Matins Devotion: November 16, 2022
Yesterday, we looked at David’s cry of repentance in Psalm 51. We noted that true repentance consists of two parts: contrition and faith. Contrition is the sorrow and fear that we experience when we know that God is rightfully angry with us. But faith is the instrument—the hands, if you will—with which we cling to the promise that God is merciful to sinners for the sake of Christ. Repentance is always the chief goal of Christian proclamation. It’s law and gospel. It’s the preaching that goes out to all the world and says, “Repent! Recognize you’re a sinner and believe the good news!”
But what happens when contrition is divorced from faith? What happens when we hear the accusations of the law but not the promises of the gospel? The answer is that we eventually fall into despair. We give up. We abandon hope. We look into the full-throated fury of God’s law and we see with perfect clarity that only death and hell await.
We see this graphically illustrated in the example of Judas. After he betrays Jesus, he recognizes his sin. He “changes his mind.” He admits to the chief priests that he has betrayed “innocent blood.” But how do they answer him? “What is that to us? Deal with it yourself.”
This is the only response that the law can offer to sorrowing sinners. Take care of it yourself. Work harder. Do better. Find a way to crawl out of the mud and the muck—find a way to get rid of the guilt—get rid of the shame—get rid of the sadness—all on your own. This is one of the reasons why our culture has become so obsessed with the notion of identity. By constructing this arbitrary and false reality which says that I can identify as anything and anyone that I want to be, what we are really attempting to do is to rewrite our own story. We’re attempting to atone for our sin by hitting the reset button—attempting to baptize ourselves into a new name—to remake ourselves into someone who is more virtuous, and worthy, and pure.
But, as we see with Judas, blood money can’t be returned. No matter what we do—no matter how many times we hit the reset button—no matter how many times we try to give ourselves a fresh start—our sin, our guilt, our shame will always hunt us down. The law will always accuse us. Sorrow will always overwhelm us. Despair will always destroy us.
That’s why David, in the Psalm for this morning, shows us a better way. He says:
O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might.
Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. (Ps. 54: 1, 4)
Here, in this lament, David doesn’t appeal to his own resources, or wisdom, or cunning. Rather, he runs to the promises of God. He fights despair by placing his all of his confidence in God’s very character. That’s his meaning when he says “save me by your name.” He’s saying to God— “My salvation rests not in who I am, but in who you are. In who you’ve revealed yourself to be according your own word.”
Remember when the Lord revealed just a glimpse of his glory to Moses on the mountain? He hides Moses in the cleft of the rock and as he passes by Moses, he proclaims his name:
The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness… (Ex. 34:6)
There, the Lord proclaims not only his name, but what his name means---the Lord proclaims the essence of his character. That he is a God to whom sinners can turn and find mercy and compassion—love and forgiveness. So when David says “save me by your name…” that’s the name he’s calling upon. By faith, he believes that the Lord will be faithful to be who he is. And it’s that confidence in God’s name—God’s character—that drives away despair and replaces it with hope.
Like he did with Judas, the devil will always try to convince you that you can deal with your guilt, and sorrow, and shame all on your own. Because he knows that without faith sorrow over sin only leads to despair, and death, and destruction. Don’t listen to his lies. When the law accuses your heart, repent and believe the good news. Trust in who God has revealed himself to be. He is the God who bears your sorrows on his cross. Who covers your guilt with his blood. Who saves you by his name in the waters of your baptism. So keep returning to that baptism. Keep calling upon that name. Keep hoping in that promise.