Three of the hardest words in the whole world to say are, “I am sorry.” When we are caught doing something we shouldn’t, or some of our wrongdoings are brought into the light, the last thing we want to do is come to them with our tails tucked between our legs saying those big words, “I am sorry.”
I’m convinced the biggest giant David faced wasn’t named Goliath, but Hubris. David wrote Psalm 51 right after he was caught in the act of hiding beneath a monstrous snowball of sin he had compounded. What we learn from this psalm is that we cannot hide anything from God. But also, we have a God who simultaneously judges our sin and justifies us in our sin.
In Psalm 51:1-2, David cries out in prayer, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”
I hope you see that David is doing much more than just saying, “I am sorry” to God. And God is doing much more than saying, “Ah, that’s ok” back to him. There are two main reasons why David cried out for mercy, and these two reasons speak the heart of the gospel.
1. David asked for mercy because God judges sinners
Why do you think David asked for God’s mercy? Mercy basically means you don’t get what you deserve. It is kind of like the word grace, which means you get far better than you deserve. But what does David deserve because of his sin? David had grievously sinned against God. He was not faithful to his wife and then he had a man murdered to try to cover up his infidelity. Anyone with a heart and any basic sense of justice can see that David deserves to be punished.
Sin deserves punishment. This is a logical and moral necessity in Christianity. If sin is not punished then either God is not there or God is not God. We are all, like David, guilty of sin against a holy God. We shouldn’t balk at this truth. It shouldn’t shock us that a good God despises that which detracts from the greatest and most joyous being in the universe. God is a good king and judge who doesn’t let sin go unpunished. David asked for mercy because his “transgressions” or “iniquities” or “sins” deserve God’s just punishment.
2. David asked for mercy because God saves sinners
David also asked God to have mercy on him because God is a gracious, kind, and loving God. The bad news about David’s prayer is that he is guilty and deserves punishment from God. The good news is this same God is ready and quick to show mercy. Do you see David’s description of God? He asks him to have mercy according to his “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy.” David doesn’t need God to say, “Oh, that’s ok. Don’t worry about it.” He needs God to say, “Yes, you are that bad. But I forgive you. I will wash you clean. I will wipe away your sins.” Salvation comes not because David gets a pass due to his status as king. Salvation comes due to God’s grace and the status of the King of kings who would later come to be judged in David’s place. King David received grace because King Jesus received judgment.
Asking for God’s mercy is no light plea. It is so important to see how preposterous David’s question is. For his own selfish gain and pleasure, David brought harm to his wife, Bathsheba, Uriah, and ultimately the glory of God in whose name he led as king. And he has the audacity to ask mercy from this God? The gospel is quite scandalous and I fear we take it for granted. I fear we are losing a sense of the scandal of the gospel. Our hearts are no longer ripped to the core when we think about the fact that God was not obligated, yet chose to set his face toward us. To ask for mercy is no light thing. To ask for mercy is to come to the end of yourself. Crying for mercy is humility in action. Yet, because of God’s abundant mercy and overflowing grace, our cries for mercy are not midnight moonshots. There is genuine confidence and hope found in the gracious judge from whom all mercy flows.
Do you know how David’s prayer (and your prayer) for mercy will ultimately be answered? On a cross. On the cross, the judgment of God and the grace of God meet face to face. David has hope for mercy because God will “blot out,” “wash,” and “cleanse” him of his sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus. You too can cry out for God’s mercy just like King David and receive it through the abundant and sufficient blood of Jesus.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.