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Psalm 51

What God Can Do for the Guilty

  • Samuel Wilson
  • Weekend Messages
  • March 19, 2023

  • Sermon Notes
  • Scripture

What God Can Do for The Guilty

Psalm 51         


He is a known and noted man in Scripture. In his life as a man after God’s own heart…We looked at the description of his early life a couple of weeks ago, where he was a shepherd boy, a servant, a harp player, and a giant conqueror. Many of the Scripture that record David’s life show his great triumphs, but in Psalm 51, we come to a point in David’s life that displays his greatest tragedy. Knowing his backstory, it is almost difficult to believe that we are looking at the same person. He is known as the shepherd boy after God’s own heart, the warrior king, the psalmist, the one through whose lineage Jesus Christ would come…But then he sins, he sins horribly, and it causes one to wonder, is it the end for David? Is he done? Finished? He sins, he is guilty what will the outcome of his life now be?

The superscription of our text today, tells us what had taken place just before he had written this Psalm. And what had taken place was the great tragedy in David’s life. There are two names most associated with David, one is with his great triumph, what name is that? Hint, it starts with a “G” _______________. There is another name in David’s life, one most associated with his great tragedy, what name is that? Hint, it starts with a “B” _______________?

The superscription is honest about the circumstances surrounding the writing of the Psalm, it tells of the times when the prophet Nathan came to David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. The details of what took place between David and Bathsheba, as well as David and Nathan are given in a detailed account in 2 Samuel 11-12.


Backstory: 2 Samuel Chapters 11 and 12.  


Read: Psalm 51


  1. He Can Show His Mercy


Psalm 51:1-4, Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion 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, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. (NASB 95’)


  • The prophet Nathan told David after his confession, that his sin was forgiven, but it was still haunting him.


  • Often our souls have a hard time, even though we know we have been forgiven. How could I do that? Why did I do that?


  • David approached God…


  • “Be gracious to me, O God, according to your lovingkindness.”


Psalm 51:1, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (NIV)


Psalm 51:1, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (ESV)


  • When David wrote, “be gracious to me,” “have mercy on me,” the word for “be gracious” and “have mercy” is a word that means to have pity on, to bring relief to, to bend or stoop toward in kindness, to be gracious.


  • David’s prayer to God is from a man who knows he has done wrong, there is no self-justification.


  • David asks for mercy, and as he makes his plea to God, he wrote, according to YOUR mercy.


  • Have mercy on me O God, according to YOUR lovingkindness, according to YOUR compassions, according to YOUR abundant mercy.


  • David appeals to God’s “lovingkindness,” that is His goodness, His faithfulness, His kindness. That is a word in Hebrew associated with God’s covenant mercy, “hesed.”


  • David continues, according to the greatness of your compassion (NASB), according to your abundant mercy (ESV), according to the multitude of thy tender mercies (KJV).


  • The word mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone when it is within one’s power to punish them.


  • David knows his wrong and he is pleading for mercy, according to God’s mercy, according to the multitude of His mercies.


Charles Spurgeon Commentary – “Men are greatly terrified at the multitude of their sins, but here is a comfort – our God hath multitude of mercies. If our sins be in number as the hairs of our head, God’s mercies are as the stars of heaven.”


  • David was not asking for mercy according to all David had done, he was not trying to find reason to convince God to provide mercy according to any of the good deeds he had done on previous days, rather, he sought God according to God’s abundant mercies.


Ephesians 2:1-9, (NASB 95’)


  • In Ephesians 2, Paul wrote about God’s grace and mercy offering to people like David, given to people like you and me, that we were dead in transgressions, but then we were made alive in Christ, and God’s forgiveness to the undeserved, shows the riches of His grace in the ages to come…


  • Since the days of David, it has been “ages,” yet David’s story, shows us the abundance of God’s mercy to a man who clearly deserved differently.


  • David was not in denial of this. But he knew who God is, and he seeks Him according to the abundant mercies of God.


