Theme: On the Basis of God’s Righteousness
In this week’s lessons, we see how our entire lives should be characterized by repentance.
Scripture: Psalm 143:1-12
It is no small matter to acknowledge that no human being, however moral or upright by our fallible human standards, will be justified by God on the basis of his or her own righteousness. We think we are righteous. But in God’s sight, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). So if we are to be saved by God, it must be on the basis of a righteousness that is not our own, an “alien righteousness,” which is what Luther called it. It is made available to us by the life and death of Jesus Christ.
And there is this great insight too: David’s appeal for mercy is on the basis of God’s “faithfulness and righteousness” (v. 1). How can that be? How can David appeal to God for mercy on the basis of his righteousness, when it is God’s righteousness and our lack of it that is the problem? The answer is in the word “faithfulness,” which throws us back on God’s promise of salvation. We can appeal to mercy because God has promised to be merciful to those who repent and seek salvation. What about righteousness? Can God save us and still be righteous? Yes, but only because of Jesus Christ, who is the essence of the promise. From the beginning of the Bible onward God promised to send a Savior, and he has. He sent Jesus, who died for us. Paul said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Cor. 5:21).
Did David understand this when he wrote verse 1? I do not know! But I know that what he wrote is exactly what the Apostle John wrote in the opening chapter of his first letter. John declared, “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “Faithful and just” in 1 John is exactly the same thing as “faithfulness and righteousness” in Psalm 143. So both of these verses teach that we are saved righteously on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ alone.
In verses 3 and 4 David unfolds the circumstances in which he is asking God for mercy. It is a condition that should be familiar to us by now. David is beset by enemies, in this case a single enemy who “pursues” him, “crushes [him] to the ground,” and “makes [him] dwell in darkness like those long dead.” Since this follows immediately upon David’s confession of sin in verse 2, it must be a recognition that his problems are due in part at least to God’s judgment on him for his sins. He is repenting of them.
What David acknowledges in verse 4 is that his enemy has succeeded to the extent that he has been crushed by his relentless opposition: “My spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.” This verse echoes Psalm 142:3 (“my spirit grows faint within me”) and ties the psalms together.
These are also like Jesus’ words before his crucifixion: “My soul is overwhelmed with
sorrow to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38), reminding us that Jesus experienced all that we experience and is therefore qualified to help us when we go through similarly tough times. Hebrews 4:15, 16, which I cited at the end of the last week’s study, says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” It is what David does.
Why can we appeal to God’s mercy on the basis of his righteousness?
How do we know David’s circumstances are in some part connected to his sin?
Application: Are there any sins you need to treat more seriously than you are?
Key Point: Jesus experienced all that we experience and is therefore qualified to help us when we go through similarly tough times.