After his sin with Bathsheba, King David, burdened by the weight of his disobedience, came to his senses and turned back to God to confess. He recognized that his atonement and forgiveness could only come from God. Alistair Begg illustrates this atonement, first described in Leviticus and then fully realized in Jesus. As David responded to forgiveness with praises to God, we too will be moved to worship when we have come before Christ in true confession and repentance.
Let’s turn in our Bibles to the Old Testament. It’s page 395, or 396, if you care to use one of the church Bibles. It’s Psalm 32. And for those of you who fear that we have got stuck in Psalm 32, I fear that you’re right. It was never my intention when I turned to it that we would be here for this length of time, and this evening won’t see the end of it either.
We’ll just read three verses, 5, 6, and 7:
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my [transgression] to the Lord”—
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
while you may be found;
surely when the mighty waters rise,
they will not reach him.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Now just a brief prayer:
Father, what we know not, teach us; and what we have not, give us; and what we are not, make us. For your Son’s sake. Amen.
I feel I owe those of you who have arrived this evening without being here this morning something of an apology, inasmuch as this is essentially the second half of this morning’s study. If I were a better preacher and more organized, then I wouldn’t have to confess my sins in this way, but I’m not, and therefore, I do.
And I’d like to begin by reminding us of a picture and a process that is described in Leviticus 16. You may turn to it if you chose, but believe me, we’re not about to start studying Leviticus 16. But this is an important piece of all that we need if we’re going to pay attention to what David is saying here.
The story in Leviticus 16 is the story of the Day of Atonement, and when you read that, as some of you will go home and do, you discover that the high priest Aaron was, in the course of God’s plan, to separate for himself two goats. And one of them was to be sacrificed as an offering for sin, and the second of them was to remain alive—that was the scapegoat—and the scapegoat was then to be presented alive before the Lord and then sent into the desert as a scapegoat. And when you read in Leviticus 16, you discover that what happens is that Aaron, as the high priest, lays his hands on the head of the scapegoat, and as he does so, he confesses the sins of the people. This is actually a symbolic act, and it is a signification of the transference of the sins of the people onto the scapegoat. The scapegoat is then led away out into the lonely spot in the wilderness, and it is never to be seen again.
That picture of the scapegoat is then represented and fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. He fulfills both roles: one, dying as a sacrifice of atonement for sin, and also taking our sins, as it were, far and away from us, never to be seen again. So when we come from that picture in the Old Testament into the New, in the Lord Jesus Christ, all the sins of his people are counted to him; and as the people’s substitute, he suffers the penalty due to their sin; and having paid that price and removed it from them, he then takes it where it is never to be seen again.
Now, that Leviticus 16 picture was familiar to David as he writes Psalm 32. And we’ve said last Sunday, and alluded to it today, that when David says what he says here concerning the nature of his condition and the wonder of God’s provision, it is not, in some strange way, a fiction—as if, somehow or another, he was saying these things but not really experiencing them. It is true that the cumulative fulfillment of all that is represented in this psalm, and indeed in Leviticus 16, comes in Christ and in his death. But nevertheless, David’s experience of confession and forgiveness is a real and genuine experience. And the joy that he expresses in verse 5 and the release that he discovers is directly tied to what we have already noticed—namely, that when he covered up his sin, when he sought to hide from God, when he covered away all of his dark secrets, then his life spiraled into a complete shambles.
We noticed that this morning, and now I want you to notice the three things that he says in verse 5. First of all, he says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you.” “Then I acknowledged my sin to you.” When he was hiding, his life was unraveling. The burden was unbearable. But then he comes and acknowledges his sin to God. And the reason is because there is no longer any purpose in him hiding it or cloaking it or dissembling in any way. And in many senses, he is a forerunner of the wonderful expression that we find in Luke chapter 15, in the story of the prodigal son, where he determines that he will acknowledge his sin as well. He has not been prepared to acknowledge his sin, his life has spiraled out of control, he’s turned his back on his father, he’s sought to go his own way, he’s pleased himself, and where does he find himself? He finds himself feeding pigs—the most unbelievable predicament for a young Jewish lad. And it is in that experience again—with, as it were, the hand heavy upon his neck—that he comes to his senses. As we said this morning, it was good for David to be burdened in this way, because his physical condition confronted him with a spiritual reality. In the same way, the boy in the pigsty comes to his senses. And when he comes to his senses, he says, “I will arise and I will go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” In other words, “I will do as David did. I will acknowledge my sin to you.”
Secondly, you will notice, he says, “And [I] did not cover up my iniquity.” “I didn’t cover up my iniquity.” There was no need for him to cover up his iniquity, because God, as we’re about to see, has got it covered. “Happy is the one,” the psalm begins, “happy is the one whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sin is covered.” You see, when a person understands that God has provided the covering and the cleansing and the cure for sin, then it will allow an individual to admit themselves to be a sinner. As long as the sinner thinks that he or she has to fix their predicament and is ashamed of their circumstances, then they will inevitably hide from themselves, hide from God, and hide from one another. But when they realize what God has done in Jesus, then they can come into the open.
