Sermon delivered at Grace Presbyterian Church, November 19, 2000

Longing For a Good Cleansing - Psalm 51, Part 5
by Pastor Bob Burridge 2000
Psalm 51:7-10

This week our nation recognizes a special day of thanksgiving.
Most of us will probably take time to appreciate our good dinners, football games, family gatherings, and extra time off from work and school. For many, its just a time to bask in our abundance and be glad we have it. But for others, it will be a time to remember where our blessings come from.

And for those redeemed by Christ, it will be a day for remembering the one blessing that gives eternal worth to all these other things. They will remember the cleansing we have from our sin and guilt by Jesus Christ.

Sometimes, when we physically exert ourselves, we get really dirty.
A hot day working in the garden, or poking around under the hood of our car, or a long bike ride in the Florida sun, can make us pretty sweaty and grimy. Sometimes the most longed for blessing is a nice soothing shower. It feels so good to get really clean again, and to get neatly dressed in nice fresh clothes.

But morally we also get stained. We crave a good inward cleaning. Its those stains on the inside that are most troubling of all. We can try to convince ourselves that we aren't so bad compared to everyone else, or that we shouldn't really feel guilty for our sins against God. or that others are to blame for making us feel the way we do. But until we know we are judged to be innocent by the one who has authority to do so, the filth of our wrongs make us crave to feel clean again.

A person's conscience can continue to bother him even after others say they have forgiven him, after he has done what he thinks ought to have made him feel good, or after a long time has gone by.

Even as God's children, redeemed in Christ, we can anguish in grief that need not be there. How sad, when we try to live with moral stains, when the cross has provided for them all.

Believers sin, and need to feel relief for their souls, and know they are forgiven!

King David had sinned horribly in his lust and adultery with Bathsheba. Then he made repeated efforts to cover it up, including risking Israel's national security by having Bathsheba's husband killed in battle.

David paid a heavy price for that one night of sin. When God's prophet confronted him with it, we see how a true believer responds to his sin. David admitted that what he did was wrong. He grieved and humbly repented before God. He didn't make a display of sorrow to win the sympathy of the people. His heart was broken. He repented, and wrote this moving Psalm for us to learn from.

Psalm 51 (NASB)
For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

  1. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions.
  2. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
  3. For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me.
  4. Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, And done what is evil in Thy sight, So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judge.
  5. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
  6. Behold, Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part Thou wilt make me know wisdom.

Being aware of the stains from his sin, David craved to have them removed:

Psalm 51:7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

The words David used here are very interesting. Hyssop is not like a scrub brush. It was the branching plant used by the priests in the temple for the ritual purifications! It was dipped in water or the blood from a sacrifice and sprinkled on someone or on the altar.

So David was thinking of something from the Temple laws. He was not illustrating with some kind of daily housecleaning or bathing practice.

Another thing that stands out is the comparison he makes. The result of removing guilt would make his soul whiter than snow.

Here in Florida we don't see much snow. The climate in Israel is very much like our own as far as temperatures are concerned. Snow is rare except in high mountains in the winters. The imagery of towns covered in deep white snow is not what David had in mind.

The language here has to do with the whiteness of snow as it relates to some purification rite. The terms used in this Psalm fit one particular set of Old Testament purification laws.

This is the same language used in the ritual purification from Leprosy.
The Jews originally reading David's psalm would have had this imagery in mind. To appreciate what David's heart was hoping in, we need to understand these laws too.

Leprosy was used by God to represent sin and its corruption. Leviticus 13 and 14 is filled with details about the diagnosis and treatment of leprosy. It deals with a particular kind of leprosy where snow white blotches appear on parts of the body. The white areas change the color of the hair on the flesh, and there are areas of raw flesh. Leviticus 13:10 describes the infected area as having quick raw flesh.

Leviticus 13:14 But whenever raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean.

The leper was to be separated from the camp of God's people. It represented the offensiveness of sin's corruption which had to be removed.

A person who recovered from leprosy, had to come to the priest for purification. Leviticus 14 explains the two step process to be followed by the priest:

Step One: the priest examined the person outside the camp of Israel.

