The Last to Be Forgiven

We are often quick to forgive those who have hurt us — to offer grace to others. Th last person we struggle to forgive is ourselves. Shame and guilt follow us like a shadow. Through Jesus, God offers us grace from not only our sin but from our shame and guilt as well. Grace is a gift from God that we do not deserve, nor can do anything to earn. That’s why it is called amazing.

Sermon Series: “Relentless Grace” Part III ~ The Last to Be Forgiven ~ January 19, 2020 ~ Psalm 32:1-5

[A story about the sinking of the HMS Birkenhead] The forward compartments in the engine rooms immediately flooded, and a hundred soldiers that they were transporting drowned right in their births. The surviving soldiers gathered together and waited for their officer’s orders.

Low and behold, they discovered there were not enough lifeboats for everyone. “Women and children first!” someone cried out, and they made sure that all the women and children on the boat got into the available lifeboats and pushed away from the sinking ship. Just before she sank, the captain called out and said, “All those who can swim, jump overboard and make for the lifeboats.” However, another officer by the name of Colonel Seton recognized that all these guys rushing the lifeboats most likely would capsize them, swamp them, and put the women and children in there at risk. So, he countermanded that order, and he said to his men, “Stand fast.” And that’s what they did. The soldiers didn’t move. At attention, in formation, they stood on the HMS Birkenhead as the ship broke up; and barely 20 minutes after hitting the rock, sank into the ocean.

Some of the soldiers did manage to swim the two miles to shore, but most drowned. Others killed by exposure or died because of the sharks that were in the waters. That will make sense in just a minute. Would you please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God? Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We are in Psalm 23, first verse:

Oh, what joy for those whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
Psalm 32:1-5

Now, what does that have to do with the HMS Birkenhead? Why start out with a story about the HMS Birkenhead? Well, the Birkenhead was the first recorded incident of what we know today as the “motto of the sea,” or actually, it is called the Birkenhead drill: “Women and children first!” There was no maritime law at the time stating that women and children had to go first; in fact, much to your surprise it might be, there still isn’t. There is no maritime law on the books that says women and children first. It was just a natural instinct of those on board. Others first, myself last.

That stuck out to me because I’m doing a sermon series this month on God’s relentless grace; and I find that this “others first, myself last,” is the same when it comes to grace. See, in my experience, I find most people are willing to forgive. America is a land of second chances. Whether it’s a professional athlete who failed a drug test (perhaps more than once), or a politician who doesn’t live up to their oath of office; we are a forgiving people. Right here, in Connecticut, I don’t know if you know the story of our mayor of Bridgeport, Joe Ganim. For those that do not, Mayor Ganim was elected six times mayor of Bridgeport from 1991 to 2003. He had to resign in 2003 after being convicted of sixteen federal counts, including racketeering, extortion, racketeering conspiracy, bribery, bribery conspiracy, mail fraud, and filing false tax returns. He spent seven years in the federal correctional institution at Fort Dix, New Jersey; then, in 2015, a few years after he got out, Mr. Ganim publicly apologized to the voters of Bridgeport, and ran for mayor once again – and won! He was reelected this past November, and is currently serving his seventh term.

So, yes, we are a forgiving people, a land of second chances. Why? Why are we so willing to forgive – to offer someone a second chance, sometimes perhaps even when they don’t deserve it? Still, we offer grace. I don’t know. Why did the captain of the Birkenhead say, “Women and children first!” There was no law requiring him to do so. I believe it’s instinctive. It’s that small little voice inside of us. I believe it’s the Spirit of God. The soldiers on the HMS Birkenhead didn’t move. They knew what they were facing. They understood; and yet they stood there, nonetheless.

As I said, I have found we are similarly quick to put others first, including forgiving those who have wronged us and offering grace to others, but all too often, the last person we are willing to forgive is ourselves. Instead, shame and guilt follow us like a shadow. It does for all of us. After the first service, I had a long-time church service member come up to me and say, “Why is that? I stole a popsicle when I was a child, and it still bothers me!” And I said, “Yeah, I know.” It seems as though the last person we forgive is ourselves. And David is a perfect illustration of this.

This is a psalm of David. David was the king of Israel. God had chosen David because of his heart. You see, because of his disobedience, God had rejected King Saul. Samuel the prophet was heartbroken; he had a lot of hope in King Saul, and yet, God said, “No. I want somebody else.” And He sends Samuel to find that somebody else, and in first Samuel 16, we read:

Now the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”
1 Samuel 16:1

So, Samuel sets off for Bethlehem to go to Jesse’s place to look at his sons. Jesse lines up all of his sons and one stands out to Samuel. He looks the part; he looks royal, as he commands authority. Verse 6:

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t just by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7

So, God chose David because God knew his heart. And yet, most of us, I would assume, are familiar with the story of David – that one day, David was walking on the roof of his palace when he was king, and he looked and saw a woman taking a bath; and he was noticeably interested in this woman, so much so that he sends some servants to go and find out her name. Now, when they return – if you’ve ever read this story in Scripture, something jumped out to me this last time I read it that I never noticed before – when they returned with her name, they didn’t just tell David her name (Bathsheba), but they followed it up with other information. “Her name is Bathsheba. She is married to Uriah, the Hittite.” So, what does that tell David? Her name, the fact that she’s married, and that she’s married to Uriah the Hittite, who was a general in one of his armies, whom he has fought beside. A man of honor and integrity. David knows all this information now, and it still doesn’t stop him. David wants what David wants at the time, and he sleeps with Bathsheba. And Bathsheba discovers eventually that she is with child, and it is David’s, because Uriah is at the front fighting a war for David.