And that’s exactly what he does: “I did not cover up my iniquity.” He doesn’t have to say, “What am I going to say in my defense?” or “What am I going to offer on my behalf?” or “What shall I do to secure my acceptance?” Because what God says to us is, “I’ve got you covered.” And in 1 Peter 3:18, in a verse with which many of us are familiar, we find these wonderful words: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
“I acknowledged my sin.” “I did not cover up my iniquities.” And “I said,” thirdly, “‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’” What does it mean to confess your transgressions to the Lord? To confess our sins? Does it mean to simply inform God that we know we’re sinners? Well, it is certainly to do that, but it is surely more than to do that. After all, we’re not telling God something he doesn’t know. He knows that we are sinners. To confess our sins to God, I think, has within it not simply the wonder of the discovery of the provision that has been made for us, as we referenced it there in 1 Peter 3, but it is also to recognize what Peter goes on to say in chapter 4, where he says, “Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body [has] done with sin. [And] as a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.”
This, you see, is how you and I know that we are genuine confessors of our sin: not that we use the phrase “I confess my sins,” but that the very confession and openness of our lives before God and the discovery of the provision that he has made for us in his Son is then matched by what Peter goes on to say. The way in which we know that we are genuine about turning from our sin and turning to God is not simply in our verbiage, but it is in our lifestyle. So that the confessed sinner is not the person who runs around saying, “I confess, I confess, I confess,” but it is the person who, by their commitment of life, puts behind them their “evil human desires” and lives no longer for themselves but for God.
The Puritans put it perfectly: “A hypocrite may leave his sins yet love them. A sanctified man leaves his sins and loathes them.” That’s quite a distinction, isn’t it? “I confessed my sins to you.” This is not some superficial phraseology. This is the baring of the heart, of the soul, of David before God, whom he recognizes sees into to him with, as it were, X-ray eyes. And he says, “I am disgusted, I am disgraced, I am unburdened, I am uncovered, and I want to walk away from all of this. And from hence forward I want to live, God, exclusively for you.” That’s the expression of genuine confession. So it is that the Christian life is a life of daily faith and a life of daily repentance—turning to God in all of the wonder of his love and turning from our sin in all awareness of its badness.
If you think about it in terms of a physical thing, and you think about being healed of something—let’s say we had a phenomenally bad skin outbreak which caused us deep heartache and embarrassment and pain and discomfort in the night watches. And we cried out to be forgiven and to be cleansed and to be set free from this—and we were! And we awakened to a new day, no scratching, no itching, no blood on the blankets, cured and set free. And then we’d only gone three days into the week, and we said, “Oh, I wish I had that rash again. I wish I had those evil sores. I wish I had all the evidences of my predicament, that people might look at me and scorn me.” People would say, “What’s wrong with you? Did you not cry to be set free from that? Why would you cry to be relieved of it and then long to return to it?”
Did you not cry to be set free, like David, from those adulterous temptations and thoughts? Were you uncovered and your life laid bare before God? But did you not face the temptation, on some rainy Thursday, to replay the video in your mind?
No. What David says here is descriptive of a radical, transforming break with all that had brought him down into the ignominy of his wasted, unraveling life. And this is a description of our part in the transformation that grace brings.
Then he goes from what his part has been to tell us what God’s part has been: “I acknowledged my sin to you and did[n’t] cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my [transgression] to the Lord’—and you forgave … my sin.” Leave verse 6 aside for the moment. Go back to the end of verse 5, and look at the three things that he says of God. We needn’t beat them up; we’ll just announce them and keep moving, shall we? “I acknowledged, I didn’t cover up, I confessed my transgressions, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” “You forgave the guilt of my sin.” That’s what God does: he forgives the guilt of our sin. In the wonder of his love, in light of the scapegoat passage in Leviticus 16, God sends Christ into the world to do for sinful men and women what we cannot do for ourselves.
In the wonder of his love, Jesus comes, and in his perfect life, he keeps God’s law, and in his sacrificial death, he bears the punishment for our sins. And as we saw last Sunday morning when we were thinking about the journey of a father to the temple to offer a sacrifice for his sins and to confess his sins, remember, we said, “And when he came back home and his children asked him, ‘What were you doing at the temple?’ and he said, ‘I was confessing my sins,’ and they said, ‘And how did that work, and how do you know you’re forgiven?’ and he said, ‘Well, I know that I’m forgiven because this is what God promised would be the circumstance if I came in genuine repentance and in faith.’” And we looked at one another, and we said, “And how do we know we’re forgiven? The exact same way.”
