December 10, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker
I’m going to start by telling you the story of Tim Montgomery, a guy who was in desperate need of God’s scandalous grace. Tim was sitting on top of the world, and he made a very small decision, and this decision was a mistake; he would be the first to admit that it was a mistake. This decision led to another decision, which led to another decision, and eventually Tim lost it all. Literally, at the time, Tim was one of the world’s fastest men. He had a gold medal. He had a world record. He had the world at his fingertips.
Then Tim made some mistakes, and these mistakes led to bigger mistakes, which led to bigger mistakes, and eventually, Tim just destroyed his life. He ended up in prison for the foolish mistakes, because of the simple decisions that he made.
Tim took something that God gave him, and he abused it. He used it for his own good. In Tim’s own words, God made him fast. He always was fast on a track, and eventually, he gets a scholarship, he gets sponsorships, he makes it to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, wins the gold medal, sets a world record, and he says that his cheating must have been from God.
You see, what makes Tim’s story worse, is not just where that guy was when he fell. It’s not just how far he fell. It’s that Tim knew better. Tim knew God. He was a follower of Jesus when all of this happened, and Tim said, “I found the steroid. Nobody would know. I made a simple decision, which cracked the door, and from that decision, I made another decision and another decision.” And eventually, he flushed it all down the drain.
Imagine what an 8 year and 10-month prison sentence feels like when you were sitting on top of the world just a few months before that. Tim’s life is like a lot of people. My guess is, you know somebody like this. They made a decision and that decision caused their life to unravel. They had the perfect job and then they started to cheat a little bit, and they ended up getting fired. They were in the perfect relationship and after a one-night affair, they tossed it all away. They had sponsorships and scholarships and support from family, and they made a fatal decision and they threw it all away.
This is what life is like for a lot of people. In fact, all of us do some really foolish things. All of us make some bad decisions, and sometimes those decisions will cause your life to unravel. If you’re new to Christianity, can I tell you something that’s different about following Jesus than any other faith system out there? In Christianity, you’re not expected to be perfect. In fact, Christianity is built around the idea that you can’t be perfect. -that you are flawed and an imperfect person. But Christianity also says you have to be perfect in order to get into Heaven, and none of us is inherently, naturally perfect. We were born into this thing called sin, and it is because we were born sinners, that we’re going to make some mistakes, and we’re going to mess up along the way.
Here’s what’s different about Christianity: You don’t try to work your way into Heaven, because you can’t. In the faith of following Jesus, it is God stepping in, God intervening. God does something for you that you can’t do for yourself.
I’m going to give you the entire sermon in one sentence. I spent some time working on the sentence, and I’m pretty sure that this sentence is going to sound a little bit crazy to some of you. I invite you to write this down. I want you to think about this sentence this week, and I want to explain to you that there’s probably a word in the sentence that’s going to cause you some anxiety. Here it is:
God’s grace offers a perfect ending to a bad beginning.
I want you to write that down, so you have it in front of you all week long. My guess is, you’re probably asking the question, “Wait a second, Jeff. That can’t be right. You see, how can you have a perfect ending? How can you have 1000 batting average when you’ve already struck out? How can you have a perfect ending and a 4.0 record when you’ve already failed the class? How can you possibly have 100% sales, a five-star rating? How can you have perfection at the end when you’ve already blown it at the beginning? These two things don’t work together at the same time in life!”
And you know what? You’re right. But with God, there is a chance at a perfect ending after a colossal mistake, after a bad beginning, and only with God, by a miracle of God’s scandalous, sovereign grace, he and he alone can give you something that you can’t do on your own. You’re going to see today, God’s imputed righteousness. We’re going to learn about this from a guy by the name of David.
I. David got wrapped up trying to cover up his sin
There are a couple things we’re going to learn about a perfect ending after a bad beginning from David. Here’s the first thing about David I want you to write down: David messed up really badly, and instead of trying to own up to it or trying to fess up to it, David tried to cover it up, and David got wrapped up trying to cover up his sin, and he made it all the worse.
