Review of Sunday School lessons on 2 Samuel 12:1-23 for Sunday, 29 January 2017
The Bible simply allows no room for pretense that God’s people are inherently better than others.
Still, some promote a sort of Christian fantasy life. They teach a cartoon version of our faith, a fairy tale lie often boldly told in the name of Jesus. Some claim that once a person really knows the Lord, once they really give their lives to Christ, they will no longer ever do really awful, evil things to anyone ever again. “If you just believe more, try harder, you can make yourself holier than you were, than you are, by your efforts.”
Then Boom. Here comes God’s Word with a passage like 2 Samuel 12:1-23, shattering that pretty little pipe dream to pieces.
Such a false Christian fantasy only sets up people for lives of hypocrisy. Sometimes Christians are just as eager to embrace it as the ungodly world. The testimonials are compelling:
“We’re holier (more blessed, devoted, happy, at peace or whatever) than we were yesterday, by following these seven simple steps… We only do righteous and God-pleasing things now that we know the Lord! Sin used to be a reality and such a problem in my life, but now only those wicked people sin, I’m different now.”
We hear religious people talk in such ways. It not only sounds like a commercial, but it really sells! The Non-Christian world out there loves to battle this Christian dummy stuffed full of straw, this gross caricature of our faith. They take it to task time and again, “You Christians are supposed to be better than us–but look at you, you do all the things you call wrong. What use is there in your God? He hasn’t seemed to help you very much.”
Yet they pretend and strive just as hard as some Christians to believe that there’s no inescapable evil that we can’t just fix ourselves. If only we muster the will or just try enough! Often times, too, they seem to talk as though there is no evil in them anymore, or at all in the world. “We’re getting better and better, we can fix it, we don’t need God for that–just believe we can fix it.”
But a world full of infidels, unbelievers in progress keeps getting in their way, too. And like we Christians, none of them practices what is preached perfectly. Horrid examples of huge crimes, conspiracies, profiteering, oppression, deceit, murder and injustice exist in their numbers as well.
Evil remains a worldwide, global epidemic, regardless of one’s politics or creed. The puritanical, protestant germ of getting better and better, by just believing more and trying harder was not left behind when these many left God and His Church. It’s hereditary, contagious and lethal.
The Bible, however, doesn’t set such a fantasy before us, where God’s people progress beyond being sinners in this life. No other book on the face of the earth quite captures the persistent reality and exposes our true problem with evil. We can neither fix it nor escape it by our own efforts. Not individually. Not collectively. Not our own evil nor that of everyone else. Not at all, without Divine intervention. Only Jesus saves anyone in the end.
Even the most ‘advanced’ or exemplary Christians remain quite capable of doing great big evil things–sometimes even quite unawares, they’ve done them! Gross sins, obvious sins that demand justice. Real damage gets done in the lives of others.
God’s people find themselves oblivious or indifferent to evil. Along comes His Word in the mouth of His prophet to open our eyes to the reality of evil, of sin, still right there in our lives. All holy pretense of perfection or progress gets popped like a shiny soap bubble, beautiful floating fantasy though it was.
Not even the king is exempt. David’s faith was real. God’s promise was real. God’s blessing on David’s life and work was real, though never was it earned or deserved. We see David’s sin is also real. He hurt people and drew others into his self-centered efforts to have better and more than the plenty God’s merciful favor and grace already gave him. He fell into lust, covetousness, adultery, attempted cover up, murder and theft. The injustice of what he had done was a stench to high heaven. David’s evil was still real, still a problem. His real problem and a real problem for others, too.
Scripture sets this reality before our eyes time and again. All have sinned and fallen short. Yet evil is not all that endures in David’s life. God’s grace, His forgiveness and mercy endures forever.
Uriah didn’t ask to die on account of David’s sin, yet he did. Neither did David’s first child with Bathsheba. Yet it does. His evil hurts people and breaks things. There are consequences, both seen and unseen.
God sends a Word by his prophet Nathan to call evil what it is. God’s truth exposes the injustice. But it doesn’t magically undo everything. Uriah is still in his grave; his family still mourns. Being married doesn’t undo their adultery.
The Lord forgives it all, though. God’s forgiveness will sustain and suffice to deliver him. David will not die, though he deserved it. David will live in the aftermath of his evil, by God’s grace and mercy alone. David will continue to be the Lord’s instrument for the blessing of His people and the salvation of the world. The Lord promises His favor and faithfulness will abide through the wreckage David wrought in his life and the lives of others.
Scripture proclaims this good news of God’s grace given to real sinners, great and small. Psalm 51 gives voice to David’s contrite prayer. David begins to learn that the Lord’s forgiveness is something he needed, too, all along. And he has it. God’s forgiveness is never the gift we deserve, but it’s the precious gift God gives us. Only real sinners need it. Only real sinners get to hear and receive it by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus.
And real forgiven sinners live by grace day to day, honest about our ongoing problem with evil throughout our earthly life. We don’t pretend it away, nor do we excuse it. We can acknowledge and confess it, and we do. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. ” (1 John 1:8-10, ESV) By God’s grace, we strive against it.
St. Paul describes his ongoing struggle with sin, “… when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21-25, ESV)
We make no excuses for evil, but call it what it is. There are consequences to what we do, both known and unknown. Our God grants no one permission to sin. But with Him, there is forgiveness and mercy–even in the aftermath. Indeed, His forgiveness and mercy only ever applies and comes to us in the aftermath of evil, by His Word and in the Sacraments. That’s when we need it most. David received it. And still, today, it is yours in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Jesus is David’s very great, grand Child, his descendant by Bathsheba. From their son Solomon on through the generations, the Lord’s promise abides and endures that our Savior would be born “of the house and lineage of David.” (Luke 2:4) The Christ Child, Jesus, finally bears David’s sin and the weight of the world’s wickedness on the cross. He suffers the consequences of our own evil there, including death and the grave and all the hell we deserved. In the aftermath of His death and resurrection, we find life given and lived by faith in His Word of forgiveness–all in the very real here and now–and then finally and fully free of evil in the eternity to come.
So we regularly pray as David’s Son and David’s Lord Jesus taught: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Amen.