June 27, 2021
Over the last couple months, Callie and I have been watching the show, Breaking Bad. It’s a show from about 10 years or so ago. And the premise is this: a high school chemistry teacher by the name of Walter While is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and with his family facing financial hardship due to increasing medical costs, Walter puts his chemistry skills to not so good use through the making and selling of the highly profitable product that is crystal meth. And though the show is largely about that basic premise, in many ways it is about the destructive power of sin and our instinct as humans to try and cover up and hide our sin. Because what starts as a small and seemingly innocent project making a batch of meth in the back of an RV, eventually leads to Walter willing to do whatever it takes to keep his sinful secret a secret, whether through a tangled web of lies, theft, arson, and even murder.
And though the story of Walter White is a fictional story and one that’s clearly taken to the extreme, altogether it vividly illustrates something central to our sinful nature, that is, an instinct to want to cover up our sin.
It’s true of Walter White, it’s true of us, and yes, believe it or not, it’s even true of the man who it was said was a man after God’s own heart, yes, as you saw in the story we just read, it’s true of David too. David commits the grave sin of committing adultery with Bathsheba, and ends up going to greater and greater extremes in an attempt to cover it all up.
As many of you know, we’ve been doing a sermon series on the Life of King David and up until this point David has looked pretty, pretty great. Like almost too good to be true kind of great. Based on everything we’ve seen so far, his humble beginnings, his courageous military victories, his love for his enemies, his compassionate leadership, it’d be understandable if you’ve gotten used to imagining David with a halo around his head. And yet, I think it’s safe to say, that halo is now long, long gone.
It was interesting for me to re-read this story this week and try and get a handle on what this story is really about. Some might say it’s about the dangers and temptations of sexual sin and the devastating consequences of adultery. And yes, that’s part of it. On one hand, David was so very incredibly in the wrong for sleeping with a married woman in Bathsheba. In fact, he shouldn’t have even been at home in the first place. Rather, David as the King and military leader of the Israelites, David should have been on the front lines of battle with his men, but no, he’s at home in Jerusalem. And so some will say this is a story about a man who was in the wrong place at the right time, who abused his power, and gave in to sexual sin, and how you and I need to be at the right place at the right time, and fight against sexual sin. And all of those are perfectly fine and true takeaways and points of application, but yet notice, that ends up being a very small part of the overall story. Rather, the dominant theme of the story ends up being David’s relentless desire to cover up his sin.
To show you what I mean by that, let’s briefly reset the stage here: Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband is away from Jerusalem, he and his fellow soldiers are out at battle. David sleeps with Bathsheba. And then sometime later, Bathsheba relays the message to David, “Hey, I’m pregnant.” And the implication is crystal clear here: David is the father. Even the narrator leaves absolutely zero ambiguity here. Notice, he even mentions the timing of Bathsheba’s period. She has her period, therefore she’s not pregnant. Then David sleeps with her, and then Bathsheba finds out she’s pregnant. (Who knew we’d all get a refresher on the basics of human reproduction here at church?) … By the way, we weren’t supposed to have Sunday School this week and when I saw this scripture this Sunday, I said to Laura Malesich, our Christian Education elder, “Laura, we have to have Sunday School this week, I can’t stomach the thought of preaching on this with little kids in the room.” And yes, I’m probably being overly presumptuous as to how much kids are listening in the first place, but I couldn’t risk it.
Anyway, the point is this: This is David’s child. Bathsheba knows it. David knows it. They don’t need a DNA test to confirm it. And Uriah is no dummy, he’s going to figure this one out. After all, he’s been at war, he hasn’t been with his wife recently, how in the world could Bathsheba pregnant? He’s going to put two and two together.
And it’s at this point here that we reach the pivot point of the story. This is a fork in the road moment. David has sinned and now he’s faced with some very real consequences. He has to do something as doing nothing isn’t really an option here.
And so he’s faced with a choice:
Do I, David, come clean, do I tell the truth, do I cry out for God’s mercy? Do I David confess my sin before God and Bathsheba and Uriah?
Or, does David do everything in his power to try and cover up his sin and keep Uriah from ever finding out?
