Sermon delivered at Grace Presbyterian Church, December 10, 2000
Burning Bulls and Broken Hearts - Psalm 51, Part 8
People speak of having heart conditions.
Repairs might be needed so that a person could resume normal activities. He may need by-pass surgery, angioplasty or a stent to improve the blood supply. Sometimes surgery is needed to repair or replace damaged valves. Or he may need a pacemaker to ensure synchronization and full operation of the chambers. Physical heart conditions can make a person get out of breath or tire easily.
People might also have spiritual heart problems.
Just as a physical heart must at the very least be alive before it can be repaired, so also a spiritual heart must be alive spiritually. It must be redeemed. But even the redeemed heart can have problems. When we approach God with the spiritual kind of heart condition: Our worship and prayer can become laborsome. Our service to others and management of our time, possessions and abilities can become limited.
When King David was confronted by his sin and guilt, he became concerned that his heart might not be right as he approached God.
To understand this last part of Psalm 51,
In the time of David, Israel lived under the form of God's covenant that was given through Moses. Every day, crowds gathered at the tent of the Tabernacle to bring their sacrifices. There was the sound of bellowing animals, the sight of blood flowing over the altar, and the smell in the air of meat being burned before the Lord,
It was a dramatic display of what our sins deserve. There must be a shedding of blood representing the death which is the penalty of every sin. The sacrifice held out God's amazing promise: he will provide for himself a substitute for the sinner.
But looking at this graphic scene of the sacrificial worship of the Tabernacle man could only see the outward actions. God looked also on the heart.
What we see in worship today is also just the outward part. We might see people turning to the Lord in private prayer, families gathered to read Scripture and pray together, churches assembled on the Sabbath with the singing of hymns, giving attention to sermons, and the distributing of the elements of the Lord's Supper.
But in all these outward forms, we must remember that God looks on the heart. When we worship, or come thankfully for cleansing from sin, we must remember that its the heart, not just the knees, which must be humbly bent before God.
The way God viewed the Old Testament offerings
David knew that God was the one who commanded these sacrifices. So how could he say that God didn't take pleasure in them? They were his sacrifices! But David also knew that there was more to them than just the outward rituals.
The Bible says that the enemy of our faith is very cunning and subtle. He's gotten very few to openly worship the kingdom of Satan. And in attacking the family of God he knows that not many will be fooled into blatant paganism.
So instead, he twists things around. He gets us to blend the form of truth with the substance of a lie.
The synthetic religion that comes out of that process is a thing that may look good outwardly but inwardly it makes everything point to the glory of the creature instead of the Creator. And what's left of the Creator is a watered down deity begging us not to spoil his plans.
The sacrifice had deteriorated into a works religion.
But God never said that the killing of animals as sacrifices, the burnt offerings of the young bulls, were the actual grounds for salvation in themselves. The priestly sacrifices didn't remove sin's guilt by themselves. They represented God's covenant promise to provide a salvation we are not qualified to earn.
Today we understand more about how our Savior restores his people to fellowship with God. We know how God became a man. And in that nature he died in place of his people. This promised Messiah became the Lamb of God to shed his blood for us.
But even the Old Testament taught what every believer needed to know about the sacrifices. Their real nature was revealed in the law and explained by the prophets. Even before Christ, the true worshippers knew that justice demands eternal death for every sin. And somehow God would pay that price for his people.
By grace alone, God applied that future work of the Messiah to his people before Jesus was born. That work of grace regenerated their spiritually dead hearts, and implanted the faculty of true faith. That faith drove the believers to obey God and to worship him as he said they should. That meant bringing sacrifices to him according to the law, which included an understanding of the promise that God would redeem his people by grace alone.
If a person brought a sacrifice without a redeemed heart, it didn't remove his sin. That kind of sacrifice denied the provision of God. It imagined that man could save himself by rituals. That kind of worship is condemned in the Bible, in the ancient law itself. God took no delight in such an abomination.
In the Book of Hebrews chapter 10, this is explained clearly:
It was always the act of the heart that made sacrifices acceptable to God. And what made the heart right, was the work of grace where it wasn't deserved. It was God's provision, not what the worshipper did, that made it beneficial.
So David wasn't demeaning the God-ordered sacrifice; only the superficial degradation of it.
God looks on the heart.
A broken and contrite heart shows the inner work of God's grace.
I don't know if they still sell it any more, but when I was a kid they sold a candy called Turkish Taffee. It was a solid hard bar you could never bite into without breaking your teeth. So before you opened the package, you slammed it down hard on the table and it broke apart into bite-sized pieces. When you put them in your mouth they would slowly melt and become chewy and tasty.
But most things can't be used when they get broken. But the heart is not broken in that way. A dysfunctional heart is broken so that it can work as God created it to work.
The Hebrew word translated "contrite" is dikah. In this form it means to be crushed. Its used in Numbers 11:8 of seed that is ground up in a mortar into a fine flower for baking. We must be brought low by our sin before God, if our worship is to lift us up to see his glory.
