The 4th Sunday After Trinity July 4, 2004
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15
23, 324, 375, 394
When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. And when her mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife...’” So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.” Then Nathan departed to his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became ill.
In Christ Jesus, who carried our guilt for us, dear friends:
It was a hot, sticky summer day, so Tom and a couple of friends walked to a nearby convenience store for a Coke. As they stood in the checkout line, his friend slipped a Milky Way bar into the pocket of Tom’s shorts and whispered to him not to say anything. It seemed like harmless excitement at the time, but the more he thought about it, the more it bothered Tom. By dinner time the stolen candy had left him with such an upset stomach that he couldn’t eat a bite of his meal.
Karen lived across the street. She was supposed to have cleaned her room before going swimming. But instead of hanging her clothes in the closet and putting games and books on the shelf, she shoved everything under the bed. It seemed like such a great idea at the time, but now that she was at the pool she couldn’t stop thinking about how she had deceived her mother.
Down the block Dan was just as miserable. Work that day had been a disaster, a string of one problem after another. But the worst part was how he had treated others. He called a co-worker an incompetent idiot even though that person had nothing to do with Dan’s problems. He brought his frustrations home and took them out on his family until everyone finally left him alone.
All three of these people had a common problem-guilt. Whenever we fail to do something we know we should, we are guilty. Whenever we hurt instead of help someone, whenever we are involved in something which God says is wrong, we are guilty. We miss the target of God’s holiness. We sin.
At first it might not seem like anything too serious, perhaps like picking up a few pebbles and putting them in your pocket. They’re out of sight and out of mind. But then there are a few more and day-by-day still more. They keep accumulating until your pockets are bulging. You put the overflow into bags and before long you’re dragging several hundred pounds of rocks and pebbles. Eventually, the weight of guilt crushes and kills.
David felt that burden of guilt on his own soul. It came at a time when everything was seemingly going well. After years of warfare, nearly every enemy had been defeated. The army of Israel was in a mopping-up offensive against the Ammonites. The borders were secure and the nation was prospering. David could take a breather.
But as he sadly learned, success is sometimes the believer’s greatest enemy. One evening from the palace roof sundeck, he noticed a beautiful woman bathing. He lusted for Bathsheba, had her brought to him, and committed adultery with her. Shortly afterward, she informed him that she was pregnant.
David had a load of guilt. He tried to cover his tracks. He called Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, back to Jerusalem from the war. But Uriah felt honor bound to remain on duty at the palace, rather than spend time with his wife at home. David’s plans became more and more desperate. You can read about them in the verses before our text. The Devil had enticed David into sin, and now he was tightening the noose around his neck by leading him to pile one sin on top of another to hide the first one.
Finally, David did the unthinkable. With cold-blooded calculation, he sent Uriah back to the army with his own death warrant in hand. David ordered Joab, his general, to put Uriah on the front lines and then to pull back and leave him exposed so that he would certainly be killed by enemy fire. The report came back: “Uriah is dead.” After waiting a respectable length of time, David married Bathsheba. It looked so good. People must have talked of how noble David was to “honor” his valiant, fallen officer by taking the widow into his own home.
We look at David and think, “What a mess! How could he do such a thing? I’m glad I’m not in his shoes!” The point is, we are. God’s law does not just single out David as the guilty one. It says to each of us, “You, too, are the guilty one!” The second commandment does not just condemn the neighbor who misuses God’s name by cursing and swearing. It singles us out for not always using His name in prayer and praise. The fourth commandment is not just for notorious criminals. It shows our guilt when we break the speed limit or complain about parents or the government. The sixth commandment does not only expose David’s guilt, but our own sinful thoughts, for Jesus says, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NIV).
How do you cope with your load of guilt? We can tell ourselves, “Everyone else is doing it. It can’t be that bad.” We can try to cover it up. You may recall a time when, just like David, you tried to make guilt go away with another sin. We can deceive other people. We might even be able to convince ourselves that we are not guilty. But the burden still remains.