That’s kind of what happened to Tim Montgomery. Let me give you from the Bible the story about David’s colossal, massive mistake, but before I do that, in 2nd Samuel, I want you to understand a little bit about this guy’s background. This kid was a nobody… literally. He was just simply a farmhand taking care of his father’s farm when God found him, when God called him to be king of Israel. David was not the most qualified guy. In fact, David had seven older brothers. Any one of those older brothers could’ve been a better king than David. There was supposed to be something different about David from his brothers and all of the rest of Israel. David was, according to the Bible, a man after God’s own heart. -a man who passionately followed God and pursued Jesus.
God took David out of the field, and he gave him the kingdom from a guy by the name of Saul. Now Saul was Israel’s first king. Saul was supposed to be the ideal, prototypical king. Saul demonstrated that he was the kind of guy who decided, “I’ll do whatever I want to do. I don’t care about God’s law. I will just do what feels natural, what feels right, do what I want to do. And God took the kingdom away from Saul, and he gave it to David. Then David blew away David’s wildest dreams. I’m serious here. God gave David everything that he could want. -power and money and women.
David at the time was perhaps one of the most powerful men on earth. In fact, Israel probably was one of the most powerful kingdoms on earth, and because he was the king, that made him one of the most powerful men, if not the most powerful man, on earth when this goes down. David is rich, famously rich, perhaps the second richest man in Israel’s history only to be surpassed by his son, and David has lots of women. In fact, he has a number of wives and concubines at this point.
But David wants more. So, he decides to take a married woman and to have an illicit affair with her. As a result, David gets this girl by the name of Bathsheba pregnant, and here’s what’s worse: Bathsheba’s husband was one of David’s most trusted warriors, one of David’s closest circle. -a guy by the name of Uriah. David tries to orchestrate it so that he can cover-up the pregnancy, and when that doesn’t work, David does the unthinkable. This is 2nd Samuel chapter 11. I want you to hear it from the Bible starting in verse 14. Here’s what David does:
2 Samuel 11:14-17; 26-27
So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. 15 The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” 16 So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. 17 And when the enemy soldiers came out of the city to fight, Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers…
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 When the period of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her to the palace, and she became one of his wives. Then she gave birth to a son. But the Lord was displeased with what David had done.
Joab is like the Secretary of Defense at the time David is the King. He gives a letter to Joab. Look at what this letter contains that Uriah is carrying to his commander in the field.
Are you kidding me, David?! You trusted this guy enough that you could write a letter about his own murder, put it in his own hands, and have him take it to his own commander knowing that that man would not open that letter. That’s exactly what David just did. -took the wife of one of his closest, one of his best warriors, and had an illicit affair with her. He tried to cover up the affair by lies and schemes. That doesn’t work, so now he comes up with this elaborate plan to bump him off, and David uses his power as the king of Israel to have Uriah murdered. Joab probably doesn’t know what’s going on here. Joab just knows, “Uriah did something wrong. David wants him dead. Okay, I’ll take care of that for you, David.” And then Joab stations Uriah at the point about a war he knows Uriah is going to get killed. Look at how the Bible describes what happens next.
I am convinced David was sitting there after nine months of Bathsheba being in the house being pregnant thinking, “Nobody on the earth knows how this thing went down. Joab doesn’t know why Uriah died. Bathsheba doesn’t know why her husband is dead. Nobody knows. I got away with it, right?” Wrong. -because the Bible makes it very clear, God could see through this entire elaborate scheme. God knew exactly what David had done, and God is not happy about what just happened. Nobody else in the world knew about it but David and God. But God knows, and God is not about to let something like this happen. God could see right through this tangled web that David was weaving.