The world would think its strange that humble contrition over sin, and joy are found together. But they are only incompatible when there is no atonement. The world's false joy is the illusion of a heart deceiving itself about its guilt.
This is the worship that God will not despise. Its his own work done in our needy hearts. David would give all he could, if his own effort would help. But he knew it would not. So he came crushed, humbled, clinging to the promises of God which cannot fail.
Zion was the Jerusalem hill where David planned to one day build a permanent temple to God. Of course God chose Solomon after him to actually build the temple there. But to David, it was the place where God was to be specially worshipped.
David wanted the place where God's people gathered for worship to be blessed. Instead of being where abominable sacrifices were made by those who came in ignorance and self-trust, he wanted it to be divinely favored so that its worship would truly honor the Lord.
As we pray, we should also remember to ask God's blessing on the church.
Pray on Saturday for the families to prepare well for the Sabbath morning. As you get up on Sunday pray that each member will be ready and looking forward to worship time. Preparation for Sunday worship is more than laying out your clothes the night before. It also means getting your heart right so that your worship won't be superficial and only outward. Come remembering the grace that made you want to be here.
David also wanted to wall in the city of Jerusalem to make it safe from her enemies. The job had begun but there was still much to do. It wasn't complete until the time of Solomon.
But David's concern for God's blessings on Zion and protection of Jerusalem was not just outward. The whole theme of this Psalm is about David's concern over his sin and its effects.
Back in verse 11 David expressed his fear that God would withdraw the Holy Spirit's enablement. He didn't want to become an ineffective King as took place with Saul before him.
But the Psalm now shows David's concern that his sins might also bring trouble to his nation. He didn't want the worship or safety of Jerusalem endangered because of what he did. David again shows the tender and devoted heart of a gifted King.
When believers make excuses for their sins, and show no interest in reforming, God lovingly chastises them as wayward children. We saw this in our study of verses 11 and 12. He may withdraw their inner peace and sense of assurance and hope. and sometimes he may bring outward suffering. When one member of the body goes through hard times, the whole body is effected. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:26,
When we sin or drift away from the Lord, we need to be concerned for its effect on others too. As David prayed, we should ask the Lord to bless his church and to keep her safe when we sin.
to please God in our worship and living.
In this last verse of the Psalm, David envisions a restored church.
But the glory that made the sacrifice wonderful was yet to come. David knew his heart had to be to be right before God could be pleased with his worship. But the blood and burning flesh of bulls didn't change his heart. Only the work of grace based on the one great sacrifice could do that.
In John 1:29, John the baptist saw Jesus coming and he said to his disciples,
It was our Savior's death on the cross that actually paid the price of the sins of God's people. It applies to the past, present and future. No sin was ever removed on any other grounds.
What the burning of bulls couldn't accomplish, the cross of Calvary did. Describing the finished work of Jesus, Hebrews 10:12 says,
the needs of our physical heart can be a good reminder:
Your physical heart needs a good supply of blood to feed it and keep it strong. When that supply is restricted the cardiac arteries need repair to restore its nourishments.
The redeemed heart needs to be fed with the means of grace, or it gets weak.
David showed evidence in this Psalm of seeking to have all these means restored in his life.
Your physical heart needs a regular neural impulse signal to stimulate the chambers to pump. When that impulse fails or doesn't get through, a pacemaker is needed.
The redeemed heart must be sensitive to the movings of God in his conscience. This is the work of God's Spirit through his word as we study it, hear sound preaching and teaching, and are admonished by our friends as God uses them in our lives.
The physical heart needs to have healthy tissue and valves, instead of ones that harden or deteriorate. This requires corrective surgery or the heart will fail to do its job.
The redeemed heart must be in good repair before God. If its stiff and not humble, contrite and broken over its sin, it needs restoration by grace.
A sound physical heart is fundamental to a person being healthy. A spiritually healthy heart is also necessary if our life and worship is to please God. When we engage in the remedies God prescribes in his word, we will discover the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work to repair our heart condition.
How different David must have felt after he made things right with God again after his sin. Before then, every time he entered the Temple, his conscience would have torn at his heart. Oh! the relief and peace of God's merciful forgiveness bringing joy into the place where there was tension.
How different Paul must have felt after he came to Christ. The Temple, all its furnishings and sacrifices, which he had known all his life, which he had studied under Gamaliel, all took on a totally new dimension, after he had come to know the Savior toward which the rituals pointed. Oh! the forgiveness he personally felt, as one who felt he was the chiefest of sinners.
I recall how different church seemed to me after I found the glories of salvation by grace alone. The God who seem so distant had become my Heavenly Father. The sacraments and worship that seemed so superstitious, now pointed to my Lord's finished work.
It was never burning bulls or bleeding lambs that made men right with God. It was the suffering Messiah they represented, who becomes our Savior and Lord by grace through faith in his word of promise, a gospel that heals broken hearts.
As we review Psalm 51, it becomes a treasure of blessings -- when we read it and apply it as King David wrote it: as a model of humble confession, and confidence in amazing grace.