SERMON TITLE: Justice for the Adulterer
TEXT: Psalm 51 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — is that God loves you and I love you too.
And a quick reminder as we’re finishing up our Evil series today. The topic for today is meant for a mature crowd — meaning if you’ve got elementary age — or younger — kids with you. You may want to get them to Kidway right now — or be prepared to have an interesting conversation on your way home. So there’s your parental guidance warning.
Now we’ve been calling this series Evil because we’ve noticed a tendency among us to call things good that God has said are evil. Where we blur the lines between good and evil, acquire a taste for evil, and even allow evil practices to become acceptable. And this is just as true in the church as it is anywhere else. So we’ve been looking at the ways we exhaust God by calling good — what He’s said is evil — and what it means to experience His justice for doing so.
And the idea behind this series is found in the Old Testament book of Malachi who wrote these words.
“You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, "How have we wearied him?" By saying, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them." Or by asking, "Where is the God of justice?" (Then the prophet gives some examples of the evil going on in his day.) "Then I (that’s God speaking...then I) will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 2:17; 3:5 ESV)
And these two verses have been our guide in this series.
We began by looking at God’s justice and we discovered that it has both a retributive and a liberating side. There’s the side of justice we usually think of — judgment — punishment — getting what you deserve. But there’s also an unexpected freeing — a liberating — side to God’s justice.
Retributive justice is — generally speaking — what our nation’s criminal justice system is built on. Where the role of the judge is “to punish misconduct...to punish violations of court orders, and to enforce an order to make a person refrain from doing something,” — the judge makes the decision about whether a person is “innocent or guilty.” (“What is the Role of a Judge?” in Law and Legal Issues, http://www.ride.ri.gov/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Instruction-and-Assessment-World-Class-Standards/Transition/EIA-CCSS/BlanchetteC-Trial_Alexander-Role_of_a_Judge.pdf, Accessed December 28th, 2018.)
And because this kind of justice is what we’re most familiar with — we apply it to God. So we view God as a judge — which is true. He’s given us laws and — if we break them — He’ll find us guilty and will punish us accordingly.
But that’s only one side of God’s justice . And a fault of ours — is that for many — this is our only view of God’s justice. But there is a liberating side to it. Where slaves are set free, orphans find a home, and victims are rescued. And in this series, we’ve been looking at how these two aspects of God’s justice apply to common situations in our world today.
For example, we saw how God’s justice applies to people who practice the many different religions in our world. Pastor Ben showed us how God’s justice applies to the areas of immigration and sanctity of life.
Last week, we looked at God’s justice at how it applies to lying. And today, we’re looking at God’s justice for the adulterer.
Now this isn’t the first time Malachi has brought up marriage and the brokenness we experience in this relationship. Earlier — in chapter 2— God brings up two things against His people. First, they’ve committed a type of spiritual adultery.
“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!” (Malachi 2:10-12 ESV)
The men were marrying foreign women who worshipped false gods. And this led to idolatry for God’s people — they abandoned worshipping God alone and committed spiritual adultery by worshipping the false gods of these foreign women.
But that’s not all — there’s a breakdown happening in the marriages of God’s people as well. “And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, "Why does he not?" Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 "For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless."” (Malachi 2:13-16 ESV)
Marriages are falling apart. Men are being faithless to their wives. They’re divorcing their wives so they can marry foreign women all while bringing offerings to God that they think are pleasing to Him. And God says — in doing all of this — they’re clothing themselves in violence. Not exactly a fashion statement you want to make. “What brand are those jeans? Oh they’re violence and destruction from the Lord because I’ve been unfaithful to my spouse. Want to try them on?” No thanks!
Now for some of us — I know this is a first — a sermon on the topic of adultery. It’s a first for me — so we’ll see how this goes. But here’s why this topic is relevant for us.
Surveys show that, in the United States, nearly 22% of married men and 14% of married women have committed some kind of an adulterous act at least once in their life.
36% of adulterous relationships happen with a co-worker and/or on a business trip.
And this one’s pretty sick — 17% of infidelity is with a brother or sister-in-law. (“Latest Infidelity Statistics of USA,” Divorce Statistics, divorcestatistics.info, http://www.divorcestatistics.info/latest-infidelity-statistics-of-usa.html, Accessed January 1, 2019. )
Now there are all kinds of ways to respond to statistics like this — my reaction is — “those stats seem way too low” — but how do you respond to them? One response is to not see anything really wrong with adultery. Sure it might be harmful in some situations, but maybe you’re someone who can see adultery as being the right thing to do in certain situations. Many — who’ve committed adultery — have said, “What else was I supposed to do? My marriage was miserable and I finally found happiness with someone. Was I supposed to stay miserable?”
