Chambersburg, PA
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

“A Sinner’s Cry” Sermon Text

Psalm 51

“A Sinner’s Cry”

As a culture, we spend a lot of time telling ourselves & trying to convince ourselves & reminding one another, that “we’re ok”; just the way we are – that nothing is wrong with us; and we simply need to embrace ourselves as we are. But maybe the fact that we have to be so repeatedly convinced and reminded that we’re ok, betrays the reality that many of us don’t believe we’re ok. And so what solution is there for those who can’t simply convince themselves?

And what we see in this psalm, is that the bible is for those who aren’t ok; who know they aren’t ok; who can’t just talk themselves into believing their ok; in fact, rather it’s for those who know they are deeply flawed; and somehow have found the freedom to confess those flaws; and somehow have found the source for the renewal that we need in the face of our flaws.

Many of the Psalms focus on the psalmist as sufferer; focus on the mistreatment, suffering, persecution he is experiencing at the hands of his enemies. And so they are either a lament – lamenting my suffering and mistreatment; or imprecatory – praying God’s judgment against the wickedness and evil in the world and in the enemies of God’s people.

But this psalm is not the cry of the sufferer, but the cry of the sinner. And what it shows us is not only about the sinner, but the God who hears the cries of the sinner, and grants mercy and forgiveness to those who come to him in brokenness and humility.

There’s a difference between a sufferer; and a sinner. Those are huge biblical categories because never in this life are you not one of those things. All of this life is suffering and all of this life involves suffering; and always in this life will we sin and struggle with sin.

There’s a difference between a sufferer; and a sinner. connected, but not identical concepts. Connected because – on the one hand, suffering is the result of sin – all suffering is the result of sin generally; and sometimes, specific suffering is the direct consequence of specific sin;

and connected on the other hand: because just as sin leads to suffering, so suffering can lead to sin. because you can respond to your suffering either righteously, or sinfully. Even if you suffer innocently – you didn’t bring the suffering upon yourself, you can still then respond to innocent suffering sinfully. But the presence of suffering – though that may warrant compassion and empathy, nevertheless it is no excuse to respond to suffering sinfully.

And so, connected, but not the same – and its wrong to confuse them such that we view/treat ourselves or others primarily as sufferers when we’re sinners; or as sinners when we’re sufferers.

And so, while many psalms are written from the perspective of the sufferer; this psalm is different: This Psalm, along with 6 others, is what is classified not as a psalm of lament or an imprecatory psalm, but as a penitential psalm. It’s written not from the perspective of an innocent sufferer; but from the perspective of the sinner.

And not just any sinner, but a big sinner. This Psalm traditionally is regarded as one of David’s Psalms, and what’s called the “superscription” of the psalm – the words written at the beginning usually in italics -provide what was understood as the context for the words that follow – the context being David’s sin related to Bathsheba and the confrontation of that sin by the prophet Nathan.

David’s Sin (Background to Psalm); David’s Response (which we see in the psalm itself). 

David’s sin with Bathsheba was sinful on many levels:

First: While he should have been out leading his armies in battle, instead he’s lounging around the palace, on the balcony, scrolling his eyes through his feed to see what he might see…

He sees Bathsheba taking a bath on her roof of her house from the balcony of his palace.

And he sees a woman – not his wife – he has a couple of those already – bathing. And so before he commits adultery in the flesh, he commits what Jesus called later “adultery of the heart”.

And, instead of putting it to death then and there, he indulges it. He follows it. Instead of repenting with a broken heart over sin, he hardens his heart and lets it lead him into deeper sin.

His sin of lust is a sin in itself, but his indulging of it leads him towards worse sins.

It’s common to hear people say “All sins are equal”. But that’s not exactly right. all sin is equally deserving of God’s wrath, but that doesn’t mean that all sins are the same or equal in every sense. Some sins are worse than others, in terms of the degree and depth of evil which they involve, and in terms of the destructiveness of consequences which they bring upon both the sinner and the victims of the sin.

And so of course, I don’t say that to dismiss or minimize lust; but you see how dangerous it is to say that lust is just as bad as adultery because it would be far far better for David to stop at lust than to say, “oh well, I already lusted, and all sins are equal, so I may as well keep lunging forward with it.” Don’t believe that lie – it’s always better to repent – NOW! – rather than to continue in the direction of sin, because sin always leads us into deeper, more heinous, more destructive sin.

After the adultery of the heart, then he sends his servant to bring her to him, and then the adultery of the flesh commences.

And, I just want to point out, David’s hardness of heart and spiritual blindness at this time. Initially, he could have looked away. Or, after he looked in lust he could have not sent his servant. Or, after he sent his servant, he had the time to think about what he was deliberating to do and could have had a change of heart; could have recalled his servant, or could have sent Bathsheba away when she arrived, but he doesn’t. And we’ll see that this hard-heartedness only continues.

Because, his sin has consequences – Bathsheba, who is a married woman, becomes pregnant. And, unlike David, Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, has been off fighting in the king’s wars – so it certainly couldn’t be his.

