Sunday, January 10, 2021

"Cleanse Me" -- Psalm 51 [Matt's Messages]

“Cleanse Me”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 10, 2021 :: Psalm 51

Unlike many of the other psalms that we have been studying together these days, we know why Psalm 51 was written.

We don’t know what was going on when many of these other psalms were composed. Sometimes we have big hints. Sometimes we have almost nothing to go on. And we’ve seen how that can be good–because those psalms can often have an immediate application.

But other psalms have a little superscription up at the top that tells us not only who wrote it but when and why that particular psalm was written.

And this one has a doozy. Psalm 51, verse 1. From the top:

“For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”

This psalm is serious from the git-go.

It’s by David, and it’s talking about that time in David’s life when he abused his privilege as king and took what he wanted. He wanted another man’s wife, and so he took her. You can read the shameful story of sexual predation in 2 Samuel 11. And after he took Bathsheba, and got her pregnant, David arranged for the death of her husband. And for some time he was unremorseful and unrepentant.

And then one day the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin.

Psalm 51 is a song that David composed about that moment, about that event!

Psalm 51 is David’s lyrical response to the prophetic confrontation of Nathan.

And how did he take it? 

Up until that point, not very well. Not very well indeed. And we shall see that he was suffering the painful consequences of his dis-repentance.

But Psalm 51 records the right response to righteous rebuke.

In Psalm 51, David is repentant, and he asks God for mercy and forgiveness.

In fact, he asks the Lord to cleanse him.

We said that a great prayer for the beginning of a new year (really, any time) is to ask the Lord (Who knows us, Who has us, Who made us, to ask the Lord) to examine us and put His finger on anything in us that doesn’t belong there, David said, “See if there is any offensive way in me...” Search me. Point it out. (Same David!) “Search me.”

Did you do that this week? Did you do that today? Did you ask the Lord examine you and show you any “offensive way” in you?

The events that happened at the Capitol this week have caused me to search my own heart and to evaluate my own life and ministry. Have I been doing enough as a pastor, as a Christian, to make disciples of Jesus Christ that believe the truth and not lies and who live lives that exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in public? I’ve been asking the Lord to make it clear to me what changes I need to make to be a more faithful pastor in these days. “Search me.”

And Lord has said to me that I have not been bold enough. I have been too silent at times especially when what I should say would not be popular among people I want to like me. I need to change. I need to speak up more.

How about you? You may not have taken someone else’s spouse or arranged for their murder or stormed the Capitol. I haven’t either.

But have you asked the Lord to show you where you have been wrong? To put His finger on any offensive way in you?

And once you’ve heard from Him, what are going to do with it?

David shows here in Psalm 51 why he’s called a man after God’s own heart.

Not because he never sinned, but because he humbled himself and repented and asked for cleansing.

“Cleanse Me.”

Listen to verse 1.

“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.”

Notice how David makes no excuses. Notice how David owns his sin.

You can see it in his pronouns. “My iniquity, my sin.” He goes on in verse 3, “my sin.”

There is no blame-shifting, no trying to fob it off as someone else’s fault. No pointing the finger at the other guy. No saying that he’s the real victim here. David owns his sins as his, and he pleads for mercy and forgiveness.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that because David’s speech is direct, that it’s a demand. “Hey, have mercy on me, O God, blot out my transgressions, wash away all my iniquity. Here, get this spot out, you.”

No. That’s not the right tune for this song.

Here’s how it’s sung. This is a penitential lament. His head is hung in shame.

“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.”

David not only uses multiple words for his sin; he uses multiple words for forgiveness.

“Have mercy...” “Blot out my transgressions.” That means erase them. Wipe them off the page.

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

He pictures sin as a terrible stain.

Have you ever gotten a stain on you clothes?

I do this all of the time. My wife likes me to wear an apron when we’re eating any kind of sauce. Oops. I got it on me. And I got it on my clothes. And it’s hard to get out. We’re always running to the sink to apply some water.

But this stain is much worse. It’s not a mistake. It’s a transgression. It’s a rebellion.

