Father, Forgive Them

Father, Forgive Them

Luke 23:34a
by Bob Burridge ©1996, 2014

While Jesus was being crucified on the cross he spoke several times. What he said is often referred to as the “Seven Words of the Cross”.

These sayings need to be studied with care. Each saying seems to be independent of the others. There is no immediate context or comments to help us determine the flow of thought. Yet they should not be studied as isolated sayings. This would invite dangerous speculation and open the way to heresy and harmful principles by which we should live.

Though they stand alone, they still have a rich context in the broader record of the inspired Scriptures. By comparing them with other clear statements in God’s word we can properly understand what Jesus meant in each of these last sayings

The first of these seven sayings is found in Luke 23:34a “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (my own translation)

Jesus Said, “Father forgive them,
for they do not know what they are doing.”

Several questions obviously come to mind. Who are those for whom he is asking forgiveness? Why should they be forgiven? Was their ignorance an excuse for what they were doing?

A few ancient manuscripts omit this verse.
Two early Alexandrian manuscripts, about five scattered later texts, and about five later minor translations leave this saying out of the text. Some speculate that the verse was left out because some thought it meant that all present were being forgiven simply because of their ignorance. That understanding would contradict other clear statements in the Bible.

The rest of the ancient manuscripts include this saying. It is found in very old and widely distributed manuscripts. It is included in the main translations (including the Vulgate, early Italian, etc.), the early Bible guides written at that time, and the ancient commentators with just one exception.

When more carefully examined the conflict with other passages of Scripture disappears. There is no need to remove this saying from the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus asked the Father to administer forgiveness.
The Son is our intercessor to the Father. This is made very clear in the New Testament. In John 17 Jesus prays his high priestly prayer which is a clear example of his office as mediator between God and his people. In 1 Titus 2:5 Paul wrote, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”

From the cross Jesus asked the Father to administer “forgiveness”. The Greek word translated as “forgive” here is aphi-aemi (ἀφίημι). The same word was used by Jesus on other occasions.

Luke 11:4, “And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”

Luke 17:3-4, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”

Jesus was asking the Father to dismiss the guilt of sin for those to whom he directed his concern.

But for whom does he ask forgiveness?
Several suggestions have been made:
– Forgive the Roman soldiers who were only obeying orders.
– Forgive the Sanhedrin who thought Jesus was a dangerous blasphemer.
– Forgive the crowd that called for his death being intimidated by the Sanhedrin.
– Forgive apostate Israel which had no concept of the spiritual meaning of Scripture.
– Forgive the elect in the crowd not yet regenerated by saving grace.
– Forgive all of humanity since the lost among them had not understood the gospel.

To answer that we will need more information.

For the moment, overlooking the things we don’t know clearly, these words of Jesus teach us that he has full divine authority to call for forgiveness. It reminds us that the Father is the one who administers this forgiveness. The Son takes the position of intercessor for his people.

Those for whom he prayed were morally ignorant.

“for they do not know what they are doing”

A primary question needs to be considered before we can understand what Jesus meant. What connection does ignorance have with forgiveness?

It is clear that there was ignorance.
The perfectly innocent Lord of Glory, the Creator, was being tortured to death by his creatures. Paul’s later comment in 1 Corinthians 2:8 puts it clearly, “which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

Those who called for his death, and who carried out the act, were ignorantly fulfilling what the prophets indicated would take place.

Acts 3:14-17, “But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.”

Acts 13:27, “For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him.”

They were ignorantly killing the Righteous One, the Prince of Life. They clearly missed the depth of what was happening that day.

Clearly, ignorance is not a reason for forgiveness.
The larger context of the teachings of Jesus shows that forgiveness is always based upon true and humble repentance. Repentance is always based upon God’s promise which is revealed by grace alone to undeserving and ignorant hearts. The basis for forgiveness is always the completed work of Christ in his death on the cross.

If even one person could ever be forgiven on the basis of his ignorance, then there would be a way of salvation other than faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. That is ruled out definitively. The Bible teaches only one way a person is forgiven for the guilt of his sins. It is by trusting in the work of Christ.

Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;”

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me. ” He also said in John 8:24 “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

The Apostle Peter said in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

In John 3:36 John the baptizer said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

So then what does “for they do not know what they are doing” mean?

It shows the necessity of forgiveness and intercession.
All mankind is lost in sin and morally blinded by its effects. Jesus must ask the Father’s forgiveness on their behalf because they could not even know the depth of what they were doing. They were crucifying the Lord of glory, fulfilling the prophets, and killing the Righteous One, the Prince of Life. Yet at the time they believed they were doing a good thing.

Romans 3:11, “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.”

1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Putting all this together it helps us identify
those for whom Jesus prayed the Father to forgive.

All are lost in sin, and doomed to remain there if it was not for the intercession of the Messiah who satisfied God’s justice in their place.

Those present had condemned him, jeered him, and called for his death. They were crucifying him, and did not recognize the Son of Man. But, among them were the elect of the Father. It was for the elect that he prayed. Nothing else would be consistent with what the rest of Scripture teaches us.

The elect are the only ones for whom Jesus could have offered this prayer.
1. The intercession of Jesus has boundaries.
His prayer in John 17 was limited to those given to him by the Father.

John 17:8-9, “For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.”

2. The atonement made by Jesus has boundaries.
The atonement must be limited or else all humans are saved and none will be cast into the fires of eternal punishment. The Bible denies that. One of the two ways of limiting the atonement must be accepted.

Some imagine that the atonement is limited in its effectiveness. For them it failed to accomplish what God wanted it to accomplish. The man-centered view says that God lets us humans decide about our own salvation. It imagines that it’s our choice that determines what God can do. That makes us created people to be Sovereign King over God. But if the choice was ours no one would be saved. No one understands or seeks the God of Scripture (Romans 3:11).

The other view is that Christ’s atonement is limited in its design. Since God cannot fail in what he determines to do (Psalm 115:3), he must not have determined to save all humans, but only some. This is clearly taught all through the Bible. It’s in the teachings of Moses, David, Jesus, and the Apostles. Jesus came to save his people from their sin.

Matthew 1:21, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus came to save his sheep, and he succeeded.

John 10:14-15 says, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

These ideas are brought together in Isaiah 53:12, “… He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.” The death of Jesus between two convicts, and his representing all the elect as sinners, is clearly in mind here.

But who were these transgressors in Isaiah 53:12? The context shows it was those whose sins he bore. Jesus saw his death that way. In Matthew 26:28 he said, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” He didn’t pray for or die for nameless masses of possible or potential benefactors. He represented those specifically for whom he succeeds in saving, the elect of all the ages.

Jesus didn’t ask that they be forgiven because they were ignorant. It was on the basis of his atonement for those the Father gave to him that the Father would bring these same ones out of their ignorance to God’s truth, and bring them to repentance and therefore receive forgiveness.

In what way was this prayer of Jesus on the Cross answered?
It was answered by the salvation of the elect among those who stood there around the cross. It was immediately fulfilled for the repentance of the thief on one of the other crosses (Luke 23:43), and probably for the Centurion who said in Matthew 27:54, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

His prayer to the Father continued to be fulfilled in the weeks and months after his death. There were 3,000 who came to trust in him at Pentecost. Many thousands more came to repentance and saving faith throughout the book of Acts, even many of the priests (Acts 6:7). Throughout the ages the ignorant and lost are brought in. It continues today, and on to the end of this age when all the elect will have been saved.

Those who are ignorant of the wickedness and offense of their inheritance and of their own deeds, even those who were there crucifying him, have hope in the prayer of the Savior that they will be forgiven not upon the basis of their knowledge, certainly not because of their ignorance, but on the basis of his death for them.

The unbelievers and the hypocritical church at that time also benefited because God withheld Jerusalem’s destruction about 40 years as the gospel spread throughout the Jewish community. He held back that judgment while his elect were brought into the church.

When we sin, we should be confident
in the efficacy of Christ’s work.

It’s not by our knowledge, understanding, or intentions that we are forgiven. It is by the intercession and atonement of our Savior.

When we wonder how our sins can be ever forgiven, when we worry that God will not answer our prayers of repentance, we must remember the work of Jesus as our intercessor. He knows full well that all his sheep have had their sins paid for. He is the one who paid the price, and who who pleads for them.

