O God, Be Merciful to Me!

Ash Wednesday

O God, Be Merciful to Me!

Text: 2 Samuel 24:10-25

Life was good.  Really good.  David had been king in Israel for almost 40 years.  There had been plenty of strife over those 40 years.  Wars.  Enemy attacks.  Even a rebellion led by David’s own son Absalom.  Of course there was the whole murder/adultery scandal between David and Bathsheba, too.  But over time David and Israel matured spiritually, politically, and economically.  Now, with the Lord bringing crushing blows to their Philistine enemies, Israel was enjoying a time of peace and economic prosperity.  The kingdom was strong.  The people were wealthy.  Their veteran, 70-year-old king was seated securely on his thrown.  Life was good.

That meant the timing was perfect.  The Bible tells us about this time:  Satan rose up against Israel and incited David.”  When everything was going well and no problems were in plain sight, Satan knew the opportunity was ripe for temptation.

He started amongst the people.  He whispered arrogant thoughts of ingratitude in the ears of the Israelites.  After defeating their enemies and attaining peace and prosperity, the Israelites didn’t thank their God.  A feeling of pride in their own achievements arose.  A spiritual laziness sprouted in their hearts because they didn’t really need God all that much while things were going well.

But why stop with the people?  Why not shoot for the top?  The best way to take down a kingdom is to take down the king.  So Satan set David in his crosshairs, too. 

How do you tempt a man who had seen it all and done it all?  David had been down the murder/adultery road.  This old man whom the Bible calls “a man after the Lord’s own heart” could sniff out a temptation a mile away.  How do you tempt a man so accomplished, so successful, so spiritually strong?  Satan knew the answer.  It was easy, really.  Pride.

Since things were going well, David wanted to know just how great he and his people were.  So he decided to take a census of all the fighting men he had in the land.  Like boasting about the number of zeroes in a bank account or the number of medals on a soldier’s uniform, identifying a large and powerful army would be a reason for David to be proud of what he had accomplished.

The action was clearly arrogant as David’s general and dear friend Joab even warned him not to do such a thing.  But David didn’t listen.  He was dead set on feeling good about himself and his army.  So he set about his census—a drawn out process that took 10 months to identify about 1.3 million fighting men in the land.

How powerful Israel had become!  How powerful David was!  How well David had done!  How great David was!  And how much he had sinned against his God!

It seems so simple and innocent.  He only counted his men.  A census could even be useful and beneficial.  What’s the big deal?

Isn’t that how we often feel?  What’s the big deal?  Maybe I make a few ill-advised choices.  Maybe I make a few mistakes.  But so what?  Nobody’s perfect.

But that’s just it.  That kind of attitude reveals a heart that isn’t sensitive to what God says.  That kind of attitude shows that I care more about doing what I want than doing what God wants.  And where does that all come from?  Pride.

How quickly pride captivates our hearts!  Who needs God when things are going well?  When I have problems then I’ll pray and ask for help.  Who needs church when I’m busy?  I have other things to do.  Who has time for a relationship the Lord?  There are so many things I need to get done.  Who has money to give to the Lord?  I have so many bills to pay first.  I have so many things I need first.

That’s called pride.  It seems so simple and innocent.  But it’s not.  In our hearts we are really saying, “I come first.  I matter most.  I need money first.  I need rest first.  I need to take care of myself first and I’ll worry about God when I need God.”

But here’s the problem:  If I think like I don’t really need God, and if I act like I don’t really need God, then how am I different than an unbeliever?  And if I am no different than an unbeliever, where should I expect to spend eternity?

O God, Be Merciful to Me!

It’s no wonder that when he realized what he had done we hear this about David in verse 10:  David was conscience stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done.  Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant.  I have done a very foolish thing.” 

What David began with these words and continued thereafter is what we call repentance.  This evening, this Lent, and every day, follow in David’s footsteps and walk a path of repentance.

Step 1:  Sorrow over sin.  David was conscience stricken.  He couldn’t bear his guilt.  He knew this feeling well from his many sins in the past, and you can almost hear the 70-year-old man wonder, “How could I do such a thing?” as he says, I have done a very foolish thing.”

Those words could be a motto for my life.  I have done a very foolish thing.”  As I think about the choices I have made in my life, the things I have said, the things I have done, it makes me sick to think how foolishly sinful I have been.  So With Broken Heart and Contrite Sigh I cry out O God, Be Merciful to Me!

Step 2:  Turning to the Lord.  Once David recognized his sin he also recognized he needed to turn away from sin and back to the Lord.  We envision David bowed low to the ground and tearfully pleading: I have sinned greatly in what I have done.  Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant.”  David turned away from his sin and turned to the Lord for forgiveness.

It’s one thing to say you’re sorry.  It’s another thing to act like you are sorry.  If you recognize that you have a problem with a big mouth that gets you in trouble by gossiping or cursing or talking without thinking, but never feel the need to check your tongue, then you aren’t very repentant.  If you know that you have an anger problem but never think twice about being more patient or loving, then you aren’t very repentant.  If you know that God should be a bigger part of your life but you never do anything to change your priorities, you aren’t very repentant.  Once we take step one and recognize our sin, step two of repentance is turning away from that sin to the Lord and seeking his forgiveness.  O God, Be Merciful to Me!