And that’s hard to get out, especially when you are dealing with a holy God. Verse 3.

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. [He feels the guilt. His sin confronts him every time he looks in the mirror. V.4] 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.”

Now, of course, David knows that he sinned against more than just God.

He sinned against Bathsheba. He sinned against Uriah. He sinned against Israel.

But most of all so that those others, terrible as they are, pale in comparison to sinning against God.

And there is no excuse. There is no defense.

David does not deserve clemency or mercy or pardon.

Notice this. David does not ask for forgiveness because of anything inside of him.

He is "guilty as charged, Your Honor.”

In fact, he knows that his guilt goes all the way down and comes out of who he is as member of the rebellious human race. Verse 5.

“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.”

He’s saying that he knows that he is thoroughly sinful. He is tainted by the original sin and this particular sin is not a one time surprise mistake. It comes from deep within where God desires truth and teaches wisdom–inside!

But David has sinned from his inside. 

He is sinful not just from birth but from the heart.

And he does not deserve cleansing.

So why does David think that he might get it?

Did you notice the reason why David asks?

It’s because He knows God’s heart.
It’s because He knows God’s character.
He knows He knows Who God is.

Look back at verse 1.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love [according to your hesed, His steadfast love, like we learned about in Psalm 136, His loyal love for His disloyal people v.1]; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

David hopes to be forgive because He knows that God is a forgiving God.

He is a holy God. But He is also a merciful God.

Remember Who He told Moses He was in Exodus 34? “[Yahweh, Yahweh], the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” 

That’s why David has the audacity to ask for cleansing. Verse 7.

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

I have three points from this psalm. Three short prayers that I hope provide application of this song to our lives today.


Ask the Lord, like David does, after you see your sin to cleanse you. To wash you. To take the stain of your sin out so that you heart is whiter than snow. Not your skin, but your heart.

Say to God, “Cleanse me.”

Now, hyssop was a generic word for a number of plants in the ancient world but especially a family of plants that had hanging leaves that absorbed moisture. They were kind of like plant version of a sponge.

And in the Old Testament (you can read about this in Numbers 19 and Leviticus 14), hyssop was used to sprinkle water and even blood on unclean people and things to make them ceremonially clean.

And, in fact, it was with the hyssop plant that the Israelites painted the blood on the doorframes of their homes in Egypt so that the Angel of Death would pass over them and not take the life of their firstborns.

David is using that image to ask God to similarly pass over him. To forgive him. To wipe out the stain of his sin. To expunge his sin from the record. To give him a good soul-scrubbing. To cleanse him so that his soul is whiter than snow.

We’ve gotten some snow recently, haven’t we? It’s so pretty. So bright when the sun shines on it. And it lifts your heart. Not like the snow a few weeks later that’s all melty and dirty. Like a fresh new snow.

Only God can do that.

What David was asking for was big. The sin was against God. The forgiveness must come from God, too. And so must the cleansing.

David pleas with God. Verse 8.

“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. [He’s been feeling it. He may not have shown it on the outside, but he was hurtin’ on the inside. In fact, the nation was hurting because he was hiding. David asks for God to undo all of that and turn it all around, providing joy again. V.9] Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.”

“Cleanse me.”

Have you prayed that recently? That’s a great prayer to begin a new year. And also a new day. And to end a day with, as well.

“Lord, cleanse me.”

But David doesn’t stop there. David asks for even more. Because he knows he needs it.

He asks the Lord, number two.

#2. CHANGE ME. V.10

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

David knows that he doesn’t just need forgiveness. He needs a renewal of his heart.

He needs not just a restoration of relationship with the Lord, but a desire to please God, a burning desire to obey.

He asks God to not just forgive him for the past but to empower him for the future.

Not just a clean-slate, but a whole new chalkboard. V.10

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

That word translated “create” is the word for “create!” as in God creating the heavens and earth. It’s a miracle.

This is something that only God can do.

David asks God to breathe a new and steadfast spirit within him. To change his heart so that he wants the right things and does the right things.

God’s gotta do it or it won’t happen.

