounds old-fashioned to call a Christian a god-fearing man or woman. “Isn’t he a loving God? Why should I fear him? Can’t I treat him like a kind-hearted grandfather. Yes, I’ll dutifully listen to his sage advice, but then I’ll do it my way. He won’t mind. He won’t write me out of his will. The Bible says God is love.”
But dear friend, when you know God, the true God -- not a god of your own invention, but the Lord, the God of the Bible, the only true God -- when you know him, you know the greatness of his mercy. Such greatness causes us to tremble. How could the almighty God who governs the universe be concerned about insignificant me? How could the eternal Father give up his Son for a wretch like me? How could those hands that rule the winds and waves be pierced by nails for me? Such great mercy causes us to tremble in holy fear, bowing in awe and amazement and wonder.
So we pray, paraphrasing David: “I want to walk with you, O Lord, in godly fear. So teach me the way of your commandments, the way you’ve chosen, for you instruct all who fear you. I want to walk with you, O Lord, in godly fear, for your ways are right and good. They bring contentment here on this earth no matter what the hardship or lose, and in the end they bring me that heavenly inheritance, that sweet and blessed country, that land beyond all woe. I want to walk with you, O Lord, in godly fear. For you, O Lord, confide in those who fear you. You bring into my heart your wisdom that the world rejects as foolishness and weakness. You bring me this secret wisdom, revealed only through your Word, your covenant recorded by the prophets and apostles. You bring me this wisdom of your mercy in Christ, which only your Holy Spirit can open my mind to see and my heart to believe. My eyes are ever on you, O Lord. Release my feet from the snares, so that I do not trip as I walk with you in godly fear.”
Remember your mercy, O Lord. What words to pray when the greatness of our sin troubles! What words to pray as we long to walk with our Lord in godly fear, trembling at the greatness of his mercy in Christ. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.