Step 3:  Accepting consequences.  David rightfully turned away from his sin and turned back to the Lord.  But that didn’t mean there would be no consequences for him.  David had a unique situation unlike any other we know of in the history of the world—he got to pick his own consequence.  His choices were three years of famine, three months of war with enemies, or three days of plague.

Again we see a sorrowful and contrite heart as David begged the Lord to give him all the consequences:  I am the one who has sinned and done wrong.  These are but sheep.  What have they done?  Let your hand fall upon me and my family.”  But Israel had sinned too.  The consequences were unavoidable.  When he chose three days of plague, 70,000 people died.

Our God is a loving and gracious God.  But he is also just and holy, so very often there are consequences for our sinful choices.  Sexual promiscuity will result in STDs.  Certain substances or choices can lead to addictions and addictions can lead to broken relationships, broken lives, or even death.  Lying loses trust.  Anger loses friends.

Sometimes the consequences for us to accept are painful.  There was nothing enjoyable or fun for David and Israel watching 70,000 people fall dead.  There is nothing enjoyable or fun for us to watch the ripple of consequences follow our sinful choices.  But these “little” consequences are also reminders of God’s mercy.

Yes, God did allow 70,000 people to die.  But for such prideful arrogance the whole nation deserved to die eternally.  Yes, God does allow us to experience consequences for our sins.  But our sins also deserve an eternal death.  Thus, accepting our consequences we cry out O God, Be Merciful to Me!

Step 4:  Trusting in the Lord’s forgiveness.  David knew that he had sinned.  David understood there would be severe consequences.  But David also understood that he had a merciful and forgiving God.  We hear it repeatedly, Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant . . . I am in deep distress.  Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great.”  Even though David had sinned so greatly before in his life, even though he once more fell into prideful sin, even though he knew there would be consequences, David still knew that the Lord was loving and merciful.

So do we.  There is no sin too small for God to miss.  There is no sin too big for God to handle.  He forgives them all.

This evening, as we crawl before our God covered in ashes and dripping with tears, the Lord listens to our cries.  He hears our prayers and answers.  As we cry out O God, Be Merciful to Me our God wipes away our ashes and dries all our tears and answers in love, “I forgive you through my Son Jesus.”

Step 5:  Changing Our Ways.  The final step of David’s repentance was changing his sinful pride back to humility before the Lord.  He knew that meant sacrifice.  In his case, literally.  David traveled to the house and grain threshing floor of a man named Araunah.  Even though Araunah offered the location and the supplies to the king for free, David insisted on paying.  No, I insist on paying you for it.  I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”  David’s changed heart was insistent on showing thanks to God and understood that meant sacrifice.  (As a note of interest, this threshing floor of Araunah later was the site where David’s son Solomon built the temple of Jerusalem.)

As we rejoice in the Lord’s forgiveness of our sins, we also follow David’s footsteps of changing our ways.  That means sacrifice.  We aren’t very repentant and we aren’t very thankful if we confess our sins to the Lord and go right back to doing it all over again.  We aren’t very repentant and we aren’t very thankful if we show up at church or pray or read the Bible whenever it is convenient to us.  We aren’t very repentant and we aren’t very thankful if we give offerings of thanks to the Lord that are the leftovers after we buy everything else we want.  As we cry out O God, Be Merciful to Me we rejoice that God listens to our prayers.  But then, in joy we change our ways in thanks to the Lord.

Ash Wednesday delivers a very clear message to us.  The lights are low.  The color is black.  The mood is somber.  The worship is quiet and careful.  We dress in black and put on ashes.  We hold back tears of sadness and sorrow.  The message is clear.  Sin is serious business.  Sin is shameful.  Sin is repulsive.  Sin is what fills our lives.

Yet this Ash Wednesday message is also clear:  The Lord is merciful and compassionate.  He hears our cries and answers our prayers.  So this evening we begin our Lenten journey following the answer to our prayers, Jesus Christ, on his way to Calvary and the cross.  There we find an answer.  There we find forgiveness.  There we find not death, but life.

 

With broken heart and contrite sigh, a trembling sinner, Lord, I cry.

  Your pardoning grace is rich and free—O God, be merciful to me!

 

  I smite upon my troubled breast, with deep and conscious guilt oppressed,

  Christ and his cross my only plea—O God, be merciful to me!

 

  Far off I stand with tearful eyes nor dare uplift them to the skies,

  But you can all my anguish see—O God, be merciful to me!

 

  No gifts, no deeds that I have done can for a single sin atone.

  To Calvary alone I flee—O God, be merciful to me!

 

  And when, redeemed from sin and hell, with all the ransomed souls I dwell

  My joyous song shall ever be:  God has been merciful to me!

AMEN

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About Pastor Phil Huebner

Pastor. Missionary. Principal. Husband. Father. Serving in love as each. http://www.ctkpalmcoast.com

Posted on February 14, 2013, in Church, Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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