Psalm 103:8, The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. (NASB 95’)


Lamentations 3:21-23, This I recall to my mind; therefore, I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (NASB 95’)


  • David appeals to God according to the countless acts of mercy he had seen God give to the guilty.


  • That is what God can do for you and for me. He can show His mercy.


  • To show is to allow something to be seen, something to be exhibited, or displayed.


  • Throughout the Bible, we see God’s mercy.


  • We see Peter, who denied Jesus three times, given mercy and restored (John 21). We see a woman (John 8) who was caught in the act of adultery accused and brought before Jesus given mercy and told she could leave a life of sin. We see a persecutor of the church name Saul, putting Christians to death given mercy by God, and a commission to live His life telling others that they had the same opportunity (Acts 8-28).


  • We learn of His mercies through a story Jesus gave about a son who was on the run but was welcomed back in when he turned back to his father. We see Jesus seeking forgiveness for those crucifying, we see Jesus having mercy on a thief who was being crucified next to Him.


  • In the Old Testament, example after example of God’s mercy offered continually to the Israelites, the Ninevites, Jonah, Samson, Jacob, Abraham, Moses, David, and the list goes on.


  • This does not mean that there were not consequences when they sinned, but the Lord showed his mercy to them, when they turned to Him.


  • For the guilty, God can show His mercy. It is seen in examples of people throughout history who have turned to God and have been given mercy. So, the Lord will show it in that sense as an example.


  • He will also show it in the way of mercy displayed personally at the time of a person’s turning from sin, and to Him.


Psalm 51:3-4, For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.


  • David not only knew he needed God’s mercy, he understood that he was at God’s mercy, that God was justified when it came to his sin being judged.


  • David noted that what he had done, was against God.


  • It is not that David did not sin against others, he did. Objectively, David had sinned against many.


  • His statement here gives insights into this moment in his life. When he realized his wrong before the Lord. He had done wrong to others, but he had done wrong in God’s sight.


  • God saw it all, he had sinned in God’s sight, it was wrong according to human laws, but more importantly, it was wrong in God’s eyes.


Illus. Laws.


  • David is saying I was wrong, I have done evil, I plea for your mercy, Lord, I won’t argue with whatever you decide to do.


  • David knew this well because for nearly a year, his sin, what he had done, was ever before him. In other words, he could not turn his mind from it, it was front of mind.


Psalm 32:3-5, When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (NLT)


  • David tells the story of God showing him mercy.


  • And that is what God can do for the guilty, He can show them mercy.


Micah 7:18-19, Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (NIV)


Illus. Who will show it?


  • When the Lord described himself to Moses in the book of Exodus, he used these words to describe Himself…


Exodus 34:6-7(a), Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin…” (NASB 95’)


  • God can show the guilty mercy, it is who He is, He abounds in it.


  1. He Can Cleanse Personally


Psalm 51:7-10, Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which 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 steadfast spirit within me.


  • After speaking of his sin and his plea for mercy, David asks the Lord to wash him and make him clean.


  • This request is seen throughout the Psalm, in verse 1, “blot out my transgressions,” in verse 2, wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin… In verse 7, “purify me with hyssop,” “wash me and make me whiter than snow,” verse 9, blot out my iniquities, verse 10 “Create in me a clean heart.”


  • David describes his sin three different ways, using three different word: sin, iniquity, and transgression.


Psalm 32:5, I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. (NASB 95’)


Illus. Sin, Iniquity, Transgression.


  • David says, I’ve got it all going on, I’ve missed the mark, I have distorted good, I have completely crossed the line.


  • David makes it personal: MY transgressions (verse 1), MY iniquity (verse 2), MY sin (verse 2).


1 John 3:20, In whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things… (NASB 95’)


  • Though he had sinned, though he was guilty, he knew that God could cleanse, and God could cleanse him personally.


1 Peter 2:24, He Himself brought our sins in His body up on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by His wounds you were healed. (NASB 20’)


  • This verse is for us all collectively, but is also applied to us personally, Jesus brought MY sins in His body up on the cross, so that I might die to sin, and live for righteousness, by His wounds I am healed.