Note: Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.

Burning Bulls and Broken Hearts

Burning Bulls and Broken Hearts

Psalm 51:16-19
by Bob Burridge ©2012

We often hear people say they have a heart condition. Though every heart is always in some condition, they usually mean they have some kind of unhealthy condition. Their heart may have its blood supply reduced. It may have suffered damage to its tissue, nerves or valves. There may be interruptions in the way neural impulses control the contractions of the heart muscles which pump blood through the lungs then throughout the body.

Physical heart conditions can make a person get out of breath or tire easily. Repairs might be needed so the person could resume normal activities. He may need by-pass surgery, angioplasty, or a stent to improve the blood supply. Sometimes damaged valves need to be repaired or replaced. He may need a pacemaker to ensure synchronization and full operation of the chambers.

There are also problems with the heart spiritually. Just as a physical heart must at the very least be alive before it can be repaired, so also a spiritual heart must be alive spiritually. It must be redeemed. As we know all too well, even the redeemed heart can still have problems. When we suffer with the spiritual kind of heart condition, our worship and prayer can seem laborsome. Our service to others and management of our time, possessions, and abilities can become limited.

When King David was confronted with his sin and guilt, he became concerned because his heart was not right as he approached God.

To understand this last part of Psalm 51
we need to go back in time to the sacrificial system.

David had captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, and made it the capitol of Israel. When the ark was recovered he brought it there to establish Jerusalem as the center of worship.

At that time Israel lived under the form of God’s covenant given through Moses. Every day, crowds gathered at the tent of the Tabernacle to bring their sacrifices. There was the sound of bellowing animals, the sight of blood flowing over the altar, and the smell in the air of flesh being burned before the Lord.

It was a dramatic display of what our sins deserve. There must be a shedding of blood representing the penalty of death. The sacrifice held out God’s amazing promise that He will provide a substitute to die in the place of the sinner.

Those looking at this graphic scene of the sacrificial worship of the Tabernacle could only see the outward actions of the priests and the people. When God viewed it, he also looked upon the heart of those involved in the proceedings.

What we see in worship today is also just the outward part. We might see people calling upon the Lord in prayer, families gathered to read Scripture and pray together, churches assembled on the Sabbath with the singing of hymns, giving attention to sermons, and the distributing of the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

But in all these outward forms, we must remember that God looks upon the heart. When we worship, or come thankfully for cleansing from sin, we must remember that it is the heart, not just the knees, which must be humbly bowed before God. This was King David’s awareness in this next verse of Psalm 51.

Psalm 51:16, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.”

How could David say that God did not desire or take pleasure in the sacrifices? They were his sacrifices! He had commanded them! But David also knew that there was more to them than just the outward rituals. What God commanded was not just the death of animals by priests. He established that process so that repentant people could come admitting what their sins deserved, and showing their trust in the promise of God to redeem them.

The enemy of our faith is very cunning and subtle. He has gotten very few to openly worship the kingdom of Satan. In attacking the family of God he knows that not many will be fooled into blatant paganism. Instead, he twists things around. He gets us to blend the form of truth with the substance of a lie.

The synthetic religion that comes out of that process is a thing that may look good outwardly, but inwardly it makes everything point to the glory of the creature instead of honoring the Creator. What is left of the Creator is a watered down deity begging us not to spoil his plans.

The sacrifices of Israel had deteriorated into a works religion.

It was imagined that by killing animals God would be impressed, and would remit our sins. Many make the common error that before the time of Jesus Christ sins were atoned for by sacrifices. This was the error of the ancient Jews. The principle underlying that error continues to cloud the minds of many religious people today.

God never said that the killing of animals as sacrifices, the burnt offerings of the young bulls, were the actual grounds for salvation. The priestly sacrifices did not remove sin’s guilt by themselves. They represented God’s covenant promise to provide a salvation we are not qualified to earn.

Today we understand more about how our Savior restores his people to fellowship with God. We know how God took on the nature of a human, and in that nature died in place of his people. This promised Messiah became the Lamb of God to shed his blood for his people.

The Old Testament taught what every believer should have known about the sacrifices. Their real nature was revealed in the law and explained by the prophets. Even before Christ, the true worshipers knew that justice demands eternal death for sin, and that somehow God would pay that price for his people.

By grace alone God applied that future work of the Messiah to his people before Jesus was born. That work of grace regenerated their spiritually dead hearts, and implanted in them the faculty of true faith. That faith drove the believers to repentance and to trust in the covenant promises about forgiveness of sin. To show their gratitude, their regenerated hearts desired to obey God and to worship him as he said they should. That meant bringing sacrifices to him according to the law, which included an understanding of the promise that God would redeem his people by grace alone.

If a person brought a sacrifice without a redeemed heart, it did not remove his sin. That kind of sacrifice was a denial of the provision of God. It imagined that man could save himself by rituals. That kind of worship is condemned in the Bible, in the ancient law itself. God took no delight in such an abomination.

In the Book of Hebrews chapter 10, this is explained clearly.

Hebrews 10:4, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. ”

Hebrews 10:11, “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”

Without a right heart a sacrifice cannot be acceptable to God. What makes the heart right is the work of God’s grace. It was God’s provision in the Promised Savior, not what the worshiper did, that made the ancient sacrifices beneficial. David was not demeaning the God-ordered sacrifice, only the superficial degradation of it.

In contrast to the mere outward forms we see,
God looks upon the heart.

Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise.”

A broken and contrite heart shows the inner work of God’s grace. It shows evidence of the atonement which was demonstrated outwardly in the physical sacrifices. Very few things are best when broken — but one of those things is the human heart.

One of the fun candies we used to enjoy when I was a kid was called Turkish Taffy. I’ve seen it around still, but more as a nostalgic novelty candy. It was a solid hard bar you could hardly bite into without damaging your teeth. Before you opened the package, you slammed it down hard on the table broking it apart into bite-sized pieces. When you put them in your mouth they would slowly melt and become chewy and tasty.

Most things cannot be used when they get broken. But the heart is not broken in that way. A spiritually dysfunctional heart is broken so that it can be renewed to work as God created it to work.

The Hebrew word translated “contrite” is “dikah” (דכה). In the form used here it means to be crushed. It is used in Numbers 11:8 of seed that is ground up in a mortar into a fine flower for baking. We must be brought low before God. We need to be crushed down by the recognition of our sin and personal unworthiness if our worship is to lift us up to see the glory of our most Holy Creator.

The world would think it strange that we find humble contrition over sin and joy in the same place together. The two are only incompatible when there is no atonement. The world’s false joy is the illusion of a heart deceiving itself about its guilt.

This is the worship which God will not despise. It is his own work done in our needy hearts. David would give all he could, if his own effort would help, but he knew it would not. So he came crushed, humbled, clinging to the promises of God which cannot fail.

David was not only concerned for himself.

Psalm 51:18, “Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem.”

Zion was the hill in Jerusalem where David planned to one day build a permanent temple to God. Of course God chose Solomon after him to actually build the temple there.

The King wanted the place where God’s people gathered for worship to be specially blessed. Instead of being where abominable sacrifices were made by those who came in ignorance and self-trust, he wanted it to be divinely favored so that its worship would truly honor the Lord.

As we pray, we should remember to ask God’s blessing upon the church as it gathers in the place of worship on the Sabbath. We should pray that all who come together on that day would have a right attitude, trusting in the true sacrifice of Christ with broken hearts.

Pray during the week and specially on Saturday for families and individuals as they prepare for the Sabbath morning. As you get up on Sunday pray that each one who attends will be ready and looking forward to the worship time. We may have many motives that make us anticipate our gatherings for worship, but the prime motive should not be to see friends, to hear a stimulating lesson, or to sing uplifting music. It should be above all else our driving desire to come humble but thankfully to honor our Creator-Redeemer for his work of grace and unfailing promises.

Preparation for Sunday worship is more than laying out your clothes the night before. It also means getting your heart right so that your worship will not be superficial and only outward. Come remembering the grace that made you want to be there.

David also wanted to wall in the city of Jerusalem to make it safe from her enemies. The job had begun, but there was still much to do. Though it would not be completed until the time of Solomon, David prayed that the work of national defense would be blessed by God.