And the opposite is unthinkable. V.11 

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”

King David has seen what it’s like when the Spirit is taken from the king. It happened with his father-in-law.

God took his Spirit from King Saul. You can read about it in 1 Samuel 16.

How scary for the anointed king to lose his anointing!

David is asking for the exact opposite. He’s asking for God’s Holy Spirit to invade and control his life. And to change his own spirit. V.12

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation [of your rescue of me!] and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

Change me.

Have you prayed that prayer this year?

Most of us, most of the time, do not want to change.

“This is the way I am. Take me or leave me.”

“You do you. I’ll do me.”

But David says to the Lord, “Change me. Give me a steadfast spirit. Give me a willing spirit. Give me an eagerness to be the person you want me to be.”

That’s a dangerous prayer. But it’s a really good one.

In verse 13, David changes the song up a little bit.

He is still asking for forgiveness, but now he tells God what he (David) will do if and when he is forgiven.

Now, let’s be clear: he’s not bargaining with the Lord.

He’s not saying like, “Have I got a deal for you. You forgive me, and here’s what you’ll get in return!”

But he is saying that he’s serious. That he’s committed to change. That if the Lord does forgive, then it will change everything for David.

You see how this is a model of repentance for us today? Verse 13.

“Then [when I’m forgiven] I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.”

I will teach other sinners how to repent! And some of them will!

Here’s an amazing thought. He’s doing it right now as we study Psalm 51:13! V.14

“Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.”

He’ll give testimony. He’ll sing his testimony. He’ll tell others how amazingly gracious the Lord is!

And he’s doing it. Right now. Right here as we read his song.

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

Here’s my third and last point, number three.


Cleanse me.
Change me.
And I will worship You.

I will live my life as worship of You.

Have you prayed that prayer yet this year?

You’ve got to do it from the heart. Verse 16 says that it can’t be just an outward show. Verse 16.

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Now, David doesn’t mean that God didn’t ask for sacrifices. Of course, He did. 

But David knew that the blood of bulls and goats wouldn’t do anything for forgiving him if he didn’t also bring a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart to the Lord.

It’s gotta be real.

But if it is real, then God will forgive and even give blessing. Verse 18.

“In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem [strengthen God’s people]. Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you [because they’re brought with the right heart!]; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

King David says, “Cleanse me. Change me. And I will worship you, and so will all of Israel. There will be true worship, and we will experience your hand of blessing once again.”

Yes, David expects to be forgiven.

And the Bible tells us that he was.

Not because he was so great or even because he was so humble.

But his repentance was real, and God’s grace was greater than all his sin.

Of course, you and I no longer worship with whole burnt offerings or bulls on an altar. We have a greater sacrifice that has been made on our behalf.

When we are repentant, like David in Psalm 51, we know that our cleansing comes from the blood of Jesus Christ.

1 John 1... “the blood of Jesus, [God’s] Son, purifies us from all sin...If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (vv.7b &9).

Have you been cleansed by the blood of Christ?

No sin is too big. One of the reasons why I’m glad we know why this psalm was written is because we see how serious David’s sin was, and yet he was forgiven.

If you have never trusted Jesus as your Savior and Lord, your Rescuer and King, I invite you to do so now.

His blood is more precious and powerful than any sin that you have committed.

Own your sin. Turn from your sin. And trust in Him.

Ask Him to cleanse you.

And if you are already a follower of Christ and the Lord is putting his finger on an “offensive way” in you, turn from that sin right now, as well.

Ask Him to cleanse you.
Ask Him to change you.
And promise now to worship Him with your very life.

Because there are still worship sacrifices that you and I make today:
Romans 12:1, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Hebrews 13:15, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name.” 


Fortifying Truth - Psalms - Fall 2020 / Winter 2021

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126
12. "His Love Endures Forever" - Psalm 136
13. "How Many Are Your Works, O LORD!" - Psalm 104
14. "My Soul Waits for the Lord" - Psalm 130
15. "Remember David" - Psalm 132
16. "My Son" - Psalm 2