Jeremy Clarkson has been all over the newspapers this week. The world-famous Top Gear presenter has been suspended from the show, and his career is in the balance. Apparently he had a “free and frank exchange of views” with his producer last week – an altercation that has provoked a BBC inquiry and may see him stripped of his job. Will Clarkson apologise for his behaviour and be reinstated? Will the BBC be merciful? We shall see!
Our Bible reading this morning describes another middle-aged man in the dog-house. It features another wealthy, well-known man who’s got himself into trouble and is about to face the consequences of his actions. Another man who didn’t know whether he would be let off or struck off by his employer.
That man was king David, and the year was 1000BC. If you’ve been here over recent weeks you will know that David had great wealth, much popularity and considerable power. God had elevated David to the throne of Israel, given him material possessions and granted him victory over his enemies. In a sense God was David’s employer, his biggest supporter and sponsor.
But as we join the story today, David has sinned, and sinned badly. As we look at what happened next, I hope we will learn lessons for ourselves about our guilt, true repentance and God’s amazing grace.
But before we go further, let me pray: Father, as we look at this passage this morning, may we learn from it and become more grateful for your goodness and your grace. Amen.
1. David’s anger at a poignant parable (v.1-6)
At the vicarage we often get unexpected visitors, but normally within daylight hours. So you can imagine my surprise and alarm when our front doorbell went at 1am on Wednesday morning! Needless to say I had been asleep, and as I put my dressing gown on and went to the front door a whole host of questions went through my mind. Who was it, and what did they want in the middle of the night? My fears only increased when I opened the door to two police officers. What had happened? What had I done?!
Similar thoughts must have gone through David’s mind when the prophet Nathan appeared on his doorstep three thousand years ago. Because Nathan was God’s spokesman. Nathan was God’s mouthpiece to David and the rest of the nation. What message had Nathan come to deliver to David? Like my experience on the doorstep last Wednesday night, David must have wondered whether Nathan had come to bring good news or bad?
In my case the police simply wanted to know if an ill parishioner was a member of our congregation. Nothing too serious, thankfully. But in David’s case the news was not so good. And Nathan broke the news by telling him a poignant parable, a moving little story.
Look with me at that story again, in verses 1 to 4: “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
A rich man had stolen the solitary lamb of a poor man to feed his guest! Its no surprise that David was horrified at the rich man’s selfishness and greed. Verse 5 tells us that: “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” In other words, David said justice must be done.
2. David’s guilt exposed! (v.7-12)
Its Mothering Sunday today, the day when we give thanks for our mothers – and indeed all those who parent and care for children. As a parent myself, one of the biggest challenges I face is trying to avoid hypocrisy. So often I tell off my children for doing things that I know I do myself. Things like eating too many biscuits, sitting too close to the TV or walking mud into the house. Sometimes I feel like saying to my children; “Do as I say, not as I do!”
Hypocrisy is an occupational challenge for any parent, and it was for King David as well. You see, David’s righteous indignation at the rich man’s behaviour was perfectly correct – but also hypocritical. Because by his reaction to the parable David had actually condemned himself! As verses 7 to 9 explain, David had behaved just as badly (if not worse), than the rich man in the story. That’s why the prophet Nathan pointed to David and said: “You are the man!”
God had made King David rich. God had generously given him power, a palace, and a promised land to rule over. All a man might need. Indeed, God says: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.” Yet David didn’t ask God for more, he had just taken what he wanted. David had stolen another man’s wife – a woman called Bathsheba. And as if his adultery with Bathsheba wasn’t bad enough, David had also arranged the death of her devoted husband – a man called Uriah.
Uriah was a poor man who had been a loyal subject and a dedicated soldier of the king. But David had bunked him off so he could have Bathsheba. In 2 Samuel 11 we are told that David arranged for Uriah to be sent to the front line in a battle against the Ammonites. He had Uriah deliberately sent into a position where he knew he would be killed. Tragically, David had become an adulterer and a murderer, all because of his lust for a lady called Bathsheba.