Leviticus 13:13 "then the priest shall look, and behold, if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce clean him who has the infection; it has all turned white and he is clean."

When leprosy runs its course the whole body becomes white with flakes of dry skin. This means the disease is over. The person is considered cured. The crimson or scarlet spots of raw flesh representing corruption go away. The white flakes of dried skin then fall off exposing new healthy skin.

Two birds were to be brought for the ceremony for his purification. One bird was killed as a sacrifice. The living bird is dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird, then was allowed to fly off representing the new life when sin is removed.

Then hyssop was dipped in the blood and the priest sprinkled the former leper 7 times. This is what David alluded to in verse 7 when he wrote,

"Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."

This is probably what Isaiah meant when he wrote Isaiah 1:18

"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool."

How are our sins red like crimson? That was the color of the bloody ulcers of leprosy. The white like snow, or wool, is the color of the healed skin after recovery from leprosy. All the crimson outbreaks would have gone away, and the skin would have become completely covered with white flakes like snow.

Step Two came after 7 days. The leper had blood applied to him from a sacrificed lamb. It was to be put on the tip of his ear, his right thumb and his right toe. This is generally understood as foreshadowing the blood of Jesus, the lamb of God. His blood purifies us from the effect of sin restoring our ears to hear the word of God, our hands to do what God says, and our feet to follow in his ways. Then the same parts were anointed with oil representing the work of the Holy Spirit. The purified leper was then received back into the camp of Israel as one redeemed by the Lord.

Just imagine the feeling of a leper who recovered, was purified by God's priest, and was restored to full fellowship with God's people again!

That's pretty dramatic symbolism! God provided this process to show how sinners are cleansed from the pollution of sin. Today we have the advantage of knowing the completed work of Jesus Christ. The rituals are fulfilled. Leprosy is just a disease like all others.

The spiritual cleansing these purifications represented is ours by faith alone:

1 John 1:7 says, "... the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin."

This is the confidence we can have in Christ! We can know that we are truly washed clean, when we come to our Lord with humble and sincere confession of sin, and trust in God's promise of forgiveness.

This is what David shows us too. Not just sorrow, but confidence! He doesn't say that he hoped he would be made clean, or that he wished to be forgiven. He declares for sure that if God purifies him from the stains of his guilt, he shall be pure again! He will be truly clean in the eyes of his Holy Lord.

What a wonderful treasure, to be declared innocent by God, and to be confident about it!

David wanted to enjoy again the benefits of being restored to fellowship with God. Notice how Psalm 51 continues:

  1. Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which Thou hast broken rejoice.
  2. Hide Thy face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities.
  3. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

David expected great blessing even though he had sinned horribly. He had once closed his ears to the voice of God's word and his conscience. But now he expected to hear again the joyful and glad sounds of God's assurances. His broken bones, smashed by God's judgment, will again rejoice.

David cried in shame that God would "hide his face" from his sins. Of course David didn't imagine that somehow God would turn his head and pretend he didn't see what was really there.

David understood a most profound and wonderful teaching of Scripture. Its possible to have the offense of our sins really removed from our souls!

He had learned through a hard lesson, how our sins are an offense to the eyes of God. The prophet Habakkuk said in Habakkuk 1:13

"Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, And Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor...."

So if anyone is to have his fellowship with God restored, his sins must be dealt with. Only when the penalty we deserve is paid, can justice satisfied.

So God, in his deepest of love, came into human flesh to die for his people. The blood of Jesus Christ covers our offenses by paying for them.

This is what we mean by atonement. The word literally means to cover something. Before Jesus came the blood of animals was sprinkled on the covering over the Ark of God's Covenant. That covering was called the mercy seat, but literally its translated as the covering. In the ark was the copy of God's law which exposed Israel's sins and showed her corruption.

When the blood of the Savior is spiritually applied to our souls, our sins are covered, our condemnation is hidden, and the ugly stain is removed. God can again look on us without offense.