This is the narrative found in films, television, and books — where adultery is made out to be exciting and romantic — and they paint a picture of how giving into your passions for someone who’s not your spouse — can be the right thing to do if you’re unhappy in your marriage.
Another response you may have to the statistics is to grieve — because you’re the spouse who was betrayed. You’ve experienced the pain of losing trust in your partner — of seeing them run off with someone else. You know what it’s like to question whether or not you’re worthy of being loved, of feeling like maybe you did something wrong that caused your spouse to betray you, you’ve felt the full weight of a broken marriage.
But not only will the betrayed grieve — it’s possible — if you’re the adulterer — to grieve as well. You’ve experienced the embarrassment of getting caught — or maybe you haven’t been caught but you never imagined being someone who’d betray their spouse, and maybe you’re afraid because you know that you deserve punishment from God.
Others — here — may be in a different place. You haven’t committed adultery — yet — but you’re in the midst of great temptation. Maybe you thought of a co-worker who you know things have crossed a line with. You’re in an unhappy marriage right now and are longing for affection from someone at work, at church, a friend who you desire to share and do things with that should only be done with your spouse. You haven’t committed adultery, but are dangerously close to doing so.
And for some — even for Christians — giving in to this sin has pulled you away from the healing presence of God and from the people who love you. You may be struggling with depression because of this sin. You may feel hopeless because of this sin. And even with all of the consequences — you’re still tempted to do it again.
And — you should know — that adultery is a Christian problem. Current statistics show that we Christians are deeply confused about adultery. In a recent survey, people were asked, “How often, if ever, would you say the following activities would be cheating on your spouse?” Here are the results for evangelical Christians — people like us:
Watching porn without your spouse – 31% consider this cheating. 69% of Christians approve of this. As if watching porn at all is a God honoring activity!
Sending flirtatious messages to someone besides your spouse – 58% consider this cheating. 42% of Christians like us think this is OK.
Sending sexually explicit messages to someone other than your spouse – only 75% agree that this is cheating. 25% of Christians think this is OK. It doesn’t get any better folks.
Romantically kissing someone other than your spouse – 78% agree that this is cheating. 22% of people — claiming to be disciples of Jesus — think this is OK.
Having a one-night stand with someone other than your spouse – 78% say this is cheating. Again, 22% of evangelical Christians think a one-night stand isn’t wrong.
And — finally — having regular sexual relations with someone other than your spouse. You ready? Only 82% consider this cheating. Somehow 18% of people like us think regularly committing adultery isn’t committing adultery.
So what does this tell us? As one blogger has said, “we can no longer assume that even those in our churches are aware of what constitutes inappropriate sexual behavior.” (Joe Carter, “Survey Reveals Many Evangelicals Are Confused About Adultery,” The Gospel Coalition, thegospelcoalition.org, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/survey-reveals-many-evangelicals-are-confused-about-adultery/, Accessed January 1, 2019.)
Now look, I get that anyone can claim to be an evangelical Christian. So I get that not everyone who responded to the questions are actual believers in Jesus. But let’s not be fooled. There are folks just like them among us — people who you know — maybe even someone listening to my voice right now — who’d say quick as anything — “Yeah, I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus. I’m going to Heaven when I die. Hold on a second, I’ve got to call my girlfriend — no, not my wife — my girlfriend — to schedule our next sexcapade.”
So with all of this humbling — and disheartening news — let’s turn to our Bibles for hope — because hope is what we all need in this adulterous world we live in.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Psalm 51. We’ll be looking at the entire psalm today.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something I like to do is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text it to the number printed on the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
Now if you look at the heading of Psalm 51 — it tells us why this psalm was written. It says: “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Now what happened with Bathsheba is pretty well known — you can find the story in 2 Samuel chapter 11 — but here’s short version.
David is king. And at this point in his life, his soldiers have told him to stop going out into battle — “You’re too valuable as the nation’s leader to keep risking your life in war” — they say — “so stay home.”
So his army is out fighting and David’s home. And one day, he goes up onto the roof of his house — which was basically a large balcony — this is his version of a front porch or a back deck — and as he’s looking out over his kingdom — David sees a woman bathing who’s described as being “very beautiful.” Now here’s what David didn’t do.
He didn’t bounce his eyes. “Whoops, that beautiful woman is bathing — look away!” That’s not what he did.
He didn’t flee from temptation— “I know I’m going to look again so I’m headed downstairs.” Didn’t do that either.
He didn’t get one of the palace workers to become his accountability partner — “Next time I go up on the roof, you’ve got to come with me in case that woman is bathing again.” Nope.
David was so captivated — the biblical word is tempted — that he had to know who she was. So David uses his power as king to discover her identity — he wasn’t going to let this go until he knew who she was. He was clearly obsessed — and — oh by the way — he’s married. And so is she.
