Confession IS good for the soul
- Order of Service: Meditation on the Ministry of the Keys, CW Supplement, p76
- Lessons: Matthew 26:36-56, Psalm 51:1-9
- Hymns: 714, 126, 115, 122
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Psalm 51: For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
How soon after his encounter with the prophet Nathan did David write this? This side of eternity, we can’t know. We only know that he wrote them because of what happened that day.
What a day that was. One moment, David’s sitting in his throne room, being king, the next moment, Nathan fulfills David’s greatest fear: He confronts David with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: “You stole Uriah’s wife! You slept with her! You lied to Uriah! You murdered Uriah! You lied to your people! You lied to God! You mocked God! You’ve made God look bad to the world!”
You’ve been there: exposed! Your face flushes. Your heart pounds. Your stomach churns. “Caught!” And then the consequences come rushing right in: job lost, marriage ended, friendship dissolved, car taken, fine to be paid, maybe even time in jail. Exposure ruins your life. Except the ruination didn’t begin only when someone exposed you. It began far earlier.
Your pastor last week read to you some other words of King David, from Psalm 32: 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, NIV84). We call this guilt, right? In Psalm 51, David said that God crushed his bones. In Psalm 6, which you’ll hear later this Lenten season, David says that he is faint, his bones are in agony, his soul is in anguish. He can’t sleep. His eyes grow weak with the tears.
They say that confession is good for the soul, and don’t you know it, because you, like David, have tried to keep so much in. You have kept silent. For days, for weeks, for months, for years, it has sat inside of you, whatever your sins are, killing you. At the oddest time, your face flushes, because you remember what you’ve done – and you fear someone exposing you. You tiptoe through certain conversations, afraid to tip your hand, afraid to reveal some knowledge that will let someone know that you know more than you should, that you’ve done more than you should. Strength sapped. Tears shed. God’s hand heavy upon you.
And you wonder why? Because you’re guilty! You did it, whatever it is. Maybe it’s David’s crimes: lust, adultery, theft, fraud, perjury, murder. Maybe, like Judas, you’ve betrayed. Maybe like the chief priests you’ve conspired against someone, brought them to ruin, only because you couldn’t stand them or disagreed with them. Likely it’s some other thing. Likely it’s all of them to one degree or another. And you just hope to get away with it one more time. You hope to get through that awkward conversation without spilling the beans. You hope to escape exposure.
Well, you won’t. Oh, perhaps your spouse will never find out your secret past. Maybe your boss will never know how you cut corners. Maybe the government will never figure out what you haven’t reported. Maybe no one else will know what shameful and indecent thing you’ve done behind closed doors, or in another town, or with your old friends. But God does. You can’t hide any of it from Him. You aren’t hiding any of it from Him. That’s why you don’t feel good about it. God’s causing that. He’s crushing your bones. He’s sapping your strength. He’s turning up the dials of your conscience. And maybe, just maybe, He has sent, or is sending, or will send a Nathan into your life to speak even more plainly.
And He does that because He doesn’t delight in letting things go until Judgment Day. We’d sooner let sleeping dogs lie, because we’re that foolish. We think if we’ve gotten away with it here and now, if we spare ourselves some inconvenience, some embarrassment, some eating of crow, then we’ll be fine. Except we haven’t reckoned with the reckoning. True, God says, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), but that doesn’t mean the wicked don’t die. Forever. In hell.
So Nathan comes in a variety of forms and confronts you. And David’s given you the words that fill your heart and spill out of your mouth: “You’re right. I have sinned. I have sinned against God. My sins never leave me. When God speaks, He speaks rightly. This is who I am and what I’ve been from birth. God desires truth and wisdom and I’ve given Him only lies and foolishness.” We call this confession, right?
But David didn’t stop with confessing. He pleaded: “Have mercy! Blot out my transgressions! Cleanse me! Wash me! Hide your face from my sins! Let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones you have crushed rejoice (Psalm 51:9, NIV84). We do such pleading at least twice every Sunday, when we make our general confession of sins, and then later in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, Forgive us our trespasses. Likely we make that plea more frequently than that, because throughout the weak who we are forces us to make it. And that plea for mercy and for forgiveness Luther summed up well when he explained the Lord’s Prayer: We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins or because of them deny our prayers; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we ask, neither have we deserved them, but we ask that he would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 5th Petition).
Take careful note of what we’re asking God to do. We’re asking Him to not look upon our sins. We’re asking Him to look past them. To not count them against us. To not credit them to our account. In that psalm your pastor shared with you last week, Psalm 32, David also said, Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him (Psalm 32:1-2, NIV84). Blessed indeed! Because that means when the Day of Reckoning comes, there’s nothing God can reckon against you. He took it away. How can we be that blessed? As Luther said, We are worthy of none of these things for which we ask, neither have we deserved them, but we ask that he would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. It seems hopeless. It seems like a plea that should fall on deaf ears. Except for grace. Except for hearing that He – God – loves us. You heard about that on Ash Wednesday when you heard the appointed Epistle read from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them…. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21, NIV84).
When we beg and plead like David, then, it’s not mere empty words. It’s faith that begs and pleads. So confess boldly, confess completely. Give God the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Only that truth – you are sinful from birth, God’s judgment is right – can set you free. Confess everything, completely, without reservation, without holding back. Because the Son God refused to spare, the Son God hung on a cross, the Son God raised from the dead makes you confident that God’s forgiveness is the same: everything, completely, without reservation. In Christ. His crushed bones rejoiced in the resurrection, so that your crushed bones live again too! Amen.