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Psalm 51 records David’s humble plea for mercy and forgiveness as he laments his sin of adultery. He starts by acknowledging his utter disregard for God’s law, and confesses his failure to reflect God’s standard of holiness. His repentance is fervent and sincere, and he pleads for cleansing — for a new beginning with God.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight . . .
Sin grieves God’s Spirit and breaks our fellowship with our Heavenly Father. David understood that, and he yearned for restoration. He craved the joy that would give him strength to once again pursue righteousness — joy that is founded upon a very real understanding of our sinfulness and an awe-filled awareness of God’s holiness.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
David craved a return of that joy, not just for his own emotional relief, but to use his experience to teach others. He wanted his journey from brokenness to forgiveness to serve as an example of how God views sin and how He lovingly restores true joy after genuine repentance for sin.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
Joy is not a sacrifice when our hearts are right with God! It is not something we can manufacture on our own, or find by losing ourselves in feel-good entertainment. It’s planted in a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, watered by careful attention to His Word, and grown by obedience to His Spirit’s leading and guiding.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Long testimonies, busy services, and packed auditoriums mean little when our hearts are not right with God. An altar overflowing with sacrificial offerings is only pleasing to God when people are truly penitent and broken before Him.