And someone recognized her and said, “Isn’t that Bathsheba? Isn’t she married? Yeah, she’s married to Uriah?” But David doesn’t care.
David, a man chosen by God to be king of Israel.
David, a man who wrote words that are in our Bible.
David, who’s described as being a “man after God’s own heart” — sends someone to go get this woman and his only purpose was to have sex with her.
And they did. And then she went home. And apparently twenty-two percent of evangelical Christians don’t see anything wrong with what they did. So that’s the end of story, right? Wrong.
Bathsheba’s pregnant! And she let’s David know because the baby is definitely his. You see, Uriah — her husband — is one of David’s soldiers. He’s out fighting on David’s behalf. He’s out in harm’s way for his king — who’s home sleeping with his wife. This is like an ancient soap opera.
So David does what you do when you’ve sinned and are about to get caught. He tries to cover it all up. David calls for Uriah to come home from the battlefield. David thinks, “Problem solved. Uriah will come back and — like any soldier who’s been off to war — he’ll be eager to be with his wife. And the timing will all work out and Uriah will think the child is his.”
But the Bible describes Uriah as being “too noble” to do this while his fellow soldiers are still out in battle — he refuses to go in and sleep with his wife while his men are at war.
So what does David do? Does he admit the truth? Does he tell Uriah what he did — that he had sex with Bathsheba, and that she’s pregnant with his child? No. David thinks that getting Uriah drunk will solve the problem — surely a drunk soldier who’s just returned from war will go and sleep with his wife. And when that doesn’t work — David arranges to have Uriah killed — and that’s what happens. And David quickly marries Bathsheba in an attempt to cover up his sin.
Do you hear — can you see — the depth of control this sin had on David? David had a man killed to cover up his sin.
And in one of the most understated sentences in the Bible, the story ends with: “The thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” (2 Samuel 11:27b ESV)
And only after being confronted by a prophet sent by God to expose his sin — does David break down and confess what he had done.
So let’s talk justice. What does David deserve? He committed adultery, he got a guy’s wife pregnant, and then had her husband murdered in order to marry her — so what does David deserve? What does justice look like here?
Now — if you only view justice through the lens of retribution — of getting what you deserve — if there’s no liberating — or freeing justice — then there’s only one way this ends for David, right? And it ain’t good because David’s committed adultery and murder.
But astonishingly, Nathan — the prophet sent by God — tells David this: “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13b ESV).
David experiences the liberating justice of God. There are still consequences for his sin, but — as we’ll see — God’s liberating justice changes David. This is the context in which we need to hear David’s words in Psalm 51.
David writes, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (David turns to his only hope — his merciful and loving God.) 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (He’s no longer denying or trying to cover up his sin, David’s asking God to wash him — to make him clean — to purify him of his sin.)
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. (He’s conscious of his sin — it’s constantly before him — it grieves him.) 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (David’s not denying that he’s hurt others — like Uriah and Bathsheba — but he knows that ultimately what makes sin sin is that it is against God. Sin is an attack on God — it’s a belittling of God. Hurting another person is bad — but sinning against God is infinitely worse. David says...) 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (David acknowledges that the seed of this sin has been with him before he was born — he has a sinful nature — but he doesn’t use this as an excuse — “I can’t help it — I was born this way” — that’s not what he does — though we often do. He doesn’t excuse his sin, but he acknowledges that he’s corrupted by it.)
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (David says that God has been his teacher. God has made him wise — if you read the stories about him you see that David has done many incredibly wise things. Yet — here — at this moment in his life — sin got the upper hand. And — listen — some of you have done incredibly wise things but you’re not beyond sinning in destructive ways — I’m not beyond it either. Let David’s words be a warning to you. “I’ve been blessed with so much knowledge and wisdom — God’s been my Teacher— so how deep must my depravity be that I could sin against God like this,” he says.)
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. (After turning to God for mercy — after praying for forgiveness and asking God to cleanse him — after confessing the depth and greatness of his sin and corruption — David now pleads for renewal. He’s passionately committed to being changed by God. And he’s going to pray for things that — no matter the sin you’re guilty of — if you want to be changed by God — if you want to experience a renewal of your heart so you have the desires of God’s heart — here are things to ask God to renew in you. First, David prays for a heart and spirit that are new and righteous.)
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (He’s saying that he wants to be done with the kind of instability that he’s just experienced. And — as he asked for earlier in verse 8 — he wants temptation to be replaced with joy and gladness in God. Second — he prays that God would confirm to him that he’s held within God’s loving election.)
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. (David’s not thinking that maybe he’ll lose his salvation — David’s meaning, “Don’t treat me as someone whom You haven’t chosen, God. Don’t let me prove to be bad soil for the seed of Your Word. Confirm to me that I’m Your child and that I’m securely held in Your hands.)