But you see, this, again, is not a fiction. If it is a fiction to you, it’s because it’s a fiction. If it’s a reality to you, you will know it as a reality. Because he doesn’t simply justify us and put us in a right position with the Father; he also indwells us by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit assures us of these things and enables us to cry out, even in our lostness and in our brokenness, “You’re my Father, and I cry out to you.”
So, for example, when we sing those amazing words of Spafford,
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to [your] cross and I bear it no more,
I hope that inside of you there is at least some kind of echo, there is some kind of approbation, there is some kind of sense of the wonder of it all—it would make you want to jump up on the pew and say, “Yes! This is amazing!” That’s the reality of it. If you have to convince yourself of its truth, it may be because you have never come to Christ in genuine confession and in repentance and laid down the arms of your rebellion. You have merely made a mental assent to intellectual information provided for you by people who said, “If you do this and think that and do that, then this’ll be true.” And you did this and this and this, and nothing’s true. Why? Because the work of transformation, such as David experienced here, is a work which only God does. And when God does it in the lives of those whom he changes, we know. We may be troubled, we may be doubting, we may be restless, we may be discouraged in days, but in our heart of hearts, when the music plays and the words are before us, we say, “This is an amazing truth. It is an amazing truth.”
And it is, you see, what relieves our burdens and sets us free. Sets us free from trying to do it on our own. Sets us free from trying to tell everybody how fantastic we are. Sets us free from trying to go around and change everybody and everything. Sets us free from becoming hypercritical with people who are screwing up their lives and whose… Tonight, their lives are a complete wreck. The hypocrite, the Pharisee, points the finger, lambasts them, kicks them. The repentant sinner says, “That was me,” or “That might be me, were it not for what you, O God, have done.”
“You forgave the guilt of my sin.”
Verse 7: “You are my hiding place.” “Wher’m I gonna live when I get home?” That was the country western song, wasn’t it? “Wher’m I gonna live when I get home?” Where am I gonna run? “Oh, sinnerman, where you gonna run to all on that day? You run to the rocks, they’re not gonna hide you. Run to the hills, not gonna hide you.” Only one place we can hide.
And see, this is the wonderful juxtaposition of these metaphors, isn’t it? Here’s David, covering up like crazy, until he realizes that he is uncovered; then he can come clean and rejoice in the fact that he’s been covered. Here is David hiding away from until he realizes that what he needs to do is hide in.
Are you hiding in Christ tonight? Do you hide in him? Like the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: you go in there, and hide and it opens up into a whole new world that no one knows anything about—unless they go hide in that wardrobe!
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt…
—justified and set in a right standing with God—
Cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r.
The ongoing battle with sin in my life. How am I going to keep it up? How am I going to make progress—especially when I’m so tempted and so easily distracted? Well, he not only cleanses me from its guilt, but he goes on cleansing me from its power.
The third thing we’re told—and I’ll just point it out to you. In fact, you will notice there is a past, present, and future element to this, isn’t there? “You forgave,” past tense, at the end of verse 5. “You are,” verse 7a, “my hiding place.” And 7b, future tense: “You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” Where is our protection? In God. Where is our deliverance? In God.
And you got this wonderful picture. You know when you used to watch Robin Hood—maybe you didn’t—or Sir Lancelot, or King Arthur, in the old black and white days? And when the queen moved—she got on that big horse, like sitting on the top of a chest of drawers, on top of a horse. Looked very, very precarious. And she didn’t go on her journey on her own, but then all of the soldiers on horseback came all around her and surrounded her, and then once they were all in position, in positions of protection, then the journey was commenced.
Sometimes on a difficult day, you and I perhaps need to remind ourselves that he gives his angels charge over us to keep us in all of our ways. The protection that God provides, as he surrounds his children.
It’s a wonderful reminder, as well, of the corporate nature of what it means to be in Christ—that it’s not some individualistic journey. We’re not flying solo to heaven. We’re flying in formation, if you like. And the whole idea of being surrounded with songs of deliverance. Where are you surrounded with songs of deliverance? The psalmist says, Psalm 122—we began with it—“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ My feet are standing in Jerusalem, in the gates of Jerusalem.” It’s one of the Psalms of Ascent. We studied it some time ago; it was dreadful. But I remember it just briefly, that we… It’s one of the Psalms of Ascent, and what he’s saying is, “When I go to the place of worship, then I experience all of the benefits of the deliverance that God provides for me.”
That’s part of what being at Parkside tonight is all about: to be surrounded by songs of deliverance. Some of us have got things that we need to be delivered from. We can sing to ourselves. But it is such an encouragement to
Sing of my Redeemer
And his wondrous love to me;
On the cross he paid my pardon,
Paid the debt, set me free.
