Second Sunday after Trinity June 13, 1999
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.
In Christ Jesus, who lives to bring the greatest blessings: the comfort of the Gospel, the joy of salvation, and the hope of eternal life, dear friends in His name, dear fellow redeemed.
I think we’re all familiar with the game “Dominoes.” Haven’t you seen those little black rectangular blocks with the white dots? The game is meant to be played on a table or some other flat surface. You lay the dominoes down horizontally, either end-to-end or crisscross, according to the rules of the game. I remember using dominoes as a kid. But I don’t remember playing the game according to the standard rules. Like many other kids, I would use dominoes like a toy. We would stand the blocks up vertically in a line, according to some pattern that we thought up. Then would come the big moment. You push the first domino into the one right behind it, which knocks it into the next and the next and the next, until the last domino is tipped over at the end of the line.
From the game of dominoes we have a figure of speech. People talk about the “domino effect.” You can apply the phrase to things in science, technology, business, and politics. The “domino effect” will occur whenever one event causes another event to happen, which in turn leads to another. It’s the simple reality of cause leading to result. Don’t be surprised when the domino effect shows up in the Word of God. Our text points out one of the best examples. In the familiar words of David, we see the
Yet all these spiritual “by-products,” these wonderful “side effects,” these benefits of the soul would never take place until the main event had occurred. The spiritual recovery—the healing, the comfort, and the strength are all the direct result of God’s initial act of forgiveness. It’s something that we need so desperately, because the damage of our sin is so great.
When David wrote these words, he had just gone through the experience of getting over and getting past certain troubling sins. You’ve heard the story, I’m sure, his fall into adultery, followed by the sin of murder. Do his sins seem worse than our own? Are they a bigger problem than the wrongdoing that we are guilty of in our own life? I hope you are thinking no. King David was not an exceptional case. True, we are not guilty of the same sins, but we have the same problem. Our sin condemns us, as much as David’s sins condemned him.
Think of what that means. Let’s trace the domino effect of sin. When you break any one of God’s commands, right off the bat you’re under the curse of death. When you break any one of God’s commands, you cause God to turn away from you and put you in permanent isolation away from Him. And let’s not forget that the first sin leads to a second and a third and countless sins thereafter. It’s a horrible chain reaction that we cannot possibly stop, going from one generation to the next, from parent to child.
You don’t need a little forgiveness here and there to patch up a somewhat broken life. You need—and I need—lots and lots of forgiveness for millions of sins. God has to haul away a ton of guilt and make us squeaky clean. Imagine a dump site with tons of stinky garbage, plus grease and grime, and billions of germs. Imagine trying to haul the garbage away, clean up the grease, and thoroughly disinfect the place. That’s what God had to do with us. To take away the bad effects of death and hell, God had to make us righteous. God had to bring us up to His holy standard and give us the perfect grade of spotless.
David was a broken man when he gave into temptation, committed the infamous sins, and then tried to cover them up. Let’s look at the damage. His faith was in danger of dying. His attitude toward God was full of fear and anxiety. His prayers had tapered off. He was depressed. He could not eat or sleep. Because of guilt, his spiritual life was in a shambles. And he couldn’t put the pieces back together. He was trapped by his own sins. God would have to carry out a rescue mission and resuscitate the man. Psalm 51 shows you the domino effect of God’s forgiveness in the life of David. Starting with verse 7: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
It’s the voice of confidence that we hear. David was thinking like this: “If God does the cleaning up, then I will be clean. If God removes all of the sins, then I will be a sinless man.” We can think the same way about ourselves and all that God has done for us. God’s forgiveness is not a wish or a dream. It’s very real and very complete. God has taken all your sins and pinned them—each one of them—to the cross of Jesus. There He exacted a full restitution when Jesus suffered and died in our place. God then certified your forgiveness by the greatest event ever. He raised Jesus from the dead. As Paul says in Romans, Jesus Christ “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”
Your forgiveness comes down to one thing: what does God say? What verdict has He rendered from His holy court bench? In His eyes, are you guilt or not guilty? You don’t have to guess at the answer. God has said: you’re not guilty of any sin. He made it certain by the resurrection of Christ. He has declared and repeated this verdict in the Gospel. Every time you hear the Gospel preached or you read it in the Bible, don’t miss what God is telling you: “Your sins are forgiven.” When you take the Lord’s Supper in our service, God is there with the body and blood of Jesus to give you His unchanging pledge that your sins are forgiven. I hope you never get tired of hearing that. You may not always realize it, but the fact remains: God’s forgiveness is the greatest, most urgent need that you have.