There’s a poem. You’ve probably never heard about it, but I’m certain that you’re familiar with one line from this poem. It’s a 16th-century Scottish poem called Marmion. Marmion is a poem about a Scottish nobleman by the name of Lord Marmion. Lord Marmion had a weakness for women. He was already with a woman by the name of Lady Heron, and she wasn’t good enough for him anymore. So, he decided he wanted to be with Lady Claire instead of Lady Heron, and he created this elaborate scheme to burn Lady Heron to discredit her, to kind of embarrass her and her family so that he could put her away and so that he could be with Lady Clare, who was not available and not supposed to be his wife. This poem happens around the time of the Battle of Flodden in 1513 in Scotland when King James IV of Scotland meets Catherine of Aragon in England on the field at Flodden in the big battle of Flodden.
Now here’s how the poem goes: Right before the battle begins, Lord Marmion, because he’s a Scottish knight, is called by his king to go serve in the Scottish army and to go fight against Catherine of Aragon. As those knights are assembling before the battle begins, on the opposite side of the field is nothing but enemy, but on this side of the field is Lady Heron’s family. They are in those ranks, and they would happily see Lord Marmion killed for what he did to their sister.
Also in those Scottish ranks is the family of Lady Claire. They know what Marmion has done, and they would happily kill this man, and now Marmion is standing on a battlefield where his enemies and his friends both want him dead. In this Scottish play, the author writes a note that’s picked up by Shakespeare. It’s something that you’ve heard before, because the author says, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
Here’s the truth. You know this: You can fool some of the people some of the time. You can fool a few people a lot of the time. But at no time, never, can you fool God. David has hatched this elaborate scheme to try to cover up what he’s done. He’s convinced nine months with Bathsheba in the castle, everything is great, right? I’ve got it made. Nobody knows, right? Wrong.
I want you to learn something about mistakes from the way that David handles it. When you mess up (and you’re going to, because I’m going to. All of us are flawed. All of us make mistakes from time to time), when you mess up, fess up. Just own it and admit it. Admit it first to God. Admit it second to others. Don’t try to hide it. Don’t try to explain it away.
II. David traded God for Bathsheba
You see, what really happened here is, not only did David try to cover up his sin, what David really did is made a trade, and this is a trade that really eventually blew up in his face. David traded a relationship with God for a relationship with Bathsheba.
Now think about it. Nine months has gone by. Bathsheba is in the house. She’s just had a baby. Nobody knows about it. “I got away with it scot-free. Nobody will ever know how this thing really went down with Uriah.” In fact, David is living like a king…Well, that’s not a good analogy because David is a king, but you know what I mean. David is living like a hog in slop; let’s put it that way. And then God sends a messenger, a messenger by the name of Nathan, who tells David a story and reels David in. And right when he has reeled him in, this messenger, Nathan, gives David the sucker punch. He tells David, “You, David, are the man of the story. You are the guilty party, and God knows exactly what you’ve done.”
I don’t think we can imagine the terror when that sank in and David realized, “Uh oh. God knows everything.” Here’s how it’s described in 2nd Samuel chapter 12 in the Bible:
2 Samuel 12:7-9
Then Nathan said to David, “You are that man! The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. 8 I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. 9 Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife.
David had plausible deniability. “I didn’t murder anybody, God. I didn’t hold the sword that killed Uriah.”
“Oh yes you did, David. You took your power, and you abused it. You used that power to have that man murdered. You’re the guy guilty of murder, not the soldiers in the city of Amnon. What makes it even worse, David, is because you’re my king, you’re supposed to be the supreme final arbitrator of the Bible. You’re supposed to be the final word that enforces the law of God in Israel. David, you are my boy. I gave you everything that you have, and David, if you wanted more, I would’ve given you more, but you didn’t ask for it; you took something that didn’t belong to you, David. You took something that you had no right to. You took it for yourself. You abused the power that I gave you. David, you took this ewe lamb, this little innocent female lamb that Nathan tells the story about, and you stole it from a guy who that’s all he had, and you had plenty of lambs in your flock, David. But you wanted more, and because you wanted more, because you took something that didn’t belong to you, David, the full consequences of what you’ve just done weighs on your head.”