Do you realize if you’d stayed home tonight, you wouldn’t have been surrounded by that song? It’s because you’re right here, in this seat, right now, that you could sing that song, that you could have that truth sung to you. Do you realize if you’d stayed home tonight, you would never have had the blessing with which Fernando began, “Grace and peace to you from God [the] Father and [our] Lord Jesus Christ”? What do I need for tomorrow? I need grace, and I need peace. And here, in the company of God’s people, we’re surrounded by songs of deliverance.
Here is a word, incidentally, for our hymn writers that are present this evening. And when I found it, I said, “I can’t wait to tell this to my hymn-writing friends.” This is a quote from Motyer, again; I found it in an obscure passage, and this is one of his little wonderful sentences. Listen to this: “When truth gets into a creed or a hymn-book, it becomes the confident possession of the whole church.” “When truth gets into a creed or a hymnbook, it becomes the confident possession of the whole church.” As a church sings, so a church will live.
And it is this, you see, which allows us then to rejoice, despite our struggles and our setbacks. Because there are struggles and setbacks. J. C. Ryle, who was converted as a young man, wrote an amazing book called Holiness. He wrote other things. And in a passage on assurance, in a book that he wrote, he says this:
Many appear to forget that we are saved and justified as sinners, and only [as] sinners; and that we [can never] attain to anything higher …. Redeemed sinners, justified sinners, and renewed sinners doubtless we must be—but sinners, sinners, sinners … always [sinners] to the very last. They do not seem to comprehend that there is a wide difference between our justification and our sanctification. Our justification is a perfect finished work, and admits of no degrees. Our sanctification is imperfect and incomplete, and will be … to the last hour of our life.
So you see, when we are all discombobulated, and when we are aware of our foibles and our failings and our discouragements and our doubts, the antidote to that is not to try and pull our socks up or to tighten our belts a little more. The antidote to that is to look away to the wonder of what Jesus has done. And that’s why I’ve often said to you, a good hymnbook will get us through our darkest days, because we are surrounded with songs of deliverance.
Well, I skipped verse 6, and I’ll just point it out to you; we must stop. I went from 5 to 7, and purposefully, to come back to 6, to the “therefore.” “Therefore,” he says, “let everyone who[’s] godly pray to you.” And the word there is hasid. Hasid. You’ll recognize that if you live in Cleveland for any length of time. What does it sound like? Sounds like Hasidic, doesn’t it? “Hasidic Jewish community.” That is exactly right. That is the word: those upon whom the favor of God rests. The similar word in verse 11: “Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous.” The word there is yasar. You recognize yasar as a name for a man, and also as an indication of a title for the people of God.
And what he is saying here is this: that “this experience that I have known is the experience that all the godly know. Let everyone who’s godly pray to you.” When? “While you may be found.” When is that? Now and always. “Surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.” Do you think Wesley had that in mind when he wrote “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”? Absolutely he did! Remember his lines?
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm[s] of life [are] past.
Where do you think Wesley got that? Psalm 32:6. You see, you don’t have to be a genius to be a hymn writer. Some are making that painfully obvious, some of our…
“Let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.” Why? “Because God will be to you what he is to me: ‘You are my hiding place, and I haven’t found a refuge from you, but I’m glad I found a refuge in you.’”
Let us pray together.
Just a moment as we reflect on all of these many words and ask God to bring to our own minds and recollection the things that are necessary for us. Some of us have come burdened this evening, and tempted to try and muscle through to another Monday, and God says, “Lay your burden down. Cast your cares upon me.” Some of us, in our rebellion, refuse to acknowledge our sin, and we’re trying to hide from God. And God brings us out into the searching gaze of his Word in order that he might bring us into the safety of his Son.
And now into your care and keeping we commend ourselves, gracious Lord and King. To bow before you is to rise. And so we pray that as the evening shadows swallow us up in darkness, and as we lie to rest this night, that you will watch over us, and that as we awaken to a new morning, that we might rise to sing your praise.
Thank you for the gift of this day. Thank you for one another. We commend each other into your care and your keeping. May your grace and mercy and peace rest on each one, now and forevermore. Amen.
 Luke 15:18–19 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 32:1 (paraphrased).
 1 Peter 4:1–2 (NIV 1984).
 Thomas Watson, A Body of Practical Divinity (London: 1692), 142. Paraphrased.
 Horatio Gates Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul” (1873).
 Billy Ray Cyrus and Cindy Cyrus, “Wher’m I Gonna Live?” (1992).
 Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages” (1776).
 See Psalm 91:11.
 Psalm 122:1–2 (paraphrased).
 P. P. Bliss, “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” (1876). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Galatians 1:3 (NIV 1984).
 Alec Moyter, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 222n48.
 J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2014), 159.
 Charles Wesley, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” (1740).
 See Matthew 11:28–29; 1 Peter 5:7.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.