by Dr. Rick Boyd
As we move through the season of Lent, I am quickly drawn to two passages of Scripture, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
Psalm 51 was written by King David following his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11). He had been entrusted with the leading of God’s people as their king, and at the height of his reign he did what he knew he shouldn’t do. He took what belonged to another. David sent for and committed adultery with another man’s wife. He then arranged for Bathsheba’s husband to be killed in battle. His wandering eyes led to an adulterous sin which ended in what amounts to murder, all because of his unrestrained lust. His actions revealed iniquity (twistedness), transgression (rebellion), and sin (missing the mark) springing from his heart. When he was confronted by Yahweh’s displeasure (2 Sam 11:27b – 12:1-23) he cried out to God. Psalm 51 is the result of his brokenness before the Lord.
As I look to this psalm in the season of Lent two features of the text arise: First, the psalm begins with a plea from David to God that He would have mercy on him. Note, however, that David’s plea is not based on his prior relationship with Yahweh in which he was described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14), nor was it based on his position as king of Israel and Judah. David’s request for mercy had nothing to do with his privileged position as God’s chosen one. David’s plea was based on the very character of God. David writes: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love (Ps 51:1a). David’s appeal is solely made by depending on the very nature of the God who appointed him king and against whom David had sinned (Ps 51:4). His plea is completely dependent on God’s character and nothing else.
The second feature of the psalm immediately follows David’s plea based on God’s character. David writes: According to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (Ps 51:1b-2). Notice that all three words associated with sin in the OT (transgression, iniquity, and sin) are included in the extended plea. David asserts confidence in God’s ability to take care of all three areas of his fallen relationship with Yahweh. It reveals an assurance that God can eradicate all sin for the repentant soul who appeals to Him on the basis of His very heart. God is able to take care of all sin.
The NT passage is found in the book of Hebrews. The author gives the recipients powerful insight into Jesus’ time on earth, describing it this way: In the days of his flesh, [Jesus] offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and weeping to the One able to save him from/out of death, and he was heard because of his reverent awe [of God] (Heb 5:7). Notice what the author is really saying: Jesus was pleading to the Father to save him from or out of death (the Greek preposition can be translated either way, however the context makes it very clear that it should be translated ‘out of’ rather than ‘from’ because it is evident that God didn’t prevent Jesus death, saving him from death, but rather God saved Jesus out of death through the resurrection) and he was heard by God. Why were his prayers heard? It wasn’t because Jesus was the Messiah, although he was. It wasn’t because Jesus was the unique Son of God, although he is. It wasn’t because he offered up his life as a once-for-all sacrifice (Heb 10:10), although he did. No, the text says that Jesus’ prayers and supplications were heard because of his reverent awe of God. Jesus treated his Father as God, the one true God who is sovereign over even death, and because of his reverence and awe his prayers and supplications were heard.
Considering the two passages, both dealing with pleas made to the one true God, we can rest assured during this Lenten season that God is completely sovereign, even over death; that God is merciful and loving and able to eradicate any and all sin; and that our humble approach must be made with reverent awe, but can and should be made with confidence in the very nature of our God. We don’t approach His throne because of who we are, but because of who He is.