David’s concern for God’s blessings on Zion and protection of Jerusalem was not just outward. The whole theme of this Psalm is about David’s concern over his sin and its effects. Back in verse 11 David expressed his fear that God would withdraw the Holy Spirit’s enablement from him. He did not want to become an ineffective King as happened with Saul before him.

The Psalm now shows David’s concern that his sins might also bring trouble to his nation. He did not want the worship or safety of Jerusalem endangered because of what he did. David again shows the tender and devoted heart of a gifted King.

When believers make excuses for their sins, and show no interest in reforming, God lovingly chastises them as wayward children. This is evident back in verses 11 and 12. The Lord may withdraw their inner peace and sense of assurance and hope. Sometimes he may bring outward suffering. When one member of the body goes through hard times, the whole body can be effected. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

When we sin or drift away from the Lord, we need to be concerned for its effect on others. As David prayed, we should ask the Lord to bless his church and to keep her safe when we sin.

Our primary focus must always be
to please God in our worship and living.

Psalm 51:19, “Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.”

In this last verse of the Psalm, David envisions a restored church. With a restored King, and the blessing of God upon the people, their worship, and the city, the sacrifice would again become pleasing to the Lord.

The actual event that would take place in history making the true sacrifice, and making the restoration of sinners possible was yet to come in the course of time. However, even in those times before the birth of Jesus Christ, David knew God’s promises. He understood that his heart had to be to be right before God could be pleased with his worship. The blood and burning flesh of bulls could not change his heart. Only the work of grace based upon the one great promised substitute toward which the blood sacrifices pointed could do that.

In John 1:29, John the baptist saw Jesus coming and he said to his disciples, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

It was our Savior’s death on the cross that actually paid the price of the sins of God’s people. It applies to the past, present and future. No sin was ever, nor could ever be, removed upon any other grounds.

What the burning of bulls could not accomplish, the cross of Calvary did. Describing the finished work of Jesus, Hebrews 10:12 says, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,”

How is your spiritual heart as you come to worship God?

Is it broken over sin so that it is ready to be repaired by God’s wonders and promises? Is it relying upon the work of grace through Christ as its only and infallible hope? Is it concerned for the well being of the whole church, and all its members? Is it focused upon the pleasure of God in all you do?

To develop a spiritually healthy heart, the needs of our physical heart can be good reminders. Your physical heart needs a good supply of blood to feed it and keep it strong. The redeemed heart needs to be fed too. The nutrients God provides and moves us to embrace will be used to strengthen us spiritually.

The Bible points to the nutrition we need. If we fail to feed upon God’s truth, we will trust in lies that starve our souls. If we neglect to commune with God in prayer, we show no confidence in his care and promises. We will then suffer for lack of this important nutrient our soul desperately needs.

The healthy heart also needs to engage in humble worship through Christ. It is there that we thankfully receive the word and sacraments as we lift up our hearts in praise expressing our gratitude for his mercies.

God has also established his church to be an encouraging family to provide fellowship, care, and admonition of one another. When we reach out in mutual care and admonition we show the love of God at work in our otherwise self-centered hearts. 1 John 3:17 warns, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

A sound physical heart is fundamental to a person being healthy. A spiritually healthy heart is also necessary if our lives and times of worship are to please God. When we engage in the remedies God prescribes in his word, we will discover the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work to repair our heart condition.

How different David must have felt after he made things right with God again after his sin. Before then, every time he entered the Temple his conscience would have torn at his heart. Oh, the relief and peace of God’s merciful forgiveness bringing joy into the place where there was tension!

How different the Apostle Paul must have felt after he came to Christ. The Temple, all its furnishings and sacrifices which he had known all his life, which he had studied under Gamaliel, all took on a totally new dimension when he came to know the Savior toward which the rituals pointed. Oh, the forgiveness he personally felt, as one who felt he was the chief of sinners!

It was never burning bulls or bleeding lambs that made people right with God. It was the suffering Messiah which the sacrifices represented. We discover him to be our Savior and Lord by grace through faith in his word of promise, a gospel that heals broken hearts.

Psalm 51 is a treasure chest of blessings. It is a model of humble confession, and confidence in amazing grace.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

The Fruit of Restoration

The Fruit of Restoration

Psalm 51:13-15
by Bob Burridge ©2012

There are times when we wish we could go back and do something differently. It might be a decision that put us in harm’s way, or choices where wisdom was set aside and the consequences of our bad judgment torment us for a long time. Bad investments or unwise purchases can plunge us into lingering debts. Poorly chosen words can ruin a friendship, and an inattentive moment can cause an accident where lives are changed forever.

Among those regrets are the times when we have done things contrary to God’s moral principles. As believers we struggle with that awful awareness that we have offended the God who redeemed us. Our conscience burns away inside when we imagine how we must appear to our Creator’s holy eyes.

When we are crushed by debts, or humbled by calamities, it is wonderful to be told that the problem has been taken care of and is finally behind us. We learn the joy of a debt that has been cleared, of a disease that has been cured, of a surgery that went well, or of the passing of some bad experience or threat. That kind of news makes us want to thank anyone who might have helped make it happen for us. It’s hard not to let our joy show.

Luke records a situation in the life of Jesus Christ that illustrates this principle.

Luke 7:36-50 tells about the time Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to his home. While he was there a woman with a sinful reputation came to honor Jesus. She came thankfully because she knew that she was forgiven for her sins. Moved with gratitude and great emotion, she walked up behind Jesus and began to weep. Her tears dropped down onto Jesus feet. She loosened her hair and used it to wipe his feet. Then she started to kiss the feet of her Savior. Next she broke open a costly alabaster jar of very expensive perfume and started to anoint his feet. With no thought for social customs, she was overcome with gratitude and love.

Ignoring the rules of the Pharisees, Jesus did not rebuke her. He permitted her to continue. Simon said nothing out loud, but he thought to himself, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)

Not only did Jesus know who this woman was, he knew her heart, and he knew Simon’s inner thoughts too. He answered the unspoken concerns of Simon’s heart with a parable in Luke 7:40-42.

Two men were in debt to the same lender. One owed 500 denarii, another owed 50 denarii. Neither was able to pay his debt. But to their relief, the lender canceled both debts. Then Jesus asked Simon which of the two will love him most?

Simon answered very carefully, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” Jesus told Simon that he was right. Then Jesus explained the lesson. He not only interprets it for us, he applies it in Luke 7:44-50.

First he pointed out Simon’s own lack of hospitality. Simon offered him no water to wash his feet, no towel, no kiss of welcome, no anointing oil. He had shown little concern for honoring his guest. In contrast, this woman washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, had not stopped kissing his feet, and brought expensive perfume to anoint him.

Then Jesus came to his main point, he confirmed that the woman’s sins had been forgiven. He said in Luke 7:47, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

By her service and love this woman evidenced that she had been forgiven. Luke’s account points to the source of love and devotion. It flows from a forgiven heart changed by the grace of God.

Simon showed no love, no sense of service, therefore had no evidence of forgiveness. The implication was devastating if understood.

Nathan also used a parable when he came to expose King David’s sin.

In 2 Samuel 12:1-4 Nathan told King David about a rich man with many flocks and herds. When a visitor came to him, instead of using one of his own lambs for the meal he killed one which was kept as a loved animal by a poor family which had nothing but that one lamb.

When David heard the story he was angry, and said that the rich man who did this deserved to die. He should restore the lamb fourfold. Then Nathan said to David, “Thou art the man.”

The prophet Nathan had not come to David alone, the Holy Spirit was there too. David felt the weight of his sin after his secret adultery with Bathsheba, after his attempts to cover it up and his conspiracy with a military commander to have Bathsheba’s husband killed. As Nathan spoke, the King was humbled repentantly before God.

It was upon this occasion that David wrote this wonderful Psalm we know as Psalm 51. In the first 12 verses he admitted his guilt and offense against God, and expresses his confidence in God’s promises of grace. Assured of restoration David continued in the next portion of the Psalm.

David hoped that others would be helped by his restoration.

Psalm 51:13, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You.”