And so, then David instead of confessing and repenting, begins the cover-up attempts. Cover-up attempt #1, bring Uriah home from war, give him a night with his wife, send the kids to the grandparent’s house, problem solved, right?

Not quite – because Uriah is a righteous man, and won’t consider taking for himself this special privilege and exception while his friends are still off at war – quite a contrast to David’s own attitude and actions.

Cover-up attempt #2: Kill off Uriah, make it look like an accident, then marry Bathsheba his widow. Problem solved, right?

Unfortunately this plan is successful; but it required quite a lot of pre-meditation and planning and hardening of heart and blunting of conscience and putting the lives of others at risk to carry out such an evil wicked plan.

I didn’t tell you the worst part. Uriah was David’s friend – one of Davids “mighty men”, those who were amongst his closest companions, who fought side-by-side with him.

Amazing, the depth we will go to cover up our sin and refuse to confess and repent, right?

Finally, Nathan the prophet confronts him, and David listens.

Sometimes God sends people into our lives to offer godly rebuke and though it may be hard to hear, though it may offend our pride, we need to listen.

Sometimes, you need to listen to those who offend you!

Sure, haters gonna hate, and sometimes people will offend you wrongfully and try to get in your way and you just need to ignore them; but there’s a strong assumption in our culture that if anyone ever offends you in anyway, then they are necessarily the wrong one. But, without Nathan’s offending of David, David may never had turned back to God – that’s what saved David.

Nathan wasn’t trying to be offensive, but he was willing to let the necessary truth offend. And when the gospel comes into our lives it brings a degree of offense because it tells us that we are sinners who can’t save themselves but need saving by the only one who can save, the only one  strong enough to save and pure enough to take the penalty of our sin upon himself, and gracious enough to offer mercy and compassion to those who turn to him in contrition.

David listens, and only then, is he contrite, humble, willing to confess and repentant of his sins.

That’s David’s sin;

And, after that is where the psalm picks up.

David’s Response of confession:

David Confesses his sin.

Gone is his hard-heartedness hardening him against the evil of sin (well, it’s not so bad what I’m doing); gone are the excuses (well, I’m the king – the rules don’t apply to me); gone are the self-justifications (but I’m generally a good person).

Stripped away is all of that; not a glimpse of self-justification or blindness to his wrongdoing; no pretense, no pretending, no pride, not a hint of self-righteousness; only a soul deeply aware of his sin, and deeply aware of its desperate need for God’s grace.

Only if you are aware of your sin, will you long for and love Gods’ grace. And only if you know that God is gracious to sinners who repent, will you be able to acknowledge and confess your sin with the openness, and freedom, that David has.


David’s Confession:

v2 – he recognizes his need for washing, cleansing – biblical metaphors for forgiveness. He is dirty; so dirty that any attempt of self-cleansing would just spread the dirt around; he needs God to clean his soul. 

v3 – he doesn’t simply say, “i guess I’ve sinned.” He says v3 ‘I know my transgressions”. No maybe’s, no but’s, not excuses. Simply, honesty: “I know my sin.”

It’s ever before him – All he can see, all he can know right now, is his sinfulness. He can’t see past it, he can’t ignore it; he needs to find forgiveness for it.

v4 – certainly he sinned against a lot of other people – he isn’t denying that, but recognizing the real sinfulness of sin is that it is against God – first and foremost, he has betrayed God. His sin grieved a holy God; and because it was a betrayal of his God whom he loved and who loved him.

And that even if the whole world forgave him; there’s something he still needs – the forgiveness of God – against whom his soul is primarily concerned. And the forgiveness or blessing or favor of the whole world means nothing if he still lacks forgiveness from the only one who’s verdict ultimately matters.

After all, he’s the king. And probably there would be a thousand people around him who would tell him that it doesn’t matter – and so here he says to God “against you, you only, have I sinned” because he knows that what he truly, ultimately needs is God’s forgiveness.

v5 – he feels his sin so deeply that he recognizes it is not a divergence from a generally good nature, but an overflow of a corrupt nature – “an extreme expression of the warped creature he had always been” – that he down to his core and all throughout him and for all his days prior has been a sinner to his core – this reflection isn’t an excuse for his sin, but serves to show his heightened awareness of the distance between God and himself.

He confesses. He recognizes his desperate need for forgiveness, and so he can do nothing but cast himself on God’s mercy.

his only hope is in God’s mercy.

v1 – he pleads for mercy and forgiveness. That God would not give him what he deserves, but would forgive him of what he deserves (God’s judgment, wrath, punishment, rejection) and give him what he doesn’t deserve (God’s love, favor, compassion, kindness, acceptance).

Second, he recognizes the basis of those things:

have mercy on me, “according to” your unfailing love; “according to” your great compassion.

Not because of anything in him. Not because of his righteousness; not even because of his remorse for his sin. Not on the basis of anything in him.

Only God’s love; only God’s compassion can be the basis for our forgiveness and our receiving of his mercy – we can only come not with something in ourselves to offer, but only with empty hands, humble hearts – willing and ready to receive God’s grace; cause you can’t earn it.