Of course, let’s acknowledge, David confessing and telling the truth would not be an easy thing to do. It would be painful for David to come clean and no doubt, Uriah will be filled with righteous anger. Yet nevertheless, it would have been the right thing to do.
Friends, this is the fork in the road moment, the pivot point we all face with sins both big and small. Will we confess to God and others and come clean about our sin or will we try and cover them up?
The desire and attempts to cover up our sin is a tale as old as time, whether your Adam and Eve in the garden or Walter White in Breaking Bad. Within our sinful human nature is the instinct to want to cover up our sin.
When I was in seminary years ago, it was common practice in many of the classes that I took to have an honor system kind of policy when it came to the required reading in any given class. Where at the beginning of each semester we’d be given a list of books to read and then at the end of each semester we would then report to our professors just how much of the required reading we actually did, and whatever percentage of the reading we did would be reflected in our final grade. It was all honor system. And there was one class in particular that I really slacked off in, for a variety of reasons I didn’t complete the reading that I wished I had or hoped I had. I was embarrassed and disappointed with myself and filled with regret. And when it came time to submit my reading report, I straight up lied about it, claiming to have done far more reading than I had actually done. And in my head I had all sorts of flimsy justifications for it, but there’s no way to spin it as anything but a lie. I lied. I sinned.
You see, I took my sin of sloth and laziness and lack of discipline, and rather than telling the truth and accepting the grade penalty, I doubled down on my sin and sinned all the more by lying about it. Or in other words, I tried to cover it up. And I’ll pause that story for there for now - more on that later.
David did a similar thing. He committed the sin of adultery and rather than confessing it and coming clean, he tragically, as I once did, tried to cover it all up.
And in David’s effort to cover up his sin, David’s attempts start somewhat innocently, and progressively get more sinister when his previous attempts fail him.
In his first attempt, he calls Uriah home from battle. Here David’s thinking. Alright, I’ll reward this guy for being on the field for months on end, he can come home, he hasn’t seen his wife for a while, maybe they can enjoy some marital bliss, and therefore, Uriah will believe that Bathsheba is pregnant with his child, rather than David’s. And yet, David’s plan is foiled. Uriah, as a man of integrity, doesn’t enjoy the evening with his wife, for as Uriah says to David,
“The servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.”
He’s essentially saying, “How could I enjoy a nice date night with my wife when my fellow soldiers are roughing it out there in fields, defending our people and land?”
David’s first attempt at covering up his sin fails, and yet, he is not deterred. He tries yet again.
David’s second attempt at covering up his sin once again hinges on Uriah sleeping with his wife Bathsheba, but this time, David decides to get Uriah all liquored up, surely this will lower this man’s inhibitions, and loosen up Uriah, this man of integrity. But yet, once again, it doesn’t work.
David is realizing he’s not going to be able to make Uriah sleep with Bathsheba, at least not on the timeline he needs to. And David is getting increasingly desperate. In his eyes, he needs to find a bulletproof way to covering up his sin, and he does so by setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to Uriah’s certain death.
Here he sends Uriah back into battle. And David sends Uriah with a letter to carry to Joab, the commander. In it David instructs Joab to put Uriah on the frontlines of the battle field, the most vulnerable point of attack, greatly increasing Uriah’s likelihood of dying. And that’s exactly what happened. Uriah does indeed die out at battle. And our story finishes, by saying this …
26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.
In David’s eyes, he’s thinking, “Alright, mission accomplished. Uriah is dead, he’ll never know what happened, and there’s no blood on my hands as I wasn’t the one to directly kill him.” David must be thinking to himself, “I have successfully covered this one up.”
And yet, you have that final verse just hanging there in the balance, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”
When I was filling out that reading report long ago, there was a scary and dangerous and sinful thought that went through my brain, “No one has to know.” No one has to know that I lied about this.
And yet of course, the reality was someone did know. God knew. God knew that I had lied, just as God knew of David’s adulterous act and murderous coverup. David thought he had gotten away with it, I thought I had gotten away with it, that no one would ever have to know, but yet, God knew.