David traded his relationship with God. Don’t ever forget this. When this went down, David was supposed to be God’s appointed man, a man after God’s own heart, and he stole this woman and murdered her husband, had an affair and lied to cover it up, basically crushed 5 of the 10 Commandments in one action here by taking something that didn’t belong to him. But really what David did that was worse than any of that, David traded God for Bathsheba.
My guess is, all of you know somebody who’s done something similar. You know this lady who is a genuine follower of Jesus, and she was trying to share her faith. She was trying to influence others to come to know Christ. She met this guy. She met him for the right reasons. She developed the right kind of relationship with him, just trying to influence his faith in Jesus, and in the process, she got romantically involved. Then pretty soon, not only did she get involved, but she got married.This is something that the Bible is strictly against, and now he’s not more spiritual because of it. She’s less spiritual because of this marriage. She chose a man over Jesus.
Or unfortunately, here’s what’s happening in many churches today: There’s a guy who grows up, he knows the Bible. He’s been taught well in church, and at some point, he developed an attraction to other guys. He knows exactly what the Bible says about this, but instead, he follows this attraction and he starts to head down this road, starts to open the gate that Tim Montgomery talks about. He starts to head down this road, and eventually, he’s trading his relationship with Jesus for a relationship with somebody else.
This is a great offense against God. The offense is, “You took a person over me, David? (really, it doesn’t even matter who that person is) You chose a woman, you chose a man instead of me?” And now David has the full consequence hanging over his head.
III. David’s second chance is a scandal
Today, what I really want you to see is, how does David react? I want you to see really what God does as a result of this. It’s incredible what David does; it’s scandalous what God does. God gives David a second chance. He gives him a perfect ending after a colossal mistake in the beginning. It doesn’t seem right. It shouldn’t seem fair to you. You see, if you know the Bible, you should be thinking to yourself, “Wait a second. Exodus chapter 21 is very clear about this. Anyone who murders must be put to death.” If you know Leviticus chapter 20, you know that any man caught in adultery must be executed. There is no room for discussion here. This applies to everyone in Israel, even Israel’s King. What David just did was worse than Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton all put together, and he gets away with it apparently scot-free.”
It is because of God’s scandalous grace that David gets something that he should not get. David gets off of the hook and doesn’t have to suffer what the Bible says somebody has to suffer for this sin, for this mistake. I want you to hear how David responds. 2nd Samuel chapter 12, verses 13 and 14:
2 Samuel 12:13-14
Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. 14 Nevertheless, because you have shown utter contempt for the word of the Lord by doing this, your child will die.”
Notice David says, “I sinned against God.” No David, you sinned against Uriah. You sinned against Bathsheba. You sinned against your kingdom. You sinned against just about everybody! “Yeah, but my first sin was against God.” Notice he doesn’t try to explain it away. He doesn’t try to rationalize it. He doesn’t try to blame it on his parents. He doesn’t try to say that because my daddy left me, that I did this. That’s not the way David does this. He says, “I’m wrong. I made a mistake. God, I’m begging you to forgive me.”
Nathan replies, “Yeah you did, David.” Wait a second. This can’t be right. This can’t be what the Bible is saying, is it? “But the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for their sin.”
Alright, now we’ve got a problem, because Exodus 21 and Leviticus 20 say somebody has to die for what just happened here, and Nathan is saying, “David, you’re not going to have to die because of this.”