David’s concern was not limited to himself. He evidenced the heart of a true King. He saw his restoration as a way to help God’s people, those who were sinners like himself. He did not aspire to help only the great, the rich, or the famous who would build up his reputation or ego. The single characteristic that marked out the objects of his concern was their awareness of a need for spiritual restoration. He wanted to help offenders like himself, whoever they might be.

David also understood the importance of declaring what God has made known to us. The ways of God must be taught because they are the means God has ordained by which the Holy Spirit works in our hearts when we have done that which offends our Creator. The revealed word enlivened in us by grace exposes our need and drives us into the arms of the Savior.

David wanted God to make him an example of how grace restores us though we have proven our utter unworthiness and depravity. He wanted to be the teacher God would use to convert sinners. Being “converted” is not just changing religions as the world often uses that term. It is the change produced in someone’s life by God’s grace. God delivers his word through those he uses as teachers. The results and evidences of this work of grace are seen in the lives of God’s people. This is how David hoped to help others who were sinners as he was.

Often those who have overcome a problem can be used in a special way to help those struggling with the same issues. There are support groups made up of those who have recovered from diseases, or who have gone through other types of serious tragedies. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Reclaimed poachers make the best gamekeepers.” It was John Newton, the redeemed slave trader who helped end slavery in England, and wrote Amazing Grace, one of the greatest hymns of all time.

Those delivered from serious sins can have a special ministry of encouragement. Of course no one should ever glamorize sin or suffering, nor should anyone make it seem good to fall so that we can specially help others after we recover. But when we fall, as those forgiven and restored by grace, we can rejoice in being able to specially help others taken in by temptation.

The Bible provides many examples where God used penitent sinners as encouraging examples of the work of Grace.

The Apostle Paul was a fierce persecutor of Christians. He was a Pharisee who believed that he was righteous in himself and had no need for a Savior. When redeemed, God used him to bring many self-righteous people to faith in Christ, and to promote joy to those who had become aware of their sinful offenses.

King David is the example here in Psalm 51. Little did he know how his experience and this Psalm would effect so many struggling sinners for thousands of years after his death. There have been many thousands of encouraging sermons and commentaries written on this helpful Psalm.

The redeemed become an example of God’s deliverance to others who also need that salvation. Never let your sin be a discouragement that keeps you from seeking to be a witness to the gospel of grace. Instead, your deliverance should motivate you all the more to tell the good news. Bishop William Cowper wrote, “Every talent received from God should be put to profit, but specially the talent of mercy; as it is greatest, so the Lord requires greater fruit of it, for his own glory, and for the edification of our brethren.”

Those delivered from sin are the ones God often uses in helping others discover his work of restoration through the work of Christ. The only testimony properly admitted in a trial is that which comes from first-hand witnesses. Those who have merely heard someone else say something are not allowed to testify. This is why God’s word calls the redeemed to be his witnesses. They have seen his work first hand and can know the shame of guilt, and appreciate the triumphant message of grace.

We need to overcome our fallen nature that suggests that evil sinners cannot be redeemed, or that fallen believers are beyond hope. We should never forget that these are exactly the kinds of persons God promises to redeem and to restore. God is able, and his promises can never fail.

The elect are invisible until they show a credible trust in the work of the Savior. When the redeemed fall into sin, the truth of their deliverance may seem uncertain to others until they are restored repentantly to rediscover the joys of God’s grace. The momentary invisibility of grace at work should not be seen as evidence that it is not about to demonstrate itself in a struggling life.

The means of this salvation and restoration is the promise of God, declared and demonstrated by other believers in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our privilege to be the tools in the hand of our Creator bringing the word of the gospel to those in need of its hope. This was David’s great encouragement.

David anticipated his offering great praise.

Psalm 51:14-15, “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.”

David did not excuse his sin, or minimize what he had done. He asked to be delivered from nothing less than bloodguiltiness. Literally, it means he asked to be “delivered from bloods.” This is a plural of emphasis which often indicates crimes that carry the death penalty. David had committed adultery with another man’s wife, and he planned the death of her husband. Yet he never lost confidence in the power of God to save him from his guilt and deserved penalty.

It may seem like a strange qualification for a witness of God’s righteousness, that he would admit to bloodguiltiness. But humble repentance is a more important characteristic for the believer than an imagined sense of innocence or superiority.

One time our family doctor sent me to a specialist for some minor surgery. The surgeon was good in the operating room, but had a reputation for being short and cold toward his patients. Some months later I was in for a check up and our doctor asked if I remembered how harsh the surgeon had been. I remembered very well. Then he told me that he was not that way any more. He had since undergone surgery himself. Now he was noticeably more understanding and open with his patients.

When God humbles us by our sin and guilt, we appreciate the agony of others as they struggle with feelings of guilt before they understand how much they are forgiven by our gracious God.

David expected that his restored soul would not be able to contain his joy. It would break forth with singing about God’s righteousness. Songs about God’s goodness to us fill thousands of editions of hymnals.

Would we not rather expect David’s joyful song to be about his deliverance rather than about God’s righteousness? The King’s great joy was not simply that he was now off the hook for his guilt, but that God was no longer offended by it, yet without violation of the holy justice of his Creator. He was forgiven, but the eternal righteousness of God was preserved.

What he had done was so horrible that he deserved death and eternal infinite condemnation. He did not merely ask God to overlook his sin. He did not hope in a divine amnesia where somehow his sins were just ignored. That kind of mercy and forgiveness is an unfounded myth. It would be righteousness disregarded and justice violated.

David was a king. He knew that offenses must be satisfied justly. If he was promised forgiveness and restoration, that must mean that the debt was paid in full. Though he knew less of our Savior’s work than we do today, that promise given in Eden, foreshadowed in the law, and repeatedly announced by the Prophets was his hope.

God’s righteousness imparted to him by the work of a loving Savior was a wonderful theme for his songs of praise. David’s maturity before God came as he humbled himself in childlike submission to grace. It is amazing how much we grow up, when we humbly bow down.

When we sin, as we all do, our humble confession and praise is a good lesson to the world and to other struggling believers. Psalm 40:3 says, “He has put a new song in my mouth — Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD.”

Sadly, even as God’s redeemed children, instead of songs of joy as we look at God’s promises, our tongues and lips often complain when calamity comes. Or they whimper in depression when guilt weighs down upon us. Excuses are sought out, and blame is shifted to others we imagine are to blame for our improper behaviors and attitudes. As James 3:6 tells us, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.”

However, lips, tongues and mouths were designed to sing praises to God. The next time you use your mouth, lips and tongue, remember why you have them. God displaces a world of wickedness when he looses our tongues to sing his praises. How wonderful to have those parts converted back to their original function. That is the good fruit our restoration brings.

Like the woman who was driven to anoint the feet of Jesus with her tears, like the man who loved much because he was forgiven a great debt, like David whose sins of blood-guiltiness were paid for by a Savior who was yet to come, we need to own up to own debt, and appreciate its costly payment by grace upon a Roman Cross outside of Jerusalem.

In the one who is forgiven much, there is much love, and it cannot contain itself. It will stir in us an uncontainable desire to tell others, and to help them discover God’s grace too. It will make our hearts break forth in humble praise and thanksgiving.

Where is our love? our daily and Sabbath praise? our testimony to others? Where is our passion to help others find the joy of salvation? It ought to be the natural desire of the truly redeemed soul. May God stir our hearts to that kind of humble love and thankful service.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Longing For a Good Cleansing

Longing For a Good Cleansing

Psalm 51:7-10
by Bob Burridge ©2012

To pay for my expenses while in college I worked at a large commercial laundry. We dealt with laundry from area hotels, motels, repair shops, and many other types of businesses. There were often challenging stains to remove. We had a supply of various solvents and treatments to handle each type of problem. Often the chemicals were very strong and had to be handled with great care. Our job was to remove the stains to the best of our ability while minimizing any damage to the fabrics.

Stain removal is a common issue we all face in our daily lives. With the proper chemicals and equipment, most of them can be dealt with quite easily. But what about the moral stains that mar our souls when we sin against God? What can we do to get rid of those?

When God makes us aware of our guilt, we want to have the offense removed so we can be morally clean again. King David was confronted with the stains that issued from that one night of sin with Bathsheba. He made repeated efforts to cover it up, including risking Israel’s national security by having Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle.

