God Hides His Face from Our Sins in Christ - Ash Wednesday
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Psalms 51:1-21
February 17, 2021

In a few moments we are going to speak Psalm 51 responsively. This Psalm was written by King David. It involves the confession of sins and plea for the Lord’s forgiveness. It contains a great promise: “[A] broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). It speaks the heartfelt plea of the penitent sinner: “Hide your face from my sins, blot out all my iniquities” (Ps. 51:9).

David knew what he was talking about when he wrote the words of that great promise. He was utterly sincere when he spoke that heartfelt plea. For he wrote this Psalm in horror at what he had done. He wrote this Psalm after he had been confronted by Nathan the prophet in that affair involving Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah the Hittite.

Uriah was a brave and honorable soldier in David’s army. He had gone to battle with David’s army against the Ammonites. David had remained in Jerusalem.

While Uriah was away, David committed adultery with Bathsheba, knowing that she was Uriah’s wife. He cast aside the sixth commandment, and the first along with it. She got pregnant.

Then David tried to get Uriah to go home to his wife so he could cover it up. Uriah would not go home, however, because he did not think it honorable to do that while the King’s army was in the field, while his fellow soldiers were camped in the field. So David sent Uriah back to the front lines. Deceitfully, he sent a letter along with Uriah for the commander of the armies: Joab. It was this letter that he sent by the hand of Uriah that would get Uriah killed. The letter instructed Joab to put Uriah up front at the most intense part of the battle.

David’s intent was that Uriah be killed in battle. He wanted this to happen so that he could lawfully take Bathsheba as his wife, he thought, and no one would be none the wiser about the adultery, though now he had conspired to get Uriah killed.

The Lord knew exactly what David had done. And what David had done displeased the Lord (2 Samuel 11:27). 

The Lord sent Nathan the prophet to confront David. Nathan told David a story. David, there was a rich man and a poor man. The poor man had one little lamb that the poor man cherished very much. The rich man had a bunch of little lambs, but he just had to have the poor man’s one little lamb. So the rich man took it (2 Samuel 12:1-4).

David was incensed. That rich man deserves to die, David asserted, confidently (2 Samuel 12:5-6).

Nathan said, “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7).

The delusion that David had been under was shattered. The obliviousness to his sin that his desires had brought about was blown away by the light of the truth. The blindness to his own actions was removed, and he saw clearly what he had done. He saw clearly that he was the man that deserved to die.

And so he wrote this mighty confession, sincerely: “I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:3-4a); done what is evil in Your sight. In this confession, he acknowledged that the Lord is justified in His words that reveal our sins, and that the Lord is blameless in his righteous judgment against them (Ps. 51:4b). There is no place to run. No place to hide. There is no longer any cover up, no longer any rationalization, no longer any deceitfulness. He was throwing himself on the mercy of the court.

Then David became aware of an even deeper truth about himself: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). He realized, I am corrupted by sin to the root. I am a corrupt tree. But you delight in truth in the inward being (Ps. 51:6a), He says of God. I need a clean heart, he says of himself to God. I need you to hide your face from sins. I need you to renew a right spirit within me. I need your Holy Spirit to teach me to control my passions and walk in the ways that are pleasing to You, according to your word.

So David despairs of himself. But he does not despair of God’s mercy, for he also tells us that the sacrifices that are acceptable to God are a broken spirit; God does not despise a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). He receives such a heart.

We may not have done what David did. Nevertheless, we have violated God’s law in some way, in thought, desire, word, or deed. Is there hate, meanness, or bitterness in our hearts? Let us learn to confess from King David.

But how can we be assured that when we plead with God to hide His face from our sins, that He hides His face from our sins? For David did not pray this plea as if he had no hope of it’s being real, and neither do we. The Apostle Paul tells us: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (1 Cor. 5:19). If God was reconciling the world to Himself, He was reconciling you and me and King David to Himself. And Paul goes on: “God made Him, Jesus, to be sin, though Jesus knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

This is how God hides His face from David’s sin. This is how God hides His face from my sin. This is how God hides His face from your sin. Jesus has become all of that sin before God. In Christ God does not see sin when He sees you. When He sees you, He sees Jesus’s righteousness.

This all happened on the cross, as Peter says, He took all our sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). In this God hides His face from our sins.

So when we come this evening for the imposition ashes in the form of the cross: I will say receive the sign of cross to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.

Let us come in sincere sorrow over our sin and sinfulness with a desire to turn away from it and to do God’s will, for this is true repentance. Let us come with the words of the Psalm on our lips as our prayer: Create in me a clean heart O God (Psalm 51:10). But let us also come in firm faith that our sins have been taken from us by Jesus and the Father sees us in Jesus’s own righteousness, pleasing to Him, claimed by Him, our sins blotted out by Him.

And then we too can say with David in joy and peace: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:15).


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