Psalm 32 (Lent Midweek 1—God’s Gift of Forgiveness)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
February 29, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text for today is Psalm 32.
A Maskil of David. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For 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 dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
Have you ever hidden from God? Psalm 32, written and prayed by King David, compares the man who hides from God to the man who hides in God. And this has nothing to do with what is going on from the outside. You and I may be able to walk down the street and convince everyone that we meet that we are perfect Christians. We may get them to believe that we always lead upright and moral lives, that we have everything together. That’s because we are very good at hiding our thoughts and actions. You can keep your thoughts of betrayal and adultery to yourself. You can keep your thoughts of coveting and wishing for something that isn’t yours under wraps. You can even turn gossip into sounding like it is oh so much sympathy for whoever happens to be under attack. Yes, we can hide our sins very well from other people. Hiding from God, however, doesn’t work too well.
King David should know. He tried it. Psalm 32 was written after David’s affair with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. It was written after he had Uriah killed so that he could have Bathsheba as his own wife. David found ways to cover up his sin. David found ways to make things appear on the up-and-up. For a whole year after his adultery David lived like one under a sentence of condemnation.
David wrote, “For 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 dried up as by the heat of summer.” In other words, dear friends in Christ, when we hide our sin from God, it has consequences. We’ll hear about others in the weeks to come, but one of the consequences we know very well: guilt. It eats at you. It won’t go away. You may cover it with work or alcohol or whatever distracts, but guilt will not go away. That is God’s Law coming to bear on your life. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. And it’s supposed to be. Remember, God’s purpose is to forgive our sins. But to do that, He has to kill us with the Law first.
But our Old Adam, our sinful nature, just doesn’t want to come clean. You and I don’t want God to see our sinfulness, so like a child hiding behind his hands, we think that God won’t see our sinfulness. And yet it weighs on us; it holds us down. We may be able to put on a happy face for the day or the week or the hour, but it is always there.
That brings us back to God’s purpose. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” We somehow get this crazy idea in our head that God is pleased with us when we cover up our sins. But it is just the opposite. God is pleased when we confess our sins, so that He can do His work of re-creating us in His image. God wants to forgive our sins more than anything in the world. That is what He lives for. That is what He died on the cross for. The Lord is dying to forgive you. The angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents. That’s you and me!
So that brings us to the question: how does God forgive my sins? That’s what Lent is all about. Hear those words again from the Small Catechism, which we read earlier:
What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?
This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:22–23)
God in His mercy has given the keys, the binding and loosing keys, to the Church to forgive sins. I n other words, this is the place where God comes to forgive your sins. God does this in several ways. He forgives your sins through preaching, through the hearing of God’s Word, through the Lord’s Supper, through Baptism, and through two different kinds of Absolution. Remember, the word absolution is simply a 50-cent word for “forgiveness.”
There are two specific ways that God absolves, or forgives your sins in this place. One you know very well, the other you may not know at all. The first is called the general Confession and Absolution. This is what we do at the beginning of the Sunday morning Divine Service. “Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.”
I, then, as your pastor absolve, or forgive, your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So remember, this is not my doing at all; it is God’s doing. I speak God’s forgiveness to you “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.”
The second kind of confession and absolution is called Individual Confession and Absolution. This one you may not know at all. This is when someone comes to the pastor privately or individually and confesses their sins. They may have specific sins to confess; they may not. Then, using words almost identical to our service, I forgive their sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Like a treasure hidden in an old shoebox, the gift of Individual Confession and Absolution has been little used for generations among Lutherans. Human beings are by nature like the horse or the mule, as our psalm says. We don’t know what’s good for us, and rather than hear God’s word of forgiveness, we by nature hide from God and wallow in our sin.
But God seeks you out. He sought you out in His Son, Jesus, who went to the cross because God wants nothing more than to forgive your sins and release you from the pain and hurt that your sins bring with them. Because Jesus died for us and has won our complete forgiveness, we are able to pray with the psalmist, “You are a hiding place for me; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with shouts of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7). And as Paul wrote in Colossians, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).
Therefore, with faith in Christ alone, flee to God’s mercy in the blood of Jesus. Flee to Jesus Christ and His Word of absolution, His Word of forgiveness that removes your sin and guilt. Hide in God, not from God, and God will protect you, and hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen.
© 2011 Concordia Publishing House. Scripture: ESV®. Catechism: © 1986, 1991 CPH.