  • David knew that he needed to be made clean. Purify me with hyssop, this was an herb used in ceremonial purifications, it was used to apply the blood of the Passover lamb in the book of Exodus (Exodus 12:22).


  • David wrote purify me, purge me with hyssop. Wash me thoroughly, white as snow, make me clean, blot out my iniquities.


Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us debate your case,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall become as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.


  • David essentially says here, “no need to debate my case, Lord you are right, I am wrong, cleanse me like only you can, wash me thoroughly in the abundance of your mercy.”


Illus. Stained Glass.


Jeremiah 31:34, I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.


  • David asks the Lord in verse 8 to let him hear joy and gladness.


  • It seems that all he saw was his sin, it was ever before him. It seems that he could not hear anything else.


  • It is a picture of all his senses were stifled. He knew that there was only one way out, he needed God to do what only He could do and make all things new.


1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…


Romans 6:23, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NASB 95’)


 Ephesians 1:7, In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.



  • Just as David was specific about his sin, calling it My sin, My transgression, My iniquity, he was also specific about what he needed personally, “create in ME a clean heart.”


  • What was true for David is true for you and me, we need God’s forgiveness, washing, cleansing, and an abundance of His tender mercies, personally.


  • And just like David, God can forgive the things of which we were guilty, personally.


  • David made his plea to God, it was personal, it was what he needed from God alone at his time of need…It was mercy.


Psalm 130:1-4, Out of the depths I have cried to You, Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleadings. If You, Lord, were to keep account of guilty deeds, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You…


1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB 95’)


Illus. Clean Anything.


Psalm 103:12, As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.


Romans 8:1, Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.


III.   He Can Give the Joy of His Salvation Presently


Psalm 51:12, Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.


  • In verse 12, David literally asks that that joy of salvation would return to him. In other words, it had been lost.


  • His sin had separated him from the joy of God’s presence.


  • David felt the misery of defeat, the woes of walking the wrong path. He desired his joy to be restored.


  • David needed his joy restored; it was gone. Due to all he had done wrong, it was depleted, in his guilt, his joy was gone…But he knew that the only way for His joy to be restored, was if he returned to God.


Psalm 32:1-2, Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them.


  • “Blessed” or, “how happy” is the one whose transgressions are forgiven.


  • David wanted more than happiness however, he wanted joy. Happiness is based on outward circumstances, whereas joy is based on internal circumstances.


  • It is a word here that depicts rejoicing, cheerfulness, gladness in salvation.


  • David wanted the Lord to restore that to Him.


  • From Psalm 16, we know that in God’s presence, there is fullness of joy.


  • That though he was reaping difficulty do the seeds he had been sowing, God, in His mercy, could bring to him the joy of salvation despite all that he did.


Psalm 34:6, This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. (NASB 95’)


Matthew 5:1, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


Illus. Abide.


  • That is what God can do for me, that is what God can do for you, that is what God can do for the guilty.


  • David didn’t deserve it, but nor do we, God does not give mercy based upon our merit.


Illus. Deserved?


Titus 2:11-14, The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and in a godly manner in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, eager for good deeds. (NASB 20’)

Psalm 51

Be gracious to me, God, according to Your faithfulness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion, wipe out my wrongdoings.
2Wash me thoroughly from my guilt
And cleanse me from my sin.
3For I know my wrongdoings,
And my sin is constantly before me.
4Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
5Behold, I was brought forth in guilt,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
6Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in secret You will make wisdom known to me.
7 Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
Cleanse me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones You have broken rejoice.
9Hide Your face from my sins
And wipe out all my guilty deeds.
10Create in me a clean heart, God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach wrongdoers Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You.
14Save me from the guilt of bloodshed, God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
15Lord, open my lips,
So that my mouth may declare Your praise.
16For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You do not take pleasure in burnt offering.
17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, God, You will not despise.
18By Your favor do good to Zion;
Build the walls of Jerusalem.
19Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices,
In burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
Then bulls will be offered on Your altar.

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