When God’s prophet confronted him, David admitted that what he did was horribly wrong. He grieved and humbly repented before God. His heart was broken. He repented, and wrote this moving Psalm. Our study so far covered the first six verses.

Psalm 51:1-6
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1. Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.
2. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
3. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.
4. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.
5. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
6. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

Being made aware of the stains from his sin,
David craved to have them removed.

Psalm 51:7, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

The words David used here are very interesting. Hyssop was not used like a scrub brush. It was the branching plant used by the priests in the temple for the ritual purifications. It was dipped in water or in the blood of a sacrificed animal and used to sprinkle the liquid upon someone or upon the altar. It did not actually remove physical stains. It was a symbolic act representing the cleansing God works upon our hearts. God had promised to forgive and redeem his people through the life and work of a Savior. So, David was thinking of something from the Temple laws. He was not illustrating by reference to some kind of daily housecleaning method or bathing practice.

Another thing that stands out is the comparison is that the result of removing guilt would make his soul whiter than snow.

Here in Florida we do not see much snow. I was raised in Buffalo New York where we had plenty of it. As of this writing I have lived in Florida for almost 50 years and remember only three light dustings of snow during all that time. The climate in Israel is very much like our own as far as temperatures are concerned. Snow is rare except in high mountains in the winters. The imagery of towns covered in deep white snow is not what David had in mind.

The language here has to do with “whiteness of snow” as it relates to a particular purification rite described in Scripture. The terms used fit the ritual purification prescribed for those cured of Leprosy. The Jews originally reading this Psalm would naturally have had this imagery in mind. To appreciate what David’s heart was hoping in, we need to understand these laws as the original readers of this Psalm would have understood them.

Leprosy was used by God to represent sin and its corruption during the Levitical period of redemptive history. Leviticus 13 through 14 is filled with details about the diagnosis and handling of the disease. It deals with a particular kind of leprosy where snow white blotches appear on parts of the body, the hair on the flesh in that area changed color, and there were exposed patches of raw flesh. Leviticus 13:14 says, “But when raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean.” The leper was to be separated from the camp of God’s people. It represented the offensiveness of sin’s corruption which had to be removed.

A person who recovered from leprosy had to come to the priest for purification. Leviticus 14 explains the two step process to be followed by the priest.

Step One: The priest examined the person outside the camp of Israel.

Leviticus 13:13 “then the priest shall consider; and indeed if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean who has the sore. It has all turned white. He is clean.”

When leprosy runs its course the body becomes white with flakes of dry skin where the raw patches of flesh were. This means the disease is over. The person is considered cured. The crimson or scarlet spots of raw flesh representing corruption go away. The white flakes of dried skin then fall off exposing new healthy skin.

Two birds were to be brought for a purification ceremony. One bird was killed as a sacrifice. The living bird was to be dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird, then was allowed to fly off representing the new life when sin is removed.

Then hyssop was dipped in the blood, and the priest sprinkled the former leper seven times. This is what David alluded to in verse seven when he wrote, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

This is probably what Isaiah meant when he wrote in Isaiah 1:18, ” ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.’ ”

How are our sins red like crimson? That was the color of the bloody ulcers of leprosy. The white like snow, or wool, is the color of the healed skin after recovery from leprosy. All the crimson outbreaks would have gone away, and the skin would have become completely covered with white flakes like snow.

Step Two: After seven days the leper had blood applied to him from a sacrificed lamb. It was to be put on the tip of his ear, his right thumb, and his right toe. This is generally understood as foreshadowing the blood of Jesus, the lamb of God. His blood purifies us from the effect of sin restoring our ears to hear the word of God, our hands to do what God says, and our feet to follow in his ways. Then the same parts were anointed with oil representing the work of the Holy Spirit. The purified leper was then received back into the camp of Israel as one redeemed by the Lord.

Just imagine the feeling of a leper who recovered, was purified by God’s priest, and was restored to full fellowship with God’s people again!

That’s pretty dramatic symbolism! God provided this process to show how sinners are cleansed from the pollution of sin. Today we have the advantage of knowing the completed work of Jesus Christ. The rituals are fulfilled. Today, leprosy is just a disease like all others.

The spiritual cleansing these purifications represented is ours by faith in the finished work of our Savior. 1 John 1:7 says, “… the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

This is the confidence we can have in Christ. We can know that we are truly washed clean when we come to our Lord with humble and sincere confession of sin, and trust in God’s promise of forgiveness.

This is the confidence we see in David’s words. He does not say that he hoped he would be made clean, or that he wished to be forgiven. He declares for sure that if God purifies him from the stains of his guilt, he shall be pure again. He will be truly clean in the eyes of his Holy Lord. What a wonderful assurance, to be declared innocent by God, and to be confident about it.

David longed to enjoy the benefits
of being restored to fellowship with God.

Psalm 51:8-10, “Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

David expected great blessing even though he had sinned horribly. He had once closed his ears to the voice of God’s word and his conscience. But now he expected to hear again the joyful and glad sounds of God’s assurances. His broken bones, smashed by God’s judgment, will again rejoice.

David cried in shame that God would “hide his face” from his sins. Of course David did not imagine that somehow God would turn his head and pretend he did not see what was really there. David understood a most profound and wonderful teaching of Scripture. It is possible to have the offense of our sins really removed from our souls!

He had learned through a hard lesson, how our sins are an offense to the eyes of God. The prophet Habakkuk said in Habakkuk 1:13, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness…..”

So if anyone is to have his fellowship with God restored, his sins must be dealt with. Only when the penalty we deserve is paid, can justice satisfied. God in his deepest of love, took upon himself a real human body and soul to die for his people. The blood of Jesus Christ covers our offenses by paying for them.

This is what we mean by atonement. The word literally means to cover something. Before Jesus came the blood of animals was sprinkled upon the covering over the Ark of God’s Covenant. That covering was called the mercy seat, but literally the Hebrew word means, the covering. In the ark was the copy of God’s law which exposed Israel’s sins and showed her corruption.

When the blood of the Savior is spiritually applied to our souls, our sins are covered, our condemnation is hidden, and the ugly stain is removed. God can again look upon us without offense.

Just as the leper was sprinkled to represent the removal of sin, so the altar was sprinkled in the Old Testament sacrifices, and our souls are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. The penalty is paid so that the condemnation can be removed.

David knew that either God would forever hide his face from him, or his sins would be hidden under the future Savior’s atonement, covering his guilt before the Heavenly Father.

David begged for God to blot out his iniquities. This brings back something he said at the beginning of the Psalm. In verse one he said, “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.”

The blotting out of iniquity was legal language. Indictments were drawn up against those accused of crimes. David knew he was guilty, so he pleaded that whatever solvent was needed to dissolve away the ink from the indictment, let it be applied to his record before God. Here he begs that these horrible yet just accusations might be washed away, that they would no longer appear on his record before the face of God.

In place of sin he wants a clean heart, a steadfast spirit. But this was not a dream or a fantasy. It was not the false hope or wishful thinking of a guilty heart. It was the true hope of a redeemed child of God.

Often, those redeemed by the Savior needlessly believe they still bear the weight of their sins even though they are paid for. The false accusations of the Father of Lies suggest that their evil hearts continue to condemn them before a holy God. Believers washed in the blood of Christ groundlessly anguish under a lifted burden. It is a deception of our darkened minds. We are so imperfect that, though forgiven, we may still grieve as if we are condemned. We listen to the lies whispered by the enemy of our souls, which lead us to question the promises of the Lord of all the universe.

How tragic that Christians sometimes fail to comprehend the wonderful promise of the Gospel, and ignore the declaration of innocence earned by the infinitely great price paid for them by the Savior.

We have the wonderful promise of a restored soul. What a good feeling it is to be clean. That’s the way it is after a long day working around the yard and garden. It feels so good to stand under the refreshing shower, wash away the sweat and dirt, then to get all dried off and put on fresh clothes.

In this same way we come to our Lord with a broken and humbled heart for cleansing. We confidently place our trust in God’s ancient promises, and their fulfillment in the cross. There is no moral detergent to remove our stains other than his atonement. No other is needed.