You can get confused if you’re not careful. According to the Bible, when somebody has sinned like this, someone has to pay the penalty, and the penalty is death. Don’t be mistaken. Verse 14 isn’t saying that this innocent child was a human sacrifice to pay for David’s sin. That’s not what’s happening in the Bible here. The “Oh, my God!” scandalous grace moment in the Bible here, this moment where we think, “God, I can’t really be reading this, right? This isn’t really true. You didn’t really just let that guy off the hook did you, God? Your Bible says somebody has to die for what David just did. Look, he smashed 5 of the 10 Commandments right here. He lied. He took something that didn’t belong to him. He had adulterous relationship. He murdered…” But really what he did is, he broke the first Commandment. He decided, “I will play God. I will call the shots. I decide what I do and what I don’t do.” He became God in his own life, not the God of Israel.
“God, you’re going to let him off the hook for this?” You see, the thing that should cause us to struggle for just the second right here is, “Wait a second, God. It ain’t right if you let this guy go. In fact, you can’t call yourself just. If you are the judge of Heaven and earth, and you let this guy off the hook, the Bible doesn’t allow you to do that, God. But you also can’t call yourself loving if you make this guy suffer the full consequences for what he just did. A loving God would figure out a way to let him off the hook, but a just God can’t let him off the hook. How can these two things possibly be true at the same time?”
Here’s what David knows: David knows somebody is going to die for this sin, and not my baby. Ultimately, God is going to come and die for what I just did. David knows that God will send a king, one of his own descendants, who will ultimately pay the full measure for that sin that David just committed, and it is because of the death of Jesus and only because of the death of Jesus that David gets a do-over, that David gets a second chance.
This is the “Oh, my God!” moment that causes you to fall on your knees and cry out to God. “This is a scandal. This is unimaginable, God! -that you would do this for anybody. And here’s what’s worse: David knew better. David was your boy. David knew what he was doing was wrong. He knew it was wrong when he did it, and he did it anyway. If that guy doesn’t suffer the full consequences for his sin, then God, it just doesn’t seem right. It just doesn’t seem fair.”
Here’s what I want you to understand: Where your sin is the greatest, God’s grace is even greater. I’m going to say it one more time: Where your sin is the biggest, where your mistake is the hugest, God’s grace is even greater than that.
If you will do what David did, if you will run to him, if you’ll admit your mistake to him first and foremost… You see, all sin is ultimately a sin against God. God made you to be perfect, and if you don’t live up to that, you have failed God, and any time you hurt somebody else, it is also an offense against God. David ran to God. David fell on his face before God begging for mercy and said, “God, please don’t give me the full measure for my sin.” (Psalm 51) “I deserve it, but I’m asking you, don’t pour out the full wrath on me.” And because David knew that God would one day send somebody who would pay the full consequences, David didn’t have to go through the full measure, the full consequences for that sin.
It’s not David’s baby who paid for the sin. It’s Jesus Christ, the son of God who would pay for this mistake and every mistake that I have ever committed, every mistake that you ever committed. I’m trying to make this as clear as I can for you today. You can’t be good enough, you can’t work hard enough to earn perfection. There’s no way to have a perfect ending after a bad beginning. Those two things can’t exist at the same time…unless God does a miracle, unless God covers your sin by the blood of Jesus and gives you the promise of eternal life with him in Heaven, gives you credit for something you don’t deserve for the life that Jesus lived. That’s what’s available to anyone who runs to Jesus in the midst of their sin and says, “God, I was wrong. I’m sorry. I’m asking you to forgive me.”
• I realize that I need scandalous grace. Today I asked Jesus to forgive my sins for the first time.
– I have made a bad beginning of my life. By God’s grace, I’m not going to let my past determine my future.
+ I will face 2018 with a freedom and a vision for my future.
- What was the most difficult game that you played as a child? Were you good at it right away?
- Have you ever been given a second chance after making a huge mistake? If so, explain the circumstances.
- If you could undo one thing from 2017, what would it be?
- A past mistake can cause lingering guilt. How should Jesus’s people face their future after a past mistake?
- What is your vision for 2018? (What do you hope next year will bring?)
- People use the phrase “nobody’s perfect” to cover up a mistake. According to the Bible, is that statement true? (Explain your answer using Bible passages.)
- Praise God for the gift of his grace.