It’s also a blessing that will lead to other benefits. God’s forgiveness has a “domino effect.” Let’s do a little word association. I say the words “side effect,” and you probably think of something unpleasant. Prescription drugs can have painful and dangerous side effects. Well, God’s forgiveness is not like that. When God forgives you in Christ, the side effects are good. Jesus mentions one of the best: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)
Let’s explore the domino effect a little further. When the Christian has guilt feelings over any particular sin, the guilt feelings will produce a heavy burden in the heart. A guilty conscience will naturally be afraid of God and doubt His love and doubt what God has in store for the person. A guilty conscience could lead to other destructive feelings: despair, depression, and the gloomy attitude that “it’s no use anymore.” How can we untie and remove these negative, destructive feelings? Where can we find relief from the burden of guilt? We have to get the rest that Jesus promises in the Gospel.
The Lord has said through the apostle John: “If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart.” (1 John 3:20) Your heart and your conscience are like the county courthouse. They put you on trial and declare you guilty of serious violations against the law of God. But that human declaration has ignored the ruling of a higher court. The supreme court of the Almighty Judge has overturned the verdict. Your conscience must acknowledge what God has said. The higher court has spoken; the lower court must fall into line. If we continue to wallow in guilt after we hear God’s statement of not guilty, then we suffer so unnecessarily, and we turn God into a liar.
You don’t really want to do that. Let God’s forgiveness prevail in your mind. Let Gods’ forgiveness flush away the guilt and all the troubling emotions that go with it. Let Jesus remove your burden, and the domino effect will sweep its cleansing action through the rest of your life. With a clear conscience, you can then move on to a new attitude, a better outlook. As David points out, God’s forgiveness restores your happiness, your joy of salvation.
It’s just like Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.” In reference to his own situation, David said, “Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.” David knew what the relief of guilt would do next. Instead of fearing hell, he could now look forward to heaven. Instead of fearing God, he could now embrace God as Father and Friend. That’s the kind of joy that makes a real difference, the kind of joy that shapes your state of mind and your entire outlook.
By nature people crave happiness. But if their happiness is based on earthly things and human accomplishments, they will eventually reach the point of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Earthly-based happiness is short-term. It’s interrupted by sickness, unemployment, natural disasters, and the consequences of sin. It’s finally and completely interrupted by death. But if your greatest happiness is based on the fact that God loves you all the time, the fact that you are saved from the disaster of sin, the fact that you are going to heaven even when you die, then all these interruptions are quite manageable. We can overcome them. Even the end of your life is not really the end of your life. In fact, our spiritual joy right now is just a taste. It’s just the beginning. The perfection, the satisfaction, the happiness that is yet to come—you won’t be disappointed! You will see that it was worth the wait, and the struggle, and the passing up of all those meaningless things that people pursue in the world today.
David said, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.” You can say it too, because God forgives your sin. The domino effect will keep you focused on the right goal, the joys of eternal life. Well, dear Christians, there’s one more benefit that I’m happy to show you today. God’s forgiveness renews the strength of believers to go out and do God’s will.
David’s story is your story and my story. The believer falls into sin. Sin eats away at the believer’s heart and saps him of the desire and the energy to pursue what God has said in His Word. David’s ability to rule as a wise and righteous king was greatly diminished by the shackles of unconfessed sin. The same problem trickles down into our life too. Unresolved sin will squelch the good intentions of our faith and make the fruits of faith shrivel on the vine. But God’s forgiveness is designed to fix the problem by using the domino effect.
Here’s how it works. When God forgives you, He also gives you the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will then strengthen your faith. Now remember, a stronger faith is a faith more active, more energetic. As we hear in a different chapter of the Psalms, “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.” (Ps. 119:32) God fills you up with His love, and it makes you want to love Him back. God shows you the greatest things He has ever done for you, and it gives you the desire to do some good things for Him. When sin gets in the way of you and me thinking the right thoughts, saying the right words, and doing the right deeds, God takes away the shackles of guilt and unleashes the faith-born incentive and the spiritual drive to go and think and speak and live for Him.
In a few moments our communicant members will approach God’s table to receive the Sacrament. Let’s look ahead at the domino effect, which is sure to happen here today. For all who receive the Lord’s body and blood with penitent hearts of faith—that is, they are sorry for their sins and they trust in God’s forgiveness—this Sacrament will be for them a chain reaction of good things. They will get the body and blood of Christ, assuring them of God’s forgiveness. That forgiveness will relieve them of their troubling burden. That forgiveness will put back into their minds the joy of their salvation. That forgiveness will give them the greater strength of faith to do what God would have them do. I’d say it’s plenty of reason to take the Sacrament often and hear the Gospel as much as you can. The domino effect of God’s forgiveness is too good to pass up, especially when you consider the final outcome: your place with God in the glory of heaven! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.