We show that God has cleansed our own hearts of guilt when we truly forgive others who have offended us.
We are moved by his work of grace in us to dismiss our own anger against those who trespass against us. We rejoice when our slate is washed clean by the blood of Christ, so also we should not keep track of marks against others who have wronged us and repented.

In Colossians 3:13 we are told in God’s word to be, “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

Jesus told us right after the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

This does not mean that our forgiveness from God depends upon our forgiving others. It means that if we are not forgiving others, then there is no evidence that we have been forgiven. Forgiven hearts are changed hearts. They ought to learn to forgive as they are forgiven.

Many years ago the puritan pastor, Thomas Watson wrote, “We need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven. Let us look into our hearts and see if we can forgive others. If we can, we need not doubt that God has forgiven us.”

David prayed that God would hide his face from his sins. We should also not hold wrongs against another person who shows true remorse. We forgive them and consider the debt to be removed.

In 1 Corinthians 13:5, Paul said that love “thinks no evil.” or as it is better translated, love “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” The Apostle was using an accounting term that describes the recording of figures in a book. Love does the opposite. It does not keep a record of wrongs. Instead, love forgives and refuses to keep it on the books.

A popular devotional book says, “If you want to remember something, you go over it again and again. The child reviews his spelling words; the actress rehearses her lines; you review people’s names that you want to remember. But love deliberately and consciously lets go of past hurts and gives them to God.”

The basis upon which we can so unselfishly set aside our own hurts and forgive others, is that we ourselves have had the corruption of our sins paid for by our Lord, and our bondage to self-interest removed. Having been forgiven in this way, we can rest assured we are cleansed and set free.

Hebrews 10:22, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

The Plea of a Humbled King

The Plea of a Humbled King

Psalm 51:1
by Bob Burridge ©2000, 2012

There is no one in all the natural descendents of Adam who can claim that he never does anything wrong. Only the irrationally self-deceived would argue against that fact. God’s word calls us to be humbly honest. We need to admit when we violate the moral principles our Creator built into the world when he made it. In the mid 17th century, Bible Scholars gathered at Westminster brought together the teachings of Scripture to define sin as, “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” (Shorter Catechism Question 14)

God’s word also calls us to deal with our sins in the right way. One of the great helps in remembering our right response to our moral failures is Psalm 51. Commentator William Plumer called this psalm, The Sinner’s Guide.

The Psalm title gives us the setting.

The Psalm titles appear in the oldest manuscripts which removes any reason to doubt that they are part of the inspired text. In the original Hebrew of this Pslam the title takes up the first 2 verses. Our English verse 1 is verse 3 in the Hebrew text. This title gives us background information to provide historical context.

Psalm 51:title, “To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

This Psalm was not only written for the benefit of King David, nor was it only designed for private meditation. It was for use in the public gathering of God’s people for worship. It was to be delivered to the person in charge of the music for worship in the Tabernacle. It is a song to teach us by this king’s amazing example how we too should deal with our sins. But the lesson has a tragic beginning.

2 Samuel 11 tells of David’s fall into the depths of sin. One night in the Spring while his armies were off in battle, King David watched from his palace roof as Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, was bathing herself. His physical desires for her were strong so he had her summoned to his palace. There, the king was intimate with her. In the days following she came to him and told him that she was pregnant with his child.

David had sinned horribly. His first response made it worse. He shamefully used his power as king to cover up his sin by deception and violence. To make Uriah think it was his own child, he called him home from battle to be with his wife. If he slept at home a few nights, perhaps he would think that Bathsheba’s baby was his. But Uriah was a very noble man. He would not sleep with his wife while his men were still out on the battlefield away from home.

In frustration David entertained Uriah and got him drunk with wine, thinking that then, with his judgment impaired, he would go home and sleep with his wife. But still Uriah didn’t spend the night with Bathsheba.
Desperate hearts do foolish and cruel things. So David sent Uriah back to battle with sealed orders from the King for Joab his commander. Joab was to place Uriah in the fiercest part of the battle and withdraw the troops leaving him to be killed. Perhaps with the husband out of the way no one would know that he hadn’t been with his wife. Joab obeyed the king and after the next great battle, Uriah was dead.

When the report came back, Bathsheba mourned her husband for a respectable time, then was taken as the wife of the King. In time a son was born to Bathsheba.

David might have thought he had gotten away with his wickedness. But God sees all our sins, even those we suspect are committed in secret. God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin. 2 Samuel 12 tells us how the prophet skillfully brought David to realize his offense.

2 Samuel 12:13-14, “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.’ “

It was upon this occasion that David wrote Psalm 51.

We learn that David, the slayer of Goliath, the great King of Israel, the author of many Psalms, was just a sinner saved by grace. If the great King David could fall so horribly, so could any of us.

We fail to live up to God’s holy standards every day. We may not daily commit capital crimes like adultery, and plotting a man’s death, but all our sins are offensive to God. We can look at people in the Bible like Judas or Jezebel and label them as exceptions. However, they are like us — descendants of Adam.

Sin is the universal trait of all of us. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:12, “… just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men … ”

The Bible tells us how depraved that makes our heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

In Romans 3:10-12, Paul quotes from the Psalms saying, “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.’ ”

Yes, as hard as it is to admit, people like us could do as wicked a thing as David did. If we don’t, it is because of God’s gracious work to restrain us from doing wrong. We give him all the glory for any good we may do or evil we pass up on doing. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2:13, “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

Who was Judas, Hitler, or Manson? Each was but a fallen sinner, not restrained in certain ways by God’s mercies. How immoral our lives would be if God did not hold back the flood of depravity in us. But he does!

If there is a moment of obedience in our lives, it should be a cause for humble thankfulness to God who holds back our sin. When we falter and sin we should be humbled to see the depravity that lurks within, and we should be quick to come in repentance, trusting in the Savior to forgive and to restore.

But what should we do when we fall into sin?

David’s example offers help for each one of us. He cried out to God for mercy.

Psalm 51:1, “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.”

There was no defense, no excuse. He made no attempt to come up with a list of special circumstances. He didn’t whine about hard it was being king. He didn’t try to minimize what he had done by reminding God that everybody sins.

David knew there was only one relief for what he had done — the grace of the God he had offended. So he pleaded that his Heavenly King would be gracious to him.

David knew better than to ask for fairness or justice. That would mean eternal torments and separation from God. Only the arrogant fool demands from God what he deserves. Instead, David called upon that Sovereign kindness that met the demands of justice for him. That was not something any man could earn. It was available only as an undeserved kindness. That grace accords with two things

1. It comes to us because of God’s lovingkindness.
Lovingkindness is a compound English word, a kindness moved by love. The form has fallen out of many of our modern dictionaries. It was used to translate the original Hebrew word khesed (חסד) which means “mercy” or “grace”. It is the unearned favor which God shows toward us when we are forgiven.

2. And that grace is founded upon God’s great compassion.
We may have compassion upon those who suffer from hunger, disease, and oppression. But the compassion David mentions here is so great that it reaches out to the unworthy, to those who break the law of the God himself.

It is not a compassion like we have toward hapless victims of tragedy. It extends to thieves who use God’s blessings for selfish purposes, who spend his tithe, who abuse their time and talents, who satisfy their desires by sexual sins and gluttony, who look with apathy toward learning his word, toward devotion in prayer, toward faithfulness in supporting worship, toward the needs of the saints. They treasure more their earthly security and luxury, than growing in spiritual maturity.

David disregarded God’s ordinance of marriage so he could have sex with a beautiful woman. He deceived and planned a massive cover-up to protect his reputation and popularity. He even plotted against a man’s life rather than confess his sin before God and man.

But God loved this David! He loved Peter, who denied him three times the night he was betrayed. This same unmerited grace is the only hope for each of us, though at times we are moral criminals against heaven itself.

Even our coming to him is an act of his own mercy toward the unworthy. Jesus made it clear that our first approach of faith is alien to our fallen hearts. Only when it is put there by God’s mercy will anyone turn to him.

Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; …”

God loves no man because he repents. Man repents because he is loved by God. Paul’s words in Romans 2:4 make this very clear, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” As the Apostle John said, in 1 John 4:19, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

David made his purpose very clear. He asked for mercy so that his transgressions would be blotted out

The language David uses here is that of a judicial indictment of a court. In ancient times indictments were often written with ink on parchments. Commentator Adam Clarke points out that David was asking that whatever fluids were needed would be used by God to dissolve away the ink representing the words of the judgment against him.