God sees it all. He saw and heard the plotting and planning behind David’s palace walls. He sees our every sin. David was right when he said, “Oh, Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:1-2 NIV).
Unresolved guilt eats away inside like a cancer. It tortured David’s mind during the day and kept him from sleeping at night. He was the ruler of all Israel and yet a slave of sin, cut off from God by his guilt. He later wrote, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4 NIV). It is not just David’s problem. Our guilt is real too. It robs us of peace, destroys happiness, and finally kills; and anything we do to fix it will only make it worse!
That is when the Lord steps into our lives with His grace. He sent David’s pastor, the prophet Nathan, with a story about a rich man who stole and butchered his neighbor’s one precious little lamb, rather than take one of his own huge flock. David was outraged. He burned with anger. The veins in his neck bulged. As the ultimate judge in Israel, he pronounced death upon the guilty one. He swore by God’s name that justice would be served. The man would pay for his crime.
Then there was a pause. Nathan looked David in the eye and said, “You are the man!” All of David’s elaborate schemes came crashing down. With sudden, awful clarity, he saw hell opening up before him. God’s Word went straight to his heart. That Word led him to repent. David made no excuses. He did not turn and run, or have Nathan thrown out of the palace. He choked out two words in Hebrew, which translated are: “I have sinned against the Lord.”
That was what God was waiting for! The Lord’s love and help were immediate and unconditional. Nathan told David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Suddenly, the guilt which had weighed David down was gone. It was gone, because God placed it on someone else. He promised David that one would come from his own family line who would crush Satan and sin for all people. All of David’s guilt would be loaded onto Christ. He would bear the burden on the cross and pay the penalty. In view of that, the Lord says to every sinner, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25 NIV). “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22 NIV).
There would be grave earthly consequences for David’s sins, which he would have to bear his entire life. But he would have the peace and joy of knowing that all of his guilt had been forgiven and that nothing stood in the way between him and God.
The Lord lifted that same burden for the paralyzed man lying on a mat when He told him, “Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). The tax collector in the temple who was too ashamed to even glance upward, went home from church that day with a light heart and a spring in his step, because God declared him “not guilty” through faith in the Lord’s mercy. Even the despised criminal executed on the cross next to Jesus could die in peace and look forward to glory because the God-Man just a few feet away was bearing his guilt.
Now, God graciously calls us to repentance as well. He sends us our own “Nathans” to help us recognize and face up to our guilt. It may be a pastor, a parent, spouse, or some other fellow believer. It is never pleasant to be confronted with our own guilt. Our natural impulse is to reject the message and the messenger and deny our guilt. But then remember God’s purpose. He does not point out our sin to harm us. His will is to rescue us from the punishment our sin deserves.
Like David then, confess your sins. With humble sorrow pray, “Lord, I have sinned against you.” If you have hurt someone else, confess the sin to that person too. If guilt is weighing heavily on your conscience, come to me or another fellow Christian and confess the sin. Another believer, as Nathan did, can forgive you for Jesus’ sake. Private confession is a wonderful gift, but it is one which most of us hardly ever use. Martin Luther once commented that a Christian should be glad to run a hundred miles on foot for the blessing of private confession.
Having confessed sin, receive the Lord’s absolution for what it is-the complete, absolute, unconditional taking away of your guilt, made possible by Jesus’ perfect life and innocent suffering and death on the cross. Along with David we can say in wonder, “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’-and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5 NIV).
No matter how large and heavy the burden of guilt may be, you can get rid of it by leaving it with Jesus at the foot of the cross. I can guarantee that the Lord also has put away your sin. The burden is gone, and you are forgiven and free! Amen.
My guilt, O Father, Thou hast laid
On Christ, Thy Son, my Savior.
Lord Jesus, Thou my debt has paid
And gained for me God’s favor.
Oh, Holy Ghost, Thou Fount of grace,
The good in me to Thee I trace;
In faith do Thou preserve me.
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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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.