Just as the leper was sprinkled to represent the removal of sin, so the altar was sprinkled in the Old Testament sacrifices, and our souls are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. The penalty is paid, so that the condemnation can be removed.

David knew that either God would forever hide his face from him, or his sins would be hidden under the Savior's atonement, covering his guilt before the Heavenly Father.

This fits with the next thing he writes in this Psalm: David begged for God to blot out his iniquities. This is brings back something he said at the beginning of the Psalm, in verse 1:

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions.

The blotting out of iniquity was legal language. Indictments are drawn up against those accused of crimes. David knew he was guilty. So he pleaded that whatever solvent was needed to dissolve away the ink from the indictment, let it be applied to his record before God.

Here he begs that these horrible yet just accusations might be washed away, that they would no longer appear on his record before the face of God.

In place of sin, he wants a clean heart, a steadfast spirit. But this wasn't a dream or a fantasy. It wasn't the false hope of a guilty heart. It was the true hope of a redeemed child of God.

Sadly many doubt the promises of God, though they know them in their heads. They memorize their Bible verses, mouth their prayers and recite their catechisms, yet cower before the false accusations of the father of lies. They needlessly bear the weight of their sins, though they are paid for.

Believers, washed in the blood of Christ, groundlessly anguish under a lifted burden. Its a deception of our darkened minds, of our sin corrupted understanding. We are so imperfect that, though forgiven, we may still grieve as if we are condemned. We listen to the lies whispered by the enemy of our souls, and question the promises of the Lord of all the universe.

How tragic that Christians sometimes fail to comprehend the wonderful promise and accept the declaration of innocence earned by the infinitely great price of the Savior.

But we have this wonderful promise of a clean soul! And what a good feeling to be clean! That's the way it is with dirt and grime. After a long day working around the yard and garden, muscles and fingers aching, it feels so good to stand under the refreshing shower, then to get all dried off, and put on fresh clothes.

In this same way we come to our Lord with a broken and humbled heart for cleansing. We confidently place our trust in God's ancient promises, and their fulfillment in the cross. There is no moral detergent to remove our stains other than his atonement. No other is needed.

We show God's cleansing of our own hearts, when we forgive others too.
We are bound to dismiss our own anger or hurt against those who trespass against us, and consider them to be pure and clean when we see they are sincerely sorry. We rejoice when our slate is washed clean by the blood of Christ, we must also not keep track of marks against others who have wronged us and repented.

In Colossians 3:13 we are told in God's word to be

bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

Jesus told us right after the Lord's prayer in Matthew 6

  1. For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
  2. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

This doesn't mean that our forgiveness from God depends upon our forgiving others. It means that if we are not forgiving of others, then there is no evidence that we have been forgiven. Forgiven hearts are changed hearts. They ought to learn to forgive as they are forgiven.

Many years ago the puritan pastor, Thomas Watson wrote,

"We need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven. Let us look into our hearts and see if we can forgive others. If we can, we need not doubt that God has forgiven us."

David prayed that God would hide his face from his sins. He didn't mean that God or we should hope for amnesia over bad things done to us. But we, like he, should not hold wrongs against another person who shows true remorse. We forgive them and consider the debt paid.

In 1 Corinthians 13:5, Paul said that love "thinks no evil." or as its better translated, love "does not take into account a wrong suffered."

He was using an accounting term that describes the recording of figures in a book. Love does the opposite. It does not keep a record of wrongs. Instead, love forgives and refuses to keep it on the books.

A popular devotional book says,

"If you want to remember something, you go over it again and again. The child reviews his spelling words; the actress rehearses her lines; you review people's names that you want to remember. But love deliberately and consciously lets go of past hurts and gives them to God."

The basis upon which we can so unselfishly set aside our own hurts and forgive others, is that we ourselves have had the corruption of our sins paid for by our Lord, and our bondage to self-interest removed.

Having been forgiven in this way, we can rest assured we are cleansed and set free.

Hebrews 10:22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

We can learn to say with the Apostle ...

2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

1 Corinthians 15:57 ... thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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