He did not mean that somehow God would forget this part of real history. An immutable and omniscient God cannot have things removed from his memory. David meant that the charge of guilt would be removed by powers beyond what human justice could imagine.

We now know so much more than David did about how God would accomplish this redemption. Abraham, Moses, and David only knew that somehow God would satisfy justice in their place. They had a general idea that the sacrifices foreshadowed a coming Savior hinted at way back in Genesis 3:15, but they didn’t have the details to piece it all together. Today we are privileged to know that Jesus accomplished this work by being born as a human. He lived with perfect innocense among us, yet he suffered and died as if he was a criminal on the cross. He represented his people as he lived a perfect life in their place. He also represented those same loved ones as he died in their place for their sins.

David begged for mercy knowing that justice is only met for sinners by God’s grace. It was that grace that sent the Savior to take our guilt and punishment upon himself. When we sin, we call upon that same grace knowing the source from which this goodness flows in abundance.

Christians are not those who never do wrong. But they desire to handle their wrongs rightly. David knew his sin was not excusable. Neither is ours. But in God’s mercy we have this Psalm to remind us how we ought to deal with our transgressions as did this great ancient king. So, how great is that lovingkindness and compassion of God? As Moses wrote in Lamentations 3:21-24, “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!’ ”

How do we know that he accepts our repentance and forgives us? He promised it in his word, and his word never fails. As Jesus said in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

John later wrote in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

When you sin later today, tomorrow, and throughout this week ahead (and if we are honest we admit that we each surely will) plead with God for his grace, for his lovingkindness and compassion. They will abound toward us when we do so because God has promise it. And remember as you cry out to him, that it is already his grace at work in your heart or you would not seek him at all.

Don’t let a moment pass where sin lingers without repentance. Come to the fount of every blessing.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Forgive Us Our Debts

Forgive Us Our Debts

by Bob Burridge ©2012
Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 105
(watch the video)

One of the hard lessons we have to learn as children is to know when it is right and good to forgive people who do hurtful things. It does not get much easier when we get older. We have a sense that bad things should not be ignored. There should be consequences. On the other hand we know that there are times when we have to end our grudges and anger. It is often not easy for us to do it.

God created us and this world in which we live to show a balance between Justice and Mercy. When we forgive someone, that act of mercy should never violate the principle of justice.

God is the perfect balance of justice and mercy. He both punishes and forgives. Since we were created in God’s image, we need to balance these things too. But God’s image in us is distorted and confused because of our fallen nature. We inherited corrupted souls from Adam. To complicate that, we grow up in a sea of fallen humanity that has distorted views and values. Fear or personal guilt can make it hard to hold others responsible for the harm they cause. Selfish cruelty can make people want others to suffer beyond what they deserve.

Distorted ideas about Justice can make people unmerciful. Justice can become a word used to justify a vengeful love for cruelty. It can make you refuse to forgive in situations where you should forgive.

Mercy can be distorted too. It can be twisted to where it promotes injustice. A twisted view of mercy might let criminals go free to hurt others. It can enable the wicked to continue doing evil without consequences. It can make you forgive where you have no right to do so.

Because of these imperfections we are sometimes conflicted inwardly about what to do. When people hurt us we want justice to be done, but we also know we need to show mercy. We pray for God’s mercy even though we know we are not innocent. Justice demands that our sins and guilt should be punished forever, yet God promises to forgive some, and to make them his dearly loved children.

Both Justice and Mercy are good things. Since God is both just and merciful, they can’t truly be in conflict with one another.

We need to get rid of the distortions and bring these two qualities together. We need to understand about God’s forgiveness to us, and about when we ought to forgive others.

Jesus taught us to pray about forgiveness
in the model we call the Lord’s Prayer.

In Matthew 6:12 Jesus said, “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” In Luke 11:4 Jesus put it this way, “And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. …”

After the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 Jesus immediately expanded on that point. He said in verses 14-15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” the NASB has “transgressions” instead of “trespasses.”

Together, these verses help us understand what we should mean when we pray for forgiveness.

The answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 105 is, “In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.”

First, we need to understand what
things are being forgiven.

There are three different words used in translating these verses in our English versions of the Bible: “debt”, “sins”, and “trespasses”. They all clearly refer to the same basic thing, but each brings unique meanings to the situation. They are offenses that become barriers to our fellowship with God or with others.

The word “debt” in Matthew 6:12 is a translation of the Greek word opheilaema (ὀφείλημα). This is the usual word used for a debt, owing something to somebody. You are a debtor to God because you have disobeyed your moral obligations to him. Your sin obligates you to its penalty, an infinite debt you can never pay off on your own. People become debtors to others when they mistreat them, or owe them something. They are obligated to make things right if they borrow, hurt, inconvenience, or harm someone.

The word “sin” in Luke 11:4 is the Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία). It comes from an ancient Greek root meaning “to miss what you aim at.” It came to be the usual word for sin. It was used pretty much the way we use the word sin today. We sin against God when we miss the target of what he tells us is right and good. Sin is when we do things we should not do, or when we neglect doing what we should do.

The word “trespasses” in Matthew 6:14-15 is the Greek word paraptoma (παράπτωμα). It means taking a wrong step, going where you should not go. A transgression of God’s law is when you do what he forbids or neglect what he commands. People trespass against us when they do bad things against us. They violate our safety, take what belongs to us, lie about us, cheat us, break agreements, show disrespect, or violate our trust.

These three words have a common theme and share the same basic meaning. They are violations of an obligation to someone. They create a barrier of offense. These are the kinds of things Jesus says should be forgiven by us toward others.

But what does it mean to forgive these things?

The true forgiveness Jesus was talking about is a mercy that respects the demands of justice. When we pray “forgive us our debts …” we are asking for God’s mercy to settle what we owe.

First we need to understand what needs to be forgiven. There is a deep offense that separates us from God. It is the infinite and impenetrable barrier of guilt from sin. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.”

This moral debt we owe is far greater than most people realize. Sin has real consequences. As sinners we all fall short of what God expects of us. We inherit Adam’s fallen nature and guilt, and we add to that by our own sins. This guilt condemns us to spiritual death. That means total separation from God’s fellowship for all eternity. It is a debt we all owe as members of the fallen human race.

God’s mercy had to deal with the demands of Justice. Jesus was the promised Messiah. He came to redeem his people from their debt. In his perfect life, and in his death and resurrection, he represented all those given to him by the Father. He paid their debt by dying in their place satisfying all the demands of God’s justice. He removed the offense that separated them from their holy Creator.

To simply forgive us by overlooking our sins would contradict part of God’s own nature. Divine justice demands that our moral debt against God must be paid, not just set aside. So Jesus paid the debt.

Those who put their hope in Christ, and renounce any other imagined way to innocence, show evidence that their debt is paid in full. The barrier of offense is removed, and their fellowship with God is restored. The life produced by that work in them changes their attitudes and moral values. It convicts them of sin, stirs them to sincerely repent, enables them to trust in the gospel promise, and starts them growing in their desire to obey God’s moral principles.

Forgiveness is not just forgetting about sins, it is about dealing with them. We are forgiven when the sin and guilt is washed away in Christ. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So, God does not forgive us just as an act of kindness by overlooking our debt of sin. He pays for our sins with the awesome price of his own suffering in our place. Only the perfectly holy and Sovereign God could make that kind of substitution. It was not just a kind thing to do as an example to us. It was necessary if we were to be redeemed without violating divine justice.

Jesus said in Matthew 26:28, “for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

God’s mercy never ignores or violates the demands of justice. It satisfies those demands.

In a similar way, we should forgive one another.

First we need to clear up a common error. Some misread what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. He did not say, “… forgive us our debts because we forgive others.” He said, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive others.” That is, “in the same way”

God is not waiting for us to forgive others before he forgives us. We are not the cause of God’s mercy. His love that sent our Savior to the cross is why we are forgiven. It is not because of what we do.

Those forgiven ought to be forgiving people. There is a way in which we forgive that is a model of what God does for us. That is exactly what Paul taught when he wrote to the churches. in Colossians 3:13 he said, “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” In Ephesians 4:32 to 5:1 Paul wrote, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.”

