BIG LITTLE PEOPLE - NATHAN, THE TOUGH LOVE MAN
Dear Christian friends,
I saw an article entitled, “God loves a messy church.” No, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t like a good clean-up day, the author was making sure that everyone understands that the church is always known as a refuge for sinners, not a fortress for the self-righteous. The church is the place to apply the Law and Gospel to people’s lives. As a pastor that becomes something difficult to deal with, because some of the things that sinners do and I am certainly included are really repulsive.
It is tempting to say at times, “How in the world did you get into this situation in your life? What kind of parents raised you?” I have sat in more than one slimy jail cell with someone who has been arrested and said to myself, “You are getting exactly what you deserve. Why did you call me when you haven’t been in church in a miserably long time?” Then the passage Jesus once spoke popped into my head, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Then I realize I need to get down on my knees and repent of my own self-righteousness. I too have been saved only by the grace of God. All sin, no matter how awful they might be, were paid for by the blood of Jesus.
This is the last Sunday of Big Little People in the Bible. Sin and repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins is central to the Christian faith and central to this lesson about “Nathan, the Tough Love Man.”
Psalm 17 is a prayer of David. It is a beautiful prayer. He praises God for all that is his by grace. He also prays that the Lord protect him from his enemies. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.” When David asked God to be the apple of God’s eye, he was asking God to cherish him in an extraordinary way. There was time in David’s life when he was only a wormy, rotten apple in God’s presence.
You know the story. David couldn’t sleep one night. Instead of praying he went to the roof of his palace and he saw someone he shouldn’t have seen. Instead of going back to bed in prayer, he wanted the one he saw to join him. It was not to pray. There were horrendous results – an unwanted pregnancy, a cover up, a murder of her husband. All the while he apparently thought that God had suddenly gone blind and didn’t see, or was too busy with other things that God didn’t know what he had done. In fact, when David prayed in the psalm, “Hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who are out to destroy me.” That could have been the prayer of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba David’s partner in adultery and the man that David murdered.
Sin, what a tangled web it weaves. One sin leads to another to another to another! Sin – it’s real and it’s a big deal. No one is immune, not even those who would seem to be the closest to the Lord. David was chosen by God to be the second and greatest king in Israel. When he was anointed to be king, it came out of the blue. He was the eighth of eight brothers. The seven before him were bypassed. The kingship passed from the tribe of Benjamin, the tribe of Saul, to the tribe of Judah. How unusual was that! David was a shepherd. People are having problems with the thought that Donald Trump could be president. He is a businessman, not a lawyer. He didn’t go to Yale or Harvard. David was a shepherd, but God chose him to be the king.
Look what David did. He took advantage of a woman who was very vulnerable; her husband was away at war. If he had a do-over, I hope he would have said he should have prayed and not preyed on someone who was so vulnerable.
He sinned all right, and sin offends God. The Bible says God “hates sin and those who do it.” He placed a curse on it, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” Sin “separates us from God so that he will not hear,” says the prophet Isaiah. But we do it anyway. Countless times!
God says we must love. Sin is not love. God says we must love him and our neighbor. But David loved Bathsheba, didn’t he? From the roof top? That wasn’t love; that was lust. Besides, David certainly didn’t love Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, a great soldier who was loyal and brave. He took advantage of Uriah’s absence. He took advantage of Uriah’s loyalty.
David sinned and involved so many others. Start with his body guards. He sent for Bathsheba. So who did that for him? These days we notice books authored by members of the Secret Service who are sworn to protect the president. They are sworn to secrecy to see nothing, to know nothing and say nothing. But that doesn’t stop some. They say what they saw. Books become best sellers. What could David’s secret service write? What was David thinking? Sin makes people really dumb, doesn’t it?
Repeated and hidden sin makes the conscience hard. The conscience, the voice God puts inside of us to accuse or excuse us, David ignored. It seems like David put duct tape over the mouth of his conscience or out in ear plugs in so that he wouldn’t hear. Or maybe heard, he just didn’t listen.
Sin destroys faith. When God brings us to faith the Bible says he creates a new self inside of us. At birth, however, we were given the image of our parents – the old self. A constant battle rages inside. Sin is victory for the old self. The new self is given strength by the Word. I wonder how much of God’s Word David was getting during those dark days. A powerful lesson to be learned by us too.
Sin damages God’s name. Think how David damaged God’s reputation. David was the King of Jehovah’s people. I wonder how many people began to wonder why the Lord would allow such a king to rule when he committed adultery and murdered. Fine Christian he was. Can you imagine the rumor mill cranking out things like, If this is what the LORD’S people do, I want nothing to do with Him.
But what happened? Did the Lord curse him to hell? Instead, “the Lord sent Nathan to David.” “The Lord sent” – those are three pretty key words. The Lord didn’t turn his back on David although David turned his back on the Lord. There is no sin so great that the Lord Jesus didn’t die for. He wanted David to know it. In fact, God wants everyone to know it. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. God wants to be gracious because that is his nature.
God sent Nathan with his word to say. Nathan came. Nathan spoke. God conquered. What a parable! The parable is easy to understand. It really stirs the emotions. A rich man had a big flock of sheep and a herd of cattle. A visitor comes to his house, and he wants to give his friend a good meal. Instead of taking one of his many, he took the only one of one who couldn’t afford it. The sheep was not a money maker, the sheep was a pet. The rich man stole it and served it to his friend for dinner.
Some parables are a bit hard to figure out, not this one. The only difficulty about this is to admit that he is me. I am the man. You are that person. Don’t go looking in jails and prisons for candidates. Nathan is talking about you and about me. This is the story of everyone. Apply this parable to yourself.
Understand something else. Sin brings earthly consequences that we might have to face. David did. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.’” Even members of David’s household, his own children, would not respect him. Absalom would lead a rebellion against his father and came close to succeeding. The son born from the illicit relationship would die. Sin brings forth jail time. Drug use might ruin your brain. Divorce is never pleasant. Evil words might break friendships that can never be rebuilt. That’s what Nathan told David would happen. There are earthly consequences to bear.
But David got to hear what he needed to hear. When David was faced with the irrefutable facts of what he had done and the consequences were out there, he confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
But Nathan gave David words of incredible comfort. “Nathan replied, ’The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” Psalm 32 was written by David. He wrote about this sin. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” God’s love was not lost, God’s love was always there. David was the problem, not God. God’s verdict of guilty was pronounced, but it was on Jesus. David’s punishment for sin was real. Jesus bore it. For David who lived before Jesus, it was to come. Yet the moment it was first promised… in the garden, it was as good as done. On the cross. What Nathan said to David can also be said to us, The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. You are going to live forever. That’s Nathan’s message to us. Be a Nathan to others.