I know that none of us has committed the exact same sins as David did. But we do need to recognise that we have all fallen short of God’s standards in one way or another. For example, none of us is the perfect parent or the perfect spouse, and none of us is as grateful to God for all his good gifts as we should be. Our sins may not be on the same scale as David’s, but they are sins nonetheless. If we are honest, we are all guilty before our good God, just as David was.
Unsurprisingly, God was as angry with David as David himself had been with the rich man in the parable. In verses 7 to 9 God’s exasperation with David is expressed: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.”
David’s life now hung in the balance. As a murderer the law said he deserved to die. So would God treat David as justice deserved? Would God strip David of his throne and his life, or would he show him mercy and forgiveness? Thankfully David repented of his wrongdoing, and he received God’s grace.
3. David’s repentance and God’s forgiveness (v.13)
As well as being Mother’s Day, today is also the fourth Sunday in Lent. Lent is the season in the church year when we are particularly encouraged to repent. It’s the season when we are encouraged to look within ourselves and say sorry to God for what we have done wrong.
Verse 13 is a short but sweet summary of David’s repentance. It describes David’s ‘Lenten’ attitude: “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’. A fuller description of David’s repentance is found in Psalm 51 – a psalm David wrote after this event. Listen to its opening words: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love. Blot out my transgressions, wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
David’s repentance was straightforward, sincere and complete. David acknowledged his guilt without any equivocation or excuses. He admitted that he had done evil against Uriah and against God. David submitted to the words that Nathan had spoken and confessed his sin. Confronted with God’s Word, David fully accepted his personal responsibility and guilt.
We too should submit to God’s Word and let it challenge and correct our own behaviour. If we read the Bible regularly we will encounter passages that speak powerfully to us personally. Certain passages will convict us of sin and expose our guilt. But other passages will also give us great promises of forgiveness and hope. Passages with huge encouragements to take to heart. (There are some excellent Bible reading notes in the church library by the door – do borrow one and let God speak directly to you, just as he spoke directly to David).
In our passage, God’s response to David’s repentance is immediate and it is wonderful. Because Nathan spoke to David and said: ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die’”. Immediately, at a stroke, David’s guilt had gone from God’s sight. His sin had been removed from him. But how could this be? What had happened to justice, just because David had said sorry? And if God had suddenly taken away David’s sin, where had he put it instead?
This is when we should remember that Easter arrives after Lent. At this time of year we should remember our Rescuer as well as repentance. At Easter we remember that God sent Jesus to be our rescuer from judgement and to give us new life. God sent Jesus, David’s greatest descendant, into our world to die on Good Friday. In God’s eyes the sins of David were taken from him and placed on Christ on the cross. On the cross Jesus suffered the just judgement that David’s sins deserved, so that he could be forgiven.
The great news of Easter season is that Jesus death didn’t just make David’s forgiveness possible. The benefits of Jesus’ rescue mission didn’t just stretch back in history to the time of David. They stretch forward too. They stretch forward to us today. They make it possible for anyone today to receive the total and immediate forgiveness from God that David enjoyed. God’s forgiveness and friendship forever remains on offer to all who repent of their sin and turn to Christ. If you have never done that yourself, this is a great time of year to do so.
As I finish this morning, our sermon series on King David draws to a close. I hope over recent weeks we’ve marvelled at the way God guided a shepherd boy from obscurity to the throne of Israel. I hope we have been impressed by David’s faith in God’s promises, his obedience to God’s words, and his sincere repentance when he sinned.
But most of all, I hope David’s life has pointed us to Jesus – David’s greatest descendant. I hope we’ve been reminded that whereas David had Jesse as his father, Jesus knew God as his father. I hope we’ve discovered that while David was king for a lifetime, Jesus’ reign will never end. And, as we’ve seen this morning, I hope we’ve come to understand that whilst David succumbed to sin, Jesus came to save us from it forever.