There should be forgiveness that emerges in those who are forgiven. They are changed people. But how can we satisfy justice for someone else so that we can be merciful? Obviously we cannot do what only the Savior could do. We are not able to be substitutes paying the judicial debt of others.

However, there is another sense in which the word forgiveness is used in Scripture. What Jesus did for us provided for a “judicial forgiveness”. Beyond that, and upon the basis of that, God treats us as his own children. This is “personal forgiveness”.

The Judicial kind of forgiveness is about our legal standing before the law. A person is forgiven legally for a crime when the penalty is paid or when he is pardoned. That removes the legal penalty the person deserved.

The Personal kind of forgiveness has to do with our attitude toward another person. It removes the grudge we might hold against an offender. We do not have the right personally to declare the person innocent before the law, but we can treat the person with kindness and forgive the offense we feel against us.

Forgiving someone cannot mean that you declare them innocent of what they did. If someone murders, God’s justice demands they pay the penalty required by civil law. We have no right to forgive them and set them free. That would not be mercy, it would be a horrible injustice. If someone steals, God requires that they make full restitution to the victim. We have no right to forgive them from meeting the demands of God’s law. Again, that would not be mercy, it would be injustice.

But, there is another part of forgiveness in Scripture. Once we are reconciled to God by the death of Christ, he treats us as his family. We cannot remove an offender’s guilt, but we can treat him with kindness and compassion.

As redeemed people we are told to show the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Galatians 5:22-23 lists these characteristics, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

The first of these qualities is love. It does not only apply to those who treat us well. Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

We are not to ignore what God demands. The State ought to execute convicted murderers, force criminals to pay their debts, and use deadly force when necessary to defend our safety, liberty, and land. The church is told to bar the unrepentant and contentious from the sacraments. It is not mercy to neglect these things, it is injustice. We are not to punish the guilty with a sense of personal vengeance or anger. We should treat all life with respect, though with contempt that a life created to declare God’s glory has been used immorally.

Only those properly authorized by God’s word can carry out his justice here on earth. As individuals, we have a different attitude than the world’s. When it is not criminal, but a personal offense, we should show the fruit of the Holy Spirit toward the offender.

We forgive others because we are forgiven. The renewed heart should want to forgive others. If we are sons of God, we should be becoming more like our Father. If we are regenerated this is one of the changes that should be growing in us.

When you personally forgive it means you do not hold a grudge against others. You treat them with understanding and mercy. They, like you, are merely sinners. If a person is redeemed, it is by God’s grace alone. When the work of grace is applied to us, our hearts are changed. One thing implanted in that renewed heart is that sense of forgiveness. Changed hearts should be learning to forgive others as Christ forgives them.

The true state of the heart is
betrayed by its ability to forgive or not.

Just as forgiveness emerges from a redeemed heart, persisting unforgiveness warns of an unregenerated one. To be able to fulfill your duty in forgiving others, you need to be sure that God has forgiven you for your sin and guilt. God’s law shows us that when there are tensions between people, even if someone has done something directly against you, you are obligated as a Christian to demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Let the civil authorities deal with crimes. On the personal side, show compassion for fellow sinners in need of Christ.

Exodus 23:4-5 gives an application to a particular case, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”

What God tells us to do teaches us about what God is and does. God forgives, and we should forgive others too. We have a responsibility to treat everyone kindly, patiently, humbly, gently, and meekly.

I saw a moving example on television several years ago. A mother was testifying in court in a sentencing hearing. A man who showed no remorse had been convicted of brutally murdering her child. She said that as a Christian she must, and did, forgive him. But then she pleaded for the court to hand out the maximum sentence for the sake of justice, and to protect others from the unremorseful criminal. Though not a theologian, she had an amazingly good grasp of this biblical principle.

This is not something that can be found or conjured up in an unredeemed heart. God redeemed you to be different. You’re to be a light in the world, not just someone who talks about light. But shining is not easy. This is why you should pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

When you pray this part of the Lord’s Prayer you are calling upon God in Christ to wash away your sins and keep your heart pure in its renewed estate. You are begging for the innocence Christ provided by grace alone. You are confessing that you have no other claim to innocence, but that he paid your debt. And you are asking for help in forgiving those who are debtors to you. You cannot do it on your own, but in Christ you can. As Paul said for our benefit in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Never let hatred and unforgiveness eat away at your heart and add pain to others. Attack the poisonous grudges that go beyond what justice demands, and stir up more hatred. Make the places where you live good places for others to be. Forgive others as Christ has forgiven you.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

When It’s Hard to Agree With God

When It’s Hard to Agree With God

by Bob Burridge ©2010, 2018

1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The word confess can mean different things to different people. We need to be careful that we don’t confuse what John is writing about in this First Epistle by understanding this passage in a wrong way.

Confession is not just listing our sins in prayer, or reciting them to a Priest or Pastor. Sometimes people think that doing something good or giving up some pleasures for each sin on the list helps to get God to forgive them. But, forgiveness isn’t dependent upon something we say or do. Its foundation is God’s grace alone which sent our Savior to pay the full price for his people’s sins on the cross of Calvary.

The word for “confess” in the original Greek text of 1 John 1:9 is homologomen (ομολογωμεν), from the root word homologein (ομολογειν). It’s a compound word meaning, “same-saying” or “to say the same thing”. The closest word in English is “to agree with”.

When we confess our sins to God we are saying the same thing about them that God is saying. We are “agreeing with God” about how morally wrong we are and have been. It’s more than listing our sins. It’s recognizing our moral unworthiness in the eyes of a perfectly holy God. While we should address the individual sins of which we are aware, we also should be agreeing with our Creator that we are lost in Adam, and that aside from the righteousness of our Savior Jesus Christ being credited to us by grace, we are undeserving of the forgiveness for which we pray.

It’s the work of Christ as our sin-bearer that pays the horrible price our sins deserve. He purchased forgiveness and restoration to fellowship with God.

In true confession of sin we are agreeing with God that our sin condition makes us worse than we can fully appreciate in our creaturely limitations. We admit that there is real guilt and offense against the one to whom we owe all that we are and ever hope to be.

This is the hard thing: agreeing with God that we are sinners, unworthy of forgiveness, and that our only hope is in the work of Jesus Christ, and that there is nothing we can do as fallen creatures to atone for our sins.

This wonderful Bible verse then goes on to tell us about God’s promises. He is both faithful and just.

God is faithful to all the promises he has made. He will always be and do what he tells us about himself in his word. No promise ever fails or is turned aside by a power outside of himself. When God stirs his redeemed people to admit their offenses against their Creator, they can be assured that there will be forgiveness. This admitting of personal sinfulness is an evidence of God’s saving grace at work in the lost heart.

This does not mean that we are forgiven only if we remember each sin we have committed. The context of this passage shows a contrast. Those agreeing with God about their sinfulness are set in contrast with those who deny that they sin (1 John 1:8,10).

Failure to remember a sin, even if a person dies while committing it, will not prevent forgiveness to one who puts all his hope in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The promise here is the assurance that this sincere admitting of our sins as God brings them to our minds will result in forgiveness for all those who have first placed their faith in God’s grace and the atonement of the Savior.

God is not only faithful to his promises, he is also just. He always upholds the demands of justice. Forgiveness is based upon justice being satisfied by the perfect Redeemer. Guilt isn’t simply set aside or ignored. That would violate God’s basic attribute of Justice. Instead, the good news, the Gospel, is that Jesus has fully paid the debt of justice for his people.

This doesn’t make confession unimportant. It means something more profound than making a “please forgive me for the following sins” list. It’s admitting the horrors of your sin and guilt before God himself. It’s admitting that your thoughts, words, and deeds include things offensive to him. It means that you are sincere and fully agree with God about all he says in his word about your own sins and how offensive they are. It means you sincerely grieve for all you have done and want to overcome your sins.

When you pray, remember what God says about you and about the righteousness of Jesus Christ with which you are clothed by grace as you come to him. Be assured that no matter how horrible your sins have been they are fully satisfied by the life and death of your Loving Savior who took your place in all the suffering he endured. Rest assured that God’s forgiveness cannot fail.

[The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.]