First Mennonite Church
November 13, 2016
The Seriousness of Sin and the Pricelessness of Grace
Text: 2Samuel 12:1-15a; Ephesians 2:1-10
There is a larger background to Nathan and David story, which could help us get the whole picture. In chapter 11 of 2Samuel, we read the story of David and Bathsheba. The story is that while the whole Israelite army is out waging war, David, the commander in chief, stays back home. He wakes up from his afternoon nap and looks down from his rooftop and sees a woman bathing. The text tells us “The woman was very beautiful” (2Sam. 11:2b). David inquires about her identity. “It is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite,” David is told. David’s abuse of power is displayed in the following actions: he sends for her, takes her and sleeps with her. From the beginning it is clear that David’s intention is not and cannot be to marry the woman, for she is already married. The writer also adds an important aspect of information when he tells us the woman was just past her monthly period, which indicates she was not pregnant before her husband left for war. So when the woman sends word saying to David, “I am pregnant,” the story takes a new direction and unleashes a tragic end. David quickly devises a plan to cover up his adultery and the violation of the Commandment of God. David sends word to his army captain to send back home the woman’s husband, Uriah. David wanted Uriah to sleep with his wife and therefore deceive him about the paternity of the child to be born. But the loyal foreigner (he is a Hittite) refuses to go home to be with his wife out of respect for his comrades who are out in the battle, putting their lives in danger. So again, David devices a new scheme. This time David throws a party and has Uriah get drunk in hopes that in his state of drunkenness Uriah would go home to be with his wife. Uriah instead stays overnight with the king’s servants. In light of David’s failed attempts to cover up his sin, he comes up with a murderous plot. He writes a letter to Joab, the commander of his army and instructs him to put Uriah in the most dangerous spot of the war and then to withdraw support. Innocent and loyal Uriah seals his own fate. He hand-delivers his own sentence. Uriah gets killed and never suspects his master’s scheme and never suspects the adultery of his wife with the king.
There have been various attempts at softening the harshness and crudeness of David’s sin in this story. In the movie King David (1985) Bathsheba reveals to a shocked David the abusive nature of her husband Uriah. Thus, David’s actions seem justifiable and David is portrayed as defender of abused women. The ancient rabbis have also tried to lessen the gravity of David’s action. They argue that the chain of events was necessary to make right a marriage between a Jewish woman and a Gentile man. The only way for that was to take the Gentile husband out of the picture and that was what David did. Some others have romanticized the story and so excused David’s actions. But the writer of this text plainly says: “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord” (2Samuel 11:27). Yet, some others place the blame on the woman for bathing in plain view, thus enticing the king to commit adultery.
Once Bathsheba’s mourning days were over, over the death of her husband, David brings her home. David hopes everything will work out fine and that they will be happy ever after. But God was not over yet.
Among the king’s duties is to do justice. Therefore, the prophet Nathan comes and tells David a case between a rich man and a poor man. One has an extremely large flock and the other man has but one pet female lamb. The rich man wants to entertain a guest but refuses to butcher an animal from his flock and instead takes the only ewe of his poor neighbor to feed his guest. David bursts in anger. David swears by the life of the Lord that any such man who does such an evil thing is literally a “man of death.” “Ben-mavet” means “one who deserves to die.” A fourfold restitution is required by law from anyone who takes a lamb from his neighbor. David adds death in his sentence to the perpetrator for his lack of compassion. And right then Nathan closes in: “You are that man!” David acknowledges his sin and confesses to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (v. 13).
David grasps the seriousness of his sin. He experiences a deep conviction of his evil action. Conviction crushes the conscience and breaks the hard protective shell of a sinful heart. David confesses and repents of his sin. According to his very own sentence any man doing such an evil act deserves to die. Yet, at the very moment David admits his sin, Nathan declares God’s forgiveness. “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.
There are some lessons we can learn in this passage. Men are sexually motivated through their eyes. This is how God created us men. Men, you might well remember. When we were young our eyes told us the woman we have for wife today was very attractive and we considered the possibility of a relationship with her. For many of us what started as speechless wonder at the beauty of woman gradually led to a life-long marriage relationship. But when the married man allows his eyes to see lustfully, pain and suffering follow not only for the man and his family, but also for the objectified woman. That was the case of David.
This story also shows how wrong choices made can quickly lead to more serious ones when instead of dealing with them, we try to cover them up.
Underlying this story is the problem of sin. Chapter 51 of the book of Psalms is believed to be the prayer of David when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. In verse five we read:
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
So, when do we learn to do evil? Are we simply born sinners, corrupt from conception on? Or is there something, a situation, or a given environment which triggers our evil disposition to do evil? If we are born sinners, where is the free will we say God has given us?
In his novel Of Human Bondage, W Somerset Maugham tells the story of Philip. 9-year old Philip Carey enters King’s School and immediately discovers it to be a house of torment. Philip has what back in those days was called clubfoot. For whatever reason, Philip’s new school companions are fascinated with the way he walks. They begin to mimic the way he walks. On the second day of school they invite Philip to play their game of “Pig in the Middle” during recess. In this game one of the boys will enter the center of the playground and will need to catch any boy who would dash into the center. Of course, poor Philip is the new pig. He cannot catch any of the boys roving past him. One of the boys hatches the bright idea of mimicking Philip as he dashes into the center with just the right combination of awkwardness and speed so as to mock Philip and avoid being caught. The whole gang of boys decide to do the same thing. Philip, humiliated and helpless, remains the pig throughout the whole time.
That night in the dorm, a boy named Singer approaches Philip and makes a request: “I say, let’s look at your foot.” Philip refuses and jumps into his bed and curls up wrapping the bedclothes around his legs. Singer calls another boy and they pin down Philip’s arms and twist them. And once again Singer asks, “Why don’t you show us your leg quietly and you’d be done with it?” But another boy joins in and a horrified Philip finally thrusts his leg out from under the covers. Each of the boys take his time to inspect Philip’s legs as they trace his deformed legs as if it were not a part of Philip’s body. “How beastly they look!” each exclaimed.
Did we learn to do evil by seeing others do it? How much moral power does a young person have to resist doing what is wrong? What does it take to take a stand against evil when committed by others?
David was convicted by the word of God spoken through the prophet Nathan. Again in Psalm 51, verse eight, David prays, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.”
When God convicts us of sin it feels like our heart is being crushed. Sometimes the only way we respond to God’s conviction is by crying before God as we confess our wrong doing and plead for forgiveness. Yet, the only way we can experience true conviction of sin is by acknowledging that sin as a serious violation of God’s will. Unless we comprehend the seriousness of sin, we cannot understand, much less experience the power and pricelessness of grace. When our view of sin equates to casual human weakness our view of grace is nothing more than cheap benevolence on the part of God.
Today we are having Communion. In the story of Nathan, the rich man took and killed the only beloved lamb of the poor man. Making a big leap, in Communion we are invited by the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is the sacrificed Lamb of God. And we partake in rather his flesh and his blood in the elements of Communion. Sin is a serious matter. Jesus died to save us from the consequences of our sins. That means that grace is not cheap. Grace cost God the life of his only Son. Grace cost the sinless to die for the sinful. I want to invite you to participate with gratitude. I want to invite you to eat and drink from the Lord’s Table. Amen!
 Retold by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. Reading for Preachers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), pp. 109, 110.