And that is seen most fully – that comes to us – through the cross of Jesus where Jesus suffered where we should have suffered; he took upon himself the penalty of our sins – God’s wrath – and gives to us his righteousness, so that in him we can be found righteous in God’s sight – accepted, loved, adopted as children of God.

All he has to offer – v17 – is a broken spirit – a broken and contrite heart – and that is better than offering a sacrifice or a burnt offering – not because those aren’t important as you see laster in v19, but because those need to flow out of the proper inner motivation and condition – the condition of genuine repentance and brokenness over his sin.

He isn’t indifferent to his sin; and so his sacrifice isn’t just a going through the motions; and, he isn’t just upset about the consequences of his sin; he is heartbroken over his sin – over the sinfulness of his sin – that it is an affront against a holy God – that it is a despising of a loving God; that it is rebellion against a good God; that it is a rejection of a merciful God.

But maybe most of all, that it is sin against his God. Not just a loving God but the God who has loved him; shown goodness and faithfulness to him. His God.

He is broken over his sin, because he grieves over his sin; and he on the other side of the cross hasn’t yet seen the true cost of his sin as we have – and so how can we treat our sin with indifference; or with apathy; when we know that the cost of our forgiveness was the suffering of our savior; we know that our sin cost the death of the beloved and only begotten son of God; and so how could we treat lightly that which bore such a great cost to the one we love, and to the one who loves us?

And, his true sorrow – his godly sorrow, leads to repentance.

He knows he is a sinner; and he turns to God for cleansing. He confesses his sin; repents; and recognizes his need for restoration & renewal.

And in fact, in v 10 by using the word create, “he expresses his persuasion that nothing less than a miracle could effect his renewal”

He needs a new heart of purity created in him by God; he needs the spirit of God to renew a right spirit within him; he knows that in order to be restored form his sin, he needs to be renewed by God – he can’t clean himself; he can’t renew himself; he needs to receive renewal from the hand of God by the power of God through the Spirit of God.

And if you have turned to God in repentance, then God’s Spirit is in you – and it is there for you to rely upon for renewal, and in those times of weakness and darkness and despair have God’s spirit to look to for the renewal that we so desperately need – to recreate our hearts and our spirits into that which is willing and pure.

And, so what we see in the psalm, is that God is a God who hears the cry of sinners, and responds with mercy and compassion.

Maybe you don’t think you’re a sinner – or not much of one.

Maybe you don’t think you’re so bad, that you know, maybe once in a while you do something not quite right but you’re heart is in the right place and you mean well.

You need to learn from David’s confession. Does that attitude sound anything like David’s attitude? “My sin is always before me; you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge; Surely I was sinful at birth”

See, David needs cleansing down to the depths of his soul. he doesn’t just need dusted off. he needs washed all the way down to the heart. He doesn’t need a make-over, he needs heart-renewal.

And if you don’t think you’re much of a sinner, then you’ll never love the savior of sinners.

Luke 7
The more you are willing to face the depth of your sin; and the sinfulness of your sin; the more you will love the one who died for you, to wash away your sin.

But as long as you think you’re sin is not such a big deal; you’ll have at best be apathetic towards Jesus, because you don’t really need him.

Sinners are desperate for Jesus; Sinners love the one who gave himself for them. Sinners, give their lives to the one who loved them to death.

Some people don’t think they’re much of a sinner. Others, think they’re too much of a sinner. They think, unlike David’s confidence in v11 that God won’t cast him away from his presence; that he won’t take his Spirit from him; they think certainly he will. Certainly he won’t restore me, only reject me and so how could I ever turn to him.

You need to learn from this psalm too; because this psalm shows a God who hears sinners’ cries for mercy.

And so don’t let you’re awareness of your sin or your unfitness keep you from coming to him – let it drive you to him; knowing that it’s the unfit who need this God of compassion and mercy.

People tell me all the time. “I need to get my life together before I go to church.” No you don’t! Because in Christ’s church you find the savior who you need when you’re life isn’t together.

“Whiter than snow” – No matter how dirty you are, he can make you clean.

“With God there are no half-measures” – God doesn’t cleanse you a little-bit; part-way; half-way; mostly; but all the way – whiter than snow.

If you are sinful through and through, God can cleanse you through and through. As far as your sin goes; further his salvation reaches. He hears the sinner’s cry – and so cry to him if you feel the weight and guilt and shame and uncleanness of your sin.

If you remember, David was a King “after God’s own heart”.

All of the heroes of the Bible, were flawed. Had huge failures. Were messed up people who did some messed up things.

Doesn’t that give you hope?

You see, for David to be “a man after God’s own heart” didn’t mean he was perfect; it didn’t mean that he didn’t sin; it only meant that he confessed his sin, and turned away from it.

“cast me not away” – this fear probably comes from seeing what happened in the life of Saul – who was cast away from God’s presence, and rejected as God’s anointed, and the Spirit of the Lord did depart from him – not because he was more a sinner than David, but he because he didn’t confess and repent of his sin.