David is overwhelmed with shame and guilt, but instead of confessing, he does what many people do – he tries to cover it up. He orders Uriah back from the front, and orders him to take a little R & R, take some time off. Go home and visit your wife! Hoping that Uriah would come sleep with Bathsheba, and then claim the child as his, not knowing any better. But as I said, Uriah was a man of honor and integrity, so when he returns from the front, he literally doesn’t even go into his house. At night, he sleeps outside the door, because he believed that if his soldiers under his command could not come to their homes and enjoy the fruits of their family, then he wouldn’t either. So, he foils David’s plan. Shame and guilt continue to eat away at David. Does he confess? No. He goes to plan B. He instructs those over Uriah to send him on a suicide mission, to send him into a battle which he knows is a high likelihood Uriah will not survive. And that’s what happens. Uriah follows orders, goes into battle, is killed; and Bathsheba is now a widow, and David marries her.

Now, this shame and this guilt continues to fester in David. It’s a heavy weight. One day, the prophet Nathan visits David and he confronts him with his sin, and David breaks down. He completely loses it. He knows he has sinned, and he is devastated by it. He confesses, and he asks God for forgiveness. That is what Psalm 51 is: David’s confession. And he says:

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.

He couldn’t get rid of it. It was a heaviness.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned. I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just…

Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.

Now, God knows David’s heart, so He knows that his repentance is genuine; it’s real. And He forgives him, the Bible says. How? How could one be forgiven for such things? Why? Why would God forgive for such things?

Well, remember 1 John 1:9. It says:

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

If we confess our sin. Confession is the tough part. David learned that the hard way. In verses 3 and 5 this morning, When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. That guilt and that shame can become such a burden for some; can become so heavy, that people actually have followed through with suicide because of the shame and the guilt. But David confessed. It said in verse 5, Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

David will eventually be upheld by the Old Testament prophets as an example of strength and faithful leadership. I mean, the coming Messiah is said to be from the lineage of David, right? Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, and Zechariah all associate David with the eternal kingdom, with the rule of God. In the New Testament, David is described as the ancestor of the Messiah, and a recipient of God’s promises. Jesus is called the son of David, the Key of David, the Root of David; and David was able to do all of this because he understood what he wrote in verse 5: Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

We are so quick to put others ahead of ourselves. “Women and children first!” or if you’re a mom, “Family and children first!” We are quick to give grace to others; to offer another chance. It’s instinctive. It’s that little voice inside of us. It’s the Spirit of God; however, the last to be forgiven is ourselves. Our bodies waste away. We groan all day long, because I stole a popsicle when I was six! It’s true. I shared last week about the Campbell’s soup! I intentionally made the bad lunch for my little brother, when I was like 13!

We will overlook somebody being convicted of sixteen federal crimes and reelect him to office! But we continue to carry our guilt and shame for what we have done and said and thought. Why is that? I think it’s because we don’t understand. David did. That’s why he said in verse 2, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt.

You see, when Jesus went to the cross, He died for our sins, yes. But He died for something else too, and you can’t miss this. This is an important part of the story. Through Jesus, God offers us grace not only from our sin, but from our shame and our guilt as well. “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. They are connected. If someone has told you at some point in your life that Jesus forgave your sins, but you still have to feel bad for what you did for the rest of your life, they are wrong. That’s a lie from the pit of hell. That is what the evil one is trying to do in your life. He’s the one that keeps telling you about the popsicle and the Campbell’s soup can. Not God!

Through Jesus, God offers us grace from our sin and the shame and the guilt that come with it. We may be the last to be forgiven. That’s okay. We should be quick to forgive others first. But we cannot forget – we are forgiven! Our sin, our shame, and our guilt. Do not carry it around, Jesus said. Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy carry burdens, and I will give you rest. We cannot continue to carry the burden of our sin, our shame, and our guilt. If we do, we diminish what Jesus did on the cross. He died for my sin and my shame and guilt that goes along with it. Do not forget that part of the story.

So, how about that for a New Year’s resolution? Confess your sins, repent, and accept God’s grace wholly and completely! There is joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight, whose record has cleared of guilt. Please, please walk out of here this morning knowing you have a clean slate, because of what happened on that cross, you have been forgiven; I have been forgiven. Through Christ, we have received God’s relentless grace. Do not carry shame. Do not carry guilt. God put it to death on the cross. Don’t listen to the evil one about the popsicle stick and the Campbell’s soup can, or whatever it is that you’re carrying with you. If you believe that Christ died for your sins, remember, He died for your shame and your guilt too. You are a recipient of God’s relentless grace. Would you stand and pray with me?