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (David returns again to what he knows is key in battling any kind of temptation. Notice he hasn’t said anything about adultery — so even if this isn’t a sin that’s close to home for you — what David’s saying still applies to your sin struggles.
David constantly returns to the idea of joy. If you want to fight sin — if you want to not give into temptation — if you want to be renewed — the key is to have joy in the Lord. Because every temptation is ultimately promising you one thing — this will give you joy — this will give you happiness. And every time you or I sin it’s because we believe the lie that sin will give you a joy that Jesus can’t give.
So how do you have joy in the Lord? By remembering. Remembering who God is by studying who He is in the Bible — because we’re a forgetful people. We say things like “God is good all the time and all the time God is good.” But have Ohio State lose to Michigan in a football game and let’s see how good you think God is. Or when you do your taxes and find out you owe the government money. God is good — right — all the time?
But if we fight to remember how good God is — those situations won’t affect us like they do. And neither would whatever it is in your life that’s caused you to forget and doubt the goodness of God.
Or that He loves you unconditionally.
Or that you’re His son or daughter — if you believe in Jesus.
Or that He’s forgiven you.
Is kind towards you.
Has a plan for you.
Loves to hear from you.
And on and on I could go.
We lose our joy in the Lord because we don’t take time to remind ourselves of who He is and who He’s said we are. And when you listen to Him — when you allow God’s Word and Spirit to remind you of who God is — joy is the supernatural byproduct. And look at the result of having joy in the Lord. David says...) 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
(You want to know why you don’t share your faith with others — why you don’t evangelize? You lack joy in the Lord. We say things like, “Well I don’t really know what to say” and “I don’t want to mess it up” or “I don’t want to be the weird guy who ruins the dinner conversation” but nobody else does that. People who love the Patriots right now are talking about them winning another Super Bowl whether you want to hear about it or not. I’ve heard guys talk about spring training starting up — why — because they love baseball — it gives them joy. And when you have joy in the Lord you tell others about Him. You get excited about talking about Him because you’re excited by Him. This is one of the most convicting things in my life — God give me greater joy in You so I talk about You more to others. David continues...) 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Repentance and forgiveness lead to worship that pleases God. I wonder how many of us come here each week to offer God worship while having refused to repent of sin? Where we’re coming in here stained by our sin and guilt — even the sin of adultery — not broken before Him — standing prideful in our sin — and thinking that He’s pleased with our offerings of praise?) 18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. (In all of this — to worship God rightly — we need His help. That’s how helpless we are — how broken — how in need of renewal.)” (Psalm 51:1-19 ESV)
And renewal is only possible because Jesus graciously offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. When it comes to this topic of adultery, sometimes we forget that Jesus is described as the faithful husband to His bride — the church — to us. And though He’s faithful — we’re unfaithful. We’re an unfaithful spouse who cheats on the One who died for us by seeking joy in things other than Him — by devoting our lives to things besides Him — by not listening to Him — by ignoring Him.
And know that because of this, we’re all guilty. We all deserve the retributive justice of God. And — yet — our faithful Savior offers us the forgiveness and renewal that David writes about in Psalm 51. Jesus offers all of us freedom — not only from the sin of adultery — but from all sin.
So know that Jesus sympathizes with you if you’re a spouse who’s been cheated on. He knows how it feels to be betrayed.
Know that Jesus offers forgiveness to you if you’re the adulterer. He died for your sins — including adultery.
And know that Jesus is warning you if you’re unrepentant. Receive His liberating justice now or receive His retributive justice later — but you will receive His justice.
My prayer is that all of us — like David — will ask God to create in us a new heart — to renew a right spirit within us — to restore in us the joy of His salvation — and to help us all find our joy in Christ alone. Only then will we stop blurring the lines between good and evil. Only then will we be faithful husbands and wives. Only then will we be a faithful church and bride of Christ.
Have mercy on us, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out all of our transgressions. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for Your faithfulness towards us. Even when we are faithless — Jesus — You remain faithful to us because You cannot deny who You are. So, help us to walk in the assurance that You are always faithful to us. You are always good to us. You always extend forgiveness when it is asked for. You always are gracious, slow to anger, patient with us, often giving us things we do not deserve — like Your loving kindness.
Father, Son, and Spirit — help us all — no matter what our sin of choice may be — to be faithful. Faithful to our spouses. Faithful to our families. Faithful to our church. And — most importantly — faithful to You. It’s in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: RENEWAL IN THEIR SPIRIT; JOY IN THEIR SALVATION)
Receive God’s liberating justice and may your joy always be in Jesus. God loves you. I love you. You are sent.