I’ll admit that reality ate at me. My sinful decision gnawed at me. Or to put it in biblical language, the Holy Spirit was convicting me, nudging me to end my cover up and to acknowledge and come clean about my sin. And I eventually did. I reached out to my professor and the seminary and said, here’s what I did, it was wrong I know that, I have no justification for it and I’ll accept whatever might be the consequences. And though it was painful to make that call, there was a real sense of relief in coming clean.
Friends, I wonder if sometimes when we think about confession we imagine God as a drill sargent, who says to us, “get down and give me 20 and show me just how sorry you really are.”
And yet, at its core, confession is far simpler and less threatening than that. In Greek, to confess simply means “to agree with.” We are simply agreeing with God about what we’ve done, agreeing with God that sin is sin, and agreeing with him with what he already knows to be true.
After all, when we go to God in confession, it’s not like we’re telling God anything knew. It’s not like he’s surprised or caught off guard and thinking to himself, “Wow, gosh, I had no idea.” No way! God knows and sees all, and so when we confess our sins before him we are simply agreeing with him.
Or as pastor Greg Ogden puts it, “When we practice genuine confession, we are giving the Lord permission to show our lives through his eyes.”
So friends, where in your life have you or are you trying to cover up your sin and therefore where in your life might the Lord be gently inviting you to come clean and agree with him through confession?
Truth is, we’re running out of time for today’s message and that’s okay, because this sermon will in fact serve as part one of a two part sermon. Next week, we’ll look at Part 2 of this story, by looking at Nathan’s confrontation of David in his sin, as well as David’s genuine confession and repentance, as found in Psalm 51. And so we’ll dive deeper into that aspect of the story next week, but for now here are a few brief thoughts:
When it comes to confession and who we should share what with, it often depends on the specific sin we commit.
For example, when it came to my reading report, my sin wasn’t simply an offense to God, it also was a matter of me deliberately lying to another party, and so it was necessary for me to confess my sin to my professor as well. Sins of the tongue, such as gossip, or cursing, or shaming or belittling someone else would fall into this category as well, where we don’t simply need to confess to God, but to the person we’ve sinned against as well.
That’s one example. But consider other types of sins, such as lust or pornography or drunkenness. Surely we’d want to confess those sins before God, but to share those with another person, we likely will want to show more discretion. Likely you’d share that with someone who knows you and trusts you who can pray for you and carry that burden with you.
Scott Dudley, senior pastor at my previous church, was known for saying, “Everybody doesn’t need to know everything, but everything should be known by somebody.” I think that’s wise counsel. We don’t have to air out all our dirty laundry, sins and temptations to the whole wide world, but it’s likely for our ultimate benefit that someone, maybe just one person, is in the know.
Again, more on this topic next week.
For now, I’ll finish with this. As I shared at the beginning of the service, as I was writing this sermon yesterday, there was a hymn that I started singing, it’s the hymn, “Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling.”
There’s a classic parable that Jesus tells about a shepherd who has 100 sheep and realizes that one is missing. And so the shepherd goes looking for it, eventually finds it, and brings it home. And Jesus himself reflects on the parable by saying this, “How beautiful it is when one sinner repents!”
Which is so powerful and so striking. Because notice how the word repentance was used by Jesus there. (By the way, the words confession and repentance are in many ways capturing two sides of the same coin). We likely often think of repentance as when we as lowly sheep finally get our act together and come to our senses and turn around. And that’s one aspect of repentance and confession. But yet notice that in this story repentance was that moment when the shepherd went out and brought the sheep home.
I think commentator Ken Bailey absolutely nails it here when he says,
You know what repentance really is at the end of the day from Jesus’ perspective? Repentance is a willingness to be found. Repentance is a willingness come out of hiding. It’s a willingness to be found.
Repentance is not “get back here.” Repentance is “come home.”
Repentance is not “get your act together.” Repentance is “are you willing to be found?”
Friends, there’s no need to fear. No need to cover up our sin. Jesus is waiting with open arms, or as the hymn goes …
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling, oh, sinner come home.